Dublin: 20°C Tuesday 15 June 2021

The X Factor of Derry club football, Gary Neville's punditry shortfall and the week's best sportswriting

Time reading these will be time well spent.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville.
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville.
Image: EMPICS Sport

1. When I was a boy growing up in London, going to school and playing football, I didn’t know what racist abuse was because I never suffered any. So it seems crazy that, in 2019, I feel the need to write a piece in a newspaper calling for radical changes to the game that I love. But I do because the racism problem in football is so bad, runs so deep and is nowhere near being sorted.

England and Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling pens an emotive, incisively personal piece for The Times on the issue of racism in society and of how he doesn’t want the next generation to suffer similarly.

2. The epic, chaotic 1999 NFL draft had it all: Quarterback busts galore. Historic, massive trades involving three teams and 15 picks. Thunderous boos, double-crosses, late-night deals, green-room tears, prayer circles, internal franchise revolts, Mike Ditka in a dreadlocks wig, a Hall of Fame cornerback, a Heisman Trophy winner in a wedding dress and several juicy secrets that have just now come to light.

UPI 20180909 NFL legend Mike Ditka. Source: UPI/PA Images

At the center of it all was Washington general manager Charley Casserly, who recently categorized the 1999 draft as a “once in a generation” type event. Good thing. Because 20 years later, on the anniversary of the craziest hour-and-a-half in NFL draft history, nearly everyone involved is still trying to make sense of what actually went down.

ESPN’s David Fleming provides the ins and outs of one of the craziest NFL draft days in history from 20 years ago.

3. So let’s talk about Boyd Rankin. Once Ireland’s Boyd Rankin, then England’s Boyd Rankin, and now – by a process far too arcane and protracted to bore you with here – Ireland’s Boyd Rankin again. These days, Rankin is best known for his role in England’s disastrous 2013-14 Ashes tour, where he was not picked when fit, then picked when injured, and whose participation stretched to several overs of sterile, grimacing medium pace, delivered to a roster of chortling Australian batsmen at the SCG. 

Here’s the thing, though. Despite being born in Ireland, playing more than 50 times for Ireland, and only qualifying for England a matter of months earlier, nobody – at least on this side of the Irish Sea – seemed the least bit perturbed at Rankin’s initial selection. Nobody questioned the wisdom of tinkering with a winning side by parachuting in an untried fast bowler at short notice. Nobody raised qualms about whether, ahead of England’s biggest assignment of all, the selection of a quiet farmer from Bready in County Tyrone would disrupt team spirit or affect morale.

Jonathan Liew profiles those of foreign descent who qualified to play for the English cricketers and of the impact they each had on the side at the time. It’s an argument applicable to several sporting codes.

4. The third tier of the Derry all county football league should be no country for one-time popstars. A sneaky elbow to the ribs, a fly knee in the back, a boot up the backside, or worse – anything goes away from the prying eyes of match officials.

And then there are the verbals. They are plentiful at the best of times, with generations-old rivalries and personal grudges every bit as raw down the divisions as up top.

But when you’ve had thousands of teenage girls from across the UK dreaming of setting up home in Dungiven after swooning over your rendition of Michael Jackson’s Ben, well, it’s a bit of a game-changer.

“Ah, I’ve been called every name under the sun – by players on the pitch and people not even on the pitch,” says Eoghan Quigg with a laugh.

Former X Factor star Eoghan Quigg talks to The Irish News’ Neil Loughran about the impact his teenage rise to fame had on his life that followed.

St Patricks Day Eoghan Quigg during his days on the X Factor. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

5. Of course, it isn’t just ex-players failing the candour test. Football coverage (and indeed, football) is riddled with all sorts of rather pathetic omertas, many of which are justified on the basis of the game’s most elastic concept, and sometimes its most corrosive.

Namely “respect”. This player shouldn‘t criticise that player out of respect; this pundit shouldn’t criticise that player; this pundit shouldn’t criticise that pundit; this broadcaster is an upstart compared to that one; this player shouldn’t speak his mind on social media. One of the most tellingly ludicrous punditry rows of the past few years saw then Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius react to some criticism by Gary Neville, only for Neville to suggest it wasn’t his place to do so.

The row was soon joined by Gary’s brother Phil, who warned Karius to “say nothing to no one” and “keep your mouth shut”, before even Jürgen Klopp was wading in and demanding, “Why do we let them talk about players on television?”

Marina Hyde’s superbly written Guardian column focuses on how ‘football’s pathetic omertas only serve to benefit those with real power’.

6. Mary D’s Beamish Bar is so close to the Etihad Stadium you can hear the team announcements from inside.

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League - Quarter Final - Second Leg - Etihad Stadium Raheem Sterling celebrates his opening goal against Tottenham in the Champions League quarter-final. Source: Martin Rickett

A two-storey white-brick building with a flat roof, barred windows and a team of burly door staff in orange hi-vis vests, Mary D’s teems with supporters before every Manchester City home game. But with kick-off looming in the second leg of City’s Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham Hotspur, the crowd has thinned out almost completely.

In an area just inside the entrance, a dozen people sit around tables, their eyes fixed on a large television screen mounted on an interior wall above a pair of flickering fruit machines. Others watch from beside the bar. At the back of the room, a game of pool is underway on one of two adjacent tables. The dark linoleum floor bears the sticky legacy of a thousand partially spilled pints.

When Raheem Sterling puts City ahead in the fourth minute, levelling the tie on aggregate, the roar from the stadium slaps the side of the building like a sonic boom. The fans inside Mary D’s leap to their feet in celebration. There are embraces, clenched teeth, purposeful air punches and more than a few expletives.

Tom Williams sits with members of Manchester City’s core support, those who’ve been there through the bad days, but who can’t always be present for the good ones.

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to get stuck into last weekend’s Champions Cup semi-finals.:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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