Bye, Lee.

The world of Rugby League said ‘see you soon’ to one its best players of the modern era last week when Warrington half back Lee Briers was forced to call an end to his playing career due to a neck injury.

The 35 year old had been a talisman for the club since signing from local rivals – and his hometown club – St Helens in 1997.

Over the course of the next 15 years, Briers went on to become a genuine club legend, having amassed a staggering 2,586 points in 425 appearances for the Wire. His retirement was announced last Friday after numerous scans and tests revealed that damaged sustained to his neck throughout the past season would put his health at serious risk if he continued to play.

Of his retirement announcement, Briers said: “I feel privileged to have played for so long. Unfortunately it has come to an end but it was going to one day and the doctor took that out of my hands. I’m sad but I’ve got good things to look forward to now with the coaching; my next chapter. It is something I have always wanted to focus on and now I have the opportunity to do that. I would have liked an extra year playing but I now hope to help find the next superstars of Warrington Wolves.”

Briers made his professional debut for his boyhood team St Helens after impressing in the academy set up and being given a first team chance when the current incumbent of the number 7 jersey Bobbie Goulding was missing through suspension.

The young Briers made a mockery of his size and lack of experience as her tore apart defences for the eight week period he spent as Goulding’s replacement. Often described by team mates and opponents as not looking able to tackle the proverbial hot dinner, Briers’ agility, vision and skill with ball in hand – and on boot – won him many admirers and plaudits as he lead Saints’ charge to the Challenge Cup final, having been nominated the man of the match in the Semi Final against Salford.

However, when Goulding returned from Suspension, Briers found himself out of the team for the Cup final. It was an expected move, as Goulding was one of the best scrum halves in the world at the time, but Briers was rocked when he wasn’t listed in the official squad to travel down to Wembley for the final, even as a non-playing member.

Hurt, Briers accepted the offer from Warrington to sign for a transfer fee of £65,000 – a sum that would seem the bargain of a lifetime in hindsight.

Saints’ loss was the Wires’ gain as Briers soon established himself as a pivotal member of the team, being voted the supporters’ player of the year in his first season.

Over the next decade and half, Briers would experience more than most the highs and lows of being the stand out star of a rugby league team – on and off the field.

Many was the time he almost single-handedly carried a rank average Warrington team either side of the turn of the century, but perhaps his darkest hour came in 2001 when he lost his older brother Brian to cancer at the age of just 34.

Despite his tender years, Briers’ ability and standing within the team saw him made club captain in 2003, having been a key member of the squad that survived arguable the club’s darkest hour on the pitch the previous season when they narrowly avoided relegation with a late surge in form under new coach and former player Paul Cullen.

Cullen was a firm believer in Briers’ quality and, miffed at his lack of representative honours, declared that ‘if Lee Briers can’t get picked to play behind an international pack, I will put an international pack in front of Lee Briers’. It was perhaps the signing of a centre, however, that managed to galvanise Briers further and his combination with Martin Gleeson on Warrington’s right edge of attack in 2005 and 2006 was nothing short of world class. The fact that the right edge of Briers, Westwood and Gleeson never lined up together in the red, white and blue of Great Britain will always remain one a bone of contention in certain rugby league circles.

Briers’ solitary GB cap came in 2001 against France, an occasion he marked in typical style; by crossing for a try and slotting over a goal. He would find himself called up to the 2006 train-on squad ahead of the Tri Nations series in Australia and New Zealand, only to be cut from the squad before the tournament started. In his appearance against a Newcastle select XII, Briers was named man of the match and his attitude and application to training on that tour won him further praise from his fellow professionals, including Brian Carney who described him as the ‘consummate professional’ during the time Briers spent with the squad.

While he never received the opportunity to display his undoubted talents in the Test football arena, Briers’ international career with Wales included memorable highlights that made a mockery of the amount of times he was overlooked for Lions’ selection. In the World Cup 2000 and the Four Nations tournament of 2011, Briers ran the show for the Principality as they gave Australia a real scare in the first half on both occasions. The Kangaroos’ obvious class shone through against the largely part-timers of Wales, but Briers’ performances against the side that went on to win both tournaments displayed every facet of his game; unpredictability, vision, ball handling and kicking skills and a general threat every time he took on the defensive line.

It is those talents that earned him praise from many of the Australian test squad, but perhaps the highest praise bestowed upon Briers came from Australian Immortal Andrew Johns. Johns spent a brief spell on loan at Warrington in 2005 and having played alongside Briers in the halves and seen him up close in training, the genius known as ‘Joey’ was left in awe of the skill level of the mercurial Briers, who he described as being ‘World Class’. One pass in particular to Martin Gleeson in training caught the eye of the former Golden Boot winner, who would later describe it as a pass that ‘only one or two other players in the world could even see, let alone execute’. Johns remains a friend and a fan of Briers to this day – and he is a player widely regarded as one of the greatest to ever play the sport.

In recent years, Briers would taste some of the success his talent and determination warranted. Three Challenge Cup winners’ medals and a Lance Todd Trophy mean that he does not bow out of the game without some accolades, but his career sadly came to a close in Grand Final defeat to arch rivals Wigan. In perhaps one of the most striking images of his career – and recent Warrington history – a disconsolate Briers was captured applauding the club’s supporters as he exited the Old Trafford field after the loss to Wigan. The photo may one day rank alongside the image of fellow club legend Mike Gregory scoring against the Cherry and Whites at Wembley in 1990 in another heartbreaking defeat the Warriors – Briers, in stature, certainly ranks alongside Greg in terms of the affection felt for him from the club and the fans.

Immediately after his retirement was announced, online petitions circulated to persuade the club to rename the South Stand of the Halliwell Jones Stadium to the ‘Lee Briers Stand’, while some fans tweeted Warrington Borough Council to suggest a statue of Briers be erected in the town.

Few players have ever moved an entire generation of supporters to such feeling, but Lee Briers is one of them. From a personal point of view, he is the best player this writer has ever seen don the Primrose and Blue. I am too young to have seen the likes of Alex Murphy play live, though old enough to remember worshipping Jonathon Davies and Alan Langer, but for sheer loyalty to the club, dedication and an unrivalled passion to match his genius-level ability, Briers will always remain a personal favourite.

A fine exponent of the almost every skill required in rugby, some of Briers’ most iconic moments came in the form of his trusted right boot and his famous fondness for a drop goal. His drop goals against Hull KR and Leeds in the Challenge Cup and Playoffs stand out amongst his career 80 drop goals, while his ability to nudge a 40/20 kick is almost unparalleled in the sport.

Briers twice broke the record for most points scored by a Warrington player in a single game – his tally of 44 points (16 goals and three tries) against Swinton in 2011 beat his own previous record of 40 against York 11 years previously.

Briers, whose released his autobiography Off The Cuff this year, will begin a new chapter of his life as part of the Warrington coaching staff, having already began coaching with Wales, and hopefully develop more talented players in the future, but no matter who else fills the stand off position in the future, for those who saw him play, there will only ever be one Lee Briers.

Have a drink on me, Dacre.

It appears to have become fashionable recently to criticise the Daily Mail. I hate to seem like one to jump on a bandwagon, but in my defence, I have been criticising the hateful rag for a good number of years now.

In the wake of their vitriolic attack on Ralph Miliband, a broad debate has raged over the content of their article.

But just before their ‘Man Who Hated Britain’ tirade, another article caught my eye.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2428993/Staggering-fighting-vomiting-passed-drunk–police-say-scenes-control-town-centre-QUIETER-Friday-night-usual.html

This article by Kieran Corcoran did the rounds on social media around Warrington, but other than people’s comments on twitter and facebook, there has been no real response in the media to this rather callous attack on the town and its inhabitants.

You can read Corcoran’s piece and dismiss it as rubbish if you like, or you can dismiss it as rubbish without reading it to save time.

I have read it, in a rather morbid voyeuristic way, just to see what my hometown was being attacked for by the national press this time (A few years ago, a Daily Telegraph article named Warrington as the worst place to live in Britain, or something equally prestigious).

The rather catchy headline grabs the reader’s attention straight away, as the Mail kindly tells us:

“Staggering, fighting, vomiting and passed-out drunk… but police say these scenes of an out-of-control town centre are a QUIETER Friday night than usual”

The article focussed on Cheshire Police’s recent push to reduce anti-social behaviour in Warrington town centre at weekends, so it is likely that Corcoran actually spent no time in Warrington that weekend to compile any first-hand research at all, and – presumably along with sub editors – carefully selected photographs showing people getting arrested and being sick and falling over to accompany details of such horrific instances as Police being “seen breaking up fights, while worse-for-wear drinkers stagger through the town”.

I have news for Mr Corcoran and the Daily Mail: The Police break up fights every day of the year.

I have more news for them: When people have had a few alcoholic beverages, they tend to lose their balance. It’s a perfectly natural side effect of consuming alcohol, which they have legally purchased from licensed establishments.

Word such as ‘shocking’ feature heavily in the article, but the only shock to many people in the town is that they weren’t pictured on the ‘raucous streets of Warrington’ that weekend.

I was actually in town that weekend myself – the Saturday, however, not the Friday that is featured in the Mail. I notice that the Mail didn’t run any articles on the amount of generosity displayed by the people in town that night, many of whom purchased my friend multiple drinks as it was her birthday. I can’t think why, because from my first-hand viewing of a night out in Warrington, that tends to happen a lot more than people getting thrown into the back of a police van.

I also note that the Mail weren’t quick to report on the overwhelming response in the town after the recent untimely and unfortunate death of Alan Bundy. Mr Bundy died while on a stag do in Benidorm and, as he wasn’t covered by life insurance, a group of his friends organised a fund raising event to help ease his family’s financial burden of flying his body home. Within a week, over £20,000 was raised by the community.

Warrington has a history of rallying around in times of adversity and coming through stronger the other side. The role that the town has played in the Peace Procress in Northern Ireland following the IRA bomb is inspirtational. Recently, even more bridges have been built when Martin McGuiness was invited to the town to take part in a series of debates by the Colin and Wendy Parry, who have done so much work to promote peace since losing their son Tim in the terrorist attack in 1993.

Stories like that don’t fit into the Mail’s agenda, obviously. They live in a parallel universe where drinking beer on a weekend is seen as shocking behaviour. The overall nature of the article tends to be attacking young people for having a night out at the weekend: but it really gets weird in parts, particular when a picture of two young women eating takeaway is used to highlight an example of an ‘out of control’ town centre.

I normally avoid reading the Mail and advise other people to do the same, as their ‘shock value’ articles are clearly a deliberate and transparent method of whipping up controversy and getting people to angrily view their website, thus pumping up the number of hits on their website, thus allowing them to charge more for advertising space.

But on this occasion, I have gone against my own principle and given the Mail a substantial amount of views on that particular story. This is probably seen as a win amongst the paper’s editorial staff, but really, if you think that young people getting drunk at a weekend is shocking behaviour, then you’re the loser in this situation. Enjoy your extra advertising revenue I’ve earned you, Mr Dacre and Co. Have a drink on me!

Happy Fathers’ Day

Millions of people took time to pay tribute to their fathers yesterday.

Fathers’ Day is the traditional day of the year when people stop and reflect on the sacrifices made by their dads to bring them up and make them the people they are today.

But for many of us, Fathers’ Day is a time to reflect on the lack of a male parent – and the lengths our mothers went to to ensure that we had as good an upbringing as possible.

For too long, with too much frequency, we have seen single mums demonised by the press, politicians, the bloke down the pub, the gossip on the corner of the street…

The Jeremy Kyle caricature of the single mum on benefits, probably not knowing which of a potential squadron of men is the child’s father, spending taxpayers’ money on drugs and booze while their litter of offspring run feral on a sink estate causing trouble has sunken into the nation’s consciousness via the osmosis of constant vitriolic attacks by the right-wing press and politicians, who seek to blame the ills of society squarely at the feet of single parent families.

Prime Minister David Cameron has constantly sought to appease traditional conservative concerns over the family and marriage break-up, with suggestions of tax breaks to married couples nodding to the theory that the Tories think that being married is tangibly more desirable than not.

This particularly vile Daily Mail article from 2011 highlights the attitudes towards single mothers from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The ‘disastrous breakdown of family life’ as Melanie Phillips puts it, marginalises women who play both parenting roles, providing emotional and financial support to their child, while receiving none in return themselves from the child’s dad.

The argument seems to be that if a child is not brought up by a married man and woman, then they have an inferior upbringing and are destined for a life of destitution and crime, a further drain on the economy with their feckless ways and ‘benefit scrounging’.

But the truth is that a child will grow and develop into a perfectly reasonable human being regardless of how many parents they have, as long as they are loved and secure.

Of course, not all single parent children never see their dad, and not all single mums always remain single. Many will even have the love and support from their family in times of trouble, but the fact remains that too much of the language used when talking about single mums is nothing short of hate-filled snobbery and abuse.

For all the generalisations, the underlying misogyny and class-hate, working-class single women raising children well are – in my opinion – heroes, one and all.

Of course there are some bad single mums. As there are some bad married mums. And Dads. And some terrible rich parents. But, of course, highlighting the poor parenting skills of well-off professionals or OxBridge graduates doesn’t fit into the conservative press’ agenda.

Take the rhetoric used by the press to report on Charles Saatchi’s apparent domestic violence towards partner Nigella Lawson; his wealthy background and profession have not been brought into the equation. There were no front page leads decrying Saatchi the ‘Vile Product of Advertising UK’, no demonisation of art collectors.

Compare this to the use of negative adjectives when discussing people from lower down the socio-economic scale and it’s easy to see why the public perception of poor parents, despite the effects of domestic violence has on children like Lawson’s 17 year old son Bruno transcends class and background.

Which raises the question:
What do those that are so against single parents think is the better environment for a child to be raised in; a home with two parents surrounded by fear, suspicion and violence or a home with one parent surrounded by love and affection.

Raised by a single mum, who relied on the welfare state for income, on a council estate in the north of England, I feel in a suitable enough position to comment on this issue.

As much as The Sun and the The Mail would have you believe, I did not spend my feckless youth wagging school, smashing up phone boxes and getting girls pregnant before abandoning them and moving on to knock up another unfortunate girl.

My mum instilled in me a level of discipline and ensured I was always at school on time and in clean uniform. She ensured that I was always well-fed and had access to any learning materials that I needed to advance at school.

At the same time as bringing me up, my mother cared for both my grandmother, who suffered from Cancer and was wheelchair-bound for almost a decade before she passed away, and my uncle who suffers from cerebral palsy.

She relied on practical help from my grandfather, who would muck in with the cooking, cleaning and general housework while being the male role model in my life. Together, he and I would go the football and rugby on the weekend and he would watch me play for the school teams, providing my mum with much needed respite from one of her many duties.

By the time he passed away when I was 13, my mother had met another man and would soon have another child. This time, the father stuck around so she no longer qualifies as a single parent.

But she did for my formative years and the son she raised – after my grandfathers’ passing, her support and willingness to facilitate my sporting endeavours were invaluable – went on to graduate Leeds University with a 2.1 degree.

So I don’t quite fit in with the mainstream media’s archetype of someone brought up by a single parent. And neither do many others who were brought up without a dad – or for that matter a mum.

Single parents are not the scourge of society and neither are their offspring. They are the backbone of this country. They do twice the work for double the rage-filled newspaper columns and public scorn from privileged politicians.

But good parents don’t go into parenting seeking appraisal from columnists for a newspaper that supported Adolf Hitler or from the leader of the party that introduced section 28. They go into it to see their child grow up as a decent human being.

It isn’t easy, whatever your background, but when it is made harder – financially, practically, emotionally – parents should not be marginalised for not fitting into an archaic, misogynistic view of what a family is.

Good parenting isn’t quantified by the number of parents there are, but by the love and sacrifices made to provide the best opportunities for your child.

That’s what my mum did. My single mum, as she was then. I couldn’t have asked for a better one. In my opinion, single parents shouldn’t be demonised, they should be praised. Put on a pedestal. They do twice the graft, they deserve two days.

That’s why this Fathers’ Day, I thanked my mum for picking up the slack where the sperm donor named on my birth certificate left off. If you have or know a single parent that does twice the work, you should thank them twice as much, too.

The Truth. At Last.

It only took 23 years, but finally we have the truth and the names of innocent people have been cleared of the vilest of accusations.

On 15th April 1989, thousands of football supporters went to watch a match at Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium. 96 never returned home.

94 people lost their lives that day, while two more died of injuries caused from the crush in hospital some time after.

What should have been one of the showpiece occasions of the football season, the FA Cup semi final, turned into tragedy through mismanagement of the authorities.

Despite not holding a valid safety certificate from Sheffield council, Hillsborough was amazingly chosen by the FA as the best and most suitable venue to host a big cup semi final expecting a big crowd.

In 1981, Hillsborough had hosted a semi final between Tottenham and Wolverhampton in which there was a serious overcrowding problem on the Leppings Lane End terrace, the same terrace that was designated as the Liverpool end on that fateful day eight years later.

Following that incident – in which supporters only narrowly avoided tragedy – the club implemented ‘pens’ into that terrace. Essentially, these pens were put in place to divide the terrace into sections that would accommodate a number of spectators and once they reached that capacity no more would be allowed in. They were designed to prevent natural crushing of spectators who traditionally tended to bunch together in the centre of a terrace and ensure that the space was adequately used in the rest of the stand.

In a sad twist of fate, it would be these pens that would prove to be the cause of death for 96 people.

Despite having a larger fan base than Nottingham Forest and being expected to sell more tickets than their semi final opponents, Liverpool were designated the smaller Leppings Lane End. Due to roadworks and subsequent delays on the M62 motorway, many fans did not arrive at the ground until later than expected and at around 2.45, 15 minutes before kick off, a large crowd gathered as people queued to enter the ground through the turnstiles.

Due to the layout of the stadium at that end, a bottleneck effect occurred and many people were being crushed against fences and walls. Fearing threat to human life from the crushing outside the ground, the Police Chief in charge of the stadium crowd control that day ordered for an exit gate to be opened, thus allowing more fans in at a time than the turnstiles did.

As many supporters surged through the gates, desperate not to miss kick off and with no guidance from police or stewards to do otherwise, they entered the stand through two tunnels at the centre of the stand. These tunnels led to the two central pens of the terrace, which were already full.

The official capacity of these pens was 1,600, but estimates suggest that more than 3,000 people were inside them. The two ‘outer’ pens had much more space, but the lack of communication of this information meant that more people continued to enter through the overcrowded central pens.

As a response to the Hooliganism problem in English football, Hillsborough not unusually had a fence at the front of the stands to prevent rivalling hooligans from getting at each other on the pitch.

Essentially, football supporters were put into cages. It was against these very fences that the supporters at the front would be crushed against from the sheer weight of humanity behind them.

As it became apparent to most supporters in that stand that there were problems, the game kicked off and Liverpool and Nottingham Forest players began their quest to reach the final. However, six minutes after kick off, supporters and Police Officers entered the playing field to tell the referee to stop the game, as they had to get people out of the stands and onto the pitch for their own safety.

Suddenly, the game was the last thing on anybody’s mind as the Hillsborough pitch became a makeshift morgue and Liverpool supporters that had escaped the crushing used advertising hoarding as stretchers to carry injured fans to help.

Incredibly, from here things got worse for everyone involved.

As supporters tried desperately to locate their friends, and family members were being asked to identify the dead and dying, the wheels of a major Police cover up were already in motion.

Police Officers were briefed to ask supporters about their alcohol intake and all of the dead supporters – including children – were tested for alcohol levels in their bloodstream.

South Yorkshire Chief Constable David Dukenfield told the press at the time that drunken, ticketless Liverpool supporters had forced the gate open and were responsible for the crushing in the stand.

Many news outlets carried his version of events, many qualifying his claims with ‘Police say’ or ‘it is believed’. A few went as far as to report this version without balance and right of reply from supporters, but it was one headline in particular that has become synonymous with the disaster and the claims in the report stuck in the throat more than most with the victims that day.

On the Tuesday after the disaster, before the grieving relatives had even had chance to bury their dead – before, even, the final count of victims had reach 96 – The Sun newspaper ran a front page lead headlined ‘The Truth’. The report quoted the story that ticketless fans were to blame as accurate and carried claims that Liverpool supporters urinated on Police Officers and stole from the dying fans they were tending to.

Some of the allegations directed at the Liverpool fans that day stuck and some visitors to Anfield continue to revel in unpleasant chants about that day.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, an official inquest absolved the authorities of any blame and ruled a 3.15pm ‘cut off point’ for witnesses and evidence, because, it claimed, anybody who died that day would have been ‘beyond the point of saviour’ by 3.15.

This cut off point, argued many, was the easiest way of covering up the truth of what happened that day. None argued more vociferously or constantly than Anne Williams, whose son Kevin died at 4pm in the arms of a police woman who maintained that he was still breathing and had called out for his mum before his life slipped away.

Medical experts have backed up the claim that Kevin could have been saved had the response been better.

Over 23 years later, the independent Hillsborough panel that was set up to conduct an investigation into the tragedy and the aftermath reported its findings and yesterday we saw the truth finally revealed.

It was not the truth that The Sun newspaper reported, or the Government and Police told at the time, but the truth that the supporters there that day, the families of the victims and the entire city of Liverpool had known and campaigned to be revealed for over two decades.

The report found that Liverpool supporters were not to blame for the crushing, an inadequate Police response and operation was in place that day and, damningly, that 151 of 164 Police files had been changed to remove any negative comments made about the Police response.

It also found that 41 of the 96 people that died could have been saved had the emergency service response been better. The main crux of this point was that of 44 Ambulances deployed to the stadium, only TWO were allowed onto the pitch to help injured and dying human beings.

Because, that’s what they were. 96 human beings, who had left home that morning to go to a football match. They did it every week. It is what they always did. Saturday afternoon = football. Nobody expected to not come back home afterwards. But 96 didn’t.

Unfortunately, to the authorities, the Government and sections of the media at the time, they weren’t human beings. They were football fans. And not just any football fans. They were Liverpool fans. They were football fans of football fans. If the lowest could get any lower, it was this lot. They were at Heysel, weren’t they? They were responsibly for that disaster; of course they were responsible for this one.

For 23 years, this attitude has remained unchallenged by the majority of society. But not on Merseyside.

Not in the city of Liverpool and not by football supporters, regardless of whether they wear blue or red.

Still, nobody has stood trial for their actions 23 years ago. Like Orgreave, no serving Police officer has been held accountable for their actions that in this case lead to the loss of human life. No newspaper editor has been held before a court for the defamation of the Liverpool supporters in attendance that day. No Police or Government official has been arrested for their part in perverting the cause of justice in their cover up.

The Sun newspaper sells badly on Merseyside. Nobody in their right mind buys it or even reads it. People have been known to have had it ripped up in front of them for reading it in ale houses in the city. The hurt they inflicted on innocent people in their hour of need is still felt today.

It was once said that had Hillsborough happened to another club, from another city, that it wouldn’t have been made such a big deal of for so long. It would have been forgotten about a long time ago. It was meant as an insult. As a jibe at what Boris Johnson described as ‘the self-pity culture’ of the city. That scousers are always looking to blame other people and take no responsibility for their actions.

It should be taken as a compliment. It should be celebrated that the entire city rallied around the families of 96 of its own when they most needed support. It should be celebrate that a man like Trevor Hicks, who lost both of his daughters that day in 1989, sat before a gathering of national media, 23 years later, as part of the Hillsborough Support Group to give his thoughts on the findings of a report he campaigned so long and so hard for.

It should be celebrated that Anne Williams simply didn’t accept the mistruths told about her son’s death and stood shoulder to shoulder with other mums who will never see their children again and formed the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.

It should be celebrated that each year on the 15th April, the Kop at Anfield is full of supporters who turn out to show their respect, condolences and support for their victims and their families’ campaign for Justice.

It should be celebrated that a mile long chain of scarfs, blue and red, stretched from the Park End at Goodison, across Stanly Park and to Anfield as a mark of the city’s unity in grief for their own.
It should be celebrated that the Hillsborough Memorial Gates bear the words You’ll Never Walk Alone and they rang true when supporters of Celtic sang them at a charity match shortly after the tragedy.

And it should be celebrated that yesterday’s report has cleared the names of innocent people.

But it should be remembered that it took so long.

And it should be remembered why.

A 23 year cover up is a national disgrace.

At last we have the truth. Now, the families deserve some justice.

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United Felled By Fellaini

The King is dead. Long live the new King.

It wasn’t quite a case of ‘Tim Who?’ on Monday night at Goodison Park, as Radio City’s audio montage tribute to Everton’s former Australian star about an hour before kick off left enough people teary eyed to suggest that no matter what Everton do in the future, Tim Cahill will always have a place in the hearts of this generation of blues.

But the man who David Moyes last season touted as his long-term successor in the advanced midfield role he had main his own in L4 certainly filled the much-loved Cahill’s considerable-sized shoes.

Marouane Fellaini absolutely tormented Manchester United all evening. His sheer size and physicality has seen the Belgian international become a dominating presence in Moyes’ midfield since he signed for a record £17.5 million from Standard Leige in 2008. But apart from a spell behind the striker early in his Goodison days, most of his performances have come from a deep, holding midfield role. Many plaudits have rated him highly amongst the premiership’s elite ‘defensive midfielders’ and Everton have fought over recent years to hold off Chelsea’s advances for his services.

While Moyes’ comments last season raised a few eyebrows from pundits outside Goodison, who wondered whether Everton’s potential gain by pushing Fellaini further forward would leave them vulnerable further back, last night’s whole hearted defensive midfield suggested that Phil Neville still has what it takes to halt any attacking advance in its tracks.

It should comes as no surprise to any self-respecting United fan how well Fellaini performs in that role, as he famously played there behind Tim Cahill as the two teams played out a famous 3-3 draw at Goodison a couple of years ago. The dynamic duo caused United’s back four all manner of problems that day and many credited him with being the best player on the pitch and the main responsibility for the Toffees’ dramatic comeback at Old Trafford last season, where again he played ‘in the hole’, this time behind Nikica Jelavic.

It was Jelavic again who he partnered up top on Monday and the two were too hot for Ferguson’s makeshift back four to handle. Time and again, Leighton Baines and Tony Hibbert played pinpoint passes to the Belgian and the sight of him masterly stopping the ball with his chest before controlling with his talented feet became increasingly familiar as the sun set over Merseyside. In fact, it would come as no surprise if Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverly – who both tried and failed to mark the colossus throughout the game – see the chest-kick up combination in their nightmares.

The big man’s performance has been compared to that of Everton hero Duncan Ferguson’s in his pomp, but the Goodison faithful will recognise that knack of frustrating defenders and arriving in the box for a vital goal in a long line of Goodison greats. Most recently of course, the aforementioned Cahill.

Fellaini was a fitting goal scorer, meeting Darron Gibson’s corner kick to power home a thunderbolt of a header into the Park End goal. The grand old lady of the premier league erupted! If home field advantage still plays a part in modern football, then Goodison under the lights has to rank highly in the list of those that provide an extra edge to the home side. It really is like a theatre and the bear pit that is Goodison Park was rocking all night. The views from the back of Gwladys Street End might be terrible, but the atmosphere it generates is second to none and the natives were at their boisterous best against their rivals from down the East Lancs Road.

Fellaini was not alone in his brilliance. Tony Hibbert and Leighton Baines kept Valencia, Nani and Evra quiet all night, while Jagielka and Distin, who made up the back four, were absolute rocks against United’s much fancied strike force. It was an unhappy anniversary for Wayne Rooney, who burst on to the premier league scene at Goodison Park a decade ago last weekend. He was playing in blue then, against Tottenham, and the 16 year old Evertonian was living the dream in front of a crowd that adored him. While much of the anger from his move to Old Trafford and subsequent actions in returns to Goodison – not to mention comments about David Moyes in his autobiography – has evaporated, his every touch was still roundly booed by a section of the Everton support and he was greeted with a few less than flattering chants.

While in some games, Rooney has seemed to feed off the rage directed at him, he almost seemed as placid as his reception. Everton didn’t poke him, he didn’t lash out at Everton. For every badge kiss to the Park End, there was a blistering run at goal. For every weight-based insult, there was an all-action performance that drove United to victory. But indifference from the home fans this time was responded with an indifferent performance from the England man.

Not that he was given time or chances to do anything else. Phil Jagielka confirmed his status as one of the country’s top centre backs while Sylvain Distin put in a typically robust performance alongside him. Time and again, any half chance in and around the area was snuffed out by the awesome foursome at the back. Jagielka and Distin both made a number of last ditch tackles in the area that took all of the ball and instilled another level of confidence in the supporters, who lifted with every tackle.

Early in the game, a Sylvain Distin tackle on Nani saw the ball rebound off the Portuguese star and go for a goal kick. The pacy winger was incensed at the decision and was booked for a rash foul on Leighton Baines moments after. He would commit a few fouls on his formidable foe throughout the game as everything he tried just wouldn’t come off. His frustration was typical of his side’s.

As the game drew to a close, Sir Alex Ferguson introduced his new summer signing Robin Van Persie, but without so much as a training session with his new team mates and a disrupted pre-season, the Dutchman just couldn’t click into gear in his new red shirt. He will do, given time, but this was Everton’s night and not even a £24 million striker – or, two of them – could take that from them as they held on for a famous victory.

In defence of Indian Dancing

Well, how about that then? The Olympics were alright, weren’t they? Team GB celebrated its best medal haul for, well, ever; we saw a few records smashed – Usian Bolt beating his own time in the 100m sprint, Nicola Adams taking the first ever gold medal for female boxing; the world came to London for a big party and the city hosted it well in truth; and of course the usual, brilliant Olympic stories of triumph over adversity, winning against all the odds and just sheer sporting brilliance. Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Bradley Wiggins, while highly respected in their sports beforehand, became household names and British heroes over the last few weeks.

Of course, as ever, not everybody was happy.

The Olympic games are a hugely politicised event. Countries, Political leaders and heads of state around the world slug it out to win the right to host many Mega sporting events. You just have to look at who turned out to support England’s football world cup bid to see how much countries want to showcase themselves on the global stage. Prince Harry and David Cameron don’t just come out to play for anyone, you know.

Over the years, many countries have boycotted certain games. At the height of the cold war, USA and Soviet teams refused to participate at each others’ games due to fears of security, athlete safety and a flat out refusal to find any resolution to their differences. Ireland boycotted the games in the early 20th Century because of the IOC’s refusal to allow them to compete at as united nation, instead only as the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland, as now, competed as part of Great Britain.

Britian, Australia and the ever-neutral Switzerland are amongst only a handful of countries to compete at every modern Olympics.

But what caught some people off-guard during these games was the political opportunism, and downright stupidity of the comments made by well-known figures.

On the night of the opening ceremony, while Danny Boyle’s masterpiece celebrated all things from modern British history, from the industrial revolution to the miners strikes to the NHS, most social media sites explode with pride of being British. The country genuinely seemed moved and united by the spectacle.

Well, most of the country anyway. On that opening night, we were treated to the delights of Conservative MP Adrian Burley’s insightful and thoughtful opinion on the proceedings. ‘Leftie multiculturalism crap’ he branded the ceremony, in addition to it being ‘more left-wing than that of Beijing’s ceremony – in the capital of a communist state’.

Mr Burley, of course, found fame this year when photos of him attending a stag do in Nazi uniform were published in newspapers.

His comments irked many, but worse was yet to come.

In his Daily Mail article, ‘journalist’ Rick Dewsbury took this stance on the opening ceremony:

“This was supposed to be a representation of modern life in England but it is likely to be a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family in such a set-up.”

It should come as no surprise to anyone with half a brain that a right-wing MP who finds it appropriate to attend Nazi-themed parties and a newspaper that supported the British Union of Fascists and Adolf Hitler, in addition to funding the BNP, would be so horrified that multiculturalism was a thing to be celebrated. It should come as no surprise that seeing black people and white people portrayed as happily co-existing has angered these lovely people so much.

It does strike me as funny, though, when the ever-nationalistic Mail then celebrate the success of British athletes Ennis, Farah and Wiggins.

Jessica Ennis, now firmly the nation’s sweetheart is a mixed-race young lady, educated, intelligent, talented. Her father is Jamaican, her mother is English. Her parents, to quote Mr Dewsbury, are an ‘educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family’. He must have been crying into his white power t-shirt when he celebrated her gold medal with her happy, loving parents.

Mo Farah, the Somali immigrant who moved to Britain aged 8 with his family in search for a better life, also captured the nation’s hearts when he won Gold for team GB. I can only imagine this leftie multiculturalism crap was not celebrated at Chez Burley, although he very may well have missed that race while he stood in front of the mirror perfecting his top-lip tache for his next social gathering.

And Bradley Wiggins, Tour de France winner, proud Mod, Wigan Warriors season ticket holder, cycling maestro. Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it, that in the 21st Century, a man born in Belgium is welcome to feel so at home here he wishes represent us in the sporting world?

The cases of Burley and Dewsbury are but two examples of some of the paranoid, Xenophobic bollocks that unfortunately rears its ugly head whenever a Union flag is waved.

Dewsbury’s comments have a deeper, nastier element to them, in some ways, though. Burley is an elected Member of Parliament, me clicking on his twitter page to see the hideous opinions he voices doesn’t earn him any more money. He’ll still collect his salary at the end of the year regardless of how much internet traffic his micro blogging sites bring.

The Mail, however, they thrive of this. Already the second most read newspaper in this country (Shudder at the thought!), the Mail is no stranger to controversy. Samantha Brick, Richard Littlejohn, Jan Moir, Rick Dewsbury… Stephen Gately’s death, the murder of prostitutes in Ipswich, ‘women hate me because I’m beautiful’… All memorable names, all memorable articles, so absurd, so malicious, so downright nasty that as soon as you hear about them, you have to find them online. You have to furiously share them with your friends, maybe even sign up to the rag to leave angrily worded comments and share you rightful indignation with the people who think such vile things and have the audacity to write them down.

However, all this does, is add to their readership. In angrily slamming your first on the table at the offensive, unthought-out shite you are reading, unfortunately, you are playing right into their hands. The more people that get angry at their rubbish, the more people that read their rubbish, the more money they can charge from advertisers who’s rubbish is being promoted to more people. It really is a vicious circle to get trapped in.

Ellie Mae O’Hagan, whom I follow on twitter and comes across as a thoroughly lovely person, describes the Mail as an amoral cash cow that knows it’s readers frighteningly well.

And she’s right. The Mail know their readers are curtain-twitching, narrow minded, paranoid bigots, because, as she points out, the editors are as well.

Unfortunately, the ludicrous spouting doesn’t stop there. While Burley sought to pander to the political right and the Mail sought to direct traffic to its website, over the past few days I have come across some nasty, bigot-infested Facebook pages.

One of them, called ‘our England’, called into question the legitimacy of Mo Farah representing Team GB. For a ‘patriot’, the person running the page, didn’t seem to take pride in the fact ‘Our England’ is a welcoming, tolerant society that provides asylum for children from war-torn countries, allows them opportunities and dreams of a better life, nor do they take pride in the fact that such a child may grow up willing to carry the flag and represent that country at a mega sporting event.

Like Burley, Dewsbury et al, they live in a bubble where being black is at odds with being British. And I say that, because as I have mentioned, Bradley Wiggins’ eligibility hasn’t been brought into question, because I can only imagine he doesn’t ‘look foreign’.

That particular page is host to some quite horrendous stuff and I stopped reading after I saw one comment bemoaning the amount of ‘Welsh and Scottish’ athletes eligible for Great Britain. I assumed it’s either people on a wind up or people well beyond help.

However, the winner in the misguided Political opportunism race goes to David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Mr Cameron has already had digs at the ‘failures of multiculturalism’ during his Premiership. But during the Olympic Games, ‘Call Me Dave’ came out with a cracker. Having already slashed school building projects and denounced the precious government’s target of at least two hours of sport per week in schools, Dave, like the weathercock that he is, spun in the prevailing wind of public opinion, gave a speech suggesting the government hopes to increase the amount of time dedicated to sport in school to two hours per week. Original plan. But it didn’t stop there. Cameron also wanted to ‘introduce’ competitive sport back into schools. ‘I was shocked to find’, said a shocked Mr Cameron, ‘that schools are providing funding for things like Indian dancing, which is about as far away removed as competitive sport as you and I could imagine’.

Mr Cameron there, boosting cultural relations with the subcontinent, one recreational activity at a time. It was of great hilarity then, that as I sat to enjoy the closing ceremony of the games, a troupe of Indian dancers should appear and be greeted with roars of delight from the packed stadium. Though, presumably, not from the PM’s row. Boris might have enjoyed it, though. In fact it’s a pleasant surprise he wasn’t on stage with them!

After a brilliantly organised, all-round successful, absorbing and memorable games, it seems two visions of Britain have emerged.

One, a frightened, paranoid Britain, that requires rocket launchers on tower blocks and is suspicious of and angry of anything slightly exotic.

And another, tolerant, welcoming, optimistic, thoughtful, celebratory and outward looking.

I know which one I prefer. The one with the Indian dancing.

Thanks For The Memories, Tim

8 years to the day that he signed for Everton Football Club, a fee has been agreed for the transfer of the Australian to the New York Red Bulls franchise.

In the coming days, many pundits will debate the future of the team without Cahill, who will replace him, and so on.

But for now, a sizeable portion of L4 and the surrounding area goes into mourning.

The fee agreed between the clubs has been quoted at around £1million, but Cahill’s true value at Everton is sentimental.

Signed for £1.5million from Millwall in 2004 after impressing in their eye-catching and heroic FA Cup run, Cahill quickly became a hit at Goodison.

An all-action player, Timmy was utilised in centre mid-field for the early part of his time at Everton before being pushed forward to play behind a striker and at times playing up front himself.

The Goodison faithful fell in love with their Australian star, who was a hero in his home country, too.

In 2006, Cahill scored the Socceroos first ever goal in the World Cup, an equaliser against Japan. He also scored a second as Australia went on to win 3-1.

Later that year, he was short listed for the Ballon D’Or award for Europe’s top player – the first Everton player nominated for 18 years.

His displays on the field were matched by his class and humility off it. Noted for his trademark corner flag shadow boxing celebration, when he scored against his former club Millwall in the FA Cup shortly after signing for the blues, he refused to celebrate out of respect for his former employees.

Born to an English father and Samoan mother in Sydney, Cahill grew up witnessing first hand his parents work ethic and sacrifices to ensure he could follow his dream of playing football professionally.

At the age of 19, his parents paid for him to travel to England to try his hand at professional clubs. He stayed with his father’s family while attending trials with clubs and did enough to impress Millwall.

Cahill has never forgotten his upbringing and continues to put back into communities in Australia through the Tim Cahill Foundation; the football academy he set up in his homeland to help develop the sport at grassroots level and develop a new generation of Antipodean soccer stars.

He forever endeared himself to Everton fans as a cult hero with his uncanny ability to arrive in the box at the right time and beat defenders in the air to score the most headed goals in Premier League history.

His status confirmed by his nack of getting goals against arch-rivals Liverpool, becoming the first man since Dixie Dean to score in three Anfield
Derbies for the Toffees and in recent years has terrorised Manchester City with an almost predictable consistency.

And who will ever forget his last minute equaliser against Manchester United when he played as a lone striker during an injury crisis? The Gwladys Street exploded that day.

Or his overhead kick at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea?

Incredibly, Cahill scored the solitary goal in 1-0 Everton victories on 29 occasions.

He will forever be remembered by Evertonians and Everton will forever be a part of him – the initials ‘EFC’ featuring on his famed tribal tattoo.

The MLS is home to some of the biggest names to ever grace English football; Thierry Henry and David Beckham arguably the most high profile. When Tim Cahill moves stateside it will have one of the most loved imports Everton have ever had.

Thank you for the memories, Tim Cahill. You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul.