When the real Adam Smith met a softly spoken Saint
Posted on the 31st May 2014 in the category sport

SAINT George Groves looks a little vulnerable when you look at him eye to eye.

He has a wide open face and a moon-like eyebrows which frame his pale blue eyes and his mouth rests in a natural smile.

However, when he turns to the side his profile shows what he is. A fighter, his nose is flattened and he looks like he has had frying pan smashed into his face on a daily basis.

He obviously is a tough guy and like Marlon Brando, James Dean and Robert De Niro he has that very rare quality – a hard man who can at a moment can seem vulnerable.

Out of his depth even. Perhaps that is why, despite an outstanding amateur career, he has always been underestimated by boxing's big names in and out the ring.

Frank Warren signed him up so his star fighter James DeGale could wipe the floor with him on the way to a world title.

However, Groves did not read the script and set about upsetting the apple cart. Groves was painted as the arrogant wind up merchant and DeGale the Rolls-Royce nice guy, anyone who has met both men will tell you it's the other way round (the same with Froch too).

In one of the fights of the year he beat the Gold medallist.

A defeat at which DeGale has never recovered.

History repeated itself when Eddie Hearn signed him up for a few fights so his premier charge Carl Froch would have an easy world title bout as he wound his career down whilst avoiding Andre Ward.

Groves would be an easy pay day for Eddie and Carl. But Groves is notone for other people's best laid plans. At the weigh-in before the Froch fight everyone laughed at the Londoner's prediction of putting the champion down in the first round. Without a manager, a promoter whose deal had days left, and without Adam Booth, his trainer for years, Groves looked all alone. It was him against the world.

The press had written him off and the northern crowd booed him into the ring.

However, that first round tag which floored Froch changed everything. Suddenly the big mouth had big balls, he then set about schooling the champion. His footwork made Froch look like a slugger from a bygone era. He was fighting in straight lines. Groves was fighting diagonally.

Again and again speed wrong footed the champon who had written him as an upstart not fit to share the ring with him. The camera even caught him saying "fuck me" to his trainer between rounds.

The crowd sided with Groves as it became apparent he was fighting two people in the ring. Froch and the ref Howard Foster. Froch was allowed to foul, over and over again.

Punching after the break, attempting low blows, Froch was hanging on but then Groves began to make mistakes, a showboat to many and the champion began to connect.

Then in one of the worst decisions ever in a British ring Howard Foster gave Groves a headlock and stopped the fight, and robbed everyone the chance of seeing its natural conclusion. Boxing had shot itself in the foot again. 

What makes boxing great is that after all the hype, the insults and the violence when the fight is over the two combatants, who have a shared experience unlike no other, embrace and befriend one another.

Not that night. 

Speaking at an event in Birmingham George told me: "He came over and said: “Have you got anything to say?" So I said: “yeah, go on shake my hand” and then he told me to fuck off.”

After a short lecture about "respect" Froch finally shook Groves hand and then, in a frebrile atmosphere generated by furious shortchanged fans, the pair were interviewed.

Monumentally misjudging the moment the winner told the crowd it was a good decision, and then the boos started to ring out at the champion, who has long complained the does not get the recognition from the public he deserves. He was shocked to the core, he has since said the crowd were booing the ref, but that was not the case and his trainer McKracken even upbraded the booers on radio the next day saying it was unfair his man was booed. 

Boxing is one of the only sports where partisan fans can switch sides on what they saw, and those fans who booed George in, cheered him out. Only after a shellshocked Froch mooted a rematch because of the anger aimed towards him, the ref and Eddie Hearn. In the public's mind George was the winner.

Chatting months afterwards George's quiet rage over that decision is clear to see.

He said: "In the build up Froch was painted as this unbelievable warrior who comes strong at the end of the fight and I was George with a glass chin, and unfortunately the referee bought into that."

The behind the scenes horse trading before and after the fight demonstrates how Groves and his mercurial trainer Paddy Fitzgerald were facing an uphill struggle. Before the fight they had flagged up Froch's propensity to foul if in trouble and the importance of not believing the hype. It came to nothing.

After the fight the battle for a rematch was on. And it took a trip to New York to get it.

George said: "I had to do so much research into the psychology of big decisions in sport as we had to put our case to the IBF that the referee got it totally wrong.

"After the interview we sat down with three international referees and they pressed play on the video all of them sat back and said: "WHOA!"

"They said straight away it was not the way you referee and world championship fight, perhaps Howard had a terrible night or something else but it was a massive relief to see the IBF's reaction, they demanded a rematch straight away."

So George got his rematch, and the fight is now being billed as the biggest fight in British boxing history. 80,000 people will see the two men battle it out for both belts again.

Just as the calm Londoner got under Froch's skin the first time he has been at it again. Solving a Rubik cube as the Nottingham man spoke during a press conference was a sneaky psychological punch telling Froch and the world - "I'm cleverer than this man, and he knows it."

In his corner is Irishman Paddy Fitzpatrick. He of the hats. He always looks the smartest man in the press conferences.

After leaving friend and mentor Adam Booth due to the trainers inability to commit to Groves timetable and attention Paddy was brought in.

The trainer and the charge have quickly forged a great relationship.

Paddy said: "I enjoy his company, we discuss things, I have no interest in the whole celebrity thing.

“Some people were born to be great, and some people were born to help other people be great, I am here to help George be great."

And his star man has fitted in with the rest of his gym.

He said: “There is no hoopla about it, he doesn't demand any hoopla when he walks in, he trains with the kids.”

When asked about tactics about the second fight Paddy said without a smile: "No-one believes me but it will be like Hagler v Hearns all over again."

As if the fight was not mouthwatering enough.

George has been on the radar of boxing fans for years but the Froch fight, and its injustice propelled him to a different level of stardom.

Letting out a goofy grin he said: "After the Degale fight I got a lot of recognition but after the Froch fight it was a different level. It went crazy, women as well as men now are asking for pictures.

"I was in John Lewis buying a frying pan, guy came up about my age and asked for a picture, and then his wife came and asked for one too."

George, who lives with is schoolteacher wife, is learning that the public want a piece of him.

"It is nice being recognised, it can be awkward at times, a packed journey on the Piccadilly Line can be a difficult."

And then there is social media, Groves generation of sportsmen and women are the first to have grown up with the internet.

He said: "I use Twitter but you can't as a professional sportsman take it too seriously, you post one thing and within five minutes there are people calling you an idiot and saying they hope you get knocked out.

"None of these people have even got in a ring so it can't be taken seriously."

With age on his side Groves knows the world is his oyster, he has eyes on global domination, but he would not put it that way.

He simply says: "I will be world champion after the Froch fight and then I don't plan on not being world champion."


Guitar playing afro-haired funkster brought tears to my eyes
Posted on the 16th May 2014 in the category sport

Some people are supposed to be late and allowed to be late.

Prince is one of them, he is one of the greatest artists alive so waiting half an hour for him was not even frustrating.  The anticipation was brilliant. Knowing I was getting to see the purple one for the first and maybe last time was incredible.

The LG Arena is a giant vacuous soulless shed of a venue whichever way you choose to get there is a ball ache. I've seen so many talented artists lose the crowd as the atmosphere sapping venue beat them into submission.

However, Prince got the place so rocking that people were singing Kiss on Birmingham International train station platforms 20 minutes after the gig had ended. He finished, after rightly moaning about the NEC curfew, with a cover of Wild Cherry's Play That Funky Music, and in the previous two and a half hours he had.

We all knew we had seen something special, those £70 upwards tickets had been worth every penny.
Yes, he was self-indulgent, teasing songs that he did not play, but then again I would be self-indulgent if I was Prince. I'm self-indulgent and am just an idiot from Perry Barr so Prince can do what he likes. The androgynous afro-haired funkster is a living icon who combines sexiness with an other-worldliness which only adds to his enigma.  

Of the Holy Trinity, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince, all born around the same time and who reinvigorated music in the late 70s and early 80s he is the one still standing, literally and artistically.
Wacko Jacko died trying to beat Prince's run of concerts at the 02 and Madonna is clinging on to her youth like a cat on a curtain desperately trying remain relevant.  

His latest collaborators 3rdEyeGirl have the swagger of Jay Z before he got in that lift.
3rdEyeGirl generate more power than an juiced up East European shot putter's thighs. Their new stuff is blinding and did not detract from the classics Prince had to play, Pretzelbodylogic with an epic bass solo was brilliant.

Seeing Prince play guitar at such close quarters was an honour. I love Jimi Hendrix and seeing Prince playing guitar is as close as I will ever get to seeing the greatest guitarist of them all.
The guitar looked an extension of his arms, he seemed note perfect and best of all he seemed to be really enjoying himself.

From the moment he let balloons float into the sky signalling 3rdEyeGirl's entrance the pint-sized genius had the crowd in rapture.

His third song Raspberry Beret got the crowd going and his set kept everyone's energy up. Kiss and Let's Go Crazy followed and got this old creaking body of mine dancing.

Something in the Water (Does Not Compute) was poignant and pulled at a few heartstrings, mine included and When Doves Cry was perfect.

Then when the unmistakable riff of 1999 started it was bedlam around me, people shouted the lyrics to the sky and they jumped around. I kissed my two mates and told them I loved them and meant it.
Then came Red Corvette. A wander round the crowd was also fun, seeing so many smiling faces and a few familiar ones, it felt like an occasion not a procession. I was back with my mates (thanks to the bloke with the mohican who was the perfect reference point in a sea of heads) when Hot Thing started.
No-one around me knew the name of the song, the combination of a dirty bassline and futuristic synthesizer that got me dropping the A-bomb on the dancefloor reminding me of great nights in grubby house clubs in years gone by.

The closing half an hour included Nasty Girl, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, Pop Life and finally I Would Die 4 U. His return on the stage for an epoch-altering version of Purple Rain blew my mind, I almost burst into tears I was that happy. It was like losing my virginity, scoring a goal and getting to the toilet after walking in need for miles all rolled in to one.

It rained when he sang Purple Rain during the Superbowl interval a few years back and I remember thinking it would be incredible to see the song performed live so when I heard those chords as the purple lighting shone through the glitter shot into air I felt complete.  

If I had gone with a woman, even a rubbish one I'd just met in Lidl, I'd have proposed on the spot.

But as it was I went home alone, but safe in the knowledge I saw Prince, and no-one can take that away from me.



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