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.