Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tribute to my first permanent Liverpool captain : Sami Hyypia

This post was first written on Sportskeeda.

Click on the pic for a larger view.

Sami Hyypia was amongst the breed of the unsung heroes, never a superstar in the conventional sense. When he announced his retirement, it was indeed heartwarming to see him trend on twitter, worldwide mind you, on a day one of the most historic occurrences of our times took place: The death of Osama bin Laden.

Find me one person in wherever Sami Hyypia has played, who has something negative to say about him. Such was his likeable nature as a man. As the colossus at the back, he was one of the best imports of the Premier League era. 38th in the list of Liverpool FC’s official 100 players that shook the Kop, a club which is not short of greats says its own story.

Hyypia epitomized the term Gentle giant. Heart of the Liverpool defense for so long in the most physical league in the world, he once went 87 games without a booking. Even more astounding is the fact that he has been sent off just once in his entire career as a centre back. Incredible.

As a player, Hyypia was not the quickest. Where he lacked in pace, he covered up by his fantastic reading of the game. Alongside Stephane Henchoz, another defender not known for pace, he formed the backbone of the Liverpool side that went on to win the treble in 2001. Hyypia had a sense of intelligence and positioning that even the quickest forwards had trouble beating him. It is probably these qualities that are making the Liverpool faithful want him back badly in a coaching capacity. Looks like however that Leverkusen will be the first beneficiary of a fabulous footballing mind.
In hindsight, it was fitting that a legendary Liverpool defender of yesteryears Ron Yeats, then chief scout, went for his talents in the Dutch League where he played for Williem II Tiburg after being tipped off by a cameraman. He was one of the long lists of players roped in by Gerard Houllier just before his first season in sole charge of Liverpool. 2.5 million pounds for an unknown in those days raised eyebrows in Liverpool. The rest is history.

Jamie Redknapp and Robbie Fowler shared the captaincy back then but their erratic fitness gave Hyypia the chance to become an assured leader on the pitch. Officially that is. It was around this time that Liverpool won their treble in 2001, and while Michael Owen took all the headlines, Hyypia led the team with an assurance not seen in Merseyside for years. He was at the heart of epic European shut outs of high flying Roma and Barcelona, both away. 2 years on, Steven Gerrard’s spectacular rise led to him giving up the armband to his young successor, but he never ceased to be a leader for the club.

His modest background and early years reflected during his career and he was a fantastic ambassador, wherever he went. On the pitch, the fact that his stay on Liverpool coinciding with Liverpool’s best period in the last two decades of largely underperformance shows his impact in the team.

His international career has seen him captain Finland, as well as hold the record for the 2nd most capped Finnish player. He was quite a handful in the opposition box and has scored some memorable goals. His volleys against United (2) and Juventus were finishes that any striker would be proud of.

From 2007-08 onwards, he slipped onto becoming a back up to Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Danny Agger, but no one could say his influence diminished. In the training ground, grooming youngsters to the pitch, performing when called upon without notice (4-1 win at Old Trafford). He wasn’t in the 25 member squad for the Champions League the same season (due to UEFA rules on no of homegrown players), and that is probably when he realized that the 2 years he thought he still had in him needed to be elsewhere. He was given a hero’s send off, and such emotions weren’t seen in Liverpool since local cult Robbie Fowler left for Leeds almost a decade back.

Mosaics on the Kop are generally reserved for something or someone very special.

‘Legend’ is probably the most overused term in sports, and nowadays generally awarded by the media. Hyypia however, one may argue, was a legend through sheer merit. He was not a fancy player, with all tricks and flicks. He was simply an old fashioned centre half. One you would feel assured if he was on your side. Both as a player, and sometimes more importantly, as a man.

He was a boyhood Liverpool fan. On the day he ends his playing career, one could say that Liverpool and its family are now firm fans of Sami Hyypia. The No. 4 at the back.

Thanks for the memories, fellow Red.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Live text commentary on Sportskeeda

I and my childhood best friend Harsh started following football around a decade ago, together. We were the first amongst our friends and people around us to move on from cricket, and John Dykes and his team were instrumental in our growing up years. There were two things about Harsh back then, that I distinctly remember.

1. He always said that my favorite player Michael Owen was useless, and that young Stevie Gerrard was going to be the main man. (In hindsight, I laugh).
2. is a good website to follow.

The Sportinglife faithfuls.

Back in the day, ESPN-Star did not have a full coverage of the Premiership. It at most showed 2-3 games all weekend. There were no FA Cups or Carling Cups on the telly. Champions League coverage was good I recall, but regarding all these together, there were so many matches that weren't telecast, and a lot of them involved Liverpool.

Sportinglife was the lifeline for us. The live text commentary was such a life saver. We spent hours 'following' the matches online, witty comments, good humour, sometimes hilarious banter. All along with the action, beautifully described. Night after night, year after year.

Nowadays, it has actually reduced. The matches are almost always on the tv.

So when the guys at Sportskeeda started the Live text stream feature, all these things came to mind again. And I really wanted to do it too. Live text commentary was always a big thing for me.

Did three games this week. Porush Jain, Arvind Ragunathan and Ambuj Gupta were the ones who helped me ease into the whole concept. Great fun doing it with the latter two, especially the El Classico.

Here are the links. If I do more games, I guess I will keep updating this post, for me more than anyone else. Will have a one stop post to get hold of all the live feeds done over the weeks.

1. Chelsea v West Ham : Shame Torres chose this one to break his hilarious duck.

2. Real Madrid v Barcelona. Semi Final of the Champions League. 1st leg. : Messi with two well taken goals, overshadowed by all the playacting nonsense. Was tough to keep up.

3. Liverpool v Newcastle United : Not the best of games, this was my first game on Liverpool.

4. Barcelona v Real Madrid, Semi Final Champions League 2nd leg. : Keeshaanan, a great guy did his first streaming while I and Ambuj hung about to chip in from time to time. Good fun.

5. The BIG One. Champions League Final. Barcelona 3-1 United. What a night. Yes, United are stuck on 3. We had around 10k hits, the site crashed several times, had readers from as far as the West Indies. Great fun with Sayan Maiti, and the other regulars. Porush, the head says it would have been over 20k, had we not crashed. Awesome!

Click here for all the games under Sportskeeda Live Text Feed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hillsborough, and the Liverpool Family.

King Kenny in his interview on the eve of the Hillsborough anniversary yesterday had this to say, “It's been so long there are a generation of our fans who were not born when Hillsborough happened but they are perfectly aware of what happened. I'm sure it will be in the forefront of their minds as well."

I belong to the generation Kenny is talking about. What he probably wants to convey is that Hillsborough connects all Liverpool fans alike irrespective of who you are or your age. Being tucked away here in Calcutta, thousands of miles away from Merseyside, I believe even strongly, Kenny is talking about the people, irrespective of age and distance, and how important Hillsborough will always be for a Liverpool fan.

April has generally been a happy month of the year for me. The final exams of school got over in March, this was the time to let your guard down. The summer vacations were around the corner. Plus my first girlfriend and one of the best persons I have known, had her birthday in April :P , Jokes apart, in all seriousness, for majority of my life, esp in school, I have wanted to be in April and its generally been a happy time.

But 15th April of every year brings a strange combination feeling of immense sadness at the occurrences up at Sheffield on that wonderful spring day in 1989 and its aftermath, as well as happiness and pride of being part of this incredible Liverpool family.

This day epitomizes the reason this football club is so special to the reds all over the world. On this day, I don’t care if we end up being relegated, I don’t care if we don’t win the Premiership for another 22 years, all I care about is the victims’ families who define Liverpool club to get the mere consolation of justice, more than 2 decades on.

Liverpool football club has always been more than just football to me, and this day affirms that belief. We become fans, not just for the enjoyment, for the goals, and highlights or the banter. We become fans to become a part of this wonderful institution, and therefore its no wonder that a club that hasnt won the league for 2 decades and had that one Champions League triumph in 2005, is never short of new generation fans, never ceases to be big. Find me another club like that, who’s failed for so long, yet the fan base has grown , the love for it grown, and the pride of supporting the club amongst old and new fans remaining firmly intact.

It feels so good to see the ex players tweet or talk about the day. Xabi Alonso, Arbeloa, Ryan Babel, Michael Owen, even Cesc Fabregas cutting across club loyalties. It feels wonderful to be able to watch the service free on the channel, and thank you for opening up every year to all the non-members around the world.

So made up for our Rafa Bentiez, for the standing ovation, for the tears he shed. Managers, a lot like players move around all the time and fair play to them. But it is heart-warming to see a man who was removed less than a year ago from the club he loved, back amongst his own people – the fans of the football club. My posts are never without clich├ęs, and here’s the customary one then – You took Rafa out of Liverpool, but try taking Liverpool out of Rafa, Or try taking Rafa out of us.  Thanks, forever grateful. Top man.

I really want to write about King Kenny on this topic, but I very well know I can’t do justice at all to it. One of the oldest memories is reading up on Hillsborough and how Kenny and Marina Dalglish conducted themselves and supported the families impeccably. It was probably too much for him to take as he quit as manager soon after, but he is back now, and what a wonderful person to have in charge of something you treasure most. It’s come a full circle for us on the touchline, it’s time to replicate it in the courtroom.

Hillsborough is not a yearly formality, it teaches you lessons of life. For anyone following the progress and efforts of the families in getting justice, it is an eye opener and wake up call. Fighting the establishment, all for love. Hillsborough and Liverpool FC have taught me to see things in perspective, and go beyond the beautiful game. Hillsborough gets us all together, like Munich does for United, Ibrox does for Rangers and Heysel for Juve. It goes beyond the 90 minutes.

No matter what I have done over the past few years, April 15th has always halted me for sometime. Whether I am happy or sad, in Calcutta, Pune anywhere, it’s a both sad and happy day. More than watching a United-Liverpool game at Anfield, I hope I can make my debut in the stands of the sacred stadium on some April 15th, and witness the memorial service in person. By then, I am also hoping the truth will be ‘officially’ out.

Walk on, walk on. With hope in your heart. And You'll Never Walk Alone.

A very very proud Liverpool F.C. supporter.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some thoughts on the football scene, and the Sportskeeda interview with a promising talent

Just today in office, knowing my Calcutta club cricket background, one of my seniors who has a 10 month old child asked, which cricket coaching should I put my child in after a few years? Hah. Paragraph OVER.

Maybe it's an after effect of the IPL auctions, but nothing seems to have changed in Calcutta. When I was young, contrary to the belief that Calcutta is the mecca of football in India, every child went to a cricket coaching. Including me. After being in Pune for 4 years and seeing the interest there, I have said this so often, Calcutta is the mecca of ugly student politics and civic sense on the road, not the beautiful game.

Thankfully though, there is a bunch of young footballers coming up now, mostly (and not co-incidentally) from Delhi, who are giving it a shot to go play abroad. Why I say not co-incidentally Delhi is because I get an idea that there are schools and academies focused wonderfully on exposure and promotion of promise. That is so awesome to see. I am unaware, but obviously there will be other cities have great institutions focusing on non-cricket disciplines, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

Avyay Gujral had a trial At Man City if I am not mistaken, played for Anderlecht youth set up, been to Brazil etc. Raghav Khurrana plays in Canada now. Siddharth Mookerjee had short stints at big European clubs. Way to go!!!

Thanks to Porush Jain of Sportskeeda, I got the chance to have a chat with one of them - Siddharth Mookerjee, a 17 year old, showing immense promise.

You can check out the interview here. I thank him for the quick response, and with the interaction I have had, he is indeed a great guy. Wishing him all the very best. :)

A word here for Sportskeeda. This start-up is one to really look out for. Knows what it is doing, and it's focus on Indian sports, esp Indian football is heart-warming. Love them for it. Relentlessly trying to give Indian football its due, and doing a fabulous job. Big thumbs up for Porush and the team. It is not a shameless plug, these people are true sports and Indian sports lovers. It is worth supporting whole-heatedly.

India's playing the AFC Asia Cup btw, if we are over the IPL hangover. :)