Thursday, 10 February 2011

What a week!!

This has, without doubt, been an incredible few days for sport. A record breaking day and weekend in the Premier League, three fantastically competitive six nations rugby encounters, a classic superbowl and the start of the new Nations Cup in international football. There have been so many talking points that it can only be described as a sports blogger's dream - that is unless you are a sports blogger who decided to take a few days off!

In my defense, it wasn't billed as an amazing weekend of sport. Busy, yes. Amazing, no. With the exception of the superbowl, all of last weekend's sporting action should have been no more than a run of the mill weekend. An ordinary round of Premier League matches, the opening salvos of the six nations - with only the Wales v England game expected to be anywhere near competitive - and the usual mix of other sports making up a normal sporting weekend. I didn't see this one coming. I don't think anybody did. And that is what made it such an epic.

There are certain weekends in the sporting calendar that we all expect to be special. The F.A. Cup Final, the US Masters, the British Grand Prix, the Grand National and the finals of Wimbledon are all billed to fill us with excitement and to be sporting spectaculars. Sadly, the build up is not always matched by the outcome. For all of the hype, the anticipation and the endless opinions and forecasts in the run up to these events, often they turn out to be very ordinary.

It is not that last weekend was without its hype. The debut of Fernando Torres, for Chelsea against Liverpool, certainly kept the sports pundits busy in the days leading up to it. The Superbowl, even on this side of the Atlantic, can always be relied upon to be hyped up - especially by whichever TV channel has managed to secure the broadcasting rights. But apart from those two, nothing else was getting a great deal of press or airtime. So safe in the knowledge that nothing overly exciting was going to take place, I took myself off to Worcester for the weekend to celebrate a friend's birthday, and to sample the delights of the Worcester nightlife.

Oh how wrong I was. This weekend was a sporting classic. It is difficult to know where to begin summing the action up, or even knowing if it can be summed up adequately. In the same way as Match Of The Day struggled to fit anything but goals into its airtime, any attempt at a summary of this weekend's action would fail spectacularly in capturing all of the significant moments. Best to stick to the scattergun approach and not dress it up as anything else.

The only title or silverware at stake last weekend went to the Green Bay Packers in the Superbowl, as the underdogs overcame the predictions on Sunday night. All of the action that preceded the Superbowl would see no titles decided, nobody gaining an unassailable lead in any championship, and nobody losing out to such an extent that there would be no way back. Nobody that is except Roberto Di Matteo. In a weekend of shocks and surprises, the transition of Di Matteo from West Brom manager to the ranks of the mass unemployed was up there with the best of them. Not many people saw his sacking coming. Perhaps it was down to the good start that the club enjoyed to the season, or perhaps just the way that West Brom were outperforming their previous visits to the Premier League, but their slide down the table had gone relatively unnoticed outside of the Hawthorns. However, in the cut and thrust of modern football it is results that count and Di Matteo becomes the latest managerial casualty.

The only other big losers of the weekend were the Fulham fans. Fulham? Yes, Fulham. Fans of all football clubs, outside of the big four or five, bemoan the number of times that their team appears last on Match Of The Day. Spare a thought for the Fulham fans. Fulham have appeared last on MOTD more than any other team this season, and going into this weekend's fixtures a run of three weeks in a row appearing last on the program had taken their tally this season to nine. At least as their fans left Villa Park on Saturday they could take comfort that four goals in an exciting 2-2 draw would see them safely further forward in the scheduling. That did not take account of the record 41 goals scored in Saturday's eight matches. The last game on MOTD this week? Aston Villa verses Fulham. At least they had no boring games to sit through as they waited.

The record audience for Match Of The Day were treated to highlights of Manchester United losing their unbeaten run at bottom club Wolves and Arsenal throwing away a four goal lead at Newcastle in a game that will go down, not only as the record comeback in Premier League history but, possibly also as the greatest ever game in Premier League history. If nothing else, at least it should lead to less viewings of Kevin Keegan slumped over the advertising hoardings at Anfield in what was regarded as the previous best ever game. We also saw a record number of penalties awarded (eight) and scored (seven). Goals, penalties, sendings off and controversies. It was a treat to watch.

It was not just the football though. In the rugby Scotland gave France far more of a game than they were expecting, scoring three tries in the Stade de France. In many other years three tries would secure a win.

Italy played their part too. The perennial wooden spoon contenders gave Ireland a real fright, and only a last gasp drop goal from Ronan O' Gara saw the Irish prevail. The first round of games in the Six Nations certainly indicate an exciting and competitive tournament ahead.

One final note. On the day of great comebacks in the North-East, it was not just Newcastle United who overcame unlikely odds to redeem a desperate situation. The Newcastle Ice Hockey team, The Vipers, went one better than their footballing counterparts. Trailing 4-1 with only fifteen minutes remaining, they scored five goals to beat the Nottingham Panthers 6-5 in a truly exciting finale. They may not have received as much coverage as the events at St James' Park, but their efforts highlight that it is not only the sports receiving good coverage that can summon up excitement and entertainment.

I have learned two big lessons this week. The first is that sport is alive and kicking in this country. It serves up excitement, thrills and heartache at levels that few other pastimes can match. The second is to take my computer with me when I go away, as you never know when sport will decide to remind us all just how exciting it really is.

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