Silly reporters in local newspapers

IN an homage to the nation’s “third funniest weblog” Angry People in Local Newspapers, I pay tribute to journalists’ silly season first-person features.

It was three years ago that a motley crew of wannabe hacks left Cardiff University, harbouring ambitions of setting the journalism landscape alight.

They got down to business – if you’ll excuse the CV vernacular – exposing town hall scandals and hospital failures, covering the country’s biggest court cases and breaking all manner of off-diary exclusives.

But they also had a little fun along the way.

A veteran snapper once told me reporters should seldom appear in the paper. To hell with that, there are few enough perks to the job as it is.

So to paraphrase Jamie Thunder of http://www.apiln.blogspot.co.uk, let’s pay tribute to the talented, overworked and underpaid minions in  newsrooms across the land.

A pick of the silliness:

Send me more silliness: joshbpettitt@gmail.com or post the link in the comments.

A Few Tips From Nick Bollettieri

A Few Tips From Nick Bollettieri.

Goliath needs David

UNPREDICTABLE, strange and downright brilliant. The spark to light up this year’s Wimbledon came from the most unlikely of sources –  40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm.

The Japanese veteran, who took a 12-year sabbatical from the game in 1996, had no right to trouble the seven-time Grand Slam champion. With no obvious weapons, a poor start to 2011 and giving away eight inches to her illustrious opponent, this should have been little more than a training exercise for Venus Williams.

As Williams strode out onto Centre Court she would have expected a swift match, on the path to full match fitness.

But Date-Krumm stole a march on Williams. It was a relative ambush, as she surged to a 5-1 lead in the first set before Williams could even take stock of her perilous situation.

But, all credit to Williams, she held her nerve and at 3-5, her early nap looked like a blip on her way to the third round.

But Date-Krumm, probably the only one on the court who genuinely believed an upset was on – judging by the disbelieving smiles from her support team – refused to roll over.

The match defied age, logic and the naysayers of the women’s game – myself included.

Date-Krumm’s all-round court craft and the way she traded blows, and survived, from the baseline confounded the assertions that you need to strike the ball with venom and be close to 6ft to compete at the highest level on the women’s tour.

The swerving slice, net game and athleticism of Date-Krumm was a throwback to bygone Wimbledons and a welcome contrast to the way in which most women are rooted to the back of the court.

But as is so often the case, David could not quite finish off Goliath in his death throes.

Although the match was always going to strike a chord with the British crowd thanks to Date-Krumm’s underdog status, it was the contrast of styles and array of skill on show which truly gripped us.

It took this match for people to sit up and take note, the quality of the women’s game is not in doubt, it is simply the variety of tennis on show which is lacking.

Net-charging Date-Krumm and sly Francesca Schiavone, the women’s game needs you, if only to provide the foil to others’ greatness.

2,652 and out for England Sevens star

RECORD-BREAKING England Sevens captain Ben Gollings is mulling over his future after being told his contract with the national team will not be renewed.

Gollings has run up unrivalled miles on the clock and points on the scoreboard after more than 10 years on the Sevens circuit.

The 31-year-old said he was surprised the England management chose not to offer him a new contract, but wished the team well in the future.

Some reports have the little maestro retiring, others have him considering his future.

His departure heralds a changing of the guard for England.

It is unlikely at the ripe old age of 31, and after a significant absence from the 15-a-side game in England, he will be able to forge a new career in the Guinness Premiership.

He currently plies his trade in a regional league in Australia for the Gold Coast Breakers.

Should he play on or not, his sporting epitaph will read: one of the greatest Sevens players to have played the game.

England were privileged to have had him.

As a footnote, there has been little to no coverage of Gollings’ forced retirement. The absence suggests that while Sevens is enjoyed as a festival sport by a few thousand around the world, it is not considered a serious enough code to merit the attention of the others.

Not necessarily a bad thing, and the sport will earn much more attention when it premiers at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Wimbledon – Day two

THE REAL drama of the second day at the All England Club happened on the outside courts.

Despite Serena Williams’ tears of joy after a much-anticipated return, it was the almost-heroics of Irishman Conor Niland and the belting baseline play of Fernando Verdasco which stole the day.

Men’s

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s progress into the second round was predictably comfortable. Both took a few games to settle on the grass, but, really, neither needed to get out of third gear and it was cruise control all the way back into the club house.

The beginning of the first week is not really about the show courts. The best value for money tickets are the ground passes.

Plying their trade on the less celebrated courts were Radek Stepanek and Verdasco. Stepanek, undeniably old-school, against the sublimely gifted Verdasco should have yielded a predictable outcome.

But Stepanek’s resolve and Verdasco’s reluctance to win ugly threw up a wonderful clash of styles. Verdasco fought back from two sets down and match point down in the fourth-set tiebreak to clinch the encounter.

It was always unlikely that John Isner and Nicholas Mahut could rustle some of the magic they found out on Court 18 last year. This time round the big-serving pair played out a much more typical, mildly interesting three-set match.

The gathered press left empty-handed, with little drama and plenty of aces.

Crowd favourite Marcos Baghdatis made it past James Blake in five sets and faces Eastbourne winner Andreas Seppi in the next round. Catch him while you can for plenty of smiles and a breath of fresh air – one of the game’s true characters.

Radio Five Live’s commentator could barely catch a glimpse of Ireland’s Niland as the crowd packed into Court 17. Niland, playing world number 55 Adrian Mannarino, broke twice in the final set to go 4-1.

But with the finish line in sight, the enormity of what he was about to achieve and a few quid on the horizon, he tightened up and capitulated.

His mum saw it coming.

Women’s

A few seeds fell on day two at Wimbledon. Jelena Jankovic, 15, and 10th seed Sam Stosur the most notable to be unceremoniously dumped out of the championships. Some of the Australian press have their knives out, and their doubts established about Stosur’s mental frailties.

S.Williams confirmed she is not yet fully fit, but showed she still has the mental resolve and shot-making ability to be a genuine contender.

Maria Sharapova quickly advanced her own cause and looks one of the few players with the game to crack the Williams’ dominance of the tournament over the past decade. Her mental toughness remains a sticking point.

Brit Watch

In a game short on quality Anne Keothavong overcame compatriot Naomi Broady, Elena Baltacha was refreshingly convincing in her first-round performance.

The British number one finally seems to have found her feet and sense of belonging among the women’s top 100.

James Ward could not repeat his Queen’s Club heroics and fell to the wily, effervescent Frenchman Michael Llodra. Ward might not have the talent of Alex Bogdanovic, but he does have steel.

He could yet play a role in advancing Britain’s Davis Cup efforts or here at Wimbledon – a worthy wild card. 

Diminutive Dan Cox and Dan Evans both joined their British fellows on the scrapheap for another year, leaving Andy Murray the only home representative in the men’s draw.

England need foreign cast-offs

Martin Johnson is right. In a world cup year, winning is everything.

So let’s not join the chorus of Luke  ‘notbittermuch’ Narraways after being given short shrift from the England management in favour of Johnson’s foreign legion.

This is necessity, not choice.

Johnson, ever the competitor, knows that the best chance England have of winning is to shore up the best of British with a few exiled cast-offs.

Although it might appear that England’s preliminary World Cup squad is peppered with southern hemisphere second-raters, only Thomas Waldrom among the new recruits has genuinely been overlooked by his own country’s selectors.

Manu Tuilagi has come up through the England age groups and, while still showing signs of the carefree Samoan attitude to tackling and temperament, his rugby education is firmly grounded in this country.

The late charge of Mouritz Botha has seen off the challenge of Saracens teammate Steve Borthwick. Steady as she goes will not win you world cups.

Botha, told he was too small by Western Province, chanced his hand in the East Midlands. Since his arrival on English soil, Botha has risen from slugging it out in National Three to Premiership winner.

Botha says he owes England for his meteoric rise and there will be a debt to repay if he gets to face up to the South African system which rejected him.

The England management seem to have adopted the motto, “If you’re good enough, you’re English enough.”

In a World Cup year Johnson is right to turn a blind eye to the root cause of this motto.

The ramifications are deep and unsettling for the English game.

Botha, Waldrom, Riki Flutey and Shontayne Hape are not good enough to be selected for their respective countries.

Phil Dowson and Jon Clarke – both of Northampton – should feel let down. They deserved their chances.

But the fact is we need the intelligence of Waldrom, the grit of Botha and the guile of Flutey to bolster our chances.

The Rugby Football Union has spent itself worrying over the job specs and candidates for the role of performance director. It has lost sight of the sport’s true conundrum – talent identification, development and realisation.

These are the foundations the RFU should build on, or else its house will come tumbling down.

So raise a glass to the willing foreign imports and celebrate the cosmopolitan nature of England – because it suits us for now. And if, in the most unlikely turn of events, we win, at least we’ll have something to moan about.

Wimbledon – Day one

UNDER a curtain of rain and a roof of steel, day one of the 2011 championships drew to a close with Andy Murray cruising to a four-set win.

As first days back go, there was little jittering of nerves , as everyone settled down and behaved themselves. Not a single seed fell at the first hurdle and, true to form, the plucky Brit folded like the joker in the pack.

Men’s

Defending champion Rafael Nadal wobbled to  2-4 in the opening set on Centre Court to the little-known journeyman Michael Russell. Russell, ranked near 90 in the world, looked as surprised as the rest of us and quickly righted things with a careless service game.

In an entertaining encounter, the Spaniard never looked troubled as he eased his way on to the hallowed turf.

Last year’s finalist Tomas Berdych was also in fine form, dispatching Italy’s Filippo Volandri with ease, dropping just five games.

Former child prodigy Richard Gasquet put in a confident showing against a determined Santiago Giraldo. The Frenchman is a potential fourth-round opponent for Murray and showed his class on the outside courts today.

Murray himself, bar a minor hiccup, proved no slouch in the day’s final match. Carelessly dropping the first set, the Scot went on to wrap up the ‘contest’, dropping just three games in so many sets.

Murray should face a similarly accommodating opponent on Wednesday.

Women’s

The women’s game is in a sorry state. Despite almost a year without either Williams sister on tour, they still have an irresistable grip on the ladies’ draw.

With a nod to the withering standards of the tour, I propose to halve the space dedicated to the women’s round-up. They might get the same prize money, but – and rightly so – the media give them less than half the column inches and I intend to follow suit.

So, to keep it brief, Venus Williams was reliably brilliant against her hapless 6ft 3in Uzbekistani opponent. Vera Zvonereva, 2010 runner-up, wobbled and righted herself and, in the only match of any intensity or quality, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone overcame a resurgent Jelena Dokic.

Schiavone is one of the few exponents of ‘complete tennis’ in the women’s game, equally comfortable charging the net as trading hefty blows from the baseline.

She held off an impressive challenge from Dokic and denied the Wimbledon crowd its underdog victory for the day.

Brit watch

This is where the true Brit lives, the gutter of the piece, hanging onto the coat tails of Murray and the reader’s goodwill to see the job through.

Wimbledon had not even been baptised in its first fit of rain before Katie O’Brien was shown the door in little more than an hour. (Need to fact check, but I think the first casualty of this year’s tournament).

O’Brien, ashamedly unplucky in a 0-6 first set, tried to rally in the second. But to no avail, dropping her serve, the ball, her trousers and anything else that comes to mind in a swift victory for 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm.

O’Brien is considering her future in the game after slipping to 215 in the rankings from a career-high of 84.