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Catch up all the sports stories written by Imran Azam

(Dec 2011)

WHERE do you start when you have only five minutes with John Hartson?

The Welsh footballer has made a miraculous recovery from testicular cancer, which had spread to his lungs and brain.  Consequently he formed a foundation aimed at raising awareness of the cancer.  Moreover he is also a patron of Show Racism the Red Card and a regular on our TV screens as a pundit.

Within such a short time frame I wanted to touch base on all the above.  Not forgetting his new autobiography and his participation in a charity match - between Celtic and Manchester United legends – which raised £300,000 for Oxfam’s East Africa appeal.

However before I began to ask a single question I happen to mention that Mustapha Hadji, a former teammate from his days at Coventry City sends his regards.

Hartson’s eyes light up and he starts to point his index finger furiously at my direction “you tell him from me”, he says “you tell him from me that the biggest compliment I can pay him is that he is one of the best footballers I have ever played with.”

Before I can say anything else the player is taking a trip down memory lane.  He says: “At Arsenal I was lucky enough to be in the same team with the likes of Ian [Wright] and Dennis [Bergkamp].  Wrighty was first on the training ground and last one to leave whilst Dennis was a consummate professional.  At Celtic there was Henrik [Larsson] who is an example to any young footballer.  Don’t forget after Celtic he went onto play for both Manchester United and Barcelona.

“At international level I have shared a dressing room with Ryan Giggs. He has been a fixture at Manchester United for 17 years and this is testament to his professionalism.  For many he is considered the best from the class of 92 that included David Beckham.  But you know I would put Mustapha in that category of player.  He is someone who has had a profound impact on me.”

The Moroccan internationalists impressive displays in the 1998 world cup alerted many managers in Britain to his ability.  It was in the same year he was also voted African Player of the Year.  He along with fellow midfielder, Youssef Chippo, orchestrated Morocco’s 3-1 victory against Scotland.  Gordon Strachan signed the duo for a combined fee of £7.5 million in 1999.  After Coventry’s relegation in 2001 the player moved to Aston Villa but his time there was disrupted by injury. He also had  a trial at Glasgow Rangers in 2004.

Despite being recognised as the number one player in Africa and a burgeoning reputation Hartson revealed the player, unlike many other high profile foreign imports, worked hard to integrate with the rest of the team.

Hartson continued: “I didn’t know too much about Mustapha when I signed for Coventry but after a short time I realised why he was held in such esteem.  He had great technical ability was quick and direct.  He was the heart beat of the team. It would be no exaggeration to say he was single-handedly running the show.  Every time we needed inspiration it was the case of “give the ball to Mous”.  He was the kind of player who could create something out of nothing. This is why I would rate him as highly as Ian, Dennis, Henrik and Ryan.

“Away from the pitch he was a gentleman.  We would regularly have lunch together and he would tell me of his experiences playing for Morocco as he was a superstar in the country.  I consider it to be a privilege and honour to have Mustapha not just as a team mate but also a friend.”

John Hartson’s autobiography Please Don’t Go: Big John’s Journey Back to Life is available in all good book shops.


(Dec 2011)

BRYAN ROBSON believes Robbie Fowler’s first tentative steps into management can only enhance his future prospects.

The former Liverpool striker has taken over as player manager at current Thai champions Muangthong United. 

Fowler, 36, arrived at the Far East from Perth Glory in July and signed a two year deal with the current Thai league champions.  However after the dismissal of Belgian, Rene Desaeyere, the former England internationalist has taken over coaching duties, albeit in a temporary basis.

According to Robson, who managed the Thai national team for two years from 2009-2011, the appointment suits all parties concerned.

He said: “Not only has Robbie played at the highest level he has played under some of the leading managers in the game.  There is no doubt he has picked up traits and techniques along the way and no doubt he will have some of his own ideas.

“Muangthong are one of the best run clubs in the country with good training facilities and average crowds of 15 to 20,000 per game.  They are regulars in the Asian Football Championships and the players are of good quality. When I was manager of the national team around six or seven of the squad would come from Muangthong.  If they do offer him a permanent offer then I think it would benefit both sides.”

Former Bradford and QPR defender Zesh Rehman says the players have responded well to the new boss despite a language barrier.

Rehman has been at Muangthong for over a year and is due to enter into new contract talks. He recently launched an app that translates football expressions into six foreign languages. He jokes at this stage there are no plans to introduce Scouse.

Speaking at a charity event on behalf of his foundation at Selhurst Park, he added: “Robbie’s arrival has been a great boost for Thai football.  He is very humble and takes his football very seriously. As soon as one training session is finished Robbie is already thinking about the next one.  You can only learn from some one of his experience and background.”


A CELTIC RANGERS fixture is one of the most intense rivalries in world football.  Religion plays a factor that divides both sets of fans. The traditional support for Rangers comes from the Protestant community, whilst Celtic’s followers can trace their roots to Irish Roman Catholics, who formed the club in 1888.

Last season a pitch side brawl was the catalyst that led to the Celtic manager and a number of players being sent bullets and bombs through the post.  Moreover the chairman of the Scottish Police Federation called for the match to be banned saying nothing is worth the “mayhem and murder” that ensues after the fixture.  The Scottish Government also set up a taskforce in a bid to tackle what is considered Scotland’s shame – sectarianism.

So one could have feared the worst when the then Rangers’ defender Madjid Bougherra found himself surrounded by a group of Celtic fans.  Luckily such an encounter took place on a Monday night at Glasgow Central Mosque as opposed to a Saturday night outside a city centre nightclub.

The player was a regular at Scotland’s largest mosque during Ramadan. Despite being close to midnight and an early flight to catch to Sweden the next day for a vital Champions League qualifier, he accommodated every request for an autograph, picture or handshake.

The match against Malmo turned out to be his last for Rangers.  Upon his return the player signed a three year deal with Lekhwiya.  Eyebrows were raised at why at the age of 28 he was moving to play his club football in the Gulf.  This was a player after all who had consistently played well in the Champions League and the 2010 World Cup for Algeria.


Bougherra admitted England was his preferred destination but no Premiership clubs made a move for the player. A purposed sale to Paris St-Germain failed to materialise with the player himself declining a move to Russia.  Going to Qatar with a tax free salary no doubt helped to make up his mind.  Living in an Arabic speaking/Islamic environment was also advantageous for his young family.  In addition his new club manager is fellow compatriot Djamel Belmadi, who spent a season at Manchester City in 2003.  Furthermore Bougherra is not the first high profile Algerian to end up in Qatar.  The country’s star playmaker Karim Ziani left Wolfsburg in Germany to sign for al Jaish.

He initially arrived in Britain in 2006 and spent time at Crewe, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic.  However he made his name at Rangers.  He was a cult figure amongst fans who would sing a song for the player that contained the lyric “He’s 6 feet 3 and he has got a tan and doesnae eat in Ramadan”.  Although at times he would frustrate those very same fans by reporting late from international duty. 

As a second generation immigrant born in France, he was fiercely proud of his North African roots. Earlier this year he was appointed as a Unicef Goodwill ambassador to Algeria.  The defender was a well known figure within the growing North African and wider Muslim community in Glasgow.  He presented at the Young Scottish Muslim Awards.  He also received an honorary citizenship by officials from his town of birth for promoting Dijon’s links with Algeria.

Although in 2009 the player indicated he would be wearing a black armband to show solidarity for the Palestinian in the wake of the Gaza attacks.  However he backed down after being warned by both Rangers and the Scottish Football Association that any protest would be against FIFA rules.


So how will the player be remembered during his three year stay in Scotland?  His goal in the Champions League against Stuttgart in 2009 showed why he was a fans’ favourite.  Surging forward from defence he latched onto a through pass before smashing the ball past the goalkeeper. 

However towards the end of his career Bougherra’s lack of discipline came to the fore.  After being sent off against Celtic in the “shame game” he attempted to take the card off from the referee’s hand. And against Malmo he was dismissed for elbowing an opponent. For many fans it was the crucial moment the momentum shifted to their Swedish rivals who went on to win 2-1 and knocking Rangers out of the lucrative Champions League group stage. 

It was not the ideal way to go out but his departure at the end was inevitable.  His body language of late showed a player wanting a new challenge, whilst Rangers desperately needed the money.  Qatar may not have been his first choice but it was his only realistic option.



Sport is a major field of media content production as well as coverage and an important area for building social cohesion. It is also a source of tensions between groups, communities, or even nations. An outcome of the MARS - Media Against Racism in Sport – programme should be that expression of diversity and non-discrimination are used by all sectors of the media as an ongoing angle for any form of media coverage. By applying this approach, it will lead to innovative modes of production of truly inclusive media contents which will/can contribute to foster mutual understanding.

To go towards achieving this outcome, the MARS programme is offering media professionals (journalism students and trainers, journalists, media managers, etc.) the opportunity to participate in European Media Work Exchanges.

The MARS Media Work Exchanges are a unique opportunity for media professionals, and future ones, to widen the scope of their media practices and contact pools.

Media professionals will have the opportunity to host a media colleague/counterpart and be hosted themselves by a media related organisation in return (training organisations, media, self-regulatory and regulatory bodies, professional unions… ) to exchange professional experience and to produce together with the participating colleague, a common output (training exercises, media reports, case studies, etc.).

To help with the process, the Council of Europe will provide participants the financial and logistics support to travel and work with European Union colleagues in 10-day work exchanges (5 days as guest / 5 days as host).


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