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Footballers"s Football Column – Ross Allen: Signing Matt Le Tissier is great but he won"t take penalties off me

ROSS ALLEN: Our fixture pile up is tough – up at 5am, fly to England at 7am, game at 3pm and back home for 9pm… and then ANOTHER match the next day!

PUBLISHED:

08:25 GMT, 24 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

13:13 GMT, 24 April 2013

Ross Allen

Ross Allen is a British centre forward with a better strike rate than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He has scored 53 goals in 37 games for Guernsey FC this season, but more impressive is his contribution to an incredible fixture pile-up that has seen the club in the middle of 20 games in 36 days. In his debut Footballers' Football Column he writes about that sequence, which started on April 1 and ends on May 6, and came about through postponed home matches in winter and an unlikely run to the FA Vase semi-final… Oh and a certain team-mate called Le Tissier.

Footballers Football Column: Ross Allen

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GUERNSEY'S FIXTURE RUN-IN

DATE
TEAM
VENUE
SCORE
01/04/2013
Windsor
Away
W 6-1
05/04/2013
South Park
Away
W 2-0
06/04/2013
Cove
Home
L 1-2
07/04/2013
Camberley
Home
D 2-2
09/04/2013
Farnham
Away
W 2-1
12/04/2013
Horley
Home
W 4-1
14/04/2013
Raynes Park Vale
Home
W 4-3
16/04/2013
Hanworth Villa
Away
L 2-1
18/04/2013
Badshot Lea
Away
D 2-2
20/04/2013
Hanworth Villa
Home
W 5-1
21/04/2013
Chessington & Hook Utd
Home
L 2-0
24/04/2013
Colliers Wood Utd
Away

26/04/2013
Ash United
Home

27/04/2013
Molesey
Home

28/04/2013
Sandhurst Town
Home

30/04/2013
Bedfont Sports
Away

03/05/2013
Dorking
Home

04/05/2013
Hartley Wintney
Home

05/05/2013
Epsom & Ewell
Home

06/05/2013
Farnham Town
Home

The season started off well, we were around the top of the table. Then this FA Vase run kicked off. We knew that was a great opportunity to show what we could do on a national scale and get more publicity. We did really well but that was always a bit of a bonus and we were focusing more on the league.

Then November hit and everything just started to stall. Unfortunately our pitch just didn’t hold up against the weather. We share it with our local rugby team. It wasn’t their fault at all but the pitch just couldn’t handle it. It was underwater for the best part of two months.

Unfortunately it’s at the bottom of a low-lying part of the island and the rain just drains down there from the hills. It’s part of an athletics stadium so it’s not really been there for football in the past. We adopted it last season. It’s the best place for us and has an 800-seater stand. It’s great for the crowd. We had ten home games between November and the end of January and I think we might have had one or two of those games on with the winter being so bad.

It was a nightmare and really set us back. We didn’t get any rearranged away games. It got to the point where it didn’t look like we could make a serious bid for the title. We just didn’t know when we were going to get all these league games in. All we had was this FA Vase run, which was incredible because most of the games were drawn away.

That was fortunate because we wouldn’t have played them if they were at home. But when we started getting league games back on as the weather got better, the Vase games clashed. So we had to push more back. As we got further in the Vase we saw that as a great opportunity to do something, there was always a sniff of Wembley.

Dangerman: Ross Allen has scored 53 goals in 37 games for Guernsey

Dangerman: Ross Allen has scored 53 goals in 37 games for Guernsey

In a league of his own: Allen has a better strike rate than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

In a league of his own: Allen has a better strike rate than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

More from The Footballers' Column…

The Footballers' Football Column – Carolyn Radford: We aim to take Mansfield to the Premier League within five years, but we need to avoid the play-offs… because last time I was arrested!
23/04/13

KEVIN BETSY: It's the business end, players start falling out… You get on-loan players who just don’t care plus the ones too easily found on the treatment table
19/04/13

The Footballers' Football Column – Leon Osman: We will miss 'Fizzer' Neville but he'll miss us too… And why Leighton Baines is no Hank Marvin
18/04/13

ROB SEGAL: Footballers who come through the ranks at English clubs never get the contracts they deserve… players from overseas get more money and it makes no sense
15/04/13

MARTIN ALLEN: Winning titles is not all about money. City pay the big wages but it is United are at the top of the table… they have spirit, tenacity and drive and I hope my squad is similar to Fergie's in that way
12/04/13

KEVIN NOLAN: West Ham need big European nights at the Olympic Stadium and Big Sam is the man to deliver the dream
09/04/13

ROHAN RICKETTS: Footballers think they are untouchable… but the reality is life without a contract can be very tough
07/04/13

CRAIG ROCASTLE: There's a lot of expectation when you have my surname.. but now I'm trying to make a name for myself in the indoor league in America (as soon as I learn the rules)
03/04/13

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

We got through to the semi-finals last month, started getting a few more league games in, then the schedule came out. We were all shocked. We didn’t really know the rules but we thought they might extend the season into the middle or end of May and give us a bit more leeway. But that’s not how it turned out.

Guernsey is such an amazing place, everyone comes together as a community – you’ve got 60,000 people on your side and everything fighting for the same thing. Everyone saw it as a challenge and one we are thriving to take on.

We lost our two-legged semi-final against Spennymoor.

That was always a tough ask but we showed character, losing 4-1 on aggregate. They’ve got pedigree and we always knew we were the underdogs. For the home leg everyone rallied together to get friends, family, anyone who is interested in football down. We had a crowd of 4,290, which is huge for us. It was an amazing day, full of green all the way around the pitch. That definitely gets you buzzing.

To get to the semi-finals in only our second year of being formed is a great achievement, something we should be really proud of. It was disappointing to miss out on Wembley but we had a game two days later so we didn’t have much time to be too despondent. We bounced back with a 6-1 win.

This congested run is very hard, very tiring, but we know what we are doing. We play in the Island Games every year. The tournament is only a week so you play three games in a row, your three group games, then you have a day off, then the semi and the final. In the Isle of Wight in 2011 we played five games in six days with an 18 man squad. So we’ve done this before. We’re the best team in the country to be prepared and adapted to this kind of challenge.

We have to fly to all our away games using Aurigny Air Services. Our recent match at South Park, in Surrey, was a Friday night game, kick off at 7.45pm. We flew to Gatwick and stayed at the airport hotel. I scored two as we won 2-0. But we had a match the following evening so after staying over we woke up the next morning at 7am, for the 8.30am flight back to Guernsey.

We tried to get some rest, some food, then it was a 7.45pm kick off that evening. Then there was a 1.30pm kick off the day after that. That’s the mad one. You get home Saturday night after the game at about 11pm but have a game the next afternoon.

How do we get through it We have amazing staff who are all volunteers but committed to making sure we’re rested, getting massages, and things like that.

People have actually come to games and revealed they are qualified masseurs. They say: 'I read about your fixtures in the paper, can I offer my services' They come into the dressing room and do it for free. The boys really appreciate it. These little things are going to make all the difference, recovery is so important.

Beautiful setting: Allen enjoys living in Guernsey and says the community all comes together

Beautiful setting: Allen enjoys living in Guernsey and says the community all comes together

Lionel Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo

Simply the best: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the best players in the world – but Allen has a better strike rate than both players

We’ve probably got a good 25 players signed on now. A few extra have joined us, who did play last season but for various reasons haven’t been able to commit to as much this season. They can’t go to away games because of families but are itching and raring to go for the home games.

Before each game the coaching staff ask everyone: 'Are you alright to start tomorrow night if I choose you' There will be more of that than just the manager picking the team. They don’t want to pick someone who is struggling and will have to come off early because they are knackered.

People will put their hands up if they aren’t doing well – because they will probably play the next day. We’ve got enough mature lads in our squad to know it’s a team effort – no one man will do every game, the full 90 minutes.

If it’s a weekend game we’re up at 5am in the morning for the red-eye. That’s a 7am flight. We get to England, have a bit of food, hang about at the airport. Then head up to the game for a 1pm or 3pm kick off. Then we fly back that evening and get home around 9pm. It’s a full day commitment. For people with families that’s one of their weekend days.

Out of the cup: Guernsey were beaten in the FA Vase semi-final by Spennymoor Town

Out of the cup: Guernsey were beaten in the FA Vase semi-final by Spennymoor Town

Staying put: Allen says he has no desire to leave Guernsey and play elsewhere

Staying put: Allen says he has no desire to leave Guernsey and play elsewhere

Luckily I don’t have any wife or kids. I try not to get too tied down otherwise I’ll start missing games. Everyone’s got full time jobs because none of us get paid. We’ve got a few in teaching, a lot at banks in the town, really varied. I work for an online company. It’s a bit more flexible – not just a 9 to 5. We get all travel covered thankfully.

I’ve scored more than 50 goals this year – more than 100 since we formed – but that’s my job, we play such an attacking game. Our head coach Tony Vance was a striker and that’s how he wants to play the game. It suits us really well because we’ve got pace, we get good width and I’m always getting in the box, getting the goals. My team-mates do a lot of the work.

I’m not looking to move on. I had trials for years and it was something I wanted to do when I was a little bit younger. But I’m 26 now and some people would say that’s quite old in football terms. I’m lucky this has come around – I think all our players were just playing local football back in Guernsey and that gets a bit stale, you’re playing against the same people each week. We played Jersey every year. But it’s not really enough. So it was perfect timing in my career for this to happen.

Le God: Matthew Le Tissier is life president of Guernsey

Le God: Matthew Le Tissier is life president of Guernsey

Magnificent seven: Le Tissier could pull on his football boots again for Guernsey this season

Magnificent seven: Le Tissier could pull on his football boots again for Guernsey this season

It will be good to have a rest when the season is done. It’s been a long one. We’ve got a month to go. It will be nice to have a break, maybe go on holiday – but we’ll be straight back on it in July with the FA Cup qualifiers. It will be a nice month or so that we have off.

Matt Le Tissier is our president and he comes down for a few games – but we seem to lose any he watches! It’s great to have him involved – he gives us a shout out every now and again on Soccer Saturday. He’s put us on the map a little bit but I think our football is generally doing that itself.

Matt has been re-registered to play and he warmed up with us recently, which was great. It was good to see him as he’s been so supportive since the start. You could still see his touch was there. But if he does end up playing at some point this season, he won’t be taking over my penalty taking duties!

James McClean never wanted to play for Northern Ireland – Nigel Worthington

EXCLUSIVE: Worthington reveals McClean never wanted to play for Northern Ireland

qualifier against Italy in Pescara and now, almost 18 months after handing the reins to Michael O'Neill, he admits he would return.

'If the opportunity ever came up again, I wouldn't think twice about taking it,' he said.

'I loved every minute of that job. I loved working with the squad and the people behind the scenes were always terrific.'

While
those supporting Worthington in post are fondly remembered, he failed
to leave much of a legacy among the fans, who complained at his
'negative' tactics.

'Some
people will remember sections of the supporters having a go at me
towards the end of my time but I wouldn't say a bad word against them.

'They
were fantastic, loyal and passionate throughout my time in charge and
there is no better sight in football than seeing 13,500 people inside a
bouncing Windsor Park.'

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan: Michael O"Neill plays down Berti Vogts" claim

Northern Ireland boss O'Neill won't fall for Vogts' mind games ahead of Azerbaijan test

|

UPDATED:

23:45 GMT, 13 November 2012

Mind games: O'Neill is nonplussed by Vogts' claim

Mind games: O'Neill is nonplussed by Vogts' claim

Berti Vogts' ill-fated Scotland reign was hardly renowned for its lighter moments, but he had Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill smiling broadly ahead of Wednesday night's World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park.

Axed by Scotland with their 2006 campaign in disarray, Vogts is back in business with Azerbaijan and busy applying his unorthodox methods to putting Northern Ireland on the back foot.

Despite O'Neill's team being only one
point ahead of Azerbaijan and Luxembourg near the foot of Group F, Vogts
portrayed them as world-beaters at his Belfast team hotel, as he said:
'They will be very confident after winning that point in their last game
in Portugal, and I would like to congratulate them on an excellent
draw. We have watched video tapes, and my players have got to know their
opponents. Some of them have gone a little quiet, because they have
seen the teams the Northern Ireland players represent. That tells us the
quality we are up against.'

O'Neill was less convinced Azerbaijan's players will be gripped with fear and nonplussed by Vogts' claim that seven injured players will be missing from their starting line-up.

'They didn't have a game on Saturday, so I'm not sure what they have been up to in training,' he said.

'I expect them to get men behind the ball, but I'm also sure they will fancy their chances of taking all three points.

'They wanted this game on a date when most countries are playing friendlies, and that tells me they knew they would get the preparation time needed and thought there would be a real chance of winning. We will have to be on our guard for that.'

London 1948 Olympics: Picture special

PICTURE SPECIAL: Fascinating images from 1948… when London last hosted the Olympic Games

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UPDATED:

16:38 GMT, 18 July 2012

With the London Olympics on the horizon, Sportsmail's thoughts have turned back to the last time the city hosted the Games, in 1948.

Here, we delve into the history books to bring you photographs from the showpiece event 64 years ago.

The Olympic torch is presented at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium in London

The Olympic torch is presented at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium in London

Veteran runner H J Bignall (right) hands over the Olympic torch to Fred Prevett at Redhill, Surrey

Veteran runner H J Bignall (right) hands over the Olympic torch to Fred Prevett at Redhill, Surrey

AA patrols with signs at Olympic Way, the new road which was constructed to the Wembley Stadium

AA patrols with signs at Olympic Way, the new road which was constructed to the Wembley Stadium

The Opening Ceremony for the 1948 Olympics at Wembley Stadium

The Opening Ceremony for the 1948 Olympics at Wembley Stadium

A torch bearer lights the Olympic flame at Wembley Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 1948 Games

A torch bearer lights the Olympic flame at Wembley Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 1948 Games

80,000 people watched the King open the 14th Olympic Games as temperatures reached 33C

80,000 people watched the King open the 14th Olympic Games as temperatures reached 33C

The Great Britain men's gymnastics team at Empress Hall, Earl's Court, during the Olympic Games in London

The Great Britain men's gymnastics team at Empress Hall, Earl's Court, during the Olympic Games in London

Cyclists at the mass start of one of the men's road races at Smith's Lawn, Windsor Great Park

Cyclists at the mass start of one of the men's road races at Smith's Lawn, Windsor Great Park

Fritz Hegner of Switzerland on the shooting range at Bisley, Surrey, during the modern pentathlon event

Fritz Hegner of Switzerland on the shooting range at Bisley, Surrey, during the modern pentathlon event

Cyclist Reg Harris of Great Britain wins heat eight of round two in the men's sprint at Herne Hill Velodrome

Cyclist Reg Harris of Great Britain wins heat eight of round two in the men's sprint at Herne Hill Velodrome

McDonald Bailey (centre) of Great Britain wins heat six of the men's 100m event at Wembley Stadium

McDonald Bailey (centre) of Great Britain wins heat six of the men's 100m event at Wembley Stadium

The eight crew who represented Argentina in the Olympic games prepare to take to the river in Kingston

The eight crew who represented Argentina in the Olympic games prepare to take to the river in Kingston

Members of the British gymnastics team practising on the high bar in Hyde Park

Members of the British gymnastics team practising on the high bar in Hyde Park

The floating boxing ring was installed at the Empire Pool at Wembley

The floating boxing ring was installed at the Empire Pool at Wembley

The weightlifting competition was held in Empres Hall at Earls Court, which will also be used this year

The weightlifting competition was held in Empres Hall at Earls Court, which will also be used this year

ZA Olsen of the USA takes a jump during the springboard diving event in the Wembley Pool

ZA Olsen of the USA takes a jump during the springboard diving event in the Wembley Pool

A Curtis of the USA, the winner, is leading on the last lap of the final of the women's 400m freestyle

A Curtis of the USA, the winner, is leading on the last lap of the final of the women's 400m freestyle

Andre Marie of France wins the 110m hurdles trial from O.H Bernard of Switzerland and S.F. Foster of Jamaica

Andre Marie of France wins the 110m hurdles trial from O.H Bernard of Switzerland and S.F. Foster of Jamaica

Cook of Great Britain (left) during his bout with Mosman of Holland who went on to win

Cook of Great Britain (left) during his bout with Mosman of Holland who went on to win

Crowds watching the 1948 London Olympics in the rain at Wembley Stadium

Crowds watching the 1948 London Olympics in the rain at Wembley Stadium

A Coca-Cola stall at Wembley Stadium during the Olympic Games in London, August 1948

A Coca-Cola stall at Wembley Stadium during the Olympic Games in London, August 1948

Fanny Blankers-Koen (Holland) and Maureen Gardner (Great Britain), first and second on right in the 80m hurdles

Fanny Blankers-Koen of Holland and Britain's Maureen Gardner (first and second on right) in the 80m hurdles

High jump silver medalist Dorothy Tyler (nee Odam) with her sons David (left) and Barry

High jump silver medalist Dorothy Tyler (nee Odam) with her sons David (left) and Barry

The Indian team attacks the Spanish goalmouth during preliminary field hockey matches at Chiswick

The Indian team attacks the Spanish goalmouth during preliminary field hockey matches at Chiswick

The US basketball team hold their captain Jesse Renick aloft after they beat France 65-21 to win the final

The US basketball team hold their captain Jesse Renick aloft after they beat France 65-21 to win the final

Gold winner of the 10,000m Czech Emil Zatopek (centre), with Alain Mimoun (left) and Bertil Albertsson

Gold winner of the 10,000m Czech Emil Zatopek (centre), with Alain Mimoun (left) and Bertil Albertsson

Roger Chesneau leads the competitors in the men's 3000m steeplechase at Wembley Stadium

Roger Chesneau leads the competitors in the men's 3000m steeplechase at Wembley Stadium

The start of the fifth heat of the men's 100m freestyle event at the Empire Pool in Wembley

The start of the fifth heat of the men's 100m freestyle event at the Empire Pool in Wembley

Australian Mervyn Wood wins the single sculls final at Henley on Thames ahead of Eduardo Risso

Australian Mervyn Wood wins the single sculls final at Henley on Thames ahead of Eduardo Risso

One of the workmen with some of the direction signs to be put up at the Olympic Centre in Richmond Park

One of the workmen with some of the direction signs to be put up at the Olympic Centre in Richmond Park

Denmark's Major N Mikkelsen fails to win the jumping test event as his horse, St Hans, demolishes a fence

Denmark's Major N Mikkelsen fails to win the jumping test event as his horse, St Hans, demolishes a fence

Royal Ascot 2012: Fallen For You wins Coronation Stakes

Fallen For You runs Coronation cracker as Gosden enjoys one-two at Royal Ascot

|

UPDATED:

15:33 GMT, 22 June 2012

Fallen For You led home stable companion Starscope to give John Gosden a one-two in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

William Buick brought the 12-1 shot through with a swooping challenge in the straight to run out a three-and-a-quarter-length winner.

Starscope filled the runner-up spot, with Irish History rounding off the top three.

Winner: William Buick rides Fallen For You to victory in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot

Winner: William Buick rides Fallen For You to victory in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot

Fallen For You made a winning reappearance on the all-weather at Kempton before finishing down the field in a Lingfield Group Three.

With 1,000 Guineas heroine Homecoming Queen (9-4 favourite) setting a strong pace, Buick was keen to bide his time. It proved a wise move as the pacesetters soon faltered.

The trailblazing tactics that were so effective for Homecoming Queen at Newmarket did not pay off in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and she once again faded quickly.

Irish Guineas winner Samitar fared best of the two Mick Channon-trained runners in fourth.

Gosden said: 'I always thought she was our best filly last year but I gave the wrong instructions in the Fillies' Mile.

'She was second in the May Hill and ran a bit green so I said be up there because the ground was riding fast and that was riding her back to front.

Done it: William Buick celebrates after winning on Fallen For You

Done it: William Buick celebrates after winning on Fallen For You

'Then she had a holiday and came back and I think she still had that in her mind as she was always too keen.

'Ryan (Moore) won on her at Kempton but it wasn't where we wanted to be.

'We then ran her behind a lovely older filly of Henry Cecil's (Chachamaidee), who was second in the Windsor Forest. She got in trouble but she learnt a lot.

'She trained beautifully, worked well last Sunday morning, and we were ready for a big run.

'They went hard up front, there's a strong headwind and she was just sat there. She is classy, this is not a fluke.'

Buick said: 'The fast pace suited her. Things have conspired against her in the past but today everything went perfect.

'She finished off really well and won
easily. Like John said, this is not a fluke. The turn of foot was
impressive against the best of her generation.'

Start the party: William Buick and Fallen For You are led in after winning the Coronation Stakes

Start the party: William Buick and Fallen For You are led in after winning the Coronation Stakes

Chris Richardson, managing director for Starscope's owners, Cheveley Park Stud, said: 'We're thrilled she's bounced back to her best. We drew a line under her Newbury run as she got upset in the parade.

'What she wants is a strong-run mile as I don't think she stays further. We'll see where John goes with his other fillies as she's ground dependent.'

Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said of third-placed Art History: 'We're obviously delighted she's Group One-placed.

'She was a bit unlucky last time at Sandown and she's bred in the blue so it's great.'

Mick Channon said of Samitar and the sixth-placed Laugh Out Loud: 'We've no excuses. I'm pleased enough with Samitar but she was beaten fair and square.

'She's got lot of options and is in the Falmouth. Laugh Out Loud has been on the go a while and will have a break.

Homecoming Queen beat only two home, and her rider Joseph O'Brien said: 'She just didn't fire.'l

Rangers to receive 100k boost with friendly clash against Linfield

Rangers to receive 100k boost with friendly clash against Linfield

|

UPDATED:

09:09 GMT, 11 April 2012

Crisis-hit Rangers will look to bury their miserable season and profit from a 100,000 bail-out when they travel to Belfast for a glamour friendly next month.

Cashing in: McCoist will take his side to face Linfield in the summer

Cashing in: McCoist will take his side to face Linfield in the summer

Irish Premiership part-timers Linfield will host Ally McCoist's men at Windsor Park on May 7, Sportsmail has learned.

The SPL side will have to account for expenses but crossing the Irish Sea by ferry rather than by plane will shave potentially thousands off their costs.

Confirmation of the date is expected
on Wednesday and will provide a small cushion for their financial
problems, not to mention a welcome distraction from ongoing feuds.

On
Tuesday, club director Andrew Ellis demanded one quarter (24.9 per
cent) of Craig Whyte's shares following his takeover last year, claims
Whyte has since dismissed.

It is anticipated that Rangers will also bring all four of Northern Ireland's senior internationals for the trip to the Irish champions.

Captain Steven Davis, utility man Andy Little and strikers David Healy and Kyle Lafferty have all reportedly kept themselves available for the tie at Northern Ireland's international stadium.

Battle: Rangers are still fighting to secure their future

Battle: Rangers are still fighting to secure their future

Under 19 sensation Andy Mitchell, who has been a recent regular on the bench at Ibrox, also has a strong chance of being selected.

The 20-year old midfielder has been touted to become another of Northern Ireland's 'fast-tracked' starlets and could soon earn a call-up to Michael O'Neill's senior squad.

He spent four years at Manchester City’s academy before moving to Glasgow in 2010.

Nick Faldo: I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was 30

Faldo: I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was 30. But look at Rory McIlroy, he's won 12m and he's only 22

|

UPDATED:

00:20 GMT, 11 March 2012

On the other side of the Atlantic, Sir Nick Faldo is revered as a witty and insightful broadcaster whose work for the CBS network and Golf Channel is enriched by an English sense of humour that Americans adore.

One minute he can be prone to sound like Michael Caine, the next like one of the cast of Monty Python.

And, even in moments of mimicry, he always sounds knowledgeable.

Respect: Nick Faldo after his famous US Masters victory over Greg Norman at Augusta in 1996

Respect: Nick Faldo after his famous
US Masters victory over Greg Norman
at Augusta in 1996

His light but probing touch behind the microphone has been influenced in part by the style John McEnroe brings to his tennis commentary.

In their playing days, neither man could have been accused of having the potential one day to charm armchair audiences.

While McEnroe sulked and raged, Faldo was a singular, headstrong, blinkered golfer who, on the course, rarely communicated beyond a handshake at the start and end of a round.

He cared only for himself, they said.

Yet Faldo, back home last week at his business headquarters in a suite of offices a short walk from Windsor Castle, insists that beneath the demeanour of the cold-eyed assassin that he brought to a golf course during the years he became the most successful British player in modern history, there lurked a child-like mischief that few ever saw.

Meltdown: Greg Norman watched his six-stroke lead disappear in the final round at Augusta

Meltdown: Greg Norman watched his six-stroke lead disappear in the final round at Augusta

Meltdown: Greg Norman watched his six-stroke lead disappear in the final round at Augusta

Meltdown: Greg Norman watched his six-stroke lead disappear in the final round at Augusta

'What I don't like is people saying that I have reinvented myself, just to be popular,' he said.

'That's the biggest load of rollocks. I wanted to be a daft dad to my four kids – that was probably my No 1 thing. I take that to golf, TV needs it; and I guess, I have a bit of entertainer in me, luckily.

'I did look at the way Mac broadcasts, as well as studying other commentators in American sports. I think my sense of humour works well in America and I make sure I go to the range, or the gym, to speak to the guys to know what's happening. My way of entertaining before was just hitting golf balls bloody well.'

Faldo's record for doing just that has stood the test of time. His six majors – victories in the Open in 1987, 1990 and 1992, coupled with his three wins at The Masters in 1989, 1990 and, most famously, in 1996, when he defeated Greg Norman, who held a six-shot lead on the final day – established him for life.

Bitter-sweet: Faldo hugs Norman as they finish up on the 18th hole at Augusta in 1996

Bitter-sweet: Faldo hugs Norman as they finish up on the 18th hole at Augusta in 1996

Among the photographs on the walls of his boardroom, offering snapshots from his illustrious career, is one of Faldo hugging Norman on the 72nd green at Augusta.

On Friday, Faldo looked at the picture and explained how Norman's meltdown had left him speechless.

'I said to Greg: “I don't know what to say to you, mate, but I want to give you a hug”.'

Augusta had not witnessed anything comparable since until Britain's Rory McIlroy surrendered a four-shot advantage on the final day as Faldo watched uneasily from the CBS commentary studio.

Faldo has known McIlroy since he appeared as a teenager in his Faldo Series, his hugely successful search for a star programme, and he warned American viewers early that afternoon.

'Poor Rory. He's reached that point where the mind shuts down,' he said on air.

Glory days: Faldo receives the Masters green jacket from the 1995 winner Ben Crenshaw

Glory days: Faldo receives the Masters green jacket from the 1995 winner Ben Crenshaw

'Once you scare yourself at Augusta – and we have all done it – there's little hope.'

But Faldo does not fear there will be lasting consequences for McIlroy when he returns to the heart of Georgia in three weeks.

'I think Greg was scarred for a while by what happened, but he was towards the end of his career,' said Faldo.

'Rory is still so young, so bulletproof, and he is one of my favourites to win the Masters. 'His No 1 goal will be to be in the same position on the Sunday as he was last time. He's got to world No 1 and he's smart enough to deal with all the questions he can expect when he gets back there.

Faldo's five: To win the Masters

'He is secure because two months after losing the Masters he won the US Open. I'd back him to play a big part at Augusta in a few weeks' time. He's got a level head – he's a special kid.'

Once that had been a tag pinned to Faldo.

'I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was 30,' he said, with the
wry look of a man with multi-millions in the bank as the 25th
anniversary of his first major approaches.

'It is a hilarious ambition for these kids playing now. What's Rory won, 12million already! They have no idea.

'I see these silly clips on TV now, and
they call me the one-in-a-million wonder kid. I had long hair and a
ratty set of clubs that didn't match. I used to pack one suitcase and
play in America for three months.

'Now, these kids have jets and clothes waiting for them in the locker room that they wear once and leave behind!'

Faldo's voice carries not a hint of envy. He is the only golfer to have
been knighted in his lifetime and, for all the criticism his
self-detached attitude to the game brought him, Faldo's art was
uncomplicated; the harder he practised, the luckier he became.

On
Friday, as tourists eagerly snapped photos of Windsor Castle to show
loved ones at home in Toledo, or Tokyo, Faldo stood in front of the
gates dating back to the reign of Henry VIII with a broad smile. Only he
knew intimately the pomp and circumstance of what lies beyond that
entrance guarded by vigilant armed policemen.

Faldo, who grew up as an only child in a council house in Welwyn Garden City, recalls with affection and pride the day he was asked to kneel before the Queen to be knighted.

'The procedure is so wonderfully precise, so British,' said Faldo.

'I was told: “You'll start here and walk shoulder to chest with Gordon.” In the King's and Queen's Room you are asked if you would like to practice how to kneel. You are told you have to have your left foot beside the cushion first, then drop onto your right knee. Well, I saw the funny side of this… I stood looking at it like a long jump. Do I start lef-tright or right-left If you get it wrong, you could fall into Her Majesty!

'What I remember most is Her Majesty seems to be standing a long way back when suddenly, a sword, almost as big as a driver, comes at you. The sword is more than 200 years old and it's cool to think whose head that has been on.

Meltdown: Rory McIlroy suffered the agony of Augusta in last year's final round

Meltdown: Rory McIlroy suffered the agony of Augusta in last year's final round

You've got to be choking: McIlroy went to pieces when holding a final day lead

You've got to be choking: McIlroy went to pieces when holding a final day lead

Hole new ball game: The world's No 1 will head to the Masters as top dog next week

Hole new ball game: The world's No 1 will head to the Masters as top dog next week

'I cried afterwards. No doubt, it was the most emotional day of my life, off the golf course, apart from the birth of my four children. It was brilliant to see my mum and dad so proud.'

As Faldo recalled that precious moment, he smiled: 'I am a serious softie.'

Those who played against Faldo would testify against such an admission in court without the need of a subpoena.

But Faldo argued, defiantly: 'For me to be a hard bag of nails on the golf course was generated for the purpose of being a successful golfer. So, I think I did a damn good job. I didn't necessarily make friends. I could do all the things psychologists say are good to do; which others train their backsides off to do. They call it getting in performance-mode nowadays. That's a great quality, isn't it

'But people would see me like that and didn't like it. I was focused, obsessed. But what was an enviable quality on the golf course was seen as not such a great quality off the course.'

Family man: Faldo with his now grown-up children Natalie, Matthew and Georgia, and ex-wife Gill

Family man: Faldo with his now grown-up children Natalie, Matthew and Georgia, and ex-wife Gill

Faldo is comfortable with that. His three failed marriages tell, at least on the surface, a price Faldo has paid for his insular lifestyle. Yet he has retained strong, loving relationships with his three adult children, Natalie, Matthew and Georgia, as well as with seven-year-old Emma, who lives with her mother, close to his home in Florida.

'Natalie's just started on the production staff of a TV show in America, Matthew's worked for me in the past, and everyone likes him, and Georgia's studying law at East Anglia University – and if she does company law, there will be a job waiting for her!'

Natalie was just a toddler when his career took off, at Muirfield, through the grainy light of an inhospitable Scottish summer.

King of the castle: Sir Nick Faldo in Windsor last week

King of the castle: Sir Nick Faldo in Windsor last week

Faldo typically held the best golfers at bay with 18 holes of par golf. Only months earlier, he had been still trying to piece together a game that had been utterly remodelled with swing coach David Leadbetter.

'I was missing cuts, sponsors were leaving me and I was earning zip,' recalled Faldo.

'At Muirfield, I was so flipping nervous. I worked my tail off on every shot, in terrible weather, under that new kind of pressure.'

At 54, and building a new apartment with views of Windsor Castle, he says he carries only one scar from golf. No one has scored more points for Europe and Ireland in the Ryder Cup than the 25 won by Faldo, but his year as captain ended in defeat, in 2008.

'I think there were lots of people who wanted me to fail, as they thought, “Faldo's got everything”,' he said, sadly.

'It was tough.'

But history will ultimately be generous to Sir Nick Faldo, the English knight adored beyond these shores for the knowledge and entertainment he brings to American TV audiences.

Northern Ireland 0 Norway 3: Same old problems for new man Michael O"Neill

Northern Ireland 0 Norway 3: Same old problems for new man O'Neill

Michael O'Neill's first match in charge of Northern Ireland ended in defeat as a deflected opener and two late goals gave Norway a comfortable victory at Windsor Park.

Things started brightly enough, with the hosts having the best of the first period only to go behind a minute before the break after Sammy Clingan diverted Havard Nordtveit's shot past Lee Camp.

Tarik Elyounoussi then doubled the winning margin with a neat shot on the turn and Espen Ruud's volley sealed it in added time.

Fortunate goal: Havard Nordtveit celebrates his goal with Marcus Henriksen

Fortunate goal: Havard Nordtveit celebrates his goal with Marcus Henriksen

MATCH FACTS

Northern Ireland: Camp, McAuley, Hughes, Jonathan Evans, McGivern, Corry Evans, Clingan, Davis, Ferguson, Shiels, Paterson.

Subs: Mannus, Hodson, McGinn, Healy, McCann, Duff, McQuoid, McCourt, Carson, McGovern.

Norway: Jarstein, Hogli, Rogne, Demidov, Riise, Henriksen, Nordtveit, Grindheim, Pedersen, Abdellaoui, Huseklepp.

Subs: Pettersen, Reginiussen, Elyounoussi, Ruud, Jenssen, Braaten, Berisha.

O'Neill's first teamsheet included
recalled duo Dean Shiels and Shane Ferguson, both absent from the
national set-up for the last two years of Nigel Worthington's tenure.

There was also a change at the back,
with Jonny Evans given the chance to establish himself in his preferred
centre-back position in place of Gareth McAuley, who was shifted to
right-back.

David Healy started on the bench but
with 17 minutes left became his country's most capped outfield player –
cap number 92 taking him clear of Mal Donaghy.

Northern Ireland's first attack, in
the second minute, saw full-back Ryan McGivern break down the left and
fire a powerful effort at goal.

Goalkeeper Rune Jarstein reacted well
to tip it over the crossbar only for Shiels to produce a tame header
from the resulting corner.

Holding off: Northern Ireland Dean Shiels battles with Norway's Christian Grindham

Holding off: Northern Ireland Dean Shiels battles with Norway's Christian Grindham

Ferguson was next to try his luck down the left and his deflected cross just evaded Martin Paterson on the six-yard line.

The lively start found the fans in
noticeably better voice than they had been at the end of the Worthington
era, with O'Neill's arrival in the technical area warmly welcomed.

Clingan was using the ball well in
midfield, freeing Ferguson again as a quick Northern Ireland break again
stretched the visiting defence.

Norway were content to counter-attack in the opening 20 minutes, but too often left Mohammed Abdellaoue isolated up front.

New era, same result: Northern Ireland's Steven Davis vies with Norway's Morten Gamst Pedersen

New era, same result: Northern Ireland's Steven Davis vies with Norway's Morten Gamst Pedersen

Northern Ireland endured a nervy
moment after 25 minutes, a weak defensive header from Ferguson handing
Norway a clear opportunity on the right-hand side of the penalty area.

Luckily, it fell to full-back Tom Hogli, who blazed over.

Moments later Northern Ireland had the best chance so far.

Fight for the ball: Ryan McGivern vies with Norway's Valon Berisha for possession

Fight for the ball: Ryan McGivern vies with Norway's Valon Berisha for possession

Ferguson's cross was poorly dealt
with, leading to a frenetic couple of seconds that saw Steven Davis,
Paterson and McAuley all try to force the ball over the line from close
range.

Davis was closest to success, with McAuley's sliced effort ending the danger.

There was a warning for the home side too when Erik Huseklepp worked Camp at the near post.

John Arne Riise twice looked primed for spectacular volleys but made negligible contact with both attempts.

Three and easy: Espen Ruud celebrates scoring Norway's third goal

Three and easy: Espen Ruud celebrates scoring Norway's third goal

Norway did take the lead a minute
before the break when Aaron Hughes half-cleared a corner as far as
Nordtveit, whose low shot beat Camp via the unfortunate Clingan.

O'Neill made two changes at the
interval, Grant McCann on for Corry Evans and Michael Duff ending a
four-year exile in place of Hughes.

McCann was quick to make an
impression, winning the ball in midfield, carrying it 10 yards and
forcing a fingertip save from 25 yards.

At the other end Camp fumbled Riise's near-post effort but was lucky to see Daniel Braaten botch the rebound.

Shoulder to shoulder: Grant McCann keeps the ball away from Norway's Ruben Yttergard Jenssen

Shoulder to shoulder: Grant McCann keeps the ball away from Norway's Ruben Yttergard Jenssen

Shiels was lively in his role linking midfield and attack and his cross on the hour allowed Davis a header at goal.

A clever through ball from McGivern
then found Shiels clear of his man inside the area but a crucial saving
tackle snuffed out the danger.

With a little over 20 minutes remaining, O'Neill turned to winger Paddy McCourt, who came on for the impressive Ferguson.

The Celtic man was watched from the
stands by club boss Neil Lennon, returning to the ground where he was
once barracked by his own fans on international duty.

International bow: Northern Ireland's manager Michael O'Neill and Norway's manager Egil Olsen shake hands

International bow: Northern Ireland's manager Michael O'Neill and Norway's manager Egil Olsen shake hands

McCourt was quick to make an impact too, twice beating his man on the left and sending in testing crosses.

Healy, meanwhile, had been left
waiting long enough for his record-breaking appearance and he was next
off the bench to replace Paterson.

The Rangers striker was unable to mark the occasion with a goal but Norway had time for two more.
Elyounoussi extended the visitors' lead three minutes from time when he
beat Camp at the near post, before Ruud's superb stoppage-time volley
made it 3-0 despite the Nottingham Forest keeper getting a strong hand
to it.

New Northern Ireland boss urges fans to get behind the team

We need help! New Northern Ireland boss urges fans to get behind the team

Michael O'Neill has called for
Northern Ireland fans to welcome in a new era by throwing their support
behind the team at Windsor Park.

O'Neill takes charge of his country
for the first time against Norway, with a new captain in tow in the
shape of Rangers midfielder Steven Davis.

Michael O'Neill: new Northern Ireland boss

Michael O'Neill: new Northern Ireland boss

And the former Shamrock Rovers boss is also hoping for a fresh start with the Green and White Army, who grew audibly frustrated towards the end of a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign.

Former manager Nigel Worthington shouldered most of the flak then and O'Neill has appealed for supporters to back their team from the off against Egil Olsen's side.

'It's a new start under a new manager,' said O'Neill.

'You can understand the frustration of the supporters, but no-one feels the pain of defeat any more than the players, I can assure them of that.

'I think as a supporter it's important to recognise how positive their influence can be, not only for our team but also in making the atmosphere hostile for the opposition.

'An energetic and positive performance from the lads can hopefully transmit into a positive atmosphere (in the stands).

'It's no secret the last campaign finished on a disappointing note. The players know that, everyone knows that, but that unrealistic weight of expectancy is something the players have maybe struggled to deal with in the past.

'A bit of perspective would be nice.'

Tough test: Northern Ireland face Norway at Windsor Park

Tough test: Northern Ireland face Norway at Windsor Park

O'Neill confirmed Davis would lead the side for the foreseeable future, despite former skipper Aaron Hughes' decision to reverse his retirement and return to the squad after less than six months.

'Steven Davis is the captain and he will be the captain going forward,' said O'Neill.

'I just thought at this stage of his career and with a new manager coming in it was maybe time and it would benefit the squad.

'I had a long chat with Aaron about the situation and he was, as you'd expect, totally supportive and understanding.

'He didn't have any expectation to come back as captain having made his decision (to retire) towards the end of the last campaign, he was very supportive of Steven and very supportive of the decision.'

Derby's Jamie Ward is a major doubt for the hosts after complaining of a tight thigh muscle yesterday.

Celtic defender Thomas Rogne will win his first cap for Norway after captain Brede Hangeland was ruled out with a thigh injury of his own.

Rogne had been promised some involvement in the match by Olsen and has now been drafted into the starting XI after Fulham centre-half Hangeland dropped out.

Rogne is one of four British-based players set to start at Windsor Park, with Hangeland's Cottagers team-mate John Arne-Riise in the side alongside Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen and Erik Huseklepp, who is on loan at Birmingham from Portsmouth.

Aaron Hughes comes out of international retirement

Hughes heeds Northern Ireland call with international retirement U-turn


U-turn: Aaron Hughes will try to help his country reach the next World Cup

U-turn: Aaron Hughes will try to help his country reach the next World Cup

Fulham defender Aaron Hughes has made himself available for new Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill's first squad, by reversing his decision to retire from international football.

Hughes, 32, announced his decision to end his international career in September and was denied the chance of a swansong when a groin injury ruled him out of his country's final Euro 2012 qualifiers against Estonia and Italy.

But when O'Neill started work as Nigel Worthington's successor at the turn of the year, he made contacting Hughes – the national captain at the time of his retirement – one of his top priorities.

Hughes made his debut in 1998 and has 79 caps to his name.

O'Neill's decision to appoint Fulham first-team coach Billy McKinlay as his number two gave him a direct line to Hughes – one the defender admits played a part in his decision to come back.

'I have thought very carefully over recent weeks about returning to play for the national team, since my decision to retire at the end of the last campaign,' Hughes said.

'After speaking with the new manager, Michael O'Neill, and also Billy McKinlay, who I'm obviously close to at Fulham, I feel I would like to once again return, and try to help us qualify for the next World Cup.

'I am proud to represent my country and it is my aim to contribute as much as I possibly can for the upcoming matches.'

Return: Hughes will don the emerald shirt once more

Return: Hughes will don the emerald shirt once more

O'Neill is delighted to have his most experienced defender back for the challenges ahead, starting with the friendly against Norway at Windsor Park on February 29.

He names his first squad tomorrow morning and, although Hughes is a certainty for inclusion, it is uncertain whether he will take the armband again, with midfielder Steven Davis the other main contender.

'Aaron and I met during the week and had very positive discussions and I am delighted that he has decided to come out of retirement,' said O'Neill.

'Aaron is a truly excellent professional and this is a massive boost, not only for me, but also for the squad.'

O'Neill is eager to spread the net as wide as possible as he seeks to revive Northern Ireland's fortunes, meaning the likes of Daniel Lafferty, Dean Shiels, Michael Duff and Andy Kirk could all come into consideration having not been favoured by Worthington.

Rory Donnelly, who moved from Cliftonville to Swansea earlier this season, is also an option, but he may have to wait for his chance with the senior side.