How to watch, start time, when’s it on, tale of the tape, everything you need to know, boxing

With the highly anticipated return to the boxing ring between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. just over 24 hours away, the world is eager to see what the two ageing champions still have.

Both champions throughout their careers, Jones Jr.’s career ended two years ago, while Tyson hasn’t fought in 15 years.

Watch Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jnr only on Main Event, available on Foxtel and Kayo on Sunday 29 November at 1pm AEDT. ORDER NOW >

While there has been plenty of talk that it’s just an exhibition, both camps have been hyping a knockout.

But it appears to be that very reason that fellow former heavyweight champion George Foreman has labelled Tyson’s attempt to get back into the ring “temporary insanity”.

Foreman knows all about time away from the ring, having taken nearly 10 years off during his career, before becoming the oldest heavyweight champ in history at the age of 45 in 1998.

Speaking to Yahoo Sports, Foreman predicted Tyson’s decade and a half out of the ring will show.

“It’s temporary insanity. I liken it to a guy who wants to get on a boat and go out to sea. It seems like so much fun, so peaceful, so he wants to get out there and do it,” he said.

“Then he gets out there and the big waves start coming and the sea is rough and it’s raining and the wind is blowing and he asks himself, ‘Lord, why did I ever do this?’

“It’s happened to so many of us. And you realise you should have stayed home on the dry land where everything is nice and safe.

“The thing that is hard when you start to think of coming back, you remember what you could do back in the day.

“But you have to reclaim that hardness you once had and the timing. That’s what you lose after so many years away and it’s so hard to get back.”

Tyson has left the world stunned in the lead up to the fight, showing off an incredible physique.


The fight was originally down to take place in September, but was pushed back due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It will now take place on Sunday, November 29 with the coverage beginning at 1pm (AEDT).


Eager fans can book the fight through Main Event for $59.95, with the fight also able to be booked through Kayo for those without Foxtel.

The PPV purchase allows access to Kayo until 3rd December at 11:59:59PM AEDT and can be made even without a separate Kayo subscription.

Watch Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jnr only on Main Event, available on Foxtel and Kayo on Sunday 29 November at 1pm AEDT. ORDER NOW >



Age: 54

Record: 50-6 (44 knockouts)

Titles: WBC heavyweight (1986-90); WBA and IBF heavyweight (1987-90); WBC heavyweight (1996); WBA heavyweight (1996)

Home Country: Brooklyn, New York, USA

Pro Debut: 1985

Last Fight: 2005 (L Vs Kevin McBride, Round 6 retirement)

Height: 178cm

Reach: 180cm

Stance: Orthodox


Age: 51

Record: 66-9 (47 knockouts)

Titles: IBF middleweight (1993-94), IBF super middleweight (1994-96; WBC light heavyweight (1997); WBC light heavyweight (1997-2003); WBA light heavyweight (1998-2003); WBA heavyweight (2003-04); WBA and WBC light heavyweight (2003-04)

Home Country: Pensacola, Florida, USA

Pro Debut: 1989

Last Fight: 2018 (W Vs Scott Sigmon, unanimous decision)

Height: 180cm

Reach: 188cm

Stance: Orthodox


– No knockouts allowed

– No judges ringside scoring the bout, WBC (Christy Martin, Vinny Pazienza and Chad Dawson) will judge fight remotely

– No official winner will be declared

– Eight two-minute rounds

– Fighters will wear 12 oz gloves

– Fight will be stopped if either suffers a bad cut


Main card

Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. — Heavyweight exhibition

Jake Paul vs. Nate Robinson — Cruiserweight

Badou Jack vs. Blake McKernan — Light Heavyweight

Viddal Riley vs. Rashad Coulter — Cruiserweight

Preliminary card

Jamaine Ortiz vs. Nahir Albright — Lightweight

Irvin Gonzalez vs. Edward Vasquez — Featherweight

Juiseppe Cusumano vs. Nick Jones — Heavyweight

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Rotterdam commuter tram ‘Saved by a Whale’s Tale’ after derailment

An elevated tram ran past the end of its tracks in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, but instead of plunging 10 metres to the ground, it came to rest delicately on top of a statue of a whale’s tail.

The conductor emerged shocked but unharmed and there were no passengers on board.

The statue, coincidentally called Saved by a Whale’s Tale, had not been intended to actually save a train.

The tram crashed through stop barriers at the end of the station in the town of Spijkenisse, on the southern edge of Rotterdam, early Monday morning (local time).

The station is the final stop on the metro line.

The suspended tram car could be seen by passers-by in the streets below.

It created such a stir locally that authorities urged sightseers to stay away, adding that coronavirus restrictions were in force.

Getting the tram down will be tricky, local authorities said.(AP: Peter Dejong)

Even so, some 50 people were at the scene as engineers tried to work out how to stabilise and then remove the train amid strengthening winds.

“A team of experts is investigating how we can make it safe and get it down,” Carly Gorter, a spokeswoman for the local security authority, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s tricky.”

The architect who designed the sculpture, Maarten Struijs, told Dutch broadcaster RTL he was pleased that it likely saved the life of the driver.

“I’m surprised it’s so strong,” he said.

Authorities launched an investigation into how the train could plow through the barrier at the end of the rail tracks.


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Data and governance – The sad tale of Britain’s Government Digital Service | Britain

ON NOVEMBER 18th 2015 Barack Obama wrote to Mike Bracken, the boss of the Government Digital Service (GDS), a small part of the Cabinet Office, thanking Mr Bracken for his help in the development of the United States Digital Service, which had been modelled on the GDS. The work that Mr Bracken and GDS had done was “outstanding”, Mr Obama wrote, adding that he trusted Mr Bracken took “pride in the difference you have made thus far”. The following year, Britain rose to the top of the United Nations e-Government Development Index, a measure of how well countries are using information technologies to deliver services.

Four years later, the British government’s reputation as a data manager is not quite what it was. It has slipped to seventh place in the UN league, and there have been mishaps at home. A £495m recruitment system for the army did not work well. An effort to develop a customised contact tracing app for covid-19, ignoring the resources provided by the mobile-phone operating-systems makers, Apple and Google, had to be shut down over the summer. Worst of all, it emerged earlier this month that part of the digital infrastructure for the test-and-trace system, which shuttled data between labs and teams of contact tracers, was relying on—and misusing—Excel spreadsheets. As a consequence of the limitations of that software, not designed for use of this sort, 15,841 positive cases had not been passed on for contact tracing. The system is still struggling to keep up with the rising number of cases. In mid-October, it managed to contact only 80% of those who tested positive, and reached only 60% of their identified contacts.

Managing this sort of data is just what the GDS was created to help the government with. So what went wrong?

Founded in 2010 by Francis (now Lord) Maude at the suggestion of Martha Lane Fox, the government’s “digital champion”, GDS made life easier for citizens in myriad small ways. It enabled Britons to use straightforward, cleanly designed websites to register to vote, pay car tax, sign up for benefits or register for lasting power of attorney. The software written to facilitate this was published under open-source licences, meaning it could be freely reused not just across the British state, but by any government. Other techy democracies like New Zealand and Israel copied the code.

GDS’s early work mostly involved the peripheries of government, but by 2015 it was flushed with success, and dreaming bigger dreams. It wanted to start writing software that could be shared across departments to perform common functions. In the old system, departments had their own HR functions, for instance, running on large, expensive IT systems and reporting to the department’s permanent secretary. Instead, GDS wanted departments to use simple, cheap code to build systems which reported to central government. The concept, which GDS called government-as-a-platform, was that since citizens do not care which department their services come from, just that they work well, the organisational structures ought to reflect that in pursuit of efficient delivery.

The decline

One important vehicle for GDS’s ambitions was a piece of software called Submit. It was designed, says Mr Bracken, so that “anyone in government could create an online tool in three clicks to send or receive information”. One of its main purposes was to replace shoddy data-management practices. Instead of emailed attachments and forms, different parts of government could send each other data using secure web pages designed for the job.

Submit needed a departmental sponsor, but it never got one. The GDS was not popular with permanent secretaries, the bosses of departments, on whose fiefs it trampled. GDS employees—referred to as “blue-jean kids” by one permanent secretary—would agree on a project with a department, only to find that the department launched its own version of the service soon afterwards. GDS was empowered to restructure the procurement of IT systems across government, relying on its staffers’ technical nous to put better standards in place, but often departments would ignore its advice and buy whatever big, expensive systems they wanted.

Permanent secretaries lobbied the government to deprive GDS of powers over spending and standards of service, arguing that such matters should be under their control. Two attempts were made to persuade David Cameron, then prime minister, to remove Lord Maude.

It was understandable that permanent secretaries should have been hostile to the GDs, for it undermined their autonomy. It also tended, says a civil servant who worked with it at the time, to oversimplify the complex tasks departments have to perform, and its web-only approach terrified ministries that depended on reliable mainframes.

After the 2015 election Lord Maude was replaced by Matt Hancock, now health secretary, and the GDS lost the political backing which was crucial to its ability to work across departmental boundaries. Mr Bracken, who is now a partner at Public Digital, a consultancy, left his job as GDS’s boss soon after. Lord Maude, who has left politics and is now a consultant, says GDS has been “hollowed out” since 2015.

There are still bright spots in Britain’s digital governance. The system which runs universal credit, the main out-of-work benefit, rebuilt by a team led by GDS coders after its initial deployment ended in failure in 2013, has performed well under stress. Notify, a GDS service which makes it easy for any government body to send emails, letters and texts to citizens, has sent 1.88bn messages from thousands of government bodies since it was launched in 2017. There is also widespread praise for the work of the Treasury, which GDS barely touched, and which has managed to distribute money to small businesses across Britain relatively seamlessly, supporting an economy wracked by covid-19.

Now there is new impetus behind the work of centralising and digitising the machinery of government, for it has political backing from Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser. The sidelining of GDS lends support to his belief in the civil service’s lethal effect on innovation.

Mr Cummings has established a data-policy unit in Number 10. A dashboard which GDS created to measure the digital performance of different departments died in 2017; Mr Cummings wants to get performance data flowing from departments to central government again. He has told departments that they must embed analytics software into their online services, and funnel those data into GDS, so it can see how services are working.

There have already been standoffs between Mr Cummings and senior civil servants over these data flows, and the control they threaten to wrest from powerful hands. It is a sign that the nerds, sidelined for half a decade, are elbowing their way back to the centre.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “How the government lost its nerds”

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An AFL boundary umpire’s tale of life in a hub, grand final nerves and a footy year like no other

My partner and I left Melbourne early in the morning of the first Monday in July.

It felt a bit like a mystery flight because it was only a short time before we left that we actually knew where we were going.

We were off for what I thought was going to be a few weeks of umpiring AFL footy in one of the interstate hubs before matches would return to Melbourne.

Now 111 days, 25 coronavirus tests, six hotels and 1,000 kilometres of running later, I’m almost ready to head home.

But not before one last mission — today’s grand final.

It’s been an extraordinary journey of ups and downs as I played my small part in trying to keep this game loved by so many Australians going.

Charter flights, COVID tests and round and round ovals

Myself and my partner were both “working from home” in the various hotels we stayed in.(Supplied)

My first task back in early July was trying to organise “working from home” from an interstate hotel at very short notice.

My daytime job is as a journalist in the ABC’s Asia Pacific Newsroom and, fortunately enough, my boss was very accommodating.

One of the early bizarre experiences came as we boarded the charter flight from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport.

Instead of going through the main part of the airport, we waited with hundreds of other AFL players, umpires and staff at a private terminal before wandering straight across the tarmac and onto the plane.

In these COVID times, there’s no food on planes and people are spread out as much as possible.

We checked into our first hotel in Southport on Queensland’s Gold Coast with dozens of other umpires and their families.

With us all sharing the same floor in the hotel and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together, it was very quickly starting to feel like Year 8 camp with all your mates.

There was no leaving the grounds of the hotel under the strict 14-day quarantine rules.

As a boundary umpire, a high level of running fitness is key to the job.

But with limited space, it meant endless laps of the hotel oval.

My boundary colleague Michael Marantelli — who is also umpiring the grand final today — set the record with 21.1 continuous kilometres around the oval during one of his runs.

After one week in quarantine, my first match day had finally arrived.

I was preparing for a Saturday afternoon game at the Gold Coast stadium between Fremantle and St Kilda.

But just before leaving for the match, my spot was suddenly in doubt — the result of my COVID test hadn’t arrived and under no circumstances was any player or official involved in matches allowed to participate without recording a negative result in the lead-up.

Some good work by our hub manager meant he was able to get onto the lab and confirm the result was negative.

AFL umpire Ian Burrows getting a coronavirus test.
The last of about 25 coronavirus tests I had across the 2020 season.(Supplied)

COVID tests had become one of the defining features of season 2020.

We were tested before every match and, if lucky enough, sometimes even a couple of times a week.

By my count, I’d racked up about 25 tests over the last few months — some less enjoyable than others.

The occasional one drew some blood, while my favourites were with one particular guy who was quick and would say “now just a short one up the nostril”.

Often there would be a little bit of jostling in the lines to try and position yourself to get one of the “friendly” testers.

A few weeks turns to a few months

Ian Burrows and partner Sofie.
The 2020 season has been like no other, requiring us to spend much of it in hotels as part of AFL “hubs”.(Supplied)

After one week at Southport, logistical reasons meant it was time to move onto another hotel just down the road.

As with the previous hotel, we shared our accommodation with a couple of footy clubs and families and partners of players and officials.

With coronavirus cases in Melbourne continuing to soar, people gathered around TVs on Wednesday that week as AFL boss Gillon McLachlan announced there would be no more footy in Melbourne for the foreseeable future.

Suddenly, what I thought was going to be a few weeks away was looking more like a few months.

By the start of the next week, we’d arrived at our third hotel, this time in Broadbeach, where we would be pretty settled for the next few months.

Hub life meant limiting your interaction with the public, no sitting down in cafes, restaurants or the like, always social distancing and following strict rules on which umpire colleagues you could hang out with.

In fact, the AFL’s hub rule book ran 17 pages long. And for good reason.

A lot had gone into working with governments and other stakeholders to make sure the season could continue safely.

While being away from home for such a long time and following such tight rules wasn’t always easy, we were fully aware of the hard times so many other Australians were going through, particularly those in Melbourne.

But if we could help keep footy on TV and in the stadiums for the fans, we were happy.

Three matches in just over a week, and a snake encounter

Boundary umpire Ian Burrows, left, is presented with the match ball by umpire Brett Rosebury.
Before moving to Queensland I was presented with the match ball after my 300th AFL game earlier this year — one of the last games in Melbourne for the season.(Supplied)

The next three months of hub life, like 2020 in general, were full of twists and turns and unexpected moments.

Never before had I umpired three matches in just over a week but that’s what came with the “footy frenzy” periods of the season where games were played every day.

Training in this COVID world was a whole different story as well.

No more big group sessions on the track and meetings in theatrettes, but instead running by yourself and coaching over Zoom.

There was one running session I did along a gravel path in a bushy area near Surfers Paradise that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

Moving along at just over 3-minute-kilometre pace, I was puffing hard and keeping a close eye on my watch.

Turns out I should have been keeping an even closer eye on the path, because I was centimetres away from stomping on a snake.

I noticed it at the very last second, as it did me. I jumped and it jumped.

Luckily we both escaped unscathed — other than a soaring heart rate that I struggled to bring back down.

A night grand final, outside Victoria

By mid-October, I’d umpired all 18 home and away rounds, with trips to Adelaide and Cairns in between, and three finals.

But the most nervous wait of all was still to come.

The last Sunday before grand final day is always an anxious day for umpires — we’re waiting to find out who has been selected for the biggest match of all.

As soon as I saw the coach’s name pop up on my phone late in the afternoon, my heart rate was again going through the roof.

And as soon as I answered I was immediately listening for hints in his voice of good or bad news to come.

Fortunately for me, it was good news this time.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in a few epic grand finals before, including the 2010 draw.

But never has the finale been played outside of Victoria. And never before at night.

This one is going to be special. And I reckon it might just be another classic.

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AFL Grand Final 2020 | A tale of two coaches: Chris Scott and Damien Hardwick among the best

Scott has always bristled at both external and internal criticism that he focuses too much on the elite few on his list at the expense of younger, developing players and victory would probably put paid to that. Not to mention the so-called “lazy journalism” focusing upon his poor record in finals.

And it will silence the vocal Geelong elite who have never accepted the narrative put forward by their educated long-serving coach, who will pass Mark Thompson next season to stand second behind Reg Hickey.

Certainly this year, off the back of a 2019 season in which he was too often distracted away from his primary focus, there has been no complaining from Scott as he placed coaching as his only football priority.

COVID-19 has meant the Cats have been embedded in NSW, Western Australia and Queensland with not a word of dissent. Organisers placed Geelong as close to the top in terms of co-operation and acclimatisation – a far cry from the club and coach that was still complaining into September last year about being robbed of finals at Kardinia Park.

Scott observers note that with time and experience the losses only hit harder and losing to Richmond in the 2019 preliminary final shattered the coach and has been one driving force for the team all season. Senior among those observers predict that alone could give Geelong the edge on Saturday night in what looms as a 50-50 contest between two of the game’s genuine heavyweights.

Damien Hardwick came into coaching, unlike Scott, mistrusting and disdainful of the media but laid himself publicly bare when he went back to basics and reinvented himself at the end of 2016. For him demons of another kind threatened to defeat both him and the Tigers in the early weeks of return-to-play over May and June.

Hardwick passed Tom Hafey several weeks ago as Richmond’s longest-serving coach and a third flag in an 18-team competition – and fifth as player or coach – places him in rarefied air not only at Richmond but at the helm of the game.

Damien Hardwick and Chris Scott.Credit:Getty Images

He entered 2020 full of optimism. The Tigers had prepared over the pre-season as strongly as they ever had and the premiership window remained wide open. But the system described as the best-drilled in the competition was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

So was Hardwick, who could not initially accept that his well-oiled plans were being dismantled by forces beyond his control. The coach took his frustration out on all manner of things. He even blamed the MCC curators for the dew on the ground after the Tigers drew with Collingwood in round two and his on-field leaders cast doubt on their and their teammates’ willingness to leave home for an indefinite period to continue the season.

Unable to train together as a group briefly overwhelmed Hardwick and after successive losses to Hawthorn and St Kilda, the view of the Tigers hierarchy was that the team could not get out of Melbourne quick enough.

Nick Vlastuin on the eve of the 2017 grand final likened the team over the previous four seasons as a puzzle Hardwick was attempting to put together with square pieces. “It’s like we were building a puzzle but all trying to be the same shape,” he said. “Now the puzzle has started to come together because we’re all different shapes and the coaches are celebrating that and not so much talking about what we’re doing wrong.”

That’s how it was when Richmond arrived on the Gold Coast, hoping to move into the Royal Pines near Metricon Stadium but quickly adjusting to the more spartan KDV resort, where they have lived since June and where Hardwick, who had been walking on eggshells in June, became in a sense the boss of the entire club as it adapted to life in exile.

Interspersed among the Tigers’ significant off-field missteps, one of which has probably cost them a second ruckman in the grand final in Callum Coleman-Jones, have been occasions like the coach’s 48th birthday in August and the expressions upon his players’ faces at the presentation of a cake.

The Tigers team has come together despite the lengthy absences for family reasons of Shane Edwards and Bachar Houli – who both trained over two months in Melbourne with a group of 10 teammates under the astute gaze of assistant coach Sam Lonergan, certain to be promoted next season as Hardwick loses yet another pair of assistants in Justin Leppitsch and Craig McRae, who has been poached by Alastair Clarkson.

For the second successive year the Tigers have had lengthy injuries to key players and notably Toby Nankervis, Dion Prestia and to a lesser extent two-time premiership captain Trent Cotchin. The Cats also lost Gary Ablett for personal reasons. He, too, has returned in superb condition and lines up for his fourth grand final.

Both the playing and coaching careers of Hardwick and Scott have been punctuated by a combination of brutal intensity and a refusal to accept defeat along with a zeal and readiness to challenge authority.

In Hardwick’s case it was a chronic dislike of the micro-management that increasingly crept into the game over his playing career including the plethora of weekday meetings and zealous match-day preparation.

Hardwick complained so frequently about warm-ups and other training requirements that his teammates at Essendon believe he would have become a tiresome footballer if he hadn’t been so funny about it. Matthew Lloyd on 3AW last week wondered how Hardwick coped with regular meetings given how much he resisted them as a player.

And yet everyone both loved and felt safer playing with him and Lloyd points to his forced exit at the end of 2001 along with Justin Blumfield, Blake Caracella and Chris Heffernan as a major part of the club’s downfall while Kevin Sheedy agreed it was one of the worst periods of his coaching career.

Former Brisbane football boss Graeme Allan described the arrival at Brisbane of the teenaged Chris Scott along with Nigel Lappin and Justin Leppitsch as the influx that created the nucleus of one of the game’s greatest playing combinations.

Scott, a vice-captain to Michael Voss, was one of that club’s great leaders and yet his temper could be terrifying. Football staff still talk about one post-game occasion when assistant coach Gary O’Donnell took Scott, who had been reported during the match, to task. Those who entered the room attempting to settle the situation looked into Scott’s eyes and walked out.

Perhaps one of his greatest moments of leadership as a player came with his greatest disappointment on the day of the 2003 grand final when Scott, who had overcome injury, kitted up and warmed up with the team only to be forced to change back came into his club suit when the injured and heavily jabbed Lappin was deemed fit to play. Scott remained silent and never complained.

Hardwick and Scott have played against each other twice in grand finals – 2001 and 2004 – for one win each. Each have played in two premierships and one losing grand final with Hardwick having achieved premierships as a player and coach at three clubs. His performance both in the lead-up and notably the first half of Port Adelaide’s maiden AFL premiership has become part of that club’s folklore.

An interesting series of sliding doors moments involving all four 2020 preliminary final coaches began in late 2007 when outgoing Melbourne football boss Chris Fagan recommended Hardwick to the Demons coaching panel that ultimately selected Dean Bailey. Hardwick also missed out on the Essendon job that went to Matthew Knights that year.

Two years later Hardwick won the Richmond role, defeating Ken Hinkley by a whisker, and the following year Hinkley missed out again on the coaching role he had coveted at Geelong when the Cats selected Scott who was an assistant coach at Fremantle.

The Tigers sent Hardwick to Harvard at the end of 2016 – the club and coach’s annus horribilis where most of his assistants were replaced, No. 1 draft pick Brett Deledio departed and Neil Balme was recruited in to oversee the flagging football operation.

He was not overly enthusiastic about the trip and arrived having done little of the recommended preparation but famously came home with the idea to bring his team closer together with a series of group sessions kicked off by Hardwick in the 2017 pre-season where he spoke of his love for his wife Danielle.


Less than a year later Hardwick became the first premiership coach to thank his wife on the MCG dais. In what has been his toughest road to a grand final Hardwick has done it largely without his wife by his side. Sarah Scott spent four weeks at the Cats’ Southport hub but returned home with the couple’s daughter while a record number of club directors, officials and family members of players flew in.

”Mrs Hardwick” joined the Richmond coach with the couple’s two daughters for a month on the Gold Coast but returned home to be with their son when schools re-opened some weeks ago. The woman who told Hardwick back in 2016: “You’re not the man I married”; told him he had overstepped the mark in July when he criticised Sydney’s tactics after the Tigers narrow victory over the Swans.

It is not known what Danielle Hardwick made of her husband’s “crying” sledge aimed at former Melbourne player and commentator David Schwarz but the Tigers camp on the Gold Coast loved their coach’s defence of Tom Lynch. Even if it raised eyebrows at board level and was portrayed on the club’s website with the offending line deleted.

Interestingly, and despite the experience of their coaches, both Brian Cook and Brendon Gale have spent lengthy periods living in the team hubs while less experienced coaches and notably Rhyce Shaw never had the physical support of the North Melbourne CEO Ben Armafio.

Two of the game’s most respected club chiefs – and two shortlisted for the top AFL job in 2014 that went to Gillon McLachlan – the view of Cook and Gale was that their clubs’ operation was where the teams were living. And that their presence and with football bosses Simon Lloyd (Geelong) and Tim Livingstone (Richmond) took that pressure off their senior coaches who in the view of both clubs have never performed better nor been more focused upon their craft.

Teamwork, strength and talent win premierships but in a season demanding greater resilience, adaptability and experience than ever before it follows that two of the game’s all-time greats confront each other at the Gabba on Saturday night.

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The tale of Algeria’s stolen cannon and France’s cockerel

The Algerian canon in the French port of Brest with a statue of a cockerel on top of it

Algerians are hoping that a mighty bronze cannon stolen by the French nearly two centuries ago may be on its way home as part of an attempt by France to right the wrongs of its colonial past.

Built in 1542, even by today’s standards it is a gigantic weapon and was regarded for centuries as the guardian of Algiers.

To Algerians it is known as Baba Merzoug, meaning “Blessed Father”, as it protected the city, now Algeria’s capital, from countless invasions over the years.

Weighing 12 tonnes, its 7m- (22ft) long barrel pointed out towards the Mediterranean where it could fire 80kg (176lb) projectiles over a distance of 5km (three miles) towards invading ships.

A drawing showing French ambassador Jean Le Vacher about to be fired from a cannon in 1683
This incident – the shooting of the French consul from the cannon in 1683 – gave rise to its nickname “La Consulaire”

Indeed in 1683 the French consul at the time – Jean le Vacher – was shoved into the cannon and blasted from it during a failed attempt by the French navy to take the city.

To this day French military officers call the weapon “La Consulaire” after that ignominious incident.

When the French finally captured the city in 1830 – on their third attempt – they decided to remove the cannon to where it could do them no more damage.

Today it points towards the sky at a naval base in the north-western French port of Brest.

"The symbolism is not lost on Algerians - and they want the weapon returned as part of a symbolic détente in relations between the two countries"", Source: BBC's Ahmed Rouaba, Source description: , Image: A statue of a cockerel atop the Algerian cannon currently in Brest
“The symbolism is not lost on Algerians – and they want the weapon returned as part of a symbolic détente in relations between the two countries””, Source: BBC’s Ahmed Rouaba, Source description: , Image: A statue of a cockerel atop the Algerian cannon currently in Brest

Its mouth has been sealed and atop stands the proud statue of a Gallic Cockerel, one of the emblems of the French nation.

The symbolism is not lost on Algerians – and they want the weapon returned as part of a symbolic détente in relations between the two countries.

Skulls returned

Algeria gained independence from France in 1962 after a bloody seven-year war, which left a long shadow in both countries.

Their rapprochement has been slow – but has made significant progress since Emmanuel Macron became France’s president.

An Algerian man pays respect in front of the national flag-draped coffins containing the remains of 24 Algerian resistance fighters at the Palais De La Culture Moufdi Zakaria a day after they were flown in from France - July 2020
The remains of 24 resistance fighters were returned to Algeria in July

A few months before his election in 2017, he described the colonisation of the North African country as a “crime against humanity” on a visit to Algeria.

And earlier this year, France returned the remains of 24 Algerian fighters who were killed resisting French colonial forces in the 19th Century.

They had been taken to France as trophies and some of their skulls were later put on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

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The man who made it his mission to make sure Algerians did not forget about the cannon was historian Belkacem Babaci.

He campaigned on the issue from the 1990s, but sadly will not get to see the cannon’s return as he died last year.

In 2011 he was allowed to visit it in Brest and told the Algerian newspaper El Moudjahid what made the cannon so special for him.

Map: Algeria and France
Map: Algeria and France

“Since I was 12 my grandfather told me stories of a legendary cannon. These stories inspired me to conduct research and study history,” he said.

“When I touched the cannon, I felt moisture on my hands. In my imagination they were tears,” he said of his visit.

“Baba Merzoug takes us back to the age when Algeria was dominating the Mediterranean. This cannon tells about the real history of Algeria.”

‘One day you will be set free’

It was in fact Hassan Pasha, the Ottoman ruler of Algiers in the 16th Century, who commissioned the giant cannon in order to protect the city from repeated attacks by the Spanish, French and Dutch.

L: Photo of the cannon in Brest R: Close up of the plinth on which the cannon is mounted
The cannon is mounted on a decorated plinth in the naval base in Brest

A ballistic missile of its day, it was built in a foundry in Bab El Oued, a suburb of Algiers, with the help a Venetian expert.

Thanks to Babaci’s efforts, the memory of the cannon is very much alive in popular culture.

In 2008 Ahmed Bouziane wrote a famous poem in the voice of the cannon, who is “alienated, lonely away from home”.

“I am here waiting for my destiny… captive in the hand of the French,” it says.

To this day popular traditional singer Abdelkader Chercham still performs an old favourite of his imagining a conversation with Baba Merzoug.

“I told him: ‘I see you captive alienated away from home.’ He told me: ‘My wish is to be back home.’ I told him: ‘No matter how long it takes, one day you will be set free,” his lyrics say.

Change in mood

As part of Babaci’s campaign, he wrote to Algerian and French officials on numerous occasions.

French-Algerian relations:

  • 1830: France occupies Algiers

  • 1945: Pro-independence demonstrations in Setif. Thousands killed in suppression of ensuing unrest

  • 1954-1962: Algeria’s war of independence – estimates of those killed vary from between 400,000 and one million

  • 1962: Algeria becomes independent state

  • 2012: French President François Hollande acknowledges suffering caused by France’s colonisation of Algeria but stops short of an apology

  • 2017: French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron describes colonialism as “a crime against humanity” on a visit to Algeria

  • 2018: As president, Mr Macron says France admits responsibility for the torture and killing of a communist activist in Algeria in 1957

  • 2020: France returns the skulls of 24 fighters who were killed resisting colonial forces in the 19th Century

He said he had even received a positive reaction from Jacques Chirac, who was president of France from 1995 until 2007, yet over the years the position of the French military failed to budge.

In 2006 France’s then-Defence Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie again rejected the idea of returning the cannon, saying it was “part of the French military’s heritage” to which it was “very attached”.

A art's drawing showing the surrender of Emir Abdelkader in 1847
The robe worn by Algerian resistance fighter Emir Abdelkader when he surrendered in 1847 might also be returned by France

But now the head of the National Centre for Algerian Archives, Abdelmadjid Chikhi, and French historian Benjamin Stora, a specialist on the Algerian war of independence, are leading bilateral talks to resolve such issues.

Not long after this dialogue began last month, French MPs discussed returning to Algeria a hooded white garment worn by Emir Abdelkader, the man who led the struggle against the French invasion in 1830.

It is the “burnous” he wore after his surrender in 1847 – he was then held captive for five years – and is currently at the Army Museum in Paris.

This all points to a change of mood that may be the key needed to finally liberate the Algerian “prisoner of war” Baba Merzoug after 190 years.

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Excerpt: A Perfect Nightmare: A harrowing tale of business, depression and violence

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The children also learned not to speak to their father about work because that only made him more stressed. The year before the crash, George had started experiencing panic attacks that sometimes landed him in the emergency room. And through it all, he was still injecting HGH, which worsened his rages.

The more George felt like a failure at work, the more he raged. He would get a sarcastic smile, as though he could envision how he was going to have some fun being mean. He locked me out of the house at night several times, forcing me to sleep in the car, and mocked me constantly, telling me that I was stupid. Whenever that happened, my response was always the same. Fear would hijack my body: my mind would go blank, my body temperature would drop, and I would start to shiver. I would feel my lips go dry, and lick them. Here George would mimic me, licking his lips too. He’d make fun of me stuttering and not being able to follow a train of thought, which discombobulated me even more …

They say violence begets violence, and this was true of George. The more he did it, the more violent he became. His eyes would narrow, his jaw and neck would tense, and he’d puff his chest as if he was preparing to charge or hurt me. He was getting hostile to me in front of the kids. “I can’t keep doing this, George, you are exhausting me,” I’d tell him.

I have a high pain tolerance. When I was pregnant with Carter, my water broke and we were in the ER with people screaming around us. The nurse sent us away, explaining that I wasn’t in distress and was just taking up space. George insisted she check me. When she did, they discovered I was fully dilated and ready to give birth. Carter was born ten minutes later, with no epidural. One therapist told me, “You’re like a thoroughbred; you’re like the only one who could keep up with him.” It sounds like a compliment but it’s not. My ability to withstand pain without complaining allowed me to put up with far more than I should have.

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‘Emily in Paris’: Darren Star’s Millennial Fairy Tale

Younger, Star’s ongoing TV Land comedy about a 40-something posing as a 20-something, corrected Star’s course. Rather than attempt a story that tackled the theme of How Women Live Now, the series, from its debut in 2015, started leaning into the fairy-tale formula. The protagonist, Liza (Sutton Foster), gets a makeover to pass as a Millennial, and in doing so, she revives both her career and her love life. Yet Star also infuses the show with a heavy dose of reality and angst: Liza can’t neglect her duties, for instance, as a mom to a college-age daughter. That dramatic tension helps the series strike a relevant chord. “It offers, almost in spite of itself, deep insights into the culture of the moment,” my colleague Megan Garber wrote of the second season. “Because, for Liza, and for the age-obsessed universe she inhabits, youth is social standing.” The fantasy in Younger, as Garber puts it, is clearly that of “extended youth.”

Emily in Paris, on the other hand, mixes multiple fantasies. There’s the fantasy of a perfectly maintained work-life balance. Unlike Liza’s 20-something confidante Kelsey (Hilary Duff) in Younger or other Millennial characters on air today—such as the ones on The Bold Type and Good Trouble—Emily never laments having a job that affects her social life. The show portrays her ability to find inspiration for pitches through her adventures around the city as her superpower as an outsider. She’s ambitious, but not in the #girlboss way; she leaps at the opportunity to work abroad for a year, but doesn’t aim to run the firm. There’s also the fantasy of success without risk: In Younger, Liza’s lies threaten to undermine her success. Emily, however? She builds a following on Instagram, but at one point deletes and restarts the account without losing a single fan.

And finally, there’s the fantasy of indifference. The Millennial protagonists of other female-fronted shows actively deal with topical, social issues. Emily, though, doesn’t even use Twitter. The show treats every conflict with a breezy touch: Emily’s friend Mindy (Ashley Park) has money troubles and a difficult relationship with her Chinese family, but discussions about her finances and her heritage amount to little more than jokes. The finale, called “Cancel Couture,” isn’t about the source of its pun at all, but about Emily’s fashion-designer client deciding not to put on his show.

Perhaps that’s the ultimate fantasy of Emily in Paris: peace of mind. American Millennials, in reality, have been saddled with an uncertain future of economic turmoil and climate change. But Star has given Emily a lifestyle of blissful unreality—and allowed himself the privilege of dispensing with real-life matters. Sex and the City’s foursome dealt with the changing dating scene and their fears of being unmarried well into their 30s. Younger focuses on a protagonist who’s climbing the ranks of her industry, but who’s also constantly at risk of being exposed as a liar. But Emily in Paris doesn’t pretend to have any larger cultural insights; it’s just a show about a young woman confident in her future as she works her dream job in her dream city, with several romantic prospects to boot.

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