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From Mo Farah to Bradley Wiggins, relive the most sensational festival of sport

When London lit up the world! From magical Mo to wonderful Wiggo, relive the most sensational festival of sport



01:13 GMT, 29 December 2012

We lit the flame and we lit up the world. Those were the simple words of Lord Coe, his neck flexing with exhilaration in front of a global television audience of three-quarters of a billion. He had promised at the opening ceremony a fortnight earlier that we would do it right, and so we had.

The Games of the XXX Olympiad were closing in front of our spoilt eyes and we were left to reflect on the truth that this was perhaps the best thing Britain had done since winning the Second World War.

The transformational qualities of sport were clear on London's streets. A year before, so-called student protestors had urinated on the statue of Winston Churchill. But in the summer of 2012 Britain rediscovered her senses. People were smiling. Football's tribal enmities had yielded to a more generous sporting spirit. Conversation even broke out on the Tube. This carnival gripped the nation.

Just Momentous: Farah wins the 5,000m final to complete his golden double

Just Momentous: Farah wins the 5,000m final to complete his golden

So much so that, after today's New Year's Honours announcement, an unprecedented four sporting notables await the Queen's sword tip. Arise Sir Ben Ainslie and Sir Bradley Wiggins, knights of sailing and cycling, Sir Dave Brailsford and Sir David Tanner, the foremost performance directors of their era, from cycling and rowing. Then there is Paralympic swimming and cycling gold medallist Sarah Storey, who becomes a dame. There are 78 high-achievers on the special Olympic and Paralympic list.

I had always been a believer in London's potential to deliver a glorious Games. Coe, with a team led by his meticulous No 2 Paul Deighton, was assiduous. Anyway, the country is habitually good at staging great events. The British public generally come round to such occasions when they arrive.

This particular slow-burner was coming at us from Greece. I saw the torch lit in that ludicrous ceremony concocted by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Games among the splendid old stones of ancient Olympia.

A week later, we witnessed the rain briefly lifting at the home of the modern Olympics, the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, as the torch was passed from Greek hands to British. I reported from seat 10D on board BA flight 2012 as the flame shared the front row with the Princess Royal on our journey to the UK.

But it was in Bath on May 22 that my belief in the project became total. It was the day I ran with the Olympic flame. People were standing a dozen deep on either side of the road. Jason Gardener, relay gold medallist from the Athens Games, was a fellow runner. His eyes were moist at seeing all ages and conditions of men and women cheering and waving on the journey through the handsome streets of his home city.

Golden boys: Farah poses with Bolt at the medal ceremony

Golden boys: Farah poses with Bolt at the medal ceremony

This scene was replicated virtually every mile of the torch's progress up and down the land until the night of July 27 arrived. The Opening Ceremony was upon us.

What Danny Boyle had dreamed up in his crazy and creative mind set the whole jaunty mood. Occasionally left-leaning, yes, but it was a phantasmagoria that was undeniably bonkers and brilliant. It was unashamedly made for a home audience – Mr Bean and Only Fools and Horses featured, the first with memorable piano humour. The rest of the world was simply welcome to take from it what they could.

The rehearsal and the schedule contained no mention of the Queen's involvement nor any reference to Churchill. Those extra dimensions were revealed only at the last moment. My first-edition piece, filed as the ceremony was starting, excoriated Boyle for the omissions and was followed by a call to the office: 'Where I say there was no mention of Churchill, can we change that to barely a mention'

The Queen staged surely the greatest coup de theatre in British artistic history when she turned round to say 'Good evening, Mr Bond' from her Buckingham Palace desk. She then supposedly descended to the stadium by parachute, which prompted two American ladies watching the beach volleyball to marvel at the 86-year-old monarch. 'Did you see the Opening Ceremony' one said to the other. 'They even got the Queen to jump out of a helicopter. Can you imagine Obama doing that'

Her Maj looked tired by the time the British team – led by Sir Chris Hoy – paraded in. It had been a long but uplifting night. Coe's speech about the power of sport struck me as sensationally good. He hailed a celebration of 'what is best about mankind'. He went on: 'There is a truth to sport, a purity, a drama, an intensity of spirit that makes it irresistible.

On the Boyle: a stunning opening ceremony by the film director set the tone for the greatest Games in history

On the Boyle: a stunning opening ceremony by the film director set the tone for the greatest Games in history

'To the athletes gathered here, I say that to you is given something which is precious and irreplaceable – to run faster, to jump higher, to be stronger.' Then Lord Coe (or Mr Swan, as he called himself by adopting his grandmother's maiden name during his Games stay at the Intercontinental Hotel, Park Lane) unwound with Lady Coe ahead of the feast of sport that was to come.

And so it all began. It is difficult at a few months' detachment to think just how much we anticipated Mark Cavendish getting us off to a victorious start in the road race. The rest of the world ganged up in an anyone-but-Cav pact. Our dreams dashed.

But it hardly mattered to the party. The route was lined at every yard out to the Surrey hills and back into London. And when Lizzie Armitstead took silver in the women's race the next day we had lift-off – sort of.

But, still, after four days of sport there was no gold to show for the most lavishly funded British team of all time. The success of Beijing four years before – 19 golds, 47 medals – hung heavily. Don't panic, I wrote, our strongest sports had yet to reach the medal stages.

So it was a relief to be at a windless Dorney Lake at 12.24pm on day five to see two girls in a boat deliver that elusive bullion. Heather Stanning, a Royal Artillery captain, and Helen Glover, a PE teacher, led from the start of their pairs final and commanded the race. The team had found the key to Fort Knox.

Hampton Court that afternoon provided perhaps the most famous image of the Games: Tour de France winner Wiggins, long legs crossed and flashing a Churchillian victory sign, on a gaudy throne after winning the road race. He now had seven Olympic medals – more than any Brit including Sir Steve Redgrave. Again, the crowds were immense. We were witnessing the symbiosis of participants and supporters. Enthusiasm fed success, and success fed enthusiasm.

Famous image: Bradley Wiggins on teh throne

Famous image: Bradley Wiggins on teh throne

was our greatest in Games history when we factor in that the numerical high point in 1908 came in a different world altogether. The first of three London-hosted Games lasted 187 days and a third of all competitors were British. It was the tug-of-war era.

Here the superb volunteers had the delight to announce one night as we headed out of the Park: 'Ladies and gentleman, Yorkshire is leading Australia in the medal table.' Nobody can say we do not love sport. Heats were sold out. Sports we hardly understood against nations we could barely find on a map played to full houses. No other country could boast that, including Australia, whose Sydney Olympics in 2000 were generally acknowledged until this summer as the best. The enthusiasm for the Paralympics, complete with a new host of heroes such as Storey, Jonnie Peacock, David Weir and Ellie Simmonds, underlined the point.

You could soak in the atmosphere for free on the road routes or in Hyde Park. Or for the licence fee. Bad news, so often the staple of newspapers, barely existed. Yes, the performance of Ye Shiwen, the 16-year-old Chinese swimming sensation, came under scrutiny. But, suspicions raised, the story faded. A handful of badminton matches were thrown by nations looking to aid their chances in the knockout stages but the stink did not linger.

There were the occasional British disappointments, notably the underperformance of our own swimming team. I sensed the mood in the camp was desperately wrong at the World Championships the year before. They were so downbeat that we can just be thankful they didn't drown.

Swim sensation: China's Ye Shiwen

Swim sensation: China's Ye Shiwen

But if swimming failed, gymnastics, equestrianism, boxing all sparkled. Cycling and rowing inevitably soared. Athletics, though falling below the target set by the Mr Tough Love, aka head coach Charles van Commenee, provided the Games' most memorable evening of British endeavour. It was such a Super Saturday that long jumper Greg Rutherford is in danger of becoming a pub quiz question of the future: who was the third Briton to win a gold medal on the night that Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah both won Rutherford's misfortune, if we can call it that, was to reach the peak of his athletics career in the 44 minutes during which two of the Olympics' poster people reached theirs.

Heptathlon gold was virtually assured by the time Ennis started her final event, the 800 metres, turning it into a double lap of honour. Farah's run to 10,000m glory was packed with tension until his big eyes popped out of his head as he crossed the line first.

That day, Britain won six golds in all, the others coming through our peerless coxless four, women's double scullers and our team pursuit women in the Velodrome. It was gluttony.

We returned to see Farah go for the double the following weekend. Tired after the heats of the 5,000m, the crowd hit one of the two most ear-splitting sounds I heard all Games. The other was in the enclosed ExCeL for the boxing, first for Ireland's Katie Taylor and then our own gold medallist, the open, friendly, Nandos-loving Nicola Adams. But back to Farah. The crescendo of noise that helped push him into the front in the final lap and to withstand the late challenge of Dejen Gebremeskel and Thomas Longosiwa broke the photo-finish equipment. The vibrating stadium was too much for the technology. Thankfully, the winning margin was evident to all 80,000 loud and happy souls in the stands. It was one of the single highlights of the whole Games.

My favourite day was the longest day, the middle Sunday. Up before dawn, Tube to Waterloo, train to Weymouth, taxi to the sailing venue. Ainslie was in the latest fight of his life for a gold medal, this time against a red-bearded Viking called Jonas Hogh-Christensen.

Flying the flag: Ben Ainslie

Flying the flag: Ben Ainslie

Our greatest sailor was being frustrated by the tactics of his rivals. 'You don't want to make me angry,' he told them. After losing the first six races to Hogh-Christensen, he wrenched his way back into contention. In the final race, he went in and then out of gold-medal position. Jacques Rogge, IOC president and himself a former Finn sailor, is an avowed Ainslie admirer. He based his whole day around being free to watch the last act of this particular drama, in which Ainslie dramatically prevailed. A sword's tap awaits the sailor's shoulder.

I run to the waiting taxi, queue for the train then squeeze into a seat for more than an hour. Tube to Stratford, walk into the stadium at 9.20pm. Usain Bolt is off at 9.50pm.

The 100m final – that most stomach-turning event of the whole Games – has arrived. Bolt, who finally admitted he had been struggling with injuries we had reported, was up against his training partner Yohan Blake.

Blake, undefeated all year, had beaten the great man in the Jamaican trials. To what extent was Bolt limited by his back-related travails Could the younger man pull off the bravest heist A reputation was on the line more than a world record was in prospect. Bolt delivered gold in 9.63sec.

If only he had been fit. If only he did not party. If only he gave up the junk food. This is a man who lives by his own rules, a point reinforced when he added the 200m and the 4x100m titles to his c.v. He declared himself a legend and nobody could argue otherwise.

Before the Olympics finished, Bolt was acting out Farah's 'Mobot' celebration. Farah was striking the 'Lightning Bolt' pose. Fun and brilliance conjoined.

In the Velodrome, Victoria Pendleton took her golden leave, hopefully happy in that sometimes mixed-up mind of hers. Laura Trott emerged as cycling's new queen, an image given a glitzy frisson when she was pictured in love with her golden team-mate Jason Kenny. The oak-legged master Hoy was emotional on the podium as he bade goodbye. His second gold of the Games, which was won in the keirin, meant he had won more Olympic golds than anyone else in British history, with six to Redgrave's five.

Cycling's new queen: Great Britain's Laura Trott

Cycling's new queen: Great Britain's Laura Trott

Hoy, a modest man of immodest ability, still reckoned that Redgrave's quintet achieved in five separate Games, conferring longevity, is the greater achievement. I am inclined to agree.

There was so much to marvel at here. We almost forget that Michael Phelps left the pool with a career total of 18 Olympic gold medals – and that's because, in London, the American won a paucity of honours by his standards: just the four golds and two silvers.

We saw Kenya's David Rudisha win the 800m like a horse running against men. Coe hailed him as the star of the Games. It was a touching compliment from one of the greatest middle-distance runners of the ages to another. We revelled in our own heroes and heroines: Katherine Grainger, in the double sculls, winning a gold at last after three silvers. Charlotte Dujardin emerging as a double star with gold in the equestrian team event and the dressage. Nick Skelton winning gold at the age of 54 in the team showjumping.

There was triathlon's Brownlee brothers – Alistair coolly strolling through the line with the Union Flag on his back to take gold; Jonny collecting his bronze once he had been treated for exhaustion. Andy Murray's joy at Wimbledon, where there had been tears just weeks before. Jade Jones, funded by a whip-round in her home town of Flint in North Wales, winning taekwondo gold. Peter Wilson, a tall chap with a nice sense of humour, taking the shooting honours in the double trap. Tom Daley, with a diving bronze just a year after his father and mentor died, doing well to make the headlines among the golden hordes.

Too soon, the show closed on this revitalised eastern edge of the capital. Rio was charged with bringing the youth of the world together for the XXXI Olympics four years hence – no pressure there. The more prosaic debate over legacy commitments took centre stage.

Tears were shed as the flame was extinguished. Pride abounded.

London had lit up the world.

Mo Farah tipped for knighthood

Sir Mo Yeah right! Farah tipped for knighthood after double gold triumph



22:53 GMT, 12 August 2012

In a leafy street in Portland, Oregon, is Mo Farah's home. On the dining-room wall are his trophies. And on that wall, next to a signed Arsenal shirt, is space for a couple of medals.

It is where the gold bullion that he won over two of the most memorable nights in British athletics history will reside when the Somalia-born, London-raised runner returns to the place across the Pond that shaped him for greatness.

He already had two European golds when he took the defining decision of his career, namely to go to the States to work with Alberto Salazar, the three-time New York Marathon winner and maverick coach supreme.

Yea right! Mo Farah has been tipped for a knighthood after his double gold at the London Games

Yea right! Mo Farah has been tipped for a knighthood after his double gold at the London Games

Would the gamble pay off Would Farah's family settle The definitive answer came on Saturday night when he won the Olympic 5,000 metres to go with the 10,000m title he had won on the previous Super Saturday.

'It was awesome,' he said. 'I just can't believe it. Double Olympic champion. You do have a dream as an athlete.

You dream of becoming Olympic champion but then to do it twice, in your home town, words can't describe it.'

Lord Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee, did manage to find the right words, saying: 'He will go down indelibly in British track and field as probably the greatest athlete we have produced.'

It is understood that Farah's feats will win him a knighthood, along with two other of the Games' high achievers: four-time gold medallists sailor Ben Ainslie and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.

I asked Farah on Sunday what a sword's touch would mean to him. His face immediately broke into the widest of the many wide smiles he wore on Sunday.

'Yeah right,' he said. 'I don't know about a knighthood. I've never thought of it. It would be something amazing if that did happen.'

Just as amazing, possibly, as what most certainly did happen.

Farah is also a contender for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year

Farah is also a contender for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year

Farah is also a contender for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year

Only six men had ever achieved what he accomplished here, the 5,000m and 10,000 double: the flying Finn Hannes Kolehmainen, Czech Emil Zato-pek, Soviet fighter Vladimir Kuts, the immortal Finn Lasse Viren (who did the double twice), Ethiopia's Miruts Yifter and his compatriot Kenenisa Bekele.

Farah delivered a run of perfect judgment in what was for a long part a pedestrian race. It ended with scorching pace.

He went through the l ine in a way reminiscent of Coe winning the 1500m at Moscow 32 years previously -arms outstretched, his mouth manically wide and his eyes popping out of his head. His antics only got better.

He took Usain Bolt's lead and, where the Jamaican had done some press-up, he did sit-ups. Both men were on the track for their respective medal ceremonies, Bolt for the 4x100m relay.

They swapped their trademark celebration: Bolt did Farah's Mobot, putting his hands to the top middle of his head to make an 'm' with his elbows, and Farah mimicked Bolt's lightning strike pose. All very amusing.

'I can't believe he did the Mobot when he was breaking the world record,' said Farah, 29, who must be the chief challenger to Wiggins for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

'Usain and I get on really well. He's a busy guy but I always talk to him when I see him. We have a good relationship. My daughter Rhianna loves him and when he came over that made her day.

At No 10: Farah performed his trademark Mobot celebration alongside prime minister David Cameron

At No 10: Farah performed his trademark Mobot celebration alongside prime minister David Cameron

'He gave her a hug and she took a picture with him. She was like, “Bolt! Bolt! Bolt!” She was more bothered about Bolt than my medals.'

But back to Salazar, a Cuban who insists on a massive work ethic but marries that philosophy to space-age technology. Farah admits that when he moved over to the States he 'ran like a girl'.

He said: 'I mean that in terms of not moving my arms and, when I'm tired, being all over the place. So I trained my core, did weights, ran on the underwater treadmill.'

He won the world 5,000m title last year under Salazar's tutelage. 'It turned out to be a genius move,' he added. 'There were a lot of questions asked at the time because I came back double European champion and people were like, “Mo, why you changing it when everything's going so well”

Another contender: Bradley Wiggins could also receive a knighthood for his Tour de France and Games triumphs

Another contender: Bradley Wiggins could also receive a knighthood for his Tour de France and Games triumphs

'But I was coming sixth, seventh in world events. If I hadn't made that change I wouldn't be here today. Everyone was there in the last lap, you saw it, and it's the extra one or two per cent that counts. I've always had it; I just haven't been able to finish as strong.'

Still, Farah is looking to the future, personally and professionally. He and wife Tanya have twins on the way. 'Apparently they've got long legs,' he said.

'We went for a scan. Their dad's got long legs and so have they. They could follow me into running.' The marathon, possibly London next year, awaits, and it could earn him 500,000 if he wins. Before then he would like a nice car to celebrate.

'A Jaguar maybe A Ferrari' He was asked how he can be a legend, as if he is not one already.

More medals, more records, more distances, he said. The Mobot keeps on going. For us, though, there is time to reflect on Farah's contribution to London 2012 and what many observers believe was the greatest track meeting ever staged.

Usain Bolt


The 100 metres, 200m and 4x100m (with a world record) all fell to the ultimate entertainer. He even did all that in a total competition time of just 99 seconds. Rio may be an Olympiad too far for his dodgy back but didn't we fear for him here The Greatest of his era in any sport.


The centrepiece of two of the most fabled nights of sport ever staged in this country. His win in the 10,000m came in 45 minutes that delivered three British medals – unforgettable. His 5,000m victory a week later was perhaps even better.


The Kenyan provided the near-Beamon moment of these Games. His 800m win was simply majestic. Out on his own, totally unconcerned with the rest of the field, he broke his own world record with 1min 40.91sec.


Sir Chris Hoy and Ben Ainslie left the Olympic stage with gold medals, Hoy's sixth and Ainslie's fourth over four Games. Both steeled themselves to acts of conspicuous competitiveness. Will they be back


Described by performance director Dave Brailsford as a once-in-alifetime cyclist, she showed her brilliance during many energyfilled nights of success in the Velodrome. Her two golds and Victoria Pendleton's valedictory one formed part of the British women's dazzling success story.

Leicester, Derby and Nottingham Forest – problems and solutions

Trio of under-achievers face big questions ahead of another summer of upheaval



21:16 GMT, 22 March 2012

This appeared in the pages of Sportsmail's Championship feature on Tuesday.

'Biggest underachievers Leicester. They spent big, sacked Sven and have stuttered under Nigel Pearson. Derby's fans deserve better than mid-table obscurity. Relegation-threatened Forest have lost 11 games at home.'

I didn't write that. But it's difficult to disagree with any of it, isn't it Let's take them one-by-one.



Apart from West Ham, they probably have the biggest wage bill in the Championship. The likes of Jermaine Beckford, David Nugent and Matt Mills have not arrived at the King Power Stadium on the cheap.

So far, results have not matched that spend. As I write, an eight-point gap between the Foxes and the play-offs needs to be closed. With nine games left, it looks like Leicester will fall short.

Duo: David Nugent (left) and Jermaine Beckford provide Leicester's threat

Duo: David Nugent (left) and Jermaine Beckford provide Leicester's threat

Eriksson, who it has to be said was charm personified with the Fifth Estate, did not do himself too many favours. The plan was to assemble a squad with two players available for every position. The thinking was that this would enable the Foxes to fight a lengthy campaign with fresh legs.

However, once these now recruits began to pitch up, any team spirit fostered through a difficult campaign last season soon disappeared. Regulars were looking at each other wondering whether or not they would feature. It is difficult to integrate such a large number of newcomers and immediately bond.

You might think the above is a load of codswallop. I would just urge you to look at Manchester City. It takes time for players and the management staff to get to grips with the raised expectations. And they do not come much higher than those at the Etihad.


So far, Nigel Pearson seems to have found a way to spark Beckford and Nugent. His bust-up with Mills may signal the end of the centre-half's spell at the club. It will be interesting to see whether a return to Southampton is on the cards, should the Saints march back to the Premier League.

Next season, I expect to see several signings and more of a bonded team spirit that was the hallmark of Pearson's promotion campaign from League One. The Thai owners are men-in-a-hurry but some stability is needed. The Foxes had a job recruiting a manager last season, Pearson needs to be left alone to mould his squad.



Nigel Clough has had a difficult balancing act since arriving at Pride Park. Thirty-nine professionals were on the books and the club was operating way over its' playing budget.

The Rams' boss wants to create a young, dynamic and hungry group and, given the fact that they are likely to end up in mid-table, he has done a reasonable job on the playing side.

However, that has to be married to the fact that Clough also has had to do this while carrying out quite strict reductions to his wage bill. It has come down by about 40 per cent since he arrived.

Disappointment: Derby wanted to be challenging higher up the table

Disappointment: Derby wanted to be challenging higher up the table

When those two factors are combined, Clough is in credit. But Derby's supporters – who have again backed the club in serious numbers – will be looking to see what work can be done this summer. And it could be that success isn't too far away.

They have several players who could cut it at any club in the Championship. John Brayford, Shaun Barker and Steven Davies impressed last season. Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick have come through this year. Honorable mentions to Messers, Tyson, Roberts and Shackell too.

However, there is a recurring problem with injuries that seem to afflict the Rams more than any other club. Clough's problem is trying to get them all on the pitch for any length of time. As I write, news has just broken of Barker's injury. Shame for the lad and typical of the Rams' luck.


Clough now needs to find a dominant centre-half in Barker's mould ahead of next season. Luke Chambers is out of contract…. And Clough could really do with a little jack-in-the-box, too. Someone to play with a little bit of guile off a striker. He's not too far away. But how you end that injury misery, I don't know. Answers on a postcard please.

Nottingham Forest


First, if the filip of a seven-goal thumping of Leeds United isn't sufficient to give Steve Cotterill's group sufficient boost to see them pick up a few wins between now and the end of the season, I don't know what will. That will be a good start, preserving Forest's status in the Championship.

Away from the pitch itself the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the ownership issue will dominate during the next few months at the City Ground. That will certainly shape the club going forward.

When any club operates at a loss with the owner footing the bill, there is always an inherent danger. Nigel Doughty's sudden death has brought that into focus.

On the up: Nottingham Forest bounced back from a woeful start

On the up: Nottingham Forest bounced back from a woeful start

It will be impossible to judge just how and what Cotterill should do until the financial situation becomes clear.

He has one or two gaping holes to fill anyway. As mentioned above, Chambers is out-of-contract, likewise keeper Lee Camp and now Gareth McLeary is likely to follow suit.

After a sticky start, Cotterill deserves credit for getting the best out of McLeary and bringing in some Premier League experience in the shape of Adlene Guedioura, George Elokobi and Danny Higginbotham. They have certainly played a part in turning around Forest's fortunes.

But there are several big earners who it will be difficult to shift. Jonathan Greening and Ishmael Miller are two, for instance. It will be a very interesting summer at the City Ground.


There isn't a lot that can be done until the financial picture becomes a lot clearer. That may not happen in time for the likes of Chambers, McLeary et al to be given new deals.

A gaping hole has been left by Doughty's passing, it looks like Cotterill will have to wheel and deal this summer. Forest's fans look like they will be playing a game of wait and see.

Impressive: Tyrone Barnett

Impressive: Tyrone Barnett

Fry and Fergie Jnr have done the trick again

It is not too often that the Midlands' patch stretches to London Road.

Normally, only when there is a cup-tie with worthy opponents do we get to see Peterborough United in action. But Darren Ferguson's second spell looks like reaping rich reward.

He has one or two players there, like Paul Taylor, Grant McCann and Tyrone Barnett, who look capable of moving onwards and upwards. Ryan Bennett's exit to Norwich City landed Posh with a considerable windfall.

And this policy of giving hungry strikers such as Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron McLean a platform to showcase their talents at a higher level is sensible. Barnett, in particular, caught the eye with his work-rate on Tuesday night against Reading.

It may well be that my old mate Barry Fry and Ferguson have done the trick again….

Villa continue hospice support

Finally, it gladdens the soul somewhat to see that Aston Villa have continued their support of the Acorns children's hospice.

It was picked up by the mainstream media when the charity's name was on the front of Villa's shirts a couple of seasons ago. But Villa have continued this association which it is to be hopes is making a real and lasting difference.

Despite losing 54m last year, Randy Lerner matched the 54,000 raised at the Fulham game, boosting the charities' coffers to the tune of 108,000.

For more information, click here

Gervinho interview: Ivory Coast and Arsenal have good players but don"t win anything

'Ivory Coast are like Arsenal… good players but no trophies!' Gervinho's silverware quest for club and country

As a boy growing up in the Ivory Coast during the 1990s, Yao Kouassi Gervais collected trophies like they were going out of fashion. Now he is desperate for more.

Gervinho, as we know him, watched with delight as his country won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1992 and Arsenal, the team he supported, lifted endless trophies under Arsene Wenger. But now, with the 24-year-old enjoying his first season at the Emirates and about to take part in his third Africa Cup of Nations, both are suffering from trophy droughts.

Ivory Coast have not won anything since that victory 20 years ago and Arsenal have not seen silverware since their 2005 FA Cup win.

Trophy quest: Gervinho is on a mission

Trophy quest: Gervinho is on a mission

The increasingly difficult hunt for a medal with Arsenal must sit on the back burner for now as the next few weeks is all about helping hot favourites Ivory Coast to win Africa’s biggest tournament. Premier League managers might not like it but the next three weeks in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea really matter — especially to these perennial under-achievers.

‘The Ivory Coast are like Arsenal,’ says Gervinho, breaking out into a grin. ‘The Ivory Coast have not won a trophy since 1992. We’ve got good players and every time we approach a tournament, we say we are going to win it and then we miss out. This year I would really like to win with both Arsenal and Ivory Coast. I am going to win a trophy this year.’

When you meet Gervinho, you notice how much stronger and bigger he is than the spindly figure he seems on TV. Tattoos of his three children’s names cover his arms and he is friendly, too, laughing and smiling. The only disappointment is that his backwards baseball cap hides one of the Premier League’s more eccentric hairstyles. Those braids were done by a hairdresser friend in Lille.

International: Gervinho hopes he can end Ivory Coast's long wait for a trophy

International: Gervinho hopes he can end Ivory Coast's long wait for a trophy

Goal: Gervinho insists he will win a trophy this year

Goal: Gervinho insists he will win a trophy this year

Ivory Coast have been favourites at the last three African championships. In Egypt in 2006 they went closest to winning the trophy, losing a penalty shootout to the hosts in the final, with Didier Drogba among those to fail from 12 yards. They were unlucky, although most observers agreed Egypt played the better football during the tournament.

The same opponents thumped them 4-1 two years later in the last four in Ghana, while Algeria scored twice in time added on to knock them out in the last eight two years ago. Each time there was so much hope, each time there was failure.

It makes little sense when you look at a squad who boast names such as Gervinho, Drogba, Kolo and Yaya Toure, Emmanuel Eboue and Cheick Tiote.

The fact so many names are so recognisable is largely down to a man called Jean-Marc Guillou, a former France midfielder who gave Wenger his break in coaching when he appointed him as his assistant manager at Cannes in 1983. He is also the man who set up the renowned academy in Ivory Coast’s former capital Abidjan which produced the Toures, Eboue, Salomon Kalou and Gervinho, to name but a few.

Guillou founded the academy in 1993, setting up trials for which around 5,000 football-crazy young men turned up. It provided a home for talented players who travelled in hope of a ticket away from Abobo, the poor, humid district of the city which was home to most of them. It is an area full of migrants with little money, an area struggling to deal with the effects of drug trafficking.

Contenders: Manchester City are the newest addition to the list of Arsenal's title rivals

Contenders: Manchester City are the newest addition to the list of Arsenal's title rivals

Friends: Gervinho is good friends with Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou

Friends: Gervinho is good friends with Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou

‘We were in a boarding school,’ says Aruna Dindane, the former Portsmouth striker who has played for his country 67 times and is now plying his trade in Qatar.

‘They did everything for us. We were like little kings. Guillou is our spiritual father. He didn’t just come to develop footballers and leave. He lived through something special with us. We wrote history together.’

The role of Guillou as a spiritual father is one that comes up again and again. It is because the academy did not offer only football — it provided a home, food, education and plenty of attention and face-to-face time with Guillou.

Gervinho was part of the Puskas year of trainees at the academy, each year group named after a legend of the game. Gervinho’s good friend Kalou — they still regularly play PlayStation together online — was in the Armando class, for example, named after the great Diego Maradona.

‘When I went to the academy, we watched Arsenal because of Guillou’s connection with Arsene,’ says Gervinho, who came to England via Beveren in Belgium and Le Mans and Lille in France.

'He knows Arsene well and his academy had the same philosophy as Arsenal. Arsenal have always been a dream of mine and I always thought one day I would go there.

Link: Gervinho will link up with a host of Premier League stars for the Ivory Coast, including Yaya Toure

Link: Gervinho will link up with a host of Premier League stars for the Ivory Coast, including Yaya Toure

‘During the holidays, professional players would come and say hello to us in the academy and that really made you want to be a professional. When you saw what great conditions they lived in, it gave you even more desire.

'I say today that, thanks to football, my family are able to live well. Thanks to football, I live a decent life. Football has allowed me to see a lot of things, meet a lot of people; it has allowed me to come to the best club here and play with great players. It has allowed me to be trained by one of the best coaches in the world. Football has saved my family.’

It was there that his nickname was born. Brazilian coach Gustavo Carlos decided Gervinho reflected the excitement and flair in his game. It fits his celebrity status now — he is so popular back home that one band penned a song about how he has transformed lives.

Help win that elusive trophy in the next few weeks and he will transform a whole lot more.

Arsenal's global charity partner is Save the Children. Gervinho joins his team-mates in supporting the partnership in a number of ways including donating a day’s wages to the initiative which will help to support a range of education projects in the UK and overseas, helping the poorest children get a better start in life and giving them the chance to grow and fulfil their potential.

For information about the partnership, and to get involved, visit www.arsenal.com/savethechildren

To make a donation and support education projects, visit www.justgiving.com/beagoonerbeagiver

Gary Ablett was a cultured player and a pure gent – Jamie Redknapp

Gary Ablett was a cultured player and a pure gent

The Liverpool bus that took us from Anfield to the training ground when I first arrived at the club could be an intimidating place.

Banter, humour – nothing out of the ordinary, but some of it especially challenging for a 17-year-old new boy.

On the bus were some senior players, heavyweight achievers in football, household names with medals galore. Alan Hansen, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Ronnie Whelan and Steve McMahon were among them.

Hero: Gary Ablett (far left) with a Liverpool legends team in 2009

Hero: Gary Ablett (far left) with a Liverpool legends team in 2009

John Barnes became a great friend and someone I could admire and look up to, he became a hero of mine.

But I will never forget Day One. I climbed on to the bus thinking, 'What am I doing here' having moved from Bournemouth, where I had been used to playing for my dad and being around the club since I was a young teenager who should have been at school.

One of the good guys: Ablett in 1986

One of the good guys: Ablett in 1986

Now I was a Liverpool player. Any new signing will tell you it can take a while to settle and it's especially intimidating for a young boy living in digs and fresh from home.

Day One was when John beckoned to me: 'Come and sit here, son'. Gary Ablett was next to him and made room for me. The two of them extended a welcome to me on that first bus journey and Gary often kept an eye out for me after that.

One word to sum up Gary for me Classy.

He was a friendly face, a smashing lad and had a great sense of humour, too. He would join in when the banter was flying, but never in a nasty fashion. He didn't look to score points off people.

He was my room-mate too in the early days. Perhaps the management thought I needed looking after by one of the kinder professional players.

You would normally room with your mates or with someone of a similar age, but it was never uneasy rooming with Gary. He made it comfortable with his calm, welcoming manner.

Rare ability: Centre-back Ablett excelled at both Mersey giants

Rare ability: Centre-back Ablett excelled at both Mersey giants

And he was a good player, too. Cultured left foot, played with his head up, picked his passes; tall and slim. You don't get to play more than 200 League games for the two Merseyside clubs if you can't play.

He could play left back or centre back and was at ease in both positions. He had a good mentor in Hansen.

I heard he was becoming a very talented coach, which didn't surprise me. He had that way about him.

I was in touch with him about a year ago. 'Keep strong,' I said. What more can you say You never find the right words or the words never seem enough. I wish I had time to say more to him.