A Defender for Malta

Paul Grech Tuesday, October 5, 2010
For a country with such strong historical and cultural links with England, one where the popularity of the English game is evidenced by the presence of supporters clubs for the likes of West Bromwich Albion and where there are sporting clubs named after Wolves, the almost complete absence of any British players in the Maltese Premier League over the last two decades might seem surprising.

In truth, that’s hardly the case. Not when you consider how much cheaper it is to bring in Nigerian, Eastern European or Brazilians players over English players. Not to mention that players tend to be technically better as well. That is why you have to go back to the early part of the nineties to find the last Englishman who really made an impact on the Maltese game.

That player was George Lawrence, or ‘Chicken George’ as he was known at Southampton, where he spent a good portion of his career. He won two consecutive league titles between 1993 and 1995, scoring twenty-five goals in a Hibernians side that was managed by another Englishman in Brian Talbot.

Now that same club is looking for repeat. For the past three seasons they have been managed by Mark Miller, a former Newcastle United trainee who spent most of his career in Malta before going into management, where he has even been in charge of the national U21 side. Upon his return to club management three years ago, Miller lead Hibernians to the title but then endured a torrid time last season when they finished sixth.

In order to avoid a repeat, Miller has opted to go back to his roots, signing two players from Scotland – Paul McManus and Richard Hart – alongside defender Matthew Clarke, after he was released by Bradford. Clarke has enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular career, one that has been spent in the lower reaches of English football with Halifax, Darlington and Bradford. Hibernians will offer him what probably amounts to his last chance at glory. Winning the league title is their main ambition for the season and it is why they have gone for a defender of Clarke’s experience, something which should set him apart in this league.

The initial signs are encouraging. Hibernians won the pre-season Carlsberg Tournament, beating champions Birkirkara in the process, and if their three British imports can keep up the form they’ve shown so far, then they certainly have the potential to end the season as champions. And put Englishmen on top of the Maltese football once more.

This article originally appeared on Les Rosbifs, a site dedicated at following Englishmen playing football abroad.

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Too Good to Retire

Paul Grech Thursday, July 29, 2010 , , ,
For the past few years, Mario Bonello has been on the verge of retirement. Each year, Malta’s most successful male athlete ever, goes into competition in the belief that it will be his final season before ultimately changing his mind.

“I had planned to retire a full 7 years back that is, after the GSSE held in Malta,” he admits. “I was not pleased with the results I attained then and decided to continue. I ran my personal bests after that, so I thought that the GSSE in Andorra in 2005 would be the last. And indeed I managed to win my first gold medal at these Games with the 4x100m relay. We really had a great team.”

“Unfortunately most of the team members left the sport, most notably the talented Darren Gilford, and I found myself again at the top spot in our event. I stayed on because I felt that I was still competitive with the best of the island.”

Indeed, this year Bonello has been more than competitive: he has been the best. It is a status reflected by the MAAA’s decision to choose him as the man to represent Malta at the European Athletics Championships that kick off today.

“To say the truth I was really hoping it would happen. I planned my peaks well, with the best result in the 100m (10.92) arriving at the European Team Championships which were held in Malta. However, with only one male representative making it to the Europeans I was never sure that I would be awarded the spot for the Championships in Barcelona. I am really pleased I was chosen given that I am now 36 years of age.”

“Of course there is no medal winning possibility. I hope to do a technically good performance both in the 100m and the 200m.”

Despite the elation at being chosen to represent Malta at a major championship after a gap of ten years – excluding the Mediterranean and Small Nations’ Games, the last time Bonello took part in a continental competition was the Sydney Olympic games back in the year 2000 – there is still more than a tinge of concern that local athletics can’t produce anyone capable of bettering the results of a thirty-six year old.

“Of course I think that something needs to be done. We have some good talent, but we always end up losing them at their prime.”

“Furthermore, some athletes think that you can get results within a few years of preparation. What everyone has to realize is that not only do we have to prepare the body, but we have to prepare the approach, the mind, etc. At times the latter take more time to develop then the body. We also need to seek new blood for the sport and help them believe in their potential.”

“I am presently working with the MAAA so that in the near future we will start a talent identification program. As of late, everyone has become aware of the importance of having state of the art facilities for sports. We need to couple that with talent identification and development. Only in that way can we really take the best use of our facilities.”

Those of coaching and talent identification are clearly topics about which Bonello has a lot to say, most of which comes from personal experience. “I love coaching. I try and use my knowledge and experience to bring the best out of my athletes. Furthermore, I try and treat their development as holistically as possible. You have to motivate, drive, give them believe, deal with injuries and so on.”

“Children tend to go for the most popular sport believing that that is the only road for sporting success. Many a time it is the wrong path and talent is simply lost. Children also need to get the support of the parents if they are to succeed.”

“I think the biggest obstacle is the lack of presence by the athletics community in schools,” Bonello continues. “If you never experience the sport and if no one tells you that you have the talent for this sport, then you might never take it up. We need to make ourselves more and more available in the schools. I think that it is high time that with the help of the National Federation, the Colleges across Malta and Gozo should start preparing an athletics team for participation in inter-schools competitions.”

“Athletics is not an easy sport. It is mostly an individual effort. However, approached the right way by the coaches, it can be so much fun for the kids. My experience in the Gozitan schools has been overwhelming. Children love it and I have seen great talent. And that is what we have to do with the youngsters. We need to let them enjoy the sport. As they develop through their teens, we can then identify the talented athletes and show them the rewards of hard work and dedication.”

And there can be no better example than Bonello himself. For him, this will be the second trip abroad in as many weeks having earlier taken part in European Masters Championships in Nyiregyhaza, Hungary, winning gold in the 100m.

What really keeps pushing back Bonello’s decision to retire are such results along with all the support that he receives. “I’ve been lucky enough to find lots of support through the years not least that of my wife Katya and our children Andria and Nicolai. Our kids make themselves heard really well at the track by urging me in every race at the top of their voices, “Go Papa Go!!”

This article initially appeared on the Times of Malta of the 27th July 2010.

Talent is Not Enough

Paul Grech Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Remember Wayne Harrison? Or Richie Partridge? What about John Welsh? The likelihood is that some, if not all, of those names will sound familiar but certainly not as much as had been expected.

In their youth - and we're talking about when they were just out of school here - all three had been considered certainties to make it. Harrison became the highest paid for English teenager when he signed for Liverpool. After a tournament in Holland, approaches were made by Ajax and Feyenoord to sign Partridge and such was his reputation that Welsh had been earmarked as being as good enough as Steven Gerrard. Yet, for varying reasons, none of the three went on to fulfill what many had predicted to be their future.

And it is those reasons - luck, injuries, physical strength, mental resilience, tactical awareness - that always have to be kept in the forefront of any discussion about young players. It is far too easy to talk about the potential of these players and the temptation to build them up as potential stars is often hard to resist. In reality, sad and cynical though this might seem, it takes much more than talent to be able to get a chance in the game.

The nineties witnessed the largest number of home grown players in the modern history of the club – Mike Marsh, Dominic Matteo, Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, David Thompson, Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard. Yet this was also the worst decade in the modern history of the club as far as results were concerned something that played a factor in all of those players getting their opportunities as early as they did.

Of course, most of those players were fantastically talented individuals who would have made it in any case. Then again, the injuries that plagued Gerrard early on in the first team could have easily ruined his career. It was Carragher’s mental strength rather than his playing talent that saw him carve out a space for him in the team despite the number of supposedly better players brought in.

Such factors are often overlooked, yet they are what really makes a difference. There is, for instance, the belief that it was the political in-fighting that has prevented any of Liverpool’s double FA Youth Cup winners from 2006 and 2007 from getting an opportunity. But when one looks at the Manchester United team that was beaten in the second of those finals, only Danny Welbeck has got a look-in and even he doesn’t seem to be developing as well as had been anticipated.

As for the City team that was beaten a year earlier – a club that, until recently, had limited funds and therefore youth was more likely to be given a chance – the only player that got through was Micah Richards.

Indeed, that City team provides another case in point: Michael Johnson. The midfielder was said to have the dynamism of Steven Gerrard after making an impression in the Premier League as an eighteen year old. Four years down the line, however, and injuries have limited him to just four appearances in the past two seasons.

There is arguably more talent in the current Liverpool youth set-up then there was in those FA Youth Cup winning sides. The Under 16 have lost only once this season whilst an Under 18 side made largely of first year scholars has put together an excellent string of results in the second half of the season.

Lauri Della Valle, Andre Wisdom, Jack Robinson, Connor Coady, Jack Flannagan, Tony Silva, Raheem Sterling, Michael Ngoo and Tom Ince have either played for the reserves or will be doing so in the coming months. And all have the talent to keep on progressing.

Yet it will take more than talent if any of those is to be wearing the Liverpool shirt in the Premiership any time soon.

This piece originally appeared on the Tomkins Times.

Ready for the Call

Paul Grech Tuesday, April 27, 2010 , ,
As Alan Kennedy walks into the room it is impossible not to be impressed. Not simply because of his honours list - five league titles, four League Cups, three Charity Shields and, most notably, two European Cups - but also because he still looks supremely fit for someone who is in his fifties. "I'm going for a jog later on," he says, explaining why he’s wearing a tracksuit, before adding that he has "to stay fit just in case Rafa Benitez gives me a call!"

It immediately transpires that Kennedy has a talent for putting people at ease. Something of a necessity, you might add, for a man whose visits to Anfield these days are in the role of a corporate hospitality guest. “I need to work to earn a living,” he tells me later.

As if to prove his credentials as an after dinner speaker, he quickly starts firing the sort of anecdotes that fans lap up. “Bob Paisley knew my family as he was from the same village as my mother. In fact, he used to buy his fish and chips from her shop. So he knew that he was signing someone who was coming from a good background and a hard worker,” he says, providing a glimpse back to an era when football business was done in a manner that seems completely alien today.

At the time the £330,000 that Liverpool paid Newcastle made Kennedy the most expensive defenders in the game. It wasn’t exactly Liverpool’s style to splash about that sort of money but Paisley was determined to get him. “In previous years Liverpool had experimented with a number of players at left back but they wanted someone to sort the issue once and for all. When Paisley signed me, he said that if I didn’t become an England player he would jump in the Mersey. Having thought a bit about it Paisley then added: when the tide is out!”

Paisley’s prediction, however, did come true and Kennedy did play for England albeit only twice - Kenny Sansom had made the role his – but his success at a club level more than made up for any disappointment this might have given rise to.

This despite a shaky start. “My debut wasn’t a great debut. In fact it was a terrible debut. Players and fans were probably wondering why the club had spent so much money on me. What happened was that Liverpool had learned this trick of playing the ball nice and easy in little triangles. My philosophy was to get rid of the ball, to send it to the other side for as long as possible. So I would be finding Terry McDermott or David Johnson but everyone would be caught short so it was a waste of time.”

“I hadn’t learned much in the previous four or five days that I’d been at Liverpool and when I came in at half-time against QPR, the manager was fuming. He whispered – he didn’t shout – ‘I think they shot the wrong bloody Kennedy!’ It was said in jest but the message was that I had to improve or I was out. So I learned a lot from that particular game.”

And learn he did, as he nailed down the left-back slot for the coming seven years. “In our first season, we let in sixteen goals,” he says, more matter-of-fact-idly than out of vanity.

“During my time at Anfield we established ourselves as the best team in the country with our traditional 4-4-2. We didn't think too much about our opponents. There was so much self-belief that we always took the field determined to play our own way and our main goal was to push forward and score goals. Football in those days was easier to understand as emphasis was not so much on tactics. The secret behind Liverpool's success was unity in the group. Everyone played for each other and that made us a very difficult team to beat.”

Liverpool’s self belief was also fuelled by their achievements both in England and in Europe. And it was here that Kennedy enjoyed his biggest success. His goal – the winner - against Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final is an obvious talking point. “It was at the time,” he answers when I venture that it probably was the high point of his career. “I’d scored in the previous Cup final against West Ham (in the League Cup final) but that hadn’t turned out to be a winner as the game ended in a draw.”

“When Bob Paisley picked the team he picked it on quality and strength. I was lucky enough to be part of it and, in the end, scoring the goal was just a bonus. I didn’t expect to score it, I didn’t expect to be up there but I’d had a couple of shots earlier and in the end I decided to have a go from that acute angle. I shouldn’t have, really but I did and the ball hit the back of the net.”

Three years later he was handed the responsibility of taking Liverpool’s final penalty against Roma. Kennedy confirms with a laugh that he had been terrible when taking penalties during training earlier in the week but that hadn’t deterred him from stepping forward to take the kick, an often undervalued but critical element in such high pressure moments.

Realistically, however, Liverpool had done extremely well to get to that stage. I ask what it was like to take on Roma in their own back yard. “They were confident. In the tunnel beforehand they were sticking their chest out, flicking their hair and giving the message that ‘this is our place’. But we just rolled our sleeves up and said we’re not intimidated. We’ve got our supporters, our family, our friends and we decided to attack them straight away which is exactly what we did.”

“It wasn’t a good game as it was tight and there was pressure on all the time. When the penalties came around the manager was looking around for players to pick. I don’t think anyone was that bothered about volunteering and it was just a quite word. I was really, really surprised when he picked me. I didn’t imagine that he would come up to me and say those words. I was that surprised that I didn’t join the other four lads giving their names to the referee. I didn’t realise that it was now up to me.”

“They say never change your mind during the run up to a penalty, well, I did. I was really thinking to myself ‘put it to the goalkeeper’s left’ but in the end I opened my body up, slightly hesitated and opened my body up and the ball went in. It was a great feeling.”

A year later, Liverpool and Kennedy were once again in the final of the European Cup. Sadly that ended in the tragedy at Heysel, a dark night in the club’s history. One of the sad side-effects of that tragedy is that it completely overshadowed the departure of the long-serving Joe Fagan.

“He was a quite man but he was also a man that we respected because whatever he said, you did. And when he raised his voice you did it even quicker!” is how Kennedy recalls him. “I remember on a number of occasions him whispering to a couple of players ‘sort it out between you’. What that meant was to forget Bob Paisley, to forget Joe Fagan and sort any problems that we had between us on the pitch. And the problem was that we had lost.”

“But once he went to Heysel, there was no way back for Joe. He wasn’t very happy with how things had gone. For me, however, he was always the unsung here, the guy who did the job in the background whilst Bob (Paisley) was the one under the spotlight. Joe was just happy to get on with the job and did it well with Ronnie Moran.”

Kennedy is just as effusive in his praise of Bob Paisley. “He wasn’t the most fluent of talkers; he was very shy. He got on with his job. He didn’t like confrontation. But where he was strong is making decisions and he made decisions on what was best for the football club, not what was best for the individual but what was best for the football club.”

“We all had our problems with the manager sometimes but he was a strong character and he was well supported by Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran, Roy Evans, Tom Saunders and Reuben Bennett. His record might not be beaten in terms of what he achieved in such a short space of time: you’re talking from 1977 to 1984.”

Talk turn to the current Liverpool side and I ask what he thinks of the present left-backs. His reply is typically diplomatic. “Since we let John Arne Riise go we’ve had a little bit of problem. Insua is a young player who has come in and what I would encourage him to do is to get forward a little bit more. Defensively he can be better. Aurelio, for me, is probably a better full back because of his experience but his injury problems hold him back.”

“For me Patrice Evra is a good candidate for a left-back: loves to get forward, has pace, and knows how to defend. He’s just how I see a left back as being.”

Given the current dearth of quality left-backs, Kennedy must wonder what might have been had he been playing nowadays. “I don’t think players of yesteryear would have coped with playing today,” is his somewhat surprising answer. “They’d have to change; they’d have to be told how to play the game of football. Nowadays you don’t have to think on the football pitch. Managers, coaches do it for you. I think that it is no longer a game for the spectator; you don’t see that many brilliant games any more. The win is the important side of it now.”

The shortcomings in the tactical approach to the game when he played is something that he mentions throughout the whole interview so I decide to press a bit about whether it really was so laidback. “Yes, yes it was. I think that a lot of players played individually in our day but Liverpool had a team and Bob Paisley always told us to play as a team. In our days there was no strategy. It was just a case to go out there and play better than the opposition.”

This reply indirectly explains a question that had been gnawing at the back of my head: why Kennedy never went into management. “Well, as you can see, I’ve still got my hair and I don’t have any health problems! I didn’t go into management because I didn’t feel that it was the right thing to do; I didn’t feel that I was management material. I might have been wrong but I did have one year as a player-manager and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t for me. No, I was quite happy to be a player. I played until I was forty two in non-league football which is quite an age.”

The final query relates to what the club’s support meant for him. “The supporters were the be-all and end-all. The manager and the chairman used to say that it was all about the supporters. The supporters are very important: we all saw what happened in Istanbul and it was them who got the players back into the game. They can win games for Liverpool.”

With that, he sets off for his jog. It is only at this point that passing comment that he “still want that time again, I still play football” starts to feel that his earlier comment about being ready for a possible call by Rafa Benitez was said only partially in jest.

This article appeared in Issue 1 of the magazine, Well Red.

Dad in Progress: Sports Mad

Paul Grech Saturday, April 17, 2010 ,
Surely, this is what fathers are there for. Sport that is. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m all for passing down the fundamental values of life – love, hard work, honesty, respect and the such - but in all honesty, few things excite me about raising my two children as much as the thought of sharing with them my passion for sport.

I say sharing but deep down I know that what I really mean is imposing. Especially as far as football is concerned they don’t have a choice. They have a free reign in their choice of religion, politics, sexual orientation, anything. But not in sport, and certainly not in football: I don’t think I could bear it if they were to start supporting a team other than those which I follow.

Now, I realise that as far as first impressions go, the one that I’m giving here probably isn’t the most positive. So let me try to paint a clearer and, hopefully, better picture.

I consider myself to be a ‘normal’ fan in as much as normal a fan one can be. I don’t go around wearing football kits all the time nor was it ever a temptation of mine to name my kids after some player (even though my son’s name has an uncanny resemblance to a leading player, I swear that it played no part).

Then again, a significant number of conversations that I have are about sport, most of what I read is about football and I do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the game. But that is what fans do and anyone who tells you differently is either lying or doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Anyway, being a fan means that to a great degree you are helpless – no matter how much you pray and how many lucky shirts you wear, nothing you can do will influence the outcome of a game – so we look for comfort in numbers. If you’re sharing your joys and pain with others it starts to seem more worthwhile, that devoting your time to watching twenty two young men kick a piece of leather is not that crazy after all.

This feeling of community cannot be artificially created. My wife, bless her, tried to get involved when we started going out together but I could see that she wasn’t going through the same emotions that I was. For me watching a game meant excitement, for her boredom. And, believe me, nothing drains away your excitement more than having someone alongside you who is simply going through the motions. In football as much as in anything else. So, slowly, we came to a tacit agreement that it would be better if I continued enjoying my games without her.

That, however, hasn’t diminished the desire to have someone close to you with whom you can share your emotions, expectations, hopes and fears. Which, I guess, is where my children come in: if I do my job well then their passion will be as real as mine. And it is why I can’t afford them ending up supporting anyone other than my teams.

At least I know that I’m not alone. In a study outlined in his book ‘The Social Significance of Sport’ sociologist Barry D McPherson revealed that over half of the fans cited family members as the source of their team allegiance, with thirty five percent attributing their team selection to their father, more than any other single source.

Watching sports, however, is one of half of the equation. Although I’m not the best example – or perhaps it is because I’m not the best example – I want my kids to play sports not only now that they’re young but also as they grow older. This has to be qualified: I don’t want them to be brilliant at any sport – I’m not hoping that one of my kids turns out to be the white Pele – but I simply want them to feel comfortable enough with themselves to enjoy playing a sport.

There is, of course, a reason why I feel so strongly about that: I sucked at sport. Worse than that, I never enjoyed sport – actually, I never really tried to play any sport - because I felt that I would suck at it and the messages that I got was not to ridicule myself by trying something for which I wasn’t built physically. So I gave up. Even today, I can’t go out for a run without wondering what anyone who sees me might think of my ungainly movement or my lack of breath.

I don’t want my children to be that way which is why last year I enrolled my eldest in the brilliant initiative that is Skolasport. For me, there is no better introduction to the world of sport than this: the sporting equivalent of a sweet shop where the kids can get a taste of a wide variety of spots.

That does not mean that it doesn’t have its own challenges. There is a particular kind of fear in seeing your kid run, that urge to run alongside them in order to be there if they fall. Or to run to their side if indeed they do trip up. I don’t know about you, but for me it takes a lot of strength to shout a couple of words of encouragement for her to get up rather than go there and actually pick her up myself.

It is also difficult not to let your competitive urge overcome you. Over the years I’ve seen some shocking behaviour by parents: shouting insults at opposing players – which in this case happen to be seven year old kids – or telling their own offspring to ‘break his leg’ being some of the most despicable of examples. But even those who don’t go to such extremes tend to unknowingly pass on pressure and an unhealthy desire to win to their children. With the result that when they don’t win, the kids feel as if they’ve let their parents down.

So I’m trying to play it cool. Yet it is harder than you would think. All it takes is a meaningless race for you to start feeling the urge to start pushing your kid to win.

Yet it is not all sacrifice. Seeing the pure, unadulterated joy on their faces makes as they run around on the grass makes it all worthwhile. And then there is the comfort of knowing that sport will end up making my job as a parent easier. For there are few things better than sport that can help teach you those fundamental values in life: loyalty, honesty, name it and it can be taught through sport.

Which, after all, is probably why it is at the core of my love for it.

This article appeared in the Spring issue of Growing Up magazine.

[Featured Article] Well Red Magazine: Alan Kennedy Interview

Paul Grech Thursday, April 1, 2010 , , , , , ,


Emotions Run High in Tour ta' Malta

Paul Grech Tuesday, March 23, 2010 , ,
Twelve months on, Francesco Pizzo finally exorcised his demons.

Last year, the Italian pre-race favourite had sped to an early lead in the Tour ta' Malta only to suffer a mechanical problem with his bike seat that saw him tumble down the rankings.

Eventually, he got back to finish third overall, an impressive comeback but nowhere near good enough for someone who could already taste victory.

That failure to win had been preying on his mind.

"I've been thinking about the Tour ta' Malta and was determined to come back to win it," he confessed after this year's win.

Pizzo did most of the hard work on the opening day's time-trial, when he opened a three-minute lead over the rest of the field. It would prove to be enough.

He said: "It was important to get a good result in the time-trial. From then on, it was simply a question of keeping the rest in check. If I could go on and win one of the other two stages then all the better but it wasn't vital. The important thing was to ensure that no one opened up a big enough lead ahead of me."

As it was, Francesco Guccione went on to win the final stage of the Tour ta' Malta in Gozo on Saturday, after breaking from the peloton with Pizzo shadowing him in third in what was, strategically, a perfectly-executed plan.

Indeed, with no team-mates to help him out, the time-trial was the only leg of the Tour ta' Malta during which he could really attack.

"It was very hard," Pizzo admitted.

"All the other main riders had good teams to back them up which, in cycling is a massive advantage."

With the overall result determined, attention then focused on the Maltese riders to see who would come first from the local competitors. David Galea held an overnight lead of 19 seconds over Maurice Formosa before the Xagħra leg but the tables turned on the final day.

"It is a huge satisfaction," was Formosa's immediate reaction.

"I didn't believe I could do it especially after the time-trial when I didn't do so well. However, I did much better than expected in the second race despite the fact that there are a lot of climbs in the San Martin route which, traditionally, aren't my forte."

Asked about the pressure of going into the final race in the lead, the Melita Pedal Power Club rider admitted that there was little rivalry in races like this.

"Apart from being my cousin, David is a good friend of mine particularly on the Tour when our aim is to ensure the best possible results from Maltese riders," Formosa said.

There were no surprises among the women where Iona Sewell won the Tour despite finishing third in Gozo.

"I had a bad start," the taciturn Squadra Donne rider said.

"But I knew that I had a good lead and for me it was just a case of ensuring that no one really got away."

Had that happened, it would have been something of a travesty as the Briton had dominated the Tour up till that point, building a lead of over three minutes ahead of her nearest rival. For her, there was also the added satisfaction of overcoming Claudia Koster, one of the two cyclists who had finished ahead of her last year when she came third.

Among the Maltese, Marie Claire Aquilina (Greens Cycling Club) came first.

"There were some very good cyclists here," she said, before intimating that she had hoped to do a bit better.

"Hopefully, this will help me improve for the National Championships and then next year for the GSSE in Liechtenstein."

Overall, this was another impeccably organised Tour that was rounded off with a traditional friendly ride that ended in Sliema yesterday.

"I don't think we've ever had a Tour as well organised as this one," race director and president of the Malta Cycling Federation John Zammit said.

"All merit goes to the large number of volunteers and helpers who made this possible.

"From a cycling point of view, we had some very strong teams here and have witnessed three days of high-class competition. At the end of the day, that is what motivates us to organise the Tour."

Away from the competitive aspect, there was also a more poignant side of the 2010 Tour that was dedicated to Cliff Micallef, the avid cyclist and former association secretary who lost his life in a traffic accident last year.

"We put flowers on his gravestone before the start of the Tour and I have to admit that for an hour or so I didn't really know where I was," Zammit said.

"All I could think of was the work and effort he had put into Maltese cycling, everywhere I looked I saw memories of him."

This article appeared on the Times of Malta of the 22nd of March 2010.

[Cycling] Looking for a Maltese Hero

Paul Grech Sunday, March 21, 2010 , ,

One of the most common questions asked whenever a major sporting event like the Tour ta' Malta is held on our islands, is about the possibility of seeing a local winner.

It is never an easy question to answer because there are far too many factors to consider, not least the quality of the field.

There is, however, one certainty... the likes of Maurice Formosa, Christian Formosa, Jason Vella, David Galea, Steve Sciberras, Adrian Sciberras, Dermot Galea and Mark Bonnici will all be pushing as hard as they can to give a good account of themselves.

Then there is Etienne Bonello, so often the leading Maltese man in past editions of the Tour. His is the name that gets mentioned most frequently whenever there is talk of possible Maltese winners.

"After so many near misses, my name always comes up as the Maltese tour hopeful," Bonello acknowledged. "However, there are other riders who can also challenge for the top positions. It would be great to have many Maltese up front and fighting it with our guests."

It won't be at all easy, not least because the foreign teams come with a strategy to back their leading rider and put him in the best position to win. Split as they are among different teams, it is difficult for the local riders to react.

Bonello, however, is hopeful that national pride comes ahead of club rivalry.

"Foreign teams come with a group of riders who are of almost the same ability," Bonello said.
"That is very important as you can play many cards. Maltese teams tend to have only one or two strong riders. I am hoping for an alliance between the top Maltese riders. It happened last year and I am sure it will this year as well."

If that does come about, then perhaps we could get a step closer to seeing history being made and the red jersey of the Tour winner going to a Maltese.

"So far, no Maltese rider has ever won the Tour and this is enough for any Maltese cyclist to take up the challenge and be the first to stand on the highest step of the podium," Bonello commented.

"The Tour is an important race for local cycling indeed. It is as important as the Malta marathon is to the Maltese runners. This race helps in the development of the sports in Malta.

"It gives an opportunity to local cyclists to race against foreign competitors and improve themselves through experience.

"The Tour is the best promotion for cycling on the islands as it attracts media attention and there is increased following from the public."

For the first time in seven years, this year's Tour ta' Malta will include a leg in Gozo and Bonello, for one, certainly approves.

"The proposed route is really challenging," he said.

"The first stage is a lengthy time trial and if one is not a decent time trialist, one will lose plenty of time there. San Martin, I think, is the toughest of them all. It is a hilltop finish and after 10 laps, it will get really hard in the end for everyone.

"Gozo is a fast route despite the climb to Xaghra. It was a good choice by the organisers to incorporate this circuit, it will make the Tour more interesting. Well done to the organisers."
Italian challenge

Last year's winner, Francesco Guccione, will be on the start line to defend his title. He is set to face a major challenge for the red jersey from fellow Italians Filippo Ballatore and Francesco Pizzo.

Looking at the list of foreign riders coming to Malta, Bonello admitted that "this weekend will not be easy riding the bike for sure."

That said, the memory of former association secretary Cliff Micallef, who lost his life in a traffic accident last year, will surely spur the over 40 local cyclists on. They will be joined by 60 foreign riders coming from Italy, England and Holland.

This article was featured on the Times of Malta of the 18th of March, 2010.

[Triathlon] Iktar Sport ghal Rizultati Ahjar

F'socjetà fejn is-success huwa kollox, mhux daqshekk komuni li ssib lil xi hadd lest jissagrifika dan ghall-beneficcju tal-gid komuni, wisq inqas klabb shih. Imma hija dik l-attitudni adottata mis-St Patrick's AC. Fil-quccata tal-ghanijiet tal-klabb hemm il-hsieb li l-isport huwa stil ta' hajja li jwassal ghal socjetà iktar attiva u, b'rizultat ta' dan, iktar b'sahhitha. Il-klabb mhux qieghed hemm sempliciment biex jara l-atleti tieghu jirbhu t-tlielaq – minkejja li huwa accettat li importanti li dan ukoll isir – imma wkoll biex jigbed lin-nies lejn l-isport, irrispettivament mill-kapacitajiet taghhom. Hija din il-filosofija li ghenithom jikbru fl-iktar klabb li ghandu atleti li jikkompetu taht ismu.

Tradizzjonalment, u kif jixhed l-isem tal-klabb, l-attività primarja kienet dik tal-atletika. Izda meta klabb jibda jikber, mieghu tizdied ukoll il-herqa li jkun hemm esperjenzi u sfidi godda. Kienet din il-herqa li wasslet ghat-twaqqif ta' sezzjoni ghac-ciklizmu f'nofs is-sena li ghaddiet. Mawra bir-rota fi Sqallija mmarkat l-ewwel attività ta' din is-sezzjoni, kif ukoll l-ewwel success taghha, hekk kif in-numru ta' partecipanti kien iktar minn darbtejn dak li originarjament kien mahsub.

U kien dan is-success li heggeg biex titwaqqaf ukoll sezzjoni li se tkun qed tiehu hsieb it-triathlon.

“Ilu jkollna domandi biex norganizzaw sezzjoni tat-triathlon fi hdan is-Saint Patrick's Athletic Club,” spjega Antoine Attard, President tal-istess klabb.

“Ghandna numru ta' membri fil-klabb li huma tri-atleti ta' certa reputazzjoni u success, fosthom Danica Bonello Spiteri, George Vella u Michael Gellel. Jigifieri t-triathlon kien estensjoni naturali ghalina hekk kif qed nespandu s-servizzi taghna biex inkunu nistghu nappoggjaw lil dawk li huma avventuruzi u qed ifittxu sfidi godda.”

“L-gharfien li stil ta' hajja sportiv jaghmel sens qieghed jikber,” huwa kompla. “Minkejja r-rizorsi limitati taghna se naghmlu dak kollu li nistghu biex nibnu struttura organizzata halli ninkoraggixxu lil dawk li jridu jadottaw stil ta' hajja simili. Ghall-bidu se naghtu servizzi bazici bhalma huma struzzjonijiet u post fejn sessjonijiet ta' informazzjoni jkunu jistghu jsiru. Imbaghad naraw kif nistghu nkomplu nikbru.”

Is-sezzjoni se tkun immexxija minn Cyprian Dalli, is-Segretarju tal-klabb, li ricentement beda jikkompeti wkoll fit-triathlon. Huwa hu l-mutur biex minn idea, is-sezzjoni tat-triathlon inghatat il-hajja.

“L-ghan ewlieni jimxi id f'id mal-missjoni ewlenija tas-St Patrick's AC, li hija dik li tippromwovi stil ta' hajja attiva permezz tal-isport,” huwa jghidilna, eku ta' dak li qal separatament il-President tal-klabb.

“L-attività taghna se tkun iffukata fuq zewg aspetti: dik li ninkoraggixxu atleti jippruvaw it-triathlon, specjalment f'dawk ix-xhur li fihom il-giri fit-tul ikun wieqaf, u li nheggu triatleti li s'issa m'ghandhomx klabb biex jinghaqdu maghna.”

“Il-membri tas-St Patrick's AC li digà qed jikkompetu fit-triathlon kienu entuzjasti hafna b'din l-idea. Fl-istess hin, dawk li s'issa jiffukaw biss fil-giri wkoll qed juru hafna interess fil-possibilità li jippruvaw it-triathlon fix-xhur li gejjin.”

Din l-inizjattiva sabet ukoll l-appogg tal-Malta Triathlon Association, kif ikkonferma l-President Manuel Azzopardi.

“Hija ahbar eccitanti hafna ghalina li wiehed mill-klabbs tal-giri ewlenin f'Malta ghazel li jwaqqaf sezzjoni tat-triathlon. L-MTA tqis dan bhala pass importanti ’l quddiem fl-inizjattivi taghha biex jingibdu iktar atleti lejn it-triathlon. L-isport tat-triathlon ma 'jisraqx' l-atleti lil sport ohra imma jsahhah fihom id-determinazzjoni favur l-isport b'mod generali. Il-fatt li atleta jiddeciedi li jipprova triathlon ma jfissirx li huwa jkun se jieqaf minn sport iehor. Anki jekk jiddeciedi li jiehu t-triathlon b'mod serju, il-probabbiltà hi li huwa mhux se jkun irid jieqaf jigri jew jiehu sehem fil-kompetizzjonijiet tac-ciklizmu. Jiena nqis it-triathlon bhala shab ta' sport iehor, iktar milli rivali.”

Azzopardi stqarr li l-assocjazzjoni hija lesta taghmel dak kollu possibbli biex tghin lil din is-sezzjoni.

“Ahna se noffru l-gwida biex titwaqqaf din is-sezzjoni. Nistghu nassistu fl-organizzazzjoni ta' kompetizzjoni tat-triathlon li l-klabb jista’ jaghzel li jtella’, u nistghu nghinu biex il-klabb jircievi l-assistenza kollha li jkollu bzonn. Certament li se nestendu l-kuntatti kollha li ghandna biex naraw li din is-sezzjoni ssib saqajha kemm jista' jkun malajr.”

Azzopardi huwa onest bizzejjed li jammetti li l-MTA hadet gost b'din l-inizjattiva mhux sempliciment ghax kiber in-numru ta' klabbs, imma wkoll ghaliex tista' tisfrutta, f'sens pozittiv, il-klabb ta' St Patrick's AC.

“Min-naha taghna, nisperaw li nibbenefikaw minn din is-sezzjoni wkoll permezz ta' postijiet fejn jistghu jiltaqghu l-atleti, ohrajn fejn jistghu jitharrgu, rizorsi umani u apparat. Is-sezzjoni se tkun ta' beneficcju ghaz-zewg nahat.”

“Il-possibilitajiet huma attraenti hafna. Bhalissa ghandna klabb wiehed biss, B'Kara St Joseph Sports Club, u s'issa l-atleti li riedu jiehdu sehem fit-Triathlon jew kienu jissiehbu ma' dan il-klabb jew inkella direttament mal-MTA. Issa se jkollhom alternattiva u dan se jfisser bidla shiha fil-mentalità. Anki affarijiet zghar, bhalma huma r-rapporti mit-tlielaq, se jkunu jinkludu t-tim li minnu gej l-atleta, u dan se jwassal ghal rivalità b'sahhitha li minnha jibbenefika kemm l-atleta kif ukoll l-isport.”

Ghalkemm Cyprian Dalli jishaq li “ghadu kmieni wisq biex din is-sezzjoni tibda tahseb halli torganizza t-tlielaq”, Manuel Azzopardi huwa kunfidenti li eventwalment dan se jsehh.

“Nahseb li se jasal punt fejn il-klabb jigi inkoraggit mill-atleti tieghu biex jorganizza xi tellieqa. Dan ifisser li l-klabb jibda jinvesti fl-apparat li huwa mehtieg ghal dawn it-tlielaq, li facilment jistghu jkunu inkluzi fil-kampjonati nazzjonali.”

“Fuq kollox, klabb gdid ifisser ukoll ideat godda.”

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-harga ta' l-20 ta' Marzu 2010 ta' l-GENSillum online.

[Rugby League] Mill-Holm Ghar-Realta

Paul Grech Sunday, March 7, 2010 , ,
Meta fl-2005 tim mimli plejers Awstraljani ta’ dixxendenza Maltija ghamel mawra f’pajjizna bil-hsieb li dawn jintroducu r-rugby league, l-pjanijiet taghhom kienu jidru pjuttost ambizjuzi. Minkejja l-popolarita’ li r-rugby kien irnexxielu jikseb permezz ta’ sensiela ta’ rizultati eccellenti ghat-tim nazzjonali, il-fatt kien li ftit kienu dawk konxji li madwar id-dinja kien hawn zewg kodici tar-rugby.

Il-qasma fid-dinja tar-rugby kienet saret l-fuq min mitt sena qabel fejn fil-qofol ta’ kollox kien hemm il-flus. Dawk li riedu li l-plejers jithallsu adottaw ir-regoli maghrufa bhala tal-league filwaqt li dawk determinati li jzommu r-ruh dilattenteska tal-loghba baqghu jilghabu l-forma tar-rugby li saret maghrufa bhala l-union.

Kienet din ta’ l-ahhar li nfirxet madwar id-dinja filwaqt li dik tar-rugby league baqghet konfinata ghal certu partijiet ta’ l-Ingilterra, l-Awstralja u n-New Zealand. F’Malta wkoll, qabel l-2005, ir-rugby league qatt ma kien dahal fix-xena bil-union ikun dak li jikseb l-attenzjoni.

Dik il-mawra, pero’, serviet biex tinzera z-zerriegha ta’ nteress f’din il-forma ta’ rugby b’regolamenti ftit differenti – per ezempju, fil-league hemm tlettax-il plejer filwaqt li fil-union ikun hemm hmistax – imma li hija iktar miftuha u propensa ghal l-attakk.

Wiehed fost dawk li ngibdu lejn din il-forma tar-rugby kien Roderick Attard. "L-ewwel darba li kont rajt ir-rugby league kien fit-2005 meta gew il-Malta Knights,”huwa jirrakkonta. “Kont rajt li hi loghba veloci u ghogbitni imma billi kont ghadn nibda fir-rugby ma' kont ghamilt xejn iktar milli narhom jilghabu."

L-interess u r-rieda li jipprova din il-loghba, pero’ baqgha hemm. "Regghu gew sentejn wara, kellna loghba kontra l-British Defence Forces fejn provdewlna anke' xi kowcing,” huwa jkompli. “Kien hemm plejers tajbin hafna u dak ikkonvincini nipprova. Lghabt dik il-loghba, zammejt il-kuntatt u dejjem bqajt ninvolvi ruhi fil-loghob tar-rugby league. Il-fatt li fih iktar tackles oghgobni, l-istess bhal fatt li trid titrenja seww biex tkun tista' tilghab."

L-istorja ta’ Attard, pero’, mhix sempliciment wahda ta’ bniedem li oghgbitu din il-forma differenti tar-rugby imma dik ta’ wiehed li grazzi ghal dak l-interess inizjali nfethitlu dinja mimlija opporunitajiet. Ghaliex ghad-disa xhur li gejjin huwa se jkun qed jilghab b’mod professjonali ghat-tim tar-Rugby League tal-Gateshead Thunder

"Dejjem kont nohlomha," hija r-risposta kemmxejn ovvja ghall-mistoqsija dwar is-sensazzjoniji tieghu ghal dan l-izvilupp. "Hija l-holma ta' kull atleta Malti li tkun tista' tiprattika l-isport tieghek b'mod professjonali. Sena ilu r-rizoluzzjoni tieghi kienet li nikseb post fit-timijiet nazzjonali kemm tar-rugby league kif ukoll tar-rugby union. Fir-rugby union ma' rnexxielix nilhaq dak il-ghan imma mbaghad irnexxieli nikseb dan il-kuntratt."

Mhux hazin ghal plejer li sa sitt snin ilu lanqas kien jaf x'inhu r-rugby. "Kont ilhi nieqes mil l-isport ta' tim xi sentejn," huwa jirrakkonta dwar l-introduzjoni tieghu ghal dan l-isport. "Kont sejjer ftit hazin fl-iskola u missieri kien issugerieli li nieqaf mil-futbol biex inkun nista' niffoka iktar. Ftit wara kont bdejt niehu sehem fir-regatta pero' dik kienet ta' darbtejn fis-sena u jien ridt xi haga iktar kontinwa."

"Kien dak iz-zmien li habib tieghi, Daniel Azzopardi, beda jghidli dwar il-loghba tar-rugby u kemm kienu jiehdu gost minkejja t-trejning iebes li kienu jaghmlu."

"Fil-verita ma kellix ideja dwar ir-rugby. Kont naf li l-ballun huwa differenti u li kien contact sport imma mill-bqija ma' kellix ideja."

Dan kien sitt snin ilu u matul dan il-perjodu Attard zviluppa fi plejer ghatxan li jitghallem dejjem iktar dwar il-loghba tieghu u kienet din il-kilba li jsir jaf iktar li waslitu biex jipprova r-rugby league. Min dik il-prova eventwalment waslet l-opportunita' li hu jmur jilghab ma' klabb Ingliz. "L-ewwel kuntatt kien meta gie Malta tim kompost mill-Gateshead Under 17 u plejers mil l-iScotland U17. Maghhom kien hemm wiehed mill-kowcis ta' Gateshead Thunder li kellu l-opportunita' jarani nitharreg u kien hemm li nnutani.”

“Wara kellna loghba kontra Bamber Bridge fejn laghab mat-tim Malti plejer, Chris Parker, li huwa tal-Gateshead Thunder u l-interess kompla jikber min hemm. Kien hemm ukoll Anthony Micallef, ir-raprezentant tal-Malta Rugby League li ghen hafna."

Qabel dan setgha jsehh pero' huwa kellu jmur ghal perjodu ta' prova fejn, taht ghajnejn grupp ta' kowcis huwa kellu juri x'kapaci jaghmel. "Il-kowc kien jaf li jien rugby union plejer u ssetjajt f'mohhi fuq il-bazici tal-posizjoni tieghi. Gheni hafna Chris Parker min qabel fejn qalli x'jippretendu minni bhala half back. Rajt hafna DVDs biex nifehm ezatt xi jrid jaghmel hafla back u meta mort hemmhekk ghidt li rrid naghmel dawn l-affarijiet. Konnha 40 triallist fuq weeekend. Kellna gurnata fejn ghamilna ftit drills. Kullhadd kellu jilghab zewg loghbiet fuq 30 minuta imma jien laghabt tlieta. Wara ra' l-video session u qalli li kollox sew."

"Jien kont qed nistenna li jghidli hekk imma kif qalli xorta hadt hafna gost. Imbaghad bdejt nahseb kif se nghid lil tal-familja, fuq l-affarijiet amministrattivi li rrid niehu hsieb. Imma hassejtni ferhan."

Il-bniedem li ha dik id-decizjoni kien Chris Hood, il-maniger tal-klabb min vicin Newcastle. “M’hemmx dubju li huwa ghandu hafna fuq x’hiex jahdem imma huwa ghandu t-talent,” huwa jghid fuq Attard. “Id-difiza tieghu hija tajba, l-forma fizika hija tajba wkoll imma rridu nahdmu fuq l-attakk tieghu. Ghandu certu kapacitajiet u huwa fuq dawk li rridu niffukaw.”

L-fatt innifsu li huwa inghata din l-opportunita hija ahbar kbira ghal-loghba tar-rugby league gewwa pajjizna. “Hija ahbar fantastika,” jghid Anthony Micallef, ir-raprezentant tal-Malta Rugby League. “Roderick huwa plejer lokali u ghalhekk plejes ohra jisghu jharsu lejh u jahsbu ‘la rnexxielu hu, jista’ jirnexxieli jien ukoll.”

“Jien cert li hawn plejers li huma tajbin bizzejjed biex jaghmlu pass simili imma li forsi s’issa ma’ kienux jahsbu li hemm din il-possibilta. Permezz ta’ Roderick se jibdew jemmnu iktar.”

“Ir-rugby league f’Malta qed jaghmel hafna progress,” huwa jkompli. “Issa stabilejna kampjonat u dan qed jghin ikabbar l-interess ghaliex ir-rugby league qed tintlghab f’Malta fuq bazi regolari, u mhux darba kull sentejn. In-numru ta’ plejers li jafu din il-loghba qed jikber u dan jghin ukoll lit-tim nazzjonali li huwa ffurmat primarjament min plejers lokali.”

L-ghan hawn huwa li t-tim Malti jikwalifika ghat-Tazza tad-Dinja u fost dawk li ndubjament se jkunu nvoluti hemm Roderick Attard. Dak, pero’ qieghed fil-futur ghaliex ghal issa l-attenzjoni tieghu hija ffukata esklussivament fuq il-Gateshead Thunder fejn issa jibda l-iebes ghaliex irid jiggustifika l-ghazla tieghu u fl-istess hin jeghleb numru ta' sfidi godda. "It-temp zgurli ha jkun sfida. Li ha nkun wahdi, ma ddejjaqnix hafna anke jekk naseb li mhu xe jkun facli li nkun il-bod mill-familja u t-tfajla."

Dan pero' mhux qed itappan il-holm tieghi. "Short term qed nistenna li nkun wiehed mit-tlettax ta' l-ewwel tim. Irrid nitla hemm, nitrenja sew u nkun fil-first team. Fit-tul irrid nipprova li r-rugby jkun xoghli u iktar il-quddiem li nigi u nkun plejer ahjar u naghti ftit lura lir-rugby.”

Dan l-artiklu deher fil-harga ta' Frar 2010 tar-rivista ta' kull xhar, Sportiv.

[Featured Article] Growing Up in Malta Magazine: Sport Mad

Paul Grech Monday, March 1, 2010 ,


What Sports to See

Paul Grech Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Given time, I will watch practically any sport (well, almost) particularly team ones even though I don't really understand the finer points of some of them. The reason is that often the spectacle on the stands is as fascinating as the one being played out before them. If I'm being picky, however, there are some events that I would like to witness firsthand and this is a list of the top ten of such events.

England at Twickenham
If you like rugby, a trip to the home of the game is essential.

All Blacks play
Jonah Lomu. The legendary New Zealand powerhouse is the main reason why I follow rugby and although England remains for sentimental reasons 'my' team, it is impossible not to feel the attraction of the All Blacks.

Diamond League
Although I like watching athletics, it is undeniable that as a sport it fails to elicit the same raw emotions that team sports do. For one thing, there isn't the antagonism between two sets of supporters that inevitably fuels passion. But athletics also has its merits: the tactics in the longer runs that are played out in front of you, its pure simplicity, the sheer strength and power that goes into most events...all of this is what makes athletics so popular and why I feel the need to experience it at the highest level.

Tennis has its on and off moments for me. Much depends on the players: if there is someone who I have a particular attachment to then I tend to watch more than usual. That being so, the attraction of Wimbledon transcends that of any player: the history and tradition makes sure of that.

Rugby league Grand Final
It might not be as popular worldwide as rugby union, but in its strongholds nothing beats rugby league. Coming from Birkirkara, it was somewhat inevitable that I would fall for a club named St. Helens and my hope would be to see them play in the rugby league final. That in itself isn't a difficult ask as they've made it there for the past three years. The hard part is seeing them win as they've lost each one of those three finals!

African Nations Cup
Since this piece was kicked off well before the 2010 edition of the African Nations Cup began, the desire to take in some games from the competition still ranked highly. The shooting on the Togo squad that was heading to Angola has somewhat quelled those desires but, as yet, it is handging in there.

English play-off final
The play-offs have their critics and it is impossible not to feel for those sides who finish just outside the automatic promotion spots only to then fail miserably in the play-offs. It is equally undeniable, however, that play-offs bring about a level of drama that is impossible to match which is why there have been so many classic play-off games over the years.

Texas High School Football
Lately, I have been watching the show Friday Night Lights and, although I freely admit that I don't really understand the rules of the game, it is fascinating that there are entire towns whose existence seems to be devoted to American football.

This is linked to the previous entry because I still won't understand the rules of the game but it is built as being such a big deal that it is impossible not to want to see how it matches up in reality.

Non league game
The truth is that (ironically) every game outside of the Premiership has a strange appeal to me. Yet it is outside the football league that stories of support truly become inspirational and this choice is inspired by the desire to feel a part of that.


Having a Look Around

Paul Grech Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Up till some years ago, I never really felt the desire to travel abroad. Indeed, I even passed up a number of opportunities to do so and when I did go overseas I invariably tended to make a mess of things. Yet perhaps because I am getting older, the urge to travel is getting increasingly stronger which is why I have come up with a list of places that I would like to visit and experiences that I would like to take in.

This list is neither the most exotic nor does it reflect well on my past experience but then again, who would I be kidding if I were to put in places that I didn’t really want to go to or omit others purely from shame?

New Zealand
This being the land of the All Blacks and the setting for the filming of Lord of the Rings might have played a huge influence but this country is simply beautiful.

Had a brief taste of Barcelona during a cruise and fell in love with it. Beautiful architecture, great football, exquisite food, loads to do and the most child friendly place I’ve ever been to: I must go back for a longer stay. Equally enticing, but just losing out from making it into the top ten, is a trip to Seville.

As with Australia, there isn’t a specific part of this large country that I would like to visit but, quite simply, it is one that I have always had a liking of and would like to explore a bit. In itself, it is a bit of a strange choice given that I’ve never really had (and still don’t have) any inclination to visit it’s much larger neighbour, the USA, but perhaps some things cannot be explained.

With Bill Bryson being among my favourite authors and Down Under possibly his finest work in my consideration, then there's hardly any surprise in this choice. There isn't a specific city that I'd like to visit but simply take in as much of it as possible.

Alaskan cruise
This choice is actually largely fuelled by the TV show ‘Men in Trees’ and the movie ‘The Proposal’ both of which presented great views of Alaska that make it almost impossible not to want to go there. That said, you have to get your timing right because the weather there can get quite cold and, apart from the breathtaking scenery, I doubt there is much to do. Which is why a cruise would be just about perfect for me.

West End Musical
Again, this is probably revealing how limited my life experiences have been so far but, then again, honesty is the key. I’ve sampled my fair share of musicals and all have been of a good standard but they’ve simply whet my apetite to sample the real deal. I realise that Broadway is probably the mecca as far as musicals are concerned but experiencing one in London’s West End with be just as good for me.

African safari
For the past couple of years, National Geographic Wild has become a staple at our home as our little girl just loves watching it. This has really made me appreciate the beauty of nature and feel the need to experience it myself.

Orient express
A couple of years ago I caught a programme on the BBC with the 100 things you should do before you die and this was the one that stuck. Some breathtaking scenery coupled with silver service and a solid dollop of nostalgia make this the train ride of a lifetime.

For all of the wonders that are spread across the world and the beautiful places that exist in all corners, few can actually beat Italy. Tuscany, in particular, is blessed with extraordinary beauty in scenery, architecture, food and weather.

Music concert
By adding this I’m probably revealing what a bore of a life I’ve had so far but the fact remains that despite my love for music I’ve never really been to see a real concert, one held in some major arena with thousands of fans.
Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer