52 not out – thanks for being part of the first year of the Sport Review newsletter. It’s been a bloody pleasure hitting send every Friday for you.
First, massive thanks to you, dear readers for signing up. Every bugger’s after your email address these days, I appreciate you trusting me with yours. Your enthusiasm and encouragement make rolling out of bed every Friday at sparrow’s fart with the laptop and a strong coffee very much worth it.
Thanks also to this fine nation’s sport journalists, who produce world class work every week, full of depth, passion and insight while making a living in a tough business. Get around them, support their work by paying for it, sharing it and supporting crowdfunding efforts like the brilliant LockerRoom.
And thanks for putting up with my own writing – the goal of the sportreview.net.nz blog when it started in 2004 was putting a bit of humour into the nation’s sporting discourse. You will be the final judge of course (!) but I’ve loved writing it for you and enjoyed the discipline of doing my own thing every week.
Ultimately this newsletter’s kaupapa is ‘caring about sport’ and ‘having fun’, and I hope it’s added something to your sporting week.
Sometimes sport feels like hard work with the week in week out grind, the shit posts, sports that feel more marketing machine than actual sports, while other athletes survive on oily rags. It can be harder and harder to justify spending your valuable leisure time on actually getting out and supporting your teams when the big screen TV and pistachio nuts are RIGHT HERE IN THE HOUSE!
But there’s so much to enjoy – the big tries, wickets, goals, winning trophies or losing them in enjoyably frustrating ways, and being part of a tribe and a culture. Sport catching up with society and starting to recognise female athletes properly has been huge and a real injection of enthusiasm and fresh energy. There’s a whole lot of sport happening this year with all those world cups on, I hope you have a great one. Thanks again for reading.
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Top three most popular newsletters
- Best of 2018 – year in review
- Ric Sallizzo’s Instagram is New Zealand sporting Taonga
- All Blacks end of season questions edition
My owns favs, in no order:
- Love letter to Test Cricket
- Auckland stadium power rankings
- Campground leisure activity power rankings
- Lost Amazonian tribe discovered in All Blacks touring squad
- A Crusaders fan on coping with a long, rugby-free summer
- Big serve – catering the right food on game night
A quick history lesson
English football has come a long way from muddy pitches, men with spiderwebs tattooed on their necks fighting on council estates and Big League Soccer on a Sunday. 1989’s Hillsborough disaster meant stadiums were made all-seater and family friendly, moving the game away from its working class roots, while Rupert Murdoch’s SKY injected plenty of TV cash when the Premier League as we know it was born in 1992.
Fast forward to 2018, and some of the best players in the world earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week (a week!) in exotic London, Manchester and, um, Bournemouth for kicking a ball about, doing a bit of training and trying to stay out of the tabloids.
What they’re playing for
The top of the table has has been dominated by the top London and Manchester clubs, along with Liverpool, who all want to finish in the top four to get a lucrative and sexy place in the Champions League, Europe’s top competition. Three teams get relegated at the end of the season, prompting some desperate football and woe in May, the favourites are Cardiff, Huddersfield and Watford at this stage. In between is a whole lot of mush, really.
- Tottenham Hotspur – From the North East of London, they’ve hovered around second place for the last few years, but last won the league title in 1961. In England, ‘Spursy’ means choking, but in actual fact they are the greatest football team the world has ever seen (I support them, ahem.)
- Star – Harry Kane, the World Cup golden boot
- Storyline – they move into a sumptuous new stadium this year, but tight finances mean they’ve become the first EPL team to not sign a single new player in the off season, much to their fans’ annoyance
- Manchester City – won it last year without too much trouble. Were perennially shit and a really solid laughing stock for years until they were brought by Abu Dhabi sheiks, who gave them the cash to buy pretty much any player they wanted. They’ve done pretty well since.
- Star – take your pick
- Storyline – can they be stopped?
- Manchester United – dominated the 90s and 2000s thanks to the bombastic Alex Fergusson, who oversaw an admittedly fantastic series of teams. Replacing him was hard though, and they’re onto their third post-Fegie manager Jose Mourinho, who’s either a genius or an unpleasant shyster depending on where you sit
- Star – Paul Pogba, the dynamo world cup winner
- Storyline – pressure is on to stay in touch with deadly rivals Manchester City
- Liverpool – dominated the 70s and 80s but have struggled to reach the same heights for some time. Charismatic German (not a typo) manager Jurgen Klopp has brought wisely in the break, and they should be there or thereabouts
- Star – the wonderful Egyptian striker Mo Salah
- Story – with some decent signings, they’ll be hoping this is the season they can break through
- Chelsea and Arsenal – the other two London clubs have both had disappointing (for them) runs lately and go into the season with new leadership – the former goes through managers like rugby goes through rules changes, while Arsenal have just replaced the venerable Arsene Wenger, who’d been in charge since the late 90s
- Stars – for Chelsea it’s Eden Hazard from the tremendous Belgian world cup run, while for Arsenal Mesut Oil is the least underwhelming
- Story – both aiming for top four, it’s hard to see them doing much more
None of this World Cup retro sophistication – they’re all shocking. The league’s global popularity means many of the sponsors are in Chinese characters, which is fine but makes it all look a bit Blade Runner.
Where to watch
In New Zealand, unless you’re doing something untoward with your computer, you need beIN, who partner with SKY to bring you every game, the Spanish league and more to your dish or laptop for $16.10 per month.
When Super Rugby arrived on the scene in 1996, it was brilliant. Colourful jerseys, mullets, cheerleaders. Even the word ‘franchise’ sounded exotic back then. 12 teams, everyone played everyone else, two semi finals and the whole thing took about three months. Fans were more interested in smoking a packet of durries before the match and going to an Exponents concert afterwards than loading up the credit card on replica jerseys at Rebel Sport.
But – no-one tinkers with a winning formula like rugby, and in 2018 we have a schedule that starts firmly in cricket season (the BLACKCAPS and England played a three Test-series during the 2018 Super Rugby season) and takes a three week break for a meaningless Test series to be played in June.
Teams from Argentina and Japan are included now, but overall, southern hemisphere rugby is going backwards faster than post-Joshua Tree U2, with former powerhouses Australia and South Africa nowhere near their 1990s form or organisational strength.
For New Zealand rugby fans, it means the same interminable local derbies week after week, with hard earned quarterfinal spots going off shore thanks to a complicated conference system that makes as much sense as those self-service machines in McDonalds.
Drivers for this mess are the desire to grow the game in new countries and the need to generate revenue, but we’re left with a competition solely geared to TV that leaves fans bloated and bored by the time it’s finished.
It’s not *all* bad – the Chiefs and Hurricanes produced a fantastic match last Friday night, despite star players being out injured, and are set to do it again tonight. The playoffs, now they’re finally here, look tasty.
What’s the solution? For fans, I say don’t reward bad behaviour and vote with your wallet. Watch cricket in the summer, and don’t watch rugby until after the international break, when the matches start to mean something.
Let’s rip the game back from the administrators, referees and sponsors and bring back the Super 10, that ran for three seasons between 1993 and 1995. Four NZ teams, two Aussie, Three South African and a Pacific Island international team. Two round robins, one final. Simple. Let’s do this.
World cup business ends aren’t a pretty place. Minnow nations’ fans waving frantically at the camera, probably dressed as their national parrot, are replaced by people quietly weeing themselves with tension.
England, who’ve previously gone for shyster foreign coaches and superstar-ego-pandering, are young, open, funny and likeable this time around, lead by the superb Gareth Southgate, all waistcoats and earnestness.
They’d overcome the long shadows of world cups past by winning a penalty shoot out for the first time and actually having a strategy on the pitch to reach their first semi final for 28 years. That’s roughly the same length of time between Martin Crowe’s 1992 semi final heartbreaker and Grant Elliott’s Eden Park heroics.
Going ahead early yesterday morning, they were reeled in and eventually passed by Croatia, every football hipster’s favourite team, all never-say-die determination and hard Adriatic noses and elbows.
Like someone said on Twitter, it’s the hope that kills you.
This is a young England team with an exciting future ahead, but with big guns like Brazil, Germany and Spain more disappointing than a dropped ice cream, 2018 may have been their chance to win it.
It’s France’s to lose now, although underdogs Croatia have some magic about them.
Big picture, England seemed to be part of a new wave of team-first-cultures, where it’s all about the group rather than superstars, along the lines of the BLACKCAPS under Mike Hesson. It’s a modern, inclusive way to do things, diametrically opposed to say the Australian cricketers, with their sandpaper and shouting at people.
These teams are fun and rewarding to support, but are they a way to win trophies? Let’s hope the BLACKCAPS show us how it’s done at next year’s world cup.
We’re nearly there for Russia 2018 and disappointingly, life will soon be back to normal. It’s been one of the best ever, with plenty of goals, upsets and a different set of teams at the pointy end. We still haven’t solved the problems of nations South America and Europe dominating the tournament – and hard to see that changing in Qatar next time. It’ll still be fun.
Best goal – Kevin de Bruyne v Brazil. Fantastic run from Luakaku, and a stonking finish
Best fan – the guy dressed as chips
You can watch at the pub of course, but the real work is done on the couch, with a milo. Football fans live a half-light solitary existence, mapped by World Cup wall charts, time differences and time-shifted recordings for the month. You basically turn into Renton in Trainspotting, but for football. It’s hard to resist.
Hosts Russia kicked things off this morning with a match against Saudi Arabia and, inexplicably, Robbie Williams. And we’re off. Here’s the build up, teams and how you can follow along.
Last time out
Germany won the last tournament in Brazil in 2014, taking the hosts down 7-1 in a seismic semi final. The champions are just as strong this time around, and seeing how Brazil, who live for World Cups, bounce back will be one of the great storylines.
Russia welcomes you!
Russia won hosting rights in 2010, with Qatar announced as 2022 cup hosts at the same time, in a bidding process shonkier than your un-consented deck. Since then, FIFA has been discredited by massive systemic corruption while Russia has hosted the drug, human rights violation and judging scandal-plagued 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, had state-sponsored athlete doping exposed, interfered with the US elections (allegedly!) and annexed Crimea. Expect some pretty painful Putin photo-ops over the next month.
It’s a fairly challenging time difference for New Zealanders, with most of it happening in the middle of the night, but there’s a game on at 6 or 7am most days. All the matches will be live on SKY Sport, with quite a few free to air on Prime including the semis and final – here’s the list.
The FIFA World Cup app looks pretty decent for yer fixtures and standings, but they’re not giving much video away – for that, sashay over to r/soccer, where you’ll find goal clips within seconds of them going in, and all the highs and lows of internet fandom.
I really like the Guardian’s football coverage – this preview is an amazing effort and achievement – and recommend the Football Weekly podcast, which is going daily. At home, Radio New Zealand have the Squeaky Bum Time podcast running for the duration.
Selected team previews
History: Winners in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002. Often called the All Blacks of Football by people who don’t know much about either sport, those yellow shirts and languid skills are everyone’s favourite second team.
Chances: Depends on how they bounce back from 7-1. They have the best players around, but as always, it depends on how they knit together.
History: Winners in ’66. Penalty shoot-out horrors, comedy goal keeping, non-qualification and general over promising and under delivery ever since.
Chances: Harder to predict than what’s going on with David Seymour. Harry Kane is the marvellous Tottenham striker who can’t stop scoring, if he can do the same for England they’ll be well placed. Come on!
History: Winners in 2010. Perennial underachievers, they finally put together a special team and tactics to match in South Africa, starting a golden run.
History: Winners in 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014. England’s worst nightmare.
Chances: More efficient than a Kraftwerk bassline, but not quite as stylish. Will be very, very organised and very, very hard to beat.
History: Winners 1978, 1986. England’s worst nightmare.
Chances: If Messi gets injured, they’re in trouble. It’s not a LeBron – Cavaliers situation but close.
There’s loads more of course. France have a fantastic team, Ronaldo’s Portugal are flying and all previews are obliged to mention Belgium, who have their own golden generation happening, and replace Croatia as hipster tipsters’ European dark horses.
Australia are there, but up against France, Denmark and Peru, who put the All Whites out, so will have a tough time making it out of the group.
Brilliantly, there’s always an unlikely nation like Cameroon in 1990, Romania in 1994 and South Korea and Turkey in 2002 who become global superstars for a couple of weeks. And there’s no way of knowing who it will be. Enjoy it.
This content first appeared in Sport Review newsletter number eleven – if you’d like to receive articles like this and much more every Friday, you can sign up here.
Auckland’s stadiums are like Stuff commenters – there are too many of them, and they’ve all got something wrong with them.
This week’s Auckland venue development strategy, handily summarised at sportsfreak.co.nz, confirmed that as ever, the sticking points are Eden Park, Mount Smart and Albany Stadium. There’s an argument for knocking at least two out of three over and starting again.
A waterfront rugby / league/ football / concerts stadium must happen, with a retractable roof and meaningful connection with the CBD. To help push things along, behold the Sport Review Auckland stadium power rankings:
#5 – Eden Park
What’s it good for? Rugby, and history. It was fantastic for RWC 2011, but that relied on temporary seating being put in. The number two ground is lovely for second tier cricket, with the old stand and the service station over Sandringham Road to aim at.
What’s wrong with it: It’s basically the world’s largest Back Yard Cricket venue, and no-one turns up for Test matches despite best efforts to put on a show. It’s too far out of town and your transport options are highly variable. Residents permanently terrified of Otago students vomiting on the Q7. No concerts allowed.
Personal high point: Cricket World Cup 2015 v Australia and the semi final, Waikato winning the Ranfurly Shield in 1993.
#4 equal – Albany Stadium
What’s it good for? Has potential but needs lots of work. Why not embrace the Shore’s culture and make it Stadium South Africa, home base for visiting Super Rugby teams, with Braai?
What’s wrong with it: Frustratingly far away from the bus station. Could be an ideal NZ Football venue and high performance set up but needs to get a pro team of its own, which is a can of worms bigger than Dune.
Personal high point: I saw the Kingz there once.
#4 equal – Mount Smart
What’s it good for? Spiritual home of the Warriors, in spite of itself. Close-ish to public transport if you’re up for a bit of a walk or are into industrial areas.
What’s wrong with it: Tired, needs a lot of fixing up. Despite having roots in South Auckland, the owners are keen as beans to move into town. Where Carlaw Park was. Ahem.
Personal high point: Paul McCartney last year, Big Day Out ’94.
#3 – America’s Cup village
What’s it good for? Drinking beer beside the Waitemata water while watching yachts. Simple pleasures. It’s right beside the Viaduct where it all started, and takes advantage of all the development since.
What’s wrong with it? Nothing so far – there’s a lot to do, but it’s going to be in Auckland, not Italy, which is a great start.
Personal high point: When we retain it.
#2 – Vector Area
What’s it good for? It’s downtown, still pretty modern and great for netball, basketball and concerts.
What’s wrong with it? The trains go straight past it, meaning an awkward walk back from Britomart. Would be the ideal location for a waterfront stadium.
Personal high point: Luckily, courtside for the Breakers one time, Pixies Dolittle tour in ’10.
#1 – Western Springs, cricket venue
What’s it good for? The boutique ground to rule them all. OK, it doesn’t technically exist, but if we can build a venue that can handle 5 or 45k fans just as easily, with lights, green top pitch, craft beer and some kind of artisan meat snacks that can still handle big summer concerts, it’s going to be an absolute winner. Victoria Park would be even better but it’s hard to see this flying.
What’s wrong with it: Residents permanently terrified of Guns n Roses showing up in speedway cars to poo on their begonias.
Personal high point: U2’s Love Comes To Town show in 1989, it was ace.
This content first appeared in Sport Review newsletter number ten – if you’d like to receive articles like this and much more every Friday, you can sign up here.
Rugby in 2018 is rubbish. Scrums that last longer than an Easter traffic jam. A Super Rugby comp that’s as organised as spaghetti. Justin Marshall.
But it used to be brilliant – we just need to bring back these top innovations from the past and everything will be sweet.
- Day time rugby. Playing under lights used to feel like the height of sophistication. We’re sick of that now. Day time games means a dry ball and running rugby, university students really enjoy getting drunk in the daylight and it’s heaps easier for mums and dads to take the kids without a meltdown.
- Angry coaches. Media training means you never see a decent blow up, walk out or swearing from a coach these days. We used to have an All Black coach called Grizz for goodness sake. Have some pride.
- Fighting. They say you can’t get away with dirty play anymore because of all the cameras, but I say just think of all those sweet YouTube views and get stuck in.
- Short back and sides. Remember when everyone got on Carlos Spencer’s case ‘cos he had a haircut? Now they’ve all bloody got them.
- Terry Wright. What with your ‘nutrition’ and ‘gym’, rugby’s no longer the game for all shapes and sizes. Bring back skinny guys, short arses and fat blokes, and make our national game relatable again.
- Tours. Three tests, and playing in the provinces. Seriously though, tours.
- Amateurism. Sure, everyone deserves to get paid, but wouldn’t it be better if Sam Whitelock always had time for a yarn at the butchers, Beauden Barrett delivered your Amazon packages and TJ Perenara was the kids’ PE teacher?
- Cotton rugby jerseys – jersey grabbing, and carrying twice your body weight in water when it rained added an exciting dynamic imo.
- On-field interviews with kids leaping around and pulling faces in the background.
- Australia. They were great, we should get those guys involved again.