Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Euro 2016: Wembley should share the wealth

ENGLAND head into this week's Euro 2016 qualifiers against the might of San Marino and Estonia well aware that last month's win in Switzerland has already gone a long way to secure a place at the finals. 

The ludicrous expansion of the Championships to 24 teams means the Three Lions can finish third in their group and still make it through. 

And, with six points surely coming in these two games against opponents ranked 208th and 81st respectively, there would seem to be very little to get excited about.  

Just as much was admitted by head coach Roy Hodgson at the start of the season when he said: "We'll find it hard to bring attendances back because the opponents we're playing won't excite the public."

Hodgson was speaking after a 1-0 friendly win over Norway only attracted 40,181 fans to the National Stadium. The crowd for San Marino is not expected to be much higher.

Of course, not all of this is the fault of England or the Football Association. 

Part of the reason for the low crowd will be down to the intolerably tedious nature of these qualifiers, as organised by UEFA.

Meanwhile, another UEFA initiative for Euro 2016 has been to spread the qualifiers out in a 'Week of Football' - naturally, all geared towards the television audience.

But kick-offs on midweek evenings are not much good for England fans living far outside of the radius of the M25.

Here, then, is where the FA should step in by taking some of the national team's matches back up north. 

After all, the atmosphere of around 40-50,000 in Anfield or St James Park would be immeasurably better than the lost cries of a few rattling voices in a half-empty Wembley. 

There is also the desperate need for the England team to reconnect to all of its supporters, including those in the north, following the drab World Cup exit - and matches outside the capital would, at least, be a start.

Sadly, this is not going to happen any time soon. The £757m debt incurred from building Wembley means the Three Lions are committed to play all of their home games at the stadium for the next eight or nine years.

But, surely a restructuring of the repayments could be considered if such an arrangement allowed England to go on tour every now and then.

For every now and then is all it would be - as I am not actually against the National Stadium.

Indeed, I personally admire the redesign of Wembley and its impressive arch - coincidentally, one of the first London landmarks that can be seen from the north on the M1.

It is just as clear, though, that the growing divide between the capital and the rest of the country has already also seeped into perceptions of the national team.

"London FC", a derisive Twitter nickname for the national team, is beginning to stick, no matter how many players from Liverpool or other northern teams are in the squad.

Meanwhile, the regular and unseemly sight of the empty Club Wembley seats near the tunnel can only cause a further disconnect.

And so, while England are already in no peril of missing out on a place at Euro 2016, the Football Association seems to be playing its own dangerous game with its failure to engage the whole of the nation.

Yes, London proudly stands one of the world's most important cities - but England always has been, and always should be about more than its capital.

MATCHDAY TWO FIXTURES
09-Oct Group C, Group E, Group G
10-Oct Group A, Group B, Group H
11-Oct Group D, Group F, Group I

MATCHDAY THREE FIXTURES
12-Oct Group C, Group E, Group G
13-Oct Group A, Group B, Group H
14-Oct Group D, Group F, Group I

GROUP A Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan
10-Oct19:45Latvia0-3IcelandRiga
10-Oct19:45Netherlands3-1KazakhstanAmsterdam
10-Oct19:45Turkey1-2Czech RepublicIstanbul
13-Oct17:00Kazakhstan2-4Czech RepublicAstana
13-Oct19:45Iceland2-0NetherlandsReykjavik
13-Oct19:45Latvia1-1TurkeyRiga

GROUP B Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra
10-Oct19:45Belgium6-0AndorraBrussels
10-Oct19:45Cyprus1-2IsraelNicosia
10-Oct19:45Wales0-0Bosnia-HerzegovinaCardiff
13-Oct19:45Andorra1-4IsraelAndorra la Vella
13-Oct19:45Bosnia-Herzegovina1-1BelgiumZenica
13-Oct19:45Wales2-1CyprusCardiff

GROUP C Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Luxembourg
09-Oct19:45Belarus0-2UkraineBarysaw
09-Oct19:45FYR Macedonia3-2LuxembourgSkopje
09-Oct19:45Slovakia2-1SpainZilina
12-Oct17:00Ukraine1-0FYR MacedoniaLviv
12-Oct19:45Belarus1-3SlovakiaBarysaw
12-Oct19:45Luxembourg0-4SpainLuxembourg City

GROUP D Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar
11-Oct17:00Republic of Ireland7-0GibraltarDublin
11-Oct17:00Scotland1-0GeorgiaGlasgow
11-Oct19:45Poland2-0GermanyWarsaw
14-Oct19:45Germany1-1Republic of IrelandGelsenkirchen
14-Oct19:45Gibraltar0-3GeorgiaFaro, Portugal
14-Oct19:45Poland2-2ScotlandWarsaw

GROUP E England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
09-Oct19:45England5-0San MarinoLondon
09-Oct19:45Lithuania1-0EstoniaVilnius
09-Oct19:45Slovenia1-0SwitzerlandMaribor
12-Oct17:00Estonia0-1EnglandTallinn
12-Oct19:45Lithuania0-2SloveniaVilnius
12-Oct19:45San Marino0-4SwitzerlandSerravalle

GROUP F Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands
11-Oct17:00Romania1-1HungaryBucharest
11-Oct19:45Finland1-1GreeceHelsinki
11-Oct19:45Northern Ireland2-0Faroe IslandsBelfast
14-Oct19:45Faroe Islands0-1HungaryTorshavn
14-Oct19:45Finland0-2RomaniaHelsinki
14-Oct19:45Greece0-2Northern IrelandPiraeus

GROUP G Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein
09-Oct19:45Liechtenstein0-0MontenegroVaduz
09-Oct19:45Moldova1-2AustriaChisinau
09-Oct19:45Sweden1-1RussiaSolna
12-Oct17:00Austria1-0MontenegroVienna
12-Oct17:00Russia1-1MoldovaMoscow
12-Oct19:45Sweden2-0LiechtensteinSolna

GROUP H Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta
10-Oct19:45Bulgaria0-1CroatiaSofia
10-Oct19:45Italy2-1AzerbaijanPalermo
10-Oct19:45Malta0-3NorwayTa' Qali
13-Oct19:45Croatia6-0AzerbaijanOsijek
13-Oct19:45Malta0-1ItalyTa' Qali
13-Oct19:45Norway2-1BulgariaOslo

GROUP I Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania, [France]
11-Oct17:00Armenia1-1SerbiaYerevan
11-Oct19:45Albania1-1DenmarkElbasan
11-Oct19:45France2-1PortugalSaint-Denis
14-Oct17:00Armenia0-3FranceYerevan
14-Oct19:45Denmark0-1PortugalCopenhagen
14-Oct19:45SerbiaA-AAlbaniaBelgrade
Match abandoned on 40 minutes after a flag promoting Greater Albania flew over the pitch. The flag was seized by a Serbia player, which led to a brief scuffle between players from both sides and major violence involving Serbian fans. The score was 0–0.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mirror faces questions after Newmark honeytrap sting

NEW press watchdog IPSO faces its first major test after a formal complaint by Conservative MP Mark Pritchard against the Sunday Mirror.

Mr Pritchard said the newspaper had used "questionable techniques" to obtain explicit pictures from fellow Conservative Brooks Newmark who resigned from his post in the Cabinet Office.

In the sting, a male freelance reporter adopted the false identity of "Sophie Wittams" and set up a Twitter account describing himself as a "twenty-something Tory PR girl".

Following flattering messages from the mysterious Ms Wittams, Mr Newmark agreed to swap "sexually explicit images".

But, of course, Mr Newmark did not receive an image in return of Ms Wittams, instead receiving a "sunbathing selfie" of Charlene Tyler, a 26-year-old from Boston in Lincolnshire.

Ms Tyler told the Daily Telegraph yesterday it was wrong for the paper to have used her photo without permission, and that Mr Newmark had done nothing wrong.

However, this was not the only image to have been used by the freelancer without permission.

The avatar of the fictional Twitter account with which Mr Newmark communicated was a picture of Swedish model Malin Sahlén.

And she has told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet: “I do not want to be exploited in this way and that someone has used my image like this feels really awful, both for me and the others involved in this.

“I am shocked and it is unpleasant for someone to use the picture without permission.”

Sunday Mirror editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley has now apologised to both women, explaining: “We thought that pictures used by the investigation were posed by models, but we now know that some real pictures were used.

"At no point has the Sunday Mirror published any of these images, but we would like to apologise to the women involved for their use in the investigation."

Nevertheless, the newspaper boss stood by the story, claiming it was in the public interest.

The public interest defence is much used by newspapers and, in this case, it mainly relates to Mr Newmark's role as co-founder of the Women2Win organisation.

Women2Win is aimed at attracting more Conservative women to Parliament - and the Sunday Mirror will argue Mr Newmark's conduct contradicts this position.

Based on previous rulings, though, the newspaper would appear to have a pretty weak case, if nothing else because of the use of entrapment.

"Fishing expeditions", as they are known, must surely carry a more substantial public interest argument than this. Even the Sun and the Mail have said they turned the story down.

Ultimately, the article has done no favours to any of the parties involved. Mr Newmark has lost his ministerial salary and must try to rebuild trust with his wife and five children.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have suffered an awful start to their party conference in Birmingham, a double-whammy coming in the form of Mark Reckless's decision to defect to UKIP.

MP for Rochester and Stroud, Mr Reckless became the second Tory to resign and seek re-election on the UKIP platform after Douglas Carswell's move in Clacton just over a month ago.

Finally, this story has done nothing to rebuild the already-pathetically low levels of trust between the national press and the public.

Coincidentally, it came at the end of a week in which it became apparent the same Trinity Mirror group of newspapers was also heavily involved in phone-hacking.

Phone-hacking, fishing expeditions, honey-traps - all of them are bound to produce a juicy story - but are any of them actually news?

Proper journalism sticks to the facts of what has actually happened or discloses serious levels of hypocrisy and/or incompetence.

It does not seek to manufacture the story for its own monetary gain.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dominant Europe win Ryder Cup again

Europe16½-11½United States
Europe wins the Ryder Cup

Singles (Sunday)
Europe6½-5½United States
Graeme McDowellwon 2&1Jordan Spieth
Henrik Stensonwon 1upPatrick Reed
Rory McIlroywon 5&4Rickie Fowler
Justin RosehalvedHunter Mahan
Stephen Gallacherwon 3&1Phil Mickelson
Martin Kaymerwon 4&2Bubba Watson
Thomas Bjornwon 4&3Matt Kuchar
Sergio Garciawon 1upJim Furyk
Ian PoulterhalvedWebb Simpson
Jamie Donaldsonwon 5&3Keegan Bradley
Lee Westwoodwon 3&2Jimmy Walker
Victor DubuissonhalvedZach Johnson

EUROPE continued their recent dominance of the Ryder Cup after a comprehensive victory over the United States at Gleneagles.

Welsh rookie Jamie Donaldson scored the decisive point as the Europeans made it six wins out of the last seven, and eight out of the last 10 with a 16½-11½ triumph. 

Resuming 10-6 down, the Americans needed the equivalent of the Miracle of Medinah to happen, except this time in their favour - and, to their credit, they started brightly.

Jordan Spieth went three-up after five against Graeme McDowell, while Hunter Mahan was four-up on Justin Rose after just six holes.

The fact that neither Spieth nor Mahan would end up winning their matches, however, says everything about how the day panned out.

Indeed, the whole weekend followed the same pattern of the United States starting well on each day before Europe roared back with an even better performance.

On Friday and Saturday, the Americans won the two morning fourballs sessions by 2½ to 1½ - but Europe utterly dominated the afternoon foursomes contests, winning both 3½-½ for a 7-1 margin overall.

Rose and his Swedish playing partner Henrik Stenson were the form guys over the first two days for Europe, winning each of the three matches they played together.

The pairing of world number one Rory McIlroy and third-ranked Sergio Garcia was less successful, though. 

Defeated 1up by Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the fourballs on Friday, McIlroy and Garcia could only manage a half in their first foursomes match against Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. 

It went slightly better on Saturday as McIlroy and Garcia beat Mahan and Jim Furyk 3&2 in the foursomes - and the bigger tactical errors overall came from American captain Tom Watson

On Saturday, the successful Mickelson and Bradley partnership bizarrely failed to feature in either session.

And earlier, Watson had omitted rookie pairing Spieth and Patrick Reed from the Friday foursomes despite them showing great confidence to beat Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher 5&4 in fourballs.

Indeed, if the United States are to take anything from another defeat, it should be the commendable spirit which was on display from their younger players. 

Yes, Reed may have wound up the crowd a little with some of his antics - but he backed up his touch of egotism with a 1up win in the singles over Stenson. 

Spieth was less assured, losing his way horribly in the middle of his match to succumb 2&1 to Graeme McDowell. 

And, by then, fellow Northern Irishman McIlroy had already scored Europe's first point of the day, hitting seven birdies and an eagle to blow away Fowler 5&4. 

Soon afterwards, Martin Kaymer followed this up by collecting another comfortable point for Europe. 

German Kaymer - who made the winning putt in Illinois two years ago - holed a stunning chip on 16 for a far more straight-forward 4&2 victory this time against a low-key Bubba Watson. 

Ever so briefly, the tide turned towards the Americans as Matt Kuchar completed a 4&3 win over Dane Thomas Bjorn, and Mickelson beat local favourite Gallacher 2&1. 

Yet, even at that stage, Europe still held a 13-9 lead and always looked to have enough in reserve. 

Man of the weekend Rose confirmed his half - and a fine unbeaten set of five matches - after Mahan messed up badly on the 18th.

And so, standing a half
-point away from a retention and a point away from an overall win, it had simply become a matter of who would be the man in the right place at the right time for Europe.

It quickly became apparent that the answer would be Donaldson - although it was, of course, more than just sheer blind luck on his part. 

The 38-year-old from Pontypridd had played well all weekend - scoring three points from four - and, in his singles match against Bradley, he established a good, early lead.

He then held it throughout, ultimately winning 5&3 after a magnificent lofted approach shot to within four feet of the pin on the 15th

It was truly a shot worthy of winning the competition and Bradley was forced to concede - meaning Europe had indeed won with four matches to spare.

In the first of those four remaining contests, Poulter won the final hole to finish all-square with Webb Simpson - and, while it was hardly vintage Poulter this weekend, his enduring spirit saw him through two halved matches and one defeat. 

Elsewhere, Spaniard Garcia went five-under for his last five holes to reprise his comeback win over Furyk of two years ago before American rookie Walker defeated Lee Westwood 3&2. 

The final point was halved between Victor Dubuisson and Zach Johnson as the French debutant ensured he remained unbeaten from his first three Ryder Cup contests. 

Match over, the champagne corks could officially be popped with Dubuisson confirming his approval of the bubbly. 

Meanwhile, a beaming Europe skipper Paul McGinley addressed the packed Gleneagles galleries. 

"I'm very proud of every one of these players," the Irishman said. "I couldn't have asked for an ounce more from them."

To cries from the crowd of "Only one Tom Watson", the legendary - but defeated - American captain was as gracious as ever.

However, even his past greatness was nowhere near enough to stem the present European dominance.

Unbeaten at home since 1993, and unbeaten altogether since the 2008 defeat in Valhalla, today's result confirmed that this - undoubtedly - is a European blue era in Ryder Cup golf.  



EARLIER RESULTS
Fourballs (Friday)
Europe1½-2½United States
Justin Rose/Henrik Stensonwon 5&4Webb Simpson/Bubba Watson
Thomas Bjorn/Martin KaymerhalvedRickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker
Stephen Gallacher/Ian Poulterwon 5&4Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed
Rory McIlroy/Sergio Garciawon 1upPhil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley

Foursomes (Friday)
Europe3½-½United States
Jamie Donaldson/Lee Westwoodwon 2upJim Furyk/Matt Kuchar
Justin Rose/Henrik Stensonwon 2&1Hunter Mahan/Zach Johnson
Rory McIlroy/Sergio GarciahalvedRickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker
Victor Dubuisson/Graeme McDowellwon 3&2Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley

Fourballs (Saturday)
Europe1½-2½United States
Justin Rose/Henrik Stensonwon 3&2Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar
Jamie Donaldson/Lee Westwoodwon 4&3Jim Furyk/Hunter Mahan
Thomas Bjorn/Martin Kaymerwon 5&3Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed
Rory McIlroy/Ian PoulterhalvedRickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker

Foursomes (Saturday)
Europe3½-½United States
Jamie Donaldson/Lee Westwoodwon 2&1Zach Johnson/Matt Kuchar
Rory McIlroy/Sergio Garciawon 3&2Jim Furyk/Hunter Mahan
Martin Kaymer/Justin RosehalvedJordan Spieth/Patrick Reed
Victor Dubuisson/Graeme McDowellwon 3&2Rickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Back to Iraq

BRITAIN will take part in air strikes over Iraq after MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the ongoing military action against ISIS.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the country had a "duty to take part" and that there was "no option to walk on by".

He added: "This is not the stuff of fantasy. It is happening in front of us and we need to face up to it."

Earlier this week, Mr Cameron had returned from his trip to the United Nations headquarters in New York to recall Parliament and raise a motion in favour of the strikes.

And, following a seven-hour debate in the House of Commons yesterday, the proposal was backed by the massive margin of 524 to 43.

That result stands in stark contrast to a similar vote just over a year ago. Back then, Mr Cameron embarrassingly lost in the Commons after proposing to take action against Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria.

This time, though, the mood in Westminster has been rather different. Assurances have been sought that Britain would not commit itself to ground troops or involve itself in the bombing of Syria - which, unlike Iraq, has not appealed for outside help.

And, with the wording of the motion confirming action was being restricted to air strikes over Iraq only, the outcome of the division was pretty obvious from the outset.

Of course, this decision to back military action comes after weeks and weeks of unremittingly grim news from the Middle East with ISIS having taken control of vast areas of Iraq and Syria.

More recently, the group has struck much closer to home, releasing a video this month of the beheading of British aid worker David Haines.

Another volunteer aid worker, Alan Henning from Eccles in Salford, remains in its clutches, his family this week having received an audio file of him pleading for his life.

Unsurprisingly then, it is not just the politicians who are in support of the strikes.

Recent polling shows that the British public are also now far more in favour of action against ISIS than they were of an intervention against Syria last year.

Yet, even these numbers show there is a fair proportion of people who remain war weary from the previous large-scale conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the campaign in Libya in 2011.

Dissenting MPs raised concerns in the debate and questioned the worryingly open-ended length of time which has been committed towards the campaign.

Mr Cameron admitted that the mission "will take not just months, but years" - while some of his other statements further seemed to raise the prospect of mission creep.

After all - if it had been up to the Conservative leader, then British forces would now be preparing to bomb Syria too. It was only a lack of consensus in the Commons which prevented this.

Remarkably then, for the third time in less than 24 years, it is Iraq which is the focus of a bombing campaign including British forces. 

Yes, of course, this is somewhat different to the 2003 invasion in terms of its legality and even in terms of its morality.

But that still does not mean the air strikes will necessarily actually work.

ISIS may now control large swathes of northern Iraq - however, it remains more of an idea and a belief system than a geographical area.

Arguably, the group has been borne out of a hatred of western intervention in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

And so, in this context, yet more air strikes can surely only be considered counter-productive in the long term.

Therefore, as sad and frustrating as it would have been, this was a time which Britain should have engaged in regrettable isolationism.

The engagement of Special Forces with highly specific missions to free trapped British hostages is surely something nobody reasonable would oppose.

But yet another general bombing campaign seems to be a depressingly simplistic fall-back option to a hideously complex problem.

Philosopher George Santayana once said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

It feels, at the moment, as if we seem condemned to repeat it to fade.

THE MOTION
"That this House:
- Condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing;
- Recognizes the clear threat ISIL pose to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support;
- Further recognizes the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage;
- Acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq, including countries throughout the Middle East;
- Further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens, and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq;
- Notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign, and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament;
- Accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in Iraq;
- Notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations;
- Offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces."
VOTING AGAINST THE MOTION
Labour (23)
Diane Abbott, Graham Allen, Anne Begg, Ronnie Campbell, Martin Caton, Katy Clark, Ian Davidson, Paul Flynn, Stephen Hepburn, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Sian James, Mark Lazraowicz, John Mc Donnell, Iain McKenzie, Austin Mitchell, Grahame Morris, George Mudie, Linda Riordan, Barry Sheerman, Dennis Skinner, Graham Stringer, Mike Wood, Jeremy Corbyn (Teller).
Conservatives (6)
Richard Bacon, John Baron, Gordon Henderson, Adam Holloway, Nigel Mills, Mark Reckless
Lib Dems (1)
Julian Huppert
Scottish Nationalists (6)
Stewart Hosie, Angus Roberton, Mike Weir, Eilidh Whiteford, Angus Brendan McNeill, Pete Wishart (Teller) 
Others (7)
Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonnell, Margaret Ritchie, Jonathan Edwards, Hywel Williams, George Galloway, Caroline Lucas

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Ryder Cup 2014: Europe enjoy favourites status

EUROPE begin their quest tomorrow for a remarkable sixth Ryder Cup win in the last seven matches against the United States.

Swede Henrik Stenson and England's Justin Rose are the lead pair for Paul McGinley's European team, and they will take on established pairing of Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson in the first of the morning fourballs at 7.35am.

The second fourballs match-up on the PGA Centenary Course in Gleneagles sees Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn for Europe versus Rickie Fowler and rookie Jimmy Walker at 7.50am.

Then, in the third match, the Americans have boldly named two rookies - Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed - against the Anglo-Scots pairing of Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher (8.05).

Finally, in that session, a mammoth clash will see world number one Rory McIlroy and Spanish team-mate Sergio Garcia take on Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley (8.20).

In the afternoon, four foursomes matches will take place. Unlike in fourballs, where the player with the lowest score takes the hole for his team, foursomes features just one ball per pair with the players taking alternate shots.

Weather permitting, the fourballs and foursomes format is repeated on Saturday before 12 head-to-head singles matches on Sunday.

Of course, in each of the separate contests, every hole is played in isolation - and, indeed, the matchplay format is one of the most appealing things about the Ryder Cup.
 
It means tight matches can turn in a matter of minutes, and momentum often seems to be contagious across the course.

The overall winner is the first team to reach the magic mark of 14½ points - while a 14-14 tie will mean Europe, as holders, retain the trophy.

Now, remarkably, the United States have gone fully 21 years without victory in Europe since winning 15-13 at the Belfry in 1993.

Back then, the Americans' captain was Tom Watson - and, for this 40th edition, the USPGA has turned again to the legendary eight-time major winner in the hope he can revive the visitors' fortunes.

After all, with European wins on American soil in 1995, 2004 and 2010, the United States have actually only won twice in the last nine matches.

Indeed, the Europeans' strong recent record in the competitions means it is no surprise McGinley's men start as odds-on favourites - with the Americans teeing off at 13/8.

It is not only recent history which seems to be against the United States, though.

The visitors' build-up to Gleneagles has been far from ideal with personal issues and injury robbing them of the services of Dustin Johnson and Jason Duffner. Meanwhile, former world number one Tiger Woods will be another notable absentee.

It even led last month to Watson bemoaning the fact his players were "dropping like flies".

However, the Europeans - who, in the past, used to love revelling in the underdog role - need to be careful that complacency does not seep into the team.

Arguably, it did two years ago in Medinah where, at one stage, the holders had collectively played pretty poorly and found themselves 10-4 down.

The sporting miracle which followed cannot be relied upon to happen very often - and another American collapse seems far less likely under the likeable Watson.

After all, the 65-year-old simply loves Scotland having won four of his five Open titles there. Amazingly, he almost added another at the age of 59 at Turnberry in 2009.

Ultimately, that was not to be - he lost in a four-hole playoff to Stewart Cink having had a putt for par at the last hole to win the tournament.

But, despite that defeat, Watson remains a charismatic leader who can impart knowledge of great success in the game.

Europe then may be clear favourites - however, McGinley's team could really do with swiftly backing up this status by making the stronger start.

For, it might not be until then that recent history weighs just that bit too heavily on the American dozen.

COVERAGE
Sky Sports 4 (Sky 405)
Friday and Saturday: 7am Fourballs, 1pm Foursomes, 7pm The Verdict/Highlights
Sunday: 10am Singles, 10pm Review
BBC
Full coverage on BBC Radio 5Live. Highlights on BBC2 at 8.30pm on Friday and Saturday, and 7.30pm on Sunday.

THE TEAMS (*= captain's wildcard selection)
Europe (Captain: Paul McGinley (IRE), Vice-captains: Des Smyth (IRE), Sam Torrance (SCO), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP), Padraig Harrington (IRE), Jose Maria Olazabal (ESP))

AgePoints 
(Euro)
Points 
(World)
Ryder Cup 
record (W-L-H)
World rankingMajors
Rory McIlroy (NI)25114-3-214
Henrik Stenson (SWE)38222-3-250
Victor Dubuisson (FRA)2437Rookie230
Jamie Donaldson (WAL)3848Rookie250
Sergio Garcia (ESP)345316-8-430
Justin Rose (ENG)34746-3-061
Martin Kaymer (GER)29853-2-1122
Thomas Bjorn (DEN)43663-2-1300
Graeme McDowell (NI)351295-5-2181
*Stephen Gallacher (SCO)391110Rookie340
*Ian Poulter (ENG)3891212-3-0380
*Lee Westwood (ENG)41191618-13-6 440

United States (Captain: Tom Watson, Vice-captains: Andy North, Raymond Floyd, Steve Stricker)


AgePoints rank
(World)
Ryder Cup record
(W-L-H)
World rankingMajors
Bubba Watson3613-5-072
Rickie Fowler2520-1-2100
Jim Furyk4439-17-441
Jimmy Walker354Rookie190
Phil Mickelson44514-18-6115
Matt Kuchar3663-2-290
Jordan Spieth217Rookie130
Patrick Reed248Rookie270
Zach Johnson3896-4-1161
*Keegan Bradley28133-1-0261
*Webb Simpson29152-2-0331
*Hunter Mahan32253-2-3 210

COURSE
PGA Centenary Course, Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland (Par 72, 7262 yards)
HoleYardsPar

HoleYardsPar
14264

102083
25165

113504
34314

124454
42393

134814
54614

143204
62013

154634
74684

165435
84194

171943
95645

185335
OUT372536

IN386236

RYDER CUP HISTORY: EUROPE v UNITED STATES
Up until 1977, United States had won all but four of the first 22 matches against Great Britain/Great Britain & Ireland. The exceptional years were 1929 (GB won 7-5), 1933 (GB won 6½-5½), 1957 (GB won -4½), and 1969 (a 16-16 tie - USA retained the Cup).  
However, since 1979, Europe has won nine of the 17 matches, and the United States has won seven. Europe has won five of the last six matches, and seven of the last nine since 1995.

Matches 17 
Europe 9
United States
Ties 1

YearCourse


Holder
1979The Greenbrier, VAEurope11-17United States   United States
1981Walton Heath, EngEurope-18½United StatesUnited States
1983Palm Beach, FLEurope13½-14½United StatesUnited States
1985The Belfry, EnglandEurope16½-11½United StatesEurope
1987Muirfield Village, OHEurope15-13United StatesEurope
1989The Belfry, EnglandEurope14-14United StatesEurope
1991Kiawah Island, SCEurope13½-14½United StatesUnited States
1993The Belfry, EnglandEurope13-15United StatesUnited States
1995Oak Hill, NYEurope14½-13½United StatesEurope
1997Valderrama, SpainEurope14½-13½United StatesEurope
1999Brookline, MAEurope13½-14½United StatesUnited States
2002*The Belfry, EnglandEurope15½-12½United StatesEurope
2004Oakland Hills, MIEurope18½-9½United StatesEurope
2006K Club, IrelandEurope18½-9½United StatesEurope
2008Valhalla, KYEurope11½-16½United StatesUnited States
2010Celtic Manor, WalesEurope14½-13½United StatesEurope
2012Medinah, ILEurope14½-13½United StatesEurope

*Originally scheduled for 2001 but delayed for a year following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Subsequent tournaments have been played on even-numbered years.

Monday, 22 September 2014

F1 2014: Hamilton leads the way under the Singapore lights

LEWIS HAMILTON regained the lead in the Drivers' Championship yesterday after his seventh win of the season came in the night race in Singapore.

Championship rival Nico Rosberg was forced to start from the pit lane with an electronics problem before the same issue led to his retirement after 14 laps.

And Hamilton's unanswered 25-point haul means he now leads his Mercedes team-mate by three points heading into the last five races.

That represents quite a turnaround for Hamilton who was as many as 29 points behind Rosberg after the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa just four weeks ago.

There, the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg, which had been threatening to erupt all season, finally came to the boil as the pair collided at Les Combes.

A poor start by pole-sitter Rosberg had given Hamilton the lead by the first corner - but, on the second lap, Rosberg was able to close back up and tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside.

The move did not come off and, as Hamilton turned into the left-handed part of the chicane, his left rear tyre was caught and punctured by Rosberg's front wing.

Damage to the wing cost Rosberg any chance of victory - but he was still able to battle back up to the second place behind Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo. Hamilton, meanwhile, was forced to retire for a third time this year.

By contrast, Rosberg - up until this weekend - had only retired once, in Silverstone, and so the luck at least appears to have now started to even itself out.

Still, though, the season is not fully reflected in the points totals. For, while Hamilton has seven race wins, Rosberg has only four and yet it remains almost neck-and-neck.

But, rather than dumb luck, the issue appears to be with the points system and the differential between first and second place.

Currently 25 and 18 points respectively, finishing runner-up in a Grand Prix is worth 72% of the total points that the winner receives.

While favourable in comparison with the system used between 2003 and 2009 when the scores were 10 and eight, the use of 10 and six points between 1991 and 2002 best rewarded race wins.

In a campaign dominated by two men, this differential has become even more relevant especially as Rosberg has finished second on five occasions when Hamilton has won the race and the opposite has only happened twice.

Yes, it is important that consistency is rewarded - but, given that the top 10 all score, this would not be negated even if the value of a Grand Prix victory was increased back to where it once was.

It would not be difficult to implement either. The 15 points currently awarded for third place is 60% of the 25 points for a win - ie. the equivalent of six and 10 - and so should be used for second place instead.

Twelve points should go to third instead of fourth, 10 points to fourth instead of fifth and so on until the last four point-scorers are awarded four, three, two and one - rather than six, four, two and one.

If the above plan was implemented, Hamilton would be leading Rosberg by 229 points to 215 - still not a particularly big lead but one which is more reflective of the season as a whole.

Instead, the FIA stubbornly stands by its decision to keep the championship open until the last race in Abu Dhabi where double points will be awarded.

Of course, leaving the championship undecided until the season finale will add excitement to the proceedings.

But it is impossible to get rid of the feeling that the climax is a manufactured gimmick in a panicked response to the dominance in recent years of Sebastian Vettel.

One thing is for sure - the German will not be retaining his title for a fifth consecutive time this year.

Nevertheless, the absence of a competitive Rosberg in Singapore meant compatriot Vettel made it onto the podium in his Red Bull for only the third time this season.

That compares poorly to his team-mate Ricciardo who finished third yesterday for his seventh top-three placing, including three race wins.

And that third place was enough to keep the Aussie comfortably clear of the pack as the best of the rest behind Hamilton and Rosberg.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso is fourth in the standings, having finished fourth in Singapore, ahead of Vettel and Williams' impressive Finn Valtteri Bottas who failed to score for just the second time all season.

In the Constructors' Championship, Mercedes still have a 174-point lead over Red Bull and could win that title at the next race in Suzuka on 5 October.

Williams remain ahead of Ferrari in third place - though the gap down to nine points - and, in another tight battle, Force India are fifth ahead of McLaren by just six points.

Meanwhile, right at the back of the grid, Marussia are steadfastly holding onto ninth place ahead of the pointless Sauber and Caterham, thanks to Jules Bianchi's glorious two points at Monaco.

Where next then? Well, a week after Suzuka, F1 visits the Winter Olympic resort of Sochi in Russia for the first time before a three-week gap ahead of the United States Grand Prix in Austin.

The Texan circuit is the first part of another double-header, the second of which is in Sao Paulo in Brazil - before what will surely be a decider in the United Arab Emirates.

After all, even with the momentum now firmly behind the Englishman, surely neither Hamilton nor Rosberg will be more than 50 points clear by then.

As Hamilton admits himself, it really is still all to play for.

FORMULA ONE 2014
DateTV
Pole positionFastest lapWinner
16 MarchSkyAustralian Grand PrixHamiltonRosbergRosberg
30 MarchBBCMalaysian Grand PrixHamiltonHamiltonHamilton
6 AprilSkyBahrain Grand PrixRosbergRosbergHamilton
20 AprilSkyChinese Grand PrixHamiltonRosbergHamilton
11 MayBBCSpanish Grand PrixHamiltonVettelHamilton
25 MaySkyMonaco Grand PrixRosbergRäikkönenRosberg
8 JuneBBCCanadian Grand PrixRosbergMassaRicciardo
22 JuneSkyAustrian Grand PrixMassaPerezRosberg
6 JulyBBCBritish Grand PrixRosbergHamiltonHamilton
20 JulySkyGerman Grand PrixRosbergHamiltonRosberg
27 JulySkyHungarian Grand PrixRosbergRosbergRicciardo
24 AugustBBCBelgian Grand PrixRosbergRosbergRicciardo
7 SeptemberBBCItalian Grand PrixHamiltonHamiltonHamilton
21 SeptemberSkySingapore Grand PrixHamiltonHamiltonHamilton
5 OctoberBBCJapanese Grand Prix


12 OctoberBBCRussian Grand Prix


2 NovemberSkyUnited States Grand Prix


9 NovemberSkyBrazilian Grand Prix


23 NovemberBBCAbu Dhabi Grand Prix



STANDINGS
Drivers' Championship
PDriverTeamPoints
01Lewis Hamilton (Gbr)Mercedes241 (7 wins)
02Nico Rosberg (Ger)Mercedes238 (4 wins)
03Daniel Ricciardo (Aus)Red Bull-Renault181 (3 win)
04Fernando Alonso (Spa)Ferrari133
05Sebastian Vettel (Ger)Red Bull-Renault124
06Valtteri Bottas (Fin)Williams-Mercedes 122
07Jenson Button (Gbr)McLaren-Mercedes72
08Nico Hulkenberg (Ger)Force India-Mercedes72
09Felipe Massa (Brz)Williams-Mercedes65
10Sergio Pérez (Mex)Force India-Mercedes45
11Kimi Räikkönen (Fin)Ferrari45
12*Kevin Magnussen (Den)McLaren-Mercedes39
13Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra)Toro-Rosso-Renault19
14Romain Grosjean (Fra)Lotus-Renault8
15*Daniil Kyvat (Rus)Toro-Rosso-Renault8
16Jules Bianchi (Fra)Marussia-Ferrari2
17Adrian Sutil (Ger)Sauber-Ferrari0
18*Marcus Ericsson (Swe)Caterham-Renault0
19Pastor Maldonado (Ven)Lotus-Renault0
20Esteban Gutiérrez (Mex)Sauber-Ferrari0
21Max Chilton (Gbr)Marussia-Ferrari0
22Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn)Caterham-Renault0
*= Debut season in F1

Constructors' Championship
PTeamPoints
01Mercedes479 (11 wins)
02Red Bull-Renault305 (3 wins)
03Williams-Mercedes187
04Ferrari178
05Force India-Mercedes117
06McLaren-Mercedes111
07Toro Rosso-Renault27
08Lotus-Renault8
09Marussia-Ferrari2
10Sauber-Ferrari0
11Caterham-Renault0

Friday, 19 September 2014

Salmond steps down as Scotland says Naw - for now

Should Scotland be an independent country?
AYE
NAW
44.7%
55.3%
National turnout: 84.6%

ALEC SALMOND resigned as First Minister after Scotland rejected independence and voted to remain part of the United Kingdom in a historic referendum last night.

National turnout was almost 85% as the Better Together campaign topped two million votes, and eventually finished ahead of Yes Scotland by 383,937 ballots.

The pattern of the night's results from the 32 council areas became quickly established with reports of disappointed Yes campaigners knowing they had not done as well as the final polls suggested.

In fact, the first seven local authorities - including the islands of Orkney and Shetland - all voted in favour of Naw to varying extents with the tightest race of the whole poll coming in Inverclyde.

There, Better Together beat Yes Scotland by just 86 votes and it would have been quite amazing if the overall race had been so close.

Dundee became the first area to vote Aye, swiftly followed by West Dunbartonshire - and, for a brief few moments, the overall running totals tightened up.

However, a whole slew of results - in Midlothian, East Lothian, Stirling, Falkirk, Angus, Dumfries, East Renfewshire, East Dunbartonshire, and Aberdeen - then came in for Naw. 

It meant that, even with Scotland's biggest city Glasgow voting 53-47 to leave the Union, the Yes campaign was still behind.

Then, Scotland's former and present capitals both swung behind Better Together. Perth and Kinross went Naw by a 60-40 margin while Edinburgh was just as decisive with its 61-39 breakdown. 


By the time of the Edinburgh result, the BBC had already called the election in favour of Better Together, doing so at 5.14am with six councils left to report. 

Fife officially took Naw over the winning line shortly afterwards with the penultimate result in Moray and the last result from Highland also both voting to reject independence. 

Ultimately, only four local authority areas - Glasgow, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire - voted Aye in deep contrast to the state of the political map in 2011. 

Back then, just over three years ago, Mr Salmond's Scottish National Party swept the Central Belt and gained an unexpected majority in the devolved Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. 

Indeed, it was this overwhelming mandate which rather forced Mr Salmond's hand. 

His party, set up in 1934 with the stated aim of breaking away from the Union, had a majority in a system which was not even supposed to produce such results. 

And so, if Mr Salmond had not offered a referendum after his 2011 result, he would have been accused by his opponents of running scared. 

The caution at holding a vote came from the fact that, while his Scottish Nationalists were a popular alternative to the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats in elections, actual support for independence hung at around just over a third. 

Nevertheless, this campaign soon changed that. Sometimes feisty and always passionate, the last few weeks have seen an independence movement growing in confidence, belief and numbers on the ground. 

Aye supporters even gained a whole load of concessions from the three Westminster leaders in the closing days before the ballot. 

In truth, the Westminster establishment was running scared after a single, probably rogue, opinion poll put Yes Scotland ahead for the first time with less than two weeks to go. 

Business as usual in the House of Commons was postponed as Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband all hastily hopped on a train. 

Former Prime Minister and Labour leader Gordon Brown also became influential in the process, setting out a tight timetable for further devolution which Mr Cameron is now almost obliged to follow. 

It means that, while Mr Cameron may not have overseen the break-up of the Union, the coming constitutional changes will cause him a major headache ahead of a general election less than eight months away.

What also became clear is that the cry of an overhaul of British politics was not just coming from Scotland

The long-standing West Lothian question - where Scottish MPs in Westminster can vote on English-only matters - must surely now be properly addressed. 

Similarly, the Barnett formula - devised in the 1970s with the aim of sharing public spending fairly - has become massively outdated with Wales and some English regions now badly losing out to Scotland. 

Despite the Westminster leaders' vow to keep it, this is an imbalance which needs a review, even to the admission of the creator of the original formula, Joel Barnett. 

And this is especially the case with the Scottish Parliament effectively getting Home Rule with further powers over tax, spending and welfare arrangements. 

Some of the more embittered Aye campaigners have considered last night's result to be the very definition of fear triumphing over hope - but this is far too simplistic a view. 

Concerns over currency and the economy in general still remained as legitimate as ever, no matter how many times Mr Salmond blindly and falsely accused his opponents of scaremongering. 

With his dream of an independent Scotland over, Mr Salmond said this afternoon he would quit as First Minister in November.

But, despite his decision, his dream of an independent Scotland is not over altogether. Opinion polls showed the younger generation to be much more enthusiastic about independence than older folk. 

Aye led in every age-group except for the over-60s and it looks as if the overwhelming 'small-c' conservatism of the 'grey vote' was the decisive factor in keeping Scotland in the Union. 

The direction of travel is undeniable - and, while Mr Salmond will now not be the leader to achieve it, he made a point in his concession speech of stating Scotland had rejected independence "at this stage".

Should auld acquaintance be forgot? Not until the next time at least.

FULL RESULTS
SCOTLANDAYE
NAW
Local authority area (turnout)44.7%
55.3%
Aberdeen city (82%)59,390 (41.4%)84,094 (58.6%)
Aberdeenshire (87%)71,337 (39.6%)108,606 (60.4%)
Angus (86%)35,044 (43.7%)45,192 (56.3%)
Argyll and Bute (88%)26,324 (41.5%)37,143 (58.5%)
Clackmannanshire (89%)16,350 (46.2%)19,036 (53.8%)
Dumfries and Galloway (88%)36,614 (34.3%)70,039 (65.7%)
Dundee city (79%)53,620 (57.4%)39,880 (42.6%)
East Ayrshire (85%)39,762 (47.2%)44,442 (52.8%)
East Dunbartonshire (91%)30,624 (38.8%)48,314 (61.2%)
East Lothian (88%)27,467 (38.3%)44,283 (61.7%)
East Renfrewshire (90%)24,287 (36.8%)41,690 (63.2%)
City of Edinburgh (84%)123,927 (38.9%)194,638 (61.1%)
Falkirk (89%)50,489 (46.5%)58,030 (53.5%)
Fife (84%)114,148 (45.0%)139,788 (55.0%)
Glasgow City (75%)194,739 (53.5%)169,347 (46.5%)
Highland (4am)78,069 (47.1%)87,739 (52.9%)
Inverclyde (87%)27,243 (49.9%)27,329 (50.1%)
Midlothian (87%)26,370 (43.7%)33,972 (56.3%)
Moray (85%)27,232 (42.5%)36,935 (57.5%)
North Ayrshire (84%)47,072 (49.0%)49,016 (51.0%)
North Lanarkshire (84%)115,783 (51.1%)110,922 (48.9%)
Perth and Kinross (87%)41,475 (39.8%)62,714 (60.2%)
Renfrewshire (87%)55,466 (47.2%)62,067 (52.8%)
Scottish Borders (87%)27,906 (33.4%)55,553 (66.6%)
South Ayrshire (86%)34,402 (42.1%)47,247 (57.9%)
South Lanarkshire (85%)100,990 (45.3%)121,800 (54.7%)
Stirling (90%)25,010 (40.2%)37,153 (59.8%)
West Dunbartonshire (88%)33,720 (54.0%)28,776 (46.0%)
West Lothian (86%)53,342 (44.8%)65,682 (55.2%)
Na h-Eileanan Siar (86%)9,195 (46.6%)10,544 (53.4%)
Orkney Islands (84%)4,883 (32.8%)10,004 (67.2%)
Shetland Islands (84%)5,669 (36.3%)9,951 (63.7%)
Totals (popular vote):1,617,989
2,001,926

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