Twitter has always harmed sports stars

Ladies and Gentlemen, please raise your glasses for the latest induction to the Coaches and Administrators Migraine Hall of Fame.

After bursting on to the scene as an unheralded rookie with minimal menace, this press conference-cajoling ubiquitous nuisance is now the market leader in inciting statement apologies, suspended fines and single week spurts of horribly alien levels of talent in the lower grades.

It has gradually developed a troublesome standing in the world of sports, yet is still somehow so indispensable to boss and employee.

The inductee’s trademark move is to strike a coach or CEO at any time, manifesting itself in a midnight phone call from a journalist, a sternly-worded talkback caller or a couple of horrifying inches in a gossip column.

Brock is the latest addition to Twitter’s list of victims.

It preys on those weakened by a craving for attention and the inability to resist retaliation, and dines out on those lacking effective understanding of the mousetraps of modern technology.

And simple-minded footy players.

Please come up to the dais and accept your key to this hallowed collection of various pains in the posterior of your payers.

You deserve it, Twitter.

Take your place amongst booze, recreational and performance-enhancing drugs, bonding sessions and Kings Cross. There’s a nice spot saved for you in the Mason/Fevola section, just up the back and to the left.

This omnipresent cannibal of reputation has electronically flexed again this week with Carlton’s Brock McLean giving an online ear-flick to a punter in response to a cheeky chide.

It added to a growing collection of 140-character communiqués delivered by sports stars that break the paymaster’s golden rule of ‘bland, sterile and definitely no pre-audited honesty.’

This got me to thinking. Surely these kinds of incidents have always plagued athletes over time and left their superiors sucking up to sponsors?

So I went back through my almanacs in search of occasions through history where sportspeople have caused a front-office brain bunion by engaging in some dim-witted verballing with the public via various means of communication.

I’ve located a few hidden gems that have been swept under the carpet.

Harvey hits the Tweet-spot

As we all know, Australia’s 1948 cricket tour of England lead by Sir Don Bradman was 4 months of superb Pom-slapping as our boys swept aside all-comers.

But it wasn’t all Bushells and damper for the Invincibles support staff after batsman Neil Harvey came in for some heavy disparagement from a local scribe when he made a thin score in a tour match.

Harvey banned himself from all PED usage after this incident.

When the knock was described in the local rag as ‘substantially non-spiffy’ and ‘moth-eaten ho hum,’ it sent Harvey into a rage and he responded with a flaming hot telegram direct to the press box.

“To the daft gent at the local periodical, I hope a rogue chimney rat relieves itself in your gentleman’s cap and establishes homestead in your butter churner.”

This spiteful rebuttal caused a wave of conjecture through the Old Dart cricket community and forced Australia’s team manager to make Harvey publicly apologise and pay a fine of thrippence to a local rodent preservation charity.

Durack trends into troubled waters

The 1912 Stockholm Olympics was a memorable meet for Aussie pool queen Fanny Durack after winning gold in the 100m freestyle, confirming her status as darling of the baths.

But the medal and her fine reputation were nearly soiled when she made her feelings know to a boorish heckler, who when obviously excited by the plunging knee-line of her togs, rudely bellowed for her to ‘show us your ankles.’

Thanks to the work of a friendly marshal poolside, Durack was able to find the name and address of the spectator and duly penned a stunning riposte that she attached to a carrier pigeon and sent to the details given.

“To the squalid vagrant in row 4: Judging by the size of your trousers, it would appear that Sweden is a lot colder than I thought. Perhaps some kind of surgical enhancement is in order, or perhaps a heater of some fashion. #shrinkage.”

Due to the sluggish pace of the carrier pigeon, the furore surrounding Durack’s message had worn off by it’s arrival, and only a slap on the wrist from the Olympic bigwigs and a week in the Sydney Amateur Swim League was required to wash away her sins.

Dally’s foul-mouthed post

There isn’t too many players held in higher regard than Dally Messenger in the rugby league world.

However, even the man who kept the pen hands of historians perpetually cramped from regularly re-writing record books wasn’t immune from the temptation of providing some zesty return fire via various methods.

In a crucial 1911 premiership match between Messenger’s Eastern Suburbs and rivals Glebe, things started deteriorating when the referee made some loose decisions.

Dally ‘Text’ Messenger

Newtown’s prop was allowed to take the field with the back of his thighs coated in Murray’s brand hair paste, and when the referee started to allow the Bluebagger’s wrestling techniques to take hold of the ruck, it left the game’s best player fuming.

Messenger took action on the back of a few stouts at the post match function when he found a ham radio behind the bar, and gave it to the referee with both barrels in the tongue of morse code.

“I question the heritage of the clodpate galah holding the pea-whistle today and wish that all of his billy teas from this day forth taste over-boiled.”

This resulted in the league superstar being hauled before a disciplinary committee where he was removed from daily news circulations as ‘the face of the game’, costing the league a ton of shillings to have the promotion re-done.

So there you go sports fans, that’s just a couple of examples from our rich history of sporting heroes stepping out of line when online.

I would love to hear of any I’ve forgotten, and I’ll even accept replies in dots and dashes.

Classy Kumar’s ton of decorum proves batsmen are the most polite cricketers

You’ve got to have respect for the levels of patience possessed by the typical modern day international batsman.

Standing in the middle of an unforgiving furnace all day, applying brain-razing concentration for hours on end and worst of all, copping the verbal diarrhoea of 11 chirpy rivals while a tearaway maniac pelts red projectiles at your skull.

It should’ve sent more of the run-gatherers thoroughly crackers over the years.

Putting up with such torture and resisting the urge to utilise the plank of lumber they wield for something other than crushing the cherry to the fence is a miracle in itself.

Kumar: absolutely bloody miffed.

While we’ve seen some heated exchanges between opponents over the years, seldom is the humble bat called upon as a makeshift mid-pitch mediator.

The diminutive Javed Miandad was the man who probably flew the closest to the batsman’s breaking point when he tried to swat Dennis Lillee like a pesky blowfly back in the 1980’s after some frisky on-field dialogue between the pair.

Steve Waugh may have needed to use his if Richie Richardson wasn’t able to control Curtly Ambrose in the famous ‘What are you looking at?’ exchange from a Frank Worrell Trophy test years back.

However, those incidents aside, the swordsmen have managed to maintain their placid reputation beautifully in the face of much external pressure from their combatants.

On the weekend just gone, an event occurred which only served to cement the notion that those wearing the pads are extreme in their levels of tolerance and understanding.

However, this example differs from the usual.

This time around, the provocateur came from outside of the usual 11 candidates in the creams.

Silky Sri Lankan stroke maker Kumar Sangakkara is one of the diamonds of world cricket, and on the weekend in the test match against Pakistan he once again found himself in the rarefied air of another possible double century after elbow-greasing his way to a picturesque 182 not out.

To add a dramatic element to proceedings, the teetering tail began to crumble around him as he edged to the glory of a 9th test double, so he hit the gas in the hope he could scrape past the milestone before those supporting him perished.

His mini rapid-fire burst advanced him within touching distance, taking him up to what he thought was 194 not out.

It was pretty understandable determination to make considering that was the number displayed next to his name on the scoreboard at the Galle International Stadium.

Then in a glorious moment of stylish batsmanship, he smoked a thumping 6 off the bowling of Saeed Ajmal to bring up what he thought was another splendid monument to add to a pool room that is already bulging with achievements.

He charged down the wicket and celebrated the moment, hands raised in a mix of delight and relief. It was exactly the reaction you would expect after doing the shovel-work for hours and then capturing the goal in nail-biting circumstances after thinking the opportunity may have passed you by.

But here’s the kicker that would have any normal man looking to unpack his trunk of discontent.

Unfortunately for Sangakkara, the scoreboard attendant’s numerical dexterity deserted him at a shocking time resulting in him not being up to the most important aspect of his job. Keeping tabs on the match and ensuring the scores are spot-on accurate.

What said ‘194’ actually meant ‘193’; meaning Kumar’s long bomb took him to 199. It’s a very admirable score, but not a patch on the euphoria of 200.

What happened next capped the calamity beautifully. The situation could only have had its comical properties increased with some clown music over the PA system.

Unable to pinch the solitary run needed from the last ball of the over, Sangakkara relinquished the strike to his jittery lower-order partner who was dismissed in the next over, leaving him marooned on 199 not out.

Do you think it could get any worse? It was also the birthday of Sangakkara’s father who he was keen to devote a celebratory double-ton to.

It’s enough to make you want to head up the stairs and into the scoreboard attendant’s room with the tools to make your feelings known, right?

But not the classy Kumar, who maintained the custom of polite and civil batsmanship by uttering a few cucumber-cool statements post-play to reinforce the fact that these blokes possess galvanised fortitude and polished manners of the highest order.

“I don’t think I can repeat here what I was thinking then.”

“The ideal thing is to shut your eyes, take a deep breath and try and move on. There is nothing really one can do in the circumstances. It’s all part of the game.”

Pure pokerfaced class through gritted teeth and suppressed internal boiling. This bloke could make sitting through a vasectomy look like the enjoyment of a bikini pool party.

And then in keeping with the batting brotherhood’s attribute of calmness, he coolly spotted a silver lining in the monstrous muck-up.

“But I would still like to remember this day in a positive way. Today is my father’s birthday and making something close to 200 means I won’t have to buy him a gift.”

Kumar’s majestic style, dignity and dollar pinching in the face of a sumo-sized faux pas once again proves that the batsmen are the kings of cricketing decorum.

Mitchell returns to break office harmony

The incompetent and ham-fisted son of the boss has been away from work on an extended hiatus. Is it any coincidence that your daily grind has been so peachy in his absence?

Using the photocopier without the need to extract fat branches of jammed paper, opening that important spreadsheet and not finding your monthly report has been over-struck by coffee orders and having a kitchen which hasn’t been frequently set ablaze by bungling attempts at toast.

These kinds of experiences- basic workplace rights for most but gilt-edged privileges to you and your colleagues- are the reasons why this period of time has been the most enjoyable and productive of yours and your business brethren’s employed life.

But now the favoured plonker is back from his sojourn and the boss is going to bypass the bottom of the office food chain once again by planting him straight back in to his old routine.

Straight back to getting the cushy window desk. Straight back to filling the stapler with thumb tacks. Straight back to using white-out on the computer screen. Straight back to eating all of the Tim Tams.

Returning to the office with some pies.

It’s a display of zilch respect for the mini-kingdom of proficiency and it’s streamlined practices that you and your fellow honest toilers have managed to create without the burden of his clumsy blundering.

Sound familiar?

It mirrors the situation of the National Selection Panel stumbling over itself to shove Mitchell Johnson back in to the Australian ODI squad as quickly as they can for the tour of the UK beginning this weekend.

The only difference is that he’s not the son of the boss. But he might as well be.

Firstly, in his defence, Johnson was a pyjama incumbent before he ripped his toe giblets like a redundant contract while on tour in South Africa.

He also has a worthy ODI bowling average (25.22) and a kit-bag chockers with potential match-winning traits and spare trendy reggies from his sponsor if any of the boys get too excited and need a mid-match brief transfer.

However, those spectacular flashes of match-winning Mitch are as regular as a brass monkey’s bollocks, and when the chips are down, he has the mental resistance of a chocolate fondant pudding.

We also need to consider the quality of life we’ve all been experiencing in his absence.

The space he left in the team has been filled without issue and the world has moved on without him. Thanks for the yakka Mitch, but do we need to return to your attention-deficit scattergun pies?

Let us also ponder the stretched conga line that has formed in front of him while he’s been icing his big piggy.

Brett Lee, Patrick Cummins, Ben Hilfenhaus and Clint McKay join Johnson as the chosen quicks for the tour, but what about the casualties that have been flogging themselves on the track and backfilling admirably in his absence?

Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc and Doug Bollinger can all think themselves unlucky to have been rudely usurped by a bloke who was badly on the nose just before he broke down.

If these blokes played like a wet soufflé before crumpling with injury, I highly doubt the same kind of greased saloon passage back into the national colours would be afforded to them. If anything, it would give John Inverarity’s big red pen a great excuse to have a run.

Johnson should be made to set the world on fire again elsewhere and earn his call-up like all of the other gut-busting quicks in his division.

Why hasn’t he been in the backwaters of English County cricket somewhere? At least he should be forced on to a couple of Australia A tours or heaven forbid, he could wait until next summer and lower himself to Shield cricket.

If he can’t handle that, then give him a job in the Cricket Australia offices as a pen-pusher. Nowhere near the stapler though.

 

Nalbandian serves ace for athlete’s rights

Athletes all across the sporting universe have taken it upon themselves to fight for their rights over the years.

Being professionals who are employed by organisations that run their respective sports like cut-throat businesses, it’s a necessity that they stand up and make their voices heard when they feel that change in the workplace is required.

From the cold, dark days of thankless slog in the amateur era to the platinum-painted foot massage of current professional times, the players deserve the plaudits as the ones pushing the barrow for a better lifestyle.

Goal!

A lot has changed from the 2 shilling a season / 15 hour factory days of yore.

Players now enjoy benefits such as exorbitant contracts with inch-specific riders, rights to seeing family and partners on tours as well as fat chunks of eye-boggling partnership deals made by their employers, plus their ability of squeezing as many dollars out of their own corporate capabilities.

Player power is rife. Shrinking violets at the negotiation table they’re not, and so they shouldn’t be.

Sometimes, it doesn’t even reach the ‘table and suits’ mediation level.

On special occasions, the message is sensationally broadcasted from the arena of play when the dam walls of protest burst on the back of the smallest crack.

Last night, David Nalbandian joined the long list of sports stars that have taken an extra step on behalf of fellow employees in the fight for athlete’s rights.

For far too long, sporting officialdom has possessed the ability to enrage a competitor to within 2 inches of permanent baldness by continually applying the rules of the game and refusing to accept a competitor’s logic to a possible reconsideration.

How often do you witness a combatant so cruelly at the end of their tether, trying in vain to explain their point of view on a minor rulebook infringement only to be told to turn around and go back to the baseline like a good submissive?

The rights to recourse for those seeking to question are wrongly next to stuff-all.

It’s low and downright unhealthy for modern sport that the official can hold such power and be the unchallenged boss-dog.

Nalbandian blazed a spicy South American-style trail with a warning shot across the bows of adjudication last night by inadvertently kicking a line official in the final of the Queens Club tournament in London, resulting in a messy gash to the leg for the man in the chair.

The blood of modern reform symbolically trickled down the leg of the linesman, the wound radically ugly like so many discussions between player and official from the past, the generically branded tube sock soaked with historical significance.

Nalbandian was simply saying ‘I’ve had enough and so have my cohorts’ through the language of the swinging tennis shoe.

It’s been a long time coming, and this linesman was the straw to the weak and pony-tailed camel’s back of the Argentine.

Such was the amount of one-way interaction between player and official in the final that it took the minor incident of  Nalbandian dropping serve in the seventh game of the second set to ignite his passion to right this discrepancy of no right to appeal.

Nalbandian was then defaulted, bringing further attention to the incident and only advancing his plight for this tennis terrorism to be buried forever.

Queen’s claret that will change tennis forever.

His opponent Marin Cilic couldn’t believe his triple-treat luck, receiving the cheque, victor’s hardware and most importantly, the knowledge that he will be a beneficiary somewhere down the track now that this power-imbalance is getting the exposure it deserves.

And as if to confirm that Nalbandian was fair dinkum about getting this off the ground, he further defended his position remorselessly at the post-match presentation in front of delirious fans and the crestfallen powers-that-be.

A truer act of ballsy ground-breaking you will go very far to find.

This whole incident will simply inflate his standing among his counterparts as the protagonist against dictator-style umpires and fan-force a small spotfire into an inferno for player’s longed-for access to better pleading prerogatives.

To his tennis peers, he will be lauded as a hero in history and the man who finally put his foot on the throat of Darth Vader-style umpiring in tennis.

How Serena Williams could only wish this happened earlier so she could’ve shoved that tennis ball where she promised in the 2009 US Open final.

And you know John McEnroe just cracked some champagne somewhere too.

Fox Footy an inspiration for NRL toenails

A frightening incident occurred recently when a group of footy fans were discovered trapped under an avalanche of AFL analysis.

Luckily, with the exception of a few unfortunate scarves and a thermos, there were no victims.

However, all learnt a potent lesson from this event. These tsunamis of dissection and nit-picking now hit major cities in Australia on the regular.

Six former greats for one toe. Let’s demand it for the NRL.

AFL footy has always been fine tooth-combed, but with the advent of subscription television’s Fox Footy channel, it’s gone to levels of nuttiness not before seen.

With live programming every night of the week featuring salivating journalists and eager former greats of the game, nothing is unworthy of discussion in the crusade to fill a couple of hours of telly.

Analysis is analysed. Forensic accounts are investigated and then the investigation is examined, then the examination is discussed. Thrice.

I know what you are probably thinking; it’s like the old ‘full forward stubs toe’ slow Tuesday news piece that you’ve heard in the past. But it goes much, much further below the surface than that.

Something as ceremonious as a jammed flipper is frisked and probed by Fox Footy in the way Wayne Carey would approach a wives convention.

There’s a camera crew on hand for the application of the band-aid, a devoted 2 hour broadcast to scrutinise the shard of fragmented toe-nail that has catapulted from the crime scene and a subsequent live poll on whether that offensive discolouration on the underside of the foot in question was either toe-jam or some kind of mutated bunion.

(If you are wondering, a special key-ring has been created in the shape of the nail and it plays ‘Good old Collingwood forever’ when you squeeze it. It’s on sale now for the crazy price of 15 Demetriou dollars.)

A recent example of Fox’s finicky critiquing is the vitriolic response to players who have had the gall to smile at the final siren following a loss.

Sure, I can understand that fans and pen-pushers expect you to be spewing deluxe when you’ve just been on the end of a horrid spanking. But what else are you supposed to do when you shake hands with a former teammate and he unloads the old ‘pull my finger’ joke like old times?

Then there’s the staple victim that nourishes an expert’s diet for the contentious roast, which is the head coach and his right to hold down his position and earn a livelihood.

AFL fans. Passionate peanuts.

Fox Footy channel is contractually obligated to torch at least one team boss per week by questioning his right to job security and a steady income. The frothing drum-beaters take turns every round in placing a frazzled and balding head of a clipboard-wielder into the stocks to spark an explosive talking point.

For effect, there is no middle ground. It’s employed, effective and immune or disgraceful and dole queue-bound.

In all seriousness though, this just shows the exceptional levels of devotion and admiration for the game across the land.

The importance placed on the trivial may seem odd to those who exist on the outside of the religion, but this is everyday life in the AFL. The game’s fans set the benchmark for all other codes with their ‘life or death’ ideals that keep their footy emotions on a precipice at all times, and they wouldn’t want it any other way.

So this got me thinking that us rugby league disciples deserve something similar. We want a vehicle to show the country how much we covet our game.  Preferably in television form.

With the next TV rights deal on the horizon, why doesn’t the new independent commission stamp its feet and push for a dedicated NRL channel on Fox?

Imagine it. We could have a nightly roundup of the day’s controversy, expert insight into the day’s bland comments from a second-rower and a forum for every coach to make a case about being the underdog.

A channel for Paul’s appendage is required now.

There could be a dedicated “Where’s Jennings?” program (only relevant outside of Origin matches) along with a magazine-style offering telling us yarns of cavorting ex-stars and peripheral first-graders who have transferred straight from the game into a life of crime.

As for the other 20-odd hours in the day, this could be easily filled by our love of the rewind with a billion classic games.

Why not start back at 1960 and play every season in full, all day every day, with nasal commentary, bryl-creem adverts and the like?

I can’t think of any better way for our adored contact sport to be packaged and shipped to the masses.

So I ask of you my rugby league brethren, let us be inspired by our cousins of the land’s fellow code.

Let’s follow their example and ignite the groundswell for better viewing rights right now. We want our own channel with all of our beloved stars permanently under the microscope for our entertainment.

Just think about it. Don’t you want to see what Paul Gallen’s toenail looks like?

 

The Dingo returns

Punters,
Never fear the bloody Dingo is here…

Well it’s been a while…. The Dingo has been living in the stone age….literally…

Carving his thoughts out with rocks on hard concrete floors…

I know you punters have been waiting for my return with baited breath…

In my absence there’s been plenty going down in the sporting world.

I see the gauntlet has been tossed my way on The topic of Aussie cricket captain…. I’ve been accused of being the Leichhardt Sniper…

Anyway let’s get a few things out of the way….

The Pup….
Well the Dingo is prepared to say I was wrong about this bloke….
Forgetting his cricketing ability…
Look at the absolute glamour the poonce has bagged….

Let me just say this Dingo wishes he marked his territory with her long ago…

The Pup is now THE DOG!!!!



 

 

 

 

The Leichhardt sniper… The Dingo lawyers says I did not take that baby… I mean I don’t own a high powered sniper rifle……

Rugby Union….
Still as boring as all shit…

The Waratahs couldn’t beat The Gerringong under 10’s…..

The crusaders are cruising and when the hell will those halfwits from the ARU flick the sheep shagger as our national coach….

In league…..
Looks like same old story…..
Qld rock….
While Nsw suck donkeys balls…
Yet cry like old babies about a no try….

One good thing for the Blues…. Robbie Wah Wah finally looks like he can organise some tabouli in a kebabshop… He’s nearly fully sick bro…

Apart from the blokes constant crying and whinging…. Never seen so many tears since the Dingo knocked off the lebanese bread at local wog picnic!

What else happening in the Sporting World???

Mark Webber won A Grand Prix!!!!
Yes punters he won the Monaco GP… And he didn’t just pinch the trophy out old Bernie’s Wheet Bix packet!!!!

Ummm Grant “I can’t ” Hackett has gone on a rampage…

Poor old bastard gone through the ringer…
But when ya get home from a bender off ya bloody rocker and The Mrs won’t make ya toastie… Of course the shit is going hit the fan….
Along with the grand piano, the chest of drawers, the microwave and 28 gold medals!!!!!

What about the London Olympics I hear ya say???

Who gives a Steaming Dingo’s turd about the Olympics…. Just means I have to look at a thousand poor dental hygiened twats for a month….

If I wanted that I’d just give Eddie McGuire a call!!!!

Anyway Punters….
The Dingo is back!!!!

Til next time….

Interview with a Soccer International: PNG’s Nathaniel Lepani on Barcelona, Brescia and Baggio

At first glance, Papua New Guinea forward Nathaniel Lepani’s career may not appear to be particularly unique. Since beginning his footballing journey in 2001 with Cosmos Port Moresby, Lepani has flitted between his homeland and the upper echelons of Australia’s Brisbane Premier League, also enjoying a spell at USA college side Menlo Oaks in 2002-03.

However, what very few realise is that Lepani almost secured a contract with Italian club Brescia Calcio, then enjoying their best-ever campaign in Serie A by finishing 7th and boasting players such as Roberto Baggio and Andrea Pirlo. Lepani trialled, unsuccessfully, for the club’s primavera youth squad in May 2001, a time the man himself describes “the year where I pursued my professional dream.”

Had he succeeded, Nathaniel would have gone down in history as Papua New Guinea’s most successful export. Few footballers from the country stray from the Oceania region, with even the national team’s most adventurous players plying their trade in Australia or New Zealand.

That’s not to say his career since hasn’t seen brilliant highs, including scoring four times in a Pacific Games clash with Kiribati in September, representing his country against the likes of Australia (and facing up against ex-Fulham midfielder Ahmad Elrich and former Tottenham defender Spase Dilevski), and bagging a brace against Samoa just two days after his 22nd birthday in 2004.

Nathaniel cites a three-year stay in Belgium, from 1991-94, as a large influence on his eventual career in football. Flanders club Overijse Voetbal Club, currently in the Belgian fourth division, boasted the youngster’s talents in their U12 and U14 sides during his time in the country. Lepani describes the experience as one that “helped to cement my footballing upbringing” – the taste of European football from an early age has almost certainly given the current Gigira Laitepo Morobe attacker an advantage over his Papua New Guinean peers.

Helping to dispel the “uneducated and uncouth” stereotype that has plagued 21st-century footballers, Lepani has attended universities and colleges in his native PNG, Australia and America. This, combined with a high-ranking job in the Oceania branch of food processing giants Nestlé, has limited Lepani’s time for football, resulting in a “year out” from club football in 2004, and spells at lower-league clubs more convenient for someone juggling work, education and sport.

The rest of this interview contains more than enough evidence to prove his well-spoken nature and articulate views. Enjoy.

What is the highlight of your career, either at international or club level?

I have to at least mention my experience at Brescia Calcio for no other reason than what it showed me in terms of the “professional” approach to the game and all that it encompasses.  It was also a relatively humbling experience in that when we (Primavera) played the first team in a practice match, the top players would all arrive in their fancy sports cars, while us younger squad members were dropped off or caught public transport.

In saying that, though, I can’t go past the experience of being able to represent my country and lining up before the game and hearing the national anthem being played. Playing for PNG may not be the most “glamorous”,  but it’s still an absolute honor nonetheless. I’d have to say my highlights would be my first goals for PNG, at U20 level in Cook Islands at the Oceania U20s World Cup Qualifers in 2001. I had picked up a groin strain in our first training session, so had to carry that through the tournament. Despite starting against Vanuatu in our first game (a 6-0 loss), I was benched for our Cook Islands one. Coming on as a sub in the second half I played the “super sub” role and bagged two goals in my 25 minute performance. So those were my first goals in PNG colors.

 It’s always enjoyable scoring goals, and of course scoring 4 in one game against Kiribati was fulfilling and certainly worth mentioning as a highlight, but funnily enough the atmosphere in which we played that game was quite negative, and to be honest it wasn’t one of my most memorable experiences.

“Lepani’s on trial with us, you say!?” Baggio’s place in football folklore lead to him being “cocooned” from the mere mortals

How did the trial at Brescia Calcio in 2001 come about? Not many PNG players make it to Europe, let alone Serie A…

Certainly not the most orthodox of ways. An Italian with close links to Brescia and other Italian Serie A and C clubs was working in PNG at the time.  Alongside a contact at Brescia Calcio (the team manager of the U16s), he set up a player agency with the objective of tapping into the Pacific Market for potential players to trial, and ultimately, play in Italy and possibly Europe as a whole.

I was fortunate that it was created at a time when I had just finished high school and had recently represented PNG at u20 level. So I had time and youth on my side, and had proven that I had the potential to succeed – which was the reason behind my selection. Admittedly as well, compared to the average Papua New Guinean, the means to support this trial was also a factor at the time, as I had to bear the costs of traveling to Bresica as well as room and board during the time there. I was one of two guys, Alex Davani being the second, who were selected to trial at Brescia from PNG.

Although it was reiterated to me that the trial could have lasted anywhere between a few days and a month, my month there showed me that I must have impressed enough for them to have kept me there during that time. While I was there 3 other trialists came and went, so during that time I was reassured that if the club had kept me there while other trialists came and went, then they must have seen something in me to keep me there.

Did you meet former FIFA World Player of the Year Roberto Baggio or current Serie A stalwarts Andrea Pirlo and Daniele Bonera during your trial? And just how good are players at that level?

I was desperately hoping to meet Baggio. But as he was in his twilight of his career then and had already confirmed himself in the pantheon of footballing Gods, not only in Italy, but the world as well, he was unsurprisingly kept “cocooned” by what I observed. I recall that during our game against the top team, he was training by himself on the other field, under the watchful eyes of a physio (he was injured at the time, I recall) and a television crew from Japan. I do remember Bonera, although possibly due to my ignorance, did not recognise him for the player he was. Same for Pirlo, although admittedly he became the player he is during his time at Milan.

I would like to think that although I didn’t make the cut, I gave as good as other players that I trained and played with. However there was one player who I noticed to be a bit extra special, [Abderrazzak] “‘Razza” Jadid. He was with the Primavera squad at the time, but last I saw he had made the first team and was loaned out to a few other clubs [Jadid currently plays for Serie B club Grosseto, on loan from Parma].

With regards to the first team players, there was certainly a higher level of urgency and skill in their approach to their play. I was fortunate to see them in both training and during games, and their composure and reading of the game was the same. I think back now and realise that the standard I saw was probably reflective of a mid-bottom level club in Serie A (arguably the top league in the world at the time). So it still astounds me to think that if that was the standard there, imagine what it would have been at AC Milan, Roma or Inter?

What are your strengths as a player, and which famous attacker would you compare yourself to in terms of playing style?

Despite always being on the “slight” side in terms of body build, I think it’s contributed to my strengths as a player. My agility, balance, speed and ability to read the game are certainly up there as strengths. Playing in both Australia and the US, where the physical aspects of the game are more apparent, I have always had to ensure I made my mark on the game through other ways. And I think in that sense I can appreciate and admire how players like Xavi and Iniesta have been able to excel.  In terms of playing style and a player I most resemble, I’d have to say Pedro Rodriguez at Barcelona. I may not be as quick as I was, but I definitely see a bit of how I played, in him, whenever I watch Barca play.

Returning to matters closer to home, how far has football in Papua New Guinea come in recent years?

I think the introduction of the National Soccer League [in 2006] has certainly helped to create a nationalised league that challenges all clubs/franchises to operate in a semi-professional manner and strive to lift their standards, both on and off the field. I definitely think that the success of Hekari [winners of every NSL title since 2006, and OFC Champions League winners in 2010] has shown the rest of PNG that it is possible to achieve success at a domestic level and carry that on to a regional level too, and challenge the status quo. So in that sense, football has grown in leaps and bounds in the last few years. There can certainly be many more improvements in a domestic sense, but I think there has been enough of a foundation created that it is really up to us as players and future administrators and club management to continue to lift that standard.

Nathaniel emulates Barcelona forward Pedro during a 2011 clash with Tahiti

What division in England would you compare the PNG National Soccer League to in terms of standard?

To be honest, apart from the Premier League and the understanding that there’s the “second” division below that, and so forth, I am not familiar at all with the divisions in England to make enough of an informed comparison. I would say that purely skill-wise, we would probably be comparable to the 3rd or 4th tier of the League [League One/League Two]. However in overall approach to the game (changing rooms, pre/post-game “rituals”, physios, training equipment, etc) I would say we are still near “Sunday League” level, unfortunately. It’s frustrating to say, but apart from Hekari, there is a huge gap in the approach to the game that most teams in the NSL have. The introduction of player payments/wages was supposed to bring the level up to “Semi-Professional”, however in my opinion it’s still lacking.

What are the differences between top-flight football in PNG and in Europe? How big is local interest in the game?

PNG is the one country in the world that likes to boast that its national sport is Rugby League. This is certainly the case for support at a grassroots level.  Having said that, soccer has always had its following from different corners of the country. So when it comes to games and certain teams playing, there will always be followers of the game. Again, Hekari has certainly raised the profile of the game in recent years, and alongside the introduction of the NSL, coverage has become more national and therefore players more identifiable. Coverage on the national TV channel also assists in this. I still wouldn’t say it’s at the same level as rugby league players in the country, but still recognisable enough in certain crowds.

Port Moresby has always had 2 to 3 teams in the NSL at any given season, and due to the lack of suitable playing venues, most of those home games are held at the same field. So game days are often double headers. Because of that, crowd numbers are usually respectable (for PNG football standards) – up to 1,000. However for bigger games (O-League, Internationals), the crowds can swell to about 5,000 – 7,000. Lae, which has always been a stronghold for football players and supporters in the country also turns out in numbers for NSL games in Lae at the stadium there.

How did living in Belgium at a young age aid your football development, and how did the move come about? Belgium must be very different to PNG…

I was fortunate to have lived in Belgium for three years (’91-’94) when I was growing up, which helped to cement my footballing “upbringing”.  I didn’t become a teenager until I returned to PNG, but it still had a bit of a bearing on my “formative” years as a footballer. As I mentioned earlier, I think the “holistic” approach to the game really showed me what it’s like to play football in a setup that accepted that football is not only about what happens on the field during the game day.

I was fortunate enough to have lived in and experienced several cultures and countries growing up, due to my Dad’s work commitments. Belgium was no different. Our move there was due to Dad being posted there for work. Belgium  is definitely a huge change from PNG. Although I did live in Hawaii prior to Belgium, so that change in itself was also a major one.

Lepani was overjoyed to be playing for Overijse while in Belgium

Do you support any English or European clubs as a result of your travels abroad?

Simply put, FC Barcelona. I’ve actually been a fan ever since we lived in Belgium, and not just a recent convert like I’m sure millions of fans have been due to their recent incredible success. Their “original” dream team was just starting to gel and even at my age I recognised their brilliance. I was definitely fortunate to be living in Belgium at the time, so had access to TV and media coverage of them. So had I been in PNG I doubt I would have known of them, let alone most of the other European teams. Of course nowadays it’s easy to be drawn to support various teams due to their team make up (I enjoy the style of play of numerous players plying their trade in several top European teams), however I’m a stalwart fan of the Blaugrana. “Mes que un club”!

In England I do follow Arsenal (my brother’s team [Nathaniel’s brother Andrew has also represented PNG at international level]). An Italian close friend and teamate at Menlo, Chris Antinnuci convinced me of AS Roma’s merits. And I’ve been a fan of Totti ever since. In hindsight I was also unlucky to have missed Guardiola during his time at Brescia as well.

 How disappointed were you not to make the PNG 2012 Nations Cup squad? It must have been a bittersweet feeling to see that your brother Andrew was included, but you weren’t.

Extremely. I won’t go into details, but I did have a lengthy talk with the gaffer [former Australia boss Frank Farina] and was given a reason – I had an untimely accident which left a gash across my right knee requiring 7 stitches and one week out from training camp – for my ommission. I can’t say I blame him for that decision, considering that I agree that only the fittest and experienced of players should be selected. But I still feel that had I been given the opportunity to prove my fitness and see out the healing of my knee, that my experience and presence in the squad of 23 (regardless of whether I would have been a starter or not) would still have been beneficial and warranted. My brother has also struggled with juggling work commitments with national team duties, so in fact I’m extremely happy for him that he’s made it.

How much does it mean to represent your country against some of the best footballers in Oceania, and who is the best player you’ve ever faced?

For sure it means a lot. There’s so much passion and potential in Oceania that although we cannot be compared to the heights of Europe or South America or even Asia, there are still some very skillful players that I believe given the opportunity to play in established leagues in Europe would excel (although I’m not sure about the weather!).

I was fortunate enough to have played against the Australian U20s and U23s squads. And in both squads Nick Carle was a member. He may not have fulfilled his potential in Europe, but he’s one of the most skillful players I’ve been up against. I still remember our game against them at U20s level (they ran out winners 6-0). It was near cyclonic conditions – to be honest it was probably fortunate for us that the conditions were so horrendous, or else they really would have ripped us apart. But during the game that was literally played in puddles,  Nick would always be able to caress the ball and flick it up slightly to get it out of the water and just knock it patiently to his team mates. He helped to set Scott McDonald (another quality player) for a hat trick that game, if I remember correctly. But he was certainly the most skillful I had come up against.

 Finally, who do you tip to win this year’s Nations Cup? New Zealand will surely start as favourites, but the Solomon Islands are on home soil, and PNG have been labelled the “dark horses” of the competition…

I’ve just watched PNG fall to Solomons 0-1, so there goes my instinctual answer of PNG! And in the earlier game by all accounts the Kiwis [New Zealand] struggled in their 1-0 win over Fiji. On the face of it, New Zealand should just turn up at the tournament and walk away winners, such is the quality of their team of near fulltime professionals, compared to the majority of “amateurs” who make up the rest of the Pacific countries. But having the tournament hosted out of their comfort zone, always means the Kiwis are going to have to work for their win.

I still think they’ll go all the way to win it, but not without some strong challenges along the way. The Solomon Islands are on home soil, but if their first game is anything to go by, they’ll have to step up to go all the way. With the crowd behind them, maybe that’s the extra gear that they’ll need. Fiji should be able to bounce back from their loss and challenge as well. I see the winner of Fiji and Solomons as going through as the second placed team in the group. I’m sorry to say but after the 1-0 loss to Solomons and next game against New Zealand, PNG really are up against it to progress. Crazier things have happened, but we certainly are up against it.

Having said all that, I’ve been impressed with the Francophone teams, particularly New Caledonia – they play a particular style of football that stands them apart from the other Pacific teams. After several years of underachieving, I think Tahiti are also getting back to their best.

All in all, I think it’ll be an exciting few weeks of football. And I think even if New Zealand win, I think the performance of the teams will show that the gap is closing between New Zealand and the other Pacific nations.

Thanks for your time.

No problem at all.

Read more like this at http://drawley.wordpress.com/

Photos: Baggio – greenobles.com; Lepani – Andrew Molen/Nathaniel Lepani; Overijse team – Tim Beeckmans.

Rivals quiver as Crusaders coil

The Crusaders are now officially lurking around the 2012 Super Rugby winner’s hardware. They are rubbing their hands together and gravitating towards the prize like a porky kid’s stealthy approach to a buffet.

Over the last month or so, they have been posting reminders to the rugby universe of who they are.

Dagg. A rare image of him being hauled in.

Reality-checkers have been mailed to those who have enjoyed top billing from the public and bookies so far in 2012 and flyers sticky-taped to power poles to warn everyone else that they’re on their way.

It seems now they are ready to exercise their full rights to ownership of this competition and the choccies it bestows upon it’s champion.

I’m admonishing myself for letting them slip from my memory as the shadow of the Chiefs and Stormers expanded this season. But I guess I can be forgiven after the modest beginnings of the Canterbury campaign this year.

Trying to take care of business in the early stages minus their sovereign talent duo of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter turned out to be a testing gig, and this showed with their uncharacteristic 3-3 record after 6 rounds.

Add to this the conceivable hangover of a sapping 2011 tilt where they were training on tarmac and playing home games in transit lounges, and it was natural for you to think that this could be one of those rare years where they just clock off and have a well-earned spell.

Nobody could begrudge them a basement season or two- their trophy cabinet is even crying out for a Milo and a lie down- but it’s not the case.

The talented buggers are back and causing the title appellants to quiver. But really, is anyone surprised they’ve emerged from the bushes with a big stick?

Last night, they clinically flicked the playoff-aspiring Highlanders to the trash can with a 51-18 clobbering.

The Mr. T haircut adds a level of fright to Robbie Fruean that is simply unfair.

It was another short educational session on the scary and domineering Crusader vintage; a mosaic of surgical finesse, nasty power and spotless class for the full 80.

This takes their recent form line to 6 wins from their last 7 outings, which includes 2 trips past the half century and the mantle-worthy scalps of the Stormers and title-defending Reds.

They’ve now quietly sneaked into the party and are eyeing-off the seat at the head of the Kiwi table currently occupied by the Chiefs after boosting to within 2 competition points of the leaders.

There’s no doubt this will have the Waikato outfit’s swagger going from their current flowing Fonz-like gait to a more cautious and stiffer style of movement.

I also highly doubt that the South African conference front-runners will be bashing the jukebox in excitement either at the Christchurch team’s recent bout of attention-seeking.

The round 17 clash between the NZ heavyweights will be a monstrous traffic-stopping showdown and surely an unofficial conference final that will cease society’s operations in general for a couple of hours across the Tasman.

Zac Guildford: trying the impossible task of blowing smoke rings on the run.

The Canterbury resurgence is driven by it’s diamonds. Their blue chip talent is heating up at the pace of an angry stove and it’s timed like a pedantic Swiss watch.

Israel Dagg, Robbie Fruean and Zac Guildford have been fine silk recently and their fire-eating forwards, lead by the world class Kieran Read, are unfairly hungry and war-like at times with the way they ride roughshod over rival packs.

And we haven’t even mentioned the once-in-a-generation Carter and McCaw who are of an even higher gold-mark than those mentioned above. It really is unfair in some ways.

Some may argue that the break for international commitments could stymie the snowball they’ve rolled. But it’s not as though the nucleus and it’s combinations will endure a massive deconstruct for this time as the majority will still be plying their trade together, only in a different coloured jersey.

The clutch rugby kings and their indomitable culture is once again flexing it’s considerable muscle at bean counting time.

It may feel like the 2012 Crusaders are a snake slowly climbing the ladder after a dozy opening.

Take a closer look. You will see they are a crafty rugby serpent that has been quietly coiling in preparation to strike when the time is right.

Warming the Pine

Sport for those with comfortable couches.