The Halo Shows the Lack of Thought and Clarity Within the FIA and Must Go

 

While the wreaths laid gently on the grave of Jules Bianchi and the masses were mourning modern days first Formula One tragedy, the suits gathered gravely in their luxury black leather chairs to solemnly discuss how to reprieve a sport temporarily in turmoil.

Six months on from Bianchi’s death, the sport has moved on and as testing began in Barcelona, the familiar sight of Kimi Raikkonen’s red Ferrari twisted around first Elf and then Renault. The repercussions of that meeting were being felt in the shape of the monkey bars resting above and in front of Raikkonen’s head.

Perhaps, so quick they were to save a sport whose last in-race passing was Aytron Senna in 1994, that they agreed upon the first idea that came to mind. As the FIA foregathered in Paris at the Place de la Concorde that day, maybe they gloomily agreed to stay within the four walls of their overly sized, dark offices in those luxury black leather chairs until they had found a solution.

This grew increasingly tiresome and by 11pm they were willing to accept the first suggestion put to them. The Halo, as it has since become known, only further promotes the deep-rooted problems of Formula’s One’s decision makers that came to the forefront in light of the qualifying changes. 

The lack of thought put in to the new qualifying format was evident in Melbourne during the season’s opener, it was an abject failure that is set to be scrapped. Ridding cars of the Halo in similar fashion would not be as simple as that, you are not playing around with drivers racing chances, but their lives.

Fernando Alonso suffered a horrific accident in Australia, his car was sent curtailing in to a series of spins, before crashing in to the barrier after colliding with Esteban Guttierrez.

The former world champion walked away unharmed, yet Jenson Button came out yesterday and claimed that the Halo would have helped Alonso.

Alonso was not harmed, what more did Button want? The Halo could have done more damage than good, trapping the Spaniard in the car or a position that could have then led to an injury. If anything the crash proved that Formula One cars are already incredibly safe.

On the other hand, current World Champion Lewis Hamilton is against the Halo. The 31-year-old believes that the sport is fine as it is and claimed the design to be the ‘worst looking modification in Formula One history.’

Those in favour of the Halo have argued that the sport is not meant to be aesthetically pleasing but safe. Yet the sport was lamented when the cars were made quieter in order to be more economically friendly, the FIA desperately searched for remedies to make them louder again, so concerned they were about losing viewers.

Formula One is traditionally an open cockpit sport and it has to be questioned whether those traditionalists would lose interest in the sport, were this to change. It would need to be for the right cause.

Philippe Bianchi, father of Jules Bianchi, admitted that the Halo was not enough, telling

Canal Plus: “”In the case of Jules it would not have changed since it was the extremely violent deceleration that we know caused the damage to his brain.

“The version of this Halo system I saw this morning did not convince me and still needs to be improved.”  Philippe continued.

If Jules Bianchi’s father does not believe the Halo system is right for the sport then how is anyone else supposed to believe it.

Testing on the Halo will have been vigorous, but nothing can compare to real life situations, while the description of the Halo has been worrying in itself with phrases such as ‘considered highly unlikely’ and ‘only slightly’ being banded around.

It is ‘highly unlikely’ that a driver could hit his head on the Halo and the drivers vision is ‘only slightly impaired.’ How is this good enough?

In 2009, Felipe Massa fractured his skull after being struck by a 700-gram spring at 175mph from Ruben Barrichello’s car. It is the most serious modern example in Formula One of drivers being struck by race objects and it is ‘highly unlikely’ that the Halo would not have prevented this from happening.

It is inevitable that we will see increased driver safety in the future of Formula One, and rightly so, but the sport need not rush. If the FIA feel that changes are necessary in order to protect drivers to a greater standard, then it is vital that these changes are right for the sport. The canopy design is not.

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Chris Marples: Football’s Last Ever Professional Football Cricketer

Surrounded by photographs of footballers and cricketers at the Cricketal centre in Chesterfield that he now runs, the crack of leather covered cork ringing inside his ears and medals glistening around him, Chris Marples is the one man who can say that he has graced a pitch with Sir Ian Botham, Sir Vivien Richards, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand. 

In-fact there are only 140 in history that can say they have shared a pitch with both footballers and cricketers. So when the break of Chris Marples Tibia and Fibia echoed around the 8,000 ears in Chesterfield’s Saltergate stadium. It was a sound that not only ended two careers but also an era. That of histories last ever professional football cricketer. 

When he finally recovered he was only able to play non-league football for Yorkshire side Emley. Riotously turning up to matches hungover and smelling of last nights’ garlic pizza, a lucky charm that took him all the way to Upton Park to face Harry Redknapp’s famous West Ham side. 

But, one of the greatest matches in Emleys history nearly did not happen with the players going on strike: “The chairman was being a bit greedy and wasn’t going to pay us. We said that if you don’t pay us an appearance fee when there will be 20,000 there then we won’t play and you won’t get anything, it got a bit nasty, but he had to give in as we wouldn’t have played.

“I had no nerves whatsoever, I was part time. I remember one of the rounds we played against Lincoln and John Beck had a thing about playing music loud inside the dressing rooms to try and upset you, and our lads were dancing to it. 

“Then to go to West Ham and only narrowly get beat 2-1 against a star studded international side, including the likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, John Hartson and Stan Lazaridis. 

“When we got back Harry Redknapp came in and said ‘you guys have given us the fright of our lives’ and opened a bar for us.”

Marples was arguably part of Crickets greatest generation. The UK had an influx of foreign players, the level of which we have not seen since. As well as Botham and Richards, the wicketkeeper also faced up against Gordon Greenidge, Malcolm Marshall and Sylvester Clarke. 

While never one to be overwhelmed, Marples gazed at the photographs surrounding us, and divulged: “These guys were just freaks. Just their sheer quality really, they were possibly the best there has even been and to be part of that era was something special. 

“I played against Richards and he got 120, he was fantastic. I played against Imran Khan and he got 100. Graham Gooch got 100 against us too.”

“It was an age where there were a lot of good overseas players here, and no disrespect to the overseas now, but they are not, for me, the same quality as they were.” 

But could we ever see the return of the Football Cricketer? Marples asserted: “I was the last footballer cricketer, there has not been one since and there certainly won’t be another one. Now the lads at Derby finish in September and report back in November, you cannot turn over the two.

“It was extremely physically demanding, no breaks, no holidays, I actually played football and cricket on the same day on one occasion. 

“You would start a three day game on a Saturday, play a football match on a Sunday and finish your three day game on the Monday and Tuesday. Then start another game on the Thursday. You would sometimes go two and a half, three weeks without having a day off.” 

The Wicketkeeper was already playing for Derbyshire when Chesterfield sounded him out as a replacement for the departing second choice goalkeeper Paul Gregory. 

The now 51-year-old had been at his home town club for just four games when the sides number one Jim Brown broke his finger, therefore promoting the Derbyshire wicketkeeper to the first team. Maples cemented his place in the side and went on to play a leading role as they won promotion.

“It was my first season, I played 38 games and kept 25 odd clean sheets, which was a club record.

“People go years without winning anything, so to win that in my first season was quite amazing, quite frightening when you look back at it.” 

His professional career ended in 1994 with a horrific leg injury, in that season the Spireites went on to win the playoffs. Despite making 23 appearances, Marples was unable to attend due to financial restrictions at the club, with poor treatment also clouding his departure.

“The most disappointing thing about the injury was, I could have put weight on and perhaps played again, if the treatment had been a little bit different. 

“Just two weeks after the stitches had heeled I was having to go down to the swimming pool, I wasn’t getting any time off. Then they tried to get me running and there was no way that I was able to. After a year there was still a fracture there and I had got a metal rod down my tibia.”

Marples now sits in the Cricketal he runs, almost shouting above the din of the cricket balls hitting the bats of his students, with both football and the injury long behind him. 

Should England Leave Wembley and Tour the Country?

“Leave Wembley? Leave Wembley?! What a ludicrous idea!”

Out-roar and outcry are screaming from the terraces, the masses are revolting, the people are….wait, why do England have to play in London? A City so distant from large parts of the country that they are no longer willing to travel. 

As a country we are incredibly Capital-centric and no less so than in football in which we play our national football in a stadium that is a ridiculous 4 hour drive away from cities like Newcastle or Plymouth. 

Against Norway in 2015 England had an attendance of just 40,181 fans. 40,181 in a stadium that can fit 90,000. How can you justify using Wembley with a paltry attendance such as that? You could have filled Villa Park and created an attendance that goes beyond the cringe of a Mexican wave. 

Watching the supporters arrive at Wembley that day was like watching someone try and fill the Atlantic with a bag of goldfish won at the funfair.  

Spain, Germany and Brazil all hold their international matches in different stadiums across the country and have a much greater affinity with the supporters. 

The national side should represent the nation, not London.

Manchester, Newcastle, Southampton, Plymouth – why would any of them travel across the country to see their team take on the bankers and barmen of San Marino in a friendly?

Why would you make the 545 mile round trip from Newcastle to Wembley to watch a ‘home game’? Spending £145 on tickets and petrol to watch England vs San Marino is enough to warrant a phone call from your bank regarding Credit Card fraud. It’s more than San Marino’s players earned for playing the match.

But if you bring the team to the supporters and take it to Manchester, take it to Southampton, take it to Newcastle then you begin to regain support and credibility. 

Financially we no longer need to justify Wembley. The FA have just agreed a £300m package to refinance their loan and its contract ends in 2017. 

While interest has increased from both Chelsea and Tottenham regarding using Wembley during the redevelopment of their own stadiums, the North London clubs expect to be away for up to two years. 

Further income will arrive from the National Football League’s venture into England where Wembley will play host to three games this year. 

The NFL are also actively exploring the option of a London based franchise and Jacksonville Jaguars, funded by Fulham’s owner Shahid Khan, appear to be the frontrunners. Any such move would net the FA millions, finance is no issue. 

We have readymade stadiums around the country in St James Park, Old Trafford, Villa Park and St Mary’s that would all be available for England games. While Wembley could then be kept for major games such as crucial qualifiers or high profile friendlies. 

By hosting matches in every major county in England you are allowing people an opportunity to actually engage with their national side. 

Bring the football to the people and let the few revolt if they wish, because in its current state Wembley’s heart and soul is being desecrated. Sheet-by-sheet as we are forced cover up those empty seats.

Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 Messi the Architect of Bayern’s Collapse

The first was scintillating, the second mesmerising, Bayern Munich’s defence had just been made to look like a Charlie Chaplin Sketch. Guardiola had gone from “tactical mastermind” to a “one trick pony” in the flick of a left foot and the chip of a right. 

It wasn’t so much a battle of Barcelona and Bayern or even Guardiola vs Enrique but more of Lionel Messi and physics. This game would have made a fitting Champions league final, it is unlikely we will encounter better this year. 

The first half was constant, one team relentlessly pressing and the other persistently attacking, except not in the way you would expect. Last time these two came up against each other it would have been the other way around, but Guardiola has spent the past three years Catalonianising Bayern Munich while Luis Enrique has spent the last year redefining the concept. While the midfield was once Barcelona’s goldmine, with Iniesta and Xavi dominating play and Messi operating deeper as a ‘false 9’ they now utilise their attack, with emphasis upon transition between defence and attack. 

If Messi was Barcelona’s architect then Manuel Neuer was Bayern’s saviour. Guardiola’s seemingly naive back three formation caved just 12 minutes in as Messi’s header sent Suarez through one on one with Neuer. Any other goalkeeper in the world and Suarez would have scored, but Neuer was positionally perfect denying a first goal with his outstretched right leg. 

It was far from a one sided affair, Bayern Munich could of taken the lead themselves had Robert Lewandowski managed to poke Thomas Muller’s cross past the German Ter Stegen. 

Both teams continued but it was Barcelona who were perpetual. Robbed of the talents of mercurials Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben Bayern lacked an equivalent to Barcelona’s attacking trio. They continued to press but as Bernat lost the ball to Dani Alves and Lionel Messi dragged it across his body to drive it in-between Medhi Benatia and Phillip Lahm to Neuer’s right Barcelona got one hand on the final. 

It would be a lie to say we saw it coming, Lionel Messi had began to look bored prior to christmas and Ronaldo had just beaten him to another Ballon D’or. The second half of the season has seen him transformed and the astonishing rate at which Jerome Boateng and Neuer went from world class to Sunday league standard sent shiver’s down the spines of even the most adamant Ronaldo fan. Messi’s first touch was exquisite as he took it to one side of Boateng, his second was mystical as Boateng collapsed and his third made it 1-0.

At 2-0 Bayern had every chance of turning it around in Germany but when Messi sent Neymar into an empty Bayern half to tuck the ball past Neuer there was a feeling that it was a dead end for the German champions. 

Had Pep Guardiola’s comments before the match stating that Messi was “unstoppable” been purely admiration then Messi had only proved him right. Had they been an attempt to unsettle and flatter ‘friend’ Messi into having a quieter game against his former manager then Messi had misunderstood.