Football’s Greatest Mavericks.

Football has had a fair share of mavericks in its long and illustrious past. Players who excite and frustrate in equal measure, players who never reach their full potential for one reason or another, and players who are simply unmanageable. Whether their performances aren’t worth making the back pages, sometimes their lives are worthy of the front pages. Who are football’s best “mavericks” however? Here’s some of the best, in no particular order. Enjoy.
George Best
Where else to start? George Best was a man who was a new breed of footballer back in the 60s. He had everything, and boy did he like to celebrate it. Blessed with charm, wit and good looks combined with a love of entertaining and incredible natural ability, Best was a character always destined to catch the eye of anyone lucky enough to have seen the genius at work. Unfortunately his demons took control eventually, leading to his premature death at the age of 59. However, George Best invented the footballing maverick. You’d do well to find anyone who’d of preferred him any other way.
Diego Maradona
Alright, so the bloke was a cheat. Lets just get that out the way for starters. His handball against the mighty English in the World Cup was possibly the most unjust event in the history of human civilization, but hey.. I’m not bitter. You do just have to take one glance at the goal Maradona scored four minutes after the famous “Hand of God” goal to see why he’s so well regarded. Incredible close control, speed, flair and technique combined with confidence in his incredible natural ability. Off the field issues, most notably his enjoyment of a certain powder, led to the gradual deterioration of the master’s career, however on his day I’d argue only two players have ever reached and surpassed his level. Fair play Diego, you weren’t half bad really. Even if you cheated.
Paul Gascoigne 
One of English football’s most popular players, Gazza had everything you’d expect someone who’ve found their way onto this list to have. A hugely loved players amongst supporters for his passionate displays whilst he donned the Three Lions jersey (none more so than his reaction to a booking in the semi final in 1990.) His love of the nightlife throughout his career did see him appear on numerous front pages during his time at the top. Unfortunately, it appears Gazza is still struggling with alcoholism in 2016, with more stories beginning to circulate documenting his struggles on the rocky road to recovery. I’m sure football fans not just in England but around the world will be hoping he returns to full health as soon as possible.
Mario Balotelli
Well, it seems we’ve already ran out of popular mavericks in this list. Mario Balotelli is a player with undoubtable quality, as he has demonstrated at points throughout his career. Despite this, Mario’s career is definitely at risk of crumbling should he not improve his attitude. The last two years for example, his maiden season at Liverpool and loan spell at AC Milan have been.. Well, how can I put this? Shite. That’ll do. A man who’s previously thrown darts at youth players, donated £100s to homeless people, gatecrashed a female prison, lit a firework in his bathroom or struggled to put a bib on definitely needs to get back on the straight and narrow should he wish to get his career back on track.
Rene Higuita
This bloke was, no matter how you look at it, a proper bloody lunatic. When a players most notable footballing memory is a completely unexpected scorpion kick at Wembley, you know you’ve left an odd imprint on the footballing world. Still, you think that was strange. Higuita spent time in prison in 1993 for his involvement in a kidnapping, and was involved in cocaine trafficking alongside notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. The chap was mad sober on the pitch, imagine if he’d had a line or two before getting between the sticks?! Scary, scary prospect.
Len Shackleton 
One of the earliest “entertainers” of football, Len Shackleton certainly had a personality about him. He wasn’t a poor player however, he netted six times on his debut for Newcastle. However his antics whilst he was playing were what he was well remembered for. Some of his most notable actions include combing his hair mid game, playing a series of one-twos with the corner flag and sitting on the ball during the game. His approach to football, slightly unprofessional shall we say, did restrict his national appearances to just six.
Vinnie Jones
Perhaps not one of the most memorable of “mavericks”, and no where near in the same bracket as some of the players on this list, but his love for hurting opponents as much as possible was truly admirable to lovers of violent football. Whether it was having a cheeky touch of Gazza, or this tackle..
And what a tackle that was. No booking, either.
Jose Luis Chilavert
To be fair, I think my favorite aspect about this chap is how strangely satisfying his name is to say. Try it. Anyway, the Paraguayan keeper graced the South American football scene for around 20 years, finally retiring in 2004. Although not much of those two sentences have provided much insight into why he’s made this list, admittedly. Well, Jose managed to find the net 58 times in the space of his club career, as well as 8 times for his country. Not bad, to be fair.
Apologies if I have missed anyone out – I’m sure I probably have. Hey ho.
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Female Fitness – A Revolution.

Women are beginning to take a stand in the quest for physical wellbeing. What is changing? Matt Joy takes a look at the new directions women are taking on their fitness journeys.

When you think of fitness, and in particular gyms, one thing will tend to spring to mind quicker than most other features. Dark and dingy rooms filled with the pungent aroma of stagnant sweat that has filled and permeated the rooms for years upon years. However, there is a quiet revolution taking place, particularly in the area of female only fitness. Long gone are the days when fitness failed to encompass all sections of society. Nowadays, the female gender can exercise in a male free, specialist area which has caused quite an impact for traditional gyms.

Curves’, is one of the largest chain of female only gyms. Not a young man with a neat haircut, bulging muscles and a string vest in sight. Oh no, on the way into the gym there were females which were from all walks of life, and in particular all ages and sizes. A warm welcome is extended to all members coming in. No mirrors were around the room, no glancing looks from strangers and also and perhaps most notably, no competitive rivalry that frequently pushes the inexperienced gym goer away from getting into a regular routine. Many features in Curves gym wouldn’t be installed into a gym which caters for both genders. Pictures of sexually desirable men upon the ceiling, stations upon the fitness circuit which were definitely designed for the female only nature of the gym and even a clipboard advertising a gym trip to watch the filming of popular programme Loose Women, which definitely wouldn’t be run at a “normal” gym. It is bewildering to think that just 15 years ago you’d rarely ever see such an establishment. They seem to have a perfect balance of social interaction and specialist fitness opportunities for the female gender. The manager of this particular gym is Bev Gellard. “I set up the gym 9 years ago. A friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to a female only gym when I was a member of a normal gym. I went along for a couple of sessions and felt it was a great concept. 30 minutes of a workout which gets results, ticking all the boxes that women like.” Bev said, whilst noises of the enthusiastic instructor outside resonated with encouraging tones. Worldwide the multinational company has over 10,000 locations all striving for a similar reward, to get females exercising in a comfortable environment.

“The fact we have no mirrors in the gym gives the ladies a comfort. That’s one of our main selling features, and it is welcomed by our members. Some ladies find a traditional gym intimidating for a range of reasons. The core reason however, is they don’t want to be judged. We offer an environment that simply wouldn’t allow for any judgement from staff and members alike.” You just have to take a look around the gym to look at the enjoyment and perhaps more importantly the comfort upon the faces of all of the members of Curves. Its clear to see each and every woman feels welcome.

The revolution in specialist fitness extends beyond the walls of the female only gyms. Another member of this fitness revolution is Pilates instructor Sue Hopcutt. Pilates is targeted primarily at females, benefiting both postural and muscular improvement. The growth in this area of fitness has been staggering. A recent study from IbisWorld found a growth of 1.8% annually, employing just short of 15,000 people and making a revenue of approximately £763m. Mrs Hopcutt shared the belief in females being intimidated away from regular gyms. “In the area of free weights when a female specific area isn’t designated, it can be rather intimidating for females.”

“My groups are targeted for all ages and all sizes and nowadays are full the year round. It’s definitely an area enjoying massive growth” Sue went onto say, which supports the study eluded to above. Becoming one of these instructors takes more training than some may believe, which Sue went onto explain. The qualifications that she possesses are: Level 3 Pilates CYQ, Pilates for Buff Bones (Osteopenia & Osteoporosis), Healing exercises for Pelvic Health & Dysfunction, Healing Pilates Exercise for Diastasis Rectus, Pubis Symphasis and C-Section. Without being an expert myself, these words look incredibly complex and professional, which is testament the work being done by Sue and countless other instructors.

Psychologically, the benefits of females exercising in a male free place has been an area of some debate for a number of years. Do females really work out better away from their male counterparts? Is it a case of intimidation which puts females off, or is it the same for both genders? Psychologist Pirkko Markula is an expert on the psychology of sport “Women primarily appear to prefer exercising in groups of other women. This offers encouragement not to give in, but it’s understood that these environments don’t possess the negative pressures that a multi gender environment.” She continued by commenting upon the negative opinions held in society. “Women are judged by appearance where as men are judged on their achievements. Clothing also makes it harder for females to hide their natural body shape, whereas 5% of women are born with a physically desirable body shape. This pressure has a subsequently negative impact upon the females who want to get into fitness, but may feel intimidated away from the stereotypical fitness institutions.”

The growth of an idea can be aided in the modern world is via social media. One such account is ‘#ThisGirlCan’ which supports the growth of grass-roots fitness. Taylor Johnson, the owner of the Twitter account, which currently has 70.5k followers, has praised the work of their company in the growth of fitness enthusiasts.  To ensure focus is on ‘everyday’ females, celebrity endorsement isn’t focused upon. Taylor said: “The idea behind the campaign was to demonstrate that every girl can and therefore in terms of celebrity endorsements there was no focus. Sports England much like ourselves focus on mass participation rather than focusing on elite level  competitors making it more logical to use your ‘grass roots’ athletes to demonstrate what we were trying to promote.”

Whether you’re a firm believer in single sex exercise or not, the work being put in to try and maximise the physical capability of the female sex is truly admirable. The growth in this sector is very pleasing to see, and with the negative stigma surrounding the physical state of our nation, this growth is a refreshing buck to the trend. Where can we go from here? Well, one would argue that the male gender could gain an equivalent. It’s hard to guess and predict the future, but anything to encourage improvements in our nation’s fitness can only be good in my eyes.

What’s gone wrong at City this campaign?

Many people expected City to really push on this year. They secured their second Premier League crown last year, and the focus really started to intensify in respect to them becoming an established European powerhouse. However, under a year later, the Premiership barring an incredible collapse should be going to West London and the Blues are languishing in Europe after a rotten display at home to Barcelona. What has gone wrong?

Well, firstly I believe you have to be looking at the transfers that Pellegrini made. Fernando, Mangala, Lampard, Caballero, and Sagna came in during the summer and in the January window Wilfred Bony moved up north. However, you do have to look at these transfers and really begin to question them. Look at Chelsea for example. Mangala came in for a hefty fee that was larger that Costa’s, Hazard’s, Fabregas’, Matic’s.. The list goes on. And for what? A seemingly average centre half, hardly destined to propel you to a league title when all those around you have strengthened to the extent that we saw during summer. Manchester City a few years ago brought in real world class talent; Aguero, Silva, Kompany, Toure.. The list goes on. In recent seasons it seems though that for one reason or another the owners think the current side is good enough without strengthening with world class talent they could undoubtedly afford. It may not be popular, but the riches at the disposal of City need to be invested more wisely in proven players of the standard that could see them compete with the top teams both in the Premiership and in Europe.

I think the tactics of City have been somewhat strange this year. Pellegrini received many plaudits for his style of play we saw last year but certain displays have been an so much worse in comparison to the team we saw dismantle other sides with ease last year. In midfield against Barcelona for example, you’re coming up against arguably the best strike force in the world in Neymar, Messi and Suarez so what do you do? Ahh yes, you play Milner and Fernando in the middle of the park. Strange is one word for these tactics shall we say. When Yaya Toure isn’t playing, the midfield of City doesn’t look half as creative and you have to look at the quality of the midfielders for that. Take away Silva and Toure, would any of those midfielders get into any of Europe’s top teams? That’s one for you to speculate upon. I certainly don’t believe so. This therefore all goes back to the transfer issue. It isn’t just the midfield either however, defensively City look so much less organised than in previous years and the once impenetrable skipper Vincent Kompany has shown more and more moments of fragility. More investment needed in that back line? Maybe so.

Lastly, I think the attitude of the team needs to change. Great teams seem to have consistency yes, skill yes, ruthlessness yes.. But all of this is gelled together with a real bond and camaraderie. All too many times this year City have seemed to me like they’re a collection of individuals as opposed to a single force. Even when they had Tevez and Balotelli at both their enigmatic best’s, they still seemed more of a united unit than they have done at times this year. Are they not happy with the manager, the tactics? Well, that is the one million dollar question. Certainly they cannot continue with this attitude if they’re going to look to fight back upon the substantial lead Chelsea have in the title race this year.

I could go on for hours commenting on how City need to improve. However, for fear of repeating myself, I shall leave it there. Lots needs to be done to return City to their destructive best that we haven’t seen nearly consistently enough this year, and maybe a slight summer overhaul will be the catalyst for this.

Ipswich vs Reading Preview

Match Odds: Home Win – 21/20 Draw – 5/2 Away Win – 3/1

Ipswich form: WWLDLWLLDW

Reading form: LWLWWDWLDW

Ipswich

The home side made it two wins on the spin last time out with a good away display at Craven Cottage to keep up their chase for the promotion places. Although many consider the battle for the top two spots a three horse race, Ipswich will know that should they maintain current form and performance levels of recent weeks, they will be able to punish any slip ups from the top 3. Top scorer Daryl Murphy has been backed by club legend Ray Crawford to hit 30 goals this year for the first time in 34 years for the Suffolk side. Big Mick’s side host Reading and will see the visitors slip up in the week as a real chance to plunge Reading further towards the relegation trap door, however McCarthy has been a firm believer all season that his side are not guaranteed three points against anyone and the ‘bonkers’ nature of the division can throw up obscure results which he will reiterate to his side before the weekend.

Reading

Following a fantastic victory last weekend against high flying Derby County in the fifth round of the FA Cup, the optimism around the Madejski was somewhat dampened with a dismal performance against struggling Wigan which saw the Royals go down at home for only the third time under new boss Steve Clarke. Much has been made of the Royals inability to profit on good performances and turn this into a real good run of form. Steve Clarke pulled many punches following the home defeat, stating that he was embarrassed to be the coach of that side who produced the performance at the Madejski. Much improvement will be needing for the trip to Portman Road, however the Royals do have a tendency to be able to produce when they’re not expected to be able to deliver. It’ll be interesting to see the response to tuesday’s display.

Match Preview

On paper, you’d have to be a very brave man to suggest that anyone other than the home side will pick up the points. Ipswich seemed to have develop a real sturdiness and an ability to be able to grind out performances when things are tough, but they may see this clash as a chance to really express their abilities and stretch the muscles of the side. Reading on the other hand will come into the game knowing they need to respond following the shambolic display earlier in the week and their ability to perform against the odds seem to have been evident in recent weeks. Although you shouldn’t write the visitors off completely, they may well find the challenge and Ipswich just too good.

Premiership preview 21st February

Aston Villa vs Stoke

Aston Villa made a good start last weekend to life under new boss Tim Sherwood but will need to pick up their league form if they’re to fight their way out of the relegation dogfight. Progression to the quarter finals of the FA Cup will seem like a distant memory should Villa fail to get the desired result at Villa Park. They’re coming up against a Stoke side who are still resiliently sat in tenth position and won’t be looking over their shoulder at all. A tough game for both, but perhaps the influence of the Gilet wearing Sherwood could be the boost Villa need to pick up their league form.

Andreas Weimann will want to impress new manager Tim Sherwood

Chelsea vs Burnley

Chelsea, or rather Chelsea supporters have received a lot of negative press this week following the incident in Paris. Much was said of the performance of Mourinho’s men, but a hard fought draw won’t have disappointed many fans. They return to league action up against a Burnley side who they cruised past on the opening day of the season, and the game will be seen as a chance to repeat the feat of the first day. Burney’s resilience in games of this nature has also been documented, however they still fail to pick up points on the big occasion, which I cannot see changing at the Bridge.

Eden Hazard was challenged to become the best player in the world following the signing of a 5 year deal.

Crystal Palace vs Arsenal

A real London derby will be a treat for all spectators at Selhurst Park on Saturday and a game which both sides will undoubtedly go for. The two sides had alternating fortunes in the FA Cup last weekend, with Arsenal defeating Middlesbrough whereas Palace bowed out to a home defeat against Liverpool. Palace have started to move away from the danger zone but will know they need to keep Selhurst Park a fortress, whereas Arsenal will be looking to keep the pressure up on the top four with a victory on the weekend. On paper you’d have thought it’ll be an Arsenal win, but Palace at home are a very tough side to play.

Hull vs QPR

I think we have now got to the point in the season where we can begin to classify certain fixtures as ‘six pointers’, which I think this will be. Just one point separates the sides and both will know they simply cannot afford to lose, otherwise the trap door sitting below them may become ever more perilous. QPR may like the sight of the North following their first away victory at fellow strugglers Sunderland, whereas Hull will really know that these are the sort of games that they will be targeting to pick up all three points from. I’m hoping for a open game where both teams go for the win butyou do think there is a risk of it becoming a cagey affair.

Sunderland vs West Brom

As stated above, certain games are starting to become real relegation six pointers. Although league position would suggest West Brom may be a fair way away from worrying about a fall into the second tier, they cannot afford to be complacent with only four points separating them and Villa in 18th. The tightness at the bottom makes this a real important fixture, but one I think West Brom will feel favourites for this encounter, both following their excellent FA Cup victory over West Ham and also Sunderland’s recent home defeat against QPR.

The Stadium of Light will host Saturday's six pointer.

Swansea vs Manchester United

United’s last league trip to their hosts was the first game of the ‘chosen one’ David Moyes. Okay, so we all know how that panned out nevertheless United were comfortable winners that day. They travel to a Swansea side who are marooned in mid table with no real hopes of Europe and no real dangers of relegation, barring a spectacular capitulation. One would feel United have more to play for and their recent ability to grind out victories and play ugly for me makes them clear favourites in this tie.

Manchester City vs Newcastle

My oh my, won’t Manchester City fans be happy to see the sight of Yaya Toure. The Ivorian’s participation in the Cup of Nations has been a real issue for City who have not looked the same side without him. They come up against a Newcastle side who know that their only real aim realistically will be a top half finish and something to build on for next season. I can’t see them having enough in the tank to overcome Manchester City.

Tottenham vs West Ham

Spurs and West Ham is a game that both sets of supporters always look forward too and will come into with a real desire to get one over their rivals. Both sitting comfortably in the fight for a European position, this is a game that both will feel they need to win. However, Spurs home form and Harry Kane have to be factors to take into consideration when making predictions. I think Spurs will get the win, but it’ll be a narrow match and score line.

Harry Kane is the leagues' form striker - Will he score again this weekend?

Everton vs Leicester

The Toffee’s season has been one to forget when you take into consideration the ability throughout the squad. This is a game that you will feel Everton simply have to win, or serious questions will be posed about the leadership and performances of this squad. Leicester may feel that they will come as a side with nothing to lose, but Everton will see it as a must win and a game that I believe they will win.

Southampton vs Liverpool

A game that certain players will be looking forward to more than others, such as Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert for example. Saints form all season has been expemplory but Liverpool have really picked their game up in recent weeks. This will be a very interesting encounter and one that warrants the name of ‘Super Sunday.’ It’s a really tough game to call, but home advantage may just be enough to see the Saints.

Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana will return to St Mary's on Sunday afternoon.

Reading vs Wigan Preview

Match Odds: Home win: 1/1 Draw: 5/2 Away Win: 16/5

Reading form: WLWWDWLDWW

Wigan form: LLDLDLLLWL

Reading

The Royals took a break from their seemingly average league campaign with a win against the odds against high flying Derby County in the FA Cup to progress to the quarter final. Steve Clarke’s men bounced back from a dissapointing 2-0 home defeat against Leeds seven days ago and will be hoping to replicate the form that saw them come out victorious on the weekend. Aside from the defeat last tuesday, the form of the home side has been very respectable indeed. It was their first defeat in four games in all competitions and their first defeat in four at the Madejski Stadium. The Royals will be without Jem Karacan and Anton Ferdinand through injury, but other than that have a healthy squad in which to choose their starting eleven from, including Yakubu who made an instant impression with his new supporters after netting a late winner at the iPro on the weekend.

Wigan

Wigan’s dismal start to life under Malky Mackay has continued in recent weeks as the Latics now find themselves nine points adrift from safety in 23rd place in the league. They have only won one game in their last seventeen in all competitions which has led to the dramatic fall down the table, ironically their only victory coming against the last side to beat their hosts on the weekend, Leeds United. Wigan have lost seven of their last nine games away from the DW Stadium, only taking three points on one of those nine occasions. Leon Barnett is likely to join Emyr Huws and Grant Holt on the sidelines for the trip to the Royal County. Time is starting to run out for Wigan to carry out one of their characteristic great escapes.

Match Preview

The buzz around the Madejski Stadium will be substantial following the result on Saturday and the subsequent draw against former hero Phil Parkinson’s Bradford City. Wigan will come knowing they need to pick up 3 points, and will believe they may be able to upset the odds having won on their last two visits to the home of the Royals. Reading are likely to have been buoyed by the result on the weekend and will come into the match with a real confidence throughout the side which I believe will see them through. I can see the home side winning, 3-0.

Midweek tips – 17/2

Only a few limited tips coming out of the Football League for tonight’s games, nevertheless I’ve studied the fixtures and compiled a single accumulator that you may well taking a punt on. Find it below.

Rotherham vs Derby – AWAY WIN

Both sides have been on good form, but with Bournemouth slipping up on the weekend the Rams will see this as a fixture to capitilise on the Cherries defeat. McClaren’s men will be fired up following their defeat in the FA Cup so I can see them returning to winning ways in this fixture.

Reading vs Wigan – HOME WIN

The mood at the Madejski is one of optimism and excitement following their progression into the FA Cup 1/4 finals on Saturday, and the Royals face lowly Wigan at the Madejski. Steve Clarke’s men have lost only one in both the last four games and the last four at home. The Latics continue to be in disarray and are currently 9 points from safety, so a chance for the Royals to progress up the table and one I can see them taking.

Bristol City vs Peterborough – OVER 2.5 Goals

City will be looking to avenge their defeat on the weekend against Peterborough and could go seven points clear at the top with the right result. A combination of this and both teams featuring in high scoring games of late means I can see their being 3 or more scored at Ashton Gate tonight.

Notts County vs Sheffield United – BTTS YES

Both sides won on the weekend and will be looking to extend this run of form tonight. County ended a winless run of 3 whereas United beat table toppers Bristol City. Both will be confident coming into this game, and the last six between these two teams have seen both score.

Mansfield vs Luton – AWAY WIN

This is probably my most dubious selection. The hosts have an injury ravaged squad, and Luton know that a win will take them back into the top three. Luton have drawn 5 of their last 7 however, so if you’re not feeling brave perhaps a double chance on the away side/draw may be a safer bet, obviously with slashed odds.