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Martin Samuel: Why Milton Keynes Dons methods could make us play like Brazil

Small is beautiful at Milton Keynes… and it could make us play like Brazil

Victory Shield. Seyi Ojo went to Liverpool at 14 for a reported 1.5million. They must be doing something right. What they are doing, it seems, is evolving ideas. Micciche experiments with pitch sizes, with team numbers.

Not in any conventional way. Small areas, small teams, is the modern concept, and that alone is progress.

The days of a 10-year-old standing forlornly in the same size goal as Petr Cech, barely able to clear his penalty area with a goal-kick in ankle-deep mud, are thankfully over.

Contrasting styles: Brazil (above) and England (below) prepare for Wednesday night's friendly

Contrasting styles: Brazil (above) and England (below) prepare for Wednesday night's friendly

Contrasting styles: Brazil (above) and England (below) prepare for Wednesday night's friendly

The Football Association has, at last, addressed the in-built flaws in youth football and we should feel the benefits over the next 10 years.

The popular wisdom favours small-sided games in tight spaces. The logic is irrefutable. Players get more touches, more shots, more runs and more scoring opportunities playing four versus four than 11 versus 11.

Their ball skills are improved by
technical five-a-sides, rather than a war of attrition on a man’s size
pitch that promotes only the most athletically dominant.

What Micciche is attempting is stage
two. In the dome at Woughton Park worlds collide. Micciche has his
Under 16 MK Dons team playing 11-a-side, but on a reduced pitch 60
yards long by 40 wide. He has cones on the touchline marking two
invisible offside lines to compress play into the middle third. There is
no time, there is no space. To survive in this game, you really have to
be able to play.

Coaching guru: Micciche's ideas have seen MK Dons' academy flourish

Coaching guru: Micciche's ideas have seen MK Dons' academy flourish

An MK Dons kid is trapped on the near
touchline, ball at his feet, two lads bearing down on him. He gets out
of it with a lovely reverse pass.

‘You see, that, to me, is a goal,’ Micciche says. ‘At this age, you can swing your boot and the ball goes in, and everyone says “well done”. But it’s not necessarily progress, there’s no development. To see him do that, inside, I feel like we’ve scored, because he wouldn’t have tried it six months ago.’

Micciche, as his name suggests, grew up watching Serie A football on a giant satellite dish at home. Roberto Baggio was his man. He is not as steeped in the blood and thunder of English football as his contemporaries.

It is no surprise, either, that he started at Crystal Palace where John Cartwright was academy manager.

Cartwright, now retired, has been
advocating variations of games played in tight spaces for a long time.
From Palace, Micciche moved to Tottenham Hotspur working with Chris
Ramsey before arriving at Milton Keynes under director of youth Mike
Dove, who gave him a blank canvas.

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There are five pitches of varying sizes at Woughton Park and academy players of all ages get to use every one. Team numbers vary, too. Each player gets a turn training and playing with boys between one and three years older, and all have a homework file with a list of improvements. The most radical thoughts, however, involve space.

‘A lot of coaches don’t like limiting the space,’ admits Micciche. ‘They think it looks messy. Sometimes it does because we’re asking a lot technically. You might not always get quality, but when you do it is the highest quality.

‘And when they go out onto a full-size pitch again, it feels as if they have got all the time in the world.’
We watched a game together. Milton Keynes Dons versus Forest School. Pitch dimensions of 60 x 40 yards, two quarters nine-a-side, two quarters 11-a-side to feel the difference.

Players who looked competent when the team numbers were reduced were suddenly tested as room on the pitch shrank. There was a surprising impact physically.

‘It speeds the game up, but players then need to hold off defenders because they haven’t the space to simply outrun them,’ Micciche explains. ‘Also, in order to work through a compact space, they will need to move their feet and body quickly.

‘The intensity is great so they need to react and think faster. It becomes exhausting, but it makes them clever at finding space.’

A shot rattles against a crossbar.

‘The game has shifted,’ Micciche continues. ‘Nobody gets the ball in splendid isolation any more. It’s like rush hour in midfield, you might get 20 players in 40 yards of space, and the defenders are as fast and athletic as the forwards.

‘We need to recreate what these players are going to face in the future.’

The last time Brazil visited England, in
2007, the performance of Kaka in the heart of the play stood out. No
matter how many opponents surrounded him, he demanded the ball and his
team-mates were happy to provide it. He always found a pass. Spain and
Barcelona have that same quality.

Star man: Kaka was outstanding for Brazil at Wembley in 2007

Star man: Kaka was outstanding for Brazil at Wembley in 2007

‘We fail under pressure,’ Micciche adds. ‘That is a fundamental problem in English football. Once the game becomes tight, our approach lets us down.’

The first time Micciche tried out his theories, the opponents were a big Championship club. ‘It was an Under 12 game, a friendly, and I brought the dimensions of the pitch in, used smaller goals,’ he recalls. ‘We were 4-1 down at half-time and a couple of our kids were in tears.

‘I said that this type of football was going to ask different questions of them, that they had to think about how they would answer those questions.

‘We turned it around, and won in the second half. The next day they put in a complaint about us.’

Perhaps that is why as well as the standard league fixtures — MK Dons win some and lose some, like all academy teams — Micciche is happy to accept fixtures from stronger clubs, strong schools or even good men’s amateur teams.

Quick thinking: Micciche advocates playing on pitches of different sizes to help youngsters develop

Quick thinking: Micciche advocates playing on pitches of different sizes to help youngsters develop

‘It is important to play in as many
types of football as possible, with and against players of different
strengths and abilities,’ he says. ‘You need to challenge them all the
time. Sometimes we won’t have as many players on the field as the
opposition, or I’ll take my Under 16s to play a proper men’s team.
People say, “you can’t do that” but they learn from it.’

It is possible that, after tonight, it will again be said that English footballers are inferior. That the technique of the Brazilians is a class away.

There will be analysis and much you will have heard before.

Too many foreign players in the Premier League, an absence of passion for international football. We could tuck it away in a file marked: The Usual.

So explain this. Increasingly, there are foreign coaches who have passed through the English game, like Gus Poyet at Brighton and Hove Albion or Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic.

Pointing the way: Roberto Martinez has brought fluid, passing football to Swansea and Wigan

Pointing the way: Roberto Martinez has brought fluid, passing football to Swansea and Wigan

And their teams play. Martinez is the father of modern Swansea City, Poyet has taken Brighton to the brink of the Championship play-off places.

Neither developed teams in the lower leagues that were stuffed full of foreign imports. They took local players and improved them technically.

Martinez signed Ashley Williams from Stockport County. Will Buckley, one of Brighton’s leading lights, came from Rochdale via Watford.

Martinez and Poyet encouraged bog standard Football League players to play a high quality game. So why can’t this be done in international football, with players of twice the ability No doubt we’ll be asking those questions later.

Although if we did it earlier, the answers might be easier to find.

Hypocrisy rules for forgetful Joey

Joey Barton was sent off for Marseille at the weekend and took to his favourite medium to voice his displeasure. ‘Players who roll around when nobody touches them should be banned,’ he wrote. ‘I hate cheats.’ Gervinho of Arsenal, sent off after Barton play-acted, may have views on this subject. And if he can stop laughing he will surely give them to us.

Crying wolf: Barton sees red for Marseille (above) ... just as Gervinho did for Arsenal in 2011

Crying wolf: Barton sees red for Marseille (above) … just as Gervinho did for Arsenal in 2011 (below)

Crying wolf: Barton sees red for Marseille (above) ... just as Gervinho did for Arsenal in 2011 (below)

Sturridge highlights our problem with diving

On television and in just about every newspaper, Daniel Sturridge was the man of the match after Liverpool’s draw with Manchester City. And he did have an outstanding game. He also, however, committed one of the most blatant dives of the season, for which he was booked. If that had been Luis Suarez, the chorus of disapproval would have been deafening.

Instead, Sturridge collected his bottle of champagne and his printed accolades without too much fuss. So let’s not pretend we really care about cheating in football. If it mattered to us, there is no way Sturridge could have been the hero.

(And one last thing, there was also no reason for Liverpool to put the ball into touch on Edin Dzeko’s behalf on Sunday. That Sturridge scored Liverpool’s first goal while the Manchester City striker lay stricken is of no consequence. He wasn’t seriously hurt and there was no fear of head trauma. If City had won possession and wanted to put the ball out, up to them. But Liverpool had every right to play to the whistle, and Roberto Mancini’s complaints are groundless).

Booked: Sturridge looks to the floor after taking a tumble against Man City

Booked: Sturridge looks to the floor after taking a tumble against Man City

Wolves must realise they're in a dogfight

As Wolverhampton Wanderers plummeted towards the Championship last season, chief executive officer Jez Moxey insisted the club had the foundations in place for success. ‘This season will not create a situation where we are knocked off course from our medium to long-term objectives,’ he soothed.

Objective No 1 was to establish Wolves in the Premier League. At last look, Wolves were two points off relegation from tier two, 21st of 24. They have been passed by Ipswich Town, managed by Mick McCarthy, the manager they sacked a year ago.

On the day McCarthy took over at Portman Road, Ipswich were bottom and Wolves eighth. Still, it’s good to know the executive management have a plan. Otherwise, it would be easy to imagine they don’t know what they are doing.

Alarming slide: Wolves are just two points clear of safety in the Championship

Alarming slide: Wolves are just two points clear of safety in the Championship

Lock up Gillingham yob and put the ref on gardening leave

There is a very simple solution to the attack on Wycombe Wanderers goalkeeper Jordan Archer at the Priestfield Stadium on Monday night. It’s called five years. If the punishment on the Gillingham fan who jumped Archer was appalling, nobody would ever do it again.

As for referee Roger East, who booked Archer for kicking the ball away in frustration, even though he showed admirable restraint towards the pitch invader in the aftermath, he should be given the rest of the season off to consider his actions. Anyone so out of touch with human emotion should not be in charge of anything more testing than the roses in his garden.

Attack: Jordan Archer was jumped by a teenage Gillingham 'fan'

Attack: Jordan Archer was jumped by a teenage Gillingham 'fan'

BCCI stoop to new low

Responding to the 2-1 home Test defeat, the Board of Control for Cricket in India have banned a group of English county players from gaining experience on the spinning wickets of the subcontinent. The Global Cricket School in Pune has been told that no foreign cricketers can use the facilities without permission. The performance of Joe Root in the final Test in Nagpur appears to have been the clincher. Lovely, aren’t they And yet still cricket kowtows to the BCCI.

Sunderland fans walk out in protest over season ticket holder suspended for standing

Sunderland fans walk out in protest over season ticket holder suspended for standing

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UPDATED:

14:13 GMT, 29 December 2012

Sunderland fans have staged a revolt against their own club, after a season card holder was suspended on Boxing Day for standing.

Large numbers of fans in the Stadium of Light resisted warnings from stewards during the game against Tottenham Hotspur, and continued to stand.

One group of supporters chose to walk out of the ground completely, missing John O’Shea’s goal late in the first half.

Making a stand: Sunderland stewards tell fans to sit down at the Stadium of Light during the game against Tottenham

Making a stand: Sunderland stewards tell fans to sit down at the Stadium of Light during the game against Tottenham

Club chiefs have threatened to eject and suspend season card holders if they continue to defy stewarding staff.

One seat was secured on Wednesday, with a notice reading: ‘This season card has been suspended due to persistent standing.’

Warning sign: Sunderland posted an eviction notice on one supporter's seat before their win over Manchester City on Boxing Day

Warning sign: Sunderland posted an eviction notice on one supporter's seat before their win over Manchester City on Boxing Day

Stern words, published on the club’s website said standing fans are breaking the law, outlining its responsibility to protect the safety and the view of other crowd members.

It added to confirm ‘an increasing number of complaints’ received, particularly from fans in the South Stand, and that 38 fans had been ejected to date, compared to 20 last season.

Stepping up: The fans who walked out early missed captain John O'Shea's first goal for the club

Stepping up: The fans who walked out early missed captain John O'Shea's first goal for the club

G4S nominated for award despite London 2012 Olympics security failure

Sports Agenda Extra: We needed troops to step in yet G4S could land 2012 Games gong

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UPDATED:

12:05 GMT, 5 November 2012

Bungling security firm G4S, who caused by far the most problems at London 2012, are remarkably on the short-list for a prestigious honour for their botched Olympic work.

The beleaguered company, who failed by massive numbers to provide enough temporary security staff for the Games – the shortfall being 35 per cent on the worst days – are somehow among the finalists at the International Sports Event Management's awards dinner on Wednesday at London's Cumberland Hotel.

National service: Armed Forces had to step in following the failure of contracted security firm G4S to provide 10,000 trained security staff for the Games

National service: Armed Forces had to step in following the failure of contracted security firm G4S to provide 10,000 trained security staff for the Games

To make G4S's appearance at the flagship occasion even more unlikely, their entry relates to setting up temporary accommodation for the army during the Olympics.

And the military only had to be called in because G4S had failed by such a huge margin to train and provide the necessary personnel contracted in the 236m deal.

Speaking up: G4S chief executive Nick Buckles, gives evidence on Olympic security staffing to the Home Affairs Select Committee at the House of Commons earlier this year

Speaking up: G4S (below) chief executive Nick Buckles, gives evidence on Olympic security staffing to the Home Affairs Select Committee at the House of Commons earlier this year

Private security guards G4S secure the entrance to Alexander Stadium, the US athletics team training camp for the London 2012 Olympic Games

One insider described G4S as 'deluded' for even entering the Event Overlay and Facilities award category although it was considered inconceivable that they would win.

The other more worthy short-listed candidates are London 2012 and caterers PKL Group for Games related achievements and De Boer International for the Qatar Masters golf.

England set for 17.5m boost with Twickenham Tests sold out

EXCLUSIVE: RFU set for 17.5m boost as ticket sales for England matches smash records

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UPDATED:

13:20 GMT, 31 October 2012

The RFU are set to enjoy a record-breaking autumn windfall as the unexpected sell-out of England's Test against Fiji at Twickenham on November 10 will lead to ticket-sales revenue of 17.5million.

All of the forthcoming QBE Internationals – against the Pacific island nation, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – will be played in front of capacity crowds at HQ.

It is the first time that a four-match campaign has completely sold out and also the first time that a match against a Tier Two nation has drawn a full house.

Leaders: England coach Stuart Lancaster (left) and captain Chris Robshaw

Leaders: England coach Stuart Lancaster (left) and captain Chris Robshaw

The union is understood to have budgeted for ticket sales for this autumn series generating a return of 17m, but the higher-than-anticipated demand for the opening game has brought an additional 500,000 profit.

These figures are in stark contrast to last season, when the World Cup in New Zealand meant there were no November matches at Twickenham and just two home Six Nations games, so ticket-related income was particularly low.

This is the fourth time that England have had four fixtures in consecutive autumn weeks.

In 2006, there was an attendance of 72,027 for the lowest-profile of those games, against Argentina, while in 2008 the Pacific Islanders match drew a crowd of 55,427 and two years ago, England played Samoa in front of 70,553.

Big numbers: Supporters flocked to Twickenham to watch England face Argentina in 2006 but there will be even more at this year's four autumn Tests

Big numbers: Supporters flocked to Twickenham to watch England face Argentina in 2006 but there will be even more at this year's four autumn Tests

In 2009, the Test against Argentina – who were still classified as a Tier Two nation at that stage – brought in a healthy attendance of 78,743, but that will be eclipsed by the 82,000 sell-out in 10 days' time.

Ticket sales are thought to account for around a third of all revenue generated by the RFU and the governing body intend to channel increased funds into the grass-roots game.

With three years to go until the end of the home World Cup, a raft of 'legacy' intiatives are due to be announced later on Wednesday, with substantial investment into the development of coaches, referees and facilities, along with a push to introduce the sport into non rugby-playing schools.

England 5 San Marino 0 – match report

England 5 San Marino 0: Rooney, Welbeck and Oxlade-Chamberlain get job done for Roy's boys… but laboured Lions must improve fast

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UPDATED:

23:10 GMT, 12 October 2012

For the book-keeper, the banker and
the olive oil maker, it was always going to be a difficult encounter.
For the accountant who stands between the posts for this San Marino
side, making the numbers work was always going to be nigh on
impossible.

But for 35 minutes the 207th best
team in the world — joint 207th it should be said — did manage to make
life a little uncomfortable for Roy Hodgson’s England side.

Lions roar: England were slow to get going against San Marino before over-running their lowly opponents

Lions roar: England were slow to get going against San Marino before over-running their lowly opponents

MATCH FACTS

ENGLAND: Hart, Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Walcott (Lennon 10), Carrick (Shelvey 66), Cleverley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Rooney (Carroll 73). Subs not used: Ruddy, Cole, Lescott, Shawcross, Milner, Adam Johnson, Defoe, Forster.

Goals: Rooney 35pen, Welbeck 37, Rooney 70, Welbeck 72, Oxlade-Chamberlain 77.

SAN MARINO: Aldo Simoncini, Fabio Vitaioli (Bacciocchi 84), Davide Simoncini, Brolli, Palazzi, Cibelli, Coppini (Buscarini 76), Rinaldi (Selva 79), Della Valle, Gasperoni, Cervellini. Subs not used: Valentini, Bollini, Marani, Mazza, Vannucci, Matteo Vitaioli.

Referee: Gediminas Mazeika (Lithuania)

Click here for all the latest scores from Europe's World Cup 2014 qualifiers

Not because they put Joe Hart under any kind of pressure. It was 15 minutes before England’s goalkeeper touched the ball and after 90 minutes he had still not been forced to make a save.

But the tiny republic stopped England scoring for more than half an hour and the expression of relief on Hodgson’s face said it all when Wayne Rooney did finally strike from the penalty spot to open the scoring.

In the end, Rooney proved himself a good England captain here at Wembley. He scored the first goal and the third as well, easing any danger of embarrassment for England’s manager and visibly urging his international colleagues to improve the goal-difference figure that could yet become important in a competitive qualification group.

Rooney also superseded Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer as the fifth highest goal-scorer in England’s history, taking his personal tally to 31.

Crash: Theo Walcott was forced off early on after a high-speed collision with goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini

Crash: Theo Walcott was forced off early on after a high-speed collision with goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini

Crash: Theo Walcott was forced off early on after a high-speed collision with goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini

And the fact that Danny Welbeck scored
two goals of his own last night should convince Hodgson to stick with
the partnership come Tuesday’s game against Poland in Warsaw.

As a contest this went pretty much as expected — a team of leading
professional footballers against a bunch of blokes who, for the most
part, make their money from rather less lucrative professions.

They put
10 men behind the ball, in Hodgson’s words giving a ‘new meaning to
attack versus defence’, and in doing so limited England to five goals.

On the spot: Simoncini handed England a chance to gain the advantage when he sent Danny Welbeck to the turf

On the spot: Simoncini handed England a chance to gain the advantage when he sent Danny Welbeck to the turf

No mistake: From the resulting spot kick, Wayne Rooney blasted England into the lead

No mistake: From the resulting spot kick, Wayne Rooney blasted England into the lead

No mistake: From the resulting spot kick, Wayne Rooney blasted England into the lead

The scoreline did disguise what was a laboured England performance at
times. In the first half, in particular, the passing could have been
more precise, the final ball more clinical.

But this was not a game worthy of a World Cup qualification campaign
when the team in blue should have been eliminated before the draw had
even been made. As pundit Gareth Southgate said during ITV’s half-time
assessment, ‘What is the point of San Marino’ And well he might ask.
Decent competition They were more like a team of competition winners.

For players from Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal
and Everton, motivation might well have been an issue and the negative
approach employed by Giampaolo Mazza did not make it any easier.

Hodgson showed rather more ambition, selecting a front six that boasted two Arsenal wingers and four Manchester United players.

Within the first couple of minutes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had forced a
fine save from Aldo Simoncini, San Marino’s part-time goalkeeper and
full-time accountant.

But the number cruncher caught England’s No 7 Theo Walcott with a
shocking, Toni Schumacher-style challenge — one that somehow escaped
punishment — and by the 10th minute Hodgson was forced to make a change,
replacing the dazed, badly damaged Walcott with Aaron Lennon.

Bit of magic: Welbeck doubled the lead, replicating his goal against Sweden from Euro 2012

Bit of magic: Welbeck doubled the lead, replicating his goal against Sweden from Euro 2012

Bit of magic: Welbeck doubled the lead, replicating his goal against Sweden from Euro 2012

Bit of magic: Welbeck doubled the lead, replicating his goal against Sweden from Euro 2012

To have survived for as long as they did without conceding a goal must
have been San Marino’s finest achievement on the international stage. /10/12/article-2216983-157A7672000005DC-876_634x366.jpg” width=”634″ height=”366″ alt=”Double trouble: It took until the second half for the Manchester United duo grab one more each” class=”blkBorder” />

Double trouble: It took until the second half for the Manchester United duo grab one more each

Double trouble: It took until the second half for the Manchester United duo grab one more each

Hodgson must have been growing increasingly frustrated. Two goals was
not nearly enough. But when Lennon delivered a short pass to Rooney, the
man wearing the armband eased the growing sense of anxiety with a
terrific curling strike.

That goal arrived in the 70th minute and by the 72nd Welbeck, much like
the first half, had responded with one of his own, this time meeting a
cross from the improving Tom Cleverley with another neat finish.

That Oxlade-Chamberlain made it 5-0 five minutes after that with a
curling strike to rival Rooney’s was reward for a fine performance from
the 19-year-old.

It was enough to leave Hodgson reflecting on a decent night’s work, and enough to give him encouragement for what comes next.

England move on to Poland. For San Marino, to borrow another line from Southgate, it should now be ‘The Dog and Fox’.

Top Gunner: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got in on the act late on for his first England goal

Top Gunner: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got in on the act late on for his first England goal

Top Gunner: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got in on the act late on for his first England goal

Sir Clive Woodward"s position at British Olympic Association in doubt

Woodward's position at British Olympic Association in doubt after Hunt announces cut in top staff

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UPDATED:

06:35 GMT, 20 September 2012

Fresh questions over Sir Clive Woodward's future as the British Olympic Association's director of sport emerged on Wednesday.

The uncertainty comes after BOA chief executive Andy Hunt presented a restructuring programme to the organisation's board that will see a cut in the number of top staff.

Woodward, the former England rugby manager who has been Team GB's deputy leader for the last two summer Olympics, will meet Hunt within the next 10 days to discuss the future.

Questions: Sir Clive Woodward's future as BOA's director of sport is in doubt

Questions: Sir Clive Woodward's future as BOA's director of sport is in doubt

There are currently eight directors in all at the BOA and under the restructuring programme it is expected a number of the posts will be merged.

All eight directors will meet individually with Hunt over the next week and a half for talks over the restructuring.

The BOA are facing a financial deficit after a significant expansion in costs and staff numbers ahead of the London Olympics and need to cut their expenditure.

Hunt's proposals were accepted by the board at a meeting this afternoon and should be in place by January.

The decision has been taken ahead of the election of the new BOA chairman on November 7 where London 2012 chairman Lord Coe is the overwhelming favourite to succeed Lord Moynihan.

Pedigree: Sir Clive led England rugby team to World Cup glory in 2003

Pedigree: Sir Clive led England rugby team to World Cup glory in 2003

The meeting between Hunt and Woodward is likely to take place in Brazil – the pair are flying out on Friday on a four-day trip to start the search for a training base for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Woodward, who was brought in to the BOA by Moynihan in 2006, stated last month that he had 'every intention' of staying at the organisation in the run-up to 2016.

The man who led England to Rugby World Cup glory in 2003 has been linked with a return to his original sport and would not be short of offers.

He has already agreed to chair an independent review of the British Judo Association's elite performance programme.

John Dunlop to retire from training

Racing great Dunlop to retire from training at end of flat season

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UPDATED:

14:31 GMT, 13 September 2012

Veteran Classic-winning trainer John Dunlop is to retire at the end of the current Flat season.

Twice winner of the Epsom Derby with Shirley Heights (1978) and Erhaab (1994), Dunlop, 73, also saddled three St Leger winners in Moon Madness (1986), Silver Patriarch (1997) and Millenary (2000).

Other big wins on his roll of honour include three 1000 Guineas winners – Quick As Lightning (1980), Salsabil (1990) and Shadayid (1991) – and two Oaks winners in Circus Plume (1984), Salsabil (1990).

Retiring: John Dunlop has enjoyed a long career in racing

Retiring: John Dunlop has enjoyed a long career in racing

Dunlop said: 'I can confirm that I'll be retiring at the end of the current Flat turf season. There are several reasons behind the decision. I now have much reduced stable numbers and it is now less viable than it once was.

'My wife has also been ill for quite a while as well, so that has been a factor and I can also now live in the shadow of my very successful sons.

One of the greats: Dunlop talks with Richard Quinn after victory at Goodwood in 1995

One of the greats: Dunlop talks with Richard Quinn after victory at Goodwood in 1995

'I don't want to get involved at the moment (in talking about his career), it is a little bit too fresh. I talked to the staff this morning and my owners yesterday and today. It's very much fresh off the printing machine.'

Arguably one of the finest horses to pass through the doors of Dunlop's stable was Sakhee, who finished second in the 2000 Derby to Sinndar and then fourth to Giant's Causeway in the Coral-Eclipse.

The Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned colt joined Godolphin for his four-year-old season, winning the Juddmonte International and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe before being beaten a nose by Tiznow in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Racing favourite: Dunlop pictured back in 1995

Racing favourite: Dunlop pictured back in 1995

Dunlop's sons Ed and Harry have both become successful trainers, with the former enjoying Classic glory of his own in the Oaks with superstar fillies Ouija Board and Snow Fairy.

Snow Fairy most recently won the seventh Group One of her incredible career when landing the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in the hands of Frankie Dettori.

Paralympics 2012: Lexicon Decoder – what is it?

So, what is Lexicon Decoder, or LEXI for short and how is it helping the Paralympics

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UPDATED:

07:50 GMT, 27 August 2012

LEXI is a graphical way of looking at the classification at the Paralympics, aiming to simplify the system that gives the Games the structure for fair competition.

LEXI, short for Lexicon Decoder, uses colour-coded graphics to show the type and level of impairment within sporting classes, green for no impairment up to red for a severe impairment.

Created for Channel 4 by Paralympic gold medal-winning athlete and TV presenter, Giles Long, it will be used in coverage of eight sports at these Games as an aid to viewers.

Lexicon Decoder

With almost 500 hours of coverage on TV and online, the level of interest in this Paralympic Games is likely to eclipse any other, presenting a real opportunity to market disability sport to the masses.

To help viewers understand the action, a complicated classification system, a maze of letters and numbers, needs to be explained to an unfamiliar audience.

Why is a swimmer with dwarfism racing against someone with no arms Is it fair that a man with no legs sails against a man who is blind

These are the kind of issues the coverage seeks to deal with, assisted by Giles Long, a triple Paralympic gold medal-winning swimmer who got so fed up with explaining the classification system to his friends that he devised a system of his own which is being used in Channel 4’s coverage.

‘My first Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996 wasn’t on TV, so there was nothing out there not to understand,’ said Long. ‘In Sydney, there was a lot more but even my friends who knew my disability didn’t understand the system, which told me that 99 per cent of people watching would not be able to fathom what was going on.’

Going for gold: Stef Reid is targeting top prize in 100m, 200m and the long jump

Going for gold: Stef Reid is targeting top prize in 100m, 200m and the long jump

After Channel 4 won the rights to host broadcast the Paralympics — bidding a reported 9m to the BBC’s 5m — it approached Long to devise an easily digestible classification system: ‘Every time I tried to explain, it took so many words,’ said Long. ‘However, my dad is a graphic designer and I come from a family of painters, so I took as my mantra “A picture speaks a thousand words”.’

The graphic-based LEXI system simplifies the existing classification system by using stickman-style diagrams and traffic light colours to reflect levels of disability, with green indicating no impairment through to red signifying severe impairment.

‘It overrides the “expert” system because viewers are having it explained to them in a different way,’ said Long. ‘Swimming is the only sport where you get seemingly very different competitors up against each other. Some will be in wheelchairs, some on crutches and some might seem to have nothing wrong with them at all.

‘The crucial point is that it’s not about how you walk down the street, it’s about how you’re affected in a sporting arena.

‘If people can understand the classification system, they are on their way to enjoying disability sport. It is one of the major obstacles, people need to understand that it is a fair playing field.’

Classification is one of the most contentious issues facing Paralympic sport, with many athletes reporting other competitors sniping at them when they believe they have sneaked into a field of more severely disabled people than themselves.

‘With any system, there is room for improvement,’ said Long. ‘Within the bandings some people are at the top and others at the bottom.

‘But I watched Jessica Ennis win gold and the girls who came second and third were about a foot taller than her. She beat them because she played to her strengths better than they did theirs.’

London 2012 Olympics: Beach volleyball crowd need drug testing – Des Kelly

Olympic diary: Drug testing needed for hyperactive beach volleyball crowd

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 29 July 2012

What the sport of beach volleyball needs to introduce if it wants credibility is a vigorous programme of drug testing. Not for the competitors, but for everyone else in the stadium.

I went along to the magnificent Horse Guards’ Parade location half expecting the audience to be dotted with potential candidates for the sex offenders’ register, wearing bottle- bottom glasses and with anoraks on their laps.

Instead, I found a wild-eyed crowd behaving as if they had simultaneously overdosed on E-numbers, caffeine, anti-depressants, beer and more beer.

Spectacle: Dancers perform in the stands during a beach volleyball match

Spectacle: Dancers perform in the stands during a beach volleyball match

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VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

There is no doubt, if you want noisy, almost inexplicable levels of happy-clappy glee from a paying public then this is the place to be. When the British teams were on court this weekend, the place was a permanent Mexican wave. At times it made darts night at Alexandra Palace look serene.

But beach volleyball should really be classified as an endurance event, since the main challenge is to endure the endless SHOUTING from the stadium announcers.

Even when a point is being played the people on the public address seem to regard this as an unwelcome interruption in the true business of the day —which is listening to them yell at eardrum bursting volume.

The male announcer bellows: ‘LONDON! ARE YOU READY’

Crowd: ‘Yay!’

Announcer: ‘I CAN’T HEAR YOU! LONDON, ARRRRE YOOO READY’

This happens approximately every minute, so I assume the announcer is only unable to hear because he is deaf from his own shouting. But I am certainly ‘ready’. Ready to rip the PA man’s larynx out with my bare hands and feed it to the swans on the nearby Serpentine.

Incredibly, the female co-announcer is worse. Between points someone called ‘Charlie’ shrieks about ‘TEEEM GEEE BEEE’ with a dead-eyed smile that suggests an inner loathing, before trying to coerce the crowd to start a conga. But they are far too busy doing their endless Mexican Wave.

With the Benny Hill theme playing and young dancers writhing up on the sidelines, the whole beach scene resembles a nightmare spin off of ‘Take Me Out’ on ITV2. And when the PA man encourages the crowd to ‘Get the clap going’, I wondered if Paddy McGuinness had missed his true vocation.

But rather than storm the commentary
booth and beat the announcers to death, the crowd buy into this,
possibly because they know it will be the only time they will experience
the ‘sport’, or because they are all drugged up on Nurofen. Either way,
they cheer absolutely everything.

Best of British: Zara Dampney (left) and Shauna Mullin got the host nation off to a good start

Best of British: Zara Dampney (left) and Shauna Mullin got the host nation off to a good start

Announcer: ‘Let’s hear it for THE FIRST OFFICIAL!’

Crowd: ‘Yay.’

Announcer: ‘Here come the GUYS THAT RAKE THE SAND!’

Crowd: ‘Yay.’

Announcer: ‘LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE RAKE!’

The game itself doesn’t need the forced ‘atmosphere’. Although it remains ludicrous that this is an Olympic sport rather than some Californian holiday activity, beach volleyball can be entertaining.

The men’s game is more athletic and competitive than the women’s. And although the Team GB — sorry, TEEEM GEEE BEEE! — duo of John Garcia Thompson and Steve Grotowski lost to Canada, the din was such it was almost possible to ignore the fact that Britain’s men had just been defeated at a beach sport by a nation that mostly consists of glacial ice sheets.

They were even times in the first set when GB looked like they had a shout. It was just never as loud as the announcer’s.

The men are rarely mentioned because the women wear bikinis and that’s all anyone appears to care about. I might find that exciting, too. But not right now. I’m afraid I have a headache.

LYCRA LADS' NEW RECRUIT

Mark Cavendish might have failed to deliver gold on Saturday, but Lizzie Armitstead brought home silver 24 hours later to ensure the country’s love affair with two-wheels will continue to grow.

Some estimates claim the number of people cycling in London is up by 150 per cent since 2002. But is the host city of the 2012 Games genuinely ‘cycle friendly’

The best way to find out was to climb on a ‘Boris Bike’ and ride from east London to the road race
finish on The Mall. So I pulled on some unnervingly tight cycling shorts, a Team GB shirt and a
cycle helmet. Improved aerodynamics boost speed, which is why you never see a hairy Formula One car, but I drew the line at shaving my legs to reduce wind resistance like the professionals.

Contrasting fortunes: Mark Cavendish was out of luck (above) but Lizzie Armitstead won silver (below)

Contrasting fortunes: Mark Cavendish was out of luck (above) but Lizzie Armitstead won silver (below)

Britain's Elizabeth Armitstead holds her silver medal during the victory ceremony for the women's cycling road race

I can only assume this body hair explains why I was unbelievably slow. Or it could have been the
Boris bike, a brilliant innovation that you can hire for 1 a day from docking stations all over
the capital. But to ensure the contraptions are never stolen, they have been made entirely of lead and weigh more than a steam locomotive.

Inconveniently, there are no bike docking stations near the Olympic Stadium. Probably because the bank that sponsors the scheme are not part of the Olympic ‘family’.

I rode in from nearby Victoria Park instead, taking in the sights, carbon monoxide, choking black diesel fumes and dodging vans when a bus wasn’t inches from my rear mudguard.

On the way, I was pleased to note New Cavendish Street has a cycle lane and a specialist shop. And I can confirm London is getting better for bikes. It truly is a cycling city when the centre of the city is closed off entirely for the Olympics.

DAILY X-RAY

My five-inch replica of the Big Ben clock tower makes it through the scanners. This pointy souvenir could be used to poke politicians out of glad-handing photographs with any British medal winner.

Long wait: The media queue to get through security at the Olympics

Long wait: The media queue to get through security at the Olympics

DAILY MOAN

Beach volleyball players say squirrels are causing problems by burying acorns in the sand at Horse Guards Parade. They should give thanks they aren’t playing on an actual beach near London. The dogs bury far worse at Southend. Then they’d have a real problem.

Skipper Greene says Team GB athletic squad can hit Van Commenee"s eight medal target

Skipper Greene says Team GB athletic squad can hit Van Commenee's eight medal target

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UPDATED:

17:57 GMT, 12 July 2012

Athletics team captain Dai Greene believes one of Britain's best squads for years can achieve their target of eight medals at the London Olympics.

World champion Greene is expected to lead by example with a medal in the 400 metres hurdles, with a personal best in Paris last Friday erasing doubts about his fitness after a knee operation over the winter.

And with the likes of Mo Farah (5,000 and 10,000 metres), Jessica Ennis (heptathlon) and Phillips Idowu (triple jump) all strong bets to add to the medal haul, Greene is confident the 'fair' target can be attained.

Safe target: Dai Greene says Team GB can achieve eight track and field medals

Safe target: Dai Greene says Team GB can achieve eight track and field medals

Speaking ahead of this weekend's London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace, the 26-year-old Welshman said: 'I think it's one of our best teams in a long time. I think we've been getting steadily better in hitting our medal targets. We don't have massive numbers, it's more quality than quantity and we have a good mix of youngsters and experience, it's a good balance.

'People like Holly Bleasdale are so young and performing so well, Robbie Grabarz (high jump) has come out of nowhere and seems to be handling it all very well. It's great to see that.

'The feel is that the team has done better than in previous years already this season and it's about putting the icing on the cake in London.'

Asked specifically about achieving eight medals, Greene added: 'As long as I don't have to get all of them.

'Charles (van Commenee, UK Athletics head coach) wouldn't say it if he didn't think we could attain it. He is very harsh but also very fair. If you look at myself, Mo, Jess and Phillips who have picked up medals recently, you also have Robbie, Holly, some of the relays as well.

'All sorts of people could come out of nowhere. Hannah (England) got a medal last year. We could get less or we could get more.

Setting the benchmark: Charles van Commenee has threatened to resign if the target is not met

Putting his head on the line: Charles van Commenee has threatened to resign if the target is not met

'You have to have an element of luck I think and hopefully things will go our way. Eight seems very fair and I think we will attain it.'

The hardest part of the captaincy for Greene so far has been preventing his girlfriend letting the cat out of the bag since he was offered the job in April, but the reigning world, European and Commonwealth champion believes it will not prove an onerous task in London.

He added: 'Charles made it very clear there are going to be a lot of questions about it once it was announced and I knew the responsibility I was taking on, but in terms of what it actually entails it's a speech and not too much else – don't get into trouble that kind of thing.

'It was something I really wanted to do having done it last year at the European Team Championships and I'm training and competing very well, which makes it a lot easier as well.

'Christian (Malcolm) did a really good job at the world championships last year, but it's easier to learn from the people who haven't done a good job – but I'm not going to name the names.'