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Soccer

FA Council uphold decision to void Non-League and women’s seasons

FA Council members have voted “overwhelmingly in favour” of upholding the decision to void the season across Non-League, women’s and grassroots football.

It came after the 118 strong council voted by email to end the campaign for all Non-League steps below the National League and all but the top two tiers of the women's game, with all results expunged.

FA chairman Greg Clarke had delivered an emotional speech to members to earlier in the week admitting drastic steps would have to be taken because the coronavirus had been “worse than their wildest dreams.”

That has prompted the Council to take the action despite the fierce backlash from Non-League clubs who have been angered their results will now count for nothing.

Laurence Jones, the FA’s Head of National League System, said: “The result of today’s vote from The FA Council members was overwhelmingly in favour of ratifying the decisions.

“We know that it is impossible to reach decisions that will please everybody. We entirely sympathise with the teams that oppose the decision affecting their leagues, some of which have perfectly understandable reasons for wanting to see the 2019/20 league season continue.

“But it is important to emphasise that the decisions they took were made in the best interests of all the Leagues, as a collective, and in consultation with key stakeholders across English football.”

Kelly Simmons, FA Director of Women’s Professional Game, said: “Football has the ability to unite, rally and uplift, but for now health and wellbeing must be the ultimate priority.


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Soccer

Scottish football suspension extended to June 10

The Scottish football season at all levels of the game has been suspended further until June 10 at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Football has been suspended indefinitely in the country, from the professional game down to recreational level, since March 13.

A SFA statement read: “It has unanimously agreed to extend the suspension at all levels of the game from professional to recreational until at least 10 June.

“The board had initially suspended football until further notice and with a stipulation of April 30 at the earliest, in order to give member clubs greater certainty on player welfare and wellbeing, as well as financial clarity.

“Since the announcement on 19 March, the Joint Response Group has received daily updates from the Scottish FA’s Medical Consultant, Dr John MacLean, based on his discussions with medical colleagues in Scotland and the United Kingdom, as well as within UEFA and the World Health Organisation.”

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Tennis

Roger Federer makes emotional plea to Wimbledon fans after Grand Slam is cancelled

Roger Federer has lent his voice to a poignant narrated video posted by Wimbledon, urging fans to celebrate the “countless champions” in the health service in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The global outbreak of coronavirus has led to numerous major sporting events being cancelled this summer.

Both the 2020 Euros and Olympics have been postponed for a year while the French Open has been moved back to September.

In England though, one of the most prestigious annual sporting events for decades has been Wimbledon.

The tennis Grand Slam saw half a million spectators turn up at last year’s tournament as Federer faced off against Novak Djokovic in an epic final.

The 38-year-old is arguably Wimbledon’s greatest-ever champion, holding the record with eight men’s singles titles at London’s prestigious Grand Slam.

JUST IN: Why Wimbledon cancellation does not affect Federer more than rivals

 

His name will forever be synonymous with the green courts at SW19 with fans flocking from all over the world to see him in action.

But there will be no Federer at Wimbledon this year with the All England Club taking the decision to cancel the tournament due to the fear of coronavirus spreading.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has often spoken about his love affair with Wimbledon and he initially admitted to being “devastated” upon hearing the event wouldn’t go ahead.

Right now, the UK is currently on lockdown with frontline workers in the NHS working around the clock and risking their lives for the aid of others.

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And Federer has featured in a touching video posted by Wimbledon urging tennis fans around the world to support those working to keep everyone safe.

“Since 1877, Wimbledon fans have embraced the Championships,” he said in the video posted by Wimbledon on Twitter.

“We have watched through multiple types of screen, at all hours of the day and night, descended from afar, even queued… my how you have queued.

“This summer, sadly, we must come together by staying apart.

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“No tents will be pitched, no records broken, no trophies engraved.

“But as we say thank you for your passion and support, we remind ourselves that countless champions will be crowned.

“As frontline workers across the globe compete for us, we cheer for them.

“For now, with play suspended, we are united in hope that tomorrow will be better than today.”

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Soccer

Soccer club using cutouts to replace absent fans

Belarussian side FC Dynamo Brest are filling their stands with mannequins sporting cut-out portraits of fans to boost match-day atmospheres while supporters stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The club found a creative solution to the lack of in-stadium support by inviting fans from around the world to buy virtual tickets online. In return, the fans’ photos were pasted onto the top half of a fashion dummy sitting inside the stadium, and the fans themselves receive a matchday magazine sent to their home address.

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The money raised will be donated toward fighting the pandemic.

Dynamo Brest tested the idea during their 2-0 home victory over Shakhtyor Soligorsk on Wednesday. Stands around the Regional Sport Complex Brestsky were filled with the faces of supporters from countries including Russia, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Iran sporting a range of overseas club shirts.

Belarus is the only professional league in Europe still playing, as its president, Alexander Lukashenko, has shown little regard for the pandemic or the need for lockdowns to prevent it spreading. However, many local supporters have stopped attending matches in fear of becoming infected.

Belarus has 1,486 confirmed coronavirus cases and 16 deaths, according to the country’s health ministry.

The pandemic has decimated the world football calendar, with all of Europe’s major leagues on hold. Football in England, Spain, France and Germany has been postponed indefinitely, while Serie A is suspended until at least April 13.

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Soccer

Manchester United considering three options over Odion Ighalo’s future amid FIFA proposals

Manchester United are concerned about their ability to keep Odion Ighalo beyond May. The Shanghai Greenland Shenhua loanee is contracted at Old Trafford until the end of next month. He has impressed since sealing a shock switch on the final day of January’s transfer window.

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Manchester United are open to keeping Ighalo but are aware his loan contract is likely to cover the remainder of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign.

Professional football has been suspended since the beginning of March due to the coronavirus pandemic and is unlikely to resume until June.

As a result, Premier League action plus continental competitions are set to run deep into the summer causing issues over players’ contracts which are due to expire.

FIFA have laid out proposals for short-term renewals to cover the rest of this term.

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“It is now obvious that the current season will not end when people thought it would,” FIFA said in a statement.

“Therefore, it is proposed that contracts be extended until such time that the season does actually end.

“A similar principle applies to contracts due to begin when the new season starts, meaning the entry into force of such contracts is delayed until the next season actually does start.”

According to ESPN, Old Trafford officials are concerned that the proposals will be difficult to implement in practice because Shanghai Shenhua will want Ighalo back in time for the beginning of the Chinese Super League season, which has been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

It is claimed the Premier League giants are considering three options over the former Watford striker’s future.

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They include trying to renegotiate Ighalo’s loan, attempting to sign the 30-year-old on a permanent basis or allowing him to return to China leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer short on options in attack.

While they are eager to keep the Nigeria international, United are aware that Shanghai Shenhua have the upper hand in negotiations.

Ighalo has admitted he would like to stay at the Theatre of Dreams.

“I am inspired by a lot of things at United,” said Ighalo. “I am really inspired and I am looking forward to spending more time with the team.

“Seeing the club from the outside you don’t know how big it is. But when you are inside you know how big the club is.

“I am inspired by the way the club is structured, I am inspired by the direction of the club.

“I am inspired by the development of the young players and how they are coming through from the grassroots to the first-team.”

Ighalo has scored four goals in eight appearances since arriving on loan. A permanent transfer would likely cost around £15million.

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MLB

That time Padres owner Ray Kroc got on the PA system and called his team ‘stupid’

Anyone who’s ever been a sports fan has had moments when they wanted to scream at a team for playing poorly. And, it’s probably safe to say, anyone who’s ever owned a sports team has had many of those moments too, and, in all likelihood, has sometimes been unable to resist an in-the-moment urge to let it fly in the private confines of a locker room or office.

But despite the occasional media leak, or faux-tough public comments about the on-field product, most owners keep these things private. And then there’s former Padres owner Ray Kroc, who in 1974 let out his McFury over the public address system — during a game and in front of 39,000 fans.

During the April 9, 1974, home opener against the Astros, Kroc, who was in just his fourth game as Padres owner and was better known as the founder of McDonald’s, apparently couldn’t take it anymore during the eighth inning of San Diego’s 9-5 loss to Houston.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I suffer with you,” Kroc, 72, blared over the PA system — just before a streaker ran on the field and hogged some attention. “Get that streaker off the field. Throw him in jail.”

Kroc, undeterred, continued.

“I have good news and bad news,” he told the crowd, according to a Sporting News report at the time. “The good news is that the Dodgers drew 31,000 for their opener and we’ve drawn 39,000 for ours. The bad news is that this is the most stupid baseball playing I’ve ever seen.”

The crowd roared with approval.

Harsh.

As Kroc put the team on blast, the Padres were minutes from an 0-4 start to the 1974 season. Their game against Houston had been ugly from the beginning, as starting pitcher Steve Arlin allowed six hits and five earned runs in the first inning, kicking off his season with a 45.00 ERA. But none of this was a surprise, except to Kroc.

When he bought the team, Kroc was seen somewhat as a savior for baseball in San Diego. In their five seasons of existence, the Padres had lost 100 or more games three times. In 1973, the team finished 60-102, so Kroc, apparently feeling optimistic, expected better days ahead. But in the first three games of 1974, the Padres were outscored 25-2. Still, Kroc seemed hopeful.

“With your help, and God’s help, we’ll give ’em hell tonight,” he told the crowd during pre-game ceremonies.

The Astros received no hell.

By the eighth inning, Kroc might’ve been second-guessing himself, which perhaps is what prompted him to spit fire over the PA system. His players weren’t pleased, obviously.

“I wish Mr. Kroc hadn’t done that,” Padres slugger and future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey told reporters after the game. “I’ve never heard anything like that in my 19 years in baseball. None of us likes being called stupid. We’re pros and we’re doing the best we can. His words will ring in the players’ ears for a long time.”

Astros players were equally taken aback.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Houston pitcher Claude Osteen said. “He’ll have to learn that you can’t buy success in this game.” 

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and MLBPA executive Marvin Miller both demanded apologies. Kroc obliged, later saying his comments were fueled by a desire to put his customers first, like at McDonald’s. He also said that the streaker who interrupted him “just added gas to the fire.”

“I used a bad choice of words, and I’m sorry,” he said. “I was bitterly disappointed and embarrassed before almost 40,000 people. I should have said the team wasn’t playing good ball and have urged the fans to stick with us, we’ll get better. In fact, I shouldn’t have gone on (the PA system) at all. But once you say a thing, you’re stuck with it.”

He continued: “[The stupid baseball comment] was kind of a figure of speech. It was nothing personal. I’m afraid I talked without thinking.”

And, finally: “I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot” in San Diego. 

Though one might think it near-impossible to recover from such a first impression, Kroc somehow pulled it off. The Padres didn’t win much during Kroc’s tenure as owner — they again went 60-102 in 1974 — but he owned the team until his death in 1984, a season in which San Diego went to the World Series — with commemorative “RAK” initials on their sleeves. He was inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame in 1999.

Unfortunately, there’s no video available of Kroc’s big microphone performance on April 9, 1974, so the full experience is left up to our imaginations. But here’s video of him throwing out the first pitch at the 1978 All-Star Game.

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Soccer

Keita insists he has 'improved a lot' since working with Jurgen Klopp

Naby Keita insists he has ‘improved a lot’ since working with Jurgen Klopp and describes Liverpool boss as ‘like a best friend who can communicate with all his players’

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Naby Keita believes he has improved at Liverpool and credits Jurgen Klopp with his growth as a player.

The midfielder is yet to convince all Liverpool fans he is deserving of a regular starting role and his time at the club has been littered with injury setbacks after a slow start. 

There have been flashes of occasional brilliance and evidence of why the Reds paid RB Leipzig £52.75million for his services back in 2018. 

Jurgen Klopp is ‘like a best friend’ but also motivates his players, says Naby Keita

Keita told Liverpool magazine, per the Echo: ‘When I arrived I had to try to settle in and be able to integrate with the team. I respect his choices, so I was there to work every day.

‘I think I have now improved a lot, apart from my injuries which have kept me out of several matches.’

The Guinean had started only 12 games for Liverpool this season before the campaign was interrupted by the coronavirus crisis. 

But there is no ill feeling towards Klopp, quite the opposite, as the 25-year-old feels indebted to the German.    

The midfielder has struggled for consistent form and fitness since joining Liverpool

‘He is somebody who is able to give you explanations on the field, and that helps a lot and when you play of course you don’t ever doubt yourself. That’s coaching and he sees everything.  

‘When you see him on the sideline and you’re on the field, it’s as if he’s playing with you and that gives you a lot of desire to do better.

‘He’s always there for his players, he’s almost like a best friend but he’s a coach who can communicate with all his players. 

Keita believes he has improved as a player under Klopp since joining from RB Leipzig

‘He will always defend his players because for him all the players are the same. There is no difference to him,’ he added.  

With Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita vying for places in central midfield, competition is fierce. 

Having had time to adjust to life in England, remainder of this season, and next year, feel significant if Keita is to make the grade at Anfield.  




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Soccer

Ahmed Elmohamady exclusive: Break gives Aston Villa chance to reset

The postponement of football has given Aston Villa the chance to reset in their fight to avoid relegation from the Premier League, insists Ahmed Elmohamady.

Speaking to Sky Sports from his home during lockdown, the Villa wing-back discussed a range of subjects, including his home training, the best opponents he’s played against, and a look back at two of his most important contributions in a Villa shirt.

Elmohamady, who recently celebrated 10 years in England and is the longest-serving Arabic player in the Premier League, is seeing the positive side of the unprecedented break to football.

‘A fresh start for Villa’

Villa had lost five games on the trot before football was postponed, and sit two points from safety in the Premier League table, with a game in hand and 10 remaining. Elmohamady believes the break will do Villa good, particularly as last season’s Player of the Year John McGinn will have recovered from his ankle break…

“I do believe this break could give us a fresh start to play the final 10 games of the season, and give everyone a chance to reset.

“We went through a tough period before the season stopped, and this break would allow the likes of John McGinn, who is a key player for us, get back to full fitness and help us for the final 10 games.

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“I do believe we can come back fresh and that this break was needed for us, ready to fight for the remaining games.

“We do have a strong team spirit in the team. It’s something that has always been here and is created from the manager, staff and senior players downwards.”

‘The most I’ve seen my family!’

Elmohamady is glass half full despite the practical difficulties of lockdown, saying this is the most he has been able to see his family in recent years, while also keeping fit with the club’s training programme and his own routine…

“The club have given us a training programme, I’ve been running and training every day, working hard. It’s been good because I’ve been able to play with my kids and spend some time with the missus. I’ll be honest, this is the most time I’ve spent with my family kids in a long time, and it has been great!

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Had to be done #stayhome #staysafe

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Had to be done #stayhome #staysafe

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“I’m an international player, meaning in recent years I haven’t been able to spend much time at all with the family in the summer. In 2018 we had the World Cup in Russia, and in 2019 we had the Africa Cup of Nations, which took up a good eight weeks of my time.

“So it has been really nice to spend some quality time with the kids and the missus, relaxing and enjoying quality time I would have been able to do before.

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“We have needed the break and downtime, I think. I am being positive about the situation, and of course I am looking forward to returning to the games.

“Of course I miss the games and miss the ball, but I’ve been able to get out particularly with my son, constantly playing games, or board games with my kids to keep myself busy. I am looking forward to playing competitively again, but for the time being I am making the most of this.”

‘Crossing ability is repetition… plus a bit of Arabic!’

Two of Villa’s finest moments in recent years have been born from the right boot of Elmohamady. His wonderful assist for Anwar El Ghazi’s header set Villa on their way in the Play-Off final win over Derby last May, and a similar fine delivery for fellow Egyptian Trezeguet sent them to Wembley again with a last-gasp 2-1 win over Leicester in the Carabao Cup semi-final in January.

Elmohamady described how a language trick helped for Trezeguet’s winner, and says the key to his crossing ability is repetition…

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Job Done, Back to the big league 🤪

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“It’s repetition, crossing the ball over and over again in training, I just take a load of balls and practise. It has been a strength for me and something I don’t rest on and want to keep doing.

“For the play-off final goal, I said to Anwar: ‘I’m going to be putting 10 or so crosses into the box, so be ready!’ and he was when it mattered. It was one of the best days in my career. Of course, I prefer to play in the Premier League.

“For Trez’s goal against Leicester, we talk in training about this cross, and when I take the ball on the right he says to me “far post” but in Arabic so nobody could understand. It worked!”

“Believe it or not I actually started out as a striker early on, and played there for the Egypt National Team U17s, and playing at the Olympics. I was then moved to right-back and had one of my best games there, so I’d played on the right ever since, either at right wing-back or right-back. It was by luck!

“Steve Bruce brought me to England and played me on the right wing, and I am able to play in both positions. I like to attack more than defending, and to play in attacking sides. Obviously as you get older you defend more, and I am happy doing that now.”

‘Hazard, Cole the best’

Elmohamady has been in England for 10 years, making nearly 400 appearances for Sunderland, Hull and Villa.

In that time, playing both as a winger and full-back, the 32-year-old has come up against world-class opposition, but who was the best?

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Soccer

The Nevilles quiz: How well do you know Gary, Phil and Tracey?

They’ve been around English sport for almost three decades, but our quiz will tell you how well you really know the Neville siblings…

Manchester United, Everton, Valencia and England Women – plus Sky Sports, of course – the Neville brothers have been a mainstay in the footballing world since the Class of ’92.

They joined sister Tracey, former head coach and player with England’s netball team, for a special Off Script which you can watch here – but first, give our quiz a go and see how much you know about one of English sport’s most famous families!

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Tennis

Andy Murray and wife Kim lay down the 100 volley challenge

Andy Murray and his wife Kim lay down the 100 volley challenge – will Roger Federer and his wife Mirka be next?

Murray has been active on social media with his latest tweet asking all players and fans to take up the 100 volley partner challenge.

He said: “A challenge to all tennis players and fans… The 100 volley challenge. There was no bickering during the filming of the video, although I think the last volley was aimed at my head… I can’t be the only one that wants to see Rog and Mirka hitting a few balls together..”

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