Former Wolves Legend Kenny Hibbit Wins Footballers’ Golf Classic

Wolves football legend Kenny Hibbitt as he finally tasted victory in the Footballers’ Golf Classic
Wolves football legend Kenny Hibbitt wins Footballers’ Golf Classic

Thirteen is an unlucky number for some but not for Wolves footballing legend Kenny Hibbitt as he finally tasted victory in the Footballers’ Golf Classic at Spain’s prestigious La Manga Club at the 13th time of asking.

Kenny Hibbitt, 64, had never finished higher than sixth in his previous appearances in the popular annual event, sponsored by Stace, but he put years of disappointment behind him to romp to success on the sun-drenched fairways of the world-renowned resort in Murcia, south-east Spain.

The two-handicapper, who made 544 appearances for Wolves between 1968-84 and also played for Coventry City and Bristol Rovers, lay joint-third alongside ex-Wigan and Ipswich boss Paul Jewell after the first round of the 54-hole competition at La Manga Club with 32 Stableford points before making his decisive move on the second day.

Hibbitt’s second-round tally of 39 points gave him a two-point lead over Jewell going into the last 18 holes, and he closed out victory in impressive style by top-scoring for the second day running with 35 points to finish with a total of 106 points and lift the trophy amid emotional scenes.

Hibbitt’s final score was six points clear of former Reading, West Ham and Southampton coach Wally Downes, who surged through the field in the last round to take the runners-up spot, with ex-Aston Villa and England midfielder Lee Hendrie one point further back in third.
But Jewell had a final day to forget and could only manage 28 points on La Manga Club’s North Course to finish in sixth place, one point behind first-round leader Steve Lovell and Andy Morrison.

“I’ve been trying to win this title for 13 years but have never come close,” reflected an emotional Hibbitt, who won two League Cups with Wolves in 1974 and 1980.

“I never thought it would be possible to win off such a low handicap and to take the title with 106 points ranks alongside anything I achieved in football. As I get older, this means more than you can ever imagine.”

This year’s Footballers’ Golf Classic, the 19th time it has been staged, featured a galaxy of stars from the footballing world including former England internationals Terry Butcher, Darius Vassell and Graham Roberts and ex-Southampton duo Jason Dodd and Francis Benali, who were all making their debuts.

And joining them on La Manga Club’s famous fairways were the likes of former Liverpool, Tottenham and England striker Paul Walsh, past winners Pat Jennings and Russell Osman, ex-Chelsea and Scotland striker David Speedie and other former England internationals including Mark Wright, Luther Blissett, Ray Clemence and another Wolves’ legend, Steve Bull.

The golf classic featured four days of competitive golf: the one-day Alan Ball Trophy and the three-day main event, which was sponsored for the first time this year by construction and property consultants Stace, with competitors playing alongside a different footballer each day.

Ex-Millwall and Wales striker Steve Lovell missed out on his quest for a third title in five years but still had cause to celebrate as his sons Jon and Mark joined up with friend Lee Browning to claim victory in the overall team competition victory, with their side ‘The Lovell-Lees’ lifting the title with 242 points after a dramatic play-off with ‘The 3 Irons’.

Blackpool & QPR lead the Championship and remain unbeaten

Ahead of another busy night of international football, now is a good time to assess how the new season has started as far as the Sky Bet Championship is concerned.

Five games in and Blackpool & QPR (both on 13 points) lead the way as the only two unbeaten sides in the Championship.  Both have drop points with four wins and a draw a piece, with Blackpool sitting at the top of the pile by a single goal difference.

It’s a great start for Blackpool under the guidance of Paul Ince and his goal scoring son, Tom Ince.  Blackpool done well to keep hold of their top scoring England Under-21 midfielder as there was allegedly interest from several Premier League teams including Liverpool & Everton.

QPR were tipped by many critics as favourites to bounce straight back to the Premier League though I wasn’t so sure.  Firstly, manager Harry Redknapp had to address the ill-discipline and lack of commitment from some players, which appeared to be causing rifts behind the scenes; and thought Redknapp is known for his man-management, he isn’t overly qualified at getting teams promoted from the Championship. That is one of the reasons why I still consider Reading to be in with a shout for automatic promotion.  Manager Nigel Adkins gained promotion with Southampton before being sacked during the season, along with former Reading manager Brian McDermott (now managing Leeds United) after both managers had achieved promotion in the 2011/12 season.

Furthermore, Reading have kept the majority of their squad together from their previous season in the Championship whereas QPR can still boast several ‘big star’ names that hitherto were household Premier League players.  The likes of Shaun Wright-Philips, Niko Kranjcar, Jermaine Jenas, Bobby Zamora, Richard Dunne, Joey Barton and current England squad goalkeeper Robert Green. That is a lot of egos to massage, and Harry Redknapp may find that if QPR begin to slip a few points that some of his overpaid stars may go missing or not play as a team.

Below the two automatic promotion positions, currently occupying the play-off places (3rd – 6th) are Burnley, Nottm Forest, Leicester (10 points) followed by Bournemouth (9 points). The top 10 places are made up by Watford, Wigan, Reading & Leeds United all currently on 8 points.

This campaign will be no different to any other Championship season and the three teams to eventually get promoted to the Premier League next May could realistically be any of the aforementioned current top 10 teams, something I could have predicted before the start of the season with, if I’m being honest, the exception of Bournemouth who have had a positive start to the season. So if you’re feeling lucky, click here to bet on football.

There’s a return to normal service after the international break next Saturday with no 11 ties including mouth-watering ties Burnley v Blackburn, Bolton v Leeds, Leicester v Wigan, QPR v Birmingham and Bournemouth v Blackpool.  I predict QPR will be clear leaders after the weekend but the season is going to be a very hard, long battle between several teams, all hungry for the bigger prize.

Gary Speed – a tribute

God Speed – a tribute to Gary Speed from Roy Stannard

God Speed you. Black and white Emperor.
Pure breath of granite hewed from the ground of Flintshire
where dragons fly and the hills sigh for the business of dreaming.
You were already formed as a warrior
As the Merlin alchemists mixed your being together
In the days before the men of Harlech began to sing your name
when your promise whirled and eddied from the valleys,
tendrils of smoke from the miners’ fires gathered
and formed on the terraces of Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton
where working men admired the chiselled stare, the rapier pass and the Aquila dribble
A club man that darted, never clubbed.
You served in the football trenches with McAllister, Batty and Strachan,
going over the top with them,
comrades in no man’s land, where even the enemy ceased firing to admire you.
You were the midfield General, the Captain and Sergeant of armbands
You played them at your own game
You did not go gently into the night
You were the black on the white, the raven hair and pithead eyes burning coals on the turf.
You saw the whites of their eyes and flayed them with black and white stripes.
And yet, the gentle cleft of your jaw, the downhill saunter of your nose,
were a softer frame for the imperial neck, a pedestal, a clenched life raised in victory,
the full motion slide on grass, cutting your legend into the soil,
a fighter blooding his territory with over 500 battle cries.
Many were victories, but you couldn’t win them all.
Your legend will grow in your passing.
When your foe faced you, you vanquished him.
But when he came to live within, you vanished.
God Speed you. The Emperor who did not fade to grey.

(c) Roy Stannard. 30th November 2011 (for Gary Speed 8.9.69 – 27.11.11)

English nPower Football League Championship 2011/12

The new English nPower Football League Championship 2011/12 season kicks off on Friday 5th August when Hull host recently relegated Blackpool.

The following day there will be a further 10 matches with the pick of the games being a late kick-off televised match between newly promoted Southampton and one of the strong favourites for promotion, Leeds United.  The first round of fixtures will be completed when Cardiff City travel to Upton Park to play automatic promotion favourites West Ham United.
With new players and managers ready to impress, the forthcoming Championship season looks likely to be as exciting as the previous; and of the three teams relegated from the Premier League two will be starting the season afresh with new managers.

Chris Hughton steered Newcastle United to a runaway Championship title in 2009/10 but was unceremoniously sacked by maverick owner Mike Ashley last December.  Hughton returns to management as replacement for Alex McLeish at Birmingham City.  McLeish resigned from the position in May and was subsequently appointed as manager of black Country rivals Aston Villa, citing a lack of backing and available transfer money from the owners.  But Hughton is a first-class coach and his previous experience in the Championship makes me believe Birmingham will be fighting for promotion alongside West Ham next season.

West Ham are clear favourites with the bookies; and while they target more players to sign alongside the excellent acquisition of Kevin Nolan from Newcastle it is still unclear whether top players such as Scott Parker, Robert Green and Matthew Upson will be playing in claret and blue come the new season.

With or without those players I believe West Ham under the guidance and man-management skills of Big Sam Allardyce will be one of a few teams chasing promotion back to the Premier League come next May along with the likes of Leeds, Birmingham, Reading and Millwall. It will also be interesting to see how the very ambitious Brighton fair after winning the League One title and holding on to their very talented young manager, Gus Poyet.

Of the three relegated teams I expect Blackpool to struggle and would be surprised if they make the play-offs.  They have lost a few key players including Charlie Adam to Liverpool, and it will be down to Ian Holloway to pick up the pieces from a very disappointing 2011 which saw Blackpool plummet from the top 10 to be relegated in just five months.

Ahead of the new English Football League season a new Football scores website will be launched.  The site will feature not only domestic football scores but a service that extends to international football scores including the European Championships, international friendly matches, international qualifiers and, of course, the FIFA World Cup.

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Who will gain automatic promotion to the Premier League?

The forthcoming nPower Championship season looks likely to be as exciting as previous seasons with several clubs in contention for the two automatic places.

Reading, Leicester, Millwall and Ipswich all finished strongly last season, while Leeds United and Nottm Forest will both be targeting a return to their former glories with a return to the top flight, next year.  Also in the mix will be Blackpool, West Ham and the League Cup winners Birmingham after they all faced relegation from the Premier League.

The fortune of the three relegated teams will no doubt rely substantially on retaining their best players and adapting to life in the Championship.  Blackpool are the only one of three to keep their manager, but it looks likely that Ian Holloway is going to lose his captain and star asset, Charlie Adam to either Spurs or Liverpool.  I think Blackpool will suffer from having such a great season in the Premiership that began so well but by January had lost its wheels.

After losing Alex McLeish to Black Country rivals Aston Villa, Birmingham have in my opinion made a fantastic appointment in Chris Hughton who was unceremoniously sacked by Newcastle after he steered them to promotion as champions in the 2009/10 season.

Hughton has said that he is knows he will lose some of his best players and he expects to revamp the squad before the new season.  Defenders Scott Dann, Roger Johnson and goalkeeper Ben Foster are among the players linked with transfer rumours.

The West Ham owners sacked Avram Grant less than one hour after they were relegated in May and in Big Sam Allardyce have appointed a manager with plenty of man-management experience and getting the most out of his squad on a shoe-string budget, but less experience of the Championship than both Holloway and Hughton.  West Ham is destined to lose some of their top players as long as other teams agree to match the big wages West Ham is currently offering the likes of England internationals Scott Parker, Robert Green and Matthew Upson.  But he has already made the signing of the summer with the acquisition of Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan who has chosen to drop down a division to link up once more with Big Sam.

Furthermore, Steve McLaren’s appointment at Nottm Forest is an interesting one.  McLaren is known for his coaching abilities and youth policy which is a great fit with what Forest wants to achieve by re-focusing on their youth academy.  That said they have allegedly made an approach for out-of-favour Sunderland midfield playmaker and former City Ground favourite Andy Reid.  McLaren is also keen to keep out-of-contract duo Rob Earnshaw and Guy Moussi.

Before the transfer merry-go-round has really started, it’s a bit premature to be betting on the teams who will be promoted just yet.  That said, I believe with Big Sam Allardyce and Sven Goran Erikson, given backing from their respective owners, will be able to entice good players to West Ham and Leicester respectively to block any holes left by outgoing players and in doing so look likely to be among the favourites to achieve automatic promotion in what promises to be another thrilling Championship season

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