Talking Sport Now & Then: World Cup, Dons, Doncaster tennis and wheelchair rugby

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England’s footballers will be hoping to give their fans an early Christmas present by lifting the World Cup for the first time since 1966.

The fact that the tournament is being played midway through the domestic season when players are not suffering from burn out at the end of a long campaign may also boost their chances.

Gareth Southgate’s men started the tournament without the usual high expectations from the England fan base as a result of some poor displays and results in recent months following the heroics of 2021 and that could also be a good thing.

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But there is no doubting that England fans will be hoping that the Lions - who have made a bit of a mixed start - can build throughout the group stages and at least go close to emulating the success of their female counterparts during the summer, although you can’t really compare the two competitions in terms of stature.

England’s team pose before the 0-0 draw with USA on Friday. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty ImagesEngland’s team pose before the 0-0 draw with USA on Friday. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images
England’s team pose before the 0-0 draw with USA on Friday. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

And whereas the Lionesses were able to select the vast majority of the best players in the WSL, not so Southgate.

At some stage the number of overseas players playing in the Premier League, and arguably blocking the development of young domestic talent, will have to be addressed if England continue to struggle to win a major title.

*A lot of Doncaster RLFC supporters will have been disappointed to see prop Zac Braham join Betfred League One rivals Rochdale Hornets after deciding to resume his career.

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One of only a couple of Doncaster-born players in Richard Horne’s squad, the former Doncaster Toll Bar player had followed up his impressive form during the 2021 campaign in pre-season games only to announce on the eve of the 2022 campaign that he was hanging up his boots due to work and family commitments.

I don’t know the circumstances of Braham’s decision to start playing again, or his decision to link up with former boss Gary Thornton at Hornets, but I feel he would have been an asset to the Dons.

When I asked CEO Carl Hall about Braham, he said: “Zac was free to do as he wished. He did mention to me that he might come down in pre-season but that’s all.”

Braham looks likely to be playing against his former team-mates just a couple of weeks into the new campaign when Hornets entertain the Dons in one of several four-pointers in the first month of the league campaign.

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The Dons dropped points in their early-season games last season which came back to haunt them at the business end of the campaign and they cannot afford to do the same if they are going to win automatic promotion or, failing that, finish second.

Although they have lost a couple of their better players from last season, the club have kept the majority of the squad and also made several signings, including in the front-row, and thus should be well placed to hit the ground running come February.

*Some people might be surprised to learn that Doncaster Lawn Tennis Club staged their closed club championship finals day earlier this month.

But long gone are the days when tennis in this country was just regarded as a summer sport.

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Such has been the improvements in playing surfaces that most of which are now playable throughout the year. The fact that floodlighting has become so much more affordable than it once was, means that courts can be just as busy on a cold November night as they are on a balmy evening in June.

By far the biggest of the local clubs, Doncaster has seen its Bessacarr-based complex undergo massive changes since I made my first visit there in 1982 to interview several promising youngsters.

Then, if my memory serves me right, all they had was a bumpy grass court with an uneven bounce on the best of days, several shale courts which had seen better days and a rundown clubhouse.

But thanks to their own fundraising efforts, and support from the LTA and other organisations, the club now has 12 courts, six hard and six artificial grass, most of which are floodlit, and a large modern clubhouse.

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Its a similar success story at Wheatley Hills, whose future was in serious doubt at one stage prior to replacing their worn-out shale courts with new hardcourts. Floodlighting and a new clubhouse followed over the years and, like Doncaster, members are able to enjoy their favourite sport throughout the year.

*Like a lot of other people it seems, I enjoyed watching the Rugby League Wheelchair World Cup – a competition which gave England its only success in the three-tournament competition with a thrilling win over holders France in front of a sell-out 5,000 plus crowd.

Prior to the start of the tournament, which saw several fixtures played in Sheffield, I admit that I knew nothing about the sport.

But I was soon won over by the dodgems-like high-speed collisions and the skill factor involved.

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What I do find strange, however, is that four able-bodied players are allowed in the ten-man squad – though no more than two on the pitch at the same time.

I also felt that the response to England’s victory was a little over the top to say the least given the lack of strength-in-depth in the ten-team competition.

The sport is bound to grow and providing that the organisation get things right the competition will be much stronger come the 2025 World Cup in France. I wish it well.