Tag Archives: forces

Artificial pitches are coming to Rugby Union

Fantastic plastic will end the winter mudbaths for the better, despite what traditionalists might say

|

UPDATED:

00:19 GMT, 21 December 2012

Those ‘traditionalists’ who are permanently up in arms about any change to the precious status quo have a prime new focus for concern and complaint.

Artificial pitches are coming.

The purists will have a field day, so to speak.

There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth when Saracens take their place at the vanguard of the revolution by moving to Allianz Park, their new home in Barnet, next month.

A thing of the past: Mudbaths of the like which led to this famous image of Fran Cotton will become a thing of the past when artificial pitches are brought into rugby union

A thing of the past: Mudbaths of the like which led to this famous image of Fran Cotton will become a thing of the past when artificial pitches are brought into rugby union

There they will play on a synthetic surface, which will also be available to the community.

It has emerged that Wales are considering the use of artificial turf at the Millennium Stadium, where there have been endless problems with the grass.

No doubt, the prospect of Tests being played on a hi-tech, all-weather carpet will crank up the traditionalists’ anger still further.

Such resistance is absurd. This is positive progress, not something that betrays the heritage of the sport.

Much of the opposition is based on the out-dated notion of so-called ‘plastic pitches’ being dangerous.

But the state-of-the-art surfaces, with grass yarn laid on rubber, are far removed from old-fashioned Astroturf.

Pioneers: Saracens will have an artificial pitch when they move to their new home, Allianz Park in Barnet, next month

Pioneers: Saracens will have an artificial pitch when they move to their new home, Allianz Park in Barnet, next month

They have been heavily tested and
declared safe. Improved grip means less danger of scrum collapses, which
in turn reduces a major source of serious injury.

Part
of the argument against this innovation is that teams must deal with
what the forces of nature throw at them. Well, this is Britain, so there
is plenty of rain and wind to keep rugby real.

And
if games at the Millennium Stadium end up being played under a closed
roof, on a fake grass pitch, as if in a vacuum, this column has no
complaints.

The most talented players will still manage to stand apart, even if basic skills are easier to perform.

Let’s
face it, no-one has ever gone to a match in the hope of seeing slips
and knock-ons. The end of winter mud-baths leading to stodgy contests
wouldn’t be lamented here.

Six Nations winners Wales are considering artificial turf at the Millennium Stadium

Six Nations winners Wales are considering artificial turf at the Millennium Stadium

The
iconic picture of Fran Cotton looking like a creature from the swamps
would serve as an image of a historical reference point.

If summer rugby is not on the agenda (more’s the pity) then these durable, consistent surfaces represent a compromise.

Traditionalists
presumably still pine for heavy, cotton shirts and heavy, leather
balls, not to mention rotund props who can’t run and have to perform a
forfeit if they actually throw a pass.

Move on — the game is changing, for the better in this case.

More from Chris Foy…

Chris Foy: Crowd at HQ must roar to silence wails of the Welsh
06/12/12

Chris Foy: Early World Cup draw can sow seeds of discontent
29/11/12

Chris Foy: New guru Parker will soon learn rugby is not an exact science
22/11/12

Chris Foy world of rugby: Lam's back, so it could be the chop for Howley
15/11/12

Chris Foy: Six injured and counting, Lancaster needs stability
01/11/12

World of rugby: Ireland facing the music as Strauss gets a call-up
25/10/12

Chris Foy: More referees will follow Lawrence's example and quit if this hounding goes on
18/10/12

Chris Foy: Let's play! Time for TV war to take a back seat as the Heineken Cup returns
11/10/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Quote of the week

Brian O’Driscoll on his lifestyle changes: ‘I have the T-shirt from going out in my twenties, I don’t go out nearly as much as I used to. You get to a point where your life and family situation dictates certain things and you are just content in living that way.

As a 22-year-old you look at guys like me now — 32-33 — and you say, “Jeesus, settled down and married, I couldn’t imagine anything worse”. But I look at the 22-year-olds now and I say, “You can keep your wild lifestyle”. I have been there, lived it, enjoyed it, but you just shelve that. God forbid, it’s dinner parties I go to now, not nightclubs!’

Sarries out of tune with Munster

While the bold step of installing an artificial pitch illustrates the best of Saracens, what happened in Watford last weekend showed the club in a much dimmer light.

Those who were at Vicarage Road for the visit of Munster will not forget the Tannoy torture in a hurry.

With a huge contingent of away fans in attendance and in fine voice, as ever, a conscious decision was made to dilute their impact on proceedings by blaring out the awful ‘Stand up for the Saracens’ over the public-address system.

Saracens will have artificial turf when they move to their new home, Allianz Park next month

New feel: Saracens will have artificial turf when they move to their new home, Allianz Park next month

That one, grating line was repeated perhaps a thousand times during the game — often cynically played louder if Munster fans were singing.

It didn’t just ruin their experience, it also antagonised many home fans too, judging by angry comments on the club’s website.

Saracens don’t have enough loyal supporters to alienate the ones they do have. This was a terrible error of judgment and must not be repeated.

In addition, the authorities should ban this barrage of music while the game is taking place. Before, after and at half-time is fine, but not during.

New man at the helm: Scott Johnson

New man at the helm: Scott Johnson

The last word

There must be something sensational on Scott Johnson’s c.v., some startling revelations which apparently prove to prospective employers that he is capable of wizardry. Either that, or he’s just a master at talking himself into top jobs.

The Australian has been installed as Scotland’s interim head coach, based on his ‘wealth of experience of international rugby’. Well, he worked in the Wales set-up under Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Mike Ruddock, but was widely implicated in the latter coach’s abrupt exit.

After an abortive stint in charge, Johnson drifted home to act as assistant to the Wallabies. Then he had a brief stint with the USA, and a colourful period of mixed fortunes as Ospreys director of coaching before joining Scotland.

To this day, he is perhaps best known for referring to New Zealand as ‘a poxy little island in the south Pacific’ — which is telling in itself. It may be in Scotland’s best long-term interests if the Six Nations is an unmitigated disaster.

David Bentley happy to swap Spurs for Russia… even with its tanks and snipers

Bentley happy to swap Spurs for Russia… even with its tanks and snipers

|

UPDATED:

21:09 GMT, 13 October 2012

Staring out the team coach to see
tanks, snipers and armed convoys isn't anything David Bentley
experienced with Arsenal, Norwich City, Blackburn Rovers, Tottenham and
England.

But having taken the decision to
'leave the comfort zone' and become the first English player to move to
the Russian Premier League, Bentley hasn’t been disappointed so far by
his adventures two thousand miles away with FK Rostov.

Pioneer: David Bentley is enjoying life at Rostov

Pioneer: David Bentley is enjoying life at Rostov

Last weekend, while Spurs were enjoying a comfortable 2-0 victory against Aston Villa at White Hart Lane, Bentley and his new team-mates endured one of the more daunting fixtures in the European football calendar, Terek Grozny away.

It involved a trip to a trip to the capital of Chechnya, a region unfortunately reduced to ruins by years of war between local separatists and Russian forces.

Not surprisingly, security was tight and the itinerary planned to the minutest detail.

'It was definitely something I've not experienced before,' said Bentley, speaking on a brief return to England this week to see his wife and three-year-old daughter.

'We flew into Chechnya just 45 minutes before kick off, went to the stadium, ran out the tunnel, played the game and then turned back to the airport.

'The coach ride in was something else. There were tanks on the street, army snipers at every cross-section and a four-car convoy surrounding the team coach to make sure we were OK.

'I enjoyed it in a strange way. I knew they were there to protect us and keep us safe. Being a London boy who hadn't seen anything like that, I just found myself staring out the window in amazement. I have a much better appreciation for my own country now. We really don't realise how lucky we are.'

David Bentley of Tottenham Hotspur in action

Back in action: Bentley is happy to be playing again

Compared to some transfers in the last window, Bentley's switch was so low-profile he may as well have travelled to Rostov under the radar for his three-month loan from Spurs.

The publicity that surrounded his record 17million move from Blackburn to Spurs in 2008 when he was seen as an heir apparent to David Beckham in looks and ability has long gone.

The player is happy though just to have the chance to play again after a serious knee injury last year that kept him out for 12 months.

So far he has completed four full games in the competitive Russian league with big-hitters Lokomotiv Moscow featuring old Spurs pals Roman Pavlyuchenko and Vedran Corluka, and Zenit St Petersburg up next.

Living in Rostov-on-Don 700miles south of Moscow has also been a peaceful contrast to Chechnya.

'I've changed all my preconceptions about Russia. The weather has been beautiful, 80 degrees until now, and my hotel could be in any modern city. There are great restaurants and safety isn't a concern. I can walk around the centre at night feeling safer than I do in London,' explains Bentley.

'Admittedly, communication can be difficult. Most Russians haven't been taught English at school and they have a different alphabet. We think everyone will speak our language but that's not the case. I'm trying to learn a few words or Russian.

'It's a very forward-looking country – and big. It has everything from beaches to ski resorts, like America. One of our away games is a four-hour flight. Apparently there used to be a team nine hours away.'

David Bentley in the Birmingham City FC changing room

Bentley has quickly settled into a routine. A chauffeur arrives at his hotel every morning to take him to training. Evenings are spent at a local Croatian fish restaurant with former Spurs team-mate Stipe Pletikosa or sampling the local borsch soup, made of beetroot, meat and vegetables.

Another familiar face is former Liverpool forward Florent Sinama-Pongolle, who played with Bentley at Blackburn.

On the pitch, Bentley accepts it will be tough for Rostov. They don't have the financial power of many Russian clubs, like Anzhi who are paying Samuel Eto'o 400,000-a-week. Rostov have won only one league game since Bentley's arrival and currently sit 12th in the 16-team league.

However it's been a terrific period of growth and discovery for a player whose impact at Spurs dwindled under Harry Redknapp despite scoring a wonder-volley against Arsenal in a 4-4 north London derby.

Redknapp didn't forgive Bentley for pouring a bucket of water over him to celebrate Champions League qualification and a subsequent loan spell at West Ham ended in disaster when Bentley played on despite knee cartilage problems and ended up missing nearly the whole of last season.

Now he's eyeing another chance in the Premier League, maybe even at Spurs under the new manager Andre Villas-Boas.

'I don't know what the future holds. Football can change so fast,' said Bentley.

'I respect Villas-Boas for taking the Spurs job. He had a tough time at Chelsea and Harry was always a difficult act to follow. But I think it might happen for them this year, whether I am part of that, I don't know.'

Bentley is aware his flash image in younger days might have counted against him when technically he is probably the best crosser of a ball that England have.

Mistakes have been owned up to including crowd-surfing at a Kings of Leon gig and more seriously banned from driving for a drink-driving offence.

'I thought I was James Dean in the day, now I have a family and it's put the handbrake on,' he admits candidly.

'You can't change your personality totally and I'll never be quiet but I used to have this thing in my head that I had to treat every day like it was my last. If I saw a cliff, I'd want to jump off it.

'My three-year-old has changed me. She wakes up like it's Christmas every day, and it's not just about me anymore.

'I think being a bit more boring would have helped me earlier in my career.

'I used to love players like Gazza and Eric Cantona for their personalities as much as what they could do with a football. But there is so much pressure in the game now, I don't think top players or managers have a laugh and joke any more. Whether that has improved the game or is killing the game, I don't know.'

Steven Gerrard tells Luis Suarez to shake hands with Patrice Evra

Make peace! Gerrard tells Suarez to shake hands with Evra to set tone for United game

|

UPDATED:

21:01 GMT, 22 September 2012

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will appeal to striker Luis Suarez to shake the hand of Manchester United adversary Patrice Evra and help prevent 'Hillsborough' day at Anfield being overshadowed by bad blood between supporters of the two clubs.

Gerrard, whose 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley was among 96 victims in the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, believes a conciliatory gesture between Suarez and Evra – who clashed in a racism controversy last season – will set the right tone for a highly charged game that will be beamed around the world.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that 'Evra definitely plays', and he insisted: 'United have no problems with the handshakes.'

History: Patrice Evra (right) and Luis Suarez (left) clash at Anfield last October

History: Patrice Evra (right) and Luis Suarez (left) clash at Anfield last October

The feud continues: Suarez snubs Evra's hand at Old Trafford in February

The feud continues: Suarez snubs Evra's hand at Old Trafford in February

When Gerrard was asked if he would speak personally to Suarez about the pre-match ritual, he was unequivocal. 'Yes,' said the 32-year-old Anfield skipper. 'My advice to him would be to shake hands and move on. Suarez will make his own decision, of course. But I'd like to think he would want to move on himself.

'Those two players could be the key. The handshakes are going to be at the beginning of the game and they've got a responsibility to start the day off on a good note.'

The clubs and police forces from both cities have been working flat out to ensure an emotional occasion is not overshadowed by provocative chanting, either towards the 1958 Munich air crash, which killed eight United players among the 23 victims, or Hillsborough.

'If it's a fantastic match, if there is a handshake before the game and there's no vile chanting, it will be a great advert to everyone around the world,' added Gerrard. 'There are going to be millions watching so it's a great opportunity to send out the right message from the fans, from the players and from the game itself.'

Big day ahead: Steven Gerrard (left) in training ahead of the match on Sunday

Big day ahead: Steven Gerrard (left) in training ahead of the match on Sunday

Decision to make: Suarez at Melwood

Decision to make: Suarez at Melwood

It is the first fixture at Anfield since the report into the disaster confirmed that Liverpool fans were not to blame. But Suarez and Evra's simmering feud last year led to the Uruguay striker being banned for eight matches after he admitted saying 'Negrito' to the United player, a word he claimed was not meant in a hostile context.

Liverpool officials believe Suarez is prepared to shake Evra's hand before kick-off but Gerrard does not want to take any chances, given that the forward gave a similar impression before the fixture in February only to perform a U-turn and walk past Evra.

If Suarez defies the wishes of his club and his captain, there will be questions about his future given the strength of feeling from Liverpool's American owners that there must be closure after last season's PR disaster.

Ferguson has written a letter to United supporters entering Anfield today while Merseyside Police have pledged a zero-tolerance policy towards fans who make offensive chants or gestures.

Emotional day: Sunday's match will be the first at Anfield since the explosive revelations on the Hillsborough disaster were revealed earlier this week

Emotional day: Sunday's match will be the first at Anfield since the explosive revelations on the Hillsborough disaster were revealed earlier this week

Captains Gerrard and Nemanja Vidic will release 96 red balloons to commemorate the Hillsborough victims while the crowd, which will include Liverpool's former manager Kenny Dalglish, will also see United ambassador Sir Bobby Charlton lay a wreath. A fans' mosaic at the stadium will promote 'Justice for the 96'.

Bahrain Grand Prix: Warning over "casualties"

F1 chiefs warned of 'casualties' ahead of controversial Bahrain Grand Prix

|

UPDATED:

13:46 GMT, 17 April 2012

A former leading Bahraini politician
has claimed there are 'fears we could see some casualties' during the
course of this weekend's Formula One Grand Prix.

Economist Jasim Husain represented
the primary opposition group, Al-Wefaq, for five years prior to
resigning in protest following the anti-government demonstrations that
rocked the country last year.

Volatile: Protesters clash with police in Bahrain

Volatile: Protesters clash with police in Bahrain

Husain did so, along with 17 others, in the hope of pressing the authorities to seek solutions to the issues currently dividing the kingdom.

However, 14 months on from the 'Day of Rage' that resulted in the deaths of many protesters, such reforms appear too slow in coming given the publication of a 58-page report into Bahrain by Amnesty International.

The leading human rights organisation insist “not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown” last year.

Given the daily clashes between police and protesters, there are concerns the latter will use F1's arrival and its global reach to ram home their message.

Although the majority demonstrate peacefully, there are groups such as the Coalition Youth of the 14 Feb Revolution who have said 'three days of anger' will occur this weekend.

Husein says one serious incident would be 'very likely' to hit F1's presence hard in Bahrain, and it is up to the authorities to ensure they do not over-react.

Green light: FIA president Jean Todt confident Bahrain race will go-ahead

Green light: FIA president Jean Todt confident Bahrain race will go-ahead

Husein, insisting his views are his own and not that of Al-Wefaq, said:
“I don't see lots of protests throughout the country, especially outside
the vicinity of the racing area.

'But yes, there is this fear, the fear is there that we could see some casualties.

'So it's now a challenge for the security forces who have to handle things properly. They should avoid using force.

'Of course, people should be free to express their views, but the
responsibility is with the authorities who have to show professionalism
in managing any protest.

'The good thing is people are peaceful, protesters are peaceful, that
violence is not really any particular part of the political challenge in
the country.

'But things have to be handled properly by the authorities.'

F1's rulers have naturally been eager to distance themselves from the
political or moral argument, although there is the suggestion it is
being used as a tool for the former.

Campaigners are set to step up the protests

Concern: Anti-government protesters are expected to step up their campaign

Given the daily protests against the ruling Bahraini regime, operating
under the slogan 'UniF1ed – One Nation in Celebration' would appear to
underline F1's significance when it comes to purporting all is well,
when it is far from the case.

Instead, FIA president Jean Todt asserts his organisation 'are only
interested in sport not politics', with Husein believing it wrong F1 is
portrayed as being in support of the ruling al-Khalifa royal family.

'That's the problem really. It should not be presented this way,” said Husein.

'F1 is a sport, an economic positive, and I hope neither side will see the race as a political tool.

'We do have political issues which have to be addressed, and F1 coming or not coming does not mean those problems will go away.

'But certainly this is not a political event and should not have political implications.

'However, we are suffering from this problem because it is being presented this way.

'People are simply pressing for democratic reforms, and ensuring there
is equal opportunity for all, to have real participation in decision
making.

Race must go on: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says Bahrain GP will go ahead

Race must go on: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says Bahrain GP will go ahead

One unnamed protester, however, believes F1 does Bahrain no favours as
he said: 'People here are getting killed, and with F1 here we feel like
they are driving on our blood, on our bodies.'

Further demonstrations are due to take place over the next few days,
with one in particular today on the doorstep of the Gulf kingdom's
international airport.

It is understood the focus will not only solely centre on pro-democracy rights, but also anti-F1.

On Wednesday, when most F1 personnel are due to arrive, what has been
described by a risk assessment group as “a vehicular rally” is to take
place along the two highways that lead up to the airport.
end

Tiger Woods considered quitting golf and joining Navy SEALS

Tiger wanted to be a SEAL! Woods thought about quitting golf for military, claims Haney

Tiger Woods was considering abandoning golf and joining the Navy SEALS, former coach Hank Haney has claimed.

The 36-year-old has won 14 majors, four short of Jack Nicklaus' record, but Haney insists Woods would have turned his back on the sport to join the military.

Haney even claims Woods had told him the Navy SEALs would 'make a special age exception' for him given their upper age limit is 28.

On the course: Tiger Woods at PGA National on Wednesday ahead of the Honda Classic

On the course: Tiger Woods at PGA National on Wednesday ahead of the Honda Classic

Writing in his book, 'The Big Miss',
excerpts from which appear in the April edition of Golf Digest, Haney
said: 'Wow! Here is Tiger Woods, the greatest athlete on the planet,
maybe the greatest athlete ever, right in the middle of his prime,
basically ready to leave it all behind for a military life.'

Woods' father Earl had been in the Army Special Forces and served in Vietnam.

Military man: Former world No 1 Woods in 2004 arriving at a golf clinic in Fort Bragg on a humvee

Military man: Former world No 1 Woods in 2004 arriving at a golf clinic in Fort Bragg on a humvee

In 2004, Woods took part in four
days of special-operations training in Fort Bragg which included
hand-to-hand combat exercises, four-mile runs wearing combat boots,
parachute jumps and drills in a wind tunnel.

His attendance at these camps
increased and shortly before the 2006 US Open Haney revealed he had sent
Woods an email saying: 'You need to get that whole SEALs thing out of
your system and stick to playing Navy SEAL on the video games.

One of the greats: Woods

Tiger's former coach: Hank Haney

Career change: Woods was ready to leave golf for the Navy SEALS, according to former coach Haney (right)

'You have history to make in golf and
people to influence and help. Focus on your destiny and that isn't
flushing bad guys out of buildings in Iraq.

'Just play those games some more. That Navy SEAL stuff is serious business. They use real bullets.'

In action: Tiger Woods hits from the sand during a pro-am before the Honda Classic on Wednesday

In action: Tiger Woods hits from the sand during a pro-am before the Honda Classic on Wednesday

However, Woods attended such camps more frequently, although Haney claimed the extent of his visits were hushed up in the belief there would be a media frenzy.

Haney added: 'When I later learned the full truth about the dangerous exercises that Tiger engaged in with the SEALs, it caused me to question whether the greatest golfer the game has ever seen severely hampered his chance at surpassing one of the most revered marks in all of sports – Jack Nicklaus' record – because of his fascination with the military.'

Egypt football riot: FIFA demand answers after 74 die

FIFA demand answers from Egyptian FA after at least 74 spectators die in riot as Blatter condemns 'black day' in football

FIFA have demanded a full report into the violence at match in Egypt that left more than 70 people dead.

Al Masry fans invaded the pitch after a surprise 3-1 win over Cairo club Al-Ahly in Port Said, with reports stating as many as 74 people died in the ensuing violence.

There have been claims that security forces and police did not do enough to intervene, and that the violence was tied up with the political power struggle in the country. FIFA has now asked Egyptian authorities to explain exactly what happened.

Egypt's prime minister Kamal el-Ganzouri has dissolved the Egyptian Soccer Federation's board and referred its members for questioning by prosecutors after post-match clashes which resulted in the huge number of deaths.

Scroll down for video…

Victim: A football fan (in white) crouches down over his friend who it is believed had been killed during the Egyptian football riot

Victim: A football fan (in white) crouches down, in the Al-Ahly changing room, over his friend who it is believed had been killed during the Egyptian football riot

Egypt football riot

riot

Attacked: The final whistle prompted more than 13,000 home fans, armed with knives, iron bars and machetes, to storm the pitch and attack rival players and their 1,200 supporters

Chaos: Al-Alhy's players tried in vain to save fans (left) who fled into their changing room after being attacked by thousands of supposed rival supporters

Under fire: Al-Ahly's players fled to their changing rooms, accompanied by several fans, after the violence started

Under fire: Al-Ahly's players fled to their changing rooms, accompanied by several fans, after the violence started

He announced the decision during
Thursday's emergency parliamentary session and revealed the area's
police chief has also resigned.

FIFA said in a statement: 'FIFA has
asked the Egyptian authorities for a full report on the incidents in
order to evaluate what happened.'

In
a letter to Egyptian FA president Samir Zaher, the world governing
body's president Blatter offered support and said: 'Today is a black day
for football and we must take steps to ensure that such a catastrophe
never happens again.

'Football is a force for good and we must not allow it to be abused by those who mean evil. I await further news from you concerning the circumstances of this tragedy.'

Home fans reportedly armed with sticks and knives stormed the field after the final whistle. Reports suggest some Al-Ahly fans suffocated, trapped in a narrow corridor as they fled the violence.

Al-Ahly's
Portuguese coach Manuel Jose has returned to Portugal to ponder his
future after being attacked, while his assistant coach Pedro Barny
backed up the claims that security staff did too little.

Missiles: Al-Ahly players ran for their lives as rival fans streamed onto the pitch and headed towards them

Missiles: Al-Ahly players ran for their lives as rival fans streamed onto the pitch and headed towards them, throwing bottles and fireworks

Caught on camera: Fans beating a man during the riots

Al-Ahly players escape from the field as fans of Al-Masry team rush onto the pitch

Terror: Al-Ahly players were subjected to abuse and beatings as they tried to leave the pitch at Port Said Stadium

Bitter: So-called fans of Al-Masry ram after Al-Ahly players during the riots

Bitter: So-called fans of Al-Masry ram after Al-Ahly players during the riots

'RIOT DEADLIEST SINCE 1996'

Hillsborough Football Disaster

The Egyptian football riot was the deadliest incident in the sport since October 1996.

A
total of 78 fans died and 180 others injured in a stampede at a stadium
in Guatemala City before a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala
and Costa Rica.

The
match with the most fatalities was in May 1964 when a game between Peru
and Argentina in Lima descended into violence and 318 fans were killed.

Britain's worst football disaster is the Hillsborough tragedy (above) in Sheffield in April 1989, in which 96 supporters died.

Jose
said: 'I was beaten with fists and kicks to the neck, head and feet. I
saw our fans die before us and we are unable to do anything.'

Assistant coach Barny added: 'What happened was an unspeakable catastrophe.
From the beginning of the game, the fans of the opposing team's fans
were allowed to fire rockets and stones at us without any intervention.

'In the end, it turned into a state of madness without any role for the security in the stands. We tried to save the lives of some of the fans, but many died before our eyes.'

The
Egyptian Football Federation last night announced an indefinite
suspension of all leagues in the country following the trouble.

Security
forces loyal to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak have been
blamed for sparking the football riot which killed 74 people and left
more than 1,000 injured.

Violence
flared in the Mediterranean city of Port Said last night after local
team Al-Masry beat Cairo's Al-Ahly – the country's most successful club –
3-1.

The final whistle
prompted more than 13,000 home fans, armed with knives, iron bars and
machetes, to storm the pitch and attack rival players and their 1,200
supporters.

Al-Ahly goalkeeper Sharif Ikrami, who
was injured in the clashes and said the entire team had now quit
football, said dead bodies were carried past him in the changing room.

He said: 'There were people dying in
front of us. It's over. We've all made a decision that we won't play
soccer any more. We can't think about it.'

Pure
hooliganism, and a bitter long-standing rivalry of clashes between the
two sets of fans, was initially blamed for the worst football riot in
Egyptian history. But speculation is now mounting that the riot was orchestrated by pro-Mubarak forces in revenge against Al Ahly's ultra fans.

Rivalry: Pure hooliganism, and a bitter long-standing hatred between the two sets of fans, was initially blamed for the worst football riot in Egyptian history

Rivalry: Pure hooliganism, and a bitter long-standing hatred between the two sets of fans, was initially blamed for the worst football riot in Egyptian history

Hesham Sheiha, Egypt's deputy health minister, said the riot was the 'biggest disaster in Egypt's soccer history'

Egyptian fans clash with riot police after a shock result in the country's premier league

Flares are thrown in the stadium during clashes that killed dozens and left hundreds of others injured

Tragedy: Flares were thrown, fireworks aimed at rivals and people stabbed to death as the stadium descended into absolute chaos

Eruption: Speculation is mounting that security forces loyal to ousted president Hosni Mubarak were behind the violence

Eruption: Speculation is mounting that security forces loyal to ousted president Hosni Mubarak were behind the violence

PORT SAID STADIUM:

The home of Al-Masry FC

Capacity: 18,000

Located in Al-Manakh district

Opened in 1955

Used in 2006 African Cup of Nations

2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup also hosted

The
ultras had used their experience confronting police at matches to play a
significant role in defending Cairo's Tahrir Square – the heart of the
uprising – against Mubarak's heavy-handed security forces.

Albadry Farghali, a member of parliament
for Port Said, screamed in a telephone call to live television: 'The
security forces did this or allowed it to happen.

'The men of Mubarak are still ruling. The head of the regime has fallen but all his men are still in their positions.'

Former Al-Ahly player Hani Seddik told the BBC: 'I don't think this is about football. These trouble-makers were not football fans.

'How
were they allowed to carry knives into the ground To me, this is the
actions of people who do not want the country to be stable and want to
put off tourists from coming here.'

Abdullah
el-Said, a 43-year-old driver in Port Said, said: 'All that happened is
not for the sake of a game. It's political. It was orchestrated by the
military council to target the Ultras.

'The military council wanted to crush the ultras because they sided with protesters ever since the revolution began.'

Violent scenes: Chaos flared in the Mediterranean city of Port Said last night after local team Al-Masry beat Cairo's Al-Ahly - the country's most successful club - 3-1

Violent scenes: Chaos flared in the Mediterranean city of Port Said last night after local team Al-Masry beat Cairo's Al-Ahly – the country's most successful club – 3-1

Children were seen among the crowds at the stadium of Port Said as violence broke out

Television pictures showed fans swarming over the pitch after a match in the Egyptian city of Port Said

Snapshot: Even children were seen among the crowds at the stadium of Port Said as violence broke out, with many people filming the scenes on their mobile phones

Reaction: Egypt's state prosecutor ordered an immediate investigation into the violence, and the Egypt Football Association ordered an indefinite suspension of the annual championship

Reaction: Egypt's state prosecutor ordered an immediate investigation into the violence, and the Egypt Football Association ordered an indefinite suspension of the annual championship

Most of the victims are believed to have died from suffocation or head injuries, with some cornered in the stadium as parts of it were set on fire

Egyptian police clash with fans after a football match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry teams in Port Said

Battered: The violence was caught on camera as chaos erupted across the stadium following the match

Toll: At least 74 people have been confirmed dead and 1,000 injured following the riot

Toll: At least 74 people have been confirmed dead and 1,000 injured following the riot

Farouk Ibrahim added: 'Unknown groups came between the fans and they were the ones that started the chaos.

'I
was at the match and I saw that the group that did this is not from
Port Said. They were thugs, like the thugs the National Democratic Party
used in elections.'

He was referring to Mubarak's former NDC party and the polls that were routinely rigged in its favour.

And
Al-Masry manager Kamal Abu Ali also referred to the speculation, as he
announced he was resigning and said: 'This is not about soccer. This is
bigger than that. This is a plot to topple the state.'

The Muslim Brotherhood, the most
powerful party in Egypt’s parliament, also blamed supporters of the
deposed Mubarak regime for promoting violence at the match as a way to
bring back chaos to Egypt.

Brutal: Fires were set throughout the Port Said Stadium as terrified fans fled for their lives

Brutal: Fires were set throughout the Port Said Stadium as terrified fans fled for their lives

Flames

Flames

Burns: Anger is now rising amongst politicians that more was not done to stop the violence

Captured: Cameras showed fire breaking out in a stand at the Port Said stadium as fans battled each other on the terraces

Captured: Cameras showed fire breaking out in a stand at the Port Said stadium as fans battled each other on the terraces

It blamed an 'invisible' hand for causing the violence and said the authorities were negligent. It
said: 'We fear that some officers are punishing the people for their
revolution and for depriving them of their ability to act as tyrants and
restricting their privileges.'

Anger
is now rising amongst politicians about the lack of security at the
match, with many accusing the military regime that took over from
Mubarak of allowing, or even causing, the fighting.

Mahmoud
el-Naggar, 30, a laboratory technician and member of the Coalition of
the Revolutionary Youth in Port Said, said: 'The military council wants
to prove that the country is heading towards chaos and destruction.

Packed onboard: Hundreds of Al-Ahly fans were greeted by friends and family on their return into Cairo station after the riot last night

Packed onboard: Hundreds of Al-Ahly fans were greeted by friends and family on their return into Cairo station after the riot last night

An Al-Ahly fan with head injuries is carried along the tracks at Ramses Station

An Al-Ahly fan with head injuries is carried along the tracks at Ramses Station

Walking wounded: Al-Ahly fans were welcomed at Cairo's Ramses Station

Standing room only: Anxious Egyptians crowded Cairo's train station and the ambulances surrounding it to see if their friends and family would return home

Standing room only: Anxious Egyptians crowded Cairo's train station and the ambulances surrounding it to see if their friends and family would return home

'They are Mubarak's men. They are applying his strategy when he said 'choose me or choose chaos.'

Anger
quickly spread across Egypt as thousands gathered at Cairo's main train
station to chant 'Down with military rule' as the injured fans
returned.

They shouted,
as covered bodies were unloaded from trains: 'The people want the
execution of the field marshal. We will secure their rights, or die like
them.'

Victim: The brother of a football fan killed in the clashes sat today reading the Koran next to his body at a mosque

Victim: The brother of a football fan killed in the clashes sat today reading the Koran next to his body at a Port Said mosque

Egyptian soldiers wheel a wounded football fan of Al-Ahly upon his arrival in Cairo aboard a military plane today

Egyptian soldiers wheel a wounded football fan of Al-Ahly upon his arrival in Cairo aboard a military plane today

Back home: Egyptian soldiers wheeled wounded Al-Ahly football fans today after their arrival in Cairo aboard a military plane

Spattered: Blood remains on a chair at the Port Said Stadium the day after violent clashes

Spattered: Blood remains on a chair at the Port Said Stadium the day after violent clashes

Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside the state television building and marches across the capital are planned for later today. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 76, who heads the ruling military council, took an unusual step of speaking by telephone to a television channel, the sport broadcaster owned by Al Ahly, and vowed to track down the culprits. The army announced three days of national mourning.

'I deeply regret what happened at the football match in Port Said. I offer my condolences to the victims' families,' Tantawi said. He said a fact-finding committee would be set up and pledged that the army's plan to hand over power to civilians would not be derailed. The army has promised to go back to barracks by the end of June after a presidential election.

He added: 'Egypt will be stable. We have a roadmap to transfer power to elected civilians. If anyone is plotting instability in Egypt they will not succeed.' But his comments have done little to
assuage the anger of fans, who, like many Egyptians, are furious that
Egypt is still plagued by lawlessness and frequent bouts of deadly
violence almost a year after Mubarak was driven out and replaced by an
army council.

Parliament will hold an emergency session later today to discuss the violence. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said 47 people were arrested. Egypt's football federation said it was indefinitely delaying matches for the Egyptian premier league. And the Al Ahly club said it was suspending all sports activities and holding three days of mourning.

DM.has('rcpv1428553398001','BCVideo');

Nir Biton set for Manchester City

Israeli starlet Biton on brink of 2m switch to Manchester City

Roberto Mancini is on the verge of bolstering his depleted midfield after holding talks with Israeli prospect Nir Biton’s agent in Manchester on Tuesday night.

Sportsmail revealed a fortnight ago how 20-year-old MS Ashdod midfielder Biton had impressed during a one-week trial at Manchester City’s Carrington training ground.

Impressed: Mancini is keen to bolster his midfield options

Impressed: Mancini is keen to bolster his midfield options

City are on the verge of wrapping up an initial loan, with a view to a 2million transfer, after Biton’s agent Dudu Dahan predicted he could secure a work permit and get him out of national service with the Israeli army.

Biton still has nine months to serve with the Israel Defence Forces, but Dahan said: ‘I have spoken to the Army’s top personnel, and that is almost solved. City say they can get a work permit for Nir as well, as there is a special category for outstanding prospects like him. I have been speaking with Mancini every day, since the trial, so how can I not be optimistic the transfer will be completed’

Kimi Raikkonen begins Valencia F1 test

Welcome back, Kimi: Raikkonen in F1 return as Finnish star begins Valencia test

Kimi Raikkonen was back behind the wheel of a Formula One car for the first time in over two years today as the 2007 world champion began testing for Lotus.

Raikkonen ended a two-year exodus from the sport after agreeing a deal with the re-branded Renault team until the end of the 2013 season.

Back on track: The 2007 world champion is testing a two-year old Renault

Back on track: The 2007 world champion is testing a two-year old Renault

Black and gold: Raikkonen was back behind an F1 wheel for the first time since 2009

Black and gold: Raikkonen was back behind an F1 wheel for the first time since 2009

The Finn is testing a two-year old Renault at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia before he drives this season's Lotus at next month's first winter test in Jerez.

Raikkonen, who has 18 race wins, and 16 pole positions, believes the biggest challenges to overcome will be the Pirelli tyre, which came in at the start of 2011, and the physical demands of driving an F1 car.

Head boy: The Finish star was sporting a new helmet design

Head boy: The Finish star was sporting a new helmet design

Eyes on the prize: Raikkonen has agreed a two-year deal with Lotus

Eyes on the prize: Raikkonen has agreed a two-year deal with Lotus

'The braking distances, the G-forces, the acceleration, those will come back very quickly,' he said.

'Getting on top of the tyres will be the hardest thing, of course, but I'm not really worried.'

Steve Kean"s agent blasts Blackburn fans

Kean's agent blasts Blackburn fans and hints at conspiracy to remove under-fire boss

Under fire: Kean has been targeted by Blackburn fans

Under fire: Kean has been targeted by Blackburn fans

Agent Jerome Anderson has questioned whether the Blackburn fans who have abused manager Steve Kean are true supporters.

Anderson, who represents Kean, confirmed he and his family have also been targeted but fervently denied he engineered either the Scot's appointment or that of Venky's as owners.

Over the past few weeks, with Rovers fighting against relegation from the Barclays Premier League, Kean and Venky's have been subjected to waves of protests, with supporters demanding their removal.

Anderson, however, wonders whether there are darker forces at work given the organised nature of the protests.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Anderson said: 'Are there things going on that we're not aware of

'Are there groups of people who say they are supporters, but who really don't want Venky's to succeed for whatever reason, and don't want the manager to succeed

'With normal fans, all you want to do is support your manager and team.

'What I think the world of football can't understand is where this is coming from. It does seem to be well organised, from people who say they are supporters.'

Protests: The majority of Blackburn fans want Kean and the Venky's to leave

Protests: The majority of Blackburn fans want Kean and the Venky's to leave

Protests: The majority of Blackburn fans want Kean and the Venky's to leave

Anderson believes the vitriol that has emanated from the stands is having a detrimental effect on the players, especially the younger, more impressionable group.

'Wouldn't it be wonderful if the supporters really got behind the manager and team' added Anderson.

'Sometimes people forget these are young players, and young players need support when they're coming through.

'To go on the football pitch with fear is the worst thing you can do, and that's probably why some of the best results have been away from home.

'Whether you're a Blackburn fan, or any fan, it's so important to get behind your players.

'The negativity and abuse the players have received doesn't help anybody. Please get behind the boys.'