Thursday, April 23, 2009

Soccer Season nearing its climax

The climax to the soccer season in England is fast approaching. The Premier League have only 5 games left of a 38 game season and at the present time Manchester United, owned by the Glazier family, are favourites to retain their position as Champions. The top 4 clubs of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal regularly fight it out for the title. Since the League was formed in 1992 only Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have won the title, with the exception of Blackburn Rovers who won it in 1995. These top 4 clubs gain financial security year on year by their participation in the UEFA Champions League, allowing them to secure the services of the best players in the world. At this time of year, with the draft system coming in to play in the USA, it throws up the contrast between how professional leagues are managed on different sides of the pond. I am no expert, having only lived in the USA for 2 years, but the system in the USA seems to be a fairer way of allowing clubs or franchises to achieve and spread the championship winning teams throughout the league instead of restricting it to one or two. My soccer team, as you already know, is Sheffield United and they are in the 2nd tier of the English game but are in a good position to gain promotion to the Premier League this year. They have 2 games to play of a 42 game season and are currently in 3rd place. They have to secure a top two position to gain automatic promotion but there is a play-off system, allowing the 3rd to 6th placed clubs to compete for an additional place in the Premier League. If Sheffield United have to go through the play-offs and make it to the Final I will be back in England and so will be able to attend the game, which will be played at Wembley Stadium in London. I will keep you posted as to how it goes.

The Major League Sports and UK athletes

I have stated before on here that there is much disparity between the sporting cutures in the UK and here in the USA. It is very rare that a sportsman successfully makes the transition and plays major league after competing in the UK. I believe that the College Athletics system in the USA is the main reason. However, there are many athletics students who gain NCAA status from the UK in a variety of sports but few who go on and compete professionally in the NBA, NFL or NHL. One athlete who did manage to bridge 'both sides of the pond' is the former NBA player, John Ameachi. Ameachi was born in Boston, Massachussets, but moved with his family to the UK when he was 4 years old. He was brought up in Stockport, near Manchester and when he was 17 obtained a place at Penn State and subsequently at Vanderbilt. He was named in the All Americans and signed, undrafted, for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He then returned to Europe and played succcesfully in Italy, France, Greece and the UK where he played in the British basketball league for my home town club, The Sheffield Sharks. Due to his success and development he was signed by The Orlando Magic and competed in the NBA as a first pick for several years. he famously scored the first points of the 2000 campaign. Ameachi had the opportunity to sign a $17m deal to play with the LA Lakers, but chose to stay loyal to Orlando, who had shown faith in him and given him his opportunity, despite being on a much lesser financial contract. He averaged 10.6 points across his time with the Magic. This last point brings me on to my main point, which is that while he was with the Sheffield Sharks he averaged 21.8 points and actually scored 40 points in the British Final one year. The standard of the 2 leagues are 'poles' apart, unyet Ameachi not only managed to get a contract with the Magic he was an integral part of their starting five. The story of John Ameachi is one that gives hope to those athletes in the UK aspiring to play in the USA that it is possible with the dedication, hard work, positive attitude to bridge the pond and compete in a major league sport.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Life on the Road!

After a weekend In Colorado Springs playing the Air Force Falcons and the UNLV rebels, we headed back to Albuquerque for a couple of days school and practice before flying out to Idaho to take on the Broncos of Boise State. Again, back for two days practice and a quick trip to university before another trip to San Diego for a 5 day trip on the California coast.

So, I bet your thinking "wow, this is the life" and to be honest you are right. I’m playing the sport i love, traveling with 8 of my good friends to places i would never have been otherwise. It is however, very much business on a road trip and time to relax and sight see is limited. An example of our itinerary would be as follows.

A flight from the sunport airport in Albuquerque would take us to our destination and after claiming our bags, we would wait for the two hire cars which are normally from budget and we make our way to the hotel. Our hotel is normally one from the Hilton family but if we get lucky it can be a Hyatt. After a quick turnaround at the hotel, it will be a trip to the tennis center for a short practice to get used to the environment and courts for the following days fixture.

Dinner time after practice would normally consist of a nice Italian restaurant that sells a good array pasta. After dinner it’s just relaxation time at the hotel and then a quick team meeting to discuss what kit to wear and any last minute team news will see us off for the night.

Just for arguments sake, if we have a match scheduled for 1 pm, we would leave the hotel about 11 to go and eat and the get to the courts about an hour and 15 minutes before our match. After about a 4 hour match, we would get showered up and head for some food, which would normally be fast as we would have our next flight back to Albuquerque that evening.

It is a hectic time on the road but it is very enjoyable and experiencing different parts of America on a weekly basis is something i will never forget.

Monday, March 30, 2009

From the Field in Pittsburgh to the Ice in Sheffield !

Who thought that the Canadians and Americans were the only ones to play ice hockey?! The BHL, British hockey league is host to teams and array of homegrown talent. My home town Sheffield has the best Hockey team in the nation and there name comes all the way from Pittsburgh, USA.

You see, both Sheffield and Pittsburgh have or used to have major steel industries and the name Pittsburgh Steelers, which of course is the name for current supper bowl winners was adopted by Sheffield ice hockey back in 1991 when the club was formed. Like i mentioned earlier, Sheffield Steelers are the current leauge champions and playoff winers and are top of the 2009 BHL.

I can appreciate that the U.S and Canada has the best hockey in the world bu England does have a league and there are many players who are brought over to England, who are not good enough for the NHL but make the BHL a very competitive league and one that is growing stronger and stronger every year. Hopefully, English ice hockey will enventually be up there with the best, but lots of investment and marketing will be needed and i cannot see this happening for a while.


The Presures on!

I have touched on the pressures of student athletes in the U.S and how that differs from over the pond in the U.K, so know i want to share some more information on the pressures that athletes in England face on a regular basis.

Notic how i used athletes and not student athletes. There really is no such thing as a "student athlete" in England. There are sports teams of course, but not in the same magnitude as here. However, profesional athletes are forever in the spotlight and with the English media being how it is, the presure is always on. Obviusly football (soccer) players are in the media more than most sports but it is not that i want to talk about. The middle of June when the Wimbledon tennis championships is on, the country hopes and prays that it is Britais year for a champion, and every year since 1936 when Fred Perry won one of his 3 Wimbledon championship.
Above: Henman Hounded by press.

The presures facing the top british players is phenominal and the press love to keep piling it on. Tim Henman was at the top of his game for many years and had a fantastic career in tennis, however, the media think differntly and deemed him as a failure and a let down because he had no Wimbledon tittle to his name, even though he played in arguably the toughest era of tennis to date and came incredibly close on a number of ocasions. Every year the press would build him up an just wait for him to loose so they could wrtite there next negetive peace about him.

After Tim Henmans retirement they chose a new victim, and it is now Andy Murray, Britains next big thing. He seems to be coping with presure of British media better and has allready prove himself to be a contender but there i believe that if he doesnt win a Wimbledon championship soon, he will start feeling the heat,m ust like Henman.

I feel because America has a lot of tennis stars, Andy Rodick, James Blake, for example, there is not that element of presure coming from the media and i think thats why they do better. The media frenzy surroundin Wimbledon will start up aagin come June and it will be interesting to see If Murray can silence the critics.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Athletic Culture In The States!

Two years ago, when i set out on my journey of becoming a collegiate athlete in the U.S, i had no idea what was in store and just how demanding it would be to become successful. The pressure on an athlete is major and i believe that this pressure can only make you better. I think that being an athlete under fire from fans and coaches improves your game and makes you work harder and harder every day.

Having grown up in England, this kind of pressure was virtually non existent as you play in front of one man and his dog and winning and loosing is met with similar emotions and feelings. Winning and loosing in a college environment is the difference between a good or bad weekend, a good or bad write up in the media and a chance to either play or be dropped for the next fixture.

My first ever college tennis match was against the Boise State Broncos in an electric atmosphere at the Lobo tennis club. I had never experienced anything like it and the amount of people amazed me. There were a 1,000 lobo fans wanting to see there mens tennis team in action for the first time of the season and i wanted to put on a show. We narrowly lost but my thoughts after the match were ones of disbelief at the amount of support we had and for this reletively small sport just how much the Americans loved it. You certainky would not find this kind of atmosphere at a tennis match anywhere else in the world, let alone England.

As you can probably tell, the culture of sport in America and Englanmd is so different and this may be one of the biggest reaons America has so much succes in tennis and sports in general.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A bit more about my hometown... Sheffield!

(Left: The city of Sheffield)
(Right: Downtown Albuquerque.)

The steel city as it is known to many people in England boasts two football teams, a big city feel and a night life that any party goer would be impressed with. Sheffield is the fourth biggest city in the country behind London, Birmingham and Nottingham and It has a population of 577, 050. With Two major universities, Sheffield Hallam University and the University Of
Sheffield, there is a clear bulge in population with 20-24 year olds.

Sheffield is an ethnically diverse city, with around 14% of its population from black or minority ethnic groups. The largest of those groups is the Pakistani community, but Sheffield also has large Caribbean, Indian, Bangladeshi, Somali, Yemeni and Chinese communities. There has also been an increase with the number of international exchange students coming to Sheffield to study and a programme with the University of New Mexico has now been succesfull for a number of years.

I got into tennis at an early age, but also played other sports. I have a great tennis center which is only 5 minutes from my house so for me, it was easy to just go play and get into it. I wanted to further my career as a tennis player so i decided to move home at 16 to go and play at a school on the other side of the country. This was a big decision for me but if it wasnt for that decision, i would not be in New Mexico right now. The school i went to had just sent off two of its seniors to UNM and that is how i heard about it. In the fall of my senior year, i got flown out for the weekend to come and visit Albuquerque and see what the tennis set up was like. I throughly enjoyed my trip and with some minor pursuasion from my english counterparts i decided to sign with the Lobos.

The major differences with Sheffield and Albuquque is the weather, the food and the people. The weather here in New Mexico is incredible and it was one of the reasons i chose to come here. Blue skies for most parts of the year and soaring tempretures are somethings i had not seen in even in some of the hottest summers in Sheffield. Sheffield can be rainy and cloudy most of the year with the ocasional outspirt of sun. I belive the food here in Albuquerque is just as different in the United States, never mind across the pond. Just with its vast amounts of fast foods, Albuquerque differs tremendoualy from Sheffield and i couldnt believe when i first came the amount of fast food restaraunts in such a small radius. There is only three Mcdonalds that i know of in the whole Sheffield and if there is more, it wont be much more. The eating habits of the two nations are worlds aprart and i can see why the world has a bad perception on obesity in America.

There are many cultural differences and there are pros and cons to both cities. I am fond of both and i am so glad i am in New MExico where life is so much different.