Month: December 2010

A Wembley Christmas Special

My view at Wembley.

Haligonia Sports Contributor Henry Whitfield is spending his Christmas vacation across the pond in England. While there he will be contributing match reports on Cricket, Rugby and Premier League Football.

The following is an account of the December 26th Rugby Union match between Saracens and London Wasps of the Aviva Premiership.

The new 90,000 seat Wembley Stadium in England was opened to the world in 2007, a state of the art facility. Since that moment, I have eagerly anticipated the day that I would finally see the modern wonder in person.

Today that goal was fulfilled.

My family bundled into two cars and headed off into London, not knowing the destination I was quite chuffed when I saw the distant outline of the new Wembley Stadium come into view.

For those of you not familiar, the Football Association knocked down the old Wembley Stadium, home to the 1948 Olympics, 1966 World Cup Finals, Live Aid in 1985 back in 2003.

Today the match is a Rugby Premiership match between the home team Saracens and the visiting London Wasps. An important match with the Wasps on an unbeaten streak and the Sarries grinding out results over the last few weeks, but the main story line is the debut of Gavin Henson after a 21-month absence.

We arrived a full two hours before kick-off and head towards the Club Entrance, we’ve been lucky enough to snag tickets in the Royal Box. Yes, the area that the Royal family would normally sit in when in attendance and it lived up to the impressive name.

The day was packed full of sweet swag!

On our way in, we walked past a stunning piece of history. Above the walkway hung a crossbar from the 1966 World Cup tournament, proudly hung as a

Memories from the old Wembley Stadium

tribute to the last and only time the motherland of football has hosted the tournament. Walking up the stairs we were thrown a heap of great swag that included a special match-day scarf, supporters flag and programs.

Once inside we are seated in a large dining room, where we await the pre-game show and are treated to a pre-game interview with Saracen star Jacques Burger, who leads his team with 92 tackles but unfortunately is out with an injury.

The pre-game ceremony includes a few bands, but the main attraction is pop star Eliza Doolittle, who she sets the stage for an entertaining afternoon. Soon after the crowd erupts, their stars run onto the pitch and the referee is ready to start the match.

The match begins with both sides playing cautiously, a dull affair to start with neither team scoring a try in the first half. The only scoring comes from teenager Owen Farrell, who kicks the only three points of the half to give the Saracens a 3 – 0 lead at the interval.

Saracens come out flying in the second half, scrum-half Neil De Kock finds flanker Andy Saull, who bowls his way through the line for the score, and Farrell confidently adds the conversion.

With a 10 – 0 lead in hand, the Sarries continue to dominate play and are further sparked by Henson’s introduction. Despite being out of action for 21-months, Henson didn’t miss a beat. He almost makes an instant impact, but he narrowly misses a try, with Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson making the last ditch tackle for his side.

Farrell would add another three points to put the Saracens in a commanding lead, leaving Wasps with only a chance to answer back with penalty kicks. Dave Walder was more than happy to oblige and added his own six points for the Wasps but that was all they could manage, a final score of 13 – 6 on the day.

Just a few minutes remain,“Stand Up, Stand Up for the Saracens” bellowing around the stadium and their fans sounding their approval of a well earned win.

My first experience of the new Wembley has been a positive one and a lively afternoon of Rugby will be forever my first memory there. The 38, 425 passionate,

The Wembley Arch lit up at night.

loud fans who braved the cold Boxing Day weather to cheer on their team etched in my mind.

As I walk away from Wembley, I look back and see the sparkling arc rising across the roof and soak it all in.

All in all, my first experience of the new Wembley is one I’ll never forget.

Check back this week for Henry’s match day report from the Emirates Stadium, where Chelsea FC visit Arsenal in a big four battle.

Henry Whitfield is an avid football fan and you can find his thoughts on sports and more on his blog, or follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield. You can also listen to him on air as a regular contributor to the Bill McLean Sports show on 88.1 CKDU.


May the Best Bid (not) Win

England Snubbed for 2018 WC

Two votes.

Out of a grand total of 22 votes that England could have garnered in the World Cup 2018 Host race, they received just two votes.


Don’t be, the decision to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar reeks of retribution and political gamesmanship.

Despite England garnering the titles of ‘lowest risk’, ‘most profitable’ and ‘strongest technically’ by reports released by FIFA, it appears that the governing body of the beautiful game has dealt a tough lesson to the motherland of football.

Rallying the heavy artillery, England 2018 sent David Beckham, Prime Minister David Cameron, HRH Prince William into the snake pit in Zurich to sway the FIFA Executive to vote on the merits of the bidding countries and not punish the Brits for their outspoken media.

Sure, Russia was a heavy favourite leading up to the vote; they were a new frontier to discover, somewhere for the Football world to spread towards and continue to build Sepp Blatter’s legacy of ‘spreading the game’ throughout the corners of the planet.

However, let’s not kid ourselves that in order to ‘spread the game,’ FIFA has awarded the World Cup to a country that did not have the best bid.

Look no further than the results of the 2022 race to see the intent behind FIFA’s two decision; denying an extremely strong USA bid for that of Qatar; the country deemed ‘highest risk’ by FIFA regulators and a country that would see it’s population grow by 25% with the influx of over 400,000 fans during the tournament.

Qatar bought the support of high profile athletes like Zinedine Zidane

When a country like Qatar has to pay stars and celebrities to endorse their campaign, Zinedine Zidane is being paid $15million for the successful bid, you have to question the reason’s behind the decision. Sending the World Cup to the USA in 2022 would help grow the North American game and would allow more people access to the games.

Meanwhile pundits are already discussing the possibility of the World Cup in Qatar being the least attended in the tournaments illustrious history, but don’t worry, as the government has more than enough Oil money to cover the costs and ensure that FIFA goes home with their pockets lined in fresh bills.

Then there was the buzz word of the two races: Corruption.

British media outlets News of the World and the BBC, each fought the crusade against the corruption that covers the global game; Payoffs, tickets being sold on the black market, voters taking bribes etc.

Not an issue?

Just moments before voting, Sepp Blatter warned those present of the ‘evil of the media’ and ‘recent events in the media.’ While, Cyprus voting member Marois Lefkaritis, said ““If the [England bid team] think they did not [suffer because of the media], then they are stupid and naive.”

Allegations that there was collusion between the 2018 Spain/Portugal bid and the 2022 Qatar bid to garner support for each in the separate votes will not help, with Qatar winning and the Iberian bid being a finalist in the 2018 race.

With so much controversy revolving around the final decisions and such strong bids obviously snubbed, it asks the question: Why are the best candidates being ignored?

And while there are many other questions to ask, some are already taking action.

England 2018 bid Chief Executive Andy Anson has called for reform, asking for more transparency in the decisions, stating that accusations of corruption have tainted the process.

“I would say right now don’t bother (bidding) unless you know the process is going to change,” said Anson.

“When there are only 22 guys that gives them too much influence.”

While England’s Football Association chairman Roger Burden resigned, stating that he could not work with FIFA as long as he did not trust them.

“I recognize that an important part of the role is liaison with Fifa, our global governing body,” he said.

“I am not prepared to deal with people whom I cannot trust and I have withdrawn my candidacy.”

Finally, Arsene Wenger was steadfast in his call for FIFA reform, “The way to decide looked to me, in fairness, a little bit from the Middle Ages. It doesn’t look right in

Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger has joined the cry for FIFA reform

modern life that people have to go over there and lobby and say, ‘please believe in us’. Frankly, it looks a little bit that you have to flatter them to get the World Cup.

“I don’t think that is right. You would like to have much more technical than human criteria. It is difficult to explain to people that the technical bid of England was perfect but you get only two votes. That is not rational,” finished the Arsenal manager.

While FIFA will want to move forward and past their decision, it appears there will be a definite push for reform and transparency in the future.


Henry Whitfield is an avid Mooseheads fan and you can find his thoughts on sports and more on his blog, or follow him on twitter @HenryWhitfield. You can also listen to him on air as a regular contributor to the Bill McLean Sports show on 88.1 CKDU.