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…

If You Grew Up as a 90s Kid…

If you grew up as a 90s kid

Or you’re the parent of someone who did

Then this poem may just resonate

‘cos life back then was really great

First day at school, January 1991

This rhyme started as a spark inside my brain

When I got a Panini sticker book once again

Remember football players, teams and shinies

In playgrounds and swap shops back in the 90s?

And what about the other crazes:

Yo-Yo’s, Pogs and Beanie Babies

Did you ever try to make sea monkeys grow,

Or ‘feed’ a Tamagotchi all those years ago?

90s crazes

Remember begging your folks for popper trousers?

And tying knots at the front of summer blouses?

Scrunchies and braids; the green and yellow Man U shirt,

Crop tops, cotton cycling shorts and my best denim skirt.

What about the shoes that we had on our feet:

Reebok Classics and Kickers, man they were sweet!

High tops and sneakers when they weren’t even cool

Jelly shoes were essential at the beach or the pool.

90s fashion

Now there might be a thousand channels to flick through on Sky

But in the 90s I don’t think we had Channel 5

‘The Playbus’ and ‘Andy in the Broom Cupboard’ on CBBC

Then ‘Fun House’ and ‘The Hurricanes’ on CITV

We were scared of the Child Catcher but we loved Power Rangers

Saw ads for Calgon, being Tango’ed and ‘stranger danger’

The theme tunes for the shows were classic as well –

Remember ‘Hang Time’, ‘Sabrina’ and ‘Saved By The Bell’?

90s kids tv

Weeknights meant ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Home and Away’

Then ‘Top of the Pops’ after tea on a Thursday

‘Live and Kicking’ was the start to a childhood weekend

But it was on Saturday night TV that we came to depend

Baywatch got things going, what a start to our night!

Gladiators next (to inspire our play fights)

Then Cilla, ‘our Graham’ and the fun of ‘Blind Date’

We finished with Casualty (BBC1, ten past eight)

90s saturday tv

If we were bored, we went outside to play

Swingball and hopscotch were the games of the day

We tried to hula hoop for as long as we could

I made my sis go in goal – she was younger, she should!

Six week summer holidays, the sun always shone

Ironically global warming seems to mean those days are now gone

But when not playing outside or watching TV,

We listened to music on a tape or CD

90s games

I remember when ‘Wannabe’ was number one

And arguing whether Mel C or Mel B was more fun

Eternal, Take That, Backstreet Boys and then Hanson

Mmmbop and Whigfield, they both got us dancing

The Macarena routine is stuck in my brain

We practised those moves again and again

The Fresh Prince rap is one we all know

Not to mention MC Hammer and of course Coolio

90s music 

We actually grew up alongside Harry Potter

Scared ourselves reading Goosebumps and later Point Horror

Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario arrived

We spent hours on Gameboy and keeping Lemmings alive

We welcomed email and the Internet age

But it took over a minute to load one single page

When you called up a friend, you used the house phone

And if no one was in: “Please leave a message after the tone.”

90s technology

Pick n Mix at the cinema was a big part of the trip

We all saw ‘The Lion King’, ‘Beethoven’ and ‘Free Willy’ doing the flip

When we left my Grandparents’ we got two jelly teddies as treats

Spent pocket money at the corner shop on penny sweets

If we were thirsty we had Panda Pops, UmBongo or Capri Sun

“Can you get your straw in? Me either! Help me Mum!”

We made ice-lollies with squash and ate Petit Filous

Fish fingers were yummy, potato waffles too

90s food and film

If you’re a 90s kid I hope you made sense of the rhyme

Just a few of my memories from back in time

Don’t stay in the past – we’re long out of school

But being a 90s kid… man, that was cool!

On the beach


Searching for Sporting Glory: the Underdog vs the Favourite

goal 2

In most sports, the competitors start on a level playing field. At the beginning of a game, the score is 0-0 and in a race, everybody starts on a line the same distance away from the finishing tape. However, it often seems like the tags “favourite” and “underdog” can have a big impact when it comes to performance.

Sport has an amazing capacity to get us talking, judging and predicting long before a whistle has been blown or a ball has been played. In the run up to any big sporting event, people across the world spend lots of time discussing and lots of money betting on who will win. Sportradar, a company that monitors sports gambling activity, suggests that the global sports betting market could be worth up to $1 trillion (that’s 12 zeros. 12!). We are bombarded with statistics, odds and opinions, but does this really have any bearing on a result?

Maybe it’s all about what goes on in our heads. Being labelled as the favourite can generate confidence, belief and a feeling of invincibility. But it can also create pressure and expectation. An underdog may struggle with self-belief or feel like they have no real chance, but for some sportspeople, the idea that there’s nothing to lose can help set a performance free. I have a strong belief that in sport, statistics don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole story. Just because Team A has beaten Team B the last nine times they have played, it doesn’t mean that game ten is a foregone conclusion. If it was, we wouldn’t feel so excited, nervous, tense and emotional about it all. That said, if either team allows the past to play on their minds, whether those thought processes are positive or negative could have a big impact on what is likely to happen.

Why can external opinions have such a big internal effect? The concept of self-efficacy may be important here. This idea is centred on self-confidence being situational and affected by factors such as observational learning and social experience. Learned behaviours and previous experience can seriously impact on a player’s belief and their subsequent execution of skills, tactics and physical performance. It might seem easier to win if you have done it before, and if others also believe you can do it again. But this is where underdog stories come in. As well as giving some sportspeople a sense of there being nothing to lose, they show us that in sport, unexpected things are possible. An underdog can sometimes have a great performance under no pressure at all and on any given day that can mean that an unexpected result happens.

In the last month, my hockey team has probably been considered both a favourite and an underdog in the three matches that determined the success of our whole season. In the English Hockey Playoffs, we had to play against two teams who had finished above us in the league table and who historically have had more experience and success in top-level club hockey. In the Cup Final, we were up against a lower league team who had done brilliantly to make the final (against the odds, if you’re the gambling type). As much as I think we approached all of our matches professionally and confidently, there’s no doubt that our sense of where we stood before the game had an impact on how we played.

Of course the favourite and underdog tags have a bigger effect on some sportspeople than others. In global sports or events, where media and public interest can be unbelievably high, the effects can be hugely multiplied. Just think of Cathy Freeman, the defining face of the Sydney 2000 Olympics. I can’t think of many examples of a sportsperson with greater pressure and expectation on his or her shoulders. Freeman was hailed as a favourite for the 400m, but her bid for glory transcended the track: she became a symbol of Australia, of the Aborigine people, and of a person trying to follow her own dream with the hopes and expectations of millions of people behind her. Incidentally, Freeman handled the pressure and won a gold medal.

For many sportspeople, the Olympics is the pinnacle of performance. We consider Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Chris Hoy and Dame Kelly Holmes to be British sporting heroes. They aren’t the only famous names from Olympic history though. What about Eddie the Eagle and Eric the Eel? Aside from the obvious necessity to have an alliterating nickname, the thing that these guys have in common is their underdog status. The public (including those who watch and support the Olympics as the peak of performance) tend to admire the bravery and pluckiness of these sportspeople regardless of the fact that compared to most Olympians they are pretty useless. ‘Useless’ may seem harsh… but Eddie the Eagle came 55th in the 1988 Ski Jumping with a combined total of 57.5m, whilst even the guy who came 54th managed 110.8m. Meanwhile Eric the Eel (who had never even seen a 50m pool before arriving at the Olympics) took twice as long as the winner of his heat to complete two lengths. These two Olympians may have emerged as crowd favourites, but they are two of the best-known underdogs in sporting history.

For some sportspeople, even elite athletes, they can remain regarded as underdogs if they do not quite achieve the very highest levels of success. Lee Westwood has been the world’s number one golfer, won the golf money list and represented Europe for the last eight Ryder Cups. Yet because he hasn’t yet won a major championship, pundits never really seem to think he will win. They think he might, but they never say he will. Rory McIlroy carried a four-shot lead into the final round at the 2011 US Masters but crumbled spectacularly under the pressure of being favourite. Just two months later, he built up an eight-shot lead over the first three rounds and coped with the pressure just fine to become a major champion for the first time.

Meanwhile, Tim Henman and Andy Murray have spent the last two decades carrying the tag of favourite for Wimbledon, regardless of form, rankings and the fact that both have played against some of the greatest players ever to hold a tennis racquet. Until Murray broke Britain’s 77-year duck on male winners at SW19, these Brits have somehow been tagged favourites every year despite the fact that realistically, they were probably always underdogs. And then of course there’s Wimbledon’s true underdog story: Goran Ivanisevic. Although he had made three Wimbledon finals earlier in his career, Ivanisevic entered the tournament as a wildcard in 2001 with a world ranking of 125. He went on to win the tournament. To illustrate quite how unexpected this result was, let’s consider the bookies. Ladbrokes and William Hill didn’t even give out odds for Ivanisevic at the start of that Wimbledon.

As I type this, World Championship Snooker plays quietly on the TV in the background. Earlier, I spotted Jimmy White in the crowd. Despite being a six-time finalist, he has never managed to win the World Championship. Snooker is a game of angles, finesse and very fine margins. White emerged as a prodigious teenage talent, progressed to play as a favourite, and probably ended up as the eternal underdog every additional time he failed to become champion. Of course, only in Britain would we dub a six-time runner up “The People’s Champion”.

It is considered typically British to support an underdog. This trait may have come from outside the sporting arena – maybe it’s something to do with coming from a small island nation. We consider the little guy who makes it big to be inspirational. We want to believe that even if the odds are against you, it’s possible to succeed. These attitudes are to some degree perpetuated by films and popular culture. Sports movies such as ‘Cool Runnings’, ‘Miracle’, ‘Rocky’, and ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’ teach us that whilst the underdog sometimes wins the championship and sometimes they don’t, it’s possible to win the hearts and minds of others by giving it a go.

I can’t even begin to cover every underdog story in sport here. As a football fan, lots of examples spring to mind: Greece and Denmark becoming European champions; Wigan winning the FA Cup in 2013; Manchester United and Liverpool mounting famous comebacks to win the Champions League from losing positions. What about baseball’s Boston Red Sox finally winning the World Series in 2004 after an 88-year drought? How about Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson as a 42-1 underdog for the fight? There are plenty of other examples out there, many of which have been inspirational and become legendary.

Of course, top sportspeople thrive on pressure. They expect to win and they want others to expect it to happen too. They may not have started out as a favourite – some sporting greats may have even have begun as underdogs. But to become truly great over an enduring period of time, you have to learn to perform with the tag of favourite. Michael Jordan, Steffi Graf, Usain Bolt, Cristiano Ronaldo (and Lionel Messi, so I’m not accused of favouritism): they haven’t just got to the top – they’ve stayed there.

As for my team, we managed to win as both underdogs and as favourites. Based solely on our emotional responses, I can understand why victory as an underdog may feel more exciting than when you are expected to win. For us, it was pure delight to win the National Championship. I think it’s fair to say most people expected us to win the Cup Final. That didn’t mean it was a given, but it made our victory a little less dramatic and maybe the happiness was mixed in with a bit of relief. Either way, I’m really proud of each and every one of the girls for doing their bit, getting better as the season has gone on and performing well when it mattered the most.

Pressure and expectation can affect us in both positive and negative ways. The bottom line is, sometimes favourites can lose and underdogs can win, but things might just go by the formbook. I’m hoping that we go on from being double champions once, to being remembered for doing it again. Because in the end, there are two types of sporting story that are remembered for the longest: the truly great and the underdog champ who defies the odds and makes the unexpected possible. Which would you rather be?

GB Women’s Hockey Team on Tour in San Diego – Part I


I’ve just arrived in San Diego, California, for a two week training trip with the GB Women’s Hockey team. As well as lots of hockey and gym-based sessions, we will also play a number of both official and unofficial matches against the USA and New Zealand teams at the US Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. I will try to give a bit of a flavour of what it’s like being on tour in my subsequent entries, but to begin with I am actually going to stay away from the hockey pitch.

We don’t always have much time to explore the places we visit on training tours and at tournaments, but I’ve actually been fortunate enough to visit this part of the world before (in December 2011 as part of our preparations for the Olympics in London), so things are a little more familiar than usual. The last time we were here, a team mate and I went on a guided bike tour in downtown San Diego during an afternoon off. We were obviously far too tired to actually cycle ourselves, so sat in a trailer while Holmes the bike man did all the hard work. He seemed like a nice guy and told us some good stories about the place, although as it turned out I got totally duped by my favourite one! So I have decided to find out some real facts about the place, although I should say that I am partly relying on my good friend Google to be feeding me trustworthy information here…

The story I referred to above is about the San Diego Padres, the local baseball team. According to our tour guide, a home run was hit out of the park and landed in the carriage of a freight train bound for San Francisco. The ball then travelled over 500 miles to its destination, making it the ‘longest home run’ in history. ‘What a great story,’ I thought, and spent the next week looking for a San Diego Padres t-shirt as I pledged myself to be a fan. Countless fruitless Google searches later, I’ve decided it’s definitely not true and I feel a bit foolish that I was taken in so easily. What I did learn is that the San Diego sports teams supposedly suffer from a curse, as none have ever claimed a modern North American major league professional sports championship. Perhaps this even extends to USA teams competing here, as this was where the Great Britain tennis team secured a Davis Cup victory over the US team for the first time since 1935 last weekend. There are a few famous sporting faces from these parts. Five-time golf major winner Phil Mickelson, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, and Winter Olympic champion snowboarder Shaun White are all from San Diego. Slightly more obscurely, Irish rugby’s record point scorer Ronan O’Gara was also born here.

Hollywood stars Cameron Diaz, Robert Duvall and Adam Brody also hail from San Diego. Lots of blockbuster movies have been set here too. It’s fair to say a range of genres are covered! ‘Top Gun’, ‘Anchorman’, ‘Paranormal Activity’, ‘Traffic’ and ‘Jurassic Park: The Lost World’ are all based in or around the city. As well as some cruder references (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about!), Will Ferrell’s anchorman character always signs off from his news shows with the brilliant line, “Stay classy San Diego”.

Tenuous link here, but speaking of ‘traffic’, there’s a few interesting facts about transport in and out of the city. San Diego’s airport is the busiest one-runway airport in the USA and second in the world behind our very own London Gatwick. The most visually striking piece of road is the Coronado Bridge, a two mile structure that curves out of San Diego city over to Coronado Island. The first person to drive over the bridge upon its opening in 1969 was Ronald Reagan. It may be spectacular, but it also has the unfortunate tag of being the third deadliest suicide bridge in the USA.

Coronado itself is the site of a large naval amphibious base, one of only two in the USA. Around 5000 military personnel are housed on site, including the famous US Navy SEALs (the acronym refers to their capacity to work at sea, in air, and on land). The SEALs have also had a major impact on the film industry and popular literature, providing characters in films such as G.I. Joe, the Tom Clancy novels and ‘Captain Phillips’. ‘SEAL Team Six’ was apparently responsible for the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 as part of Operation Neptune Spear.

There is a unique colony of harbour seals on San Diego’s Casa Beach. Captive seals can also be seen at the famous San Diego zoo, one of the major local tourist attractions. The zoo houses over 650 species from a wide range of habitats and will celebrate its centenary year in 2016. It has been the most successful American zoo in panda breeding programmes, with four of the six cubs born here having been sent back to China to participate in breeding programmes there. The first ever YouTube video, ‘Me at the zoo’, was filmed in San Diego Zoo and uploaded in 2005 by the site’s co-creator.

It’s always nice to have a sense of any place you travel to and it’s clear to me that there is a lot going on in San Diego. Hopefully we might have a chance to explore away from the hockey pitch! Stay classy San Diego….