Sexism and racism will never stop Annie Zaidi from achieving her dream

AnnieZ

Women have faced an uphill struggle for decades as they have tried to become a reputable part of the footballing community, but for Annie Zaidi the task plunged into new depths as she struggled to shrug of not only sexism, but Islamophobia too. But any obstacles that step in her way will not stop her from trying to achieve her dream of being the one to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

Opportunities for women with an ethnic background to get involved in football are still at an all-time low, despite racism and sexism being frowned upon in the current day and age. Research from the Fare Network found that of the ‘Elite level clubs’ playing in England, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, 96.6% of the senior coaches are white men.

Research conducted by Sports Coach UK led them to make the statement that “Female coaches say football can be like an ‘old boys network’ where women have to prove their knowledge in order to gain the respect of male coaches.” Although possibly not true in all cases, Zaidi’s experiences would suggest the research they conduct isn’t far wrong.

Newcastle was the destination where one of her first chances to coach men presented itself. Zaidi was studying at Durham University at the time, and claims the chance was somewhat a baptism of fire into the world of football coaching.

“For four or five weeks they didn’t like it. After the tragedies of 9/11 and 7/7 and because I was wearing a headscarf I was a more visible Muslim. I had to gain their respect rather than them just respecting me straight away.

“I came away from tackles with broken ribs and swollen ankles, and it was just a nightmare. Because I’m a feisty one the more I fell down the harder I got back up, and eventually that gained their respect.” She mentioned.

Taking those hits was all worth it in the end, and she believes the wider effect that her ability to get back up after being knocked down showed will have helped to educate those players in Newcastle to appreciate her as a coach for her ability, rather than her sex or race.

“Eventually I realised that football was just not a game. It was breaking down social barriers and creating communication.

“They won’t see a Muslim woman in a headscarf and automatically think she is a terrorist like they might have. They will appreciate women coaches now too.” She claimed.

Her love for the sport stems from being a younger sister to two keen football enthusiast brothers, who gave her little choice but to take up the sport so she could remain involved with her siblings. But despite beginning to love the sport, her opportunities to take it further back then were lacking.

“Me being me I had to fit in and I had to join in with the lads. It was a hobby that I loved but sadly there weren’t really any opportunities for girls to play back then, especially for a girl with a different coloured skin.

“It was a bit like me against the world. I’m a bit of a feisty one and I’d always say that they could take my bib and my ball away from me, but one thing they could never take away is my passion. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I’ll do it anyway to prove them wrong.” She stated.

Zaidi was awarded the Helen Rollason Award for inspiration at the Sky Sports Sportswomen of the year awards in 2015, and received plaudits from high-profile male figures in the sport at the ceremony such as David Beckham, Les Ferdinand and Chris Ramsey.

“I was taken aback by the comments that Sir Les Ferdinand and Chris Ramsey said about me. I think their words were more overwhelming and heart-warming than the award itself.

“My Grandfather since the award has promoted me to being his favourite Grandchild of the 10 he has got, because back in Pakistan everyone knows about David Beckham. I’d love to know why I wasn’t already his favourite, but that’s another story.” She joked.

The ambitious coach has already gone a long way to achieving her ultimate goal of coaching at the top level in the men’s game, and currently coaches the under-11 girls at Leicester City’s academy, something she describes as her “proudest moment to date”.

Although happy with her current lifestyle, Zaidi like anyone aspires to become bigger and better than she is now, and hopes her determination and grit will get her to that destination.

“My ultimate goal is to get my A license and get a job full time in the men’s game. Arsenal is my dream though.

“This season I’ve got more trophies for being a good coach than Arsene Wenger has, so why not. I’d love to meet him and talk to him and pick at his brain though.” She concluded.

Arsenal’s senior side is the dream, but for Zaidi to have an impact at a professional level in the men’s game would almost certainly show the footballing world that sex or race are not an obstacle if your passion is football.

 

Robbie Hunter-Paul: “When it came to training, I’d train the house down.”

Photo courtesy of: Examiner.co.uk

From the comforts of home in Tokoroa, New Zealand, where walking around the town barefoot was the norm, to the bright lights and fast moving pace of the City of Bradford in the North of England, where Robbie Hunter-Paul and his family were subject to a few gazes of disbelief as they walked around the city centre without wearing so much as sandals on their first day there.

It was safe to say Hunter-Paul had made a big change to his life, and at such a young age. But his move to Bradford Bulls would ignite the start of hugely successful career at the top of the Rugby League game in England, which spanned over the course of 17 years.

The 40-year-old was only 18 when the move to the Bulls came about, and to understand the cultural differences that was about to become a reality for him, he tuned in to Sky Movies to watch the Bradford based film Rita, Sue and Bob too.

“We were one of the first families in our neighbourhood to get Sky as we followed the Rugby League in Australia.

“I knew nothing about the culture in England, and I knew less about a city in the North of England called Bradford. Rita, Sue and Bob too is a British cult classic about a guy who sleeps with babysitters on a council estate in Bradford, and that was my introduction.

“You can imagine as an 18-year-old who was brought up as a mummy’s boy, that after watching that I had a firm grip on my mum’s skirt as I got off the plane when I arrived.”

The former Scrum-half believes British people are among the most tribal in the world, although he claims they don’t even realise to what effect. Hunter-Paul pinpoints his success as Captain of the Bulls at such a young age as being down to managing all of his teammates personalities, no matter where they had come from, no matter what ‘tribe’ they were a part of.

“Depending on what side of the street you grew up on in Britain, you will go ‘Nah I’m not speaking to that lot over there’. The melting pole which is a professional rugby team, you have so many different backgrounds and cultures.

“When it came to training, I’d train the house down. Very few people trained as hard as I did. Off the field I was very focussed, but when it came to being able to communicate on those different levels, I was able to do that. I was also wise enough and smart enough to know that 18 years of age, I didn’t know it all.”

1996 turned out to be a phenomenal year for the Kiwi, when he ended the season as the the Bulls top try scorer, before winning the man of the match award and the Lance Todd Trophy, after scoring three tries in the Challenge Cup final against St Helens.

“When I scored the first try I rolled over and there was a wall of 30,000 Bradford fans, it was just amazing. We were losing at this point so it got us back into the game and within 2 points. It was rock star moment.

“Do you know why rock stars do what they do? Put aside the money, it’s because it feeds that kind of adrenaline and endorphin release. It’s the strongest drug on the planet, and you can never replace that.”

Although throughout his career Hunter-Paul worked hard to never make costly mistakes, he’s reminded daily of one in a Grand Final between Leeds and Bradford where he fumbled the ball around the Bulls own 22 with only minutes to go, a mistake that eventually led to the Rhinos overturning the Bulls lead and winning the final.

“My father taught me one of the best lessons in life. He told me that if I made a mistake it’s not your fault, but if you make it again it damn well is. Because you should have learned from the first time you made that mistake.

“Did I always learn from the first mistakes? Hell no. Show me someone who didn’t. The people who are of the elite understand failure, they understand losing and making a mistake. Most of the time it’s the best lesson learnt. Did I let that mistake beat me up? No, I just had to move on.”

You don’t need to be a world class sportsperson to understand sibling rivalry. You fight, squabble and kiss and make up countless times before you grow up into men, and even then not a lot changes. Robbie played alongside his brother Henry at the Bulls, but they had to face up against each other as rivals too.

“He’s the best player I’ve ever played with or against. The way he was able to transcend his game to international level was exceptional. He’s a very driven man, and I picked up some of my skills from him.

“It was hard having to compete with someone growing up who was two years my senior, and two years physically more developed than I was, but playing with him every day developed me as a player.”

With his career in England blooming, a personal dream of the New Zealanders that stemmed back to being a six-year-old was about to become a reality in 1997, as he was set to represent his country for the first time. Not even his initial self questioning of his worth of wearing such a shirt would hamper one of the proudest days of his life.

“It was such an honour to lead the Haka against England, the other half of my life. That was a truly joyous day, and one of my proudest moments as a rugby player.

“I remember stood in front of my shirt whilst it was on the hook, and suddenly things go through your head like ‘am I even worthy of this jersey?’.

“Then the doggedness and drive that got your there in the first place comes out and says ‘snap out of it you pussy, pull this shirt off the hook and put it on.’ I was lucky to have a long stint as a New Zealand international, but you have to earn it.”

Although he came to England with little knowledge of the culture, he remains resided here, married to an English wife, with English children, and will be seen as legend that will forever have his story written in the Bradford Bulls history books. He may have moved to the country originally for his Rugby career, but he is quite happy to admit he stayed for the people – And thankfully he now has enough shoes to not worry about those looks of disbelief that shoe-less day it all begun.

Police make arrest in connection to Chris Brunt coin throwing indicent

The Police have made an arrest in connection to the coin throwing incident, in which West Bromich Albion midfielder Chris Brunt was struck by the object after his side lost 3-1 at Reading on Saturday.

Brunt’s side were beaten comfortably by Reading, with the result sending the Royals into the FA Cup Quarter finals against the odds. The Northern Ireland international was heading towards the travelling faithful to hand a supporter his shirt when he was hit in the face, leaving a visible mark immediately.

Throwing a coin at a player is shocking enough, but the fact the coin was thrown the traveling Albion fans makes the case 10x worse. Brunt has made over 300 appearances for the club and is one of the longest serving players. He told the press of his “disgust” at the coin thrower, and was “ashamed” by the whole thing.

Thankfully, Thames Valley Police said the man was arrested on Tuesday, also announcing that the arrest was part of a joint operation held with the Hampshire Police department. The club have also announced that they will impose the “severest of actions” on the guilty party.

A case of ‘monkey see monkey do’, Chelsea fans were also guilty of coin throwing this weekend, as they pelted Manchester City player David Faupala and his teammates on Sunday as they celebrated their equaliser at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea’s statement following this incident stated they would impose lifetime bans for the offenders.

 

Adam Johnson’s court hearing live

Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Today Adam Johnson appears at Bradford Crown Court for two child sex offences and Josh Halliday, a journalist who is in court, has been tweeting some pretty intriguing stuff from throughout the hearing.

Here they are, starting from the very first:

So he took advantage of the fact she was a big fan of his. Disgusting.

Black Cats sack Adam Johnson

28-year-old winger Adam Johnson has today been sacked by Sunderland AFC after the footballer pleaded guilty to one charge of grooming and one count of participating in sexual activity with a child under the age of 16 years.

The Black Cats had announced earlier in the day that Johnson would be unavailable for their Premier League match on Saturday with Manchester United.

There could still be parts of the story to unfold as the midfielder will face two further counts of sexual activity with a child on Friday – but this is something he currently denies.

Sunderland released a club statement 7:35pm which read as follows:

“In light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.

The club will make no further comment.”

The Sunderland born player has also had his boot sponsorship deal with Nike severed today too, as many of those who were closely linked to him look to distance themselves from association quickly.

“Adidas can confirm that it has terminated its contract with footballer Adam Johnson with immediate effect.

“This follows his guilty pleas entered earlier this week.” A statement read.

Johnson had enjoyed his final game in Sunderland’s red and white having been a major part of the club’s fight back from 2-0 down at Liverpool, as he scored direct from a free kick to make the scores 2-1 – before Jermaine Defoe equalised seven minutes later to finish the game at 2-2.

Let’s take a look at how Twitter reacted (Including an old one from another Adam Johnson from around the time the story first unfolded):

(The views in the tweets do not necessarily match mine. Just thought they were share worthy.)

Giants handed Grix blow

Super League side Huddersfield Giants have been dealt a blow after finding out that full-back Scott Grix will miss five months of the new season with a shoulder injury.

Paul Anderson, head coach of the Giants, announced the bad news today – whilst Grix was in fact one of three players to suffer an injury during Friday’s loss to St Helens.

The shoulder injury appears to be similar to one that resulted in a limited amount of appearances for the 31-year-old during the 2014 season, but Grix had been a prominent figure last year making 24 apps.

“Everything you can imagine that’s gone wrong with his shoulder has done.

“He has had previous history with surgery on that shoulder and it will be a longer rehabilitation programme. We’re looking at five months.” Anderson told the BBC.

As previously mentioned, there were two other injuries on the night and those were announced as club captain Danny Brough, who had to be substituted after sustaining a dead leg – and Eorl Crabtree, who may be missing for a few weeks with a groin injury.

“It’s the first time in my history I’ve seen Danny in genuine pain.

“He’s a tough human being and he hates rehab, so he’s giving them a tough time.” Anderson continued.

The Giants will be looking to bounce back from the loss on the opening day of the rugby season when they face Wigan Warriors on Friday at 8pm in the John Smith’s stadium.

Three days ago the club announced that they had taken ex-St Helens winger Jamie Foster on trial, but it has now been confirmed by Anderson that he is on course to start Friday’s televised tie with Wigan.

“Jamie will play. He’s saying the right things but obviously he’s been inactive for a while. There is always a risk with that but we have no choice at the moment.

“What you are going to see over the next couple of weeks is the future of the Giants. We’re not likely to get anybody back soon. The young fellas will be loving it because they’re going to get an opportunity to play at home, on Sky, against Wigan, and challenge themselves.”

Nadal will play at Queens club this summer

Rafael Nadal remains one of the biggest names in the sport of tennis, and is still many fans’ favourite despite having now not won one of the Grand Slam tournaments since 2014. But those fans will be delighted to hear that the Spaniard will be partaking in this summers Queens club tournament due to start on June 13th.

The 29-year-old is currently ranked 5th in the world and has played at Queens club on six different occasions, and even won the event back in 2008.

Nadal told the press that Queens club gives players the “perfect conditions” to prepare for Wimbledon, which begins a week after the conclusion of Queens on June 27th.

“I love playing at the Queen’s Club and I am very happy that I will be back this year. I will never forget winning the title in 2008; it was a special moment, and going on to win my first Wimbledon.

“Holding that trophy again would be amazing, although I am well aware of the difficulties because the tournament always has so many good players.”

Andy Murray has also confirmed his presence at the event, and will attempting to retain his crown having won last years tournament.

The Scot was left heartbroken after losing the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic in recent weeks, but will be looking to make amends back on home soil.

A recent post from the ‘Rafa Nadal Academy’ which looks to find the tennis stars of the future.

Luca Toni: The evergreen Italian

Inspired by Betway’s recent article nod to FA Cup cult heroes, we decided to change the scope slightly from England’s bloodied and battered stalwarts to Italy, and the colourful characters that have populated Serie A across the decades.

There have, of course, been many reluctant idols on the Italian peninsula, but perhaps none so intriguingly underrated as one currently on the verge of retirement: Hellas Verona’s Luca Toni.

Think classic Italian striker and perhaps Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti, even Gianfranco Zola or Antonia Cassano in his pomp, are the first on your dream team sheet; adaptable attackers, keen to work the channels and create, in the ilk of a ‘fantasista’, blurring the lines between playmaker and striker with abandon.

Yet, there have also been great goalscorers, of which pure poacher Toni is undoubtedly one, though the Verona man may gather dust in the archives of Serie A and Azzurri history, when situated next to more feted forwards such as Christian Vieri.

Here are a few reasons why it’s worth standing back and admiring this ageing artist of the Italian goal mouth, while you still can…

Luca Toni 1

A classic number nine on edge of extinction

As the game adapts and grows there are fewer of these Toni-style centre forwards than ever, with the fashion demanding fluid forwards that can do it all. However, as Andy Carroll occasionally shows in the Premier League, having a striker in the traditional mould can still prove to be a handy card up your sleeve.

Aggressive he may be, but Toni is no blunt battering ram. Yet, he is a fine focal point, a canny target man in the truest sense, albeit one with all the positive hallmarks of an unabashed hitman.

Strong with his back to goal, a torrid presence in his heyday for the opposition defence due to his stature and spirit and adept at holding up the ball, it is tough to think of a more effective foil for any wily winger pumping crosses into the box. Oh, and he is also pretty handy with his head.

Cast your mind back to last Serie A season, with the current and final campaign in Italy’s top-flight for Toni yet to prove fruitful, when the 6ft 4in striker found himself facing former club and champions Juventus.

Latching onto the ball in the Old Lady’s area, Verona’s old man pulled the trigger on a low finish like only a seasoned pro can. It was Toni’s 22nd strike of the term, ensuring he finished joint-top Serie A scorer aged an incredible 38, the oldest leading marksman ever to claim it in Italy, alongside young whipper-snapper Mauro Icardi.

Though, this is far from the first time tenacious Toni, a known gobbler of loose balls and half-chances, has been crowned Capocannoniere, with a first top scorer trophy awarded much earlier in his career during a first fledgling stint at Fiorentina; with this honour acting almost as a bookend to his time in Italian football.

 

Hitman heroics from the ultimate journeyman

Yet, despite individual accolades, plus being a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006 and a Bundesliga and DFB Pokal victor with Bayern Munich in 2008, there is still a smidge of snobbery regarding Toni’s career.

Indeed, the soon-to-be 39-year-old was once famously criticised by Mark Lawrenson for being: “Like 6ft 4in of blancmange…more Swiss Toni than Luca Toni.”

While the context of that comment was his international exploits with Azzurri, with Toni disappointing at Euro 2008, it appears that his outings in royal blue have impaired views on what has been an otherwise prolific career.

A return of 16 for Italy in 47 is nothing special, but 51 in 83 for Palermo, 57 in 99 over two Viola stints, plus 58 in 88 for Bayern Munich are stats not to be sniffed at. Luca Toni 2More than the tally, it is the importance and timing of those strikes which made Toni terrific, ensuring a cult status at several clubs. His journeyman nature, taking in 15 clubs across 26 seasons, beginning in Serie C with minnows Modena back in 1994/95 and now set for the final act with the Mastiffs in 2016, has perhaps prevented the veteran frontman from becoming a legend for any.

Though, that may not matter, when considering it was Toni’s club-record 30 goals which incredibly propelled Palermo to Serie A promotion in 2003, and a further 20 strikes for the Rosanero helped them to a first ever qualification for the UEFA Cup, leaving a lasting legacy still today for the Sicilians.

There was also the small matter of claiming the European Golden Shoe as the first Italian winner after notching 31 (the first time in half a century that a Serie A player scored more than 30 strikes in a season) for Fiorentina.

But take your pick of perfectly-timed Toni moments, for there are plenty: A 100th Serie A goal on his debut for Juventus – headed, of course, from 16 metres out; a rampant return to Viola, scoring as a super sub with his first touch versus Catania; grabbing the DFB Pokal extra-time winner for Bayern, with two last-gasp goals also for the Germans against Getafe in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals.

Outspoken antics and career’s end

For all his action on the pitch, Toni has never held back off the field either, and infamously ran into trouble when taking his Italian passion to Germany.

Reportedly fined for driving home at half-time after being substituted by then-Bayern boss Louis van Gaal, ticked off for slouching and then farmed out to Roma for apparent further disagreements with the coach, Toni saw his (until then successful) time in Bavaria come to an abrupt end.

His career never quite hit the same heights, until a recent renaissance with Verona, and Toni has always been outspoken about that fork in the road, providing some memorable gems like the ones below.

“Van Gaal simply didn’t want to work with me, he treats players like interchangeable objects,” Toni once told press before going on relate a story about Van Gaal’s changing room demeanour.

Toni reportedly also said: “The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player, it was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls.

He demonstrated this literally (by dropping his trousers). I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy. Luckily I didn’t see a lot, because I wasn’t in the front row.”

Though, with the curtain about to be drawn on his distinguished career, Toni appears to have mellowed. As, the striker recently stated: “I think the time has come to stop.

“I hope to celebrate it by keeping Verona safe in Serie A. We want to do it; we should not give up now.”

With his side rock-bottom of Serie A and still winless, are there more Toni heroics left in the tank?

Tyson Fury may quit boxing

Photo courtesy of: boxingnewsonline.net

World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury has shocked fans of boxing by saying he has still not decided on whether he will face Wladimir Klitschko in the re-match, and could leave boxing altogether.

Fury’s defeat of Klitschko back in November came as a surprise, with Fury claiming the WBA, IBF WBO titles in the heavyweight division – and a re-match is scheduled to take place in either May or June.

The 27-year-old told members of the press he was struggling to gain the motivation needed to be able to defeat Klitschko for a second time.

“I’m struggling to get motivated.

“I could walk away. I could just sail into the sunset unbeaten with all the belts and live a normal life.

“All that I would be boxing for is money and I always thought to myself I never want to let sport become about money.” Fury said.

He went on to say that he was more focussed on spending time with his young family, and is not interested in obtaining any more heavyweight belts.

“I’ve accomplished a dream. It’s about how much motivation I have to keep going on.

“There is life after boxing and I don’t know what I’m going to do at the moment. I haven’t even cemented I am going to fight in a rematch.”

Fury has not returned to heavy training yet, and he admits he is only jogging and lifting weights at this time – and with the potential big fight only a matter of months away, you would think his decision will come pretty imminently.

 

De Bruyne faces up to six weeks out

de Bruyne in action for Belgium

When Manchester City fans saw the discomfort their impressive midfielder Kevin de Bruyne was in during their 3-1 victory over Everton on Wednesday night, they had every right to assume the worst. Thankfully, though, the injury is not as bad as first feared.

The Belgian was taken off on a stretcher with his right knee fully strapped up after having scored the second goal and set up the third for his side on their way to winning the second leg on aggregate, securing a Wembley day out with Liverpool in the Capital One cup final.

The injury happened in injury time, and some had thought it may see de Bruyne out for the remainder of the season. But since then it has been announce he may only be missing for up to six weeks.

When speaking to Sky, de Bruyne’s agent Patrick de Koster said his client would work hard to come back stronger.

“Kevin told me the only thing he can do is work hard and come back.

“Kevin is sad. His dream is to always be playing football. He will miss games like the League Cup final and in the Champions League, which are important.”

Despite helping his side make it to Wembley, de Bruyne is almost certainly going to miss the final with Liverpool on February 28th.

The injury was the only downer on a big night for City, but manager Manuel Pellegrini is optimistic he’ll have de Bruyne back before the end of the campaign.

“We’ll see how important the damage is. It’s not the cruciate ligament.

“The doctor thinks, but he cannot be sure, that it’s a problem in his medial ligament.”

The good news for City fans is they are being seen by the bookies as the favourite going into the match with Liverpool. This guide to online sports betting available at online-betting.me.uk will have all of the relevant information ahead of the big tie at the end of February.

Everton keeper Joel Robles tried to lift the injured de Bruyne repeatedly as he lay injured on the ground, but has since taken to social media to apologise to the Belgian.