Shamik Das

Monday, March 19, 2007

My name is Shamik Das, and this is one of the most unpredictable sporting weekends of my life ...

34 hours: Saturday 11:30am - Sunday 9:30pm

My mission: To check out the new Wembley Stadium, all £757 million of it, while bringing you the thrills and spills from the final weekend of the Six Nations, plus the latest from the Caribbean and the opening race of the new Formula 1 season; morning, noon and night, through the night, all day long.

The highs and lows, the giddy heights of exhilaration, the lows of despair both on and off the pitch, a weekend which put sport into perspective, a weekend which will live long in the memory.

The emotion, the action, the shocks, the successes.

11:30am, Saturday morning    A view from inside the brand new Wembley Stadium

Wow! Better than I expected. Amazing, incredible, imperious. The greatest stadium in the world? I think so, definitely. One of the lucky few to be here on this historic day, the first event to be staged at the new Wembley.

The negatives? Had to queue up for more than half an hour to get in, with people jumping in line all the time. More stewards needed outside the turnstiles, plus a better system of queueing. Once inside, the prices are exorbitant: £4.00 for a 6"x4" slice of cheese & tomato pizza, £1.50 for a regular sized packet of crisps, £4.00 for chocolate, £4.00 for a plain jacket potato, £4.50 for a pie, £7.00 for a tiny box of fish & chips, £3.20 for a glass of coke and £3.50 for a pint of pre-poured beer - probably left to fester for an hour - but as you can't bring any alcohol in, I guess you're screwed! Throw in the tea/coffee machine packing up every couple of minutes and the over-priced tosh gets a very poor mark.

The positives? The views from the stands are superb! I had a chance to wander round and watch the action from a number of different angles. No pillars blocking one's view of the pitch, no restricted view seats at all, the sight-lines are flawless. The seats themselves are a cut above the old Wembley, with more room per seat than in the old Royal Box. Within the bowl, you're also closer to the pitch than previously, with no running track skirting the playing surface as before. There are also some fantastic views of London from the concourse, of places as far afield as the Post Office Tower, Canary Wharf, Battersea Power Station and the Crystal Palace tower - which for a second I thought was the Eiffell Tower, over 200 miles away!!! ;)

And the match action? A good laugh, Mark Bright scoring the first ever goal at the new stadium, a low right-foot drive across the face of the goal beyond the non-existent dive of the one and only Phil Tufnell! John Barnes, Luther Blissett, Chris Evans, Jamie Redknapp and Jamie Theakston were among the other celebs taking part.

All in all a fantastic occasion, a carnival atmosphere and a beautiful, sunny afternoon ... a far cry from the gloomy, slate grey skies teeming with rain the day England lost to Germany and Kevin Keegan resigned, seven years ago, seven long years in which I feared we'd never see the inside of the stadium again.

3:30pm, Saturday afternoon    The Irish players look on disconsonately after conceding two late tries to Italy in Rome

Got home just in time to see the end of the Ireland-Italy match, and what an ending it was, the Italians scoring in injury time to dent Irish hopes of the Six Nations crown.

At the Stadio Flaminio Ireland's fans will be left wondering whether a 24 point lead over France will be enough. Over to Paris we go ...

5:15pm, Saturday afternoon    The French players celebrate after placing one hand on the Championship trophy following a crushing win over the Scots in Paris

A right humdinger at the Stade de France! Scotland take the lead, France get in front and then the visitors score again on the stroke of half-time: 20-14 to France at the break, six points clear and needing a further 18 unanswered points to claim the trophy.

Into the second half now, and three more tries to France to take them 39-14 up, 25 points ahead and on course for the title. Then five minutes from time, with the Scots enjoying their best spell of the half, Euan Murray touches down. From tight on the sideline Chris Paterson misses his conversion - how crucial might that prove? France 20 points ahead.

And on the attack they go. Five yards from the line when the clock hits 80. On they charge, the forwards marauding, recycling ball and trying again, pushing hard, held up by brave Scots defence inches from the line, the crowd roaring on their heroes for one final surge. 80,000 Frenchman screaming for a try ... and then, deep in injury time Elvis, yes "Elvis" Vermeulen twists and turns to ground the ball under a sea of bodies. Cue television replays, and after what seems like an eternity the video ref, an Irishman no less, awards the score.

Delirium in St Denis, despair in Dublin.

Barring miracles in Cardiff, France retain the Six Nations Championship in the most thrilling finale for eight years, when Wales scored a converted try in the 83rd minute to beat England by a solitary point in the last ever Five Nations match, denying them the title, Grand Slam and Triple Crown. And the venue for that Welsh triumph? Why it was the old Wembley Stadium in front of yours truly, of course!

7:30pm, Saturday evening    James Hook belies his early years to steer Wales to a memorable win over England in Cardiff

Never mind the 27 point triumphs of France and Ireland over Scotland and Italy respectively, England'll need to double that margin and then some to deny the French their fourth Championship in six years, a third title in four seasons.

From the moment the Welsh seized on a charge-down in the English in-goal area to go 7-0 up after two minutes it never looked like happenning. A 57 point win? Not once were England in front, indeed only for a brief period did they regain parity, 18-18 with half an hour to play. Then three more goals from the imperious James Hook - taking his tally to 22 points - made it 27-18 to Wales.

Allez les Bleus! With a World Cup on home soil in the autumn, who'd bet against the French succeeding sorry England as world champions.

9:15pm, Saturday evening    The Bangladesh players celebrate dismissing India cheaply for 191 before going on to seal probably the greatest win in their history

From dreams of the forthcoming rugby World Cup to the nightmare of the current cricket World Cup, and defeat for India at the hands of Bangladesh, a win they thoroughly deserved.

Dismissing India for 191 in the final over of their innings, the Tigers chased down the target with ease, strolling to a five wicket win with nine balls to spare - Tamim Iqbal (51), Mushfiqur Rahim (56*) and Saqibul Hasan (53) steering them to the greatest win in their history.

It was only the fourth time Bangladesh had beaten top-drawer opposition in 150 one-day internationals, their fifth win on the spin and 14th victory in their past 15 ODIs, much more significant than the win over Australia in summer 2005 and the defeat of Pakistan at the 1999 World Cup.

Thoroughly deserved, never really looked in doubt, and a fine tribute to Bangladesh international Manjural Islam, who died in a motorbike crash at Kartikdanga on the eve of the match.

11:00pm, Saturday evening    The Irish players run on to the field after beating Pakistan to celebrate one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history

Incredible scenes at Sabina Park, Jamaica, where Ireland have just beaten Pakistan. Without doubt this is the biggest shock in the long history of the sport, quite possibly of all sports.

Joy unconfined back here too, with St Patrick's Day revellers glued to the plasma screens in bars up and down the land. What a win! And what a day for such a win. I don't think I've ever seen so many people watch cricket in a pub before, nor so late a finish. This'll do wonders for the game in Ireland.

In brief, Ireland's bowlers reduced Pakistan to 72 for six before bowling them out for a paltry 132. The Irish then chased down their target with 32 balls and three wickets to spare - the win sealed in style with a straight six over long-on, sending the Blarney army into ecstasy.

4:30am, Sunday morning    Lewis Hamilton savours the moment following his podium finish on debut in Melbourne

From Saturday evening Jamaican time to Sunday afternoon in Oz, and your intrepid reporter has stumbled home in time for the opening race of the 2007 Formula One season.

With Michael Schumacher retired and several other top drivers having switched teams in the close-season, this promises to be one of the most open championships in years.

Events at Albert Park do not disappoint. Kimi Raikkonen wins in his first start for Ferrari and reigning world champion Fernando Alonso comes second in his first race for McLaren, but the headlines are stolen by the Spaniard's teammate Lewis Hamilton with a podium finish on debut.

1:00pm, Sunday afternoon    Andrew Flintoff sleeping it off in front of the Pavillion at Lord's after winning the Ashes 24 hours previously

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Andrew Flintoff, following a night on the tiles which culminated in a drunken attempt to ride a pedallo out to sea, has been dropped from the England line-up for today's game against Canada.

Flintoff is also stripped of the vice-captaincy and warned it is unlikely he'll ever skipper his country again. Ok, so we all go out and get drunk, maybe do some pretty crazy things, but straight after a defeat in which you've patently underperformed and slap-bang in the middle of a run of two games in three days???

To describe it as unwise would be an understatement.

6:15pm, Sunday evening    A recent photo of the late, great Bob Woolmer

Tragedy strikes. A pall is cast over the whole tournament. Bob Woolmer, having been found unconscious in his hotel room earlier, is declared dead on arrival at University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. Cause as yet unknown.

The stress of coaching Pakistan, the shock of the defeat to Ireland a day earlier, the high-profile, high intensity world of modern cricket.

The cricketing world will be rocked by the sadness of this sudden, unexpected news.

9:30pm, Sunday evening    A sombre Glen McGrath and Adam Gilchrist at the end of Australia's thrashing of Holland, an insignificant game on a day when action on the pitch mattered not a jot

On the pitch, business as usaul, Australia thrashing Holland by 229 runs, England easing to a 51 run win over Canada. Two games which will live little in the memory, overshadowed by the sobering reality of events in Kingston.

The show must go on, of course, but with a heavy heart and a shadow hanging over the next six weeks.

For perspective, read the words of Rudyard Kipling below, paying particular attention to the lines about treating triumph and disaster as two imposters just the same ...


Blogger el Tom said...

Haha, that does look like a challenging post!

So do you live up that way then?

Apparently you are an acquaintance of my good friend Michael 'Meacher' Joslin...

20 March, 2007 20:59

Blogger Sham said...

Yep, about 20 minutes from the ground, with a view of the arch from my bedroom window!

Say hi to Iron Mike, and tell him Kingston Labour party are annoyed with him for transferring his membership up North!!! ;)

20 March, 2007 21:22


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