Courting the Technological Edge

This article featured on Al Jazeera English.

Tennis can often look like a simple battle. Two people stand on opposing sides armed with rackets, the winner decided by who has the physical strength, technique and mental calm to claim victory.

But if you scratch beneath the surface, there are a myriad of factors that come into play. And while there may be no substitution for talent or training, another T is playing an increasingly important part in giving players the crucial advantage – Technology.

Behind the scenes technological innovations are helping to drive athletes towards their limits and push opponents to theirs.

When people think of technology and tennis their mind might fly to Hawk-Eye, which revolutionised the game when it was formally introduced in 2005.

Unlike in cricket and football, where there have been hiccups and delays, Hawk-Eye proved a natural fit and added an extra dimension, and some synchronised clapping, to the game.

With a limited number of challenges allowed during a match, a wrong decision can prove costly in tight matches.

But while the Hawk-Eye adjudication system can effect a few points, it is the Hawk-Eye camera's ability to track balls which is creating a wealth of knowledge for the world’s top racket wielders.

Hidden away in a bunker in Wimbledon the IBM team are busy recording every point, serve, return, move made at the Grand Slams.

While county tennis players are hired by IBM to record information manually court-side, Hawk-Eye's player tracking devices provide additional information.

Analysing opponents

The data gathered is so rich it enables computers to search for patterns and extract a number of 'keys', which determine what a player has to do against their opponent to win a match.

In 2014, a new system has been tracking the aggressiveness of a player and how they play and respond to aggressive shots.

“The extra knowledge we get now is really important,” Dutch player Maikel Scheffers, a finalist in the wheelchair gentleman’s doubles, tells Al Jazeera English.

“We have a special video team who record matches for us and then give us a copy. They put a lot of work in and it’s amazing. You can ask them to find the exact point you want to look at, so all the deuces we had in a game.

“I particularly find recording myself in training helpful. As I can watch it every day and when I have a match it is fresh in my mind. I can visualise that technique.”

While knowledge is key, and in IBM speak, 'keys' are knowledge, equipment is also undergoing a technology revolution. This is particularly important in wheelchair tennis.

“There are many changes being made and more to come. Players are getting carbon fibre seats that are moulded to your body using 3D technology,” says Ronald Vink, Scheffers' doubles partner.

“The chairs are getting lighter and stronger. Some people have chairs made of magnesium. People are looking into sitting at different angles or with your knees higher up.”

With so much innovation, the ITF federation who govern wheelchair tennis have the tricky task of ensuring technological improvements for people with disabilities do not create an uneven playing field.

“There are lots of meetings at the moment, about things like the height of the chair. It is easier to serve higher up but then not everyone can do it,” says Scheffers.

“It is the same in every sport,” adds Vink. “The swimsuits in swimming, long-putters in golf. In wheelchair basketball there are lots of rules now."

“The world championships are taking place in South Korea and there is a team with lasers monitoring every chair to make sure it isn’t a mm too high. It is getting crazy like that.”

Racket IQ

In the 1960s and 1970s, changes to the material and design of tennis rackets saw companies produce rackets with more power and control. Now French equipment company Babolat has decided to give them a brain.

This racket contains sensors inside the handle that detect various information about your game; number of strokes, where the ball is hitting the racket, endurance levels, spin and power. This information is all directly transferred into an app on an iPhone.

At Wimbledon there are already a number of players using the racket including Ana Konjuh, the young Croatian who won her first ever grand slam match this year at Wimbledon.

While these players have a more refined source of data readily available to them after matches and training, it is too early to tell what difference this technology can make.

“For coaches this racket is very important – we don’t need to stand there ticking boxes,” said Tony Nadal, Rafael’s coach and uncle.

“If Rafael had this racket 10 years ago, I am sure he would have less problems in his tennis. At the US Open we plan to use this racket and hopefully we can win the tournament with this racket.”

Whether this is marketing talk or truth is unclear but the use of sensors to give players more information about their game is a step forward.

“I think the new Babolat racket technology is fantastic, it detects everything, spin-slice, power. It is also good for amateurs because they can track their progress and compare results with other amateurs and professionals," Japanese tennis player Yuichi said.

If the current technology is impressive, the future could be closer to science fiction.

'Connected' rackets provide useful information but they cannot detect whether the ball went in or out. However, if Wimbledon’s partners Babolat and Hawk-Eye join forces we could soon see an even smarter racket on the market, one that combines stats with the visuals that players find so helpful.

With sport increasingly lucrative, the Federer and Nadals of the technological world are competing in their own battle – to produce the technology that no player can live without.

The purists will argue that only the naturally gifted will triumph – but few players would want to be left out of the technological loop.

A Significant Friendly

England take to Wembley turf for the first time against tough opposition

Published in the Evening Standard

It takes Alex Scott a moment to remember when England last lost a competitive match. Under Head Coach Mark Sampson, England breezed through qualifying for the 2015 World Cup in Canada with 10 wins out of 10. Away from World Cup qualification, England recorded an impressive 4-0 victory over Sweden, a team ranked above Sampson’s side in the FIFA rankings.

“The last time we lost a competitive match must have been at the Euros last year. It’s something I haven’t really thought about,” the England and Arsenal defender told Standard Sport.

“I think we knew as players we should be beating the teams in our qualifying group but to score so many goals, and concede only one, we couldn’t do much better than that.”

While 2014 has been full of victories and goals, England’s women still have plenty to prove against Germany on Sunday after crashing out of the 2013 European Championships in the group stages. The early exit led to the departure of Hope Powell who had been in charge for 15 years.

Scott seems happy under the reign of Sampson, who has brought a fresh look to a team that often featured a familiar group of players.

“Mark has come in and changed the philosophy, the buzz around the team. We are going into games a lot more positive. He has freshened things up and there are some really exciting and young players coming through.”

One particularly young and exciting player is 21-year-old Fran Kirby, a striker for WSL 2 side Reading who scored 29 goals last season. Sampson’s bold decision to integrate a player from the second tier of the WSL looks to have paid off and Kirby was named Women of the Match on her debut against Sweden.

“If she keeps going the way she’s going, Fran has a big future in the women’s game. That’s the good thing about Mark, if you play well you are going to get a chance.,” says Scott.

Kirby and company will have to be in fine fettle if they are to upset the European Champions Germany – a team who also recorded the perfect World Cup qualifying campaign and are ranked World Number 2, five places above England.

Not only will the record crowd spur them on but also their poor record against their European rivals. England have never beaten Germany and the last time the teams met Germany denied England the 2009 European Championships title.

When asked to name Germany’s danger players, Scott is not sure where to start: “They are a force. There are so many dangerous players and they keep coming at you, they are relentless. Alexandra Pop is an amazing midfielder, she is so strong and technically gifted . They will be a real challenge.”

A victory on the pitch is important, but arguably a more important victory has already been achieved. The match against Germany marks the first time the England women’s team have played at Wembley and the capped 55,000 crowd is well above what anyone predicted.

“This is a special occasion and a great time for women’s football. When Great Britain played Brazil everyone thought it was Olympic fever but this match shows the interest is there and we need to put on a good show to keep fans coming back.”

Scott says playing at Wembley for England is a childhood dream but she will not be a bundle of nerves on the big occasion. The unofficial team DJ is more likely to be found dancing or making sure nerves don’t get the better of less experienced players. Scott believes the match is the ideal test before playing in front of big crowds in Canada next summer.  

Whether the players like it or not - the future of women’s football is tied to the results England achieve on the pitch.

“In order to capitalise on this support, we must do well in the World Cup next year. The media are now covering our matches and putting women’s football in people’s faces. We need to achieve results that keep us in the media so people can connect with us and follow the story and our progress.”

With clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester City investing more into their women’s sides, the top flight of women’s football finally has the competitive edge it has been lacking. An exciting climax to the 2014 season, which saw reigning Champions Liverpool edge to victory over Chelsea, has no doubt wetted the appetite for the fixture at Wembley. Unfortunately for Scott, all this competition means Arsenal no longer run away with the title year after year.

“Crowd figures are up across the board. Man City get good crowd averages and Arsenal do at Boreham Wood. But we need to make sure these 55,000 fans filter down into the women’s game.”

“We are role models and seeing us play makes young players realise they can make a career out of playing football. Many never looked at women’s football like this before, but now girls are believing they can become professional and make a salary out of the sport.”

DJ Dean's beats of the season

Action Images/Adam Holt

Featured in Bees Review (5th March 2016)

Most fans will know that if you cut Harlee Dean he bleeds red, Brentford red.

Recently extending his contract with the Club until the end of the 2017/2018 season and becoming Vice-Captain, Harlee has been instrumental in the success of The Bees over the last few years.

However, what less fans will know is that Dean has a crucial role which is less talked about. And with this position comes great responsibility.

“I’ve been in and out for years but this season with a few people leaving it was time for someone to step up to the decks,” said Harlee Dean, aka DJ Harlee Dean.

“In the past it rotated around with Clayton, Mo and Dougie getting involved. But now I have taken up the challenge.”

With footballers being a fairly superstitious bunch, it’s not surprising that during their promotion winning season music became very important.

“The year we went up we had one mix we listened to for the whole season,” said DJ Dean.

“Everyone knew it off by heart and which song was coming next. Actually Bob (the Kit Logistics Manager) was one of the DJs and he put on a Colin Francis mix – and that was it for the whole season. There was even one song that had to be played when we were walking out to the tunnel.”

Now Dean is king of the beats, I asked him to name the songs which have been rocking the Griffin Park changing room this season.

Impossible – Jax Jones Remix
This is a high tempo club tune and one that the boys like. It’s a bit clubby and gets people in the right mood before kick-off. No, we don’t dance, we take matches seriously but it’s just a good track to get people’s energy up.

Can’t Tell Me Nothing – Kanye West
This is from the movie, The Hangover. I chucked it in the playlist because it’s a good song and seems to do the job. Actually it was probably our hangover song when we went to Vegas after getting promoted to the Championship. Vegas was unbelievable, everyone was there and I think only Adam Forshaw missed out. It was amazing celebrating together and it was the first time many of the boys had been there. It was special. I think socialising as a team is important, this season we had the Christmas do but that was cut short because there was a development game. We haven’t had as many socials as you would have hoped for but they are tied in with good results and we haven’t had as many of them as we would have hoped for either.

679 - Fetty Wap
This is one of Alan Judge’s favourites, and if you know the song you wouldn’t really think it would be. But whenever he is in there he always asks for that to go on. He sings along and gives everyone a laugh. To be honest, without him this season we would be up against it. It is unfair recently how much pressure there is on him, he is the only one consistently producing at the minute. Hopefully he gets to the Euros because I think he deserves to be there. He has been one of the best players in the Championship this season, if not the best.

Chunky - Format: B
This is another club tune that the boys like. Judgey says that I have the biggest head in the league which could be a link to this track, as long as it is not a reference to my waist! I personally think that there are a few bigger heads in the league – it just looks big to Judgey because he is so little. I’ve made a living from heading the ball – so I’m glad I’ve got a big head really. When I was at Dagenham and Redbridge – I was just a head on a stick. You can ask Sam Saunders who was also there. I am still trying to grow into my head now. Heading is going out the game a bit but the Rotherham game proved that you still need to be prepared for a physical battle.

Digital Dash - Drake
Sam Saunders is a fan of Drake, he pretends he knows the words and just mumbles, but he does the little shuffle in Digital Dash. I was 16 when I first met Sam at Dagenham and Redbridge and when I came to Brentford he put me straight under his wing and now we live down the same road. He is one of my best friends and I think we will always be best friends, even if he is A LOT older than me.

And what about, say, the Spice Girls?
Another teammate Harlee had a close relationship with was James Tarkowski – who, rumour has it, risked his credibility to play Spice Girls on the team bus.

“I don’t think I was there then but it doesn’t surprise me,” said Harlee. “Tarky was quite a weird character and just did what he wanted to do and played what he fancied. We saw each other last Saturday and we are still very good friends.”

“Tarkowski saw his future somewhere else but I know Brentford is for me. Although it feels like we have taken a step back this season we are a Club with ambition and that is why I wanted to stay. I believe we will get to the Premier League and when the stadium is built I will enjoy playing in it. Since I’ve come here the fans have taken to me and I love playing for them – that’s also been vital in my decision to stay.”

So to the disappointment of aspiring Bees DJs, it doesn’t look like Dean is going to leave a space in the Brentford Music Department for a little while yet.

Qatar's women win more than gold

London 2012 was the first time all nations included women in their teams
This article featured on Al Jazeera English.

The last time London hosted the Olympic Games it was 1948 and these words proudly hung over the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony.

The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part

These words were first spoken by the founder of the modern games Baron de Coubertin. Since then they have been paraphrased by mum and dads across the world when dealing with overly-ambitious children.

But is it really the taking part that counts?

Try telling the most successful Olympian - American swimmer Michael Phelps - this and he would playfully splash water at you. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s reaction is likely to be equally amusing.

But perhaps Coubertin's words of encouragement shouldn’t be so quickly mocked.

Because Olympic champions are only made if they are allowed to take part.

On Sunday August 5th, I met three inspiring young women on their way home after being knocked out in the early stages of the Olympics. But there was not a tear of disappointment nor look of resignation between them.

These athletes had already won something more valuable than an Olympic gold, or even eight – the chance to take part.

64 years on from London’s last Olympics, Qatar had sent four female athletes to the Games for the first time. In fact, London 2012 was the first time all nations had included female members.

Baron de Coubertin’s words would not have been out of place at Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony.

While talking to sprinter Noor Al-Malki, swimmer Nada Arakji and table tennis player Aia Mohamed it became clear how important their presence at the Games was.

These three friends – who proudly donned their maroon Qatari tracksuits and spoke of missing the Olympic Village – were the real history makers of the Games.

And by being part of the greatest sporting competition in the world - they are blessed. They have already fulfilled ambitions that were dreams to their mother's and grandmother's generation.

Noor, Nada and Aia symbolise a change in attitude toward’s women competing at the highest levels in their conservative nation. And with only 52 years between them they have their whole sporting careers ahead.

But now their Olympics are over, will they receive the support needed to one day win gold? Or are they just figureheads to appease the IOC and equal rights groups?

Although they wouldn’t be drawn on whether they faced discrimination or barriers during their journey to the Games, one thing they openly shared was a delight at being able to inspire peers and future generations.

“I was so proud at being able to represent my country. It felt great being there and entering the stadium” said 50m freestyle swimmer Nada Arakji.

“Being the first Qatari female swimmer at the Olympics will encourage younger generations to take up the sport.”

Sporting ambition

Quite understandably, at no stage did table tennis player Aia Mohamed feel the Olympics was a right of passage.

“The Olympics was in my heart but I didn’t realise I would be here. It is like a dream come true. I want younger players to live what we have just lived,” Aia said with emotion.

“It is every athletes dream to reach the Olympics and thank god I achieved that dream, and hopefully I will be there in Rio in 2016.”

Qatar - the host of the 2022 Football World Cup – is busy developing itself as a sporting cultural hub.

Despite losing out on the bid for the 2020 Olympics, Qatar will pursue the Games in the future.

“It is really important to host events like the World Cup because people from other countries will come and they will know we can do it. We have all the facilities in place and Qatar will bring lots of new things to the event,” said Aia.

It is hard to argue that Qatar does not have the resources to entertain the world but question marks still hang over their attitude to women pursuing Olympic success.

However, at such times as these criticism is unfair. By bringing women to the Olympics, Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia have taken huge strides forward. They have been working closely with the IOC and there's no reason to believe this conversation will breakdown.

All three athletes I met were vocal (very vocal) about the huge amount of support they receive from friends, family, coaches, teachers, authorities and other athletes.

“Qatar supports us. Qatar is proud of us,” says 100m runner Noor Al-Malki.

So what next for these girls who quietly disappear from the Games without the hysteria that surrounds Michael Phelps, Ye Shiwen or Usain Bolt?

Will they one day stand on the podium celebrating gold instead of wondering whether they will be allowed to take part?

Yes, this small, young crop of female athletes have won their first battle – but the battle on the track, in the pool or by the table tennis table has only just begun.

Winning - that has to be the next step.

Mo Farah brings Olympic legacy to Hounslow

This article featured on Brentford FC CST website

"What is really emotional for me is the involvement of Mo and Tania. To come back and put this much into the Hounslow community is something I am incredibly proud of. This is what Olympic legacy is about."

These were the words of former PE teacher Alan Watkinson, the man who helped runner Mo Farah grow into one of Britain’s most decorated athletes.

On August 27th, both men returned to the place the journey had started – Feltham Community College – to launch a new local sports programme called Motivate Hounslow.  This initiative aims to motivate young people in Hounslow aged between 14 and 25 to take up sport, or take their talents to the next level.

"I thank Sport England for giving us these funds so we can help kids," said the Olympic, World and European 5,000 and 10,000m champion Mo Farah at the launch.

"To be able to support young people is amazing and I want to spot the next Mo. I want to give them a chance and say look this is where I started, I was just like you at that age."

A generous cheque for £250,000 was handed over by Jon Horne, Government Relationship Manager for Sport England’s Community Sports Activation Fund.

"This is a £47.5 million project across the country and this is one of 160 projects so far that have been funded," said Jon when presenting with the cheque.

"It is not just about people doing more sport but about the impact regular sport participation can have on wider local outcomes, whether this is educational achievement, health, diversity activities – whatever this may be in the local area."

Brentford FC Community Sports Trust, The Mo Farah Foundation and Sport Impact are working together to deliver the programme, which centres around three Motivator coaches who will be working in the most deprived areas of Hounslow to get more young people active.

"The age group we are targeting (14-25 year old) is set up for a reason, and it is a challenge. But we believe we have the credentials to do it, we all have different personalities and are enthusiastic about sport," said Senior Motivator Abdoullah Kheir.

During the launch, young people from the community took part in a variety of different sports activities including basketball, football, tennis, American flag football, boxing, trampolining and sprinting.

Motivator Martin Bradshaw said the diversity of sports on offer reflected the nature of the programme, which would use as many different sports as possible to engage the target age group.

“We will start with schools and colleges, then look to go to youth clubs and talk to young people about what they want and what will make them motivated to come to our project," said fellow Motivator Kojo Sedefia.

Chair of the Mo Farah Foundation, Tania Farah, also attended the event, as did Mo’s daughter Rhianna – who enjoyed taking part in the activities on offer, especially the tennis.

"We are excited to work with Sport Impact and Brentford FC CST, who have experience at ground level working with young people," said Tania.

"By using Mo’s influence hopefully we can develop this into something across the UK. We started in Hounslow because this is where we are from and this is where our heart still lies."

Aspiring Olympian, and Great Britain 100m sprinter Clieo Stephenson, has already benefitted from the work of The Mo Farah Foundation. The sprinter is studying psychology at Brunel University while perfecting her ground speeds.

"When I joined Brunel I applied for a scholarship and the Mo Farah Foundation selected me as one of the four people they support throughout the year," said Clieo, who can run 100m in 11.7 seconds.

"They give me financial help through the course of year, help with injuries and look after me in any way they can. Physio, travel and equipment, that sort of thing."

While Clieo was tearing it up on the mini sprint track, vigorous bouncing on the trampoline took place inside the sports hall, and Brentford FC Club Captain Kevin O’Connor turned up to see the skills on the football pitch.

The Major of Hounslow, Corinna Smart, said the launch was the biggest sporting event of the summer because of Mo Farah’s motivational story and how young people respond to it.

"I am from Feltham Community College and am doing tennis, trampolining and dodge-ball. Mo used to go to this school and I have heard a lot about him. He won lots of medals at the Olympics," said 15-year old Vishal, one of the participants on the day.

If their hard work was spotted by the Motivators, the most impressive performers were awarded prizes by Mo Farah on stage.  With a handy right hook in the boxing ring, 19-year old Dominika was awarded a goody bag with a signed T-shirt from Mo.

"In addition to Sport England, I want to thank our supporters, ISIS Waterside Regeneration, Carillion Parks Management, The Heathrow Community Fund, Brentford Football Club and the London Borough of Hounslow," said Project Manager Neil Young,

"It was through the Hounslow Community, Sport and Physical Activity network – managed by the Borough Council – that this partnership was formed, so I would like to say thank you for bringing us together."

Sergi Canos: Surging into the Championship

3rd November 2015 - Bees Review - Joanna Tilley 

Sixty seconds is all it took for Sergi Canos to make an impression during his home debut for Brentford. The 18-year-old winger, on loan from Liverpool, exploded off the bench to provide the assist for Lasse Vibe’s equaliser against Preston North End.

If his cross didn’t catch the eye of the fans, the attacking energy he brought to the team certainly did. 

“Before the match against Preston, I was nervous,” Sergi told me. “I didn’t know if I was ready for the Championship, or even to be on the bench."But it was nice to get an assist in my first moments on the pitch. It made me feel that I’m ready to play at this level."

The Griffin Park faithful immediately responded to the player who changed the tide of the game with some cheeky flicks and a fearless attitude.

"The reception I’ve got from the fans so far has been incredible and to get the fans’ man of the match for my home debut was unbelievable. I don’t know if the fans expected something from me but I was really happy with that.”

It is possible Bees fans were expecting something special from a youngster with a notable footballing CV. Canos is the product of FC Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy and signed for Liverpool much to the frustration of the Catalan giant.

Championship Player of the Month for October, Alan Judge, has been impressed with the Spaniard's attacking style but it is clear to anyone who watches him for more than a few minutes that Canos is not afraid of taking on opponents, or using an audacious piece of skill when required.

“I’ve always played like that. Since I started playing football at the age of five, we would play on concrete in my hometown of Nules; we always had cuts and grazes. Now you see the boys playing on grass, whereas I played on rock.”

The quality of the pitches improved somewhat for Canos when he joined Barca’s Academy at the age of 13.

“I think the most important thing I learned from La Masia was how to be more responsible and independent. I was living alone there, although surrounded by other boys, but there was more responsibility playing for Barca.”  

Although Sergi wasn’t sure how seriously to take Bees Review’s claim that Brentford were the Barcelona of West London, he recognised that the clubs do have their similarities, as well as differences.

“Of course there are some – we play football. Not long balls or anything like that. We are not like Barcelona because we do not have Messi! But we are playing attractive football and that’s why I came here, because I knew this was the style I wanted to play.”

Currently on loan until January, Sergi says he would like to be at Griffin Park a little longer. 

“I want to stay until the end of the season. That’s my objective – to stay. I’m really happy here. I enjoy each day and am learning new things: the intensity at training and the type of football, plus playing with men like Judgey and Alan McCormack. I can learn a lot from them." 

Ultimately, he will be looking to get a place in the Liverpool first team. The city is not just home to his football club but also his family, who moved with him to the UK.

“Moving over here in 2013 was a difficult transition. But it was the best decision of my life because my family came with me and my sister is at school and speaks English like an English girl.”

“We are going to open a restaurant in Liverpool. It should be open any day now. All our lives have changed. They live in Liverpool and come to watch me play. They give me a lot of confidence and when I warm up and see them – it gives me strength.”

The Canos family are working in collaboration with renowned Spanish chef Miguel Barrera, whose restaurant Cal Paradis in Castellón has a Michelin Star.

“For me he is the best chef in Spain, that’s why he’s at our restaurant," says Sergi with a laugh. "It is a Spanish restaurant and his speciality is in rice, although there is a tapas section.”

Despite leaving Liverpool for London, Sergi was excited about the news Jurgen Klopp was to become manager of the Reds.

"It is amazing. Klopp and Liverpool is the perfect match – there is so much passion amongst the fans. And he seems very passionate. Hopefully in the future I will have a chance to talk to him.”
When he is not playing for Brentford, or keeping an eye on Liverpool, Sergi is cheering on Valencia.

“I am a big fan,” said Sergi. “When I was five-years-old I was going to the Mestalla Stadium regularly. My dad supports Valencia, although my sister supports Barcelona. When I went to Barcelona she was so excited, it was a dream for her.”

There is no doubt Sergi’s talent has already brought plenty of excitement, and changes, to the lives of his family and others around him.

But his career in England is just beginning, and if his first minute on the Griffin Park turf is anything to go by, it could be quite a ride.  

Alan Judge: Brentford's secret weapon

30th October 2015 - Bees Review

One word which might spring to mind when you think of Alan Judge is energy. The Brentford midfielder never seems to run out of it and this quality would have served him well over a busy October.

After being called-up for the Republic of Ireland squad, Judge burst onto the Griffin Park turf against Rotherham United with an exquisite second-minute volley and his first header for The Bees. Judge was named man of the match and the performance perfectly encapsulated the energy he has brought to the club since his arrival on loan at the start of 2014.

“It was brilliant to be called up to the Republic of Ireland squad and a good experience,” said Alan. “I must be close to making the team if they called me in and I think I have shown in training that I am a decent player. The manager more or less said he needs a friendly to come around to see me on the pitch which I understand because the lads are playing very well at the moment.”

Straight after returning from duty, Alan’s next mission was moving into a new home with his wife Emma and daughter Emily. At the time of speaking to him, he was also awaiting an addition to the family.

“He or she is due on 29 October [yesterday],” said Alan. “Let’s hope it is either before or after the game as there is no way I want to be missing that match. But if she goes into labour during the game I would be running off and going straight to the hospital.”

Family comes first, but Judge understands the importance of a local derby after the fixtures against Fulham last year.

“I didn’t think too much about it in the lead up. I knew Fulham were rivals but when I played in the game at Griffin Park I started to realise how the fans felt about it."

"I remember when Jota scored right at the end and I fell to the floor because I was so exhausted. Everyone put everything into that game – it was for the fans.”

Judge also has fond memories of the match at Craven Cottage as it was an important time in his career.

“That game was brilliant. I was just returning from injury and I wasn’t at full fitness. There were niggles and I wasn’t getting into the team at the time. It was great to score in front of 6,000 away fans. It was an unbelievable atmosphere and we blew them away.”

If Judge ever forgets the importance of tonight’s clash with QPR, he has player liaison manager and match-day announcer Peter Gilham to remind him.

“I have Peter continuously telling me that we have to beat them. We have to! Peter is a die-hard Brentford fan and has become a good friend to me. I want to do well for the club and especially for people as nice as him.”

Although footballers are recognised for their competitive spirit and physicality, Judge’s doggedness often shines out – partly, perhaps, because it contrasts with his small stature.

“I hate losing,” said Alan. “Just hate it. I got used to winning last year and I like being the best at what I can do. You can accept having a bad day but I can’t accept people giving in. So I make sure I work hard. I put in the effort on the training pitch too.

“Through that hard work you reap rewards. People think you are small so you can’t tackle. If you go in and give everything most people will be surprised by your strength. The worse thing that can happen is that you get injured.”

Judge’s father played football in Ireland, is that where his determination came from?

“Well he used to go around kicking people so I’m not at his level. It does help when your father played football; it has had a massive impact on the way I play, definitely. He played for Fulham when he was younger."

“That’s not going to win me any friends around here, is it?! But he moved back home because his mother was unwell. He made a good career in Ireland.”

While Judge has many good qualities, it is probably only fair some attention is given to his faults. 

Teammate Andreas Bjelland told Bees Review at the start of the season the Irish players are the loudest in the squad, but Judge is quick to start a rebuttal.

“Andreas is the moaniest person I have ever met in my whole life," he says with affection. "Every morning he is grumbling about something or the other. If the grass is green, he moans.”

At this point in the interview, Brentford defender Alan McCormack walks by and Judge asks him who the moaniest person in the team is. McCormack points at Judge.

“Before Andreas, it would have definitely been Judge,” says McCormack. “Now he has a bit of competition.”  

When he is not busy moaning, Alan has been impressed with the new members of the team.

“Maxime Colin, I like him,” said Alan. “He’s good on the ball, knows how to tackle. Sergio is so direct and we need that."

"The new players are settling in well but it will take time. In some cases they’ve come from a country where you can barely touch a player to one when you can boot them six feet into the air. They will get stronger.”

When it comes to toughening up, chances are Judge’s presence has already sped up the process.

Talking kitchen? Why a splash of sexism is too much in sport

I forget which wave of feminism we are currently riding but there is no denying that sexism is one hot little potato at the minute.

One area where the potato is particularly scalding is in the sports world.

This was best shown at the end of the Women’s World Cup when the team were welcomed back with a Tweet from the FA which read “Our lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today – but they have taken on another title – heroes.”

There are numerous reasons why this Tweet created a media storm: Do we get the choice to put family roles on hold? Are they not coming back to being professional WSL footballers? Would the men's team ever be referred to in the same way?

Today the BBC have apologised for a comment Peter Alliss made during the Open golf tournament.  While Zach Johnson was lining up a shot the camera panned to his wife and Alliss said “She is probably thinking if this goes in I get a new kitchen.”

Now I understand why the FA Tweet is contestable but guys 'n gals, hasn't this sexism court-marshalling got a little out of hand? Is that comment really sexist? Do the BBC need to apologies for a commentator joking about a woman planning to buy herself a lovely new kitchen. If you see a woman and think “preemptive kitchen buying” that surely doesn’t mean you are sexist.

But then again, you are a little bit aren’t you? And a little bit sexist is too sexist - because when women are fighting so hard to be taken seriously in sport, old-fashioned gender stereotypes do not help at all.

Would the same comment have been delivered to a man watching his wife taking a putt? Say the man in question was Gordon Ramsey, same comment? No – I don’t think anyone would suggest culinary supremo Gordon Ramsey would have any interest in buying a new kitchen because we all know the essence of Alliss’ comment stems from a patriarchal viewpoint. One that for many years kept women in the range of the kitchen and off the driving range.

After collecting the Claret Jug, Zach Johnson praised his wife (or in his words “CEO”) and said his success was very much theirs. If he had whispered to her “you get that new kitchen now love!” I doubt it would have gone down particularly well.

Of course, if we had a level playing field between the sexes, none of these remarks would be an issue. Alliss could replace “kitchen” with “boob job”, and the BBC would be all ‘hurrah for boob jobs!’.

But we don’t have equality, do we? And gender assumptions are not conducive to bringing it. Anyway, who is to say we are good mothers and daughters either, who is to say we don’t prefer cheating on boyfriends or online gambling to shopping and pedicures. I have played football for the last five years and if I had a pound for every time a man raised a questioning eyebrow at me, I would be able to afford that new kitchen I’ve had my eye on. (it's so beautiful, peach and cream)

Another thing which can often be overlooked – is that women are different. Some are more strongly aligned to traditional feminine traits and that is lovely, and good for them. Others combine both, which is also nice, and then there are those women who actually have much stronger masculine energy and wouldn't recognise a frying pan if it hit them over the butch head.

Many ‘feminists’ are not jumping on these comments from men because they hate men and want them to be punished for centuries of suppression. I would much rather look at the comments from Alliss and John Inverdale (vis-a-vis Marion Bartoli) and just think ‘nothing to get your knickers in a twist over, let’s worry about more important affairs’. But the thing is – until women's sport is taken more seriously – we need to be vigilant.

I don’t think over-hyping women’s sporting event that few people watch is necessarily the solution but neither is ignoring old-fashioned gender views which look to keep women aligned with domestic duties.

We are just so much more interesting than that.