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Successful failures

2016 September 25

I realized that two of my supposedly biggest sporting failures in terms of results were actually not as bad as I believed. No, scratch that. They were successes. Let me explain…

The first was a football game I played towards the end of the 1980s. I played in goal for the youth team of one of the bigger clubs in Malta and we were thrashed 4-0. It was a complete onslaught with wave after wave of attack.

Balls were coming at me from all direction and with varying speeds – from very fast to what seemed like ‘ludicrous mode’ (with apologies to Tesla). Now, I conceded four goals and felt terrible when the game ended. Surely, if you lose 4-0, the goalkeeper cannot feel great, can he? But what happened next surprised me.

As I was walking back to the bench, all the opposition players came to me to shake my hand and pat me on the back. They greeted me with ‘well dones’ and ‘amazing performance’. My team, too, were swarming round me. I was expecting jeers and criticism after conceding four.

The thing I hadn’t realized was that if I weren’t in goal that day, and played so well, we would have probably suffered a humiliating defeat comparable to Malta’s performance against Spain in 1982.

The next is the marathon I ran last May. I must admit, I came last in my age group. It did take me a staggering 4 hours 50 minutes to complete the 42.195 km track. A bit disappointing, I thought.

Really and truly, just finishing was an achievement in itself – it’s just a matter of having the right perspective.

The moral of the story is that you should not let your mind be clouded by doubt and lack of confidence. My Maltese teacher at school, a large part-time farmer with a permanent frown and temper (although a great teacher – just in case he’s reading this), said no matter how ugly you are (yes, he said ‘ugly’), you will still find your way in life, and even find a partner. He was right. Apparently, despite his grumpiness, or maybe in spite of it, he could always see things from a different perspective.

“Don’t worry mom, ‘Baku welcomed all of us’”

2016 June 19
by Steve

I’m watching the regrettably/called F1 Grand Prix of Europe and cannot get my thoughts of the suspicious looking purple advertising boards in which somebody seems to want to publicise the fact that ‘Baku welcomed all of us’.

Am I the only one to find this strange that somebody thought it important to announce this? I would have said that this is something that should be taken for granted. It seems as though this somebody – I wonder who was actually responsible for those adverts – thought it important enough to state the obvious, I didn’t quite see any signs saying ‘Le Mans welcomed all of us’.

I may understand a ‘Baku welcomes you’ (it even rhymes), but the use of the past tense is somewhat suspect. The democratic credentials, or lack of them, might have persuaded the authorities that they should give assurances about the fact that there was no crackdown on errant F1 teams or fans. Let’s put it this way, Azerbaijan is not exactly a stalwart of human rights and democracy.  And the F1 being staged there comes across as a way to showcase a ‘normal’ European nation. Hmm, right.

Probably the same people thought it justified to congratulate themselves with other advertising board saying ‘Well done Baku’. I would have thought that it would be better to wait for the end of the race for self-congratulations. I would have been far better to have ‘VisitBaku’ ad boards instead.

Speaking about the race itself, I am not a big fan of city circuits, but it’s not too bad with overtakes and all. But I still believe that there are many racetracks which are far better suited for purpose, probably because they are, erm, racetracks. And yes, I am not a fan of the Monaco Grand Prix either – it’s only saving point is the historic element behind the race.

The nameless

2016 May 16
by Steve

She didn’t really want too much in life, just the normal tings a 10-year-old girl wants – play in the street, have friends, eat, go to school, enjoy life with her family. The only problem with hr grand plan is that she is Syrian.

Her name is not important, at least it doesn’t seem important for many governments in Europe and many more people who live a comfortable life in the old continent. She is not a person, she is a number. She has no name.

I came across her story in a documentary on TV. Her dad was arrested and imprisoned – never to be seen again. She lived with her younger brother and sister in Aleppo, one of the cities most punished in the Syrian civil war.

Her mother kept on going until she finally had no choice but to leave – the constant bombing, insecurity, lack of basic necessities, and fear of repercussion took their toll. They sold everything and eventually managed to make it – legally – to Germany, where they were offered help in the form of an allowance and house.

What struck me about the whole story was that the family were just like any family I know. The mother spoke about rituals she had with her husband – they drank coffee every morning without fail. She smoked, too. The kids liked games, the eldest daughter loved dressing up and putting on make-up (yes, they’re Muslim – it has nothing to do with it). The boy liked football and the youngest enjoyed going to the playground and playing on the swings. They are a normal family.

And then I realized how misinformed the EU agreement with Turkey is, how closing boarders is downright cruel and people’s intolerance towards accepting migrants looking for a better life is selfish, racist, xenophobic, and close-minded.

And yes, comparisons to Nazism are warranted because even though there is no maniacal dictator, the manner in which Syrians, Afghans and others are being treated is similar to the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.

Like those time, we speak in numbers. Names seem not to be important.

F1: Qualifying mess

2016 March 19
tags: , ,
by Steve

My wife question my sanity when I woke up before 7am on Saturday morning to watch the F1 qualifying. “It’s only qualifying,” she said. After recovering from the shock of such a statement, I tried to explain the importance of qualifying in motorsports. She wasn’t bothered.

So Saturday morning arrived and I duly woke up early for qualifying. I was excited. The four-month wait was finally over, yeah!

Lights turned green and Hamilton set the ball rolling on the 2016 season. It was a great start, with a great deal of traffic and excitant. It didn’t last. The staggered exclusion is, on paper, a great idea. In reality, it sucks.

Firstly, some teams seemed not to realise that when the time ran out, the time ran out and that was that (like Haas F1, whose driver Grojean had a superb lap which was useless as he was already out).

The problem was that since it was a staggered elimination, drivers who were not directly affected chose not to bother after setting a good lap. Boring doesn’t even start to explain it. I found the ad breaks far more entertaining (thanks Renault, Clio looks great).

However, the worst part came at the end where drivers simply gave up / were not interested / couldn’t be bothered to take to the lap. Once Hamilton set a pole-winning lap, everyone just got out of their cars and went wherever it is that drivers go after qualifying.

The Swiss TV presenter seemed a bit shocked at the fact that with more than 2 minutes remaining, it was all over. Even Hamilton looked somewhat confused.

Now, let’s be fair to the FIA. Their aim was to improve the sport. This measure obviously didn’t work. To avoid criticism, they should revert to the old system or introduce something else for Bahrain. But please, FIA, don’t keep this qualifying format – it’s terrible.







F1 2016 – 13 reasons to watch, and five not to

2016 March 13

OK, keep clam and breathe – just one week left until the F1 season starts again. I know, it’s bene a long, hard winter, but are finally within touching distance.

Now, many think FIA’s F1 is really boring – of course, they are wrong. And this year, there are many reasons why I believe F1 will be more fun, more entertaining, more dazzling and maybe, just maybe, more competitive.

  1. Haas F1: I can hear the groans… “They’re American, they can go fast in a straight line or an oval, but nothing else.” A bit unfair, I’d say, and maybe there might be some truth. I have a feeling that the new outfit may have some surprises up their sleeve. For a start, they have secured the services of Romain Grojean and Gutierrez. And despite some initial glitches, their car is based on Ferrari (they have a Ferrari power unit and have bought as many Ferrari parts as is legally allowed), and Ferrari is now becoming more competitive, which brings me to my second point…
  2. Ferrari is becoming more competitive and they may possible challenge Mercedes, which brings me to my third point…
  3. I support Lewis Hamilton and am of course very happy that he has won the last two championships (and he also has two amazing dongs, but that’s irrelevant). Go HAM, make it three in a row
  4. I’m not sure what the new qualifying will bring. It possibly will be more exciting, but you do need to have a degree in rocket science to understand what’s going on. The new rules aim to keep drivers out more (I believe). If you want to know what the new rules are, read this
  5. Any slightly older person will remember the successes Renault had in F1 – it’s therefore great to have them back in the fold as a team
  6. It’s F1 for heaven’s sake – of course it fun
  7. The pit lane girls (actually, I wanted to include this for WTCC and forgot, so I thought I’d include it here)
  8. Manor could win their first points. I don’t know why, but I have a soft spot for them. Hopefully, the Mercedes engine (yeah, yeah, I know we’re not supposed to call it engine) and development programme will help they get off the mark. C’mon Manor.
  9. Williams are another of those fun teams and their Mass / Bottas line-up can achieve much more. I guess they may even challenge for second in a head-to-head with Ferrari
  10. McLaren anyone? According to reports, Honda have pulled their socks up and will provide the team with a far-improved, erm, power unit. And with two (albeit ageing) world champions on board, they may even sneak in a podium, possibly, maybe…
  11. Of course, Sauber. The Swiss outfit may be having some financial issues, but they are always a force to be reckoned with. I guess they will remain mid-table. I will surely be waving and cheering when they go by. Hop Schwiiiz
  12. There are 21 races this season that’ll take us all the way to end November. Fantastic!
  13. Max Verstappen, simply because he is Max Verstappen. Greta driver who’ll be around for a long time. He is definitely a World Champion in the making. And he’s still a teenager…

But there are also some negatives…

  1. Red Bull are still not competitive, and that’s a big pity. Come on Red Bull, buckle up…
  2. Mercedes domination – for the same reason as point 1, the Mercedes domination makes the sport somewhat boring at time. It’s a good thing I support Hamilton. Otherwise, it’d be very frustrating
  3. Still no female F1 driver, and now Susie has retired. She has, however, launched the #DareToBeDifferent campaign that seeks to get more women drivers into the sport. Read about it here
  4. Less time with the children on Sundays (sorry kiddos!)
  5. Overtaking, or the lack of it. Let’s hope we get more this year

The engines come to life on 20 March in Australia. It’ll be an early start of the day, but well worth it as the first race sets the tone for the rest of the season.

WTCC: What can we expect?

2016 March 2
by Steve

Some may write it off as insignificant, but the Word Touring Car Championship season this year promises to be one of the best ever.

After Citroen made its debut in the sport, it effectively took over the reins from Chevrolet and won nearly every single race. No surprises there considering the marque and the budget behind their participation. Honda was also there as a works team, along with Lada, but they only dented the raging French machine. Now, there are new players in the field.

Here is why I think it’s going to be a great season:

  1. The double H: Rob Huff has swapped his wheel at Lada for the Japanese outfit and this combination can only be good for both of them and the WTCC in general. According to Monteiro, the Honda upgrades will make the car extremely competitive and help cose the gap with Citroen. Huffy will be rubbing his hands in glee at the thought of topping the table again
  2. Lada have signed veteran driver Tarquini, who previously was with Honda. See where I’m going with this? No? Well, even though Tarquini and Huff are friends, it’ll be gloves off on the track. I think the Italian (who is definitely not past his prime) wants to prove a point to his former employer.
  3. Polestar Volvo. Now this was probably the most exciting news that hit WTCC for a long time. The S60 TC1 looks the part and I hope it dents the Citroen domination (nothing against you chaps)
  4. Eat my cheese: Tom Coronel has just announced he will be racing this year. Phew, that was close. The WTCC would not be the same without Tom Coronel, both for his driving, superb character and because he’s driving a Chevy
  5. Nürburgring is still on the calendar. You can’t really go wrong there, can you?
  6. Michelisz, the Hungarian ace, also joined Honda after years with Zengo. Being with a works team might be the push he needed to step up his game
  7. Two races are held on race weekend, the second with a reverse grid, meaning the 10th placed in qualifying starts from pole. This always makes the second race very interesting.
  8. As always, you have real, recognizable cars. As the WTCC put it, it’s bumper to bumper, door handle to door handle action
  9. Winning cars will have extra weight added as last season, but this is increased to 80kg from 60kg


There are some downsides:

  1. Sebastian Loeb will not be there. I quite like him – not sure why.
  2. Sebastian Loeb will be there with his team, albeit not in person. That should be good, but he is fielding more Citroens. Aren’t there enough already?
  3. Citroen following Chevy: The French are officially leaving as of the end of this season. Pity, but the cars will probably still be on the grid in 2017, assumingly a little bit less fast (it would be unfair to use the word ‘slow’ and ‘Citroen’ in the same sentence), thus making it more competitive. Whatever my opinion on Citroen, it’s always bad when a manufacturer leaves
  4. Chevrolet, which stopped its works team participation back in 2012, will struggle with the remaining privateer cars fielded. Makes sense – there has been no development for, well, four years
  5. The FIA WTCC timetable clashes with the FIA F1 timetable at least five times. Five time! Seriously? Don’t they speak to each other at the FIA?

The WTCC season kicks off on 3 April 2016 at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France – this race will be very telling. Best way to keep in touch is following Touring Car Times and their Twitter account. Also, have a look at the official FIA WTCC website.

Barbaric tradition that needs stopping

2015 November 22

I’m against hunting in principle, so I couldn’t understand why foreigners painted all Maltese people with the same brush when it comes to bird hunting. We don’t all hunt. But then I understood. After watching the popular TV programme Le Iene, I felt anger and disgust for all the people on the Faroe Islands for very similar reasons.

I’m not sure if they are all in favour, but that’s pretty much irrelevant. The islanders practice a sick, barbaric tradition called Grindadráp, which sees hundred, no thousands of whales killed senselessly every summer.

I say senselessly because they do not eat the whale meat, or have any use for any part of the dead whales they are apparently thrown back to sea. It is purely a tradition which these people see fit to continue practising (wonder where I heard that before).

I can’t see why the people on the Faroe Islands (or Maltese hunters for the matter) can’t follow the example of their Danish cousins and take on the traditional Nøgenløbet Roskilde (Roskilde Naked Run) or their Finnish neighbour’s Wife Carrying Competition. Why is it that some people have to kill something to feel good?

This is something that should be stopped – as should hunting in Malta, bullfighting in Spain, dog-fighting and cock-fighting, and any other barbaric practice that results in the useless death of an animal.

Sign the petition to End the Faroe Islands’ Whale Slaughter

Why I put the French flag on my profile picture

2015 November 21
by Steve

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, thousands of people superimposed the French flag on their Facebook profile picture. I did, too.

Then, soon after, posts started appearing with reasons why people should not put up the French – or any – flag on their profile when such events happen. The main reason was that we should put up the flags of any nation where terrorist acts take place and that would mean changing very, very often.

This reasoning is intrinsically flawed because showing support for one people does not automatically mean that you do not support another. I put the French flag up on my profile picture not only in solidarity with the French people, but importantly with their way of living because it is also my way of living. The terrorist attacks were aimed at disrupting this very essence of the way Europeans live their lives. That is why I, as a European, wanted to show my support.

In this same month there were numerous other attacks – in Iraq, Lebanon, Mali, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Somalia, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Bosnia. The list for the whole year is impressive. They are all tragic, and include uncountable dead. I feel for every single child, parent, brother and mother killed. And most others do, too.

But when you get hit on home ground, everything takes on a different perspective.

Man, that was hard

2015 July 29
by Steve

I must admit – it’s been one hell of a slog and I am terribly glad it’s over. It all started around January 2013 when I had a bright idea, probably after that night out I had when I fell over and banged my head really bad. I remember waking up the next morning and saying candidly: “I want to do a master’s degree.”

It was a statement of intent and I was determined to do it, come hell or high water. And boy, did they both come to accompany me on my journey.

Let me take a step back for a moment. I left school at 17 with very few qualifications to my name – essentially, a handful of O and A levels, nowhere near to what I needed to get into university. This was the result of a political system that penalized you for attending a church school, which I did, and a fair doze of laze (yes, pun intended). In between naps, I felt cheated of the chance to graduate. This was 1986.

Fast forward to 2013. Having completed my bachelor’s degree in 2010, I felt I was now ready to take on a master’s, confident in the fact that I would manage despite having a family with three kids, a very full time job, which included a lot of travelling, and being an amateur triathlete.

The first books arrived a week before my start date, around 15 July 2013, and I eagerly set about my studying in a purposely built man-cave-cum-study in the cellar. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I immediately realized that I had possibly bitten off more than I could chew. With the first few chapters read, I didn’t understand a word – nothing. Nothing. It dawned on me that I had 24 months left of this. 24 months.

It did get a tad easier, I must say, but not by much. Every waking hour was spent studying or thinking about studying. At home, during my breaks at work, early mornings, late evenings, on holiday, on trains and planes, everywhere and all the time.

Then, in November/December 2013, two events shook my world. First, on 4 November, my father passed away. It was terrible for obvious reasons, but it was made worse by the fact that I had a lot of things I wanted to tell him and never got the chance. One of these things was that, like my brother, I was doing a master’s degree. My brother has two, actually, and my father always mentioned it to me and the pride in his eyes was evident. I wanted to make him proud, too.

Exactly a month and a day later, I was made redundant from a job I loved. It was like kicking a man when he was down. It hurt and made me feel helpless, even because some people at my now ex workplace acted in an unbecoming manner. I was down, but not out.

I’m not quite sure what made me continue, but days became weeks, then months. And now, 24 months after starting, I have finally made it. I’m not sure what grade I’ll get – what I do know is that I gave it my all.

I guess that deep down, I wanted my dad to be proud of me, and my girls to look up to me as an example to follow. I also wanted to prove to my most vociferous critic that I could do it. And I did.

Repeal EU Directive 2001/51/EC

2015 June 8

The number of people – yes, they are people – getting into rickety boats and making their way to Europe is staggering. And only God knows how many people were killed on their way here, either because their boats couldn’t take the burden, bad weather or being forced overboard by the human traffickers. And for this luxury, immigrants pay in excess of €1,000.

In this video, Professor Hans Rosling explains that the reason why people don’t jump on a plane in air-conditioned comfort, paying one third of the price and landing safely after a five or six hour trip (rather than five or six days or weeks) is because of EU Directive 2001/51/EC.

In a nutshell, this directive, an extension of Schengen, lays out the fines carriers have to pay if they transport someone to an EU member state. And that amounts to around €3,000 per person carried.

What this directive does, in effect, is force people in war-torn zones to take an extremely dangerous trip across deserts, get ripped off by traffickers, sometimes held hostage and then dumped on an unseaworthy vessel to carry out the last leg of their journey towards Italy, sometimes Malta. If they are lucky enough to get there alive, they spend many weeks and months in limbo in hosting centres, a nice name for an unwelcoming facility.

Unscrupulous people have seen the gap in the market and are now making millions, and at the same time, the EU is spending millions to save these people and then give them shelter. It doesn’t make sense.

So why don’t we just get rid of EU Directive 2001/51/EC and allow airlines and other carriers to transport people without visas or the required documents to EU member states? On arrival, they would make themselves known to the authorities (they have to as these flights would ensure blanket checks on all passengers) and can then be taken to whatever facility the different countries offer. It probably won’t be paradise, but it’s definitely better than a watery grave.

There can even be quotas imposed on airlines, so the number of people will be divided equally across all countries in the EU. All this would result in:


  • Far fewer deaths in the Med
  • Cutting off the supply of victims to human traffickers
  • Spreading the refugees all across the EU, not limit them to Italy, Greece and Malta (ironically, this is now being done, but by the EU)
  • Leaving the refugees with money in their pockets and clothes in their bags – that means they can retain their dignity and you won’t have to pay for their clothes and food yourselves


All the money saved by the EU can then be used towards helping these people in whatever way necessary without adding further tax burdens on EU citizens. You may argue that this will result in many more migrants (people) coming. True, but rough estimates at the moment already talk about floods, so no big difference there.

I appreciate that it’s not so simple, but if leaders really want to stop the deaths, they should seriously consider repealing the directive. I doubt this will ever happen, but it’s worth a try.