BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher

Archives for March 2011

Will the GB football teams be united at 2012?

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Paul Fletcher | 22:45 UK time, Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Football will kick off the London 2012 Olympics when the women's competition starts at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on 25 July, two days before the official opening ceremony.

The men's and women's competitions will each involve 28 nations from six confederations playing at six venues across England, Scotland and Wales.

Granted a place as the host nation, it will be the first time that Great Britain & Northern Ireland has entered a football team in the men's competition since 1960, and the debut appearance for the women since its introduction in 1996.

But as a BBC Radio 5 Live special Team GB United will discuss at 2000 GMT on Thursday, there are more questions than answers about the two teams that will represent the home nations next year.

Top of the list is the thorny and, so far, divisive issue of whether all of the home nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will come together.

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Adel Taarabt - a mercurial talent

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Paul Fletcher | 10:57 UK time, Monday, 21 March 2011

QPR manager Neil Warnock opted for "talented, exciting and frustrating" when asked to describe his captain Adel Taarabt in three words.

It is the first two qualities that saw the mercurial Morocco international named the Football League player of the year at an awards ceremony in London on Sunday.

The 21-year-old has undoubtedly been QPR's ace in the pack this season as they have built a nine-point lead at the top of the Championship with eight games remaining. He has scored 15 goals and provided at least the same number of assists (the exact figure is the subject of disagreement, with estimates ranging from 15 to 20).

But Taarabt is about so much more that statistics.

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Why football clubs matter more than results

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Paul Fletcher | 12:17 UK time, Thursday, 17 March 2011

What does a football club mean to you? Are you only concerned about what happens on a Saturday afternoon/midweek evening and nothing else? Or does a football club play a more important role than that?

Take, for example, the story of Josie Ogle.

Desperate to find something that would give her terminally ill husband John some enjoyment in his last days, the pensioner spotted an advert in her local newspaper for a weekly social event at Watford Football Club.

"Had it been in a church hall, he would not have been interested but because it was at the football club he was happy to go," Josie told me.

They went along and discovered a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, with a range of activities from board games to Tai Chi and indoor bowls.

Specifically targeting the over-60s, the Extra Time club runs from 1000 until 1200 on Thursdays. For Ogle and her husband, it soon became a regular date in their diary.

"He was motivated every Thursday even if he did not feel well," said Josie. "As we made friendships, I think he saw that there would be something for me after he died."

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Swindon relying on football's fire-fighter

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Paul Fletcher | 21:37 UK time, Saturday, 12 March 2011

The County Ground

Feargal Sharkey once claimed that a good heart these days is hard to find, but Swindon are hoping that one has arrived at the County Ground as they battle against relegation to League Two.

The Wiltshire club reached the League One play-off final last season but this campaign has been one of disappointment and despair, and Town have turned to Paul Hart to ensure it does not end in disaster.

The 57-year-old readily admits that he was not doing all that much before the call came, asking him to do for the Robins what he had previously done at Portsmouth in the Premier League in 2009 and Crystal Palace in the Championship last season.

Hart had been taking in a few football games and improving his forehand on the tennis court, but he leapt at the chance to return to management for the first time since his triumphant farewell with the Eagles.

The likeable Lancastrian had taken over at the financially-troubled London club on 2 March 2010 and kept them in English football's second tier after a dramatic and extremely tense final-day draw at Sheffield Wednesday, who were relegated instead.

Almost exactly one year after his appointment at Selhurst Park, Hart was unveiled as successor to Danny Wilson at the County Ground. The new boss had 13 games to haul the Robins out of the relegation zone and chairman Andrew Fitton had made it very clear that he had been chosen because of his proven track record of beating the drop.

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Grounds for complaint in Wycombe?

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Paul Fletcher | 11:22 UK time, Friday, 11 March 2011

Wycombe Wanderers play in light and dark blue but a sizeable minority of home supporters have started wearing black and white scarves this season.

In symbolic terms they are similar to the green and gold scarves worn by Manchester United supporters protesting against the Glazer family's ownership of the Premier League club.

Both sets of scarves depict the original colours worn by the clubs in question, although the protest at Wycombe is not against the club's owner per se, but rather what he wants to do with the club.

Steve Hayes is the owner of both League Two Wycombe Wanderers and rugby union Premiership side Wasps. He took over at Wasps in December 2008 and Wycombe in July 2009, in the process reportedly writing off £3m in debt in exchange for shares. Hayes, a long-standing Wycombe fan, wants to move both clubs away from Adams Park and into a new modern facility on a current green belt site at Wycombe Air Park on the outskirts of the Buckinghamshire town of Booker.

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From Northampton Town to Real Madrid

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Paul Fletcher | 09:30 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Glen Thurgood was up early on the morning of Wednesday, 23 September, e-mailing friends and discussing the events of the previous evening.

Northampton Town had defeated Liverpool 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out at Anfield in the Carling Cup. It was a sensational result that did little to help the cause of beleaguered Reds boss Roy Hodgson but it gave Thurgood a huge sense of satisfaction.

As fitness coach at Northampton, Thurgood was delighted to see his charges more than match their more illustrious Premier League opponents.

"In many ways, the victory was the proudest moment of my career so far," Thurgood told me. "We ran Liverpool off the park in extra-time, proving to me that everything we had been done in pre-season - conditioning the players correctly - had been crucial.

"To beat League One side Brighton in round one could be viewed as a fluke but to defeat Championship side Reading and Liverpool showed that Northampton had the conditioning to match these teams."

Following the coach journey back from Anfield, Thurgood had struggled to sleep after arriving home at 0400. He tried but the adrenalin was still flowing. In the end, he gave up.

And then it happened. Into Thurgood's inbox arrived the golden ticket - an invitation from Real Madrid to travel to Spain, to watch them at work and learn from their methods.

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