You are browsing the archive for Gareth Bale.

Letting it fly at Top Golf

November 15, 2016 in Participation

How to stay awake between a busy shift at work and Conor McGregor v Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 on TV in the early hours of Sunday morning?

Luckily, two friends had a solution – playing Top Golf.

The thought of stepping outside on a bitterly cold Saturday night was not that appealing, but then neither was watching contestants on The X Factor make a fool of themselves.

So having been woken up by my friend Nasar’s phone call telling me to get ready, we were soon off to Top Golf in Watford along with another friend, Junaid.

But what is Top Golf, I hear you ask…

Relaxed

Founded in Hertfordshire in 2000, Top Golf offers golfing games for all ages and skill levels and advanced technology to track every individual’s shots.

It is currently played at four centres in the home counties, and the focus is firmly on relaxed fun as opposed to the strict rules and etiquette of golf itself.

Expansion in the UK and America has seen a total of 15 centres opened, with more planned for the future.

Essentially a two-tier, 240-yard driving range, Top Golf has 10 dartboard-style targets on the ground at various distances.

Each ball that a player hits has a chip in it and this records which target someone has hit and how close they are to its centre.

The closer a person gets to the flag, the more points they will earn, and these are automatically displayed on a digital screen in the bays.

Celebrities

Golf is facing a big problem in attracting new players to the game. In the last four years, it has lost 13% of its regular players while participation amongst 16 to 25-year-old’s has decreased 45% in the same period.

“The resident DJ was spinning tracks in the packed bar while groups of people were enjoying drinks and food as well as the golf in equal measure”

To many golfers, it would be easy to dismiss Top Golf as just a glorified driving range, but the numbers show that it warrants further attention.

With 650,000 visitors annually, two-thirds of Top Golf’s players are under 25 and 79% are aged from 18-34 and this is the exact demographic amongst which golf needs to gain in popularity.

According to Top Golf’s marketing manager Michael Angelides, 65-70% of visitors class themselves as non-golfers, and despite the crowds it attracts, celebrities such as Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and One Direction’s Niall Horan are regular visitors.

Preparation  

Regular visitors to Top Golf who have a lifetime playing card do not need to wait in line because there a £20 membership card allows them four free games.

In contrast, for any person wishing to have a night out, Top Golf offers a 30-day playing card at £2. With this, it will cost an adult an additional £6 per game and a junior member £5 per game but many deals are also on offer.

There was certainly a competitive feel to the atmosphere but it doesn’t have that stuffiness associated with  golf clubhouses.

The resident DJ was spinning tracks in the packed bar while groups of people were enjoying drinks and food as well as the golf in equal measure.

After warming ourselves up by hitting numerous of practice shots, it was time to get started.

Nasar and myself took control and fired some long shots into the distance as our points total tallied up early on. This only acted as motivation for Junaid who reminded us: “It’s not a sprint boys, it’s a marathon.”

Comeback king 

Nasar was supremely confident in his abilities but arrogance seemed to get the better of him, and after a strong start, he struggled to maintain his accuracy and slipped from 1st to 2nd.

As I got into the flow, I started to push on and smacked a humongous shot into the far end that earned plaudits from other people around me.

I was pumped.

But then I too started to get over-confident and my shots began to go all over the place. Having been hitting 10s, my scores plummeted to 3s and 4s.

After being on the back foot for most of the game, Junaid fought his way back into contention, and he dominated the closing stages, hitting a huge shot that landed him a 10.

With the last shots remaining for all three of us, Junaid needed a score of 5 or more to be victorious and as he hit the the microchipped ball towards the centre, myself and Nasar instantly knew it was game over.

Junaid’s 7 made him the winner with a total of 59, with me three behind, while Nasar’s confident start ended in tears as he finished last on 39.

The journey home was horrific, as  Junaid boasted: “Boys, I was just getting into the swing of things, next time I’ll give you a good thrashing.”

Give it a go

Regardless of your ability to swing a club and hit a ball, Top Golf is more exciting than a trip to your average driving range.

Whether you choose to visit with friends or family on a Friday or Saturday night, where the music and drinks continue to flow until 1am, or during the week, you will find that Top Golf offers something for every level of golfer, from a four-handicapper or someone who’s never even held a club before.

In the past, I didn’t think golf would be a sport that I would ever enjoy, but every time I have visited Top Golf, I have loved it and I would recommend everyone to give it a try.

To find out where you can give Top Golf a go, visit the Top Golf website.

Millar contemplates life after the final whistle

October 24, 2016 in Interviews

Chris Millar was the golden boy once but, as he enters the latter stages of his professional career, he is becoming more like the olden boy.

At the age of 33, the St Johnstone midfielder is no longer a man in a hurry, content to play a waiting game and win back his place in the Saints’ first team.

The man nicknamed ‘Midge’, is undoubtedly one of the most colourful and passionate figures in Scottish football.

In a career spanning 13 years, which began training alongside the likes of Henrik Larsson at Celtic and is now approaching its end, Millar has never been too far away from the headlines.

Whether it was winning St Johnstone their first-ever Scottish Cup in 2014, experiencing European football in the Europa League or contemplating a move to Australia, his career has been eventful.

However off the pitch, the Glasgow-born player is forging as impressive career for himself as a sports journalist.

“Ultimately, my hope is to host something, a bit like Gary Lineker. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but like anything it’s about opportunity and working hard to create that”

After working for broadcasters including BT Sport, Millar is optimistic about the future and once he decides to hang up his boots.

The former Greenock Morton player is setting his sights high in a career in broadcasting.

“I think there is definitely a realisation that life after football has to be planned for,” admits Millar.

“Not every player earns the money that will keep them ticking for the rest of their days, especially in Scotland.

“Many players are aware of it and are making plans once their career is over, and the PFA are doing a great job in highlighting this issue.”

Chris Millar on duty as a journalist

Despite the criticism that former players get once they land a role in the media, Millar insists that he wants to try and change the views of professional footballers.

“I think at times some players think there is an agenda within the media to sell units,” he says.

“As a former player, I do not have an agenda to push. I just want to report the events as honestly as I can and try to open up the game more to the public.

“My main aim is to show the public about what goes on at football clubs with players, managers, etc.

“I enjoy most aspects of journalism like writing, broadcasting both radio and TV. I have done work in all three and I have held down a slot as a pundit on radio and I work for a national paper.

“Ultimately, my hope is to host something, a bit like Gary Lineker. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but like anything it’s about opportunity and working hard to create that.”

University life

For many players, their first port after retirement is to become a coach or manager. After initially contemplating this, Millar chose to broaden his horizons – and he says completing a degree at Staffordshire University was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“I have always wanted to stay involved in the game,” he says. “It’s all I have known since I was a 17-year-old at Celtic so it is important for me to stay involved.

“As a pro, I think you can relate more to players as you’ve been through many of the things they go through so it gives you an insight that not many journalists have”

“When I saw that I could do a sports broadcasting degree whilst still playing, it got me thinking, so it really came from there.

“Many players want to go into coaching so there is only going to be so many jobs going around. I enjoy using my brain and learning new skills so for me it is interesting to use a different skills-set.

“As a pro, I think you can relate more to players as you’ve been through many of the things they go through so it gives you an insight that not many journalists have.”

Most individuals would struggle to manage their professional and academic lives, but Millar has balanced both and he says even though it was difficult, it was worth it in the end.

“It was tough, don’t get me wrong,” admits the Scot.

“Juggling footy, two kids and a degree takes time and effort. However, in the end it paid off as I gained a first class degree. By using my brain again, I enjoyed learning a whole new skill set.

“The funny thing is that I played some of my best football whilst studying. It gave my mind something else to focus on – it’s good to have a release from that.”

The return of the Old Firm 

With the return of Rangers to Scotland’s top division, the competition in the league has gained an intensity that it had been missing in recent years.

Despite the likes of Celtic, Aberdeen and Rangers being touted as the ‘big boys’, Millar’s St Johnstone have continued to progress under manager Tommy Wright, a journey Millar says will continue.

“We’ve been up there the last few seasons and as a club we now see ourselves as a top four side, so we will continue to improve and progress as a team.”

“The return of Rangers has been huge for Scottish football,” he says.

“They bring a bigger spotlight to the league and obviously you have the Old Firm derby back which is a huge game. As a player, you want to play in front of big crowds and I have honestly missed playing at Ibrox.

“We [St Johnstone] have started well but ultimately I do not think we can win the league. However, I do not see any reason to why we cannot challenge for the other top four spots.

“We’ve been up there the last few seasons and we now see ourselves as a top four side, so we will continue to improve and progress.”

Scotland’s World Cup adventure 

Scotland and RB Leipzig’s Oliver Burke

Looking at the national team, Scotland’s qualification campaign for the Russia 2018 World Cup has not been going well, and in November manager Gordon Strachan faces a huge test – against England, at Wembley.

“Results have not been good enough ultimately,” says Millar.”I compare ourselves to teams of the other home nations and when I look at them, man for man we have as much if not more talent than them yet they have just been to the Euros and we have not. That is not good enough,” he says.

“The last two results in the qualifiers were poor and it means we must now go onto beat England. If we lose that then for me, Strachan must go.”

As Millar points out, Scotland have a number of star players and one of the most highly-regarded is former Nottingham Forest and current RB Leipzig player Oliver Burke.

His goal for Leipzig against FC Koln made the 19-year-old Scotland international the first Scot to score in the Bundesliga since Brian O’Neil for VFL Wolfsburg in November 1999.

“He has all the physical attributes needed in modern football,” insists Millar. “He is athletic, quick and he can score.

“He is still very young and he has a long way to go but I think going to Germany will enhance his learning. More players should try to play abroad as I think it can only enhance your development as a player.”

Not calling it quits yet

Despite his age and planning for the longer term, Millar insists he is not yet done with playing football.

“I have been at the club for nine years and had some amazing memories and success with St Johnstone”

“I have an ambition to play as long as I can as I love the game and feel I still have plenty to offer,” says the midfielder.

“I had issues with injuries last season but that is behind me. There is still life in my legs yet and I do not feel that I am off the pace. When I do feel that, then that is the time to stop.

“I am fit now and have been for most of the season so far, so I am ready to play when called upon. I know when I get back in the team, I will play well and then get my chance again.

“I have been at the club for nine years and had some amazing memories and success with St Johnstone. I have achieved things that I wanted in my career like playing in Europe, winning trophies and playing at the highest level in Scotland.

“It is a fantastic community-based club with loyal fans who have made me feel like one of them. It will always have a place in my heart.”

Chris Millar is on Twitter @MidgeyMiller

Fans vs Players – five footballing feuds

October 24, 2016 in Features, News & Features

Football is a passionate sport but there are some supporters who will go the extra mile to show how they really feel. 

There are always times when fans are disappointed in their players due to a bad performance or poor run of form.

Or they can take issue with something a player has said. Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi is currently feeling the wrath of his club’s ultras over his autobiography – more on that particular spat later…

Some fans may simply go onto social media to vent their frustration. However, there are others who will go to extremes.

Here, we will look at five fiery feuds between players and their own fans.

5. Bale and Jese speed off as irate fans attack their cars – 2015

Real Madrid have many great memories in beating Barcelona in the El Clásico. Some notable wins include the 5-0 mauling at the Santiago Bernabéu in January 1995, with the Madrid line-up including such big-name players as Raúl, Michael Laudrup and Luis Enrique, who of course went on to even greater success at Barcelona.

Bale (right) and Jese celebrate a goal. Pic by Mutsu Kawamori©, flickr creative commons

Fast forward to March 2015, and Real Madrid came up against the old enemy at the Nou Camp. Real Madrid went on to lose 2-1, with goals from Luis Suarez and Jeremy Mathieu sealing the win for Barcelona.

Later on that night, the Real Madrid players returned home only to face the wrath of some unhappy fans.

These fans were so furious at the players because it was the year that Barcelona won the famous treble and this match ended Real Madrid’s hopes of winning the league that year.

Gareth Bale and Jese were the unlucky ones as they were caught in the thick of things. As they were driving off, there were a group of Real Madrid fans waiting to pounce and attack. The fans punched the players’ windows and kicked their cars. A few insults were hurled too.

Real suspended one club member who was involved as well as identifying two other suspects. Bale remains an integral part of Madrid’s team, and this summer Jese moved to Paris St Germain.

The incident was captured on video… YouTube Preview Image

4. Fabrício sent off for gesturing at his own fans – 2015

There are many insults that can offend people in all sorts of ways. Some would counter with an insult of their own or even offer someone out for a fight.

But when it’s a crowd of thousands giving you stick, the latter is not really a feasible option, so you express your feelings in the way you can.

During a match in Brazil’s state championship against Yipranga in 2015, Internacional player Fabrício decided to confront a jeering crowd with some offensive gestures. This led to the referee sending off the left-back.

Fabrício was furious, and threw his shirt on the ground. Several of his team-mates tried to calm him down but he would take it even further by shouting towards his own fans “I’m leaving, I’m leaving!” as he walked off. Well at least he got to say how he was feeling at the time…

After the game, his team-mates were not allowed to give post-match interviews and the defender was suspended by the club. Despite all of this Internacional went on to win 1-0.

Fabrício is still at Internacional despite having two loan spells at fellow Brazilian clubs Cruzeiro and now at Palmeiras.

3. São Paulo fan invasion

Pitch invasions are a fairly common occurrence. A notable example would be YouTube sensation Vitaly Zdorovetskiy – also as known as Vitalyzdtv – invading the 2014 World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina.

These invaders only have one purpose, which is to have their 30 seconds of fame by running around on the pitch and doing their best to avoid capture by stewards.

In Brazil, however, São Paulo fans had other ideas – they were not just showing off, they were angry and wanted to make a point to their club.

They decided to invade a training session and attack their own players. These fans from the Barra Brava protest group staged a demo aimed at the club owners they said were corrupt and the team, who they claimed stained the club’s history.

Fireworks were set off, abuse shouted, and a near riot ensued. Michel Bastos, who plays for São Paulo, was injured during the attack as he and his team-mates were forced to flee.

The video below shows the full-on carnage. YouTube Preview Image

 2. The Carabobo flying kick-2015

Players and managers are expected give post-match interviews; these can happen on the pitch or near the tunnel.

Carabobo squared off against Aragua in the Venezuelan League in a 2015 match which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Aquiles Ocanto who plays for Carabobo, was being interviewed pitchside as a rival supporter decided to sneak up behind him and give him a vicious flying kick.

Imagine that happening to a Premier League star. Twitter would go into meltdown…

There is a video below: YouTube Preview Image

1. Icardi vs. Inter Milan Ultras 

Finally, we reach our most high-profile and recent example of when things go very wrong between players and fans.

This is the on-going battle between Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi and the club’s most hardcore ultras.

The bitter row was kicked off by a chapter in Icardi’s autobiography where he told a story about himself and team-mate Fredy Guarín facing off against the ultras when Inter lost 3-1 away to Sassuolo in February 2015.

Icardi recently signed a new deal with Inter until 2021. Pic courtesy of Football DirectNews©, flickr creative commons.

After that game, Icardi threw his shirt to a kid into the away crowd but it was thrown back by one of the ultras. The incident was forgotten at the time until it featured in the autobiography.

“In the changing room, I was applauded like an idol,” he wrote.

The club’s directors warned him he might have upset some of the fans, but he was not backing down, going on to write: “I was clear, I’m ready to face them one by one.

“Maybe they don’t know that I grew up in one of the South American neighbourhoods with the highest rates of crime and people killed in the street.

“How many of them are there? Fifty? A hundred? Two hundred? OK, record my message and let them hear it. I will bring 100 criminals from Argentina who will kill them on the spot.”

Unsurprisingly, the ultras did not take this lying down. Earlier this season, in a match against Cagliari, Icardi missed a penalty – cue huge banners being unfurled by sections of the San Siro crowd.

The most blunt of the lot said : “You are not a man… You are not a captain… You are just a vile piece of s***”.

If Icardi updates his autobiography at any point, it will be interesting to see if he changes the offending chapter – or adds fuel to the fire by winding them up the ultras even more…

Skip to toolbar