Wimbledon preview: Winner winner, Jannik Sinner?

Wimbledon continues Great British summer of sport

The traditional Wimbledon logo, two white tennis rackets crossing with a white tennis ball underneath on a green background

It’s that time of year again when a green, leafy London suburb bursts into life with the hum of excitement and the distant thwack of tennis balls.
The world’s best tennis players descend on a sleepy corner of the capital for the 137th edition of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious championships.

Wimbledon gets underway on Monday for the zenith of the grass court season and the third major of the year.

For all the drama of the Euros, where else can you buy strawberries and cream for £8 a pop and a pint of Pimms for twice that. Where else can you do what us Brits simply do better than anyone else and stand in a queue for hours?

Speaking of fruit, whose name will be etched on to the pineapple-topped trophy to go down in the annals as a Wimbledon champion?

Familiar faces, new champions…

Jannik Sinner, Italy’s first ever no.1 singles player, has four titles under his belt this year (a win/loss record of 38-3) and will start as favourite in the men’s draw. Defending champion and fellow ‘young’un’ Carlos Alcaraz has added the Roland Garros title to his resume since his triumph last year in SW19 and is a strong contender again.

At the time of going to print, we don’t yet know whether Novak Djokovic will be fit enough to go for an eighth crown on the hallowed turf of Centre Court. But – if he is – you can be sure he won’t be far away. The Serb will be seeded second, so if all goes to plan would face Alexander Zverev in the semis and then Alcaraz or Sinner in the final. Should the 24-time major winner opt to skip SW19 and instead focus on the Paris Olympics (the one big title missing from his collection), this will be the first Championships without Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer since the turn of the century.

Other names to watch out for include Poland’s powerful seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz, American dark horse Taylor Fritz and recent King of Queen’s Tommy Paul.

Jack Draper’s breakthrough fortnight – a first ATP title in Stuttgart and a win over Alcaraz at Queen’s – has raised excitement levels among British fans. The emerging 22-year-old has usurped Cameron Norrie as the nation’s no.1 player and will be seeded at SW19. Draper has found consistency and his strong grass court game makes him an outside bet for the title.

Despite the fact both are more at home on the European clay, perennial second weekers Stefanos Tsitsipas and French Open runner up Zverev, both bidding for their first majors, cannot be ruled out.

A fond final farewell

We can’t move on without a word to Sir Andy Murray on what will almost certainly be his final Wimbledon. We really hope he recovers from his latest injury in time to earn a richly deserved swansong. To bow out fittingly as one of Britain’s finest ever sportsmen at the place he loves – and is loved – so much. He’s earned the right to choose when he hangs up his racket, and will no doubt be roared to the rafters as he brings down the curtain on a glittering career.

Swiatek not so Iga

Andy Murray lifts the Wimbledon title in 2013 on Centre Court

Not since the great Serena Williams (2015&2016) has there been a successful defence of the ladies singles. Since then, Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Ash Barty, Elena Rybakina and Marketa Vondrousova  have all got their hands on the Venus Rosewater Dish and this year’s field looks as much of a ‘free for all’ as ever.

Iga Swiatek, fresh from her fourth French Open title in Paris, will start as the world no.1 and top seed. But she has consistently failed to convert her considerable clay court dominance into tangible success on grass. Swiatek has never gone beyond the quarter finals at Wimbledon and does not adapt well to the switch in surface.

Vondrousova was a shock winner last year as the unseeded Czech defied the odds to topple hot favourite Ons Jabeur under the Centre Court roof. Ranked sixth this time, she will again be among the leading contenders, especially with injury and illness doubts surrounding big hitting Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka and Kazakh Rybakina.

Coco Gauff catapulted herself into the national spotlight with a record breaking run to the last 16 aged 15 in 2019. Now the world no.2, she had a US Open under her belt. French Open finalist Jasmine Paolini won her first WTA 1,000 title earlier this year and, having never gone beyond the first round here, will be expected to fare significantly better this time around. Don’t rule out the trio of top-20 Americans, either, in the form of Jessica Pegula, and former Grand Slam finalists Danielle Collins and Madison Keys.

Raducanu returns

Emma Raducanu is back in business having been awarded a wildcard spot for the Championship. Her third Wimbledon and, incredibly, only a ninth major, it’s easy to forget she’s still only 21. Raducanu’s life has been changed from promising youngster to the next big thing in the British game after her historic US Open victory in 2021. It hasn’t been easy with increased pressure, media attention and a catalogue of injuries, resulting in her dropping outside the world’s top.100. But Raducanu is raring to go and is well placed to go deep into the second week of a major for the first time since THAT fortnight in New York. If she can return to that form and level, then Raducanu could be, whisper it, a dangerous ‘floater’ in the draw.

So bring it on. Two weeks of sun (and rain, too, surely, this is Wimbledon after all), strawberries, serves, seeds and Sinner. Ready? Play…

The very best of British in 2024

With January almost out, it looks a case of deja vu with Aryna Sabalenka and Novak Djokovic on course to retain their Australian Open titles Down Under.
The first tennis major of the year is merely the aperitif for what promises to be a gripping 12 months of elite, high octane sport both on these shores and overseas.

The Six Nations returns

Rugby’s greatest annual international tournament kicks off on February 2nd, spearheading a charge into another enthralling year of sport.
France host Ireland in the RBS Six Nations opener, with the mercurial Les Bleus bookending five spectacular weeks of blood and thunder as Europe’s finest go head to head.

England went the furthest at last year’s World Cup but are third favourites for a record-extending 30th outright win. France and Ireland, with World Cup pain still lingering, are expected to be the main contenders for the crown.. The pair meet in the tournament’s opening gambit next week.

You can never truly write Wales off – especially under veteran Kiwi Warren Gatland – as his new-look side bid for a repeat of their 2019 Grand-Slam winning heroics. With a Lions tour of Australia on the horizon coming firmly into view, the tournament offers the best Britain has to offer an early chance to stake their claim for a place on the plane Down Under.

Glory beckons in Southgate’s potential farewell

But it’s not just in rugby where we will see kings of Europe crowned. Football’s equivalent takes place in Germany from 14 June in what looks to be Gareth Southgate’s final bow as England boss.

With one of the most exciting squads in world football, the pressure and expectation will again be on the shoulders of England’s young stars. This side is the best we’ve had in a generation as the Three Lions look to emulate the Lionesses and finally end the senior men’s team 58-year wait for a major trophy.

We’ve heard this story so many times before but maybe, just maybe, this one will have a different ending. We can dream, right? We face Serbia, Slovenia and the ever-tricky Danish in the groups with the likes of Spain, France and Julian Nagelsmann’s rejuvenated Germany on home soil blocking the path to glory.

Scotland navigated a tricky qualifying section featuring Spain and Erling Haaland’s Norway to make it to a second successive Euros, whilst Rob Page’s Wales will be looking to join them. The Welsh Dragons face a home play-off against Finland in March before a potential showdown with Robert Lewandowski et al to decide their destiny.

British stars eye Golden Games

Hot on the heels of the summer’s festival of football, all eyes turn to the French capital as the greatest sporting show on earth comes to Paris.
After a watered down Games in 2021, delayed by a year and held in empty venues across Japan, the world’s biggest multisport extravaganza returns in style.

The opening ceremony of the 33rd Olympiad takes place along the River Seine just 12 days after the conclusion of the Euros.
Running from 26 July to 11 August, Paris 2024 will consist of approximately 10,500 athletes, 329 events and 32 sports where ‘breaking’ (a competitive form of breakdancing) will make it’s Olympic bow. Sport climbing, surfing and skateboarding enjoyed successful debuts in Tokyo and feature once more this time around.

Team GB – spearheaded by several iconic, household names – will be looking to go one better than the 64 medals (and 22 golds) won last time out.
Swimming stars Tom Dean, Duncan Scott and Adam Peaty OBE, in what could be his Olympic swansong, are again set to make a splash at the forefront of the British team. Tom Daley makes a surprise return whilst Britain’s most decorated female Olympian Dame Laura Kenny spearheads the cycling team’s assault on the medals. At the other end of the spectrum, teenage skateboarding sensation Sky Brown – who dazzled in Tokyo – is another Team GB star to watch for. For the hosts, superstar striker Kylian Mbappe has expressed his desire to take part while rugby union star Antoine Dupont will swap the Six Nations for the rugby sevens.

The Paralympic Games, which take place from 28 August to 8 September, will feature some 4,400 athletes competing in 549 events across 22 sports.

Great Britain finished second in the medal table at the Tokyo Paralympics with 124 medals – 41 gold, 38 silver and 45 bronze.

Tokyo medallists including cyclist Sarah Storey, who has a record 17 Paralympic gold medals and would be competing at her ninth Games, wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft, swimmer Maisie Summers-Newton and equestrian riders Lee Pearson and Sophie Wells will all be hoping to add to their medal hauls.

Another busy year for England’s cricketers

Another year; another major cricket tournament. This time, it’s the T20 for both the men and women. The men’s event is co-held by the USA and the West Indies in June, with the women’s equivalent being held in Bangladesh towards the end of the year.
England’s men go into the 20-team competitions as holders and favourites, looking to make a better stab of defending their title than the dismal embarrassment suffered by their 50-over contemporaries.

One date jumps out from the packed excitement of the sporting calendar: 14 July. Co-incidentally, that’s five years to the day since the world was gripped by the seismic scenes unfolding in a small corner of west London. England won the Cricket World Cup after a tied Super Over against New Zealand, whilst across town Novak Djokovic usurped his great friend and rival Roger Federer in the longest Wimbledon final of all time.

This year, the men’s final shares the prime Sunday night viewing slot with the denouement of events in Germany. It would be fair to say nothing is getting done in my house that day!

Japan 2023: The trip of a lifetime

After all the planning, all the hype and the sense of excitement accompanying our every move, Japan 2023 delivered on every level.

It’s difficult to pick out just one highlight from our trip to the far side of the world and the Land of the Rising Sun. Shebuya Sky, Tokyo Disney, Mount Fuji, sushi at the robot cafe, petting hedgehogs and a trip down to Osaka on the ‘Shinkansen’ (bullet train).

We packed all this – and more – into our two week adventure of a lifetime. Whilst the social dynamic of seven adults living in close proximity invariably took its toll and tensions at times ran high, we put this to one side to embrace all this beautiful country and its people had to offer.

We flew from Heathrow on the 8.40pm night flight from Seoul on 21 October, then caught the connecting flight to Tokyo’s Narita airport where we landed shortly before 10pm on the 22nd.

We met Reece at the airport and then travelled on to our airBnb.

I won’t run through each day here as all 12 days of the trip were action packed and there was a lot to cram in. I’ll pick out the highlights and discuss what I enjoyed the most.

Our first day in Japan saw me tick off one of my bucket list items for the trip as Hannah, Liam and I went to visit the National Stadium, where the pandemic-delayed Olympics were held in 2021. I had my photo taken with the torch, went into the dressing room, up the tunnel and on to the track, dropping Mo Farah’s iconic celebration for a pose.

In the afternoon, we went to TeamLabs Planets which is an immersive 3D Art experience where you become the exhibits. This featured a room with musical beams of light, falling flowers and a room where you’re in darkness and knee deep in water whilst the colours reflect off the glass. Very unique and an experience not to be missed1

On Day Two I had salmon sushi at the robot cafe and Day Four was Mt.Fuji, the highest summit in Japan and active volcano (although it hasn’t erupted since 1707). We got the cable car up to the observation platform but the summit was shrouded in clag so we didn’t get as good a view as we’d have liked. Having gazed in wonderment at close quarters, I’m definitely planning to go back at some point in the near future and climb to the summit. We wandered round the gift shop and went on a boat trip on Lake Kawaguchi.

Day Six saw us in Kyoto for another must-see for the visit to the Fushimi Inari shrine. Architecturally stunning, the history and tradition of these ancient sacred sites sit side by side alongside Japan’s modern infrastructure and technology – just one reason to hold locals and tourists alike completely in thrall.

I had packed for all eventualities but Tokyo in October was like the Costa del Sol in July with the unpredictable conditions of Blighty conspicuous in absentia. I had to put sun cream on as the hottest day we had was 28 degrees.

I tried to be as adventurous as possible with the food. There was the aforementioned sushi which was served by a robot and we also went to Kura, which is a sushi chain, during our stay in Osaka. I was hangry as I hadn’t eaten all day so demolished six or seven of the dishes although they were small and not very filling.

I’d never had ramen before, so it was a no brainer to give it a go. It’s a Japanese noodle dish served in a broth with spices and various accompaniments such as pork, nori (dried seaweed), eggs, and cheese. This was another dish I was eager to try and the second time, which was down in Shinjuku, had more flavour and a better kick than the first one I’d had at Ichiran.

Day Nine saw us visit Tokyo Disney where I met Captain Jack Sparrow (it wasn’t actually him of course) and we managed to get on all the rides of which the log flume and Space Mountain were the best. The shops weren’t up to much but I enjoyed the day more than I thought I would. The next day Joe, Matt and Chelsea continued their odyssey when they went to DisneySea whilst the rest of us went to Shibuya Sky where we ascended up to the 45th floor to look down on Tokyo from a height of 230m. This would have been better at sundown but to see the Tokyo metropolis sprawling beneath us from above was quite a sight to behold.

The aviation museum at Tokorozawa, Japan’s first and oldest airfield, was an nice tribute to humanity’s ability to fly and I tried my hand in a simulator. I managed to take off, circle round and land again but unfortunately the larger scale one was closed by the time we got there as it was only open for two hours.

What you read here is merely a whistlestop tour of a trip I loved every minute of. I’m already planning a return to climb Fuji and maybe go down to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Garden in the near future – once I’ve visited Norway, Swede, New Zealand and Jamaica.

Japan, it was a blast. Arigato!

Rugby for the ages as the World Cup comes to life

It’s fair to say the 2023 Rugby World Cup has been a slow burner. After five weeks of a meandering and predictable pool stage, in which we all could have picked the quarter-finalists, this was a weekend in which the tournament in France finally came to life.

There were very few proper match-ups in the groups with a series of one-sided contests in which the strongest nations regularly ran riot against their tier two opponents. Scorelines such as France 96-0 Namibia, New Zealand 73-0 Uruguay, Scotland 76-0 Romania and England 71-0 Chile did little to showcase rugby union’s blue riband event and instead only served to highlight the gaping chasm between the upper echelons of the game and those that simply don’t get the exposure at this level.

The Rugby World Cup trophy waits to be claimed

Thanks to the world governing body’s incredibly short-sighted planning, the World Cup draw was one of the most lopsided ever. The fact the world’s four highest ranked sides met at merely the quarter final stage made a mockery of the inexplicable decision to conduct the draw three years before the tournament.

For example, Scotland – the fifth-best nation on the planet – were given a group containing South Africa and Ireland. You had to feel for them as they were never going to make it through.

There was no doubt the four matches we’ve seen over this past weekend have been the best of the tournament so far – with the possible exception of Fiji 23-24 Portugal and Ireland’s 13-8 win over the Springboks that preceded them.

Ireland came into the tournament as the world’s top ranked team, on a 17-match winning streak and a Six Nations Grand Slam to boot. The men in green from the Emerald Isle had never gone beyond the last eight but 2023 was widely predicted to be their year. Andy Farrell, once of this parish, had steered his side to a 100% record in Pool B to set up a mouth watering knockout tie with the All Blacks – a team still licking their wounds from a record 35-7 defeat to the rampant Springboks in August. In short, they would never have a better chance of winning rugby’s greatest prize.

If there’s one thing for certain, though, it’s to write off New Zealand at your peril. They may not be the all-conquering force of old, but when it comes to the big occasion and the pressure of high octane sport when it matters most, they have been there and done it so many times before.

Often, such hotly-anticipated clashes can fail to live up to the hype but this was an instant classic befitting of the world’s two best sides. New Zealand raced into an early 13-0 lead but, in a simply magnificent exhibition of knockout rugby, ended the match camped on their own try line in the face of a fierce, 37-phase Ireland onslaught.

Time seemed to stand still as Ireland kept coming, but it was the New Zealand players with their arms raised in triumph having withstood intense pressure with a herculean defensive effort at the last. An absolute howitzer, won by the men in black 24-28. A match to go down in the annals of the all time greats.

Like Ireland, Wales had been tipped to go deep into the tournament after a faultless pool stage which included a record thrashing of Australia. They had reckoned without the fighting spirit and pure durability of the Pumas in a match which lurched from control to chaos and somewhere in between. Wales looked comfortable at 10-0 and 17-12 ahead but Joel Slavi’s late breakaway ensured Wales were unable to reach a third World Cup semi final. Like their football counterparts, there is something about the Pumas and Rugby World Cups.

That paved the way for Steve Borthwick and our England boys. Dogged by poor form and lack of preparation, this was perhaps the lowest ebb we have ever been at coming into a major competition. A torrid series of warm-up games only fuelled the belief that England – and Borthwick – were doomed to fail.
The fact one of those defeats came against Fiji – the Pacific Islanders first ever win over the might of the White Rose – meant Sunday’s rematch was far from a foregone conclusion. England started strongly and were on course for what seemed a comfortable victory, our best so far.

Their country may be tiny, but Fiji and their team of giants defied the odds to claw back a 14-point deficit and pull level. Two tries in four minutes had those of a nervous disposition reaching for the heartburn tablets as England somehow looked to have snatched defeat from the very jaws of victory.

But the big occasion calls for those with a cool head and Owen Farrell’s drop goal was followed by a penalty to edge our boys to victory as the only home nation left in the competition.

If we thought Ireland against New Zealand was good, and it was very good, then the best of the bunch was saved until last. The hosts, France, with the collective will of an entire nation roaring them on, finally poised to win their first World Cup on home soil and bring rugby home. Against the mighty Springboks, the world champions, a team who thrive on steadily dismantling opposition scrums and battering all comers into submission.

This is what the phrase ‘on a knife edge’ was seemingly invented for. A clash of styles if ever there was one. France, all fluidity and flair against South Africa – brutal, bludgeoning and darn right bloody minded. Throw all those ingredients together, and you have the recipe for something very very special indeed.

Six tries were shared in a thrilling, open, end-to-end first half to give France and their fit-again talisman Antoine Dupont, a narrow interval lead. It was asking a lot for the second to live up to its counterpart. It didn’t, but it certainly was no less exciting.

Back and forth the match went, no quarter given and nothing left out there. Like Ireland against New Zealand, it seemed almost criminal this was only a quarter final. A match of this magnitude and quality deserved to be a semi or even a decider. Roared on by an entire nation with the clock in the red, France searched for the score to keep their elusive quest for the William Webb Ellis cup alive.

IRB Rugby World Cup, France 2023

But the ball spilled loose and, with that, France’s World Cup was over by the narrowest of margins – their hopes, dreams and destiny snatched from them by a single point, 28-29. As les Bleus slumped spread-eagled on the turf, even the most hard nosed cynic had to feel for them.

So South Africa advance to face England and are now favourites for a successful defence of their title – it would be their fourth World Cup win. To face New Zealand? You would think, but we can bet the perennial underdogs of Argentina will have something to say on that…

Bournemouth Air Festival, 3 September 2023

The festival

The Bournemouth Air Festival is one of the blue riband events in the UK airshow calendar. Not just because of its reputation as an internationally diverse display, but because of the stunning amphitheatre in which it all unfolds.

Amidst the backdrop of the Solent, the Isle of Wight and it’s award winning beaches, Bournemouth is a beautiful venue for an air display. The Thursday of the 2023 show was a washout but the Friday and both weekend days more than made up for that.

My initial thoughts in the days leading up to the events were that the program looked a little thin. A sign of the times maybe, but these fears proved unfounded on the day.

There was a nice mix of familiar favourites, overseas stars and some unique formations I’ve never seen before.

The flying displays

Sunday was the fourth and final day of flying at the Festival, opened by Bournemouth regulars the Tigers Parachute Display Team. The six-man formation showcased the best they had to offer with a colourful and dramatic descent on to the beach with some nice canopy work culminating in their leader landing with an enormous Army flag.

Piston engine aircraft featured strongly in the flying program throughout the afternoon. Paul Farmer’s elegant Yak 50 preceded further solo routines from Rod Dean with his T67-M Firefly and Flight Lieutenant David – John  ‘DJ’ Gibbs in the RAF’s elementary two-seat trainer, the Grob 115E Tutor. The Tutor was put through its paces in an energetic and punchy routine full of twinkle rolls, half Cubans and high octane aerobatics. The little aircraft’s bright and eye-catching canary yellow paintwork brought a flash of colour against the backdrop of Bournemouth’s gin clear blue skies. The piston engine segment was brought to a close by the Rolls Royce pairing of Mk.19 Spitfire and the throaty growl of the North American P51D Mustang, always a popular item in any flying display. The classic East Midlands based fighters were a regular sight over Britain during WWII and evoked memories of yesteryear with a beautiful pairs routine. The two vintage warbirds rounded off their combined sequence with their own solo performances flown by Dan Griffith in the Spit followed by Alastair Williams in the big American single seater.

New additions…

One of my favourite displays came courtesy of the Royal Navy. Naval participants are a sadly rare presence at airshows now, so it was a significant coup for Bournemouth to get the Yeovilton-based pair of the Fairey Swordfish, of Bismarck-sinking fame, and the small but no less impressive Westland Wasp anti-submarine helicopter. The Dorset coastline was one of only a handful of venues you can see these unique and historic aircraft in the UK this season.

Navy Wings formation of Westland Wasp and Fairey Swordfish in a rare formation at the Festival.

The pair, two aircraft from very different eras, arrived in formation and performed several passes, with the little Wasp tucked in on the biplane’s right wingtip in line astern before breaking off into their individual routines.  It’s been many a year since I saw the beloved Stringbag in the air and I’ve never seen a Wasp before so this display added a nice historic touch and something different to what was at times a very familiar list of participants..

Captain Tony de Bruyn brought an international flavour to the Jurassic Coast with a dramatic demonstration of his OV-10 from the Belgium-based Bronco demo team. His display showcased the excellent manoeuvrability and impressive roll rate of the light ground attack surveillance turboprop on its Bournemouth debut – it’s always good to see an aeroplane you’ve never seen before and a relatively new arrival on the air display circuit.

And old favourites

The Royal Air Force were, as ever, out in force over all four days of the festival. The Chinook’s display calendar is truncated this year and consists of only eight displays, but the Air Festival was lucky enough to be one of these. It’s always amazing to see how agile and manouevrable such a massive helicopter can be as the mighty twin-rotor heavy lifter brought it’s unmistakeable ‘Blade Slap’ for further rotary wing action.

The Red Arrows have been virtual ever presents at the Air Festival and performed on three of the four days with the Thursday completely washed out. The eight-ship team endured a difficult 2022 but provided a much improved showing here which even included a few new additions to their otherwise familiar fare’. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight arrived early in the day with their full and regular compliment of Lancaster flanked by the fighters of Spitfire and Hurricane.

The Firebirds and Bournemouth debutants the Starlings filled the void left by The Blades – now sadly no more – whilst Rich Goodwin returned in another highlight of the day. The bizarre spectacle of this tiny biplane roaring like a jet was really quite something with aerobatic champion Goodwin having added two jet engines to the fuselage of his highly modified Pitts Special. Because, well, why not? The jet noise only added to Goodwin’s already magnificent display of rolls, knife edge passes, gyroscopic tumbles, the ‘Tower of Power’ and even a hover!

But Bournemouth really did save the best until last. I had hoped to leave a bit early to beat the crowds but in an impressive piece of marketing, the organizers followed the old adage of good things come to those who wait.

A fitting finale

With the highly anticipated appearance of the Vampire having sadly fallen by the wayside, the only solo jet on the schedule came right at the end in the early evening light. But, boy, was it worth the wait. Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty released the kraken and opened the throttles as he closed the Festival in magnificent style with a loud and virtuoso display in the Typhoon. Brighty brought the beach to a standstill and held the spectators completely in thrall as he put ‘Blackjack’, and it’s 40,000lb of thrust, through it’s considerable paces. Matt’s vertical climb out into the wide blue yonder saw him depart to a standing ovation as I too headed for home – though not nearly as quickly!

Final thoughts

To reflect on the day, I definitely did enjoy my trip to Bournemouth for the airshow. There weren’t nearly enough jets and too many single engine piston aircraft, but that’s more a reflection on the current economic situation rather than any slight on the show itself. It was nice to see some new additions alongside the old favourites and, Thursday aside, the show was blessed with strong attendances and excellent weather. There are rumours we have seen the last of the Air Festival, but let’s hope that’s not true and this marvelous event continues for many years to come.

Wiegman’s Lionesses two games from glory

For the second successive major tournament, England’s Women have outdone their male counterparts in the latter stages of a major tournament. The Lionesses have diced with death and sailed (very) close to the proverbial wind but have made it through to the last four of the Women’s World Cup. With the USA, Germany, Brazil and France gone, England’s Women are 90 minutes away from a shot at glory.

England stand on the cusp of greatness

Where Gareth Southgate’s men narrowly and spiritedly failed – but failed nonetheless – on home soil and in Qatar, Sarina Wiegmann’s tenacious pack of Lionesses have delivered. And how. Just over a year on from that never-to-be forgotten day at Wembley, England’s Women are two games from going where no one has gone before. No women’s team have ever won back to back Euros and the World Cup. Not even the all conquering German juggernaut of the 90s and 00s. Only Spain have ever done before it in the men’s game.

Two games away from football immortality. Two games away from legendary status and a place in English football folklore. This side have already become household names up and down the country thanks to their success last year. Now, they have a chance to be mentioned in the same breath, with the same reverence, as Jeff Hurst, Martin Peters, Gordon Banks, the two ‘Bobbys’ Charlton and Moore and the rest of the Boys of 66′. To scale football’s Everest and stand unrivalled atop the pinnacle. At the zenith of the game as the winners of football’s biggest prize.

Ch-ch-ch changes

England have not played well: indeed, only against China in the final group game with qualification already secure have the real England come to the party. Yet perversely, perhaps their biggest weakness has also become their primary strength. In the Euros, England were free flowing. Fluid. Eye catching. They only really ever looked remotely in danger once, against Spain in the quarter finals. There was no doubt they were the best team in the tournament, and by some considerable distance.

This time it’s different. Far from the comforts of home, England have traipsed about as far away from Blighty as it is possible to be. Leah Williamson is absent, so too Beth Mead, Fran Kirby and the retired Ellen White. Kiera Walsh very nearly joined that club. Is it because of these injuries to the spine of their Euros-winning squad that England have yet to peak Down Under? Or the result of? Either way, there is no doubt we have seen a very different side to Wiegman’s charges over these five games. But isn’t that what the best teams do? Isn’t that what makes a side truly great – it’s all well and good having a Plan A, but you need to have a Plan B and even a Plan C too. England have certainly shown the female equivalent of cojones; whatever that may be.

Roaring Lionesses find a way

It’s testament to the resilience, determination and sheer force of will coursing through their veins England have, continually somehow, found a way. They found a way in the face of a fierce Nigerian onslaught. They recovered from a goal down against the combative Colombians in Saturday’s quarter final. They survived Walsh’s serious looking injury in the Denmark game. Lauren James stupidity in the last 16 tie with the African champions only served to make them dig deeper. Deeper than they have ever had to dig before under Wiegman. Where many expected a comfortable victory, England just about made it to the sanctuary of a shootout before coming through. Every box ticked. Every test passed. No side has had to fight harder to get this far. Whilst giants have been toppled all around them, England have stood up to be counted – and survived.

Quiet and undemonstrative, Wiegman’s calm demeanour has rubbed off on her players and she has instilled something quite remarkable in this group of players. They now feel they can conquer all comers no matter the scene, setting, situation or scenario. They are battle hardened and ready for anything thrown at them.

England out to poop Aussie party

As well they might because now comes the toughest test of all. When England walk out on Wednesday in sweltering Sydney, they will not only face the eleven Matildas of Australia, but the collective force of an entire nation. England are fourth in the world, Australia six places lower. On face value, that alone makes the Lionesses favourites. But the Aussies are riding the crest of a wave. The Aussies have Sam Kerr, possibly the greatest centre-forward in the women’s game, back fit and ready to be unleashed. They feel it’s their destiny on the biggest stage of all. They would love nothing more than to get one over on those pesky ‘Poms’ en route to their finest footballing hour. England will have even fewer friends than normal in three days time.

Australia were the team to inflict Wiegman’s first defeat as England boss. Granted it was only a friendly, but it served notice of how dangerous Australia are and the threat they pose.

History beckons, glory awaits

Should England get past Australia to reach a first World Cup final – and a second in succession for Dutch coach Wiegman – the resurgent Spaniards or the silky, suave Swedes stand in their way. England beat both in the Euros and so will fear neither but Sweden in particular have thrown down a marker when they beat ertswhile champions USA. They then followed that up with another impressive win over hotly tipped Japan.

So it all comes down to this: this time next week there will be a new world champion. Spain, Sweden, Australia or, indeed, England. Carpe diem, ladies, carpe diem. As the slogan for our Olympics in 2012 so proudly proclaimed: Inspire a Generation. Our girls have already done that whatever happens. They have earned respect and admiration from even the most tight-lipped of sceptical men. No longer is the England Women’s football team merely an afterthought, a footnote, a token gesture.

Oh by the way: they brought it home last summer, so what do we sing this time?

Visit to IWM Duxford 12.08.23

A first ever visit to one of the country’s most famous airfields as I set out for a day amongst the legends at IWM Duxford.

An ‘airshow with a difference’

We arrived at the sleepy but iconic Cambridgeshire venue for the fourth ‘Flying Day’ of the year.

Whilst not an ‘airshow’ in the traditional sense, the two hours of flying was scheduled for the early afternoon which enabled us to have a look around the extensive hangars which housed fascinating and historic types both old and new.

Where else would one see the first Tiger Moth nestled alongside a prototype for the Eurofighter Typhoon?

We arrived at around 10.30am and wandered up the flight path past Sally B and the Catalina (both of whom are based here, more on the latter in a bit) and entered the ‘AirSpace’ hangar. Here, the first aircraft we encountered was the beautifully maintained and perfectly restored Handley Page Victor – one of Britain’s three famous ‘V’ bombers and towering over us with its impressive stature and size.

My Duxford debut

I had a look inside the Concorde prototype, whilst there was also early variants of the RAF’s warhorses – a Harrier and a Panavia Tornado – hanging from the ceiling.

Over 30 aircraft are on show in this area alone, with other notable types including one of only two TSR2s, an Airco DH9 and an English Electric Canberra.

The next hangar featured an eclectic variety of Duxford’s airworthy machines, owned by the airfield’s private companies and featuring several classic warbirds such as the Vought Corsair, a P51 Mustang, P47 Thunderbolt, several Spitfires, and the P-40F.

Duxford’s maritime exhibition holds a number of naval aircraft and vessels alike, with highlights here including the Sea Vixen, Westland Wasp vintage heli and a carrier-borne Vampire.

A step back in time

With time now ticking down towards the opening flying display, Hangar 4 told the story of our nation during the Battle of Britain. We sat in a Spitfire cockpit and read the story of a crashed Messerschmitt Bf109, forced down over Sussex with an engine blowout, and now sitting proudly amongst her comrades at IWM.

Dominating the Duxford flightline is a series of historic airliners from the very earliest days when Britain became the pioneers of transatlantic travel. Here, I went inside a DH Comet, the world’s first turboprop airliner in the Vickers Viscount, a BEA DC10 and the De Havilland Trident. You get to see inside the cockpit, see the menu the passengers had on board back in the day as well as crew uniform, flight plans, maps and memorabilia from when these airliners operated on UK soil.

Just as we began to find our spot for the start of the small but unique flying display, a heavy shower forced everyone back inside. But it soon passed and the displays started at 2pm exactly as scheduled. Each of Duxford’s Flying Days follow a theme, with the airfield’s links to our nation’s aviation history a strong backdrop. This month’s theme was 19 Squadron, based at Duxford during the Second World War and boasting a certain Mr D.Bader amongst its alumni.

The flying display

Kicking things off was a lovely pairs routine from Duxford’s very own Consolidated Catalina PBY-5A, a once common but now sadly declining feature of the airshow circuit. She flew in formation with an even rarer but no less beautiful old bird in the form of the never-seen-before Lockheed Electra 12.

A pair of Hurricanes then took centre stage before Phil Hardisty and Alex Lewton led a graceful and balletic two-ship routine in their De Havilland Chipmunks.

On the day England’s pride of Lionesses battled through to the World Cup semi finals, it was perhaps fitting a lady pilot broke with the overall intensity of the day. Diana Britten upped the ante in her self-built French aircraft, the Mudry CAP232, to tear around the Duxford airspace with an unlimited aerobatic display full of twists, tumbles, gyroscopic stall turns and knife edge passes aplenty.

The penultimate display featured another gorgeous pairs performance as the Fighter Collection’s Gloster Gladiator teamed up with another Duxford resident, the Hawk 75, for a flypast as a duo before both broke away into eye-catching solo routines.

What would Duxford be without that very epitome of any Battle of Britain airfield? Closing the 90 minute programme of flying came not one, not even two but a trio of very rare and early Supermarine Spitfire Mark Is. The low, evocative growl of the iconic and spine tingling Merlin engines proved a captivating culmination to the schedule and, as ever, conjured up memories of Britain in the 40s with a wonderful showcase of our nation’s most beloved aeroplane. Whilst all the displays were good and very varied, my personal favourite was the graceful lines and throaty roar of the Hawk 75 piloted by warbird legend Pete Kynsey.

An av geek’s dream

With that, we headed over to the far side of the airfield to finish off the day in style with, in my view, my favourite museum of the lot – the American air one.

The first thing you notice when you walk in here is the sheer size of some of the aircraft. The exhibition is dominated by the almighty frame of the USAF B52 Stratofortress. It’s hard to believe this actually landed here to take up residence at Duxford – the authorities had to close the M11 to allow the enormous bomber extra room with all weapons and accessories stripped away to make it light enough to land!

The SR71, F-111, F-15E Eagle and another B17 were all fabulous to see here. An A10 Thunderbolt hangs from the ceiling whilst a collection of historic American biplanes are dwarfed by their massive neighbours. A particularly emotional moment was a small segment in the far corner dedicated to the 11 September attacks of 2001 including a few charred pieces of twisted metal from one of the twin towers.

After a brief detour via the Land Warfare hall, the time had come to head for home. I arrived back home in Sussex shortly after 10pm, tired but happy to finally seen all that IWM Duxford has to offer. Until next time…

An update from me..

Hi all, it’s been a while!

But I am still here, keeping busy cracking on. I thought I’d update you with a big change in the course of my life and career. I have a new full time job (hence the lack of posts on here, I don’t have as much time now!)

A new start at SafeSite

For the last three months, I have been plying my trade as Marketing Copywriter for SafeSite Facilities. Who are they, I hear you ask.

We are an industry leading construction safety management company. We provide products and services to cater for events, construction sites, roadworks and property development projects. Barriers, fences, hoarding – you name it, we do it. SafeSite Security Solutions provide vacant property management from pigeon guano removal, sharps removal, CCTV, security screens and human waste clean up to name but five.

I had an initial interview on the 10th March via Teams and was then put forward to the second stage. This was a copywriting task in which I had to write an article as if for the local press. It involved looking at the top events in Sussex this summer as a way to show how SafeSite could help. From there, mine was chosen as the pick of the bunch and the job was mine. Life had been a grind for me having struggled to get a ‘break’ since leaving uni. I had been trying to scrape a living as a freelancer, so I was relieved and happy to finally be earning a steady and reliable income in a field I feel I excel at and enjoy. Bring it on..

The story so far..

I started out in the job on 30th March, commuting into our head office in Littlehampton from my home in Southwick, a train journey of 25 minutes followed by a 20 minute brisk stroll into HQ.

My day-to-day duties include pretty much anything: from updating social media (particularly LinkedIn), filing copy for the website, collating and writing content for our internal monthly newsletter and helping to put together specification sheets and installation guides.

I also write case studies which are features looking at SafeSite projects throughout the country – what the job was, what barriers we used, how many have been deployed, what the outcome was etc.

No two days are the same, the role is very varied and I never know what I’m walking in to which makes life exciting and keeps me on my toes. I’m halfway through my probation and on track to continue beyond September.

It has had its challenges: one of my former colleagues (who has since left the business) made my early days difficult by refusing to listen to fresh ideas and acting hostile towards anyone who suggested change (he threw a chair in a board meeting, almost started a fight and would blow his lid at even the slightest issue). It felt like we were treading on eggshells, he had to go and jumped before he was pushed – thank goodness!

Chatham (A)

So what else has been going down? On the 1st July I went to a gaming festival in Chatham with Joe, Chelsea, Hannah and Liam. There were many fun activities on offer for our group of intrepid adventurers, I tried my hand at VR, Mortal Kombat and axe throwing. Sadly I wasn’t able to launch an F35 off a carrier in Portsmouth as there were no slots left on the BaE Systems flight simulator! Typical that – it was the one thing I really want to do. That disappointment aside and despite not being much of a gamer, I enjoyed myself seeing the gang for a day out doing something different. Whilst there we also had a guided tour of RN Cold War submarine HMS Ocelot – very cramped and mad to think up to 70 men lived on board for months at a time. I couldn’t even stretch out on the bunk beds!

Duxford days

Next month I will lose my status as a Duxford virgin when we visit the famous Cambridgeshire airbase for one of the ‘Flying Days’. The ’19 Squadron’ event takes place on the afternoon of 12th August where we tour the IWM before a two to three hour flying display during the afternoon. The airshow at Eastbourne, an ever popular event in these parts, is the following weekend – it’s become something of a tradition for me, the seafront shows are always nice and I’m hoping for a ‘knock your socks off’ participant from overseas. We can but dream!

Nihon, kimashita…Japan (A)

And so it’s official. I’m going to Japan! The land of the rising sun, of the samurai, sumo and sushi. The land of the cherry blossoms, anime, Mount Fuji, shinto shrines and the world famous shinkansen (the bullet train to us English folk). Oh, and winners of probably the greatest rugby union match of all time.


Seven short months from now, in October 2023, myself and six friends from university will embark on the two-week trip of a lifetime, a trip of over 5,000 miles to the other side of the world, to an island nation pre-eminent at the top of many a bucket list.

We fly out on 21 October, a marathon 13 hours to Seoul Incheon (Korea) and then a three hour layover before heading to Tokyo Haneda.

So why Japan? Because – to paraphrase George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Everest – ‘because it’s there’. Much like Britain, Japan is small geographically but mighty in stature when it comes to global trade with Japanese cars and technology synonymous in the everyday lives of millions. Karaoke, the backdrop of many a classic night out, originated in Japan. The chances are, if you’re reading this, you will own something manufactured and exported in, or by, Japan.

A country awash with history and heritage – much of it deep rooted in western culture – there are many multi faceted assets of Japanese customs and exports which are part and parcel of our daily lives. Yet for all Japan’s technological influences on the world, ancient gods and traditional eastern cultures are as much a part of the country’s identikit as it’s numerous technological advances.

For me, the ‘quirkiness’ of the country is the main appeal – for example, there’s one vending machine for every 24 people, they have sleeping capsules in the middle of Tokyo and nearly half of the world’s zips are made there. I also like the fact you can get your money back if your train is five seconds late. Imagine if they had that system here…

The culture captivated us – to see life among the world’s eleventh largest population – how different is it to ours? It will be unique and will come as a shock, that’s for sure, but certainly a once in a lifetime experience. Taking our shoes off in a supermarket and slurping (considered a compliment) to name but two. Manchester United are also massive out there (of course we are) so I might even get to mingle with some fellow Reds.

The street markets, the museums (including one entirely devoted to beer), the parks, the temples and the restaurants – including a prison-themed one and one in which your order is taken and served by robots – all catch the eye when it comes to spending twelve days in Tokyo.

For a mountaineer like me, it would be akin to a criminal offence to go to Japan and not at least visit Mount Fuji – even if we don’t actually climb it. One of the world’s most photographed peaks, Fuji (12,389ft) is a Japanese icon and an active volcano to boot – although it has been dormant since 1707 and it’s last signs of volcanic activity came in 1964 so we should be safe! Due to the catastrophic nature of a potential eruption, Fuji is monitored 24 hours a day. The hiking routes on it may well be closed when we are there but you can go up on a cable car and there scenic walks up to it’s slopes. You can get there on the bullet train, killing two birds with one stone. Both the former and the latter are the top two hits on my list during our stay!

When we first started discussing a trip, the cynic in me would have got long odds on our plans actually come to fruition. But yet here we are – the flights are booked, I’ve got my brand new passport, the airBnb is sorted and our itinerary is cooking.

We’ve had weekends away together in London, and in Brighton, but for the seven intrepid adventurers heading to the (very) far east, this will be a holiday we will talk about forever, reminisce for a long time to come and never forget.

Nihon, kimashita (here we come Japan…). Mate ne..

Australian Open 2023: History beckons for maestros of Melbourne

Of the 256 men’s and women’s singles players headed to Melbourne for the first tennis major of 2023, only four remain.

It has been another compelling fortnight of Grand Slam action, from defending champion Rafael Nadal’s early exit to former finalist Andy Murray’s latest acts of derring do.

Only one of the top four women’s seeds made it beyond the round of 16, and an unranked outsider went all the way to the semi finals in both singles draws – unfancied Pole Magda Linette and world no.37 Tommy Paul respectively. Belarussian 24th seed Victoria Azarenka evoked memories of her win here a decade ago with an unlikely run to the last four, only to fall at the penultimate hurdle to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

Saturday’s women’s final offers us a fascinating power battle between two ladies who are about as opposite from one another as it is possible to be. The quiet and introverted Rybakina takes on Azarenka’s compatriot, the outgoing and extroverted Aryna Sabalenka, playing in her first Grand Slam final after winning a major semi final at the fourth time of asking.

Unheralded and still a relative rookie despite her status as reigning Wimbledon champion, Rybakina has crept through the draw almost unnoticed. She began her Australian Open campaign on the outside courts but has dropped only one set en route to the final. The 24-year-old Kazakh has beaten three former Grand Slam champions in successive matches.

Australian Open; Rybakina Sabalenkatennis major, Djokovic, Grand Slam,
Aryna Sabalenka (L) and Elena Rybakina (R) will do battle in the Melbourne final on Saturday

Iga Swiatek, the world’s best female player and winner of two of the last three majors, was vanquished 6-4 6-4 in the fourth round. Jelena Ostapenko, winner at Roland Garros six years ago, had no answer in the last eight before that aforementioned straight setter over Azarenka, who triumphed here in 2012 and again a year later, completed the hat-trick. No one has managed such a feat since Jennifer Capriati 21 years ago.

It’s a tough match to call: purely on rankings alone, Sabalenka will start as favourite but she has never been this far before. Rybakina, 23, will look to take her experience at Wimbledon on to the Rod Laver Arena and her calm demeanour could work in her favour against a vocal opponent who likes to make her feelings known.

The fire and ice meeting pits the calm and composed Rybakina against the fiery and combustible 24-year-old from Belarus. Both players are big hitting baseliners with serve likely to dominate so don’t expect many long rallies. Indeed, Rybakina’s serve has been her biggest weapon but she has also been formidable off the ground in mild conditions suitable for flat groundstrokes.

Sabalenka will return to world no.2 regardless of what happens in the final and could become the first player to win a major whilst competing under a neutral flag. Rybakina will break into the top 10 and could rise as high as #8 with victory on RLA.

If the women’s draw has proved unpredictable, then perhaps the men’s has panned out exactly as we expected. Ever since Nadal and No.2 seed Casper Ruud were both KO’d in the second round, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic – as the highest ranked men left – have been on a collision course. Djokovic did not start his Melbourne campaign particularly well with wobbles in his opening two matches, but since then he has been an unstoppable runaway train.

Bidding for a record extending tenth title at Melbourne Park, Djokovic has a 100% record in Australian Open finals and will start as strong favourite in this cross-generational clash of champion versus challenger. The two players have met once before in a major final when Djokovic demonstrated his remarkable powers of recovery to come back from two sets down and triumph on the Roland Garros clay in 2021.

Victory would, of course, not only extend the Serbian great’s phenomenal record in Melbourne. He will be desperate to equal his great friend and rival Nadal’s record of 22 (TWENTY TWO) Grand Slam titles in the latest installment of the ageing pair’s long and gruelling struggle for supremacy. Djokovic infamously missed last year’s tournament – won by Nadal – after being deported over a row over his vaccination status. Nadal took full advantage and added to his success here with his own Herculean feat as he secured a mind boggling 14th French Open win before Djokovic came roaring back at Wimbledon – his seventh title in SW19. That is only scratching the surface of these two men’s extraordinary exploits.

Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina meet in the women's finalNovak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas face off in the men's final
Djokovic will contest his 33rd major final; Tsitipas will play in only his second

But in Tsitsipas, Djokovic faces one of the contenders to his crown when the time comes for him to hang up his racket. Still only 24, the Greek burst into the spotlight in Melbourne in 2019 when he beat Roger Federer en route to the last four as a 20-year-old. Tsitsipias has lost three previous semi finals at this tournament, but has fully justified his ranking with a deep run this time around. His first three matches were all won in straight sets before a five setter epic against Jannik Sinner set up a last eight meeting with unseeded Czech Jiri Lehecka. Tsitsipas survived a third set wobble in his win over Karen Kachanov in the semis to make the showpiece here for the first time.

At a tournament with a hard-court surface on which he thrives, and in a city where he is warmly backed by its large Greek population, Tsitsipas has long appeared destined for success at the Australian Open. An aggressive baseliner, Tsitsipas uses his athleticism and power to try and dominate the points and wear down his opponents with punishing groundstrokes off both his forehand and backhand.

But to lift the trophy, he must beat a man eleven years his senior who has not lost a match here since 2018 – a record 27 consecutive wins. Everything falls in favour of Djokovic but all the pressure and expectation will be on the shoulders of the man from Serbia.

The winner of Sunday’s high stakes encounter will also become the new world number one.