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Beach volleyball initiative launched by Zara Dampney

Give it a go! Team GB star Dampney gets behind new beach volleyball initiative

Olympics, the British public are being given the chance to try it for themselves.

The sport was one of the highlights of the Games as crowds flocked to the Horse Guards Parade last summer.

And Team GB star Zara Dampney is hoping a new initiative can encourage more people to take the fast-paced, action-packed discipline.

Zara Dampney

Zara Dampney

Best of British: Zoe Dampney was part of Team GB and the beach volleyball squad at London 2012

The Go Spike Big Weekend, which runs from May 25-27, offers the chance to take part in beach, indoor, outdoor and sitting volleyball at various venues across England.

'I’m incredibly excited about the Go Spike Big Weekend and think it will be a fantastic showcase of everything volleyball has to offer,' Dampney said. 'Everyone from kids to retired people should experience the enjoyment and the health benefits of volleyball.

'People don’t realise just how accessible volleyball is – there are facilities for all versions of the sport right across the country, and I hope that once people give it a go they will join up and make volleyball a regular part of their lives and enjoy it just as much as I do.'

Popular: Beach volleyball was introduced to a whole new set of fans last year in London

Popular: Beach volleyball was introduced to a whole new set of fans last year in London

Popular: Beach volleyball was introduced to a whole new set of fans last year in London

Popular: Beach volleyball was introduced to a whole new set of fans last year in London

For further information on the Go Spike Big Weekend and details of events across England visit www.gospike.net

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.

Chelsea to sign Taison from Metalist Kharkiv

Chelsea set to add midfielder Taison to growing Brazilian contingent

By
Simon Jones

PUBLISHED:

09:25 GMT, 2 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

12:07 GMT, 2 January 2013

Metalist Kharkiv attacking midfielder Taison has revealed he has spoken to Chelsea after being linked with a January move and would welcome a reunion with former team-mate Oscar.

The Brazilian is closing on a move to Stamford Bridge after impressing for Metalist, who will play Newcastle United in the Europa League last 32, since his move there two-and-a-half years ago.

*Scroll down to see Taison's knockout Champions League goal

London bound: Taison (right) looks set to join Chelsea

London bound: Taison (right) looks set to join Chelsea

He joined the Ukrainian club from Internacional, where he played alongside Chelsea’s Oscar.

Taison says he recently visited Stamford Bridge and has spoken to owner Roman Abramovich over a potential move.

'I went to England (some weeks ago) just to take a look. I talked to the president,' he told Diario Popular.

Join our club: Oscar, Lucas Piazon and Ramires are already strutting their stuff at Stamford Bridge, while David Luiz is another one bringing samba-style

Join our club: Oscar, Lucas Piazon and Ramires are already strutting their stuff at Stamford Bridge, while David Luiz is another one bringing samba-style

Join our club: Oscar, Lucas Piazon and Ramires are already strutting their stuff at Stamford Bridge, while David Luiz is another one bringing samba-style to west London

Taison added of Brazil international
Oscar: 'I see Oscar, who I played alongside at Internacional, and I want
to play with him again.'

The 24-year-old’s agent, Diego Dornelles, is not ruling out the midfielder leaving Metalist in January.

He said: 'The club want him to stay, but there are many things coming.'

Adrian Lewis: Darts should be in Olympic Games

We don't spend our lives down the pub, darts should be an Olympic sport, claims two-time world champion Lewis

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UPDATED:

17:25 GMT, 13 December 2012

World Champion Adrian Lewis has called for darts to be introduced into the Olympic Games.

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline on the eve of the PDC World Darts Championship, Lewis insisted: 'Darts should definitely be in the Olympic Games. Can you tell me any difference between archery and darts or shooting and darts

'It's a very similar concept and both of those are in the Olympic Games. And don't forget that darts is also a hugely popular sport.'

Hat-trick: Lewis is going for his third World Championship title

Hat-trick: Lewis is going for his third World Championship title

And Lewis, who claimed the World Championship title in both 2010 and 2011, has dismissed the reputation that darts players have in certain quarters of being 'heavy drinkers' and has called on the critics of the sport to try darts out for themselves if they believe it to be so simple.

Lewis, 27, continued: 'I know people say that we are a load of beer drinkers but we are far more professional these days. These critics should come and have a go at playing darts if they think it is so easy.

'We don't spend our lives at dartboards in the pub – we are at home practising. It is one of the most skilful sports in the world and there is no reason as to why it shouldn't be in the Olympics.'

Lewis, who defended his World Title by defeating Andy Hamilton 7-3 in last year's final, is confident of his chances ahead of the tournament, and is excited by the prospect of defending his title for a third consecutive time.

At the double: Lewis claimed back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011

At the double: Lewis claimed back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011

'It would be an incredible achievement to win three in a row. To make history like that would be fantastic. I was very proud after winning the World Championship the first time, so to win it three times, and consecutively, would be great.

'I'm in good form and feel ready. I've been to a few charity and sponsors' events recently but have had a week off and practised and I feel refreshed and prepared.'

And Lewis has admitted that it would be a dream to face darts legend, Phil Taylor, in the final of the tournament at The Ally Pally.

'To play and beat Phil in the final would be fantastic. He is the greatest darts player in history,' added Lewis.

'But once you are out there, you just have to play your own game and not think too much about who you are playing.'

Taylor, 52, boasts a world record 15 World Championship wins, and has been something of a father figure to Lewis, who credits Taylor hugely with his development.

'Phil and I are great mates. We have a lot of banter but he has given me so much help over the years. I used to train with him when I was younger, which was an incredible experience for me.

'What I learnt from him was how to be dedicated to the sport. I was at his house the day after he had won the World title in 2004, and I thought Phil may have had a bit of a break and relax for a bit. But he was at that dartboard practising the morning after. That's how motivated and dedicated he is. He is simply the best.'

Gary Neville: AVB deserves a second chance: Most good managers and some great ones have failed before

AVB deserves a second chance: Most good managers and some great ones have failed before

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UPDATED:

00:13 GMT, 21 October 2012

You rarely get a second chance at the
top level in football management. That has been my impression over the
years as I’ve watched some of the best leaders I played with take the
step up from playing to coaching. Roy Keane, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince,
Tony Adams, Gareth Southgate and Alan Shearer have all tried to make
that jump to be a top-class manager. All of them were strong characters
and clear leadership material. And some of them are looking to get back
into football at the moment.

Which is why Andre Villas-Boas is
undoubtedly lucky to be Tottenham manager. Having failed at Chelsea, he
walked straight back into one of the top six jobs in the country. I
sense some people might even resent that, while others are waiting for
him to fail. But contrary to the popular opinion that grew last season,
when it was perceived by some that I had an agenda against him — and I
certainly didn’t — I’m really pleased he’s been given his second chance
at Tottenham.

Because too often we bury people on
the basis of their early mistakes and brand them failures, or inept, or
tactically nave. We’re very quick to trash reputations before people
have even got going in their managerial careers.

Feeling blue: Andre Villas-Boas suffers in the dug-out against his former club Chelsea

Feeling blue: Andre Villas-Boas suffers in the dug-out against his former club Chelsea

And when it comes to high-profile
ex-players, you can move very quickly from people talking about you as a
legend on the pitch to being referred to as a washed-out manager. It
can even begin to taint the reputation you had as a player.

The question I’m asked most frequently
since I retired, apart from ‘Do you miss playing’, is ‘Why didn’t you
go into management’ Recently I was talking to Howard Wilkinson at a
League Managers’ Association event and he said that he thought I should
get back inside football, rather than commenting from the outside.

But the truth is, I’m wary of making
that leap too soon and realistic about my abilities to do the job. I
have done my UEFA A and B licences, and am about to start my pro licence
in January, and I don’t think I’m anywhere near qualified to be a
manager.

More from Gary Neville…

Gary Neville: Rooney is in the same mould as Robson, Adams and Keane
06/10/12

Gary Neville: A lack of belief is all that separates the London rivals
29/09/12

Gary Neville: I relish our rivalry, but it's never an excuse to go beyond bounds of decency
22/09/12

Gary Neville: Scholes is simply the best English player of his generation
15/09/12

Gary Neville: Will Rodgers really be able to curb his enthusiasm
25/08/12

Gary Neville: Like the Olympics, football has to show its humanity
18/08/12

Gary Neville: Italy are not very Italian, they play with rhythm and flair
23/06/12

Gary Neville: I know it's a cliche, but Chelsea's name was always on the cup
20/05/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Apart from anything else, all I had
known and experienced up to 18 months ago was at Manchester United,
which is a little bit like living on an island. Don’t get me wrong: it’s
a fantastic island to be on with its superb sport scientists, medical
and rehabilitation back-up and stability of leadership. But it’s not the
norm.

And all I had done up until my retirement was play the game.
There is no reason why a good player should necessarily be a talented
manager of people. You can develop some of the skills required to be a
manager while playing. But just because you’re a decent builder doesn’t
mean you have the skills to run a building firm. Even if you do take an
interest in management and tactics as a player, ultimately you’re
totally focused on your job and your responsibilities to your
team-mates. As for thinking about the team as a whole, that’s the
manager’s problem.

The new generation of managers such as
Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers, who are closer to me in age, have a
big advantage in that they have been preparing for the job for the past
20 years, working as coaches under mentors such as Jose Mourinho and
Bobby Robson. Some of the skills that I would like to learn, they have
been developing while I was playing.

I always thought that it would be
important after retirement to step away from that and fresh experiences
of the game. My media work has given me an important insight into that
side of football. It also means I’ve been around the country watching
more football than ever before and a huge diversity of games. Being part
of Roy Hodgson’s team with England has allowed me to watch and learn
from one of our most respected coaches at close quarters and begin to
experience a little bit of what it’s like to sit on the bench.

But nothing has convinced me yet that I’m ready to take the step to where your job is on the line match by match. It is something I might like to do at some stage once I’ve completed all my licences but even then I might not feel ready.

Learning curve: Gary Neville and Roy Hodgson observe proceedings in Warsaw

Learning curve: Gary Neville and Roy Hodgson observe proceedings in Warsaw

Because if it’s the case that you might get only one shot at the job, you would be foolish not to be as well prepared as you can be and have gathered as much experience as possible.

When I was a young player, my early games for United were, to be frank, not great. I made mistakes and I had lots to learn. But as part of a team, you could make mistakes, miss a few games and then come back. And I had a manager who believed in me. There are no such luxuries as a manager — and at times one or two failures can seemingly signal the end of a career.The truth is that most good managers and some great ones have failed at some point in their career. St Mirren sacked Sir Alex Ferguson. Sir Bobby Robson lost his first job at Fulham. Alan Pardew was sacked by West Ham and Brendan Rodgers by Reading. But both have risen again to take jobs at two of the top clubs in the country.

We shouldn’t be too quick to judge Andre Villas-Boas a failed manager. He has admitted that he made mistakes at Chelsea but you can be sure he will have learned from them. And last month, leading Tottenham to a win at United, he helped ease some of the pressure on him from those who do expect — or even want — him to fail.

He might have been fortunate to be invited back into such a good job so quickly. But I don’t begrudge him that. In fact, I hope that more managers are given second and third chances to prove their worth rather than be written off too quickly. The knocks you take while you still have the L plates on as a manager might be the making of you.

Famous victory: Villas-Boas oversaw Spurs' first win at Old Trafford since 1989

Famous victory: Villas-Boas oversaw Spurs' first win at Old Trafford since 1989

Exciting times ahead

I’m already excited about next Sunday’s clash between Chelsea and Manchester United. I watched Tottenham v Chelsea before going to Old Trafford and we saw two excellent games.

Both teams scored four goals and let in two but each have attacking players who are incredible to watch. Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata were superb for Chelsea, while Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck all scored.

It’s very early but this feels like it might be the first substantive title clash of the season. It’s not going to decide the title race but it might define the next phase of the season for these two clubs.

Quick feet: Eden Hazard is pulling the strings at Chelsea

Quick feet: Eden Hazard is pulling the strings at Chelsea

Garry Cook goes from Manchester City to Ultimate Fighting Championship

Former City chief Cook lands new role as boss of Ultimate Fighting Championship

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UPDATED:

18:25 GMT, 28 September 2012

Former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook has been named as the executive vice-president and managing director of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Cook quit his role with the Barclays Premier League club last September after admitting to making an 'error of judgement' following allegations he ridiculed the illness of the mother of one of the club's players, Nedum Onuoha.

Cook, who has also worked for Nike, said: 'I am absolutely delighted to be joining the UFC.

New role: Former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook (centre)

New role: Former Manchester City chief executive Garry Cook (centre)

'Mixed martial arts is one of the most popular sports globally and to be working in such a dynamic and exciting industry, with the UFC's talented, passionate and committed staff and athletes, is an honour.

'I look forward to being a part of the team as they continue to grow internationally.'

Paralympics 2012: Everything you need to know

London 2012: Everything you need to know about the 14th Paralympics

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UPDATED:

00:44 GMT, 26 August 2012

Where and when are they

The Games begin with the opening ceremony at 8.30pm on Wednesday – called ‘Enlightenment’, it promises to be ‘a spectacular celebration of the spirit of the Paralympic Games that challenges perceptions of human possibility’ and is reported to include Professor Stephen Hawking.

The closing ceremony is on September 9, including a performance by Coldplay. Much of the action will be at the Olympic Park in Stratford. Sixteen of the Olympic venues will not be used but there are some new ones, such as Brands Hatch in Kent for road cycling.

Who is competing

There will be 4,200 Paralympians from 165 nations, including 16 countries for the first time.

Ready for action: The Paralympics promises to be another sports spectacular

Ready for action: The Paralympics promises to be another sports spectacular

Six groups are eligible to compete: athletes with spinal injuries, visual impairment and learning disabilities, amputees, athletes who have cerebral palsy, and those classified within the Les Autres category, for example athletes who have dwarfism.

Deaf sportsmen and women were part of the Paralympic movement originally but now have their own Games.

How are the Paralympics different from the Olympics

Contrary to popular belief, ‘Para’ does not refer to paraplegia but comes from the Greek word ‘para’, meaning ‘beside’ or ‘alongside’, because the Paralympics are the parallel to the Olympics.

Originals: Archers at Stoke Mandeville

Originals: Archers at Stoke Mandeville

They grew out of the sport introduced at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1944 as an aid for rehabilitation. Four years later, that became the Stoke Mandeville Games, with two British teams of former servicemen and women, which turned into an annual event.

In Rome in 1960, what are regarded as the first Paralympics were held in the same city as the Olympics for the first time, with 400 athletes from 23 countries.

What sports are there

There are 19 different sports, from archery to wheelchair tennis, with a few you may not have heard of.

Boccia is a game, similar to boules, for athletes with cerebral palsy and other severe physical disabilities who compete in a wheelchair, while goalball is for visually impaired athletes where the aim is to score by rolling the ball at speeds of up to 60mph into the opposition’s goal. The crowd must be silent during play so that players can hear the bell in the ball.

In some events, such as cycling, coming first does not mean you have won as riders from different classifications are in the same event for one set of medals. It is only after a ‘factoring’ system, using a mathematical formula, is applied that the final results are confirmed.

What can we expect from the British team

Medals. Lots of them. The ParalympicsGB team for London will be the biggest to represent the country, with 288 athletes selected, alongside a further 13 team members, including sighted goalkeepers, tandem riders and guide runners.

Pedigree: There's no reason to think GB won't be more successful than four years ago

Pedigree: There's no reason to think GB won't be more successful than four years ago

They have been set a minimum medal target by UK Sport of 103 from at least 12 sports, after second place behind China in 2008, with 42 golds from 11 sports and 102 medals in total. ParalympicsGB have had 49m UK Sport funding.

Where can I watch it all

Channel 4 beat the BBC to the rights to the Games, its 9m bid almost double the Beeb’s. And it will offer 500 hours of live coverage, including More4, online and with three live streams on digital channels.

Clare Balding leads its coverage, with a 5.30pm show, but a group of presenters, such as Jonathan Edwards, Kelly Cates and Ade Adepitan, will be hosting shows from 7am-11.15pm. The BBC is covering the Games through Radio Five Live.

Body language: The story of the surprising Joleon Lescott and his tattoos

Body language: The story of the surprising Joleon Lescott… and his tattoos

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UPDATED:

00:37 GMT, 13 June 2012

Quiet, thoughtful and unassuming, Joleon Lescott has never been your typical England centre half.

One look at the profound messages tattooed across his torso or a few minutes in the company of the softly-spoken boy from Birmingham will tell you that.

Then again, the 29-year-old who claimed his first international goal to give England the lead in Monday’s draw with France has spent most of his life surprising people.

Body language: Joleon Lescott

There were those who thought he might not survive, let alone pursue a career in football, after a childhood accident left him with massive head injuries.

‘I know there was a time when my mum and dad didn’t think it would turn out as well as it has done, put it that way,’ Lescott once said. ‘But thankfully the doctors worked their magic. I have a scar but I have nothing to worry about.’

Lescott often conceals it under a hat, which has become something of a fashion item for a player who launched his own label in April with brothers Aaron and Jordan.

Golden moment: Lescott beats Lloris

Golden moment: Lescott beats Lloris

City’s stars turned out for the occasion at Manchester Art Gallery for one of their most popular team-mates, yet in the three years since a 24million move from Everton, some critics have questioned whether Lescott would still be at the club.

It has not always gone smoothly but, true to form, he has continued to emerge as one of the finest centre backs in the country. Those who saw Lescott come through at Wolves are not surprised to see him so determined to prove his detractors wrong.

First-team coach Terry Connor remembers taking the club’s kids for a long run on his first day 13 years ago. One was sick by the side of the road but declined an invitation to quit and quickly recovered the lost ground.

‘When I got back I asked who it was,’ says Connor. ‘I was told, “That’s Lescott”. From that moment on, I thought, “He’ll do for me!”.’ France are certainly not the first to underestimate Joleon Lescott.

LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS: Will.i.am carries torch in Taunton

Crowds flock to see Black Eyed Peas star Will.i.am carry Olympic torch in Taunton

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UPDATED:

20:06 GMT, 21 May 2012

The Voice judge Will.i.am carried the Olympic Torch on Tuesday.

The Black Eyed Peas star was cheered on by thousands of people as he ran through Taunton carrying the flame.

The United States-born music producer was a surprise addition to the line-up on day three of the relay.

Where is the love: Black Eyed Peas star Will.i.am carried the Olympic torch through Taunton

Where is the love: Black Eyed Peas star Will.i.am carried the Olympic torch through Taunton

Will.i.am, 37, looked at ease in the warm weather as he jogged through the Somerset town centre.

The Metropolitan Police Torch Security Team, which runs alongside the torchbearer, kept a watchful eye on the cheering crowd.

The music producer's torch was 'kissed' by that held by 26-year-old taekwondo instructor Chloe Lock, from Honiton, Devon, to light the flame.

Popular man: The crowds flock to see Will.i.am

Popular man: The crowds flock to see Will.i.am

Before he started running he was passed his mobile phone and was tweeting as he set off down the road under Union Flag bunting and surrounded by screaming fans.

He held his phone in the air indicating to people to follow him on the social networking site.

After a couple minutes he waved to the crowd while smiling broadly.

Crowd pleaser: Will.i.am carries the torch to the cheers of the watching crowd

Crowd pleaser: Will.i.am carries the torch to the cheers of the watching crowd

Multitasking: Will.i.am looks at his phone while carrying the torch

Multitasking: Will.i.am looks at his phone while carrying the torch

He also turned around to perform a short moonwalk to the delight of onlookers.

Thousands turned out to watch the torch travel through the town unaware of the surprise appearance.

They waved colourful flags and children held homemade torches made from bright yellow and red paper.

Will.i.am's turn in the relay was over in under five minutes when he passed the flame to the next runner, biathlete Emma Fowler.

Speaking after his run, the music star said: 'That was like a surreal moment.

'I remember in 1984 the Olympics in Los Angeles, me being a little Will watching it on TV wishing I could be at the Olympic Games.

'I had that flashback when they handed me the torch to run in Taunton.

'It's like a blast moment and a surreal moment and a can't believe it moment all at the same time.

'I got a little more nervous this time than all the things I have done.

'I am not holding a flame when I am performing in front of people and the last thing you want to do is make a mistake with fire in your hands.'

Will.i.am said: 'I'm a huge Olympics fan. I want to see the swimming match, I want to see Usain Bolt.

'I want to see if he's really that fast because I want to race him one day. I wouldn't win but I want to see how close I would come.'

The star said he was amazed at the number of people who had turned the relay through Taunton into a real family occasion.

On the run: Will.i.am jogs through the streets of Taunton

On the run: Will.i.am jogs through the streets of Taunton

Job done: Will.i.am passes the Olympic flame to Emma Fowler on the relay leg through Taunton

Job done: Will.i.am passes the Olympic flame to Emma Fowler on the relay leg through Taunton

'I just saw everyone coming out, excited that the running of the torch was here in their neighbourhood, in their city and pride for the city,' he said.

'To see families and little kids and their parents and everyone just having a good time – I am so glad I came here. It's great people, great energy, a great vibe.

'There's one area, it's like a village of houses and it looked like the neighbourhood I came from in Boyle Heights, where the neighbours looked after the neighbours, and it looked like a real community and that reminded me of the community I come from.'

He confessed he had never been to a cricket ground before and added: 'But I reckon I would be pretty good.'

There were no mishaps for Will.i.am, real name William Adams, unlike earlier when the torch went out for the first time during the 2012 relay and had to be relit.

Birmingham City manager Chris Hughton exclusive interview

Chris Hughton exclusive: We lost our team's core, but you can't feel sorry for yourself

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UPDATED:

21:50 GMT, 3 May 2012

It is Birmingham City's Christmas party and manager Chris Hughton is hosting his own table. You might expect him to be surrounded by his staff – the chief executive at the very least.

Yet, apart from one member of his coaching team, the diners are made up of the club's unsung heroes: his personal assistant, the groundstaff, the boot cleaner and kit men. The people who make a professional football club function.

It fits the profile of a Tottenham full back who penned a column for the Trotskyist publication News Line during the 1970s.

Everybody loves Chris: Hughton has earnt an excellent reputation after stints at Spurs, Newcastle and now with Birmingham

Everybody loves Chris: Hughton has forged an excellent reputation after stints at Spurs, Newcastle and now with Birmingham

And it has echoes of another Londoner of that era, Wolfie Smith, the self-proclaimed 'urban guerilla' and leader of the Tooting Popular Front in John Sullivan's sitcom Citizen Smith.

So, welcome to the world of Citizen Chris – man of the people. It is not an unfair description. The manager's marketing tagline should read 'Substance over style'. It is an approach that goes down well at Birmingham.

It is rare indeed that the 53-year-old is not at the club's Wast Hills training base before his players and staff. More often than not, he is there when they leave, too.

After one of the longest managerial apprenticeships in English football – working for more than a decade in a variety of roles at Tottenham – he led Newcastle to promotion before being dumped in spectacular fashion.

Blue ambition: Birmingham are aiming for an immediate return to the top flight

Blue ambition: Birmingham are aiming for an immediate return to the top flight

Now he is at St Andrew's. He inherited a relegated squad eviscerated by the loss of 20million-worth of talent, took over from Alex McLeish, who had committed the cardinal sin of swapping sides to join Aston Villa and the club's owner, Carson Yeung, was and still is facing money-laundering charges.

It is fair to say Birmingham are three games away from the most unexpected return to the Barclays Premier League. Hughton is grateful for the manner in which he was accepted by the supporters.

Making his point: Hughton's Birmingham take on Blackpool on Friday

Making his point: Hughton's Birmingham take on Blackpool on Friday

'I do feel the warmth,' he says. 'There was a tremendous amount of goodwill towards me – and the players – when I turned up here.

'For me, the advantage I had was that I was fresh. I didn't have any preconceptions. I was told what the situation would be when I was interviewed. I said “Hello” and then “Goodbye” to Craig Gardner inside one sentence.

'But, when that window closed last summer, the players had to get on with it. There is no point feeling sorry for yourself in this game.

'I do think there is a little misconception here. People naturally assume the financial problems which are spoken and written about transmit themselves to the dressing room and training pitch.

'As a manager, I've got to make sure they have the correct training sessions. That they are disciplined. That creates a good environment. Secondly, if there are players leaving, it creates opportunities for two other groups. Those who may have been on the fringes in the past – the likes of Curtis Davies, Keith Fahey and David Murphy -and those who are joining us.

'And, of course, you didn't have the scenario where they were coming to me asking to go and the club were saying: “No, you can't”. That only breeds a negative atmosphere.

'It's just circumstance. The same set of circumstances I had to deal with at Newcastle.

'When Newcastle were relegated, we lost a lot of players but the core of the team stayed. The difference here is that the core has left.

HOW THEY LINE UP

BLACKPOOL (probable, 4-2-3-1): Gilks; Eardley, Baptiste, Evatt, Crainey; Southern, Martinez; Ince, Dobbie, M Phillips; Taylor-Fletcher.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (probable, 4-1-4-1): Doyle, Ramage, Ibanez, Davies, Murphy; Burke, N'Daw, Mutch, Townsend; Elliott; King.

Referee: Mark Halsey.

TV: Sky Sports 1 (kick-off: 7.45pm, tonight).

'You have to work around that. I wasn't sure what we could achieve. What I did think was that they would give it a really good go.'

Birmingham's backs-to-the-wall playing style had carried the club into the Premier League for the first time, but when he got the job Hughton was told by the directors to try to put a smile on the fans' faces again. He has certainly done that.

Birmingham's tally of 78 goals this season is their best in this division for 44 years and their highest return since the Division Two (now League One) promotion campaign of 1994-95. Tonight they are away to Blackpool in the first leg of the Championship play-offs.

'Management has never been the most important thing for me,' Hughton says. 'I was a coach at Spurs for 15 years. I did want to go into management but what was important to me was doing a very good job in whatever capacity I was employed.

'It just happened that there were a lot of different managers. I was seen as the link – the continuity, if you like. I was in a position to observe different styles, ways of working.

'Had I lost my job then, I certainly would have gone into management earlier than I did.'

And what of his politics It is the stand-out detail on a c.v. that is filled with examples of hard work.

'It's true,' he said. 'I did write – but it's probably not as dramatic as it sounds. I've always had strong views on social issues such as hospitals – I think we should have a good health system – and the education system, too.

'I was a young player with Ireland at the time. These days, players can do as many interviews and columns as they want. Back in the day, it wasn't like that. Anyway, I'm sure I wrote about football and football issues. Nothing else.'

He may want to blend in with the crowd, but if a return to the Premier League beckons, he might find that difficult, especially in Birmingham. Even Chris Hughton would be happy to accept the attention.