The Cherub who Replaced God
“The greatest goalscorer of all time.” – Steve McManaman
“The best player I have ever played alongside.” – Stan Collymore
I’m neither a Liverpool fan nor old enough to remember how Ian Rush might have once been thought to be irreplaceable. That doesn’t mean however that I don’t remember a young striker making his name and more in front of the Kop with Carlsberg across if not in his belly, small ears sticking out from a Bash Street Kids face and goals raining in from all angles.
Scoring on his 1993 first team debut, the first leg of a League Cup tie, wasn’t enough. He went four better in the second leg, notching every one of the game’s five goals. Deciding then that the League Cup wasn’t big enough, a first league hat-trick was mustered at only the fifth time of asking.
Twelve goals in his first thirteen games for the club. Eighteen goals in his first season to be Liverpool’s leading scorer in all competitions.
The kid was a phenomenon. Frightening. A menace. A Terror. The Toxteth Terror. For the red half, he would become ‘God’.
“Nothing had changed in my routine, except that when I went down the chippy and got me special fried rice, it would be wrapped in a newspaper that had my picture all over it.” - Robbie Fowler
Between that 1993 debut and 1997, Robbie Fowler did things most footballers could only dream of.
David Seaman and Arsenal didn’t often concede three goals in a game. In the 1994-1995 season Robbie Fowler scored three in four and a half memorable minutes.
The PFA Young Player of the Year award was his in both 1995 and 1996
Nobody else has scored more than thirty goals in each of their first three full seasons in England. Fowler bagged 98 in his, making it 116 in three and a half years. Across La Liga, Seria A and the Bundesliga, nobody has ever bettered this.
It seemed at one point Fowler was destined for great, great things and nothing was going to stop him. Any other possible future was almost unthinkable.
“It's unbelievable when you see him play to realise that he's only 17. He's such a good player, so very quick and for his age he has excellent vision and awareness. He's a great player already and in one or two years he will become a very great player.” - Karl-Heinz Riedle
I’m not a Liverpool fan but I do remember when Robbie Fowler was once thought to be irreplaceable. I also remember a cherubic little boy, looking like a Cub Scout who must have gotten into Selhurst Park for half price, somehow tucking away an unbelievably composed finish for Liverpool one night in 1997. It was Owen’s debut, made while Fowler was out injured.
Right. Nice goal kid. You can go finish your homework once Robbie’s back though. He’s the man around here.
The problem was, he didn’t get back. Not really. Not to where he’d once been. And he wasn’t the man. He may still have been God, but he wasn’t the man. Not anymore.
“I feel that every time I get the ball at the moment I am going to score.” - Michael Owen
Michael Owen had a knack of being in the right place at the right time and so it was the case when Liverpool’s first choice striker began to suffer from injuries. He took his big chance to make his name as comfortably as he took the chances that came his way on the pitch. He made people doubt whether Robbie really would be irreplaceable.
As it transpired, almost unthinkably just a year previously, those wheels of revolution were already in motion as Owen replaced Fowler as Liverpool's first choice striker in the 1997–1998 season, a season in which he shared the Premier League Golden Boot and won the PFA Young Player of the Year award, just two years after Fowler had won his last one.
Sometime during that 1997–1998 season, The Liverpool Echo wrote that: “[Owen] has become Liverpool's most precious performer and, quite simply, their saviour.”
Considering Fowler’s nickname, one has to wonder if that final Biblical reference was deliberate. An indication of a changing of the guard, if not of the God.
Scoring on that Selhurst Park debut in May 1997 had been a polite warning to the Premier League. After finishing his first full season in the Premier League as joint top scorer with 18 goals he repeated the feat the following year.
It seemed at one point Owen was destined for great, great things and nothing was going to stop him. Any other possible future was almost unthinkable.
The record books will always show that Michael Owen was Liverpool’s top goal scorer from 1997 to 2004. They will also show that his number of appearances during that time, a number that surprised this author as he researched this article, was none too shabby for someone who is now thought of as having tendons made of shortbread. Indeed, he averaged more appearances per season than Fowler himself.
What these numbers don’t mention though is the start of the problems. The strains. The niggles. The problems began early although Owen was still as fearsome, and feared, once fit again.
After returning from another spell on the treatment table, 2001 saw him win the Ballon d'Or, at the time the European Footballer of the Year award. Kevin Keegan had been the last Englishman to win this, back in 1979. God never got his hands on it.
As Owen was flourishing, God was relatively languishing. There was no shame in being second choice to an on-fire Michael Owen but being third choice behind Emile Heskey was surely borderline blasphemy. And although Fowler’s quickest ever hat trick had been good for three points six years previously, Owen struck twice in five late minutes against the same opposition in 2001 to win for Liverpool a far greater prize. The F.A. Cup.
“The treble parade would have been the most perfect moment of my footballing life, but for the two people standing behind me, clearly already plotting their next move.” - Robbie Fowler
Some (Robbie for one) say heresy was afoot behind the scenes at Anfield and inevitably, in 2001, Fowler was cast out to the barren desert of Leeds. For 12,000,000 pieces of silver.
Three years later Owen followed Robbie out of the door, but took the far more glamourous flight path to Madrid. Liverpool received £4,000,000 less than they had for Fowler.
“A new club is like having a new girlfriend; you don’t have feelings straight away.” - Michael Owen
Of course, there was life after Liverpool for both of our subjects. The sad thing is that, even when this was back at Liverpool, it was never as good.
As stated, Michael went to perhaps the biggest club in the world and Robbie went to perhaps the biggest club in Yorkshire. And Michael scored more goals. I know what you’re going to say. “He was playing with better players.” True. But he still had to be in the right place to score those goals for Real Madrid. And by in the right place, I mean in Madrid in a Real shirt, which is somewhere Robbie Fowler never found himself.
Owen’s time in Madrid was a strange one and looking back, it feels somehow odd to me that he was ever there. Not Robbie Keane/Inter Milan odd, but a little peculiar nonetheless. However, a goal every third game, more or less, is reasonable and he finished the season with the highest ratio of goals scored to number of minutes played in La Liga. Certainly, his time there was not a failure.
“In my opinion, had I been managed differently I would have been at my best for longer (as opposed to being a better player). In my case I feel I played too much, too soon.” - Michael Owen
After leaving Madrid, Michael has found himself in hospitals in Newcastle, Manchester and Stoke, taking day release occasionally to have a kickabout, most notably one Sunday afternoon in 2009 when he scored something like a 113th minute winner in a Manchester derby.
“I don't want people losing respect for me as a player. I want to go out in every game and perform to the highest level. I have no retirement plans. I've had a lot of injuries but I want to continue playing.” - Robbie Fowler
Robbie of course went from Leeds (where he did well enough to earn a place in the 2002 World Cup squad) to a still poor (in both senses) Manchester City and then back to Liverpool, where it didn’t really work, before moving on to Cardiff, Blackburn and clubs in Australia and Thailand respectively.
It sounds like there has been a downward spiral in the quality of those clubs but… Actually, let’s not pretend… look at them! It’s certainly gotten a lot less prestigious as it’s gone on.
For Robbie, Liverpool was the zenith. The biggest club he played for. For Michael, Liverpool are arguably only third on that list.
“These tournaments come round every four years and we can’t expect to win them every year.” - Michael Owen
Robbie Fowler made his England debut in March 1996, coming off the bench in a friendly against Bulgaria. Later that year, he made two appearances at Euro ’96, scoring no goals. Two years later, a knee ligament injury caused him to miss the 1998 World Cup.
Euro ’96 was brilliant, wasn’t it? What a summer. So many memories. None of which involve Robbie Fowler. I have absolutely no recollection of Robbie Fowler’s two appearances at Euro ’96 nor do I ever think about why he wasn’t at the 1998 World Cup. I do however remember Michael Owen metaphorically scaling the Arc de Triomphe, standing atop like a tall English Napoleon and announcing ‘football world… i sont arrivés.’
Owen’s performance (singular) at the 1998 World Cup was a springboard to the heights of his career. Perhaps, looking back, it was the height of his career. Although none of his other international goals were quite so memorable, he did score at Euro 2000, the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004. What could have been big goals too. Opening the scoring in the losing quarter finals against Brazil in 2002 and Portugal in 2004, nobody could say Owen didn’t do his bit for the team.
Michael Owen remains the only player to have scored in four major tournaments for England and has actually played in five, injury unsurprisingly curtailing his involvement in the 2006 World Cup.
I had to check for Robbie Fowler’s England record. Beforehand, my abiding memory of God wearing three lions was a looping header he scored late on in a game once. The opposition escaped me, as did whether or not it was even a competitive game. Even after checking his list of appearances and goals, I’m still not sure who that was against. It really doesn’t matter. Seven goals for England, six of them in friendlies, cannot compare to Owen’s more than admirable record.
It's probably fair to say Fowler suffered rough luck during his career. Rough luck with both seriousness and timing of injuries certainly hindered his progress with both Liverpool and England.
Perhaps even more damaging for his England chances however was the quality of competition for places at the time he should have been making his impact. Shearer and Sheringham were the partnership of choice, a no-brainer at the time of Fowler’s productive early seasons. They were untouchable. Lower down the pecking order, Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright would surely be England regulars if they were around now.
Competition for places. Injuries. The only thing that could have been worse was the two combining. Surely not?
Wait, not him again.
The knee ligament injury that put Robbie out of the 1998 World Cup let in a familiar rival who would prove impossible to shift.
Had Fowler been fit, would Owen have even been afforded the opportunity to shine at that World Cup?
That question is now redundant. Just as he had done at club level, Michael Owen announced his arrival whilst filling an injured Robbie Fowler-shaped hole.
“I don’t believe in superstitions. I just do certain things because I’m scared in case something will happen if I don’t do them.” - Michael Owen
Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler. Two footballers whose careers were as similar as they were different. Both began with such promise that it was surely impossible to fulfill it. And so that proved, as the immediate impact sadly tailed off as they grew older.
Their styles were quite different, Owen of course in the early days simply utilizing his speed and movement to get in behind defences whereas Fowler simplified the game even further by just scoring from anywhere, anyhow, and seemingly whenever he wanted.
At their respective peaks, who would you rather have had in your team? Presuming that they have now both finished at the top level, who had the better career? Who achieved the most?
Does Robbie’s declining level of club count against him or for him? The willingness to continue playing, whatever the level? Or does Michael‘s Madrid adventure coupled with his consistency in finding top-level sick beds to lay on trump that?
And England. Owen’s record suggests he was a great England striker. Fowler’s confirms that he wasn’t even an average one.
I have my opinions on all this but I’d prefer to hear yours. As a small aside, I do wonder whether a Liverpool fan’s opinion would differ from those of other clubs.
A couple of quick facts:
1. At the time of writing, Robbie Fowler is the fourth highest goal scorer in the history of the Premier League. Michael Owen is not in the top three.
2. At the time of writing, Michael Owen is the fourth highest goal scorer in the history of the national team. Robbie Fowler is not in the top three.
Ladies and gentlemen, all things considered, I ask you:
Owen or Fowler?
Diego Maradona- Football- Championed by Hero
One day, Lionel Messi will possibly prove to be the global game's greatest player, but not yet, and certainly not just because he has blown the all-time number of goals in a calendar year. Messi may be scoring goals at a rate rarely seen since Dixie Dean's heyday, but he does have the advantage of being at the sharp end of probably the greatest club side of all time. Take Messi out of Barcelona and what do you have?
We already have an answer.
In the last World Cup Messi failed to score in five matches as Argentina lost in the quarter-final to Germany whilst his Barca teammates have lifted the Euro twice and the World Cup. It is argued that the Champions League is now a higher standard than the World Cup (not that the presence of Apoel Nicosia in the quarter-finals adds much weight to that view). Whether it is or not is irrelevant when judging Messi because he is playing for the best team in the competition, a team which even without him would be formidable. A truly great player is capable of turning a moderate team into a winning one. Like Diego Maradona.
English attitudes towards Maradona are understandably coloured by the "Hand of God" goal but his notoriety should not obscure his greatness. Maradona turned base materials into gold on both the club and international stage. Napoli were a shambles when they somehow found the cash to buy him in 1984. Fighting relegation had become a way of life with the club surviving by a point the previous season. Maradona turned them into title contenders and in 1986/87 they won the first scudetto in the club's history. A second Serie A title, and Napoli's first European prize, the Uefa Cup, followed. Since Maradona left, the club have not won a trophy.
Maradona was similarly central to Argentina's 1986 World Cup success. Ten of their 14 goals were scored or created by him, and his five goals included superb ones against England and Belgium of the type now associated with Messi. In the final, after West Germany had come back from 2-0 down to level, he supplied the pass for Jorge Burruchaga to score the winner. All this while carrying a knee injury which had threatened to rule him out of the tournament.
Brian Glanville, in The Story of the World Cup, his history of the competition since 1930, wrote: "It will always be remembered as Maradona's World Cup, seldom has a player, even Pele, so dominated the competition. In an era when individual talent was at a premium, defensive football more prevalent than ever, Maradona – squat, muscular, explosive, endlessly adroit – showed that a footballer of genius could still prevail."
This context is another factor in Maradona's primacy. He formerly played in an era when the tactics were negative and the tackling brutal. Maradona's relative lack of impact at Barcelona, and later decline, had much to do with the injuries he suffered including the notorious ankle-break by Andoni Goikoetxea, the "Butcher of Bilbao". Only after the 1990 World Cup, when Maradona carried to the final an Argentine team which was as guilty of these sins as any, did Fifa begin the crackdown which has allowed players like Messi to flourish.
Simply put Maradona was the best player in the most global sport and therefore rightfully should challenge for the biggest prize of all, the G.O.A.T.
The v2 Forum recently started a debate on who is the greatest sportsman of all time.
So far it has been an incredibly interesting (and sometimes heated!) debate.
Members have been putting forward their reasons for peoples inclusions from the groups of four that have been put up. In total 64 will compete but there can be only one.
After a weeks debating and voting, these are the five people who have won their groups so far: (Click on the winner to see the reason why they went through!Diego Maradona
Sir Don Bradman
Jerry Rice- American Football- Championed by Spaghetti-Hans
In a recent NFL search to find the greatest player their game has ever had, two separate polls – one from the fans, one from the authorities – reached the same conclusion. There has never been, and nor will there ever be, anyone better than Jerry Rice. We could list for you the records, his all-time highs in receiving yards, receptions, and career touchdowns (records not just held, but repossessed, unlikely to ever again be taken), but what matters more is the moments. And what moments there were...
How about his first Superbowl win in 1989, the San Francisco 49ers last gasp win versus the Bengals? The Rice Bowl as it will now forever be known was Rice’s first accent to immortality – an individual Superbowl record 11 passes for 215 yards, MVP, with a performance so good that George Bush Sr., sworn into office only 2 days before, made use of the White House phones for the first time to personally congratulate him on his display. Then again exactly one year later, Rice put to bed that saying so popular amongst old wives and superstitious sailors, that ‘Superbowl champions don’t repeat’. The 49ers were dominant; The Broncos were humiliated – 55-10 remains the most one-sided Superbowl victory in history. And with 3 more touchdowns, our man was the chef serving bronco rare. That San Francisco team has a strong claim to be called the finest in the sport’s history, and all great teams have a ringleader. Like Jordan for the Bulls, read Rice for the 49ers.
Like a man who picks up the phone before it rings, his relationship with his buddy, the great Joe Montana, was telepathic – Rice would run, and lo Rice would receive. Time and time again Rice would pick that pigskin from the air by the fingertips. Yet Rice was so much more than an outlet for a talented Quarterback – his positional awareness, precision timing, riot-shield blocking, and long, mazy, electrifying running with the ball made him unique. For a Wide Receiver he wasn’t particularly quick, but like a Messi or Maradona, the man could shimmy and shake his way through a brick wall.
The mid-90s were an undisputed golden age of NFL, and a Monday night in 1994 saw possibly its highlight. San Francisco versus L.A Raiders: The Battle of The Bay. Jerry Rice makes three touchdowns – and in the process overtakes first Ol’ Walter Payton, then the legendary American Everyman, Jim Brown, before finally setting a new all-time touchdown record. In the heated cauldron of one of the game’s great rivalries, all four sides of the stadium rose to acclaim their new champion. Even Raiders fans chanted the name of the Fog City Saint: Jerry. Jerry. Jerry.
You know you have attained greatness when grown men whisper stories about you round campfires, and at last orders in smoky bars. And there are more than a few tales about Jerry Rice. It was said that he learnt by catching bricks, that he gained his high-knees by leaping through the paddy fields under the Saigon moon, there are some 49er’s fans who swear they never saw him drop a catch. He did miss a catch (once, or maybe twice), but perhaps what they really meant was that he never missed a match. His record was outstanding, his legend durable, in 20 years he only missed ten matches. He floated like a feather, but was made from oak. In his final Superbowl victory, the Three-Peat of 1995 against The Chargers – he proved the difference maker once again with three more touchdowns – and he did it all while playing with a separated-frickin-shoulder. It's said that he wouldn't get into the ambulance until that ring was on his finger.
The man was simply a colossus, a giant who towers over every aspect of his sport. Will he win this prestigious tournament? We suspect not. NFL after all is not a sport that translates - its fragmented, stop-start gameplay, and off-field excess, its half-time shows and inch-wide winner's rings run counter to the simple spontaneous joy of other sports. It would take a brave voter indeed to champion an American Footballer over the tennis player, footballer, or heavy-weight boxer. But if a GOAT transcends his sport then this is surely what Jerry Rice did – he made a complicated sport easy: Run; Catch; Run; Win. A burst of lightning from The Bay.
Bjorn Borg- Tennis- Championed by 88Chris05
“I wish Borg would let someone else have a go at the title for a change" said tennis legend John McEnroe, after he'd lost the 1980 Wimbledon final to the ice-cool Swede Bjorn Borg. Indeed, of tennis' four major tournaments (now usually referred to as 'Grand Slams' although, as plenty of tennis fans will tell you, that's something of a misnomer), Wimbledon has produced the fewest champions in the open era, which spans from 1968 - the year in which the world's best professionals were allowed to play in the 'big four' - until the present day.
We've grown used to seeing one player make themselves synonamous with the green grass of SW19, and make the trophy their own; Roger Federer in the past decade, Pete Sampras before him, and Boris Becker before the pair of them. Certainly, this happens far more at Wimbledon than at any of the other tennis majors. But there was one man who got there first before all of them in guaranteeing that his name will always be linked with those images of strawberries, all-white kits and, unfortunately, Cliff Richard - and that man was Bjorn Rhune Borg.
It's impossible to do justice to the way in which Borg grabbed tennis by the scruff of its neck and slapped it in to life when he burst on to the scene in the mid seventies. Like Alex Higgins in snooker or Ian Thorpe in swimming, Borg's presence turned what was seen largely as a fuddy-duddy game for upper class Brits and our descendants from Down Under in to a cool, world-wide televised phenomenon. There was tennis before Borg, and tennis after, and no other player in the men's game has ever brought about as much change.
What was the reason for this? Well, there was no single one, but a combination of factors. The good looks, the quiet yet totally absorbing charisma, and the new level of power and athleticism which Borg gave to the game all helped. In 1979, he earned over one million dollars in a single season, a figure which would have been unimaginable just half a decade earlier.
He was also an incredibly young man in what had, until then, a little bit more of a slow-burning sport; Borg was still barely eighteen years old when he won his first of eleven majors, the French Open, in June 1974. When he repeated the trick the following year, as well as leading Sweden to their first Davis Cup victory, the message was clear - no longer could the old timers (such as the wonderful and indefatigable Ken Rosewall who, in 1974, had made the Wimbledon final aged forty, a whole two decades after his first) last the pace - Borg was ushering in a new era of young, athletic superstars such as Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.
On the European red clay, Borg was close to unbeatable. He triumphed at Roland Garros / the French Open six times; 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1981. Though his overall haul has since been surpassed by Rafael Nadal's seven, his mark of four on the spin from 1978 to 1981 is yet to be bettered.
Borg's other five majors were all won at Wimbledon, and all of them in succession; his 1976-1980 achievement has still not been outstripped, and even the phenomenal Roger Federer had to settle for equalling it, with a 'fivetimer' of his own between 2003 and 2007.
However, the pure statistics can't convey the enourmity of Borg's achievements in being so dominant in both Paris and London. First of all, in Borg's peak, there was only one week which separated the end of the French Open and the start of Wimbledon. In more recent times, this has been lengthened to a fortnight and, starting in the near future, will be extended even further to a three week break. For Borg, there was no chance to have a prolonged rest, to quickly ease his way back in to the different and varied rigours of grass court tennis after playing for so long on the clay. As soon as one was finished, the other was knocking on the door.
And even more crucially, the difference between how clay and grass courts played back in the seventies can not be overstated. I remember an interview with the long-time coach of André Agassi (one of the few men to have completed the coveted 'career Slam' by winning all four tennis majors at some stage), Gil Reyes, in which he touched on how difficult and large the shift in training for clay tennis and then quickly moving over to grass was. Reyes said that he and Agassi had to totally change their regime as, "it's not just like a different kind of tennis - it's like a totally different sport altogether."
That was true in Agassi's nineties pomp, and it was even more so in Borg's peak. Nowadays, it's common to see fans and players alike bemoaning the fact that grass courts, previously the fastest and most 'specialised' in tennis, have been made too similar to the slower clay and Australian hard ones, and that there is a lack of variation in the game now. A cursory glance at Wimbledon these days, in which you'll nary a see a serve and volley player making any great inroads in to the tournament (previously, these players had been the dominant ones on the surface) is proof enough of this.
However, during Borg's career, clay and grass were the antithesis of each other. The high bounce and slow play of Paris was startling different to the low, skidding grass of SW19; conventional wisdom said that, while baseliners would always be successful on clay, they couldn't hope to beat the more lythe, so-called 'artistic' serve and volley players who prospered on the faster surface at Wimbledon. Borg made a mockery of that theory - between all of his triumphs at both events, there were three years - 1978, 1979 and 1980 - in which he won both the French Open and Wimbledon back to back.
To me, this is one of the most remarkable feats in sport. After 1980, it was another twenty-eight years until Rafael Nadal became the next man to pick up the two tournaments in the same year and, while the Spaniard's form in 2008 was sensational, as far as I'm concerned it just doesn't quite have that same aura around it as Borg's achievement in mastering both the red and green surfaces so effortlessly and so often.
Borg's influence on the game is everywhere, even now. Whenever Roger Federer's ice-cool temperament and clear-headedness under pressure is mentioned, it's inevitably linked back to Borg, who became known appropriately as the 'Ice Man' because of these qualities. When there's talk of how Rafael Nadal has done so much to attract females and children to the game with his looks, youthful energy and star quality, there will always be those quick to point out that, in fact, it was this incredible Swede who was there first.
Although a major on a hard court alluded him (he seldom played the Australian Open which, at the time, was merely a poor relation to the other 'Slams, and McEnroe and Connors conspired to make him a runner up four times at the US Open), it is likely that Borg would have surpassed Roy Emerson's (then) record of twelve career Grand Slams had he not retired aged just 26 in 1982, months after losing to McEnroe in the Flushing Meadows final for a second successive year.
Despite this, Borg, incredibly, won eleven of the twenty-seven Grand Slams he entered in his professional career - a quite frankly ridiculous ration which no other man can get close to. He was six times ranked at the top of the world rankings during his time as a player. To the nearest percent, he won 90% of his matches in majors, and 83% throughout his whole career - and once more, these are records.
But Borg was more than just a record breaker - he was a true original, tennis' first superstar. Seldom can you find a person who has been involved in a sport for such a short amount of time but has done as much, not only in terms of achievement but also in terms of popularising the game and paving the way for a generation of mega stars who followed. The 1980 Wimbledon final, in which Borg edged out his great rival McEnroe in five sets in a classic, is still spoken of in reverent terms all these years later. In 2008, an ESPN poll quizzed a series of tennis analysts, former players and writers to hypothetically build their perfect player - and Borg's name was the only one to be mentioned in all four categories; defence, footwork, intangibles and mental toughness.
"People say I could probably have won more Grand Slams and it's probably true, but the decision was mine and I'm glad I made it" said Borg in 1983, a year after his retirement had stunned the tennis world. But more tellingly, he finished off by saying, "My dream is to be remembered as the greatest tennis player of all time - I guess you could say I have come close."
Donald Bradman- Cricket- Championed by Fists of fury
Test record: 6,996 runs in 80 innings at an average of 99.94 (29 centuries)
It is a rare phenomenon indeed where an individual can be undisputedly and universally acknowledged as the finest to have ever participated in a sport. It is rarer still for that individual to be recognised as the greatest there ever will be, despite seemingly no human being beyond Mystic Meg and the recently unmasked Eric Bristow possessing the gift of foresight.
For Pele, there is Maradona. For Nicklaus, there is Woods. For ‘The Don’, there is no rival. He stands alone.
Such are the statistics of Donald George Bradman. Plying his trade throughout the 1930’s and 40’s in the famous ‘baggy green’ of Australia, Bradman compiled a record almost twice as formidable as anyone else in the history of Test cricket. In a sport harking back to 1877, that is an astonishing feat. Bradman’s final Test average of 99.94 grows all the more impressive when you consider that the widely recognised barometer for a modern batsman attaining greatness is, in comparison, a mere 50. For a sportsman to be so far afield of his predecessors, contemporaries and successors is surely unique.
Perhaps indicative of the supremacy asserted almost every time The Don walked to the crease, former Australia captain Bill Woodfull proclaimed Bradman to be “worth three batsmen to Australia.” Where a team scoring 300 in one day is classed as operating at a fairly brisk pace, Bradman once single handedly made 309 on the first day of a Test against England at Headingley. Such dominance of bat over ball was unusually rare in the age of uncovered pitches, and remains so in today’s comparatively batsman friendly era.
Despite being the holder of records that will likely never be challenged in anger, let alone broken, statistics are but one facet of what makes a great sportsman. It often takes a truly inspirational individual to transcend the sport within which they participate. Much as Muhammad Ali transcended the sport of boxing, Don Bradman transcended cricket. Bradman emerged during a period of great economic hardship in Australia, and through the sheer force of his on-field performances it is said gave happiness and hope to a populace in the midst of depression.
You can't tell youngsters today of the attraction of the fellow. I mean, business used to stop in the town when Bradman was playing and likely to go in - all the offices closed, the shops closed; everybody went up to see him play. – England bowler Bill Bowes, 1983
Bradman would go on to exhibit a further trait of any world class sportsman: success in the face of adversity. After scoring an extraordinary 974 runs at an average of 139.14 in the 1930 Ashes tour of England, Bradman was infamously targeted by hostile and aggressive ‘Bodyline’ bowling during the 1932-33 return series in Australia – a theory designed with the sole intention of taking Bradman’s wicket, whereby the English fast bowlers would deliberately target the body of the batsman with a packed leg-side cordon of fielders lying in wait – The Don was almost rendered mortal with a series average of 56.57 (still a world class average by anyone’s standards). It was his own controversial tactic of combating bodyline by backing away and hitting the ball in an unorthodox manner in to the vacant off-side that won Bradman plaudits for attempting to find a solution to Bodyline.
It should be noted that, despite the whole of Australia being in uproar over the “vicious and unsporting” tactics employed by the English captain Douglas Jardine, and despite his own misgivings, Bradman conducted himself with dignity throughout and fought the onslaught in the way he knew best – by scoring runs. ‘Bodyline’, or ‘fast leg theory’ as it was also known, would later be outlawed.
Somewhat ironically, and perhaps unfortunately, the great Don Bradman is as much remembered for his final innings than the unsurpassed genius that had carved a path of destruction through the cricketing world wielding but a plank of willow in the preceding years. Striding to the crease at The Oval in 1948, Bradman required a mere 4 runs from his final Test innings to ensure an overall perfect Test average of 100. Whether through the emotion stirred in The Don through the adulation of the English crowd and opponents as he walked out that day (as much cheers of relief that his utter dominion over England’s bowlers was nearing an end, perhaps?), or the cricketing Gods inflicting a cruel twist of fate as if to reclaim the immortality they had lent him, Bradman was bowled for a duck by Warwickshire leg-spinner Eric Hollies, thus ending his career with that infamous average of 99.94 – a now magical figure in its own right. It will never be bettered.
Next to Mr. Winston Churchill, he was the most celebrated man in England during the summer of 1948. His appearances throughout the country were like one continuous farewell matinée. A miracle has been removed from among us. So must ancient Italy have felt when she heard of the death of Hannibal – cricket writer R.C. Robertson-Glasgow upon Bradman’s retirement, 1949
Sir Donald Bradman died in February of 2001 aged 92. It would have come as a surprise to many that he failed to get out of the 90’s. There are numerous others with a rightful claim to being the greatest sportsman that ever lived, but in Bradman there has surely never been another so superior to their peers. A genius, an icon and a gentleman; The Don satisfies all of the criteria.
Sir Donald George Bradman was, without any question, the greatest phenomenon in the history of cricket, indeed in the history of all ball games. – Wisden Almanack"
Michael Johnson- Athletics- Champion by 88chris05
I was eight years old in 1996 and, as a result, the Atlanta Games of that year are the first Olympic Games I can remember properly - and for any sports fan, that's a serious footnote in your memory. It says much about the greatness of the man I'm writing about here that, whenever I think back to that summer of 1996 and the Olympics, the first thing to enter my head is never the Games themselves, and nor is it a collection of moments. Instead, it's just one name which crops up instantly - Michael Johnson.
It took some nerve - or, you might even say, some well-placed arrogance - to wear those golden running spikes, and it must also have taken a large helping of self-belief and stubbornness to ignore the plethora of coaches who had told him right throughout his college and junior career to abandon his unusual 'duck' style of running in favour of the traditional high knee lift, long strides and pumping arms which we usually associate with sprinting. But both the running spikes and that unique style had me hooked from 1996 onwards and I became determined to find out all I could about the man who came away with three gold medals on the track from those Games.
With the emergence of Usain Bolt in recent times, it's easy to forget that, just ten to fifteen years earlier, there was one man on the track who blew everyone's mind and redefined the parameters just as much as the brilliant Jamaican. In fact, I'd argue that Johnson, in many ways, redefined them even more than Bolt has.
For starters, his dominance of the 400m throughout the nineties must be right up there with the greatest spells of dominance in any one event in history. Before Johnson, whose incredible feats earned him the nickname 'Superman', no man had ever won the 400m title at back to back Olympics. Johnson did this at a canter, taking the gold medal in the one lap event at Atlanta in '96 and at Sydney four years later. He won four successive world titles at that same distance, too, from 1993 right up until 1999. His fifty-four consecutive 'finals' wins in the 400m is, of course, a record - so far ahead of his peers in that event is he, that comparisons are pretty pointless.
But there were more notable 'firsts' in Johnson's career. The 100m-200m double is, of course, a rare achievement, the sort which only the giants of sporting history (Owens, Lewis, Bolt etc) have managed. But do you know what's been an even rarer achievement in men's track and field? The 200m-400m double. Because once more, before this remarkable Texan came along, absolutely nobody had managed to win the two events together at the Olympics - or at any major championships, for that matter. Not content with making history once by doing so at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg, Johnson made it two 'doubles' in as many years at the following summer's Olympics. And which man has replicated this feat since? That's right - absolutely none of them.
Usain Bolt's double of the 100m-200m (or even his 'double double' of doing the 100m-200m act at two successive Olympics, a feat which he controversially shares with Carl Lewis) make him one of a few, but Johnson's achievements really do make him one of a kind.
I think it's key to remember, also, that the 400m takes on a very different dynamic to the shorter sprints. Unlike the 100m or the 200m, the 400m discipline takes a different type of training, a large amount of kidology and tactics. There is no element of just running flat out as fast as you can; pacing yourself, the concept of even-paced running, adapting to running two bends ect all make it a different ball game. Genuinely, I feel that Johnson's ability to adapt so perfectly to both events make him a serious contender to be considered the finest track athlete the world has ever seen.
Johnsons' gold medal tally in the 200m (two World Championships, one Olympics) doesn't read quite as staggeringly (but is still only surpassed by a certain Mr Bolt, mind you!) but, as I mentioned above, I genuinely think that Johnson expanded the ideas of what was possible in this event more than anyone else has thus far in his own way. In track and field, particularly in the sprints, you seldom see a world record which lasts more than three or four years, generally speaking. It's amazing what the human body can do when you're setting its every faculty towards a certain mark - for instance, Roger Bannister's four minute mile in 1954 was considered superhuman and, almost, a case of someone doing the impossible, and yet it lasted as a world record for a mere six weeks.
So then, let's keep in mind that Pietro Mennea's 200m world record of 19.72 seconds had stood for a whole seventeen years by 1996, remarkable in a sport which is pitted so often against the clock. At the Olympic trials that year, Johnson edged it out with a 19.66, a fantastic feat in itself, but what he did in the Olympics themselves in that event will stay with me forever. Even as an eight year old, I knew I was watching something remarkable. But it's only looking back that I can fully appreciate the magnitude of Johnson's gold medal winning performance.
Johnson won the gold in a staggering 19.32 seconds, a whole .34 of a second ahead of his own personal best (by an absolute mile the most that anyone has improved a short sprint record since the introduction of electronic timing in the sixties), and .36 ahead of second-placed Frankie Fredericks who, just weeks earlier, had beaten Johnson and was fancied by many to do so again (a shell-shocked Fredericks remarked after the race, "If I'd have known that Michael was going to run 19.32, I wouldn't have bothered showing up."). Ato Boldon, who took the bronze medal, went to Johnson after the race and bowed, later commenting that Johnson's race that night was "fifty years ahead of its time."
Now, I know what you're all thinking. Rather than fifty, the record 'only' lasted for twelve years (still a hell of a long time by track and field standards, of course) before Usain Bolt narrowly beat it with his wonderful 19.30 in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. But as I said before, it's amazing what can be done by the human body when its sole focus is on a time which you have the luxury of shooting for. Basically, if someone can run a 19.32, you know that it's a real possibility and, in many ways, inevitable that someone can eventually go 19.30 or better, like Bolt has. Edging a world record out like that is the norm.
However, totally obliterating one like Johnson did most certainly isn't. With Mennea's 19.72 came the realisation that humans could and eventually would be running in the 19.6 bracket. With Johnson's 19.66 three months before Atlanta came the realisation that maybe, just maybe, we could see a high 19.5 time in our lifespan if we were lucky. Absolutely nobody, however, would have ever dared conjour up the the thought of a man eating up 200m of track in a low 19.3 time. It boggled the mind, tore up all logic and left a world-wide audience, including BBC commentator David Coleman, saying "this man surely isn't human!"
When Bolt broke the 200m world record, there were loud cheers in my house. However, when Johnson ran that 19.32 in Atlanta, there was nothing but a stunned silence, followed by a series of glances which seemd to be asking, 'Did I really just see that?'
And of course, Johnson's 400m world record still remains intact at 43.18 seconds, despite thirteen and a half years having passed since he finally set it at the 1999 World Championships in Seville. Again, it's worth noting that, in track and field, world records that can last a decade or more come at a premium. From the top of my head, I do believe that Michael Johnson is the only man to have set a world record lasting a decade or longer in two individual events since the introduction of electronic timing, and it says a hell of a lot about the man's accomplishments that you have to scroll a fair way down his CV to find a fact as impressive as that!
In all, Johnson stepped on to a podium to collect thirteen medals at either the Olympic Games or World Championships during his career - and ever single one of them was gold.
And as if his towering accomplishments weren't enough, he still manged to show what sportsmanship should be all about in 2008 when, after his relay team mate Antonio Pettigrew admitted under oath that he had used performance enhancing substances throughout the late nineties and early twenty-first century, Johnson voluntarily returned his Gold medal won with Pettigrew and two others in the 4x400m relay at the Sydney Olympics of 2000. In an age where far too many are adopting a relaxed attitude to doping in sport, Johnson's gesture, to me at least, added to his greatness even more, if that were at all possible.
It's a terrible shame that, a certain Mr Carl Lewis aside, track and field athletes have often struggled to receive their dues over in the States, because in Michael Johnson they really did have one of the finest sportsman to have graced the planet. To me, Johnson is everything a sporting great should be.
It was with sadness that over the last few days the cricketing diaspora heard of the deaths of Tony Greig and Christopher Martin-Jenkins. The pair were amongst cricket’s longest-serving and most valuable contributors, serving the game in a variety of roles for a combined total of eighty-nine years. Though contrasting in style – Greig was far more abrasive and forthright; Martin-Jenkins calm and eloquent – both have left their mark on the sport in their own ways.
Words on Greig and the massive contributions he made to the development of the sport have been widely circulated in the last few days. As a young writer who remembers him mostly as one of the many voices of Channel Nine I am in no position to add much of value. But suffice to say that whilst not everything he did was good, the sport is far better for his lifelong support.
Martin-Jenkins, or CMJ as he was usually referred to as, was better known in England than elsewhere. But in the broadcasting field he was a giant among giants. The most knowledgeable of a legendary Test Match Special team in which his colleagues over the years included Jonathan Agnew, Henry Blofeld, John Arlott and Brian Johnston, he was described by former Wisden editor Scyld Berry as the single person you would want to describe a crucial Ashes Test. He wasn’t wrong..
I was lucky enough to briefly encounter CMJ in October 2011, when he agreed to give an after-dinner speech at my cricket club’s end of season do to celebrate our 150th anniversary. The CMJ we heard on that evening was different from the one on the radio. On TMS he came played the straight man – the perfect foil to the antics of Johnston, Blofeld and in more recent years Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell. In many ways he kept the show together, ensuring that it delivered not only the type of entertainment you want at five in the morning, but also cricket coverage of the highest quality. But on his own he was incredibly witty, leaving his audience crying with laughter as he recalled tours to Pakistan from years gone by. As an aspiring writer I regret not pressing him more to offer some advice on cricket writing – all of the comments I’ve read today suggest he surely would have done.
It is significant that Martin-Jenkins was never a professional player. He joined the TMS team at the age of just 28, and went on to establish himself as a senior correspondent for various newspapers as well as for the BBC. In the 21st Century world this is becoming increasingly uncommon. In TV Harsha Bhogle and Tony Cozier are the last flagbearers for the non-playing commentator, whilst even at TMS it has become exceptionally hard for anybody to establish themselves without a background as a player. I sincerely hope that CMJ’s generation will not be the last of the non-playing commentator. Although ex-players undoubtedly offer a fine perspective, and for TV companies offer the benefit of being able to double up as studio analysts, the perspective of the non-player is itself valuable. They perhaps understand the game in a similar way to their audiences, and can instinctively identify what is going through the listener’s mind.
One of CMJ’s greatest strengths as a broadcaster was that he never got too excited about anything accept at genuinely scintilating moments. When his voice went up a decibel you knew that something important was going on. In the modern era of shoutiness it can be difficult to distinguish the top edge for four from the Ashes-clinching wicket. CMJ knew just what tone to take at what moment.
His contributions as a writer should not be neglected amongst his commentary work. Along with the likes of Neville Cardus and John Woodcock he will surely go down as one of the greatest cricket writers’ England has known. A few years ago, around the time of his retirement as Times correspondent he wrote a book which ranked the Top 100 Cricketers of All Time. That he had seen so many of them play live is testament to his longevity. Selecting and ranking 100 cricketers from over 130 years of international cricket was a near impossible task. His selections and rankings can of course be contested. But few men would have been brave enough to even try, let alone produce such a convincing list.
Agnew said today that ‘It's doubtful if anyone has contributed more in a lifetime to the overall coverage of cricket than CMJ’. Whilst he may have a few rivals for that title he’s certainly not far off. He’s high up on my list of inspirations for sure. The cricketing world is a markedly poorer place without CMJ.
I recently asked for questions to submit to Adam Hollioake, former England captain.
). Since the original request, Adam has been in the news due to a family theft of his brothers cricketing memoribilia. I took the opportunity to ask Adam about the case, as well as asking him a few more questions about his forray into mixed martial arts which starts this weekend.
I would personally like to thank Adam for taking the time to answer our questions ahead of his big debut and for doing them so promptly too. From all at v2, we wish you all the best and we hope you "kick his head off" as planned!
Anyway, without further ado, here are Adams answers:Who was the best player you played with?
Saqlain Mushtaq and Waqar Younis I would say….Who were your favourite opposition player and county?
Iain Sutcliffe he is my best mate and Durham…cos we always used to beat them…Who is the best cricketer you've seen and played against?
Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne and Muttiah MurilitharanWho did you hate playing against, both player and county?
Nasser Hussain and Dominic Cork their heads just annoyed me! Yorkshire..cos I couldn't get runs at Headingly Other than the Oval, what was your favourite county ground and why?
Lords…cos I always scored runs there…and they had the best food in the business…and it was just down the road from my house..What was the best ground you've ever played at and why?
No place like home…The Oval, just because its the best! Outside of The Oval…I would say the SCG…great atmosphere for a ground that only held 50,000… I mean MCG we played in front of 90,000 but 50,000 at SCG was more intimate…What was your proudest moment in cricket?
Beating Australia 3-0 and getting man of the series in 1997 was my individual proudest moment….Or captaining England to the Champions Trophy beating India, Pakistan, West Indies..Or maybe Wisden Cricketer of the year in 2003…or maybe winning 3 championships with Surrey over 4 yearsWhat went through your mind walking back after leaving that straight one from Warne at the Oval?
That was too close to leave…ha ha…Would you liked to have established yourself as more of an all-rounder in International Cricket?
Of course I would have…but I also understand I am fortunate to have played International cricket at all…There are better players than me who never got a game at all….What is your best cricketing memory of Ben?
Hard to look past the mischief we got into growing up as kids…But from a cricket perspective there are probably 3 that stand out…His debut against Australia in 97' when he put it to Warney and McGrath…Then his 2 B&H Final Man of the Match performances…What is the latest development with the recent thefts?
We have recovered about 50% of Bens stuff…the culprits have been caught and are facing court…Would still appreciate if people could keep their eye open for anything that appears for sale in the public domainWhich county player does he think we should look out for this season?
Mark Ramprakash…Rory Hamilton Brown, Chris Jordan and Jade DernbachDid your England career end too early in your opinion?
No…I was cooked man…Mentally I had finished with cricket…I play hard and my brothers passing took that edge away from me…I was hard work to be around and wouldn't have added to the England set up! Which form of the game was the most challenging/toughest to captain? Talk us through the different challenges facing the captain in each format…
20/20 was the toughest…1 decision can be the difference between winning and losing..1 over too many from a spinner and that could go for 20 and cost you the game…The longer the form of the game the more the side with the most talent will likely come out on top in my opinion. It seems strange that 20/20 would be toughest as when we 1st started playing it we thought it was just a slog….4 day and Test Match cricket have their own pressures but you have time to make your decisions if you let the game drift for a few overs its lost in the scheme of the 4/5 daysAs captain, were there players in the dressing room who just didn't get on with each other (not asking you to name names of course)? If so how did you handle it? More generally, how did you cope with handling all the different personalities of the dressing room?
Of course there are players who don't get on with each other…I don't get on with everyone in life…why would being in a team make it any different? Its important to remember you don't have to get along…but you have to respect one another..When someone was arguing I always liked honesty…. Like "look you don't like each other I don't care…but you will respect each other" You have to accept people don't all get along and put things in place to allow the team to function despite this…Interestingly I spent a lot of time in the great Peter Loader's company (picking his brains about the great Surrey team of the 1950s) he told me their Surrey side really didn't get along…but they still won 7 championship trophies in a row!!!
Adam makes his debut on the 5th MayHaving been a former county cricket captain yourself, what are your thoughts on the current county system, the amount of games played and the way they are scheduled across all three formats and the talent pool that is available to the England set-up from it? Having seen The Morgan Report, what would you change?
Hard for me to say really I think there are people far more qualified than me to give their opinion own this topic…I have 3 young children and have no time to watch TV…I can't afford Sky/Fox TV so the only thing I see are scorecards on the internet I am aware of scores and who is scoring runs etc etc…but can't see the affect the system is having on the playersIn the later end of your career you became known as a T20 expert, so what are your views on the IPL? Would you have played in it, and risked harming your Test prospects or would you waited till the twilight of your career before switching to it?
I love the IPL and 20/20…but I also love Test Cricket…I just don't have time to watch Test Cricket…Its too long and with 3 kids its just not an option for me…Yes I personally prefer 20/20 but that’s because my game suited the shorter format and I struggled to concentrate over 4/5 days…I would get distracted and start looking at chicks in the crowd or counting planes that were flying over…What effects do you think T20 has had on cricket world-wide?
I think it has had a positive effect on the cricket overall…I think it has taken away something from the rest of the formats…but I hope they all survive..at the end of the day though I don't care or worry about it, the fans will decide what they want to watch and that will decide what survives etc etcYou were one of the leading T20 death bowlers in your day, when the form of the game was first introduced. What was your thinking process when bowling at the end of an innings? How much has T20 changed since then?
The best thing I had going for me was my mind…I wasn't fazed…I knew I would lose games for my team, but worked out early that I couldn't dwell on these and needed to just get on with it….Michael Jordan once said "I've never missed a shot that I didn't take" brilliant stuff!!!…20/20 has improved a lot since I played as have all the forms of the game…as have all sports…it will continue to improve as well….What do you think of the IPL?
Should the ECCB and the County’s be more willing to accommodate players wishing to go? Tough one…I reckon IPL and ICC should get together and create a timeslot that doesn't clash with the IPL so all cricketers have got the opportunity to play…Do you wish T20 had been around for your whole career?
Yes…but it wasn't…Do you think England players should play more for their County’s?
Depends on the players…I think fast bowlers need rest…batsmen need to play as much as possible in my opinionWhat do you think went wrong with England's winter and what would you have changed if you were still a part of the team?
Dunno didn't see one ball…I would just be regurgitating what I read in the media…I am my own man…don't repeat other peoples opinionWhat is your take on the switch-hit utilised so effectively by Kevin Pietersen that has continued to cause a stir?
Brilliant stuff super talent to be able to do it…As an all rounder I am not biased..Its great entertainment we are in the entertainment game…can they be serious trying to make rules to make it harder…they should embrace that Poopie…c'mon move with the times…Which of the current crop of young Surrey players do you rate most highly?
Rory Hamilton Brown, Chris Jordan and Jade Dernbach…haven't really seen the othersYou left Surrey and very largely retired from the game in your early thirties. Ben's tragic death clearly determined the causes you devoted much of your time to in the immediately following years. However, were you already considering a career away from cricket? If so, were Surrey at fault in any way?
Surrey are my family…even if they had ever done anything wrong by me (which they haven't) I would never air it publicly….I left cricket to be with my family and support them after my brothers death…Do you think Ali Brown should have received wider credit for his batting?
If so, do you believe he might have made it at Test level? He did receive a lot of credit didn't he? As far as I am aware he was feared by all and valued by our side beyond measure…I don't know how he would have gone at Test Cricket…but that doesn't mean he wasn't one of the best batsmen I ever played with or against..destructive match winning player best sums him upAlex Tudor appeared to have everything to be a constantly successful fast bowler apart from self-belief. Do you agree?
Again he was a successful bowler and a great kid to boot!! He had the self belief, he just got unlucky physically…he was like 7ft tall…something had to give…he was one of my favourite players…loved watching him in full flight…spectacular athlete!What do you think of the current young Surrey crop coming through like Rory Hamilton-Brown, Jason Roy and Jade Dernbach?
I don't know Jason Roy never seen him play (I have heard good things though) The other 2 are excellent players and if they work hard and stay fit can bring Surrey back to our bestDo you think Surrey are starting to win some respect back under Chris Adams tutorship and with these talented young players coming through?
Yes..it sounds like it (again haven't seen it with my own eyes)…They are definitely going in the right direction…They have a long way to go…but I know Grizz and Rory and they won't allow them to rest on their laurels…What made you get into mixed martial arts?
I love fighting simple as that…always have…Im good at it…I struggled for 17 years in a profession that I had limited ability in…lets see how I go in a sport that I actually suit…..With your first mma fight coming up, what are your expectations for your match, and moving forward your mma career as a whole?
My expectations are Im gonna break this dude in half!!! I can't see it going down any other way…I try to imagine losing sometimes…but I just can't visualise it…I don't know if I will fight again…I have a lot going on in my life and I go with the flow and allow myself to move in any direction… Fighting is the most honest conversation 2 men can have…What response did you get from your family when you told them of your plans to begin an mma career?
They didn't like it…but I have a good strong family and they understand its something I want to do… My wife has been a massive support to meWhat do you predict for your first fight - how are you going to win it?
Im going to kick his head….off!!!What discipline do you feel is your forte and which has been the hardest to train in?
My strongest disciplines are my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, my Wrestling and my boxing…..hardest to train in has just been putting it all together…..
If you want to watch Adams debut in MMA:
MAY 5, 2012 / GOLD COAST CONVENTION AND EXHIBITION CENTRE, GOLD COAST, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA
Thanks again and good luck, Adam!To discuss this further with our members, please visit the 606v2 forum here