Curling takes over Britain

I, like seemingly millions of other people up and down the country, have been transfixed by curling at the Winter Olympics over the past couple of weeks.

At first glance, it seems a pretty dull affair involving Scottish people throwing stones down an ice rink at other stones while screaming ‘Haaarrrrd’ or ‘Steadyyyyyyy’ at the top of their voices, while their team-mates sweep the ice in the rock’s path.

However, when you get into it and work out what’s going on, it turns into a highly skilful, incredibly strategic sport that is addictive to watch.

It helps that the British (well, Scottish really) teams have been doing so well in Sochi, with Eve Muirhead and her team winning bronze yesterday and David Murdoch’s boys going for gold this afternoon.

A British (Scottish) team did win gold 12 years ago, Rhona Martin leading her team to victory in Salt Lake City, but it didn’t capture the public imagination like it has in the last couple of weeks.

Cynics might say that this has something to do with the fact that Muirhead and her team are younger and far easier on the eye than Martin and her sweepers. Just putting it out there.

Personally, I think that the boom in curling has more to do with television schedules. A lot of the curling in Salt Lake City took place in the middle of the night over here, while this time it is played during the day.

Digital television and the internet have also helped, with every stone thrown by a British (Scottish) curler available live on the BBC’s extra channels and online.

All of this brings me onto my main point.

The curling authorities need to strike while the iron is hot and do all they can to grow the game, especially south of Hadrian’s Wall, in the coming months.

At the moment, there is just one dedicated curling rink in the whole of England (in Kent) and it would be difficult to play the sport on normal rinks such as the one at the Basingstoke Arena.

The good news is that there are tentative plans in to build a second rink not too far from here, between Bracknell and Windsor. Let’s hope that the buzz currently surrounding the sport helps to make these plans a reality.

For more information on curling in England, visit or search for English Curling Association on Facebook.

Basingstoke Gazette:

Manuel Pellegrini loses the plot

It’s been an odd week for Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini.

The Chilean began the week by masterminding an excellent FA Cup victory over Chelsea, before strangely claiming that City were now a bigger side than Manchester United before their big game against Barcelona.

That game did not go so well, partly due to Pellegrini’s tactics. However, rather than admitting that, the former Real Madrid boss decided to persecute not only referee Jonas Eriksson but Swedish football as a whole in his post-match interviews.

Let’s face facts, City were very much second-best on the night, something that was down to Pellegrini much more than it was any decision made by Eriksson.

The City boss’ decision to field Martin Demichelis rather than Joleon Lescott, who had been brilliant against Chelsea, was the obvious error. Not only did the Argentine bring down Lionel Messi to give away a penalty and get himself sent off, but his distribution had been terrible all night, regularly gifting possession back to Barcelona, playing into their hands.

To be fair, Pellegrini played into Barcelona’s hands all over the place. City did not play at a high enough tempo, allowing the opposition far too much time on the ball and while they defended pretty well, they offered little going forward.

In wide areas, the Chilean opted for Aleksandar Kolorov and Jesus Navas. Kolorov did a good job stopping Dani Alves getting forward but lacks quality on the ball, with City in a defensive mood, Navas was totally ineffective.

Samir Nasri would have been a much better selection on the right, his clever touches giving Barcelona more to think about than the direct style of Navas. On the left, James Milner would have done as good a job as Kolorov tracking back but has a bit more quality on the ball in tight spaces.

In terms of refereeing decisions, I really cannot see what Pellegrini is moaning about.

Navas went down under very little contact in the build-up to the first goal and it would have been a very soft free-kick. I have seen the challenge from Demichelis loads of times, from many angles, all in slow motion, and cannot tell whether the foul happened inside or outside the area, so Eriksson really cannot be criticised for that decision either.

Indeed, the only decision the officials really got wrong was crossing off a perfectly good Barcelona goal for offside. Hardly showing a bias towards the Catalans, is it?

Maybe Pellegrini was trying to take the focus off his own performance by concentrating on the referee post-match. Either way, it seems likely that he will miss the second leg for his ill-advised comments.

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