A slightly smug 3-minute story about meeting David Beckham


Maybe I should chase down world famous people more often. I’m vaguely disappointed with myself for bragging/writing a blog/getting so excited about spending approximately 20 seconds with David (pretty sure we’re on first name terms now?), but then I just think to myself ‘WHO CARES? I MET DAVID BECKHAM!’

How did this all happen? Becks was watching his son Cruz play in a prep schools rugby tournament at Wellington College, the school where I work as a hockey coach. He had turned up with his puppy yesterday morning looking very ‘hunting and fishing’, and inevitably the word got out. I was torn between intense jealousy (one of my colleagues had managed to get a good photo) and the guilt / cringeworthiness of intruding on him being a good supportive dad. I say torn… I jumped in the car two hours early on the off-chance I could stalk him down on the school pitches.

I apologise for the shameless name-dropping I’m about to do. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a few people you might consider to be famous. Wolf and Lightning from Gladiators (this totally counts for anyone who grew up in the 90s), Tim Henman, Kelly Holmes… When I was 11, I presented Princess Anne with flowers and then in a totally unrelated incident I found myself having dinner with her at Buckingham Palace 15 years later. I should mention that others were also present – it wasn’t a candlelit meal for two or anything. Anyway, these all pale in comparison to meeting Becks. Whether I think about it from the point of view of a lifelong Man United supporter, a sports fan, a sometime-charitable-donor, someone with the power of sight, I come to the same conclusion: The man is a god.

It’s quite nerve-wracking meeting God, as it turns out. A few metres away and I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to stop him from watching his son for the five hundredth time that day. Heart rate through the roof. Hands shaking. And once I pulled myself together and asked for a picture, I realised I was suffering from a temporary loss of brain function in the overwhelming excitement and couldn’t remember how my iPhone camera worked.

Most asked question: Does he smell good?
Answer: I don’t know. I think I forgot to breathe.

Never have I been so relieved at keeping my eyes open in a picture. I asked how Cruz’s team was getting on (1% out of genuine interest, 99% out of an awkward desire to keep my special moment with Becks going for a little bit longer). I am concerned I might have winked as I thanked him for the photo. Or was it him that winked? Let’s say it was him.

Don’t worry – I’m acting like myself again this morning rather than some kind of crazed David Beckham stalker. That is to say, I’ve only looked at the picture on my phone a couple of times rather than every five minutes.


Is Rooney England’s Greatest?


In the last few days, Wayne Rooney has become the ninth male English footballer to achieve the milestone of one hundred caps. He is also now only four goals away from breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s longstanding record of 49 goals for England. This has led to the usual inevitable questions being raised once again: Is Rooney an England great? Who is the greatest ever English player? Wouldn’t being the country’s record goalscorer make Rooney an undisputed legend of English football? Everyone else is having their say, so I thought I might as well chip in too!

Statistics are an interesting way of looking at any sport. Geek alert!! – I like statistics, I enjoy knowing athletics records, and finding out cricket stats and facts about tennis, hockey, the Olympics… you name it. However, my overriding belief is that statistics never lie, but they don’t tell the whole story. Anyone who has read the book or seen the movie version of ‘Moneyball’ may know what I’m getting at. It’s all well and good making a judgment on a player based on numbers – what they have achieved in the past and what they are projected to achieve in the future – but in general, success in sport is about more than just goals, averages or percentages. As fans, we want entertainment, skill and personality as well as performers who deliver on statistics. In team sports, complex dynamics may also be at work: for example, I would rather play alongside somebody who contributes positively to a team in other ways as well as scoring a good amount of goals rather than a player who may have ‘the best statistics’ but doesn’t necessarily have a positive impact on his or her team mates. Here’s a great example from water polo –

Manuel Estiarte, “the Maradona of water polo” was Pep Guardiola’s assistant coach at Barcelona and has continued in this role at Bayern Munich. He played in six Olympic Games, won 578 caps for Spain and was voted the best player in the world for seven years in a row. But despite having an outstanding individual in Estiarte, Olympic gold eluded the Spanish team until their star player reassessed his own role in the team:

“Working co-operatively with his teammates, he began to play a more supporting, enabling role. Almost inevitably, Estiarte lost the top spot in terms of goals scored, but his sacrifice changed the fortunes of the whole team and Spain won Olympic gold and the World Cup consecutively.”
(From ‘Pep Confidential’ by Marti Perarnau, p50 on iBook edition.)

So, is Rooney an England great? To begin with, let’s consider a few stats. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to apologise to the likes of Jimmy Greaves and Michael Owen, and compare Rooney only with Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton.

International Goals

  • BC: 49 in 106 (strike rate = 0.46 goals per game)
  • GL: 48 in 80 (strike rate = 0.6 goals per game)
  • WR: 46 in 101* (strike rate = 0.46 goals per game)                                      *so far

So on the basis of goals scored, whilst Charlton (currently) leads the way, Rooney has the same strike rate. Lineker was the most efficient of these top three England goalscorers. Interestingly, there are only two England players to have a goals per game ratio of more than a goal per game. Steve Bloomer (1.22) and Vivian Woodward (1.26) both played more than one hundred years ago – and didn’t score nearly as many goals or play as many games as Charlton, Lineker and Rooney.

Major Tournaments

  • BC: 4 World Cup goals in 14 World Cup games (4 World Cups)
  • GL: 10 World Cup goals in ? World Cup games (2 World Cups)
  • WR: 1 World Cup goal in ? World Cup games (3 World Cups)

Lineker also comes out on top in terms of efficiency in front of goal on the big stage. He is the only English player ever to have received the World Cup’s Golden Boot Award (having scored six in the 1986 tournament). Charlton is the only one of these three strikers to have been part of a World Cup winning team. Rooney has been vilified for his lack of World Cup goals – he scored his first at his third World Cup tournament during Brazil 2014. However, he has scored five European Championship goals to Charlton’s one and Lineker’s zero.

Attempting to compare players across different teams and different eras is one of the reasons the question ‘Who is the greatest?’ is pretty much impossible to answer. It is of course an interesting debate for pundits and fans, but even when you’re relying purely on numbers it’s difficult to make fair comparisons. As I said earlier, statistics don’t tell the whole story – you have to look beyond the numbers to get a truer picture. For example, whilst it is often highlighted that Rooney has only scored one World Cup goal, he has scored 32 goals in matches that do mean something – World Cups, European Championships and Qualifying Tournaments. Meanwhile, only 11 of Charlton’s total were scored in major tournament games and qualifiers – the vast majority were scored in friendlies (22) and the now defunct British Championship (16).

The success of a player’s team also has an impact on our perceptions of their greatness. As a World Cup winner, Charlton has been immortalised in the history of English football regardless of whether Rooney or anyone else beats his goalscoring record in the future. This is obviously a major factor that has also impacted on the Messi vs Maradona debate. Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina – Messi has yet to do so. For some people, this means that Maradona is the greater player. This is another interesting part of the debate: cause and effect. Was Maradona the difference in Argentina winning in 1986? Or was he an integral part of a wider group of talented players? I think this is an interesting part of the ‘Rooney debate’. He may have only scored one World Cup goal, but is it fair to expect him to have done much better when the team has actually done progressively worse across the three tournaments he has played (2006 – QF; 2010 – Last 16; 2014 – Group stage), suggesting England isn’t exactly a major force in international football? Can one man be expected to shoulder the whole responsibility for the team’s lack of success? Or would a greater player have managed to have a greater impact than Rooney has done? I think it’s probably also worth mentioning that Rooney isn’t doing too badly to be close to the record at the age of 29 given the amount of pressure and criticism from the media and ‘fans’ that he is forced to deal with most of the time.

As I mentioned above, there are other considerations when assessing who is the greatest: consistency, longevity, the way the game is played by different teams in different eras. If we use goalscoring as a marker, what is most significant: number of goals scored, or the importance of those goals? Jimmy Greaves is the fourth highest England goalscorer, but Geoff Hurst started ahead of him in the 1966 World Cup final and scored three of the four most famous goals in English football history. What impact does that have on our perceptions? Then there is the whole club or country debate. Ronaldo and Messi both have astounding scoring stats for their clubs, but simply aren’t as prolific on the international stage. Does this make them any less great?

Here, I have focused predominantly on goalscoring. This criterion presumes that the greatest players also score the most goals, which is flawed in itself because there are obviously many more qualities to greatness in football than who sticks the ball in the back of the net. Some people may consider Sir Bobby Moore to be England’s greatest ever player. Goalkeeper Peter Shilton still holds the record number of caps for England at 125. There will be an interesting decision to be made on the Ballon d’Or this year: Ronaldo – match-winning, record-breaking club goal machine versus Manuel Neuer – World Cup champion, game-saving sweeper-keeper. Good luck deciding ‘who is better’ there, FIFA.

I’ll leave you with a few more stats. You can decide how you choose to interpret them…

  • Rooney’s current international goals per game record (0.46) is just lower than Messi’s (0.47) but is better than Cristiano Ronaldo’s (0.44).
  • Didier Drogba, Robbie Keane and Samuel Eto’o all have the same current international strike rate as Messi.
  • Abby Wambach, the US striker, is the highest women’s international goalscorer with a current tally of 177 goals in 228 matches (0.78 goals per game). There are thirteen female footballers who have scored 100 or more international goals. Keep going Wayne, you’re almost halfway there…

The Not-So-Easy Life of a Hockey WAG

the no.1 fan

I didn’t care if I ended up in row Z, surrounded by screaming Oranje fans. Once the game had finished and my heart rate had settled down to an acceptable level, I spent most of last night figuring out how to get back to The Hague to support the England boys in the World Cup semi final on Friday and their medal match on Sunday. Forget Brazil – the real World Cup is on right now.

I’m fighting a few demons of my own about not having the chance to actually play in this World Cup. But having experienced the competition myself as a player eight years ago, this time it has instead been another outing as a “hockey WAG” for me. As it turns out, this can be a bit of a roller coaster ride too, which is what I’ll attempt to paint a picture of here. 

Presumably, life as the wife or girlfriend of a hockey player is rather different to that of a football WAG. Speaking personally, I don’t do my hair and nails for the occasion, and I wear a sensible coat and comfortable shoes. I understand hockey and I’m definitely there to see, not to be seen. As one of my friends told me today, I’m “the opposite of a WAG”! There’s certainly no first class flights, 5* hotels or VIP seats. That’s not a bad thing though – meeting and mixing with other supporters and the players’ families at the stadium is all a big part of the fun. I have already spent a few days in Holland watching, largely on my own, and I enjoyed it without ever feeling too lonely. 

Supporting on your own can be a strange experience. I suppose it’s a bit like going to the cinema alone – even though it’s all about what you’re watching, a quick word to someone about what is happening, or a simultaneous laugh, grimace or celebration makes it an experience best shared. The difference to a trip to the cinema is that when I watch hockey, I know firsthand the hard work and dedication put in, and the pain and desire the England players feel. The last ten minutes of a close game you care about is a million times worse to watch than to play in. Mostly because I’m desperate for them to win… and a tiny little bit because I don’t want to have to try to help (usually in vain) to pick up the pieces afterwards if they don’t. 

There are a few things that can be pretty irritating when fulfilling WAG duties. Perhaps I’m a spoil sport, but people with vuvuzelas should probably just steer clear of me. Mexican waves are actually just annoying interruptions to my view of the pitch – as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t want to watch the game properly, don’t sit in the stadium. A snatched five minutes of post-game conversation with a tired, sometimes sweaty and occasionally emotional boyfriend can make you feel better and worse all at once. 

Anyway, I’ve managed to sort out the weekend. A very early morning flight and a lonely ticket up in the Gods will be totally worth it to give a little extra voice to those England boys playing their hearts out in the World Cup semi final. If I get to be the only person in a red and white shirt celebrating madly amidst a sea of orange ones, it’ll be even better. Come on the boys!

No, I do not think it is “OK”! A rant about celebrity magazines.

Magazines on a stand in a newsagents. Image shot 09/2009. Exact date unknown.

Every now and then, I do have a serious problem with a serious topic. If you’re looking for something lighthearted, maybe wait for my next entry, or search for “funny cats” on YouTube.

I dislike women’s magazines in general but that’s largely down to a disinterest in and lack of ability at fashion, hairstyling and make up (see “Why I’m Rubbish at Being a Girl”). I’m genuinely not passing judgment on anyone who is interested in those topics. I have blithely used the phrase “brain pollution” to describe my feelings on this type of publication but I know it’s really rather unfair of me and I should without a doubt stop judging people for liking things that I don’t.

The issue that worries me here is celebrity magazines, with page upon page devoted to captioned photographs telling us how we should “see” these people. Their primary focus seems to be to highlight, comment on and generally criticise the shape, size, weight and looks of high profile men and women. Most of the comments tend towards consolidating widespread social beliefs about the perfect figure and what we are apparently supposed to aspire to look like. I’m not stating anything new here, but this has a potentially massive impact on social and psychological issues like body image, eating disorders and bullying. ‘Lads mags’ (which I do think are a genuine waste of paper) are often vilified for objectifying and demeaning women. Unfortunately I think a lot of the content in the magazines mainly marketed to young women effectively serves the same purpose in that it places so much emphasis and attention on appearances and superficial characteristics which ultimately have very little, if any, bearing on our value as people. I’m oversimplifying things, but if you’re prepared to look at a picture of a celebrity on a beach and pass comment about his or her weight or appearance, is this any better than buying a copy of “Nuts” magazine and staring at half-naked women?

In sport, it is a well-known fact that there is a huge gender bias in terms of media coverage. It is estimated that women’s sport receives only about 5% of total sports media coverage. Even in the last few months, highly successful sportswomen such as Olympic gold medalist Becky Addlington and Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli have been the victims of highly publicised instances of what is essentially sexist abuse in the media. Very recently, there was a disturbing incident involving Beth Tweddle, the multi-Olympian British gymnast. Sky Sports ran a well-intentioned Twitter Q&A session with Tweddle, which descended into a disgusting farce… a large number of the questions sent in were simple vulgar inferences about her appearance and personality. Essentially this is a high profile example of the same thing as I’ve been talking about. Tweddle was being judged on factors that had absolutely no bearing on or relevance to her brilliant achievements as an athlete or as a person. The social media aspect is similar in a way to reading a magazine and passing comment. You can hide behind the fact that you’re not saying these things to somebody’s face. This particular instance was probably worse because, well, put yourself in Beth Tweddle’s shoes in this scenario. But if we say it about someone famous in a magazine, we aren’t really doing something a world away from it.

There are also undoubtedly many other very significant factors that contribute to the psychosocial issues I referred to earlier. There are many other areas of the media and society at large that contribute to imbalanced and biased perspectives on other people, whether or not we know them. I realise it’s human nature to analyse, to judge, to communicate these feelings to others. I know that an awful lot of the things we analyse, judge and talk about are ultimately irrelevant. I also know that to some degree I’m being hypocritical here; I myself undoubtedly pass judgments and comment on people, when watching TV or even sometimes in real life. Ultimately though, I believe in the little changes that we can make. In my opinion, this issue being reinforced in magazines genuinely contributes to some big problems in society and this really is something we can try to stop. By not buying these magazines, by doing my best to avoid discussing whether so-and-so has lost/gained weight or looks ugly/terrible/worse than ever, I feel like it’s a tiny little bit less of a problem in the world. I have similar feelings about recycling and not leaving the tap running when I brush my teeth. It all helps a tiny bit, and if we all help a tiny bit…

I know I’ve gone into some contentious areas here. You may disagree with me or have a monthly subscription to one of these magazines. You may think I need to stop taking it so seriously and that we will probably never meet celebrities X, Y and Z anyway, so it doesn’t really matter whether we spend two minutes slagging off their ‘awful choice of swimwear’, or whatever it is. It’s probably bad that I’ve written this without actually reading (ha, loose term I would imagine) one of these magazines as part of my research. Essentially I am judging a magazine by what I am 99.9% sure is under the cover (based on what I can actually see on the cover). However, in case you haven’t guessed by now, I have no desire to waste my time or money on these publications. Hopefully, you may feel strongly enough not to either.

Thanks for sticking with me. I’m off to make a cup of tea, calm myself down and think of something trivial and fun to write about next time.