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Fans were treated to another pulsating episode of the world’s greatest soap opera over the weekend, as one of the English Premier League’s biggest fixtures got underway.

After the end of Sunday’s incredible game between Manchester United and Chelsea, virtual pitchforks across the globe were lit and fans bayed for the blood of the EPL’s latest villain: Mark Clattenburg.

Mark Clattenburg and Nigerian international John Obi Mikel

Clattenburg is man that needs little introduction. He’s regarded as one of England’s best referees, and has taken charge of some massive fixtures, including last season’s Carling Cup final and the Men’s Final in this year’s Olympics. So how is it that a man so well respected by his peers is suddenly at risk of losing his job?

Well once again accusations of racism lie at the core of this saga, and the F.A is scrambling to contain another messy situation.

Chelsea lodged a complaint to the English F.A after their controversial defeat at the hands of United, stating that Clattenburg had used ‘inappropriate language’ towards John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata.

For an apparent blow-by-blow of the dialogue between Clattenburg and Mikel, read this article from the Daily Mail.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter spruiking Kick It Out, the equality and inclusion campaign from the UK.

The timing couldn’t be worse for the F.A, who are looking to be seen as taking a strong stance in eradicating racism in football. In fact, certain members of the F.A have been calling for Serbia to be banned from international competitions after last month’s disgraceful scenes in the Euro U21 Playoffs.

In that particular game, black English players (specifically Danny Rose) were subject to monkey chants before, during and after the match. Despite the fact that amateur video footage shows large sections of the Serbian crowd chanting during the game, the Serbian F.A had the audacity to post a heavily edited video on to Youtube with the title: Danny Rose is lying to whom?

Feel free to compare the two videos below;

One needs to sift through the excessive vitriol spewed across the comment section to come across the question repeated most by Serbian fans: If you can’t deal with your own racial issues, who are you to judge us? Sadly, the extreme nationalists that make up a significant portion of Serbian football’s fan base have a point – The F.A’s dealings with this particular issue have been laughable in the past, and something needs to change.

Punishments for racial slander need to be ramped up, as the current penalties seem to have little impact. The current microphone system implemented by the F.A also needs an overhaul. The system allows the referee to communicate with their linesmen during the game, however the conversations are not recorded. This means the verdict in cases such as Clattenburg’s hang on the word of the assistants, rather than actual audio evidence.

If the audio is recorded and made available then racism, nay, verbal abuse in general would most likely be reduced greatly. There are many professional footballers are family men who would probably hate to have their filthy tirades towards officials aired for the public (and possibly their children) to hear.

The ruling of this particular case could shape how racism will be dealt with in the future, and hopefully discourages what has become a rather disturbing trend in football.

This season’s marquee signings have turned on the style in the A-League so far.

While they seem to be getting the most of our sunburnt country, this land of sweeping plains, will the benefits for Australian soccer go further than just bums on seats?

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34-year old Emile Heskey has seemed a player reborn in recent weeks.

His strike rate during all his time in English football was roughly a goal every 4.6 matches but since his arrival at the Newcastle United Jets, Heskey has hit the net 4 times in 4 games.

His second half brace, two minutes apart, against Melbourne Victory last night has taken the Leicester-born striker to the top of the A-league’s leading scorers tally.

This was Heskey’s first two-goal haul since appearing for Wigan in 2007.

Newcastle manager Gary van Egmond spoke of Heskey’s performance in front of goal as well as his influence on the rest of the team,

“We have a lot of really, really good lieutenants but he’s the one who we really need as the person who leads the line,” said van Egmond.

“With the amount of confidence that other players are getting and the amount of time the other players are getting, they are able to do better things with themselves and the ball. It’s a lot to do with the fact of what Emile does.

“He might not have as many touches as some players but his positions and the way he tracks certain players, the other players are really benefitting from that.”

Since Heskey’s arrival, the Jets have sold record numbers of season tickets and the last three home games have averaged a 50% increase compared to their entire average attendance for A-League home games.

That being said, Hunter Stadium has a capacity of 33,000. We will have to wait for later on in the season to see if Newcastle can deliver more fans through the gates.

Not only has Heskey’s impact on the club been immediate but it has been getting back to the U.K too.

News of the Jets having to order another 5000 Heskey replica shirts, after their initial print sold out in record time, was reported in the Guardian at the end of last month.

See the full article here.

The Telegraph yesterday published a story on the Jets’ win, making note of Fox Sports’ choice of Heskey for their ‘Hero Cam’ digital feature.

See the full article here.

Many U.K fans have taken to Twitter calling for Roy Hodgson to recall Heskey to national duty.

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Meanwhile, Alessandro Del Piero will play his 800th game of professional football tomorrow when Sydney FC takes on Perth Glory at ANZ Stadium.

The club has moved the match from Allianz Stadium to the former Olympics venue, in the hope of attracting a bumper crowd – ANZ Stadium has a capacity of 84,000.

Sydney boss Tony Pignata spoke of the club’s signing coup;

“We’re over the moon with what we’ve achieved, in terms of getting a global brand,” said Pignata.

“A lot of eyes are now on Sydney, and what we do here.”

This ‘brand’ Pignata speaks of is gaining visibility worldwide with an article on Del Piero appearing in the New York Times on Tuesday.

See the full article here.

Del Piero may be on a two-year contract with Sydney reportedly worth $4 million but his reverence in world football has led to a deal where Italian television channel Premium Calcio broadcasts all Sydney FC matches live.

The club has also started to receive a large number of media requests for interviews from Italy, the U.K, Spain, Germany and the rest of the world.

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Former Socceroos captain Craig Moore has written an opinion piece on the FFA website, on whether he thinks Brisbane Roar striker Besart Berisha has more value to his team than Del Piero or Heskey.

See the full article here to understand Moore’s point of view but here is an excerpt;

“Right now, you’d have to say Berisha is more valuable to his team, because he’s been here longer and had a massive impact on Brisbane and the A-league.”

Do you agree? Or do you feel both Del Piero and Heskey will have shown how valuable they really are by the end of the season?

35,419 people were out in force at Allianz Stadium two weeks ago to see the two marquee men face off against one another.

This is what they were treated to:

We will have to wait and see how both Heskey and Del Piero deal physically with the rest of the season but if the A-League continues to be talked about worldwide because of them, that’s a good thing.

A tune for the men and women of the Shed.

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Getting around Perth has been a pain in the proverbial nether region for the last few months.

Construction of the new Elizabeth Quay development is now in full swing and West Australians are bracing themselves for arguably the worst traffic congestion in the nation.

With scaffolding spread across all pockets of the city, nib Stadium was not spared today and though Perth Glory vs Melbourne Heart was a sell out, only 7,458 people managed to get through the gate.

Though the match was a little drab in parts at least the fans were close to the pitch, a far cry from the view shared by 14,385 people attending the Glory’s first home game at Patersons stadium.

Long side construction at nib Stadium.

Perth lacked pace today, often slow to push in their offensive half.

Though Dean Heffernan managed to convert a Liam Miller-corner in the 38th minute, Glory coach Ian Ferguson would surely have felt the loss of both Shane Smeltz and Bas Van der Brink at half time.

Ferguson spoke after the match of anxiety on the sideline and the Glory’s preparation this week.

“We were a little bit nervous until the second goal went in and I was really proud of the boys.

“There was a big emphasis on retaining the ball because last week we were rushing things and turning the ball over, but this week we worked hard on retaining the ball and being patient, and I was pleased with that.”

Billy Mehmet was soft on his feet up front, a few stray touches turning the ball over to the Heart defence.

He did however manage to seal a home win in the 85th minute, heading the ball into the net from yet another corner.

Melbourne Heart arrived in Perth on the back of a relatively good start to the A-League season – a win and a draw – but looked sluggish in the 30 degree heat.

New coach John Aloisi admitted this might have been a contributing factor.

“We struggled with the conditions, really struggled, and looked flat, fatigued and then the game became stretched, and they outplayed us in the midfield and it was a struggle for us.

“I know you can’t make up excuses, but it has been quite cool in Melbourne and coming over here to play at two o’clock in the afternoon really affected us.”

The Heart’s Brazilian captain Fred came off at half time with a swollen eye, after a clash with Perth defender Michael Thwaite.

Simon Colosimo sat out the game, serving a one-match ban for a red card against Wellington Phoenix last week.

Though they are temporarily joint top of the table and wedged between Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets on goal difference, Perth have scored just three goals this season – and all have been headers.

Mehmet is joined by his teammates after scoring the Glory’s second goal.

Listen to the Shed celebrating Mehmet’s 85th minute header.

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Shane Smeltz watched from the sidelines after succumbing to a hamstring injury on international duty for New Zealand.

The Glory missed him today and he is expected to be out for at least two weeks.

Last season he scored six times in four games against the Heart.

The club’s new Japanese recruit Ryo Nagai neither started the match nor was he named as a substitute.

The Cerezo Osaka-loanee came on in the 75th minute in last week’s 1-0 loss to the Central Coast Mariners but has also been recovering from a hamstring injury.

Nagai in front of a red brick wall.

A start for Nagai in coming weeks may boost the Glory’s attacking options, at least if words from his Manchester United compatriot Shinji Kagawa are anything to go by.

In a recent interview he spoke of sharing a dorm with Kagawa in high school.

“Kagawa’s position and my position are the same, so I’m always watching his game to learn. He told me my shot is the best in the world, but the key is whether or not I can do it in a game” Nagai said.

Click here for the full article. 

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With a State election looming in March 2013, policy debate over infrastructure is bound to resurface.

Plans for a new stadium at various locations around W.A have been an election issue before.

Typically media shy WA businessman and billionaire Ralph Sarich recently hit out at the Barnett government’s infrastructure policy.

“I just cannot comprehend why the priority is to build a new stadium rather than help struggling families desperate for housing,” said the inventor of the Orbital engine.

Click here for the full article.

Though the Purple Army would rather see an end to their home game hassles.

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John O’Neill will end his second stint at the top of the Australian Rugby Union on October 31st ahead of schedule.

O’Neill was initially set to retire at the end of 2013, after the British & Irish Lions‘  tour of Oz, but his June elevation to chairman of casino company Echo Entertainment has assumedly left the in-tray at critical mass.

“It brought me to a fork in the road a bit sooner than I might have expected” O’Neill said at a news conference last Thursday.

O’Neill on his second period as ARU chief:

“In relative terms, we are in better shape than we were five years ago when I came back. But are we back to where we aspire to be? Well, no. The Wallabies are ranked No. 2 and we have an expanded Super Rugby competition, so it’s probably a six or seven out of 10.”

His contribution to the code has been immense, particularly the achievements during his first tenure.

The following is an article from The Australian comparing O’Neill’s legacy to that of Robert Menzies – “He embarked on a course to professionalise the game without losing its traditional values and ethos. If O’Neill is to be judged on one criterion, that’s it.”

In his second term he was highly influential in luring Robbie Deans to coach the Wallabies.

O’Neill and Robbie Deans in August.

At the same time O’Neill has not been entirely free from criticism.

Click the following for a Daily Telegraph article regarding the standing down of New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence – “O’Neill on Wednesday night rejected any role in Lawrence’s downfall”.

Here is an op-ed by former All Blacks captain Taine Randell – “ARU CEO John O’Neill is a fantastic administrator but he has taken an expand-at-all-costs approach that I think has weakened rather than strengthened their game.”

Yet John O’Neill leaves with a warning for rugby union. Click the following for an article in The Australian – ‘Modernise or face a dim future’.

He takes over at Echo Entertainment after a ‘campaign’ by James Packer to roll former chief John Story, adding to a list of high profile resignations from the casino group.
James Packer’s Crown currently owns 10 percent of Echo, and is seeking a greater share.

O’Neill has fired a ‘hands-off’ warning back to Packer – click here for an article from the Financial Review.

The canny Irishman’s contribution as a sports administrator in this country has been expansive.
In between his two stints at the ARU, O’Neill switched codes and oversaw a great deal of progress in a three year period as the head of Australian soccer; the name-change to the Football Federation Australia (FFA), the introduction of the A-League, and securing Dutch coach Guus Hiddink who led the Socceroos to a knockout stage appearance at the 2006 World Cup.

O’Neill in his time as FFA chief.

Next month though O’Neill will take his management skills away from sport to play a different game, and with Packer on his heels, the stakes are considerably higher.

Where do you think this leaves both the ARU and Echo Entertainment?

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Cycling Australia and Australia’s anti-doping body ASADA are set to launch investigations after Matt White, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, admitted to doping this weekend.

White has stepped down from dual roles as a national selector and as sports director for road team Orica-GreenEdge.

He released a statement from his personal email talking of his time in Armstrong’s US Postal Team:

“I am sad to say that I was part of a team where doping formed part of the team’s strategy, and I too was involved in that strategy.

“My involvement is something I am not proud of and I sincerely apologise to my fans, media, family and friends who trusted me and also to other athletes in my era that consciously chose not to dope.”

Cadel Evans with Matt White

This comes after the CEO of US anti-doping agency USADA, Travis T. Tygart released a statement on October 10 saying:

“The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

See the full statement here.

If you would also like to have a read of USADA’s ‘Reasoned Decision, download here.

As you’ve no doubt heard, Lance Armstrong has been banned from professional cycling for life – a result of USADA’s findings.

Initial allegations of White’s involvement surfaced when former US Postal teammate and disgraced Tour winner Flloyd Landis testified in front of USADA.

Landis said that he and White had shared testosterone and EPO in 2003.

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Let’s compare White’s admission at the weekend with something he wrote on the Orica-GreenEdge website earlier this year, just after the team made podium but lost out on a Tour de France stage win to world champ Mark Cavendish:

“As another Tour de France comes to a close, I marvel at what we have built here. Our main strength comes from our connection to one another. This is a very tight group. Regardless of results or whatever disappointments might have happened on any given day, the morale, dedication and focus did not waver. I have been involved with many teams in the past, and that’s something I have rarely seen”

Some hubris hey…

Orica-GreenEdge at this year’s World Road Cycling Championships.

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To start the discussion – what do we think of Cycling Australia Chief Klaus Mueller coming out on Friday and saying that doping in sport should be criminalised?

Here is a news report from Eurosport on that announcement.

 

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Off-key could also be used to describe recent developments concerning Liverpool football club, Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, and the saga that ensued.

I am at pains to use the word ‘saga’ but 23 years is a very long time to wait for answers.

Yesterday British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the House of Commons offering an apology for the ‘double injustice’ to the families of the Hillsborough victims, for failures that caused the stadium collapse and for later attempts to shift the blame onto fans.

For the full transcript, see here.

Cameron was speaking to a report handed down by the Hillsborough Independent Panel but another inquest is likely to be ordered after it revealed for the first time the extent to which an established cover-up was organised. Criminal prosecutions have not been ruled out.

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The Sun ran this notorious front page 23 years ago –

Kelvin Mackenzie, editor at the time , offered  an apology this week saying,

“It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth.”

This was today’s issue –

Trevor Hicks, of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, has rejected MacKenzie’s apology saying it was,

“Too little, too late.”

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So where does this leave the families of the 96 victims, two decades and almost a third on?

I’m sure they’d want more than the drawn-out process of another inquiry.