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David Beckham surely can’t have it both ways [Jul. 21st, 2009|11:14 am]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
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LA Galaxy hand him a contract of fabulous riches, £128 million over five years. Coming from a club in a country where the sport is of only marginal interest, this was a huge commitment, even by American financial standards.

Has Beckham matched that commitment? The answer is surely no. He’s used LA Galaxy’s riches to feather his own nest but the moment it became clear he had signed his own death warrant as far as a place was concerned in Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad for next year, his enthusiasm began to fade.

Yet why wasn’t that one of the paramount thoughts in his mind when he went to Los Angeles? He must have known that Capello wouldn’t choose someone playing in American soccer. It has been clear from day one that Capello demands the absolute highest standards. Playing in the States is no sort of preparation for England’s World Cup plans.

Or did Beckham know all that but preferred to take the vast riches on offer? Did he do it because he wanted to have his cake and eat it?

By going to AC Milan on loan, he was acknowledging he’d made the wrong career move. Playing for a top line English or European club is supposed to be behind those who head west across the Atlantic. Plenty have done it before Beckham but they haven’t then come back at the first opportunity to re-establish links with the higher level of soccer.

This is a guy who wants it all and never mind the feelings or commitment of others. All that matters to him is himself.

Why should anyone criticise the Galaxy fans? The fact is, they’ve been let down. Beckham must be dim if he didn’t see trouble coming. For not only did he stay and finish the season in Italy with Milan but then set off on holiday in France and the Seychelles. Very nice too, except that he had people continuing to pay him a fortune on the other side of the Atlantic.

LA Galaxy have been let down by a guy who has let himself down by his own greed. Beckham should have acknowledged he’d made a mistake going there because he wanted to be part of next year’s World Cup. He should have told the American club that last January and walked away from the lucrative deal.

But he didn’t want to do that. Too much money was at stake.

And David Beckham has long since demonstrated that nothing and no-one will come between him and a pile of cash.

It’s that realisation that has fuelled the fans anger on the other side of the Atlantic. And they’re right to feel they’ve been had.
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England should bring back Harmison for third test [Jul. 20th, 2009|01:27 pm]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
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England are 1-0 up in the Ashes series, thanks to a superb all-round team performance against Australia at Lords.

From captain Andrew Strauss who made 161 in their first innings, to fast bowler James Anderson who helped skittle the Australians in their first knock with 4-55, to Andrew Flintoff’s eye catching bowling on the final morning which helped produced a bag of five wickets and Graeme Swann’s four wickets, England demonstrated the value of team work.

There are now 10 days until the next Test, the third, at Edgbaston. And England’s selectors must bite the bullet and do the unthinkable - namely, change a winning team.

With the Aussies one down, the moment could not be better to attack still harder. That means one change in the side for Birmingham. Steve Harmison should come back into the team at the expense of Graham Onions. The latter didn’t let anyone down at Lords, taking 3-41 in the Australian first innings. But nine overs for 50 in the second wasn’t impressive.

Flintoff reminded everyone throughout the Lords Test that many of these Australian batsmen are vulnerable to the short pitched, fast rising ball aimed at the rib cage or head. It wasn’t just the tail enders who struggled; batsmen higher up the order also looked seriously discomforted at times. That ought to mean the return of Harmison.

The Durham speedster could be just the man to rip into this Australian side while it is down. No-one enjoys playing seriously quick, 90mph bowling or faster, especially when it is dug in short and gets steep lift.

Flintoff has to be nursed through the remaining three Tests of this, his last Test series, but having his pal Harmison alongside him, firing at similar pace to ‘Fred’, could be the decisive act in this Ashes series.

Harmison has been in good form for Durham this season, a fact confirmed by their dominance of the County Championship Division 1 thus far.

No-one enjoys facing the Durham speedster at his quickest and best; county batsmen report from all over the country that he has again looked close to his best.

There could be no better time to bring him back into Test cricket. He’s been left out and that clearly hurt. But give credit where it is due - he has responded in the right way by going back to his county and doing the only thing he could to answer the snub. Take wickets.

Harmison and Flintoff in tandem, bowling short, fast and accurately as well as slipping in some balls of fuller length, could be a duo too much for the ailing Australians.

This is a million miles away from Australia’s best ever Ashes side, yet you can bet your last holiday euro that they will come back hard at England, starting at Edgbaston on Thursday week. That will mean England must be ready and they will need every ounce of firepower to withstand that Aussie assault.

Who better to repel it and dish out some stick of their own than an inspired Flintoff and a recalled Harmison, desperate to put right what he saw as a clear wrong when he was dropped?

England only rarely enjoys 1-0 series leads against Australia. They have to build on that lead, not try to protect it or suddenly become negative.

You cannot hang on through the last three Tests against any Australian team which means England must go all out to attack them in Birmingham and try to take a 2-0 lead. That would put Ricky Ponting’s side under enormous pressure.

The moment is ripe for attack. And there is no finer attacking bowler in the country than a fired-up Steve Harmison. Bring him back and let him loose at the ailing Aussies.
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Kevin Pietersen's stupidity [Jul. 8th, 2009|05:53 pm]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
Watching Kevin Pietersen bat brings to mind that old joke from Fawlty Towers: 'Who is using the family brain cell today, Sybil'?
 
Pietersen is a death sentence waiting to happen in cricket. He's a self opinionated genius of a player who simply cannot play for or within the confines of a team. He has the ability to put any attack anywhere in world cricket to the sword. He also has the ability, and he proves it time and again, to commit hara-kiri with total disregard for the feelings of those around him.
 
Pietersen and Paul Collingwood had dug England out of a mess at Cardiff on the first day of the Ashes series. 90-3 became 220-3 and a thoroughly ordinary Australian attack was beginning to wilt. They desperately needed help from somewhere so, in time honoured fashion, England came to the rescue of their old adversaries.
 
First, Collingwood played a nothing sort of push at a ball he ought to have left alone. A highly valuable and increasingly dangerous partnership was over.
 
That alone called for prudence and caution on the part of Pietersen, the one genuine class batsman remaining. But the South African born player proved again he really is no genius because he has an intrinsic flaw in his make-up. He plays the most stupid, outrageous shots whatever the situation facing his side and invariably gets out.
 
Thus we saw this flaw demonstrated once again, this time in Cardiff. Pietersen's ludicrous stretch for a nothing ball from Nathan Hauritz outside off stump which he attempted to swing down the leg side, ended in a simple dolly catch to short leg.
 
What a sucker, what a mug. The Aussies were on the ropes and Pietersen just walked across the ring and hauled them back onto their feet. No wonder they laughed themselves silly at the guy.
 
Pietersen's selfish stupidity could well prove the single act that decides the Test. Had he stayed and gone on to make a big hundred, the Australians could have found themselves virtually batted out of the game even by the end of the first innings. For on a wicket expected to turn increasingly, especially on days four and five and with Australia having to bat last against two spinners in the opposition attack, England briefly held almost all the aces.
 
The way Pietersen in particular just chucked them away as though he couldn't care less was sickening. Team sport is about self sacrifice, about abandoning your own natural traits and personal wishes in favour of the collective. But this flawed genius apparently cannot do that. He plays to his own agenda, which is invariably a thoroughly irresponsible approach that frequently ends in self destruction.
 
England will go on picking him because they don't have anyone else capable of filling the No. 4 position. But they must know his presence will continue to produce groans of dismay, laments about opportunities lost and downright anger at the guy's stupidity and selfishness.
 
Until Kevin Pietersen learns that cricket is a team game and every participant has to temper his own excesses, his value to England will remain only minimal.
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Murray is a danger but today is a real test [Jul. 1st, 2009|11:46 am]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
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He still tells it like it is, punches out his views as though he were despatching a mis-timed cross-court lob at the net.
 
Abe Segal, a former Wimbledon singles quarter finalist, remains one of South African tennis' greatest characters and shrewdest analysers. A few hours before Briton Andy Murray's last 16 Wimbledon battle with Stanislas Wawrinka, Segal told anyone interested "Murray could have trouble with this guy."
 
Soon after Murray scrambled into the quarter finals in a tight 5-set game, Segal said "Murray was lucky to win."
 
But the former South African doubles maestro still rates the Scot highly as one of the best in the men's business. "He has a lot of guts and he gutsed it out alright against Wawrinka. He's got a great head on him, has one of the best backhands in the business and a great serve. That gets him out of a lot of trouble.
 
"What makes him so dangerous is, he can alter his pace so cleverly on his backhand shots. His constant variation of pace is good. That's a real strength; not too many can do that. Also, he wins a lot of the long rallies because he plays them very cleverly.
 
"And he reads the game as well as anyone in the world. Different things make different ‘greats' but Murray has a great way of understanding the game. He plays the big points very well, he's a big player and he's got plenty of ‘ticker'. He doesn't panic when down on serve, as the statistics showed against Wawrinka. He had 15 break points against Murray's serve and won only three. That's real composure for you by Murray."
 
But Segal believes the tough 5 set clash with Wawrinka could have taken a lot out of the Briton ahead of his quarter final meeting with Juan Carlos Ferrero later today. "He got very tired against Wawrinka, probably due to the humidity. He ran a hell of a lot so unless he is extraordinarily fit, Ferrero could beat him.
 
"I know Murray won when they met at Queens but this is Wimbledon, something else. Ferrero is playing very well and he has as good ground strokes as anyone. His backhand down the line is impressive."
 
Segal believes Murray has one weakness which he must rectify in his game to become a Wimbledon champion. "His forehand breaks down quite often and he hits it too short. Anyone who is a good volleyer can punish those shorts balls easily. That's why someone like Roger Federer would beat him. He must learn to hit his forehand a lot deeper."
 
Segal accepts Murray's mainly baseline game but he warns "The greatest baseline player in the world will never beat even an average net rusher. In our day, there were so many great volleyers and you could never get away with standing back and just hitting.
 
"What Murray does, he does very well. The strange thing is, when he does volley, he's impressive with good touch. But the way he plays right now he probably won't change."
 
Today's men's singles quarter final line up pits Lleyton Hewitt against Andy Roddick, Murray against Ferrero, Tommy Haas against Novak Djokovic and big serving Ivo Karlovic against Roger Federer.
 
Segal's tips ? "Haas could beat Jokovic and Hewitt could get past Roddick. Murray and Ferrero will be tight but I might just go for Ferrero. And I'd back Federer to handle Karlovic's big serve and win. For me, Federer is still the guy to beat but you never know how conditions will be."
 
And the standard today? "It's enormously high. For me, the only thing that's disappointing is the players don't come to the net that often. I like to see that variety which is why I like watching Federer so much."
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The Lions remain unconvincing [Jun. 16th, 2009|04:49 pm]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
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Played 6 won 6...
 
But who on earth is going to be convinced by the manner of the Lions performances in their now completed build-up programme to Saturday's 1st Test against South Africa in Durban?
 
Unless the Springboks are going to be as rusty as an old garden gate because they've had three or four weeks without a competitive game, the 2009 Lions are in for one hell of a shock at the ABSA stadium on Saturday. The pace, dynamism and precision the Springboks normally bring to Test match rugby will break over these Lions' heads like some tropical storm. And the Lions still look totally unprepared for what lies ahead.
 
This was another stuttering, stumbling, unconvincing performance by the tourists. By the end, they had just about established clear water between themselves and the enthusiastic, committed but limited locals. But yet again, as has been the case for most of this tour, there was none of the authority, class and poise you expect from a Lions touring team.
 
Not until Wels h referee Nigel Owens gifted them a penalty try 12 minutes from the end, could Ian McGeechan's side be sure of victory. It was a shoddy, unconvincing performance and there are worrying weaknesses in this squad's play.
 
Chief among them is the breakdown where the Lions again conceded a stream of penalties, even from a northern hemisphere referee. Some of the offences committed were just dumb, stu pid – elementary errors which top class players ought to be able to purge from their game. But apparently not these Lions.
 
Players dived over the top off their feet, handled in the rucks, entered through the side and failed to move away after the tackle. This was a litany of errors that ought to have no part in professional players' make-up. Yet game after game in the build-up to Saturday's Test, the Lions have continued to concede penalties for these simple offences.
 
A few individuals had games to remember at the impressive new Port Elizabeth stadium. Keith Earls looked much more of a threat from full-back and ran some clever, penetrating lines on the counter attack. Simon Shaw worked like a Trojan up front and the Lions scrum 20 was overwhelmingly superior, culminating in their penalty try after the Southern Kings had collapsed a series of scrums near their own line. Ronan O'Gara reminded us of his tactical acumen, too, although for me, he has not done enough to shift Stephen Jones from the Test No. 10 jersey.
 
But most of the Lions play was sloppy, loose and too individualistic. Normally, you could say that this was clea rly the tourists midweek side, an obvious 2nd XV, but on this tour, so McGeechan has assured us, that is not so. Thus, every player yesterday, in theory at least, was still tilting at a Test place. Ye Gods ! I wouldn't rush to pick any of them in a Test side to play the world champions, unless I had to.
 
The plethora of mistakes was alarming, the disjointed nature of so much of 20the Lions play an on-going concern. By this stage of the tour, after six matches, you would expect a solid formula, a steely, committed base off which the Lions would go smoothly through the gears. Yet there was nothing of that nature on show yesterday. They allowed themselves to be dragged into an unholy scrap, a big physical exercise, because they lacked the class to rise above the physicality of the locals' challenge.
 
Again, the Lions dominated possession but utterly failed to stamp their authority and boss the play. They turned over ball throughout the game and watching Springbok coach Peter de Villiers must have found it hard to suppress a smile at the potential havoc his fast, dynamic back row men seem capable of achieving in Saturday's Test.
 
Four days now separate the Lions from the 1st Test. It may well be that the Springboks, by their own absurd policy of keeping all the Test players wrapped in cotton wool and inactive for weeks, have inadvertently closed the gap between themselves and these Lions.
 
But you have to suspect that, if the 'Boks produce anything near their best form, they will be far too good for these Lions.
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England's T20 victory highlights wicket-keeper conundrum [Jun. 15th, 2009|02:08 pm]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
England were given a stark, powerful reminder of the basics of cricket in their T20 win over India.
 
James Foster's superb stumping which removed the dangerous Indian all-rounder Yuvraj, basically decided the match. There were plenty of other key moments but none as important as Yuvraj's dismissal, especially after he had blasted the first ball he faced over long on for six.
 
If the England selectors are wise, they will take heed from that dismissal. I said last month that England just could not afford to go into the Ashes series this summer with so sub-standard a wicketkeeper as Matt Prior.
 
Now I know all the arguments: Prior bats, he makes valuable runs and you can't do without a guy like that given the likely length of England's 'tail'. Or so we have been told. But I don't buy those views, especially now that Ryan Sidebottom may have forced his way back into the selectors thinking for the Ashes.
 
Lower down the order, Stuart Broad could well become a genuine all-rounder and Sidebottom can certainly bat. Graham Onions has made some valuable runs down there, too.  And Foster himself is perfectly capable of getting some valuable scores. Maybe not as many big runs as Prior but look at the positives of picking Foster.
 
The nightmare scenario, of Prior dropping someone like Ricky Ponting who then goes on to make 150 or even 200, is far, far less likely. Foster is a class act behind the wicket, as his stumping of Yuvraj reminded everyone. You cannot put a price on such high quality glove work.
 
Dismissing the Aussies twice is what will decide the Ashes, far more so than the runs England make.  They could rack up 5 or 600 each time they bat but if they can't bowl out the Australians and don't take their chances in the field, they have no hope of winning games. That is where
Foster comes in. He can snatch a wicket out of nowhere and nothing, as Sunday's match against India proved.
 
To me, you simply cannot leave out your best wicketkeeper in favour of a guy who drops catches, can't collect the ball tidily and is at best erratic behind the wicket. 
 
Foster has made a compelling case for his inclusion.
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Kevin Pietersen's worth knows no boundaries [Jun. 8th, 2009|12:42 pm]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
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Whether he was standing on one leg and unable to take many of the short, sharp singles that might have been on offer, Kevin Pietersen again reminded England forcefully of his value to the team in any form of the game.
 
Pietersen's 58 off just 38 balls in the T-20 match against Pakistan on Sunday was vivid confirmation of the old adage that form is temporary, class permanent.
 
One factor was demonstrated with brutal clarity: England cannot afford to do without Pietersen, Achilles injury notwithstanding, in this summer's Ashes series. If the Australians are to be matched, never mind  beaten, England are going to need their only world class batsman. A rich haul of five fours and three sixes against Pakistan confirmed that Pietersen bats in a different world to most of his colleagues.
 
What makes the South African born player so invaluable  is the confidence and yes, in part, arrogance that clearly infuses his whole being. The best players have always had that, a natural disdain for the journeymen who must plod in their wake. That is their genius and it remains as it always did an essential part of their make-up.
 
Pietersen can change a game, any game, within the space of an hour or less. His brutal power makes him a lethal danger to any opposition for bowlers, good and bad, can be made to look fools when confronted with his strength, touch and artistry.  At times, these innovative qualities can drive you mad with frustration, as when he throws his wicket away in an international match on 96 or some such score. But true genius was always a flawed diamond to a certain degree.  Yet it still sparkles brighter than the duller stones.
 
To suggest that England might not need the likes of Pietersen and Freddie Flintoff against Australia, as some foolish scribes have done recently, is to reveal a flaw in the logical thinking process. To beat any Australian team at anything, cricket, rugby, tiddlywinks et al, requires a special mindset. Those with a brazen, arrogant confidence in their own ability are an essential element of that process. Without them, the mundane proliferate and Australian teams rarely lose to the mundane.
 
You can bet that England captain Andrew Strauss is not one of those privately believing that Pietersen is not a ‘must' in his team for the 1st Ashes Test in Cardiff. Strauss won't want to go into any of this summer's  contests against the Aussies without the player who  is the most naturally skilled stroke maker in the England side, bar none.
 
For Pietersen's confidence, his ability in himself and belief that the team in which he plays can win no matter who they are playing is the kind of infectious quality so vital to success. In a two horse  race, one side always has a chance. But in reality, England have little serious prospect of beating Australia this summer unless Kevin Pietersen is at the heart of their batting.
 
Sunday at The Oval didn't reveal that, it merely confirmed it.
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One game too far for United [May. 28th, 2009|11:21 am]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
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At times, it was like sitting in the maestro's studio and watching the great Velasquez filling a canvas.
 
The touches were exquisite, the style mesmerising. The football played by Barcelona in Rome was worthy of European Champions.
But what was equally interesting was that, while Barcelona out-played Manchester United in the Champions League final, Pep Guardiola had clearly out-coached Sir Alex Ferguson.
 
Guardiola's tactics meant that United were completely shut down in Rome's Olympico  Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, their twin threats up front, were neutered, their threat fully anticipated and contained. All this in Guardiola's first season as Barcelona coach, a year in which he has led the great Catalan club to the Spanish League title, the Spanish Cup and now the UEFA Champions League.
 
This was not just a win but an overwhelming triumph for Barcelona. They had style, elegance, pace, poise and panache. United never began to penetrate the workmanlike Barca side, the first minutes excepted, and their measured stride was rarely disturbed.
 
Perhaps it was just one game too far for United at the end of a long, hard season.  Once Barcelona had scored early on, Samuel  Eto'o slipping the ball inside Edwin van der Saar's near post, United could never disrupt United's flow. United spent most of the game chasing shadows, chasing the ball and chasing their increasingly forlorn hopes. They never once looked capable of turning the tide and Barcelona's crucial second goal, scored inevitably by Lionel Messi, settled it long, long before the end.
 
United's impotence was a surprise.  But they looked strangely flat, seemingly finding it difficult to match both Barcelona's control and their style. There was only one team who played in a way that resembled European Champions and that was the clear winners on the night.
 
Regrets for United? Of course there will be.  They just never got into the game in the Roman amphitheatre. That will hurt most.
But a third successive English Premier League title is not to be sniffed at, never mind the World Club Champions crown, and maybe that mighty Premier League effort in the end told on United and their doubtless weary players.
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The stage is set for a European classic [May. 27th, 2009|10:53 am]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
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Rome is a fine setting for the Champions League final, which takes place tonight.

And you can hardly argue that Manchester United against Barcelona isn’t a suitable match for a final.
 
Of course, Chelsea should have been there, robbed of a return to the final only by a grossly incompetent referee whom hopefully we will never see again on the big stage.
 
Everyone makes a huge fuss about neutrality when it comes to a referee but ask Chelsea if they’d have preferred the bungling Norwegian or someone else. I bet that, with hindsight, they’d have taken a referee who lived a couple of hundred metres from the entrance to the Nou Camp stadium, just as long as he was efficient.
 
But having said all that, European football has got the climax to its major competition that the world wants to see tonight. And I mean the world. This match is watched in all corners of the globe, live in New York bars, in Australia and throughout Asia.
 
In 1999, when Manchester United played Bayern Munich in the final and memorably won it with those two dramatic late goals just as they were tying the colours of the German club onto the trophy, I watched the game live in South Africa. I was in Durban on business and crammed into a little bar just off the sea-front, together with packs of ex-pats. The night was exciting and raucous.
 
Going even further back, I remember the 1975 final between Bayern Munich and Leeds United in Paris. That was some night. A Bayern team of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier confronted a Leeds outfit that contained legends like Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and Johnny Giles at the Parc des Princes. Only trouble was, the Leeds fans were there, of course……
 
Enraged by the decisions of a French referee, the Yorkshire club’s supporters started their complaints by ripping off the strong, flat plastic seats in one stand and launching them onto the pitch like Frisbees. The riot police who came trotting out proved a tempting target and one officer went down like he’d been shot.
 
Then they started fires in the stand behind one goal. Afterwards, when we finally emerged from the stadium, Bayern having won 2-0, our eyes fell upon a row of black, official Citroens which had been parked down the road outside. Every one was now standing on its roof.
 
If you whispered anything in English that night in Paris, you had no chance of getting a meal ...
 
So we should be grateful Leeds are nowhere near Europe in football terms nowadays. But we have to hope the supporters of United and Barcelona behave themselves.
 
Beyond doubt, this year’s final will benefit from the presence of Barcelona. This is a club that, like Manchester United, espouses the virtues of good football. They play to attack and they attack to win.
 
It should be a cracking contest and United should win it because they have the more rounded side, strong in every department. Injuries and suspensions may weaken Barcelona at the back. But in any final you never know and this should be a classic.
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The circus that is the Monaco Grand Prix [May. 21st, 2009|11:43 am]
Peter Bills' Wide World of Sport
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A forest of steel has been assembled. Stealthily, surreptitiously, a new city of scaffolding has been built around one of the world's favourite international playgrounds, Monte Carlo.
 
The famous harbour, where vast ocean-going luxury yachts vie for space alongside each other and the tourists stroll, captivated by the overt examples of billionaire wealth, has been transformed. The steel stands and viewing platforms have grown up, almost like metal mushrooms, to cater for the thousands who will flock into the tiny Principality of Monaco on Sunday for the 67th running of the famous Monaco Grand Prix.
 
It's the most famous race on the year's motor racing calendar. Princes mingle with Lords; billionaires of doubtful vintage are left to view the flying cars from the sanctuary of their yachts moored in the harbour.
 
The Monaco Grand Prix weekend represents one of the premier selling periods of the entire year for a Champagne house like Bollinger or Moet Chandon. The luxury yachts nudge close alongside one another to get the best view; the entire Principality is transformed for the occasion.
 
Monaco on Grand Prix weekend is a huge money making exercise. A room at the swank Hotel de Paris or Hermitage hotel for a single night isn't possible. Rentals are for the week or long weekend and they run into hundreds of thousands of euros. For those fortunate enough to live in the Principality who own apartments overlooking the circuit, it is bonanza time. They can let their apartment for the 4-day spectacular for equally heady amounts of money, some up to £40,000 (nearly R600,000). Business at the famous Casino, booms.
 
Monaco undergoes a radical alteration each year for this event. Building work starts in early April, as the whole centre of Monte Carlo is specially altered for the race.
 
Private cars are banned from the centre for the four days of racing. Street parking, even in roads away from the actual circuit, is impossible. On race day, trains offer just about the only route into Monte Carlo and the Ferrari fans will pour across the Italian border, just 20 minutes away at Ventimiglia, bringing a sea of red flags.
 
At non-Grand Prix time in Monaco, a stroll around the famous harbour is an absolute delight. You can stop and buy international newspapers from every European country, many of which especially the English daily newspapers are printed daily along the coast in Marseille. Sitting reading them over a cup or two of coffee in the sunshine is a popular past-time outside any of the open cafes that overlook the harbour.
 
But as the Grand Prix nears, the cafes are closed, their view and access obliterated by the steel scaffolding specially erected as a spectacular viewing platform for thousands of fans.
 
Not even the International School of Monaco tries to compete on Grand Prix weekend. The school closes down early for half term because, as secretary Angela Godfrey explains “We just cannot work while it is on. You cannot hear yourself think for the noise.”
 
Those doing exams have had to relocate to a nearby, sound proofed hotel.
 
Of course, Monaco is the most chic of all the locations on the F1 Grand Prix circuit for myriad reasons. Royalty, elegance, cachet, luxury hotels, designer shops, multi million pound yachts and motor boats on the harbour: it is a unique, beautiful destination. For the elegant hotels that overlook the Mediterranean, the weekend offers a financial killing with prices sky high. There is no lack of demand for the rooms.
 
Personalities and celebrities abound all year in Monaco but on F1 weekend they gather in their thousands. Chelsea footballers like John Terry and Frank Lampard watched the 2007 race from the huge yacht of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovitch moored in the harbour; David Beckham is a regular visitor and Luis Figo strolled among the crowds last year. Many F1 drivers, past and present, have their homes in Monaco, film stars likewise.
 
The huge income generated from the F1 weekend helps keep the Principality financially robust throughout the year. The event offers not just finance but huge excitement and international renown.
 
But when the last roars of the engines have died away and, in a few weeks time, the last of the temporary stands have been dismantled, the pleasures of Monaco will return. The stroll around the harbour and view from the coffee shops will once again be restored.
 
And for that, most of the locals probably heave a sigh of relief.
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