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.

Huddersfield lifted the league leaders’ shield in style with a dominant 40-0 victory over Wakefield at the John Smith’s Stadium.

 

In front of a raucous crowd, Paul Anderson’s men lived up to their pre-match billing as odds on favourites as they took the Wildcats – who went into the game having lost pivotal playmaker Tim Smith to Salford just yesterday – to the cleaners. Huddersfield’s giant pack of forwards set the platform for Lunt, Brough, Robinson and Grix to combine and unleash their pacy backline.

 

The Fartowners’ defensive line was impenetrable as Trinity struggled to get any field position or create any chances of any note. Bobbie Goulding made his first Super League start against another of his famous dad’s former clubs – having previously came off the bench to appear against St Helens – but even the ex-Great Britain scrum half would have had little impact on a Wakefield side that was a distant second best in this contest.

 

It was a fitting manner of victory on the big occasion for the club that once upon a time finished bottom of Super League four years running. Fitting also that Anderson’s squad consists of players like Brough and Robinson, who were discarded by clubs early in their careers, and Eorl Crabtree who played for the club during their darkest hours and has experienced the lows of relegation with Huddersfield.

 

Most fitting of all, perhaps, was the fact that captain Brough stepped aside and allowed long-suffering chairman Ken Davy – whose name was sung by the near 9,000 home support all evening – to lift the shield after the game.

 

From the moment Jason Chan opened the scoring for the Giants on four minutes when he scooped up a loose ball close to the line to touch down, Huddersfield looked comfortable victors.

 

The try punctuated a scrappy opening that included an exchange of handbags between the two teams, sparked by a swinging arm from Paul Aiton on Eorl Crabtree.

 

The Giants then punished Wakefield’s indiscipline by capitalising on their gifted field position through two further tries. First, Brett Ferres steamed onto a short ball from Luke Robinson to crash over in trademark style. The big second rower has now scored a career-record 15 tries this season.

 

Shortly afterwards, Craig Kopczak was ruled to have been held short by video referee Steve Ganson, but the decision was simply delaying the inevitable as Jason Chan barged his way over the line for his second try.

 

The hosts thought they were over again just before the break, but good work from Lyne and Cockayne kept McGilvary out.

 

The vociferous home support weren’t kept waiting too long for another score, though, and Aaron Murphy dived over in the corner to finish off an expansive handling move just after half-time.

 

As if the party mood wasn’t already in full swing, the atmosphere was turned up a notch just moment s later when Danny Brough cut through the Wakefield defence before offloading to Grix who shifted the ball wide to Cudjoe, whose flick pass found McGilvary in enough space to touch down out wide in perhaps the try of the game.

 

With ten minutes left on the clock, McGilvary notched his second of the game when his centre Cudjoe again drew in Cockayne to release his winger to romp home out wide with another classy flick pass.

 

Shaun Lunt crashed over from short range to put the icing on the cake on the Giants’ big night.

 

Huddersfield: Grix, McGilvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy, Brough, Robinson, Crabtree, Lunt, Kopczak, Ferres, Chan, Lawrence

 

Replacements: Faiumu, Patrick, Ta’ai, Wood

 

T:  Chan 2, Ferres, Murphy, McGilvary 2, Lunt

 

G: Brough 6

 

Wakefield: Mathers, Fox, Collis, Lyne, Cockayne, Smith, Goulding, Poore, Aiton, Wilkes, Kirmond, Mariano, Tautai

 

Replacements: Raleigh, Lautiiti, Washbrook, Annakin

 

T:

 

G:

 

HT: 18-0

 

FT: 40-0

 

Referee: Tim Roby

 

Man of the Match: Danny Brough (Huddersfield)

 

Attendance: 8,787

Huddersfield extended their lead at the top of the table with a hard earned victory over second placed Wigan in front of a bumper crowd at the DW Stadium.

 

The Giants came out on top of the battle of the top two in a ferocious clash as they stood up to Wigan’s big pack and displayed an expansive attacking game on the back of their forward dominance.

 

Halfbacks Danny Brough and Luke Robinson combined to take control of the game in the middle of the park, as Wigan struggled for attacking nous with the influential Smith and Tomkins both missing. Robinson tormented the club where he began his career with a couple of assists and was a constant threat with ball in hand. His kicking game came into use at times when his partner in crime Brough was put under pressure – and it was Brough’s influence from Stand Off that lead the way for the visitors’ run away victory in the second half as he controlled the direction of attack.

 

The Scottish international was at the heartbeat of everything in the Huddersfield attack; his short kicking game constantly probing at the Wigan line while his long range kicks kept turning Wigan round and pinning them deep in their own half.

 

Two tries from Aaron Murphy sandwiched touchdowns from Chan, Ferres and Grix for the Giants, while Charnley and Powell notched what turned out to be consolation scores for the Cherry and Whites.

 

Harrison Hansen thought he had crossed for a try after two minutes, but heroic defending from Scott Grix held the back rower up over the try line. From the resulting play the ball, however, Blake Green’s high kick to the corner was knocked back by Josh Charnley and pounced upon by Sam Powell for the opening score of the game.

 

Huddersfield went close to levelling the scores on ten minutes when Brough’s stray pass found Joe Wardle, but he was denied by a last ditch tackle from Charnley and the Wigan defence held firm for the rest of the set.

 

It was indicative of the opening quarter, as both sides traded attacking field position and ferocious defence, with big hits and hard running the order of the day.

 

Danny Brough provided the classy touches to create chances for the Giants and it was his deft kick to the corner on 15 minutes that unlocked the Warriors defence and allowed Aaron Murphy to touch down in the corner. It was an inspired piece of skill and vision from Brough, who had previously dragged Charnley out of position with a neat grubber through the line, which created the space for Murphy to score.

 

Paul Anderson’s men continued to promote the ball and cause problems for the hosts, but Wigan held firm and regained the lead just before the half hour mark with a superb individual try from Josh Charnley, who collected the ball out wide and beat three defenders on his way to scoring against the run of play.

 

It threatened to be a momentum changer, but the visitors were in no mood to allow their heads to drop and they responded almost instantly when they forced a knock on deep in Wigan’s half and Jason Chan benefited from a fine short ball from Luke Robinson, who had took on his former team’s defence and created the gap for the big back rower to stroll through to level the scores again after Brough’s conversion.

 

Brough attempted a long-range field goal as the half-time hooter went, but it sailed safely wide and the sides went into the changing sheds level at the break.

 

The Fartowners got the scoreboard ticking immediately after half-time when Brett Ferres charged onto a short ball from Robinson at the line in what has become his trademark style to crash over, although the majority of the crowd felt the final pass from Robinson was forward.

 

Staggeringly, Danny Brough missed the conversion from not too far out wide to keep the difference in the scores at just four points and minutes later he missed an attempted penalty goal.

 

Both sides continued to battle for domination in territory and Huddersfield got a break when Sam Powell’s penalty kick missed touch and Scott Grix showed great vision in the resulting attacking set to put a grubber kick in behind the defence and gather the ball to touch down in the corner – Josh Charnley again been dragged out of position; this time by chasing the ball from first marker.

 

Brough nailed the touchline conversion to extend Huddersfield’s lead to ten points going into the final quarter.

 

With the scoreline and clock against them, Wigan tried to promote the ball wide through hands, but the Giants defended well and forced the error before capitalising with a neat handling move that saw Brough and Wardle combine to put the bloodied Aaron Murphy over in the corner to seal a famous victory for Huddersfield before Brough put the icing on the cake with a penalty goal.

 

Wigan: Hampshire, Charnley, Goulding, Thornley, Richards, Green, Powell, Mossop, McIlorum, Taylor, Hansen, Farrell, Tuson

 

Replacements: Hughes, Lauaki, L Tomkins, Dudson

 

T: Powell, Charnley

 

G: Richards 2

 

Huddersfield: Grix, McGilvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy, Brough, Robinson, Crabtree, Lunt, Kopczak, Ferres, Lawrence, Ferguson

 

Replacements: Faiumu, Patrick, Chan, Wood

 

T: Murphy 2, Chan, Ferres, Gix

 

G: Brough 5

 

H/T: 12-12

 

F/T: 12-30

 

Referee: James Child

 

RLFans Man of the Match: Danny Brough (Huddersfield)

 

Attendance: 19,620

Hull ran riot as they stormed to a 70-6 victory to spoil the Bradford party at Odsal and get the Omar Kahn and George Sutcliffe reign off to a devastating start.

Bradford fans started the weekend celebrating the news that the immediate future of their club is finally secured, but it was the travelling supporters that left the historic ground smiling tonight, as Hull tore apart a Bradford side that looked a shadow of its recent self. After being galvanised by their off-field difficulties and performing admirably in the face of adversity, security seems to have the reversed the motivation as they were a distant second best team in this clash, which was effectively over as a contest by half-time.

Aaron Heremaia ran the show from scrum half and constantly linked up with Richard Horne and Willie Manu to rip the Bulls defence to shreds behind a dominant Hull pack of forwards.

Seven years ago, Hull visited Odsal in the playoffs and were on the receiving end of a 71-0 shellacking. Tonight’s emphatic victory all-but secures a home-tie in this year’s series for the men from west of the river as they seek to send a message to the other teams in the top 8 that they are a force to be reckoned with at the business end of the season.

The Bulls got off to a flying start when they opened the scoring when Jason Crookes crossed for his seventh try of the season after Gale, Kearney and Lulia combined with a sublime handling move to put the young winger over for a stroll in try in the corner.

Luke Gale nailed the conversion from the touchline to give the Bulls a dream start to the new era.

Their barnstorming opening continued on the next set when the hosts almost doubled their lead when they opted to run the ball on the last tackle. Karl Pryce broke on the outside of a compact Hull defence and tried to put Kearney away on his inside but the Australian full back was halted by some last ditch Hull defence.

It seemed indicative of the Bradford game plan to give the ball plenty of air and their expansive mentality was to be their downfall moments later, when Tom Briscoe pick-pocketed Luke Gale as he tried to offload the ball and it was all downhill from there for the Bulls.

The young winger set off downfield but was stopped by Heath L’Estrange’s tackle. Referee Ben Thaler penalised and sin binned Ben Jeffries for his part in the desperate defence. The scrum half was ruled to have taken Briscoe out of the field of play after Mr Thaler had called held and from the next play, Hull took advantage of the extra man when Joe Westerman crossed after the black and whites put on a neat handling move of their own. Jamie Foster’s conversion levelled the scores.

This passage of play turned the game on its head and swung any momentum Bradford had built in Hull’s favour and they never looked back.

It was Westerman and Foster who then combined to put the visitors in the lead. On the last tackle, Westerman threw an outrageous dummy from acting half before committing two defenders on the blindside and releasing a brilliant offload for the Saints’ loanee to waltz in for a simple try. He missed the conversion but the damage had been done from the try.

Ryan McGoldrick thought he had extended Hull’s lead when he scooped on a loose ball and showed a clean pair of heels to race downfield, but video referee Ian Smith ruled he lost the ball under the pressure of Shaun Ainscough, who must be credited with possibly the chase-back of the season as he roared from the other side of the pitch to tackle the former Castleford man. McGoldrick left the field with a dislocated shoulder after this incident, having been clattered by Luke Gale as he stretched to try to touch the ball down.

The Airlie Birds were over for a legitimate try moments later when they took advantage of Shaun Ainscough’s eagerness to work from marker defender when they slipped a drop off pass back to the blind side and put the ball through hands, exposing Bradford’s lack of numbers there before Briscoe’s kick to the in-goal area was pounced on by Willie Manu.

Foster landed the conversion and it was all Hull by now and Danny Houghton touched down under the sticks when he collected Willie Manu’s pass just short of the try line. The big back rower burst onto a short ball from Heremaia on an angle and ripped through the Bradford defence before drawing Kearney and putting the hooker away for a simple score. Foster’s conversion extended the Hull lead to 16 points.

Willie Manu then crossed for his second of the game. The big man took Jordan Turner’s offload and slipped a pass to Ben Crooks to break down Hull’s left hand side before backing him up for the return ball to touch down in the corner. Foster landed the touchline conversion to give Peter Gentle’s side a 22 point lead at the break.

Aaron Heremaia sealed the victory for Hull when he touched down under the sticks after Richard Horne waltzed through the Bradford defence before drawing Kearney and slipping a well-timed pass to the ex-Leigh scrum half to get the scoreboard operator working again and leave a simple conversion for Foster to kick over.

Tom Briscoe then capitalised when Shaun Ainscough spilled Heremaia’s chip kick and Ben Crooks scooped on the ball before releasing a nice pass back inside for Briscoe, who was enjoying life back on the wing after an unsuccessful stint at full back recently.

As impressive as their attacking prowess was, the players took great pride in their defensive efforts. None more so than when Tom Briscoe’s big hit on Olibson forced a spilled ball and they celebrated head and feed at the scrum like it was a winning try.

Briscoe crossed for his second try of the game as Heremaia found Willie Manu with a pinpoint pass behind a dummy runner before the Saints-bound back rower found the winger for another catch-and-put-down try.

Ben Crooks, promoted to the starting line-up in the absence of Kirk Yeaman, rubbed further salt into the Bradford wounds when he hit Heremaia’s short ball at pace and on an angle to go through the gaping hole in the defensive line and touch down. Another Foster conversion took the Hull score to 48.

It was fittingly Hull captain and ex-Bradford proper Andy Lynch who crossed to get the scoreboard ticking above 50 when he charged onto Danny Houghton’s cut out pass from dummy half and crashed over without a finger being laid on him.

Aaron Heremaia crossed for his second as Hull shifted the ball wide for Briscoe to break down the wing before finding the supporting half back who raced home from 40 metres to score in the corner.

Foster missed the conversion, but was on the scoresheet again for a try moments later as Hull threw the ball around with gay abandon for a simple draw-and-pass for Jordan Turner to put his wingman away in the corner.

Briscoe’s hat trick try on the hooter completed the route, as he picked up Elliot Whitehead’s spilled ball to race home from half-way. Jamie Foster’s conversion took the scoreline at full-time to 70-6.

 

Bradford: Kearney, Ainscough, Lulia, Pryce, Crookes, Jeffries, Gale, Hargreaves, L’Estrange, Kopczak, Olibson, Whitehead, Langley

Replacements: Walker, Elima, Diskin, Manuokafoa

T: Crookes

G: Gale

Hull: Horne, Briscoe, Crooks, Turner, Foster, McGoldrick, Heremaia, Watts, Houghton, Lynch, Manu, Westerman, Pitts

Replacements:  Seymour, O’Meley, Aspinwall, Green

T: Westerman, Foster 2, Manu 2, Houghton, Heremaia 2, Briscoe 3, Crooks, Lynch

G: Foster 9

H/T: 28-6

F/T: 70-6

Referee: Ben Thaler

Attendance: 10,660

RLFans Man of The Match: Aaron Heremaia (Hull FC)

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.