Running the Park Run

Posted: March 2, 2014 in Manchester, Running, Sport
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Saturday marked my first ever Park Run. For people outside of the UK and a few other countries, Park Run is a weekly 5K race (three mile run) that is organised at a park/running circuit. It’s organised by volunteers and runners, and it’s a way to train and do a race for free every Saturday.

A free race isn’t offered often, and I don’t see the point in paying for a race. Paying £20-£50 to go and do something I do nearly every day, but with a group of people and a free t-shirt, isn’t very tempting.

In all, it was a great morning for my first run at a Park Run event. About 200 runners turned up for the 5K. I finished 50th overall (48th male) which was better than I expected since it was the first race I’d run since 2009.

WIth the popularity of Park Run, there is one done every Saturday in more than 100 places across the UK, you’d think it would have caught on in the US, too. However, looking over the Park Run website, it appears only three places host a Park Run – Michigan, North Carolina and Florida. I find that to be a bit of a shame. It seems Park Run would catch on in places like Southern California. Finding people to volunteer to run it is the key and it’s hard to find people that will give up their time for others. I’m not even sure I’d like to volunteer instead of running the course.

Next weekend I will try to beat my 50th place finish and I look forward to next Saturday’s race.

ny-mets-wallpaperNot only has it been a long time since I wrote on my blog – over a year – but it has been a long time since I followed a full Major League Baseball season.

Being an American, baseball was my first love when it came to sports. However, that love has faded over the last 14 years. The last seven or eight have been incredibly difficult to follow the game as well since I moved away from the US.

This season I’ve made a promise to myself that I will follow the entire season even if my beloved New York Mets are terrible; which they are expected to be.

mets-wp-32-1920Though the Mets are New York’s second team (the equivalent of Manchester City in football in the UK or Atletico Madrid in Spanish football), you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the UK or Europe that knows who they are. At least I seem unable to find anyone. Though I’m not having too many conversations about MLB greats over here. Despite being in the country’s biggest market they’re practically anonymous.

New York’s first team, the Yankees, have the original iconic NY hat logo. Made famous outside of America by the Asian kid in Indiana Jones and Justin Bieber. Despite me wearing a Mets’ hat for almost the entirety of my relationship with my wife, seven years, she didn’t realise there was any difference with the two logos.

Finn rockin' his first ever Mets shirt.

Finn rockin’ his first ever Mets shirt.

I don’t have the patients to watch most baseball games these days, but I’m doing my research on players and teams.

I’m excited for the season to begin in April and hope I can make it through an entire 162 game season from afar.

But my desire to watch and follow the MLB again is two-sided as I hope to draw enough interest in my household that one day my son will also enjoy America’s pastime.

If so, he’ll probably be one of a select few with North American parents living in Northern England that has some interest in America’s beautiful game. If not no big deal, just as long as he doesn’t wear a Yankees hat or a St. Louis Cardinals hat.

Podcast 3: Inter Milan

Posted: November 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

Episode 3 of the Forza Italian Football Club Focus was released today, featuring me and Jordan McGregor. Click the link to have a listen.

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Last week, I sat down with Juventus correspondent David Tenenbaum for the Forza Italian Football Club Focus. If you’re looking for some insight into the club’s season or into calcio (Italian soccer/football) have a listen.

Click to listen.



New Podcast!!!!

Posted: November 2, 2012 in Life, Sport
Tags: , , ,

This week I hosted the brand new Forza Italian Football Club Focus podcast. I sat down with the website’s AC Milan correspondent Rajath Kumar to discuss the ins-and-outs of the club this season. Have a listen and let me know what you think.

Obviously, you can follow the link below to download or stream the show.

Forza Italian Football Club Focus: Episode 1.

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The quaint and snug Honved stadium.In the autumn of 2010, eight English teachers, including my wife and I, arrived in Budapest, Hungary for a five month teaching contract courtesy of the EU – and the Wolverhampton AEC.

Of course, one of the first points of research was what Hungarian football team I was going to support. Budapest is home to numerous lower league or minor league clubs as well as the top-flight sides of Budapest Honved (former Army club), Ujpest (most successful club), MTK (at one time known as the Jewish club), Ferencvaros, Rakospalotai and Vasa.

Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, though it still struggles with its conversion to capitalism after decades of communist rule. Those struggles can be seen throughout the country and it’s no wonder suicide and alcoholism are rampant.

The city had excellent cafe to sit and have a beer.

Just as other sectors have struggled to come to grips with the wealth enjoyed by other countries and a small section of the population, so too has the country’s football – or soccer. Like many Eastern European countries, Hungary has a large hooligan problem and the club that exemplified this problem most was Ferencvaros (pronounced Fen-erents-ver-osh).

My wife Katy and I lived a mile away from Ferencvaros’ training center. When it was warm enough to go for a run, I would usual run in the park next to the center, so I could watch the team train. I began to think of the team as my local club, but when I asked the Hungarian teachers at school about Ferencvaros, I was told not to attend any of their matches. I shouldn’t even go to any Hungarian football teams’ matches. Confused, I pressed on. Which led to my friend Tim Watts and I attending our first game of the Hungarian OTP Bank Liga.

In the end, it wasn’t a Ferencvaros match we attended. Only a few days after asking my co-workers about the club did one of the biggest stadium riots of the season occur thanks to the Ferencvaros hooligans. Losing to their city rivals Ujpest (pronounced oo-ya-pesht), the Ferencvaros hooligans began ripping the plastic seats up and throwing them on to the pitch. This was followed by a pitch invasion and water cannons being deployed to stop the fans. Though I simplified the riot, it was quite the event.

So rather than attend a match where Tim and I could get hurt, we settled on the more family friendly Budapest Honved. The club is one of the most famous in Hungarian and have a niche in European football history. Though now days many people will have little idea about the club or how they had a hand in revolutionizing the game.

Honved formed the nucleus of the Mighty Magyars, the Hungarian national team of the 1950′s who won the Olympic gold medal in 1952 and finished second at the 1954 World Cup. Even more famously now, the Mighty Magyars are remember for beating England twice, causing the English to rethink their football approach and tactics. Honved also produced one of the greatest players of all-time in Ferenc Puskas (pronounced Fen-erents Push-kash). Puskas is still a national hero in Hungary and his face can be seen on various gimmicks from mugs to shirts.

Besides his excellent football skills, Puskas is also a national hero for standing up to the communist leaders. In 1956, he refused to return to Hungary after playing in a tour of other countries. The football great did not agree with the communist regime of Hungary that was under the control of the USSR. Puskas relocated to Spain where he became one of the all-time greats at Real Madrid, and in 1962 gained Spanish nationality, enabling him to play for Spain’s national team.

When Tim and I finally arrived at Honved’s stadium, it looked to have seen better days. I have seen USA high school soccer teams play in more expensive, aesthetically pleasing  facilities than Honved. However,  there was still something wonderfully romantic about it.

The main stand.

We took the bus, which only ran every hour, from the nearest subway station to the stadium. The bus wound through streets before dropping us off in an area far removed from where one would expect a professional sports team – these days – to play. The stadium was located in an industrial area surrounded by housing and small shops. Being that the team has never relocated, their stadium showed the tradition with the local community they have had and community ties that sports franchises in western countries no longer have.

After a few short minutes in line, we used our best Hungarian to get the best tickets on offer. Unbelievably tickets were under $2US to sit – or stand – with the Hungarian working class in the curva – the curved end behind the goal. Despite being a bit run-down, the stadium was actually cool. Though some of it was blocked off due to repairs being made. It looked as if repairs had started years before and not finished. The club did have a new looking training pitch next to the stadium complete with artificial turf for those cold and snowy months, late-October to late-March.

As with tickets, beer was also cheaply priced at around $1US. So, as Honved neared kick-off, the Borsodi followed. The football wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. The beer surely improved it. The football on display could be compared to League Two in England or possibly League One.

In the end nothing memorable happened, except discovering Eastern Europeans have a nasty habit of eating sunflower seeds at football matches. Similarly to Americans and baseball, Hungarians spend much of the 90-minute match chomping on and spitting out sunflower seed shells. We’re not so different after all.

Tim and I decided to beat the rush and attempt to catch the hourly bus back to the station before the end of the game as Honved was down 2-0. However, before heading home we attempted to buy Honved shirts at the club shop. Ridiculously, the club shop was not open on a match day and the only time it would be open was one afternoon a week. We shuffled back to the bus stop defeated, vowing to return another day.

Unexpectedly that day never came and that was the only Hungarian Liga match I witnessed in person during my five months living in the country. Like most Hungarians, much of the football I watched was beamed on to my TV screen from Italy, Germany, England and Spain. We’re not so different after all.

Amsterdam has received a reputation of debauchery, gluttony and indulgences over the centuries. Even the Pilgrims that settled America lived in the area only to move due to the “evils” of the place.

What better place to go on vacation!

The streets of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam gets a lot of bad press and a lot of people I’ve met seem to think of the city as a free-for-all haven of drugs and sex. This is not the case. Rather it is a country that is more liberal than most others.

The city is even taking steps to prevent tourist from taking part in the marijuana coffeeshops, and in 2013 there will be new measures making it more difficult for tourist to smoke pot in them.

In October 2010, my wife Kate and I found ourselves in the “Venice of the North” on a daytrip. As our train rolled through the Dutch countryside we were treated to beautiful views of the farms and villages along the tracks. The Dutch are extremely eco-friendly, and the amount of bicycles being ridden or parked outside buildings was unreal. The Dutch government has provided their citizens with wonderfully safe bike paths, and some even stretch the entire length of the country. The Dutch are obviously doing their part in taking care of the world.

As we disembarked the train and stepped out of Amsterdam train station we were met by a cold North Sea breeze and constant mist. Typically, this kind of weather would ruin trips. However, it felt like the gray skies and the city’s architecture went hand in hand.

Before we set out for Amsterdam Kate encouraged me to find places to see in the city. I ignored her suggestions and would live to regret it. If I would have done some research I would have realized the Heineken Beer museum is located in the city. As much Heineken as I have drank I’m still unsure how I didn’t realize this.

Well, since then I’ve been kicking myself for missing out on what is called the Heineken Experience. Apparently, it’s so awesome it is called an experience rather than museum.

Regardless, on the day we would hit two museums: One a must see and the other a place to have your picture taken in front of.

After getting off the train we walked about a kilometer into the downtown area – a kilometer is about .6 miles for thus unsure.  There we found a slightly non-descript building known as the Amsterdam Sex Museum.

It is what you think it is.

This isn’t for everyone, but I must say it was fantastic and definitely for me. It was only $6 US, which was a bargain – especially compared to the museum we went to later. Basically, the museum is what it says on the sign and brings elements of sex and pornography into one place for museum-goers. You can even get your picture taken with a huge erect cock. I did!

Now after spending over an hour wandering through the sex museum we walked to the Anne Frank House Museum. I found Anne Frank’s House to be quite passable and I advise against it, unless you love the Diary of Anne Frank book or you’re a WWII buff.

The house/museum is in a lovely part of town facing a canal. The walk in the autumn was very enjoyable despite the cold and drizzle. I guess if Anne could have looked out the window while she was locked away, she would have enjoyed the views.

After the sheer awesomeness of the Sex Museum, I was quite disappointed by Anne’s house. I love history, but it felt so bland. Even before going inside I was turned off by the loud, fat American tourists behind me complaining about their plane seats being too small. By the time I paid my $12 US I was pissed off – overpriced.

Kate liked the Anne Frank Museum (it was her second time to see it), however, I did not. Literally, there wasn’t much to see. I guess the whole selling point is for visitors to experience the tight corridors that Anne and her family lived in. My advice is to keep your $12 and just take some photos outside. There’s more to see.

To finish off the day we set off for the red-light district in the middle of the day. Obviously, we weren’t out to purchase a prostitute, rather we wanted to see what the area looked like. And it looked very similar to the other parts of the city we’d already been through – nice.

The only difference was the amount of coffeeshops and bars, and the inclusion of brothels. Prostitution has long been legal in Amsterdam, and many probably associate the two – or Amsterdam and pot.

The Bulldog Coffeeshop.

Though crime seems to have risen in the area over the last 10-20 years, it was very tame on a weekday afternoon. Consequently, there were not many prostitutes showing off their wares. For those unaware they don’t walk the streets, but stand in a shop window waiting for a John (customer) to make a choice.

Fulfilling my desire to check out the red-light district we retreated to a canal-side café for beers. We finished our day in Amsterdam sitting outside watching the people walk by. It was an absolutely beautiful way to finish our time there.

This is the point it dawned on me that the Heineken Museum is located in Amsterdam. But with only a couple hours until our train it would be impossible to see it.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city in a beautiful country. Spending a few days would have been much better than cramming a few things into one. Also, getting to experience the country’s nightlife would have been great.

Though I’d like to live in the Netherlands, I don’t think I could live in Amsterdam due to the amount of tourists. As a city one of those places that I can visit, but don’t feel like I could live there. However, given the chance I’d probably change my mind.

There’s more bikes around the cner.

Amsterdam is for lovers.[gallery orderby="title"]