Ryder Cup

Is Europe’s dominance a threat to the Ryder Cup?

With Europe winning their third successive Ryder Cup to complete a hat-trick of victories over Team USA, their dominance of the golf’s greatest match was further enhanced. They have now won an impressive eight out of the last ten Ryder Cups, with the USA struggling to stay ahead by the end of the final day. While European fans celebrate the success, the question is starting to emerge of whether or not the overwhelming dominance of Europe will cause fans of Team USA to turn off their televisions and to stop paying for the privilege of being a spectator?

As the sun rose from behind the Scottish hills on Friday 26th September, the wait was finally over and Gleneagles was ready to welcome the stars of the Ryder Cup. It’s like no other golfing event, with vocal fans roaring around the golf course and passionate golfers cheering on their fellow team members. The atmosphere is what makes it so great. As the first match walked through the tunnel and onto the first tee, the crowd erupted, and the three day battle began. The morning saw eight players from each team competing in Fourballs. Half way through the morning session, the eight Europeans were looking good and were confident of delivering points for the team. However, by the end of the session, it was clear that these three days were going to be a tough fight. Europe ended up going 2½ – 1½ down. The star pairing from Medinah of Mickleson and Bradley continued their unbeaten run by beating arguably Europe’s best pair of McIlroy and Garcia (World Number 1 and 3 respectively). The USA’s rookies (the boisterous Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth) also turned up with a point to make and thrashed European rookie, Gallacher and veteran Poulter to win 5&4. There was hope however for the Europeans in Rose and Stenson, who dominated their match to also win 5&4.

When the players returned for the afternoon session, it was Foursomes they would have to try and master. With this being the format most different to what they are used to, it was interesting to see which team could really work together to find an advantage. Luckily for Europe, it was they who took to this format best and they dominated the afternoon session winning handsomely 3½ – ½. The stars of this session were not the American rookies, who had been rested by captain Watson, but the European rookies. Donaldson went out first with Westwood, who was competing in his ninth Ryder Cup. They beat foursome specialists, Furyk and Kuchar 2UP, playing with great consistency and steadiness. Dubuisson then made his Ryder Cup debut alongside McDowell in the anchor match, and hit some terrific shots, playing better than he had ever done before. At the end of the first day, Europe went in with a 5 – 3 lead and great confidence going into the second day.

Mother Nature blessed the home of golf once more with another glorious sunrise at the start of the second day. With the arrival of the weekend, the crowd was even bigger, louder, and more excited to watch the battle continue. The second day saw a repeat of the first day results. The USA once again dominated the morning fourballs, winning 2½ – 1½, with the European team coming out fighting in the afternoon and winning the foursomes 3½ – ½ once more. This meant that by the end of the fourballs and foursomes, the score was 10 – 6 to the home team, just as it had been two years previous before the miracle comeback at Medinah. This was perhaps a glimmer of hope for the US team, whose hopes of avenging Europe for two years previous were quickly fading. It would all come down to the final day and the singles.

As the players went out onto the course for the final day, it seemed that America were not going to give up without a fight. Early on the board was dominated with red, with McDowell struggling against rookie Spieth, and Europe’s rock, Justin Rose, was also down to Hunter Mahan. Rory McIlory came out determined to bring back a point for Europe, and obliterated Rickie Fowler, going 5UP after the first six holes. He beat Fowler 5&4 to post Europe’s first point of the day, meaning they only needed three points from the other eleven games to retain the Ryder Cup. McDowell turned his game around in some style, winning 2&1 in the end, and Martin Kaymer continued his singles success by winning 4&2. With a hard fought ½ from Rose in the fourth game, Europe needed just one point to win the Ryder Cup. It all seemed to come down to rookie, Jamie Donaldson, who was 4UP against Keegan Bradley with five to play. He had a put on the 14th green to go 5UP and to win the game 5&4, which would be the winning point for Europe. It ended up just inches away, which guaranteed a half point and the retaining of the Ryder Cup. However, it was the outright win the players, captain, and fan were all waiting for, and they all went marching off to the 15th. Donaldson hit a great tee shot onto the middle of the fairway, but it was his second shot that was the winner. In his own words, he hit the shot of his life. As Bradley walked onto the 15th green he saw it was a gimme and conceded the hole. This meant Donaldson won the match 4&3 and earned the point that won the Ryder Cup.

The scenes after the handshake were pure joy from all those supporting Europe, as well as from the players and staff, who could not contain their happiness. The cheers were erupting around Gleneagles, and the players who had already finished were hugging each other and began their celebrations. The last few matches still had to be finished, and Europe ended up winning 16½ – 11½. Captain McGinley was highly praised by all of the players and had ended up victorious.

After the final ceremony by the 18th hole, and the congratulating of Europe, attention turned quickly to the American team and what was next for them. Tom Watson had appeared to have got it all wrong and came under attack from one of his own players, Phil Mickleson. Although this attack was widely condemned, his points about how the USA had lost their way and needed to find a winning mentality again were important issues that need to be addressed. He brought up the USA’s most recent win, back in 2008, and asked the next captain, whoever that may be, to learn from Paul Azinger.

Most importantly the USA need to find their fighting spirit and hunger for the Ryder Cup, and learn how to win again. If they don’t, and Europe manages to win away for a second consecutive time, the American fans may start to lose interest. What makes this different to all of the other golfing events is the fans and the atmosphere around the course. It is vital for the Ryder Cup that this is maintained across the pond in the USA, and that they keep getting excited to support their country. If not, what is currently one of the greatest sporting events in the world may see a decline, and for all golfing fans that is a scary prospect that I am sure none of them would want to happen. So yes, as a passionate supporter of the European team I am suggesting that an American win might not be such a bad thing, and might even be necessary to save my favourite event in the golfing calendar.


Managerial stability: a thing of the past?

As Arsène Wenger stepped out at the Emirates Stadium last Tuesday as his Arsenal team faced Galatasaray it marked an astounding 18 years at helm of the Gunners and one is left to wonder whether we will ever see another managerial tenure in elite football quite like this one. Since he took over in 1996, there have been 207 different Premier League managers with major clubs in Europe following suit with generally shorter-term managers. Have times just changed and the days of managers being with their club season after season are over? Does changing the manager have any impact at all – if the players remain the same, things can’t be too different? If not the manager, what makes up the winning formula?

A longer tenure will ultimately lead to stability, but does stability lead to success? In Arsenal’s case, after a trophy-laden start, the recent success came off the pitch rather than on it, by guiding Arsenal consistently to the Champions League each year, Wenger secured millions in television revenue and this was used largely to finance the move into the Emirates Stadium. But success on the pitch is what matters to most and it is unlikely that another club at the top of the league would have granted their manager so much time to try and secure some silverware – the fans were more relieved than overjoyed at a top four finish most years.

Managerial stability provides a basis for long term planning at the club, attracting transfer targets can be easier if you can make a promise that the manager will remain, but this can be taken care of by a director of football or a commitment to hire managers that play a similar brand of football – Swansea are a prime example of this, from Rodgers, Laudrup and now Monk they remain competitive and tactically similar in style – perhaps more important than the actual individual that they bring in is that they share similar ideas about how the game is played. This is hardly a ringing endorsement for keeping the same man in the job however, it signals that the players themselves and style of manager is more important than the individual.

Money talks however, and with 19 managerial changes between them, Chelsea and Manchester City are not adverse to making a switch at the top. It is hardly coincidental that in terms of ownership, billionaire investors are not the most willing to wait and grow a club, preferring to force through immediate results on their vast investments. That last bit is key, vast investments, buy world class players and pay them enough money and you will find yourself with a team that can always compete and fight for the big trophies, regardless of the manager. It works in the other way too, put a proven winner like José Mourinho in charge of a struggling relegation contender and it is most unlikely that they will win the league that year. It doesn’t take a genius to correlate success to great players and great players to big price tags and for those truly elite performers, assuming managerial instability takes a little off their game, they tend to be good enough to sort themselves out on the pitch most weeks – papering over the cracks a little perhaps.

Is it not a little sad that there nothing to be said for a club sticking with its manager for years and years anymore? One only has to tune in to the odd radio football phone-in to hear fans call for the sacking of their club’s manager, believing that it is the man in the dugout rather than the 11 on the pitch that will pull the team up the league table. A study by Sheffield Hallam University showed that a team faced with relegation is more likely to stay up if they change their manager once things start to turn sour, but for teams comfortably in the middle of the table, changing a manager does not seem to consistently boost them higher up the table. Not good news for those managers currently fighting the drop.

Rather than bemoan the fact that a tenure like Arsène Wenger’s may never be repeated at the top of the game, it is nicer to think of it as a rare occasion where a club and manager just fit perfectly. Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, a remarkable man who did a truly astounding job, let us not forget that even Sir Alex was not immediately successful when he took over. The difference is that today, with expectations higher than ever and huge ticket prices not easing the demand of the fans, managers at the very top really have to hit the ground running or find themselves out of the door all too quickly – remember David Moyes? There is more to success than stability then, money and ultimately players have a huge impact, but the sacking culture is hardly one to foster and develop a younger manager in and with many questioning the lack of top English managers to lead the national team – is that not the biggest problem of them all?


Varsity horseracing

From Turf to Thames: Varsity Horseracing 2014 preview

If you had told me this time last year that I would be getting up every day at 5:30am to go out and ride racehorses, I would’ve assumed you were still feeling the effects from a recent night out. Being a show jumper, racing had always sounded like something fun to do, in the way that being a spy/driving an F1 car sounds like fun – it’s a nice idea, but it takes a very specific set of skills, is super dangerous, and let’s be honest, who’s really going to let you try it. But, when I heard that there were try-outs for the Oxford Horse Racing Team, I thought I would give it a go.

That was back in May. Five months down the line, I am fully invested in this new and exciting venture. I now love the moment when the horses rev themselves up as they prepare to gallop, and the feeling of a horse dropping lower as you give them the signal to push on a little bit more. It’s still slightly terrifying, but the experience is like no other, and with the race less than a week away (October 17th) our training has seriously intensified.

I, along with Elli Gilje (Keble), have been riding out for Charlie Longsdon through the summer. Charlie is regarded as one of the top ten trainers in the country, and he happens to be one of the youngest. Charlie’s yard is just outside of Chipping Norton in the middle of the Cotswolds. There are roughly 75 horses in work at the moment; and, all but one compete in National Hunt, meaning they race over jumps. The varsity race against Cambridge at Newmarket will be a flat race over a one mile distance. So, the horses may be a little smaller and faster than Charlie’s, but the principles of racing are the same for both.

Every morning, except Sunday, we get to the yard at 6.45 to find out whom we will be riding that morning and frantically gather together the specific tack we need for that horse. Then, one by one, each jockey either hops on or gets thrown onto their respective rides, and walks up to the outdoor riding school, where we walk in a circle until all of the horses and riders are present. The number of horses per lot can range anywhere from 16 up to around 30. Then Charlie comes up in the “jeep” (an old land rover) and organises us into the groups that we will be “working” in – there are about 6 horses in each group, placed together so that the fastest are at the front, before we head off towards the gallops through the stubble fields

We usually do two runs up the gallops. The first one is done single file to get the horses going. The second one is done ‘upsides’, meaning every horse runs in a pair so that they get a little competitive and work harder. I remember the words of advice that DJ, one of the head jockeys, told me the first time I went out, just as we were at the bottom of the gallops, just as the horses were getting ready to run; “The aim is to try to stay up with the horse in front of you, but not too close.” Boy, did I have fun trying to guess what the hell that meant.

Once the horses have done their work for the day, we walk back to the yard en masse. Every horse gets washed off and goes on a walker to cool down properly. Once they have been on for long enough, we take them out and let them into the field where they will spend a few hours relaxing and eating in a huge herd.

If I only have two lots for that morning, then my work is done, and I hop in the car and am back home by 9:30am – the time most people my age might be starting to think about when they’ll get up!

This has been the majority of our training – just getting out and doing it as much as we can. We have also had lessons with John Reid and Colin Brown (both famous former jockeys) at Oaksey House. We get on an equiciser, which is basically a mechanical imitation of a horse. On this, we can focus on our positions, as well as “riding a finish”. This is when you urge the horse on as much and as hard as you can, while remaining perfectly balanced and in control of everything. This movement is physically and mentally exhausting, and you find yourself completely out of breath in around 30 seconds.

Every member of the team has to work very hard to train for the race, but it’s all in the name of beating the tabs and making Oxford proud, and so it is definitely worth it. We hope as many Oxford students as possible will come up to support us on the day (and take advantage of the free entry and free drink!).

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Rainbow Laces campaign: We can change the game

“I can’t change zat I’m gorgeous” purrs Arsenal hitman and French heartthrob Olivier Giroud. He stars, alongside teammates Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott, in the north London club’s promo video for LGBT charity Stonewall and betting firm Paddy Power’s Rainbow Laces campaign, which aims to help to eliminate homophobia from football.

According to (admittedly ambiguously-sourced) internet statistics, the chances of none of the 5000 professional footballers in the UK being gay is 1 quadragintillion to 1. That’s 1 followed by 123 zeros, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000/1.

The aim of the campaign is to work towards a footballing environment in which the gay pros who obviously are out there feel able to come out, if they so choose, to a fully supportive reception from society.

This is in considerable contrast to the women’s game, where members of 7 of the top 10 teams in the world are openly lesbian or bisexual, most notably England captain Casey Stoney. The atmosphere that surrounds the women’s game is very different; the crowds at games are smaller and the culture of virulent abuse of opposition players is less prevalent, and as such it feels a much safer space for those who identify as queer.

The project is without doubt a noble cause, but it hasn’t been without its problems. There have been accusations levelled towards Paddy Power of using LGBT rights as an excuse for an elaborate guerrilla marketing initiative, and that some of the slogans used have been in bad taste; “Right Behind Gay Footballers” is clearly a sexualised innuendo which itself reinforces stereotypes that ensure that long-term homophobia persists.

This caused displeasure among some groups and called into question the integrity of the 2013 iteration, and it was the main reason behind the Oxford Men’s Blues pulling out of their agreement to wear the laces during Michaelmas 2013. Goalkeeper Ben Szreter said, “Last year we [OUAFC] were all fully behind the spirit of the campaign, but when we became aware that there were issues that some anti-homophobia groups felt concerned about, we thought it best to reconsider our position. That being said, it seems that organisation this year is much better.”

This year’s campaign, which has replaced last year’s slogan with a theme of ‘changing the game’, does not paper over all of the cracks in footballing institutions (the FA bans trans-women from playing for women’s teams for two years post-surgery to name but one high-profile example), but it is widely considered to have played a positive role in bringing issues of homophobia to the forefront of the sporting agenda. It is hoped that it will be able to add OUAFC to an ever-growing list of supporters, including numerous Premier League and Football League clubs and players, politicians and sportswear manufacturers. Oh, and Piers Morgan. Thanks Piers.

The laces themselves are available through both Stonewall and Paddy Power, but it will also be possible to obtain them during Wadham Queer Week (6th week Michaelmas)


Turf Times: The Racing Yard

“Be at the yard for 6.15am, and bring a hat and body protector”. I painfully recalled these wise words of racehorse trainer Chris Wall at 5am, as I dragged myself downstairs to the nearest source of coffee.

An hour down the road at Induna Stables, Newmarket it is starting to get light and the yard is bustling. The board arrives bearing instructions and tells us which beasts we are to ride. The 14 other jockeys, expertly armed with saddles, bridles, rugs and water buckets, sweep off to tack up. Poor Richard, the assistant trainer, is left with the job of explaining to me that a rubber is something that sits under a saddle, rugs are to be ridden in and that the tacking up process should take place in under two minutes. (more…)

Big 4

Flaws in Big Four bigger than ever before


After Federer lost to Cilic in the semi-finals of the US Open, he was asked whether the Big Four was over. Federer brushed off the question: “You said the same thing in Australia, everybody, and then we know what happened at the French Open final, Wimbledon final. I don’t think so.” However, there is good reason to sound the Big Four’s death knell. In fact, the Big Four has never really existed, and it definitely will not begin to flourish in the future. (more…)

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