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In the weeks since sport came to an abrupt ending, its only significant story has been its own cancellation

The best way to annoy a group of scholarly historians, if you ever have an urgent need to annoy scholarly historians perhaps in some kind of emergency situation is to propose a counterfactual analysis of events.

You know the kind of thing. What if Winston Churchill had died of a heart attack in 1941? What if skiffle, rather than the music of the Beatles, had seized the imagination of the world in 1963?

This is an inflammatory line of reasoning, interesting to readers of alarming pulp novels about the Third Reich taking over the world, but likely to cause an outbreak of pipe-chewing, tweed-flapping rage within the common rooms of Big History. It is also an interesting dynamic when applied to sports writing and sports analysis. Most of it would collapse if the counterfactual analysis were outlawed.

What is Expected Goals, or the Expected Points Table, or a counterintuitive stats-based gallery of the leading creative left-backs in Europe (No 5 will surprise you!) if not the type of unhistorical shit that so enraged the 20th-century historian EP Thompson? What is a revisionist colour sidebar take on the managerial achievements of Jos Mourinho, but the kind of counterfactual parlour game EH Carr, chronicler of the early Soviet Union, would have raged against?

And yet right now counter-facts are all sport has. In the Guardians pages this week you will have seen detailed analysis of a significant staging point: 100 days since coronavirus took hold and changed the world. This has mainly been a business of hard facts, sifted out from an overload of actual real-world news.

But not in sport. It is a month now since the first cancelled Premier League Saturday, a month since sport basically stopped. And this is the one significant event sport has to offer, its own cancellation. The story didnt happen. Thats the story. It feels like counterfactual history in action. The best way to understand what happened in sport between March and April 2020, is to understand what didnt happen.

At which point wind chimes tinkle, the screen starts to dissolve, and were back in the undoctored timeline, the one where sport still exists, where the talk of an illness in China remained talk of an illness in China, and where the wheels of Big Sport have continued to grind on.

In counterfactual April 2020 more than 300 unplayed professional mens and womens football fixtures have been played in the last four weeks. Close to 1bn in revenue has still been raked in.

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In the Premier League Liverpool stuttered a little, then romped across the line, clinching the title with victory at Manchester City on 5 April, a moment that confirmed once again in its sheer operatic sweep that Premier League football is, and always will be, the most important thing currently happening to human civilisation.

Pep Guardiola declared himself so very, very happy, albeit in a murderous, glassy-eyed sarcastic whisper. The Liverpool board announced that the title win was vindication for a community club where finances take second place to our football family and lets face it nothings ever likely to test this idea so there you go.

Elsewhere news of Cristiano Ronaldos agreement to sign for Manchester United on a world record weekly wage led to questions in parliament over footballers salaries. We have always backed the right of the market to decide how much individuals earn, this is all good for Britain, Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, announced, to cheers from the benches.

Englands cricketers continued to rebuild the Test team along strict attritional lines, battling out all 10 days of the two-match series in Sri Lanka to seal a triumphant 0-0 series draw. At home the ECB continued to plan for the Hundred, the nonexistent tournament involving nonexistent teams played out in front of nonexistent fans, which actually doesnt sound such a weird idea these days.

Meanwhile, in the one really astonishing turn of the non-Covid timeline, Formula One announced that it would cease to function with immediate effect, having re-evaluated its place in human society, renounced its role as a carbon-fed playground for the mega-rich, and apologised in particular for the last decade of watching the best car win in dubiously-framed locations around the world. So congratulations, there, Formula One.

Away from all this the real business of sport didnt un continue. It was announced that a combined one million miles would not go un-run in the postponed London Marathon, and 50m of charity donations not be deferred in the process. Around the country 350,000 amateur cricketers would not miss their final winter nets, and continue to look forward to another endless summer.

The FA would not cancel completely the seasons of at least 100 leagues in mens and womens non-league football. Similarly the results of the entire sub-pyramid of the amateur game hundreds of leagues, thousands of clubs were not declared null and void and scrubbed from the record.

In the wider world hundreds of thousands of coaches, teachers and volunteers did not stop working away at grassroots sport and the shared health of the nation. A combined two million people from the age of four upwards didnt fail to participate in cancelled parkruns. And beyond this an unquantifiable mass did not fail to take their first step into sport or to come back to some kind of a more active life.

This, then, is the counterfactual history of sport March-April 2020, a month of urgent unhappenings and eventful nonevents. There will be quite a bit more of this to come from here. The important part, when it all starts up again, will be to remember which of those absences seemed to matter the most.

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(CNN)As people distance themselves from one another during the coronavirus pandemic, athletes, celebrities, streamers and musicians united online Saturday.

The event, organized by Enthusiast Gaming, featured competitive esports action across numerous different games and performances from some of the biggest names in music, raising more than $2.7 million.
Enthusiast Gaming’s shareholder and brand ambassador — as well as NFL player — Richard Sherman featured alongside NFL All-Pro Darius Slay, Premier League footballers Kevin de Bruyne and Deli Alli, F1 driver Lando Norris and a whole host of top-level professional gamers — such as Tfue and Josiah “Slacked” Berry.
    San Francisco 49ers cornerback Sherman is an avid gamer, having been a fan of “Duck Hunt,” “Ken Griffey Baseball” and “TECMO Bowl” as a kid.
    And besides raising donations to help fight the spread of the coronavirus, the “sense of community” the gaming world can offer is something Sherman believes can help in this time of fragmentation.
    “At a time when everyone is isolated, it’s important to give everyone a common place to kind of distract people from the stress of everyday life,” Sherman told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire. “That’s what sports is able to do, that’s what entertainers are able to do, obviously that’s what musicians are able to do.
    “Just give people a break from the trials and tribulations of everyday life. I think it’s more necessary now than ever.”

    Filling a void

    Sherman, a Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowler, began gaming as a five-year-old and is still going strong at 32.
    “I have a monitor. I have a whole setup when I stream,” explained Sherman, who has been keeping fit with his Peloton work out bike at home. “I have the portable gaming system that I have an Xbox plugged into that so I could just take it on the go.
    “It has the monitor screen on it. I am way too into it to be a 32-year-old man.”
    Along with Slay of the Philadelphia Eagles and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sherman is one of the increasing number of NFL players who are gaming fanatics.
    And while they are unable to ply their trade on the field, many sports stars have turned to gaming, whether for fun or to raise money for charity.
    The nine-season veteran thinks the distraction of gaming is why so many professional athletes have taken to it.
    “It allows you to take your mind away. Just like what draws fans to sports,” said Sherman, whose handle is “MrRUNnGUN25” on Xbox.
    “I think pro athletes have that same issue — that they desire to want to disconnect for a second, to want to focus on something that doesn’t stress them — that gives them some kind of relief.
    “I think gaming does that for a lot of athletes. It gives them a break from the stresses they deal with every day.”

    ‘For the greater good’

    From Joe Jonas and Diplo to award-winning singers John Legend and Rita Ora, the participants in Stream Aid all come with huge online followings.
    And it is that ability to use their fan base to unite people is something Menashe Kestenbaum, founder and president of Enthusiast Gaming, calls a “really positive thing.”
    “If someone is able to hold a lot of influence and utilize that for good, what better form of humanity is there than that, in utilizing the influence that we wield for the greater good,” Kestenbaum told CNN Sport.
    “To me, the fact that so many are actually doing that really sheds a positive light on how this really unites us. This disease unites the entire globe together in one cause. And the fact that we have so many people who are celebrities and influencers, all utilize that, is a really positive thing.”
    Alongside musical performances, participants competed on a multitude of games, ranging from “Uno and “Fortnite to “Call of Duty: Warzone.”
    And while he hoped the stream was a fun opportunity for people to distract themselves from the current predicament and raise some money, Sherman’s thoughts are firmly with anyone on the “front lines of this war.”
    “It’s so terrible. They’re going to need therapy after some of the things they are seeing and some of the things they are having to deal with,” he said, admitting his family have been going “a little stir crazy in the house.”

    ‘Gamers live here’

    With people being forced to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Enthusiast Gaming have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of people on their platforms as people turn to gaming to fill their time.
    “We’ve seen a tremendous increase of traffic and growth of people who feel isolated, stuck at home,” Kestenbaum, who began his career in video games writing for IGN when he was 13, said.
    “Humanity craves social interaction. We’ve been seeing an increase as people are turning to gaming as something that’s positive, a safe environment where gamers can not only coexist, but connect and enrich each other’s lives.”
    Ahead of and during the stream, Enthusiast Gaming replaced all advertisements on its digital platforms — about $150,000 worth, according to Kestenbaum — with promotions for Stream Aid.
      The company’s motto is “Gamers live here” so looking out for their users in uncertain times is high on their agenda.
      “We want to do whatever we can as our mission statement in life to connect gamers and help their social lives and help their well being,” added Kestenbaum.

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      (CNN)The Big3, a 3-on-3 professional basketball league that has employed several former NBA players, has plans to hold a tournament in April to satiate fans who want to watch basketball while other sporting events have been postponed because of coronavirus concerns, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes.

      According to Yahoo Sports, the founders of the Big3 — producer, actor, and music legend Ice Cube and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz — have been in discussion with television networks to broadcast the tournament.
      Per Yahoo Sports, the players — who would have tested negative for the coronavirus — would be quarantined in Los Angeles in a large home. A court would be on site, and cameras would show the action as well as the daily life of the players, giving it a reality-show feel.
        Should anyone break quarantine conditions, the player would be eliminated from competition and removed from the site, Yahoo Sports reports.
        “As long as we can protect the players, which we will do through proper testing and quarantine, Ice Cube and I feel we can give fans some safe, entertaining brand of basketball to get everyone through this pandemic,” Kwatinetz told Yahoo Sports. “Cube and I have been in the entertainment business for 30 years. This is our job. People want to be entertained with all we’re going through and enjoy our sports. We think this will help.”
        Kwatinetz and Ice Cube also spoke to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears. The Undefeated is owned and operated by ESPN.
        “We’ve been working on safety issues to make sure we can do this responsibly,” Kwatinetz said to Spears. “We’ve made a lot of headway since last week and are hoping to move this forward as people need sports and entertainment to get them through hard times.”
        Said Ice Cube to Spears: “It’s Big Brother meets Big3. If we can do it in a safe and responsible manner, we will.”
        In a tweet on Thursday, Ice Cube wrote, while linking to the Yahoo Sports story: “If there’s a will, there’s a way…”
          On March 11, the Big3 announced on its website that six weeks of the 2020 summer season are being moved “to an intimate, controlled Los Angeles venue to be announced to ensure the safety of our players, coaches, and fans.” The league year is scheduled to start June 20.
          CNN has made efforts to reach out to the Big3 and Ice Cube but has not heard back.

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          Lewis Hamilton proves a master of much more than high speed as he breaks F1s corporate spell gripping the Australian Grand Prix

          Few figures in Formula One emerged with any great credit as the season opener fell apart in Melbourne. Coronavirus, as had seemed inevitable, simply proved an implacable force against which the sports attempt to pretend it was business as usual was left looking impotent and foolhardy. Throughout the process the major players had all been toeing the party line, but one had the backbone to articulate what many were thinking. Step forward Lewis Hamilton, an honourable and honest voice inside the delusion of F1s bubble.

          Melbourne is ordinarily a celebratory place to kick off a new season. The atmosphere is superb as the city embraces teams, media and fans. The sheer pleasure felt in returning to racing after the close season is palpable. This time, it was altogether different.

          At best subdued, at worst there was a sense of foreboding. It was two-fold. There was disquiet that with the paddock such a tightly knit community hundreds of people working in close proximity should, as seemed plausible, the virus have travelled with them it could spread exponentially. Of greater concern, though, was the fear F1 would have brought the infection from Europe and that, at an event attracting up to 100,000 people a day, the sport would be responsible for giving the virus a real grip in Melbourne and Australia.

          The idea of an explosion of cases in the city in the weeks following the sports departure was frequently discussed but not by the principal protagonists of F1. The stance taken by every driver was uniformly similar. George Russell of Williams even referred to it as the corporate line. They were, they all parroted, taking their cue from F1 and the FIA. They trusted the governing bodies: to ensure everyones safety, to use experts to make the right decisions, and that hence F1 and the FIA were in the position to make the right call.

          The Australian GP was cancelled on Friday, hours before the first practice session was set to begin. Photograph: Scott Barbour/AAP

          This is a banal enough abdication of responsibility at the best of times, such as over controversial decisions on regulations. When it came to a public health threat that was claiming lives around the world and F1 being in a position potentially to increase that suffering, it seemed extraordinary, almost a denial of basic human empathy in favour of swallowing the platitudes the sport was telling everyone and of which it had falsely convinced itself.

          On Thursday, expectations that anyone would stray from the orthodoxy were low. Hamilton, however, thankfully retains a genuinely independent spirit. He alienates some with his lifestyle, his embrace of music and fashion, the jetsetting and his forthright opinions from veganism to climate change, but he has always spoken from the heart. Now, as a six-times world champion and the only truly global star of the show, he can say whatever he likes. To Hamilton if there was a corporate line, it was at best a suggestion, at worst possibly something he rightly identified as so absurd he felt the need to speak out against it.

          When asked his opinion why the race was going ahead he was caustic. Cash is king, he said. I cant add much more to it. I dont feel like I should shy away from my opinion.

          More did follow. I am really very, very surprised that we are here, he said. Its really shocking that we are all sitting in this room. There are so many fans here today and it seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late, but we have already seen that Trump has shut down the borders with Europe to the States and you are seeing the NBA being suspended, yet Formula One continues to go on. Its a concern for the people here its quite a big circus thats come here and its definitely concerning for me.

          A few hours later a McLaren team member tested positive for coronavirus and it was not long afterwards that the race was cancelled. By Friday afternoon the next two meetings, in Bahrain and Vietnam, had followed suit. But Hamilton had articulated the reality of the threat and F1 had been jolted from its fantasy to understand the wider implications of attempting to ensure the show went on.

          F1, as is every sport, is still reeling. But it is still just sport, and not a matter of life and death. Most certainly F1 should not be contributing to increasing the risk of the latter in the communities it visits. Hamilton recognised this and was the greater man in Melbourne because of it.

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          Heaven Fitch, 16, has made national headlines after becoming the first girl to win a North Carolina high school wrestling title and an emerging role model for young female grapplers

          Heaven Fitch just wanted to be like her three older brothers. At six years old, she followed them onto the wrestling mat and she hasnt stopped since. Two weeks ago, she became the first girl in North Carolina to win an individual state mens wrestling championship.

          Fitch, 16, is the only girl on Uwharrie Charter Academys 26-person team in Asheboro, where she recently finished her 11th-grade season with a 54-4 record. She was also named Most Outstanding Wrestler for North Carolinas 1A division. Last year, Fitch placed fourth in the states high school wrestling championships.

          Because there are few women around to compete against, Fitch estimates about 95% of her matches from been against boys in her 11 years of competition. She cant hide her preference.

          It definitely feels pretty good to pin a guy, she told the Guardian.

          Originally from Illinois, Fitch and her siblings grew up watching WWE pro wrestling on Saturday mornings, then recreating the matches wherever they could find room. Not one to keep on the sidelines, Heaven was always in the thick of it. When she asked her parents if she could join the kids wrestling club as its only girl, they didnt hesitate. She had proven her mettle taking punishment from her brothers. My parents are probably the ones who pushed me the most, Fitch said. They always encouraged me.

          Alongside her brothers, Heaven competed wherever she could. When the school season ended, the Fitch kids would continue to practice and compete in the circuit outside of it, an intricate track of junior tournaments that eventually lead to Olympic contention. Fitch often practiced five days a week. Sometimes she attended two practices in a day. Every Saturday there would be a tournament, and sometimes Id be back in the wrestling room on Sundays, she said.

          When she and her family moved from the Charlotte area to Asheboro, Fitchs parents met with her new coach, Chris Waddell, to make sure she would fit and thrive in the schools program. You could tell she was talented right away, Waddell said. She was one of the hardest workers, if not the hardest worker on the team.

          Walking into a wrestling room full of boys wasnt anything new for Fitch, though it still made her nervous. It always is [nerve-wracking], she said. Im a shy person, so I didnt talk the first few months.

          Her wrestling partner put her through her paces and her strong work ethic won her the respect and trust of the group. One day, a boy talked to her. Then the rest followed.

          The petite Fitch wrestles in the 106lb (48kg) division. She walks around at 102lb, and doesnt have to cut weight like many of her male opponents. This often plays to her disadvantage since wrestlers commonly make weight through dehydration, then are able to pack back on a few extra pounds with fluids.

          For her history-making turn two weeks ago, the weight limit was increased to 110lb within regulation. Fitch weighed in at 102lb; her opponents at 110lb. Once rehydrated, her opponents likely weighed closer to 115lb when they met her on the canvas.

          Fitch compensates with agility and a tenacious, but controlled pace. Shes proven to be an asset and last year, the team went 41-0.

          Shes mentally tough, Waddell said. At this age, I think the only thing thats equal to the boys is core strength. Everything else leg strength, arm strength the boys will be stronger.

          Fitchs gender-inspiring win has garnered heavy media attention. She has fielded inquiries from major news outlets around the country. A clip of her state victory went viral. In a podium picture that made the rounds, the silver-haired Fitch beamed from her first-place step, flanked by the less-enthused boys she bested.

          Last year people didnt know who she was and they shook their heads when she came out, Waddell said. This year everybody knows her.

          Fitch described the attention she has received as overwhelming, but it hasnt detracted from her goal to study medicine in college, whether or not the institution she chooses has a womens wrestling program. She said she is considering a focus on psychiatry, psychology or biology.

          I know I could continue to wrestle in college, but its juggling the academics that I need with being able to do this, Fitch said.

          Waddell believes Fitch could earn an academic scholarship to the University of North Carolina, which houses one of the stronger mens teams in the country. Though there is no womens team, many female national team competitors train there under the tutelage of the legendary Kenny Monday, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle.

          Wrestling is the only sport Fitch has ever competed in. She is a straight-A student, sings and plays the ukulele. She listens to alternative music and wears flannel shirts.

          The sport continues to be a family affair. Fitchs oldest brother helped coach her Eagles squad this season. Her middle brother has been state placer for North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

          In March, Fitch will compete in the Virginia Beach National Championship a rare occasion where she will wrestle other girls. In the off-season, she will pick her training back up again for the world team trials. Whether she decides to pursue wrestling after her senior year or not, her victory, and the attention it has received, will continue to push the womens wrestling movement forward. She has become a role model. A girl from the local middle school team will join her next year. Six more girls will follow behind them.

          Heaven is one of a kind, Waddell said. A great wrestler, a great musician. Most important, shes a good person.

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          Annoyed Garth Brooks fans ripped the musician when they mistook his tribute for legendary NFL running back Barry Sanders as a presidential endorsement

          Leave it to the internet to interpret Garth Brooks wearing a Barry Sanders jersey during a concert in Detroit as a political endorsement of a certain liberal presidential candidate.

          The more than 70,000 fans who attended the country music stars 22 February show at Ford Field understood it for what it was: a tribute to one of greatest NFL running backs and Detroit Lions players ever.

          Brooks told the audience that he donned Sanders No 20 jersey to pay homage to him since they both went to Oklahoma State University.

          I was lucky to go to school with him, Brooks said. You guys got the greatest player in NFL history, in my opinion, in this jersey. I love this man.

          After the show, Brooks posted a photo on social media of himself wearing the jersey, which has Sanders and 20 emblazoned on the back. Thats where the trouble started.

          Annoyed fans ripped Brooks in the comment sections under the photo, believing he was endorsing Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and the self-proclaimed democratic socialists 2020 presidential campaign.

          I had no idea you were a big freaking liberal socialist! Ive listened to your songs for the last time! one person wrote.

          Another wrote, If this is for Bernie Sanders, Im done with you. I thought you were a true American that loves our country.

          Others, though, pointed out the apparent confusion over Brooks post or made fun of those who read too much into it.

          How much did KFC pay you to wear this? a commenter wrote, referring to another famous Sanders: Colonel.

          Jason Vincent (@jasoncvincent)

          Facebook forgot who Barry Sanders is and is freaking out at Garth Brooks for wearing a jersey and Im dying.

          February 27, 2020

          Theres no indication of who Brooks supports politically, though he performed at former Democratic president Barack Obamas 2009 inauguration.

          The widely adored Brooks also has a track record of songs that were regarded as too progressive for country radio, most memorably 1992s We Shall Be Free, a call for racial and LGBT tolerance.

          The music video for the song, written in response to the Rodney King verdict, included footage of riots, the Ku Klux Klan, flag burnings and dozens of celebrity cameos and was deemed too controversial for television after NBC promised to air it before Super Bowl XXVII which prompted Brooks to walk out of his scheduled pre-game performance of the national anthem unless the network agreed to air it. (NBC relented and Brooks performed.)

          Bernie Sanders hadnt weighed in on the matter as of Friday afternoon, but the Hall of Fame running back took it in stride, tweeting his fellow OSU alum, Hey @garthbrooks, want to be my VP? #Number20For2020.

          Brooks responded in jest, I would run any race with you! #Number20for2020 HA!!!

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          The quarterback was an afterthought less than two years ago: now he is the star of LSUs successful national championship campaign

          It looked like Mardi Gras come early: purple and gold confetti on green turf, laws fallen by the wayside for this one night, at least. Down here in New Orleans theyre always more like suggestions anyway: a red light means pause, sip a beer in the passenger seat, and no smoking in the Superdome means light a fat cigar. So there was Joe Burrow on Monday night, still in uniform but taking a few long puffs before detailing exactly how he and his LSU team, college football national champions now, had just dismantled Clemson, 42-25.

          Barely an hour earlier, Burrow threw his 60th touchdown pass of the season, setting a new NCAA single-season record. The quarterback had rebounded from a first quarter in which LSU punted on their first three drives to finish with 463 passing yards, five touchdown passes and another touchdown run. He won the Heisman Trophy last month, will likely be the NFL drafts first pick in another three, and on Monday he handed off his cigar for safekeeping before making his public comments. This is special, he said. This doesnt happen this doesnt come around every year. This is a special group of guys that really came together, and its as close of a group as Ive ever been around.

          It was almost, though, a group Burrow never met. Raised primarily in Athens, Ohio, the quarterback chose Ohio State out of high school. He never shed his backup role there, though, and transferred to LSU less than two years ago, arriving as a graduate transfer in the summer of 2018. He won the Tigers starting job on the eve of that season, and he led the team to 10 wins, with unspectacular numbers.

          Now, 15 games and 15 wins later, hes a Louisiana folk hero a title he questioned with a smile as Monday night became Tuesday morning. This is going to be remembered for a long time, Burrow said before exiting the Superdomes interview room. Coach Ed Orgeron growled after him: Take it easy on that cigar.

          Burrow ignored the admonition, and that cigar waited to be gripped in the hand that mesmerized college football all season, that racked up 5,671 yards and a 76.3% completion rate. But those numbers only tell half the story, which is as much about accuracy as arm strength, as much about brawn as the ability to throw into coverage and land nearly every pass in a square inch of perfection. Often Burrow does so under pressure, too, doing far more than simply scrambling to save field position; hell scramble, save field position and lob the ball square into a receivers hands downfield. Thats just Joe, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire said.

          When Orgeron set out to recruit Burrow to LSU in 2018, the quarterback was persuaded after a single phone call. His visit was almost a formality and with this seasons championship, both men proved their gut instincts correct. Orgeron locked in on a high school star whod barely seen the field in college. Burrow trusted an ace recruiter who hadnt fielded an elite team as a head coach, who led a program thats struggled to convert talent into a consistent top-10 presence. That was the knock on former LSU coach Les Miless teams: He could sure turn out a draft class, but what had those teams done on Saturdays? When Orgeron was promoted in 2016, some wondered if LSU was in for more of the same: Coach O, with his gravely Cajun rumble and gruff endearment, could certainly sign top recruits, but could he get them to play as a team that might unseat Alabama?

          Monday proved he could. Every game in 2019 proved it, over and over, thanks to Burrow; to Joe Brady, the 30-year-old passing game coordinator lured from the Saints last year; to Steve Ensminger, the veteran offensive coordinator whos been at LSU since 2010 and who was promoted last year. Orgeron can recruit, sure enough players and coaches and brilliant minds to complement his vision for a program that just won its first title since 2007. He wins them over wins everyone over with talk of fil in his gumbo and Cajun French, with his name for this place where hes just become legend: the Great State of Louisiana.

          On the confetti-carpeted turf, Orgeron spoke and fans danced. Louisiana is easy to put to music, and it blared: Callin Baton Rouge, Louisiana Saturday Night. Interviews, when attempted, were borderline incomprehensible over the sound of a state in song. One cut through the noise, though. Asked if he thinks hes been a part of the greatest team in LSU history, tight end Thaddeus Moss doubled down, loudly: The greatest team in college football history, and it feels great.

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          Harvards Anita Elberse has attracted interest from the likes of Alex Ferguson, Gerard Piqu and Kak. Heres why

          Anita Elberse of Harvard Business School is discussing how it all started; how the world of football opened up to her teaching which would see her become a mentor to some of the games A-list names, including Gerard Piqu, Kak and Dani Alves.

          Elberse, one of the youngest women to have been promoted to full professor with tenure in HBSs history, had begun to cross over into sport from entertainment and media, making a case study for her students on the tennis player Maria Sharapova. This led to a research project into whether it paid to have an athlete endorsing a brand.

          There was a case on LeBron James and it started snowballing from there, Elberse says, American accent obscuring her Dutch roots. And then, all of a sudden, Alex Ferguson calls and, all of a sudden, Im doing a project with him.

          It was the summer of 2012 and, according to Elberse, the then Manchester United manager and the people around him were looking for what might be the next challenge for him after his active coaching career and maybe him talking about what hes learned. Elberse met Ferguson for breakfast in Boston. I only realised later that it was a sort of audition, she says. He wanted to see if I could be the person to help him tell his story about the leadership that hes brought to soccer.

          Ferguson would retire at the end of the 2012-13 season so Elberse might have been privy to a bombshell exclusive. Looking back it was pretty naive not to have realised: Oh, this might be his last year, she says, with a smile. I didnt know that was going to happen. I was able to follow him along for that last year. I visited the United training ground at Carrington, I went to his house and met his family, I saw him at the stadium. I even saw him in the famous room where he meets with the coach of the opposing team after matches.

          Elberse made a case study about Ferguson which asked what it took to run United, and they also wrote an article together for the Harvard Business Review, published in October 2013. It was entitled Fergusons Formula, and it distilled the eight leadership lessons that had formed the basis of his approach. Elberse commented at the time that many of them can certainly be applied more broadly, to business and to life.

          By that time something else had changed in Elberses career. She had developed a course for HBSs MBA students on entertainment, media and sport and, as the way she wrote and taught her case studies gathered repute, she was receiving more and more requests from people in various industries to sit in on her classes. She made a decision to launch an executive education version of the course.

          The first edition of the four-day Business of Entertainment, Media and Sport programme took place in June 2013 and Ferguson was one of the guest speakers a very special moment, she says. Ferguson has since been to Harvard several times to watch Elberse teach his case study and to answer questions from students.

          In previous generations a retired footballer might open a pub or a sports retail store but, as Elberse says, it is rather different now. Top players can be brands in their own right and, in some instances, they have started to push high-end business ventures before they retire. Elberses executive course aims to highlight via open-ended case studies the patterns that exist in the worlds of film, television, music and sport; to show how to market and manage creative products and talent; and how to build businesses around content.

          Elberse with clockwise from left Dani Alves, Edwin van der Sar, Kak, Mario Melchiot and Nuri Sahin. Photograph: Courtesy of Anita Elberse

          It runs every year for 80 people each of whom pays $10,000 (7,700) with the admissions committee looking to offer a well-balanced room, containing athletes, actors, musicians, agents and senior executives. They live a student life on the Harvard campus, which is a great leveller, a facilitator of equality and what Elberse calls one big community. There is a cross-pollination of ideas in an environment that attendees have described as inspiring. It is a perfect space for networking.

          Piqu was the first footballer to attend and he has been followed by Kak, Alves, Mario Melchiot, Nuri Sahin, Edwin van der Sar, Tim Cahill and Oliver Kahn. There have been plenty of American sports stars, including Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh (all from the NBA), plus Michael Strahan and Brandon Marshall (from the NFL), while from the entertainment sector there has been the actor Channing Tatum, the rapper LL Cool J and the singer Ciara.

          If you look at Gerard Piqu he is an active player at Barcelona but he has an investment company called Kosmos and he has already established a significant business, Elberse says. Hes had a stake in the Players Tribune from the get-go; he had a video game company as part of Kosmos and he has bought the Davis Cup in tennis for $3bn. Its pretty simple what the footballers want from the course. They come to learn about the world of entertainment more generally, to discover patterns that are there in those industries that they can benefit from.

          I think the outside world looks at these people and says: You are a footballer, this is what you do and that is probably all that youll do. Well, no. What Ive learned is that they can do a lot more than what weve seen them do on the field. There are some lessons that are very transferable performing under high-pressure situations, working as part of a team, which all businesses are. They have worked under great leaders and probably bad ones, too.

          One of the things we do, and its almost implicitly, is to show them that they actually know a lot more about business than they think they might. You might not know the jargon or the ins and outs of financial management or what it means to have the operations side of a business but there are a bunch of things that you do know and might be very good at.

          Kak and Alves, former Brazil teammates, did the course together and Elberse remembers how the latter, now playing for So Paulo, turned up in full Harvard garb. He had the Harvard tie, the Harvard cardigan, the Harvard pants he was completely Harvard, which was very, very funny, Elberse says. He was by far the goofiest of the players that Ive had in the programme. He is completely crazy and he is proud of being as crazy as he is. But he was great to have for the group.

          He has an audience of millions through social media and he can do whatever he wants to do. The same goes for Kak, who is a really smart business guy. I can imagine him being the president of a soccer club.

          Van der Sar was appointed the chief executive of Ajax in 2016, having hung up his footballing boots in 2011, which represented a relatively quick transition from player to businessman. He was the Ajax CEO when he was in the class, Elberse recalls. Its really interesting to hear what hes learned from his playing career and how hes trying to apply that now that hes on the other side.

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          Elberses case studies present a story and invite questions and discussion. Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a famous film star why would he bother with a digital channel? she says. What is LeBron trying to build in Hollywood? What is Disney trying to do with the investments it is making in films?

          Elberse focuses the bulk of the course on her case studies but, on the final full day, a tradition has built whereby some of the more well-known members of the class sit on a panel and take questions. What has stood out is the searing honesty of the answers.

          Kak talked about when he went from Milan to Real Madrid and felt like the biggest failure, Elberse says. Hed been the world player of the year, the fee had been a record and it didnt work out he talked about what that does to you as a person and how you recover. That was very powerful.

          Similarly, when Oliver Kahn was here, he talked about having won the Golden Ball and Golden Glove at the 2002 World Cup and then, for the 2006 World Cup, which was in Germany, his country, he was dropped. He talked about how he had to support Jens Lehmann, who became the No 1 goalkeeper, what he had to tell himself.

          Everyone was choking up. I was supposed to lead this and I was choking up. Those are the moments that have stuck with me.

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          There was sympathy for the latest head coach to fail at Madison Square Garden. But the team make nothing but bad decisions

          David Fizdale, the recently fired head coach of the New York Knicks, is not a martyr, though youd be forgiven for any confusion. Luminaries such as San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and LeBron James have eulogized Fizdale as if he were a doomed hero tossed into war by negligent leadership. On those terms, his NBA death isnt so bad: Fizdale will cash some $17m in checks from the leagues most dysfunctional franchise over the next two seasons, a happy return for him on 18 months of forgettable work. To be clear: his bosses did suck, and the roster was wretched, but Fizdale didnt really give the world any reason to mourn him, either.

          The widespread support for the canned coach comes as no surprise. Across the league, the youngish, charismatic Fizdale is about as admired as the ancient, accursed Knicks are ridiculed. Players get along with him. He seems to be a good guy. In fact, Fizdales talent for relationship building was a major reason he was invited to helm the wayward Knicks ahead of the 2018-19 season. The Knicks ended that campaign with an NBA-worst 17-65 record; at the time of his firing, their 4-18 record was the worst of the current season. By December, Fizdale hadnt refined anything but his face of bespectacled befuddlement on the sideline, and the only case that could be made for him keeping the job was continuity. From a distance, it is easy to write off Fizdales failure as inevitable, but it was surely possible to fail prettier. For those who watched many of his 104 games a fate I would wish on no one it was not clear that any aspect of the basketball team, no matter how small, looked any better than the day he took over.

          What was clear from the start was that Fizdale would be graded on an extremely generous curve. Franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis got hurt and then fled to the Dallas Mavericks in a trade in early 2019, justifiably afraid his career would be stymied in New York. None of the roster changes since then have made the Knicks anything but a bottom-dweller; despite a lot of public bluster and salary cap maneuvering, the Knicks failed to lure a superstar this summer. Perennial All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were linked to the Knicks instead they joined New Yorks other, less famous team, the Brooklyn Nets. Fizdale could not have been expected to guide this team to the playoffs, or even a weekly win.

          And any fan purely fixated on win-loss columns at this juncture of the teams history is deeply unwell, even by Knicks standards. What a right-thinking fan wants to see what keeps a masochist watching the actual games is the occasional glimpse of a less dismal future. If the young players looked to be learning good habits, shaking off bad ones, developing synergies with one another, and having anything upwards of a miserable time, then I too would be lamenting Fizdales untimely exit. But the Knicks have a core of players aged 22 and under, unrefined but interesting, and all of those players stagnated on Fizdales watch. Some even got worse. It is difficult to locate the teaching moment in the consecutive 44- and 37-point routs last week, Fizdales final outings as head coach. Forget the coach: the real tragedy here is any player who has had the misfortune of getting drafted by, or traded to, these Knicks at a formative age. Lets take a look at the evidence:

          — Mitchell Robinson, 21, a steal in the second-round of last years draft, is a light-footed giant with upside as an elite rim protector. His worst tendency racking up silly fouls has only worsened, and his limited offensive skillset has not grown at all beyond the usual lobs and cleanup work.

          — Kevin Knox, 20, was allowed to experiment during his atrocious rookie season, but was abruptly given short shrift this campaign, and was benched for whole games. He remains a brick-footed liability on defense; Fizdale extended this flaw to logical absurdity by having him guard smaller, faster, shooting guards on occasion.

          — Dennis Smith Jr, 22, the main return in the Porzingis trade, has done nothing but regress. At his nadir, he appeared to be fighting back tears while Knicks fans at Madison Square Garden clamored for him to be substituted. With every passing week, it becomes harder to envision a future for him as even a quality reserve.

          — Frank Ntilikina, 21, the best perimeter defender this team has seen in a decade a low bar languished on the bench for months, and only cracked the rotation as a last resort after injury and family tragedy sidelined all other point guards on the roster. His offense remains in question, partially due to neglect.

          These players werent given the opportunity to grow. Fizdales line-up decisions were frequently baffling. Some players would be yanked after tiny errors, while others were permitted to fail extravagantly for 30 minutes a night. The few players on the roster capable of putting the ball in the hoop from distance stayed glued to the bench, leading the Knicks to a league-worst offense. Julius Randle, an efficient scorer with the New Orleans Pelicans last season and presently the highest-paid Knick, is playing some of the worst basketball of his life, which should partially be blamed on the way Fizdale has deployed him in isolation-heavy schemes. I dont hear anyone bitching about Houston isolating, the coach protested when asked about his strategy. When Houstons James Harden isolates, the result is a stepback three or free throws. When Julius Randle isolates, the result is a predictable spin move into three defenders as the basketball bonks off his kneecap. Theres a difference.

          What softens the blame on Fizdale is the realization that, while he might have played his hand poorly, he was still dealt an awful one by general manager Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, who assembled a roster by dream logic. Smart rebuilding teams opt to shoulder albatross contracts to grab other teams draft picks, and then afford their developing players lots of minutes. The Knicks instead opted to sign a slew of veterans on mercenary one-year deals with the apparent hope that they could be flipped for picks midseason. Each of these signings makes some sense in isolation you do need to pick up some experienced players who know what theyre doing but in conjunction they form one of the most muddled, redundant rosters in recent NBA history. Smart teams are asking how much three-point shooting and ball-handling they can pump into their roster; the Knicks, meanwhile, are wondering, what if we built the whole thing out of power forward? Moreover, the incentive to showcase these mediocre veterans for a hypothetical trade conflicted with the incentive to develop the youngsters who comprise the teams actual future. Fizdale wound up failing on both fronts. But his exit does not absolve the incompetents who saddled him with this roster and those dueling incentives in the first place.

          And the blame doesnt rest at Mills and Perry, either. With this team, you always have to keep moving up the ladder. The tragedy of the modern Knicks can be traced to the fact that a billionaire named James Dolan has bad taste. Not only, or especially, in blues music, a pursuit that means far more to him than his ownership of the Knicks but in terms of basketball personnel, too. Back in 2014, Dolan hired Phil Jackson, who amassed 11 titles coaching players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, to be president of a team full of players profoundly unlike Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Dolan hoped that Jacksons coaching pedigree would translate well to an executive role; he was instead exposed as an anachronistic mystic. After firing Jackson in 2017, Dolan replaced him with Mills, who came to the Knicks without prior NBA experience and still, arguably, has no NBA experience. The Knicks have made a number of devastating transactions over the past decade, and the owner is thought to have stuck a meddling thumb in many of them. Many observers, this one included, believe the Knicks have no true path to respectability until the owner disentangles himself from the franchise.

          But NBA owners are hard to oust unless theyre captured saying something racist on tape. The Knicks sell out the Garden even when theyre the literal worst team in the league, removing the market incentives for a better on-court experience. James Dolan persists. And he is said to have his eye on a new candidate for president of the Knicks: Masai Ujiri, the brilliant executive who assembled the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors, a team that weathered the departure of one of the best players in the universe, Kawhi Leonard as well as they possibly could have. Ujiri, for reasons unknown, reportedly reciprocates the interest. Will he be just another popular figure foiled by an excellence-proof organization? Will Knicks fans hail him as a messiah, entering another cycle of cautious hope and crushing loss? Anyone who has read this far knows the answer to both questions.

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          Plus: when footballers Christmas parties go bad and more

          I see Chris Kamara has released a Christmas album, which led me to wonder if any football teams have ever released a Christmas record? asks David Wesley. QPR released this oddity but as a lip-sync it wouldnt have been released.

          Unbelievable though it may seem Jeff readers, Kamara has indeed released an album of festive songs but, much like his pitchside reporting for Soccer Saturday, his overexcitement has affected his performance in the charts. By releasing Heres To Christmas in November it would appear that he has peaked too soon at No 8 in the album charts last month and has slipped down the top 100 to No 64 at the time of publication. Kamaras velvet singing voice is worlds away from the yelping character we see trying to make sense of football matches every weekend and when he was given the opportunity to warble into a microphone in a more tuneful manner he could not pass it up.

          Well, Ive always liked a bit of singing, Kamara told the Express and Star. So to sing with a 22-piece big band and a conductor, it blows your mind away. Its all your Christmases coming into one. Its like a dream. Even if people dont like my singing, they can listen to the music. Its incredible. Its certainly incredible he was given this opportunity.

          In answer to Davids question then, we havent found an official Christmas record by a football team, but there are plenty of unofficial festive ditties that have been released by clubs down the years for us to get our teeth into. Do you want to see Neil Lennon conducting a choir singing We Three Kings? Heres Celtics Christmas offering this year then.

          Lovely, yes? And heres Petr Cech drumming his way through a collection of seasonal ditties at Arsenal back in 2015. Much like the QOR effort above, Everton did their best to bring their fans a little cheer back in 2013 with some lip-syncing.

          Perhaps the most festive football team in Europe is Union Berlin, now of the Bundesliga. The right-on Berliners host an annual Christmas carols singalong in their stadium in which players and up to 30,000 of their fans can wave candles around sing Christmas songs on the pitch until they are full up on seasonal cheer.

          Not so tuneful is Aleksandar Kolarov reciting the words to Jingle Bells from a clipboard as though Manchester City were holding him against his will in 2012. It proved so popular that fans demanded he spread more Christmas cheer the following year.

          And yes, yes, we know this isnt a footballer singing a Christmas song, but fitting 119 footballers names into the tune of Do They Know Its Christmas is still some feat.

          Knowledge archive

          After seeing Old Traffords finest looking especially tired and emotional after their party, I wondered what misdemeanours players have got up to at Christmas parties, asked Alex Perkins in 2008.

          Before we summon the ghosts of Christmas parties past, lets start with something nice and innocent: a food fight. Never mind Pizzagate: in the 1960s the Spurs players showed that yes, folks you dont have to dislike someone to toss oven-prepared savoury snacks in the direction of their noggin. Bill [Nicholson, the Tottenham manager] had sent our trainer Cecil Poynton over to haul us out of the pub, remembered Jimmy Greaves of his first Spurs Christmas do, possibly to a background of laughter from Ian St John. I can still remember him coming in now only to be greeted by a cloud of nuts, fag boxes and sausages on sticks, forcing him to retreat, hands on head, back into the road. It launched a food free-for-all. The youth team players, desperate to stay on good behaviour, were like sitting ducks.

          Tottenhams players do a Knees-Up at a Christmas party in the 1960s. Photograph: Daily Mail /Rex

          Better a sitting duck than a standing ashtray. That fate befell Manchester City youth player James Tandy in 2004 when Joey Barton mistook his eyelids for a cinderbox and eased a cigar into both of them. Barton was fined three weeks wages.

          Still, mistakes are easily made when youve quaffed so much lager and pink champagne that you cant see beyond your own nose. In 2001, West Hams Hayden Foxe fulfilled his dream of becoming a somebody, mistaking a bar for a urinal and deliriously spraying his shame all over it. The entire Hammers group were thrown out of Sugar Reef, while Foxe was fined two weeks wages and given a free transfer at the end of the season. The whole thing got blown right out of proportion, said Foxe.

          Another West Ham centre-half, Neil Ruddock, got in trouble along with Trevor Sinclair in 1998: Razor met the rozzers when he was arrested after West Hams fancy-dress party in and you couldnt really script this Romford. Ruddock was charged with affray and Sinclair with criminal damage after a woman claimed that two men ripped bits off her car. Ruddock was acquitted due to conflicting evidence; Sinclair was fined 250 and forced to pay 225 compensation.

          Explore our previous Christmas specials in the Knowledge archive, including: which football teams appear in the Bible? and who were the first team to use the Christmas tree formation? And for thousands more questions and answers look through our archive.


          Can you help?

          What is the shortest distance a team has flown to get to a match? enquires Leo Eleftheriadis.

          Out of interest, and boredom at work, what is the highest attendance for a non-league league match in England? ponders Ethan Mackintosh. No cup finals at Wembley, just league games.

          Ollie Davis (@Ollie_Davis)

          The shirt numbers for Liverpools starting XI adds to 670 (1,222 including the subs). Surely the highest for a competitive game in England? @TheKnowledge_GU

          December 17, 2019

          Just looking at Ipswich starting to stutter somewhat in League One and it got me wondering: is the club in the lowest domestic division of all the European clubs who have won a European trophy? asks John Wall.

          Colm Kearns (@ColmLearns)

          Much is made of who is top at Christmas (roughly marking the season’s halfway point). What clubs have been ‘winter champions’ (as the Italian phrase goes) the most times without ever winning the league title?

          (Or at least, whose ‘winter titles’ outnumber their official ones?)

          December 10, 2019

          Robbie Gotts appeared on the bench for Leeds United for the 31st time against Cardiff City, but is yet to make his professional debut. Is this a record for an outfield player in the English game? wonders Brian Smith.

          Mike Mujahidean (@Linhem)

          @TheKnowledge_GU have any players, like Europa League playing Malms Markus Rosenberg today, ended his career, of his own volition, right after advancing from the group stages of a tournament?

          December 12, 2019

          Hellas Verona found themselves 3-0 down at home on Sunday, making three second-half substitutions and all of them scoring to bring it back to 3-3 at full-time, begins David Dunn. Have all three second-half substitutes ever scored before? Or all six for both sides?

          Email your questions and answers to or tweet @TheKnowledge_GU.

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