[Featured Article] AFC Wimbledon Matchday Programme: Waning Power of Pisa

Paul Grech Saturday, August 29, 2009 ,


Malta Premier League Preview 2009/10

Paul Grech Thursday, August 20, 2009 ,
Farcical probably just about sums it all up. Days before the Maltese football season is due to start and still the future of Marsaxlokk FC and Vittoriosa Stars, the two clubs at the centre of corruption charges, is unknown after hearings were repeatedly postponed.

For years, rumours of corruption have undermined the credibility of local football but when these were brought up the official reply always was that unless someone stepped forward with proof nothing could be done.
Which is why the past year has been so significant. It all started last August when Albanian coach Ilir Pelinku and former referee Joe Attard where indicted of trying to fix the Champions League qualifier between Marsaxlokk and Slaven Belupo. The local side were cleared of any wrong doing but soon they were in the news once again when, after a crucial game against Msida St. Joseph that saw them gaining access to the Championship Pool and condemned Msida to the relegation pool, Msida goalkeeper revealed that he had been approached to throw the game. Marsaxlokk assistant-coach Peter Hartshorne and former player Claude Mattocks admitted to the charges in court and both got off with a suspended sentence and a €500 fine.

At around the same time it, Vittoriosa Stars’ vice-president Emanuel Ancilleri was also taken to court after allegations that he had tried to bribe players before a game with St. Georges. And, to further complicate matters, Vittoriosa then went on to win promotion to the Premier League.
With relegation being one of the possible punishments – and what most are anticipating – it was thought that both cases would be dealt with swiftly. After all, here was the perfect opportunity for the local football association to prove that it was willing to act swiftly and decidedly against corruption.

Yet that hasn’t happened. Instead, the impression is that the two cases are being viewed as an inconvenience with hearings being regularly postponed and the specially appointed investigations board dragging its feet in delivering a judgement. So much that on the eve of the season no one knows what is going to happen.

Will Marsaxlokk and Vittoriosa be allowed to play in the Premeir League? And, if not, when will Msida and Pieta Hotspurs, the two clubs who would replace them, get to know? After all, neither club has been preparing for a season in the top flight.

This delayed justice has also overshadowed to some extent the positive news to have come out so far this season where Valletta FC did admirably well in the Europa League and were within a few minutes of being the first Maltese club to make it through two rounds of European football. The arrival of coach Tom Caanen as well as his fellow Dutchme
n Jordi Cruyff and Denk Van Ou
den has taken the club to another level and, coupled with the local transfers of Terrence Scerri (Hibernians) and Kevin Sammut (Marsaxlokk), make Valletta the favourites to regain the title
that they missed out on so dramatically last season.

In their way they will find Sliema Wanderers who seem revitalised after their success in the FA Trophy. Their squad has been significantly boosted by the arrival of Maltese player of the year Clayton Failla (Hibernians), Ryan Fenech (Hamrun Spartans) and Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza (Birkirkara) which puts the onus on coach Stephen Azzop
ardi to aim for the top prize after a couple of lean years.
If the summer has been a positive one for Valletta and Sliema, it hasn't been that rosy for champions Hibernians. Last season's success was the just reward for their policy that focuses on the development of young players with the arrival of coach Mark Miller proving to be the catalyst that they needed.

Since the dramatic final day draw with Valletta which secured thei title win, however, they've lost two key players - Clayton Failla and Terence Scerri - to their two closest rivals, losses that are bound to hit them hard. Former Torquay striker Iyseden
Christie has arrived on trial and looks like he could do a useful job but it looks unlikely that it will be enough for them re-claim the title. Writing them off, however, would be foolish as they still retain
a lot of quality.

Another club that, like Hibernians, have been focusing much of their energy on youth have been Birkirkara. Yet this has been quite an agitated summer for them as well. Victor Zammit , the man who transformed
Birkirkara from a yo-yo club into one of the island's top sides, resigned whilst manager John Buttigieg left to take over the national team.

Playing wise there hasn't been much change with Dutch striker Sylvan Comvalious coming from relegated Hamrun Spartans in the hope that he solves their problems up front whilst their search for reliable goalkeeper continues. To replace Buttigieg they have gone for former Valletta boss Pawlu Zammit who paid for his failure to win the league by being d
ismissed. Yet he is a young and talented man who will do well although a fourth place finish seems to be the best that t
hey can hope for given the number of young players he will have to count on.

Floriana will know all about Birkirkara's situation for they too have been stuck in a footballing limbo: too good to go down but without the necessary quality and strength in depth to challenge the top clubs.

The arrival of Irishman Roddy Collins woud indicate a new found ambition but if that really is the case then the expectation is that the players already at the club will perform better than they have in the past since the squad is largely unchanged from last season. Collins has been
attempted to bring some players from the Irish leagues but so far none have actually signed. Unless that changes, it will be more of the same from them.

Having managed to survive in their debut season in the top flight, Qormi are now looking to consolidate their place there. As they did last summer, most of the players they've signed are experienced veterans who know all about football in the Premier League. This might not be the most adventurous of policies and certainly not the cheapest but it should lead to a relatively tranquil season that will act as a stepping stone for further progress.

If Qormi do make it to the Championship Pool, the club that they'r
e most likely to replace is Marsaxlokk FC. Champions just four years ago, their decline has been a steady one since president Victor Scriha opted to take-over Valletta FC.

What's worse is the already mentioned pending case of corruption brought against them which, if proven, would probably see them getting relegated. This has hampered their transfer activity, and whilst they have lost a number of players they haven't been in a position to bring too many players.

On the opposite end of the scale to Marsaxlokk are Tarxien Rainbows. Promoted last year, they were widely expected to go straight back down. Yet that didn't happen largely because of the inspired signing of Brazilian striker David Bueno who scored twenty three goals in as many games. Most of the
top local clubs were lining up to buy him but instead he has opted to move to Poland.

To replace him - and attempt to confound expectations once again - they've gone for two other Brazilians (Antonio Everton Pereira and Anderson Mendez Ribeiro) who already look a cut above what is available locally.

Taking inspiration from Tarxien are First Division champions Dingli Swallows who are putting faith on the players who got them here rather then spend money they don't have in order to chase marginally better results.

In reality, Dingli's story is pretty inspiring in itself. On the verge of relegation to the Third Division when John Zammit took over as player-manager five years ago, he has transformed the club and took them to two promotions. For a village of just 2,500 people, it is a phenomenal result just to reach this level no matter what happens in the coming months.

And finally there's Vittoriosa Stars. Or, at least, there will be Vittoriosa Stars unless they are thrown out because of their own corruption case.

As with Marsaxlokk, this has limited their preparations and the number of players they could bring in. The end result is a squad that seems woefully short of the quality needed to stay up.

This article was published on the football website 200%.

Kultura Anti-Sportiva

Paul Grech Monday, August 10, 2009 , ,
Xharejn ilu, wara t-Tour ta’ Malta tac-ciklizmu, bdejt nitkellem ma’ xi dilettanti ta’ dan l-isport
barranin li qaluli li l-ikbar problema taghna kienet il-bosta karozzi li kien hawn fit-toroq taghna li, flimkien ma’ l-istat ta’ l-istess toroq, kien jaghmel ic-ciklizmu sport difficli biex ikun prattikat. Hmistax wara ltqajt ma’ John Zammit, president tal-Federazzjoni lokali tac-ciklizmu, li wkoll qalli li t-traffiku kien l-ikbar deterrent ta’ dan l-isport.

Dan il-kliem rega’ gie f’mohhi l-gimgha li ghaddiet meta smajt bl-ahbar tal-mewt ta’ Cliff Micallef. Minghajr ma’ nidhol fil-merti partikolari ta’ dan l-incident, kull min huwa midhla tac-ciklizmu kif ukoll tal-giri fit-toroq ilu jistenna li jigri xi haga simili tant hi mwerha s-sitwazzjoni. Sfortunatament, kif spiss jigri f’pajjizna, kellu jkun incident tragiku biex pogga din il-problema fl-attenzjoni generali.

U l-problema f’dan il-kaz hija n-nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni li tezisti fost is-sewwieqa. Ghal hafna c-ciklisti u atleti, kull girja barra hija akkumpanjata mil-biza li jiltaqghu ma’ xi sewwieqa li jew mghaggla wisq biex jatuhom importanza jew inkella, aghar min hekk, li jaraw lil dawn l-istess ciklisti bhal l-mira biex minghalihom juru s-sahha taghhom.

Ghaliex, filwaqt li incidenti serji bhal dak tal-gimgha l-ohra huma rari, huma hafna izjed dawk l-okkazjonijiet fejn atleta jkun involut intortament f’xi incident mhux daqshekk gravi u li ghalhekk ma’ jkunux rappurtati. Matul is-snin smajt wisq stejjer ta’ sewwieqa li hebbew ghal xi atleta purament ghaliex hassewhom frustrati peress li xi triq giet maghluqa minhabba tellieqa jew inkella missew xi ciklista bil-karozza taghhom halli jaraw ir-reazzjoni tieghu.

Hija sitwazzjoni sintomatika tal-kultura Maltija fejn id-dixxiplina hija nieqsa u kulhad jemmen li l-mod li bih jahseb hu huwa tajjeb u ghallahares xi hadd jindahallu. Dan sakemm ma’ jwegga bis-serjeta xi hadd jew inkella, aghar min hekk, ikun hemm xi mewt kif gara din id-darba.

Xorta wahda, s-sigurta ta’ l-atleti u c-ciklisti ma jidirx li se tinghata xi prijorita. Dan ghaliex il-mentalita’ tidher li hi li la huma jiehdu r-riskji li johorgu jigru fit-toroq mela ghandhom ikunu kapaci jiffacjaw il-konsegwenzi.

M’ghandux ikun hekk, anzi t-tama hi li wara dak li gara lil Cliff issir xi haga biex titjieb is-sitwazzjoni. L-minimu ghandu jkun li jkun hemm kampanja edukattiva biex is-sewwieqa jitghalmu jirrispettaw lil dawk li l-isport favorit taghhom jiprattikawh fit-toroq (u fl-istess hin jkunu edukati wkoll dawk il-ftit atleti li jahsbu li t-toroq huma taghhom). Ghaliex jekk matul is-snin il-poplu Malti tghallem jilbes is-seat-belt u jixghel id-dawl taht il-mini mela allura xi ftit tat-tama hemm li s-sitwazzjoni tista titjieb.

Imma jekk ha nittamaw b’mod esklussiv fuq xi kampanja edukattiva mela probabilment se ndumu nistennew. Ir-realta hi li ghal l-atleti biex verament jkunu siguri mela l-uniku alternattiva hi li huma jmorru f’xi wahda mit-treks li hawn Malta halli jiprattikaw l-isport taghhom. Mill-bqija huma qatt mhu se jkollhom garanzija li mhux se jkollhom xi incident.

Is-sitwazzjoni hija iktar sfortunata ghac-ciklisti ghaliex dawn m’ghandhomx post sigur fejn huma jtellqu. Hawn jtella rasu argument iehor li kien semmieli Zammit, dak dwar il-htiega li f’Malta jkun hawn trek indoor tac-ciklizmu.

Meta kien qalli dwar dan il-bzonn, nammetti li kont hsibt li ftit hemm bzonn ta’ xi haga simili. Llum nahsibha b’mod differenti. Bhal ma’ l-karozzi keccew lit-tfal milli jilghabu fit-toroq, mela issa jmiss lil kull min jiprattika l-isport tieghu hemm. Li c-ciklisti jkollhom l-opportunita li jaghmlu hekk jidher li huwa l-pass naturali li jmiss.

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-harga tas-Sibt, 8 t'Awwissu tal-GENSillum - This article appeared in IL-GENSillum of Saturday 8th August


Men and Women of Steel

Paul Grech Friday, August 7, 2009 , ,
Every day you wake up, take a quick shower and something for breakfast before going out to work. There you spend a good part of the day before finally clocking off to return back home

Now imagine that, rather then sitting in front of a computer screen or whatever it is that you do, you were to spend those ten hours running, cycling and swimming. Sounds good? Well it certainly does for a group of athletes who, for the past year, have been gearing up to take part in the Karnten Ironman in Austria.
In reality, the word ironman does very little to describe the sheer difficulty of this sport. For ironman, which is an extended version of triathlon, consists of a 3.86 km swim, a 180.25 km bike ride and a full marathon run, raced in that order and without a break. The very best athletes, can complete this in around eight hours; for the rest it can take up to fifteen hours. Or, to use the previous example, if they set off as soon as you wake up they would still be at it by the time you’re getting ready to go to sleep.

For most of us, that seems like sheer madness yet for those who want to push their bodies to extremes it is something that they have to do.

“Ironman is a challenge,” Dermot Galea explains. “It is something different and whatever the result the fact you finished such an event is always something to be proud of. This is not just a race but a journey where you learn about yourself, and your limits, mental and physical.”

Despite having won countless national triathlon championships, Galea is still in his mid-twenties and an athlete who is still to reach the peak of his physical abilities. He is also one who you get the feeling love a physical challenge. Little wonder then that, the Austria ironman will be his fourth.

Galea is the one who has spearheaded the recent increase in the number of athletes interested in the ironman distances.

Fabio Spiteri is another experienced tri-athlete who is also gearing up for what will be his first ironman. “We where chatting after a triathlon and afterwards we started sending out e-mails about the possibility of doing an ironman. Eventually others joined in so that now there will be a total of nine athletes who will be taking part. That’s quite a big group for a small island like Malta.”

With over 2,500 athletes being expected to turn out for the Karnten ironman, the Maltese will be but a drop in the ocean. Similarly, with the possible exception of Dermot Galea, none of them are going with any hopes of finishing high up the ranking. Yet, as you would imagine for such a tough event, training over the past months has been intensive.

“Ironman preparation is not just about physical endurance training,” Spiteri confirms.

“There are three main issues that I keep in mind. Obviously, the physical aspect is important. When you’re training for an Ironman, your training program must incorporate training in a fatigued state to get your body used to those types of demands. Training for a marathon is one thing, running a marathon when you’re already tired from your 3.8km swim and 180km bike ride is completely another.”

“Another important aspect of training for your ironman is to understand and apply endurance nutrition,” he continues. “During the course of an ironman, around 8000 calories or more are burnt so I have to eat and drink during the race because my body can't convert fat to energy fast enough to support the effort without additional fuel.”

Then there is the mental aspect where Spiteri is turning to visualization in order to help him out: “during the race if you're thinking of giving up...just think about the finish line!”

The psychological is also highlighted by Dermot Galea, even if he doesn’t really agree that one has to be mentally prepared to face an ordeal. “It is not an ordeal, its a challenge, and one needs to prepare for it mentally like any challenges in life. It is all about one's limits and doing an ironman you certainly learn a few things about yourself, and who you are.”

Learning about herself and her limits is certainly what attracted Donatelle Callus, one of two women in the group, to ironman.

“Every extreme is a challenge; let’s hope that my body and mind will take me through this,” she says. “I love the diversity of the sport – having to do three disciplines never gets boring. And since I am a person who gets easily bored and am always looking for an adventure or something new to look forward to, it is ideal for me. Ironman Races are the ultimate races in triathlon.”

Similarly, Callus doesn’t really mind the fact that there are just two women on the island preparing themselves for this challenge. “I don’t think about being the only women in the group as this sport is a lonely sport and, in any case, I do most of my training alone. True, I will be part of a group but during the race I will be alone just my body and my mind.”

Callus laughs when asked about her targets. “I want to finish!” she exclaims. “The cut off is 17 hours and I would like to do it in 15 hours even if I will probably be walking most of the marathon.”

Finishing is also all that Fabio Spiteri is thinking of. Well, almost. “Since it is my first ironman I should be aiming on just finishing. But, knowing me, I've always trained hard, done well in l races abroad and am very competitive so on a good day I should be somewhere between 9hours 45 minutes and 10 hours.”

Galea is the least specific of the three and, even though he admits that he’s hoping for a “fourth finish”, all that he will add is that he’s looking for a “a fast time. That would be great.”

As, in reality, is any sort of finish to the ironman challenge.

This article appeared in the July 2009 issue of Skylife magazine.

Paddle Up

Paul Grech , ,
With the Olympics being the main contact point with many of the less popular sport, it is easy to get a wrong impression. This was driven home recently when I got to know that there were those in Malta for whom canoeing was the sport of choice.

My perception was that this was a sport restricted to rivers and lakes but evidently that is not the case.
"We practice canoe sprint;" leading canoeist Chris Camilleri patiently explains. "This may be practiced both in the sea, lakes and river."

“The only difference between fresh water and sea water is the density of the water. In fresh water the kayak sits a bit deeper in the water and so makes it just a little bit harder to paddle in."

Even so, with traffic being a problem not only on the roads but also in the sea, albeit boats then to be more popular then cars there, finding a good enough spot cannot be that easy.

Well, not really says Camilleri. "We practice in the Msida Marina. It is the best place for us to train in as it is protected and we can train in it all year round."
That hunger for training reveals Camilleri's passion for a sport that he took up as an eleven year-old.

"I was a scout and back then we used to compete in the central district canoe races which were a very big tradition in our scout group. I liked it and eventually started practicing the sport competitively."

This has led Camilleri to representing Malta in international events.

"At the 2006 world championships, I was beating the world champion for the first 50metres or so," he recalls as he thinks of his most memorable experiences. "On another occasion, I came sixth in the Hungarian master championships." Not bad considering that canoeing in Hungary is akin to football in Brazil.

Later this year he is scheduled to take part in the Mediterranean Games. "There's a lot of pride in this especially since this would be the first time that we’ll be competing in canoeing races in these games."

"In 2005 I’ve attended to the races in Almeria Spain, as a spectator and the competition was simply awesome!"

"The current preparations are going well and all the hard training carried out in the past 3 years for these games is starting to give results."

For all the thrill of competing on an international stage, it is the simple pleasures of the sport that delight Camilleri. "What I like most is the thrill of overcoming yourself when you’re in a race. Yet it isn't only that: it is through this sport that I can enjoy the occasional perfect scene like the sun setting over St. Joseph’s church from the Msida marina."

This article appeared in the July issue of Skylife magazine.
Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer