Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Stoke-ing the Flames

Not content with one ass-whooping, it seems that the players at Stoke City have resorted to beating each other as well.

It has emerged to day that Abdoulaye Faye and Glenn Whelan allegedy got into a fist fight with one another following their 7-0 humping at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Now, this is no major surprise. Fallings out within teams have existed ever since that fateful day when a load of bored young men decided to kick and chase a pig's bladder and christened this bizzare activity 'football'. There have been countless examples of disagreements and in-fighting down the years. It has always happened and will continue to do so given all the egos, Alpha-male-ism and testosterone flying around the changing room.

What is a worry however, is the fact that this does not seem to be a rare occurrence at the Britannia club. Whelan and Faye's Flip Flop fisticuffs is not the first incident of this kind at Stoke City.

Manager Tony Pulis was reported to have come to blows with striker James Beattie following a disagreement about a Christmas party last December.

And of course, who could forget this....

No doubt we'll soon be hearing the typical “it will be dealt with internally” line as well as the “this kind of thing happens all the time behind closed doors at every club” quote to accompany it. But does it? If it does, are Stoke just really bad at concealing it compared to other teams or is their problem far worse than elsewhere? I'm inclined to think the latter. Yes, you hear about disagreements (Hello, Dutch national team!) but rarely do you hear of players 'belting each other in the face'.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it is evidently clear is that there is a fundamental disciplinary problem within the Stoke City squad. It's not even credible to say that Pulis has lost control because as Beattie will tell you, the manager is seemingly part of the problem.

Stoke has been cited in the past for their 'robust' approach to the game of football culminating in the horrific leg break suffered by Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey earlier this year. At the time, so many were quick jump in and defend the both the perpetrator Ryan Shawcross and Stoke City's style of football. Well, all the defences and suggestions of 'not being that kind of player' lose all credence when more and more stories of heated internal battles come out.

They are clearly a team packed with thugs and animals who have no respect for their own team mates so when they say that they 'never go out to deliberately hurt other professionals' they are clearly lying. Tony Pulis was on TV once again last week suggesting that Shawcross isn't a maniacal, bloodthirsty hatchet man but when it is clear to all and sundry that the there is a culture of violence within the club, how can we take his comments seriously?

What amuses me is the fact that he isn't disappointed about the fact the Faye/Whelan incident even took place but rather because the story was leaked. This just how much perspective the man lacks.

If this is the attitude that Pulis fosters and encourages we can only hope they keep it behind closed doors. They can massacre each other for all I care so long as they don't continue to wreak the careers of many more promising youngsters like Ramsey or any of their other 'fellow professionals' at other clubs.

In Attendance: New York Knicks v Washington Wizards @ Madison Square Garden - April 12th 2010

Once again, after a spate of semi-regular postings in recent months, The Ibyss has once again fallen into a temporary lull. For once however, your esteemed author has something resembling a genuine excuse for this. It may surprise you to hear that I have a life away from my computer and even more startlingly, real life friends! One of these real friends is currently residing across the pond in New Jersey. As such, I felt it necessary to take it upon myself to go and visit him for a week taking some time to enjoy the sights and sounds of neighbouring New York City.

The world has a clear love-hate relationship with America. This is neither the time nor the place to discuss it though. I'm sure there are tons of other places online you can find to debate healthcare, foreign policy or most importantly, their awful, awful beer! One thing I can not help but be impressed with however is their amazing attitude towards sport and the emphasis they place on competition.

Yes, Americans are incredibly arrogant about 'their own' sports and completely snobbish, ignorant and dismissive about anything they don't excel in but that has not detracted from what they have managed to achieve – albeit in an extremely insular way. Almost every pub or bar I frequented while stateside had a screen showing either the NHL, MLB or NBA. TV Channels are just as dedicated to grass roots and college games as they are to the professionals.

In that respect, I believe we'd do well to take a leaf out of their big sporting book. I can't tell you how happy it would make me if we did more for youth sport in this country. Whenever the subject of our crappy academy systems and youth schemes comes up, money always seems to be the main sticking point. But I don't know, if we embraced something as simple as a salary cap in the same way they do or even try to reassess how lottery funding is used then maybe we'd see a better distribution of finances resulting in better facilities to develop the athletes of tomorrow. Maybe then we wouldn't have a pointless inquest every time we fail at the Six Nations/World Cup/every tennis competition ever.

And of course avoid embarrassing situations like the fiasco of Fratton Park that has bored us to tears all season long.

So, being out there meant I felt obliged to attend some kind of sporting event and it just so happened that the New York Knicks were playing their final home match of the season against the Washington Wizards at the world famous Madison Square Garden. One of those places you hear on TV as a kid and never think you'd ever make it there. Well, LOOK AT ME NOW!!1


Anyway, apart from being rubbish at football and athletics, I also failed to be muster any discernible ability while playing Basketball it my teenage years. I did represent my school on few occasions basically because I had an early growth spurt and became known as 'the tall one'. As I say, I wasn't very good but I definitely enjoyed it. I started trying to follow the NBA and 'supported' the Chicago Bulls. Why? Well, Michael Jordan and all that. I guess that just makes me a hypocrite when I complain about fans from abroad supporting the big four in the Premier League but whatever.

As I got older, I stopped playing and stopped watching. The main problem with trying to follow it (and other US Sport) while in the UK up until very recently is the lack of access. Fixtures are so frequent and by the time you got round to watching Beverly Turner's 30 minute round up on ITV back in the day, the sense of urgency was lost. Nowadays, ESPN America provides more regular coverage but even then it's very hard for the casual observer to keep tabs on everything that goes on.

Regardless, I was still pretty excited at the prospect of seeing one the world's most identifiable basketball teams in the flesh. With the brief access I had of the NBA growing up, the name synonymous with the Knicks was the great Patrick Ewing. A man unfortunate to be playing in an era that also featured the aforementioned Jordan but still led the Knicks to regular appearances in the playoffs throughout the nineties.

*Deep Breath*

The current format of the NBA divides thirty teams into two conferences (Eastern and Western) of three divisions with five teams each in each. Despite facing teams in all divisions across both conferences, records are only tallied against others in your division. At the end the regular season, the championship is decided by playoffs featuring eight teams from each conference; the three division winners, along with the best second placed team. These will be the top four seeds according to their records. The next four teams in terms of their records across the conference also enter the playoffs as the lower seeds. The playoffs are in knock out format with each round consisting of 'best of 7' matches. The winners of the two conference finals progress to face each other for the NBA Championship in a final best of 7 game.

If that made any sense to you, you get a gold star. If not, go here

Sadly, it would seem that the Ewing era has long passed. This season saw New York lose 9 of their opening 10 games and suffer their biggest home defeat in Madison Square Garden history.

The Knicks finished third (of five remember) in the Atlantic division of the Eastern conference and their record a measly 11th best overall meaning they didn't make the play-offs. So, contrary to the protestations of Joey Tribbiani, the Knicks most certainly do not rule!

One of the reasons why Brits tend to be dismissive of American sports is because of all the cheesy fanfare associated with the event. I have to say, unashamedly, that any cynicism I had about this kind of thing completely evaporated once I got the chance to witness it all in person. As it was the last home game of the season, it was 'Fan appreciation day' at The Garden. I guess as a way of thanking their fans for their unwavering support over the course of a lacklustre season. I feel the likes of Hull and Burnley owe it to their supporters to do something similar...

What does Fan appreciation night involve? I don't hear you ask. Well, as we entered the arena they handed out free t-shirts - as you can see above - with the Knicks logo and the word DECLARE (I later found out that you are being instructed to declare your team, city and support! No pretentious Latin motos in NYC!!) on the front.

Fan appreciation night also involved an entertaining competition during the break between the third and fourth quarter allowing one lucky season ticket holder to win 10,000 dollars. Six fans were called up and each was assigned a cheerleader holding a suitcase. In a scene resembling a more exciting version of 'Deal or No Deal', each case was opened to see which lucky fan won the cash.

But of course there was a twist!

One case contained a 'wild card' which allowed another fan to steal the 10 grand from the winner...

If he could score a free throw!

Of course, he didn't.

No matter what you think of all the razzmatazz, it definitely adds to the overall atmosphere in the arena. For instance, the teams were announced over the bed of thumping Hip Hop baselines and each player had a brief intro video with production values better than most ITV programmes. Needless to say, the crowd was 'pumped' for the tip off.

As for the game itself, the Wizards took control almost immediately and led the scoring throughout the first quarter leading 30-25 at the first interval. The home side steadied the ship in the second quarter and went into half time down by just a single point as the scoreboard read 46-45.

At half time we were treated to a show from a member of the Red Panda Acrobats. I won't waste words describing what this involved but rather will let you watch in awe...

Also, cheerleaders....

After all that excitement, it was back to the game. The Wizards took control once more and were again leading going into the final quarter. Following the previously mentioned $10,000 giveaway, we were treated to various celebrities including Samuel L. Jackson (surprise, surprise) appearing on the big screens telling us to “MAKE SOME NOISE”. As cheesy as it was, it seemed to work. The fans were in full voice as a fourth quarter resurgence saw the Knicks win the game 114-103 sending 20,000 New Yorkers home happy.

I won't pretend I know a great deal about the players on either team but Shaun Livingston caught the eye for the Wizards who also had Mike Miller and Andrey Blatche racking up the points. For the home side, the stand out player was definitely David Lee followed closely by the Italian Danilo Gallinari who, between the two of them, scored 50 of the Knicks points on the night. A special mention to Sergio Rodriguez who was at the heart of everything during the decisive final quarter, ending the game on 13 points.

So that was my first experience of seeing live sport stateside and any reservations I may have had beforehand were well and truly extinguished. Yes, there is a huge emphasis on entertainment and sideshows but it certainly doesn't detract from the sport itself. In terms of the Knicks, I think they will be my team of choice from now on even though they are pretty rubbish at the mo. Can't ever accuse me of being a glory hunter.

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