Man in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Welcome to Sport on the Silver Screen. In this series, I will be looking back over sports movies and series that I have recently watched/re-watched and giving my thoughts on them. Getting into the Schmoedown and starting to follow a number of the personalities from the show has given me a much greater appreciation of movies and seen me starting to watch more, while a resolution for 2022 has also seen me making a resolution to watch more series.

Being a fan of both movies and sports, I have taken the chance to start highlighting the sheer volume of sports movies out there, while also now throwing in the occasional series. In each article I will be giving some details about the movie/series and then a quick review, including a section giving a sports fan’s perspective of the action’s realism.

This series has been heavily influenced by Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai of Action Industries, but I will not be looking at the traditional “Fist-pump moment” and “Favourite line” sections due to just how much more content a series provides compared to a movie, instead talking about the prospects for the future of the show. Be aware, there will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

Today, I will be looking at the documentary series Man in the Arena

sport screen man in the arena tom brady

Key facts

Seasons 1

Episodes 9 (currently)

Status 1 more episode in production

Released in 2021

Distribution (UK) Disney+

Starring Tom Brady

Synopsis A documentary series looking back through the career of Tom Brady, focusing on each of his Super Bowl seasons with the New England Patriots (with an episode planned for his Super Bowl run with Tampa Bay) looking at the iconic moments in Brady’s own words and with input from other people who played a key role.

Review

As someone who has paid some form of attention to the NFL since the mid-noughties and has closely followed the league since the 2009 season, a constant in the league has been Tom Brady. The undeniable GOAT, Brady’s achievements are incredible and deserve respect, but are made into an even better story when you remember that he was a sixth-round draft pick!

As such, I’ve always enjoyed documentaries about Brady, but this one still managed to leave me pleasantly surprised. While the name and poster would make you think it is all about Brady, the actual series feels on the whole more like a documentary about the Brady-era Patriots, with heavy focuses on some of the other influential players of the time, such as Drew Bledsoe, Willie McGinest, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, as well as input from some of the big names Brady faced in the Super Bowl (Michael Strahan and Richard Sherman). In fact, it is only really episode 7 that felt like it was really focused more on Brady, as it featured his family and looked back at a season during which his mother was going through treatment for cancer, while parts of episode 8 also focused on his relationship with the controversial Alex Guerrero.

Though I will admit that I haven’t seen many documentaries on the NFL, this one did a really good job of showing the psyche of the New England Patriots, which has been a key part of their success and ability to remain in playoff contention through multiple rebuilds. It really highlights an environment that certainly wouldn’t be right for every player, but pushes for success.

With such a long and high-profile career, there have been so many iconic moments, and it was great to hear Brady et al. talk about these, such as how time both times the Pats faced the Giants it looked like they had the win, only for a remarkable catch to help the Giants score on a late drive, and how history almost completed itself against the Seahawks. There was talk on the Tuck Rule, that comeback against Atlanta and those game-winning drives that earned Brady his early fame (including how one throw did not go as planned but worked out to their advantage), while also a moment where wife Gisele Bündchen inadvertently made headlines following the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. There’s something great about the way that sportsmen can remember games and talk about them years later that I love to hear, and as such this documentary—interviews spliced in amongst game footage, sideline footage and footage from news reports/football shows—was perfect for me!

Of course, if you know your NFL history, you will know that there are also some controversies to cover in this time, with Spygate and Deflategate. In credit to the series, it does not shy away from these moments, and it does go into how the players felt and how it affected them. However, while it does talk about Brady’s suspension as part of Deflategate, I noticed that it brushed over the reason that he was suspended, while I can’t help question just how accurate these sections are considering Brady is an executive producer.

A few final thoughts on the series:

  • Of course a part of the Patriots success was down to the input of TE Aaron Hernandez. While some of the footage used shows a couple of his plays, and he occasionally features in sideline shots, it was noticeable to me that even as Brady talked about the 12-package they used with him and Gronk, Hernandez was never actually discussed by name.
  • I could have happily sat through a series where each episode focused on each season of Brady’s career rather than focusing on the Super Bowl runs, but many of the other seasons do get some kind of mention, while these are all the big talking points of Brady’s career, so I can understand why it was kept to this more condensed format.

The Future

As mentioned earlier, we are set to get one more episode which will focus on Brady’s move to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their Super Bowl victory. And who knows, with Brady coming out of retirement, there’s always the chance of yet another episode being required later down the line.

What did you think of this series? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!

Seeing Red

Seeing Red

If recent reports are to be believed, World Rugby are considering expanding the 20-minute red card to more competitions. If they do this, it will just show how out of touch the governing body is with the sport and how it is putting the spectacle before player safety.

So let’s take a step back first and look at what the law is. Much like football, if a player is red carded, they are immediately removed from the field of play and their team plays the remainder of the game with a player less. However under the new variation that is currently being trialled in Super Rugby Pacific, while the red carded player’s match is over, the team is allowed to bring on a replacement after 20 minutes.

So what’s happening in Super Rugby. Well I think the only appropriate word would be “mayhem”! It’s not much of an overstatement to say that the majority of games are seeing at least one red card, generally for dangerous play that included contact with the head.

Red cards are surely at an all-time high worldwide, with amendments to the laws in recent years that have been intended to make the game safer by reducing contact with the head. And yet despite the increased sanctions with the risk of a red card—and despite stories in the news of James “Cubby” Davies recently retiring due to a concussion, having not played since November 2020, and former players Steve Thompson and Alix Popham’s revelations that they now suffer from early-onset dementia—players appear to be unwilling or incapable of adapting to the new laws.

The red card is meant to be a deterrent, a punishment to encourage better behaviour, but it has clearly not been enough and the arrival of a 20-minute red card is even less of a punishment, so it is no surprise to see Super Rugby matches turning into a contest of “who can crack a man’s skull open first?” And the reason that this 20-minute red card is being considered: because there is a group of people out there—unfortunately fuelled by a number of so-called “experts” in the media—who complain that red cards ruin the game. Newsflash: they don’t. What ruins the game is players suffering avoidable injuries.

So what should be done?

Well first of all, the 20-minute red card should be scrapped altogether rather than expanding. Current punishments are clearly not a sufficient deterrent, so reducing them will just make things worse, as we are seeing in the Southern Hemisphere.

Secondly, the post-match disciplinary process needs a complete overhaul. As it stands, different offences have different minimum entry points depending on the severity of the offence, while extra weeks may be added for repeat offenders. However, this is all ruined by having weeks taken off for such rubbish as accepting the charge, remorse, attending a “tackle school”, good behaviour in the disciplinary hearing and a previously clean record. You just need to look at the recent case of Axel Müller, whose horror tackle started at a 10-week entry point but ended up being just a 5-week ban once everything was considered! I would argue that any reasons to reduce a ban are removed, while a financial impact also be brought in, with both club and player receiving a fine dependent on the severity of the incident and the disciplinary history that season, with the money being spread among grass-roots rugby and charities focused on head injuries and player welfare. If bans haven’t been enough to encourage better behaviour, perhaps losing money will give players the impetus to improve their technique, or give teams the reason to focus on improving technique.

In line with this, World Rugby needs to enforce more consistency across the board, both from match officials and disciplinary panels. While nobody could argue Hame Faiva’s red card in the Six Nations against Ireland, Ireland’s Ryan Baird escaped even a citing for exactly the same thing later in the match. English referee Karl Dickson is accruing a horribly long list of incidents that he has adjudged to be a yellow card or less, which have then resulted in a citing and the disciplinary panel deciding the incident worth of a red card. Meanwhile, some of the decisions of the judiciary panels SANZAAR have put together have been questionable to say the best, as a number of red cards have been overturned, including a horror shot from Tom Banks on Toni Pulu that rightly ended in a penalty try and red card, but also left the Brumbies fullback requiring facial surgery. You need consistency in order to set a precedent, otherwise players will be able to cite previous incidents where players have escaped punishment for the same offence.

Finally, there is a law that I thin needs changing and that is the one that if a maul becomes unplayable, the ball is turned over. Instead I feel that whichever team was the more dominant right before it became unplayable should get the scrum feed. The reason for this is that the law encourages players to go high for the “man and ball” challenge that holds the player up and creates a maul, leading to a turnover. Look back at England’s match against Ireland and Charlie Ewels’ early red card. England went for a number of high tackles in those opening minutes in an attempt to hold up the ball, and it was a combination of this and Ewels’ inability to adapt to the tackle laws that led to him getting an early shower.

World Rugby has a big decision to make regarding the 20-minute red card. I just hope that they make the right decision.

Avengers XV

Avengers XV

Those who know me will know that as well as being a big sports fan, I am a massive geek. Star Wars has been an obsession as long as I can remember, Middle Earth became one when the release of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy introduced me to that world, and following a massive binge ahead of Captain Marvel to catch up on everything I had missed in time for Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Union has also secured a place in my heart.

These last couple of weeks have been big for me in my MCU fandom. With the home release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, I am finally back up to date with the MCU, and have loved the opening 2 episodes of Moon Knight, while me rewatch of the franchise with my mother (whois watching for the first time) is also getting close to being up to date. So with all that going on, it’s safe to say that I have had the MCU on the brain.

And so for a bit of fun this week, I decided to cross over the MCU with one of my other great loves: rugby. Imagine the the Avengers and their allies got together for a game of rugby, what would the team look like?

Obviously this is just a bit of fun and very tongue in cheek, so please don’t take this too seriously and let me know your selections in the comments, as you’ll notice I ended up leaving out some big names, while also stuck to the heroes rather than include the villains.

Loosehead Prop: Korg

MCU Thor Ragnarok Korg

The scrum is a vital part of the game, and with Korg packing down in the front row, it’s hard to imagine many people will be pushing him backwards. Not only that, but as such an easygoing character, he’s not likely to get too riled up by his opposition.

Hooker: M’Baku

MCU Black Panther M'Baku

A late addition to my team, the leader of the Jabari Tribe will provide some leadership in the front row and show a ferocious visage to unnerve his opposition. Strong but dynamic, he is everything you want from a modern hooker.

Tighthead Prop: Hulk

MCU Thor Ragnarok Hulk

Let’s be honest, props generally are the smartest members of the team, you just don’t notice as they hide that on the pitch behind a much more ferocious attitude… sound familiar? If you thought Korg’s side of the scrum was imposing, imagine the big green meanie packing down on the other side of M’Baku… then feel sorry for the opposition pack.

Locks: Groot & Ant-Man

We’ve got a huge front row and an even bigger second row! With Groot’s ability to grow on the spot and Scott Lang able to grow to at least 60ft, it’s going to be all-but impossible for M’Baku to overthrow them at the lineout. Let’s just hope Groot isn’t calling the lineouts or the only play will be “I am Groot”.

Blindside Flanker: Iron Man

MCU Iron Man 2 Tony Stark

Let’s be honest, blindside is an interesting position these days as there’s so many ways you can go, depending on the type of game you’re trying to play. You could go for an enforcer or a slightly more dynamic third lock.Well in Tony Stark, you have an all-rounder, as his suit has enough firepower to make him an enforcer, while also keeping him super dynamic in the loose and being able to take advantage of his suit’s rockets to be an extra jumper at the lineout.

Openside Flanker: Black Widow

MCU Black Widow Natasha Romanov Yelena Belova

Some people may be surprised at this pick, but the Black Widows have proved that they can hold their own, while they are also experts at covert infiltrations, exactly what you want at the breakdown. And just like with Sale’s Curry Twins, if Natasha isn’t available, her “sister” Yelena can do the exact same job just as well.

Number 8: Drax the Destroyer

MCU Guardians of the Galaxy Drax

It was probably pretty obvious that he’d be my pick here once he wasn’t named in my front row. Drax is a number 8 in the mould of Billy Vunipola and Duane Vermeulen: a big guy who will run at you hard and put the team on the front foot with some impressive carries.

Scrum Half: Rocket Raccoon

MCU Guardians of the Galaxy Rocket

Let’s be honest, a scrum half is just a small guy without the physicality to back up his big mouth, who the opposition hate all the time and his teammates hate some of the time.

Fly Half: Hawkeye

MCU Thor Hawkeye

One of the key members of the Avengers though often underrated (the Avengers have never lost with Clint Barton present). A highly experienced operator with a quiver full of tricks, and you know you can count on him for 100% accuracy.

Inside Centre: The Winter Soldier

MCU Falcon and the Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes

Centres these days need to be a jack of all trades, and as a supersoldier, Bucky Barnes certainly brings that to the role. Years of experience alongside his fellow centre (more on that shortly) makes for a reliable defensive organisation, while in attack Bucky uses his vibranium arm for some wicked handoffs and beautiful offloads.

Outside Centre: Captain America

MCU Avengers Captain America

Perhaps the most rounded player on the pitch, the 13 needs to have pace, physicality, good all-round skills, and be a leader and organiser in defence. Well, Steve Rogers is certainly all of that, and with his old pal Bucky at 12 they’ll have a strong partnership.

Wings: Pietro Maximoff & Spider-Man

Is there anything more scary than a wing with pure unadulterated pace? Nope, and that is why Pietro Maximoff was probably the easiest pick of the entire XV. Meanwhile how annoying is it for a team to put in some lovely build-up play only for the wing to knock the ball on? Well with Peter Parker and his sticky fingers on the wing, you have the safest hands on the pitch.

Fullback: Kate Bishop

MCU Hawkeye Kate Bishop

We’ve all seen it before: the seasoned veteran gets the start at fly half, while their successor starts at fullback to get first team experience in a similar position with slightly less pressure. Well, enter Kate Bishop for a taste of first team action as Clint Barton’s retirement nears.

2022 FIFA World Cup: The Pools

2022 FIFA World Cup: The Pools

The first November/December World Cup is getting closer by the day and now with just 3 places still to be decided, the pools have been drawn. 37 teams (who will be whittled down to 32 in the final couple of qualification matches) were sorted into 8 pools of 4, with the top 2 from each pool proceeding into the knockouts.

As always, the pools were selected by a random draw, with confirmed teams split over 4 bands depending on their spot in the FIFA World Rankings to keep the pools somewhat balanced (though as hosts, Qatar earned a spot in the top band despite being ranked at 51), while nations from he same confederation could not be drawn in the same pool, with the exception of 5 pools having 2 European nations.

So how are the pools looking and who will be making the last 16? I’ve taken a look at each pool to give my thoughts. For each pool, I’ve listed the teams included in the order of the bands they were in (top to bottom), with their current pot in the FIFA World Rankings in [brackets].

Pool A

Teams: Qatar [51], Netherlands [10], Senegal [20], Ecuador [46]

The pool that everyone in Bands B-D would have wanted to end up in due to Qatar taking the Band A spot. The rankings certainly suggest that the Netherlands and Senegal should go through, but could home comforts give Qatar a boost and see them pull off an upset? And further to that, don’t ever rule out Senegal from an upset against a European team in the World Cup—France learned the hard way in 2002.

Pool B

Teams: England [5], USA [15], Iran [21], Euro Playoff Winner (Wales [18]/Scotland [39]/Ukraine [27])

The first pool still awaiting confirmation of their final team, and as such it makes it a little more difficult to predict. That said, this should be England’s pool for the taking with the quality of players they have. While the rankings would suggest that the USA would join them in the last 16, I can’t help but feel that Scotland or Wales could take the second spot should they qualify. But what of Ukraine? Well if they qualify, could they find that the current events going on in their country gives them extra impetus, similar to Denmark in the Euros following the loss of Christian Eriksen.

Pool C

Teams: Argentina [4], Mexico [9], Poland [26], Saudi Arabia [49]

The rankings are certainly a little misleading here in regards to Mexico, as they so rarely play teams who are currently ranked in the top 20. As such, I expect things to be relatively comfortable for Argentina, while the match between Poland and Mexico will be crucial in deciding who joins them. Don’t be shocked if this goes down to goal difference.

Pool D

Teams: France [3], Denmark [11], Tunisia [35], Inter-Confederation Playoff Winner (UAE [68]/Australia [42]/Peru [22])

While there are still 3 possible teams to fill the last spot, I must be honest and admit that I can’t see any of them seriously influencing the outcome here. France will be the obvious favorites to top the group, while I expect Denmark to be too strong for the other nations and secure the runner-up spot.

Pool E

Teams: Spain [7], Germany [12], Japan [23], Inter-Confederation Playoff Winner (Costa Rica [31]/New Zealand [101])

Again no offence to Costa Rica or New Zealand, but I can’t see either of them really troubling the other teams in this pool. A European 1-2 looks the obvious call here with the match between the pair deciding who tops the pool, but if one of them comes in struggling for form, then Japan could become a threat.

Pool F

Teams: Belgium [2], Croatia [16], Morocco [24], Canada [38]

Another pool where a European 1-2 looks the most likely, as the rankings don’t give justice to the difference in strength of squads between Croatia and Morocco. Meanwhile Belgium find themselves with a squad brimming with talent but without the trophies to back it up; could a solid group performance to top the pool set them up for their first appearance in a World Cup final?

Pool G

Teams: Brazil [1], Switzerland [14], Serbia [25], Cameroon [37]

A favourable draw for Brazil, who should be able to rotate and qualify comfortably for the knock-outs. Meanwhile I expect a tight affair behind that, but think that Switzerland have the experience to qualify just ahead of Serbia.

Pool H

Teams: Portugal [8], Uruguay [13], Republic of Korea [29], Ghana [60]

Oh how Ghana would love to get some revenge in Qatar for Uruguay controversially knocking them out of the 2010 World Cup on penalties, but I can’t see it happening here. Portugal v Uruguay will likely decide the pool winner as the pair qualify comfortably. I will however predict Uruguay getting the top spot in this pool.

How do you see these pools finishing?