Wednesday, April 24, 2013

100 Leagues and Counting

I've been yammering on about how many venues I've been to (484 now) and also mentioning the Venue Count as I begin to plan a move back to North America, where I can finally go on a couple of really extended trips. This sort of self-indulgent scorekeeping is something that most stadium travelers do in some form or other, whether it is the number of games, venues, or some combination thereof. One aspect that I haven't seen mentioned though is the number of leagues and competitions that have been witnessed. When I counted this for myself last week, I came up with the grand total of 98, which meant that my Super Rugby visit in Perth would be my 100th league or competition. Does reaching such a milestone deserve a post? Probably not, but when has that stopped me before.

First, the rules about what counts and what doesn't. Essentially any separate league or association in which teams compete against one another can be counted only once, regardless of the location, whether it is the regular season or post-season (pre-season games never count except in baseball, where the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are special entities), or the league changes its name.

So if I see the Leafs in Toronto one year, then an NHL game in Europe the next, and a Stanley Cup Final after that, that just counts as one league. Of course, the AHL, ECHL, CHL, OHL, WHL, QMJHL, etc are all separate leagues. The World Junior Hockey Championship would count once, as would any special competition such as the Spengler Cup.

Major League Baseball is one entity, so no double counting the American and National Leagues, but each minor and independent league counts once.

NCAA sports may have separate conferences but they are meaningless as there is much inter conference competition. If you see an NCAA football game in the Big Ten and the SEC during the season and then the Sugar Bowl, that's still only one grand league. Similar with NCAA basketball and March Madness, and any other college sport.

Soccer competitions get their own special rules. I may see an English Premier League game, an FA Cup match, and a League Cup fixture and that counts as 3 leagues, because each is managed by a different entity and each features different teams. International soccer counts both the World Cup and Confederations Cup, as they are distinct events.

International cricket has 3 varieties (test, one-day, 20/20), each of which can be counted once. Domestic competitions such as the IPL and County Cricket are naturally separate.

High school and non-pro sports should be ignored, even those that are well-covered. If you want to count the Little League World Series, go ahead, but I will not. Horse racing and other events that depend mostly on the performance of animals are also not up for consideration.

Got it? Good. Here are the 106 leagues I have seen:

The Leagues

Hockey (17)
National Hockey League
American Hockey League
Central Hockey League
Southern Professional Hockey League
Ontario Hockey League
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Western Hockey League
Canadian Interuniversity Sport
Alberta Junior Hockey League
Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League
World Cup of Hockey
World Junior Hockey Championship
Asia League Ice Hockey
Central Ontario Junior B Hockey League (defunct)
Japan Hockey League (defunct)

Baseball (25)
Major League Baseball
Cactus League
International League
Pacific Coast League
Eastern League
Southern League
Texas League
California League
Carolina League
Florida State League
South Atlantic League
Midwest League
New York Penn League
Northwest League
Arizona Fall League
American Association
Frontier League
Can-Am League
Northern League
Nippon Professional Baseball
Nippon Professional Baseball Minor Leagues
Japanese Industrial League
Japanese University
Chinese Professional Baseball League (Taiwan)

Football (7)
National Football League
Canadian Football League
Canadian Interuniversity Sport
Arena Football League
Australian Football League*
West Australalian Football League*

Basketball (10)
National Basketball Association
National Basketball Development League
Canadian Interuniversity Sport
Women's National Basketball Assocation
Asean Basketball League
Philippine Basketball Association
Philippine Basketball League

Soccer (19)
World Cup
Confederations Cup
Major League Soccer
Professional Development League
English Premier League
Ligue 1
Coppa Italia
Championnat National
J League
Emperors Cup
Japanese Football League
S League
Malaysia Super League
Malaysia Cup

Rugby (6)
World Rugby Junior Championship
Super Rugby
National Rugby League
Shute Shield
Japan Top League
Rugby 7s

Cricket (4)
International Test
International ODI
International 20/20
English County Cricket

Racing (4)
Formula 1
Indy Car

Racquet Sports (4)
ATP Tour
WTA Tour
NCAA Tennis
World Table Tennis Championship

Golf (2)
NCAA Women's

Fighting (2)
One FC
Muy Thai

Volleyball (2)
Canadian Interuniversity Sport
World Volleyball Championship

Others (4)
National Lacrosse League
Winter Olympics
Japan Sumo Association
Asian Swimming Championships

*I'm including Aussie Rules in Football for simplicity.

There are a few other leagues I'd like to add to the list, mostly based in Europe, but I doubt this number will increase much over time. I'll update it here on occasion.



Friday, April 19, 2013

NFL Road Trip 2013 - The First Draft

The NFL released its schedule a couple of hours ago, so here is the annual road trip that involves all 32 home teams. Of course, I never do these but it is great fun to figure out if it is possible.

Thu, Sep 5   Baltimore at Denver         6:30
Sun, Sep 8   Green Bay at San Francisco  1:25
Mon, Sep 9   Houston at San Diego        7:15
Sun, Sep 15  Jacksonville at Oakland     1:25
Sun, Sep 22  Jacksonville at Seattle     1:25
Thu, Sep 26  San Francisco at St. Louis  7:25
Sun, Sep 29  NY Giants at Kansas City   12:00
Mon, Sep 30  Miami at New Orleans        7:30
Thu, Oct 3   Buffalo at Cleveland        8:25
Sun, Oct 6   New England at Cincinnati   1:00
Mon, Oct 7   NY Jets at Atlanta          8:30
Thu, Oct 10  NY Giants at Chicago        7:25
Sun, Oct 13  Carolina at Minnesota      12:00
Sun, Oct 20  New England at NY Jets      1:00
Mon, Oct 21  Minnesota at NY Giants      8:30
Thu, Oct 24  Carolina at Tampa Bay       8:25
Sun, Oct 27  SF at Jacksonville          1:00
Thu, Oct 31  Cincinnati at Miami         8:25
Mon, Nov 4   Chicago at Green Bay        7:25
Sun, Nov 10  Houston at Arizona          1:25
Thu, Nov 14  Indianapolis at Tennessee   8:25
Sun, Nov 17  NY Jets at Buffalo          1:00
Mon, Nov 18  New England at Carolina     8:30
Sun, Nov 24  NY Jets at Baltimore        1:00
Mon, Nov 25  San Francisco at Washington 8:30
Thu, Nov 28  Oakland at Dallas           4:30
Sun, Dec 1   New England at Houston      3:25
Sun, Dec 8   Cleveland at New England    1:00
Sun, Dec 15  Houston at Indianapolis    12:00
Mon, Dec 16  Baltimore at Detroit        8:30
Sun, Dec 22  Chicago at Philadelphia     1:00
Sun, Dec 29  Cleveland at Pittsburgh     1:00

A few long drives (22 of 500 miles or more of which 8 are over 600 miles) but overall seems quite possible at first glance.

Update: Wrong! This trip was 27,500 highway miles. I played around and found a trip under 20,000 miles, and that one I am taking, starting September 4th.



Thursday, April 18, 2013

East Fremantle Sharks 15.18 (108) at Perth Demons 16.10 (106) (Western Australian Football League) - April 14, 2013

When I planned this short trip to Perth, it was to see the AFL and Super Rugby matches. Sunday afternoon was empty, which just wouldn't do. With my return flight not until midnight, I had to find something to watch. After much searching online, I discovered the wonderfully named WAFL, which stands for the West Australian Football League. This is a semi-pro league with 9 teams based in and around Perth. It might be considered the equivalent of Independent League baseball, with some players moving on to the AFL and others coming back at the tail end of their careers, but with no direct affiliation to the larger league.

The WAFL plays four games every weekend and thankfully there was a game on Sunday afternoon at Brownes Stadium, home of the Perth Demons. Located just a few minutes from the Victoria Park rail station, it was convenient to where I was staying and therefore a no-brainer to pay a visit and add the 101st league to my list (more on that in a future post).

The stadium was originally known as Laithlan Oval, named for the suburb in which it is located. Since 2009, local dairy concern Brownes has owned the sponsorship rights, hence the new name.

All WAFL games are $15 for adults with unreserved seating. Ovals are quite large, so choosing a good seat is important. Most fans choose to sit in the upper rows of the covered section near midfield (visible beyond the posts above) but there are also benches right at field level that provide a unique view (below).

The canteen here was great, with $4 toasties my choice (a toastie is just a sandwich grilled in a press). Beer was only $6/can although you had to remain within the licensed part near the bar.

There isn’t much else to talk about here. These places can hold up to 20,000 but there were perhaps 2,500 at the game I attended, so it was easy to move around and take pictures from different spots. The weather was perfect, not too hot, a nice breeze, perfect for fall football. If you are in Perth between April and July, check out the WAFL schedule and see a game if you can; much like minor league baseball it will give you a sense of the community and be pretty entertaining as well.

The Game

If you missed my recap of the AFL game I saw at the Subiaco Oval, read that for a brief explanation of the rules of the game.

The East Fremantle Sharks were visiting, and with both teams coming in at 2-0, I had hopes for a good game and was not disappointed. Both squads were able to move the ball fairly easily and there was a lot of scoring, but neither club could build a big lead.

The scoreboard after each quarter was as follows:

East Fremantle 4.3 (27) 8.9 (57) 9.15 (67) 
Perth          5.4 (34) 8.4 (52) 11.8 (74)

Note all those behinds that East Fremantle scored in the second and third quarters, indicating that they were getting possession but their kicking was a bit inaccurate.

In the final frame, the teams battled for the lead, but it looked like Perth (in black, kicking above) had taken it with two goals as the clock neared 30 minutes (remember that quarters are just 20 minutes long but there are no clock stoppages for the fans, so the actual end of the game is a mystery).

Down by 4 points, the Sharks managed to block a Perth kick, take possession, and move the ball down the field with a couple of excellent kicks. The final kick was received in the center of the 50-meter area by Sean Henson who was paid the mark despite the Perth player also seeming to gain possession. The mark forced the defenders off Henson, who calmly slotted home to give East Fremantle a thrilling 15.18 (108) to 16.10 (106) victory. Those behinds in the middle two stanzas ended up being the difference. It is not common for a team to win scoring less goals, but that is what happened here.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the game was the hand-operated scoreboard. With 59 scores in the 80 minutes of action, the operators were certainly busy.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crusaders 14 at Western Force 16 (Super 15 Rugby) - April 13, 2013

Super Rugby began in 1996 with 12 teams based in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. In 2006 it added 2 teams and became known as the Super 14. During that year, I was involved in a Super 14 tipping competition (known as a sports pool in North America) with colleagues from countries that actually played a lot of rugby. There were about 25 participants, and I was the ignorant Canuck, while the Poms, Kiwis, and Aussies all were confident of their chances.

We had to pick winners on a weekly basis, with points awarded for the correct result and closeness of the score. Having limited knowledge of the teams forced me to rely on public odds, which turned out to be a smart approach, as the other punters eschewed such help, preferring to use their expertise. Naturally, their expertise was only self-regarded and I found myself winning the competition and $500 as well. The money was quickly spent at a post-season celebration where I was repeatedly told of my beginner’s luck, but the satisfaction of having bested my colleagues still remains. From that time, I have followed Super Rugby, but had yet to attend a game, due to the season being relatively short and Japan being quite far from the countries in which the matches are played.

Now that I live in Singapore, I am just five hours from Perth, which is home to the Western Force, the first of those expansion teams. I arrived too late last year to visit, but this season there was no excuse. With the Australian Football League (AFL) and other sports in the area, a trip to Perth was a must and I finally got to go last weekend.

nib Stadium

The Force began play in 2006 at the venerable Subiaco Oval, which is usually an AFL ground and which I had visited the previous evening. The larger oval field at Subiaco was not suitable for rugby and the team moved into the Perth Oval, which is actually a rectangular field despite its name.

Having first opened in 1904 (the Book Stand was added in 1956 as you can see above), the stadium was in dire need of improvements and an extensive renovation program was started in 2012. The open-air seating has been replaced by new covered stands on the east and south sides, while the field itself was revamped. The north end, which is known as the Shed (below) and is mostly a standing area, was left untouched, maintaining a historical feel and a nice contrast to the newer sections.

I visited nib Stadium (named after health insurance provider nib and pronounced n.i.b.) during the final stages of these renovations. Construction is scheduled to finish at the end of June so it was a bit messy at parts, but overall I was quite impressed. I was again lucky to receive a free ticket as part of a Stadium Journey review and was given a tour of the facility by Sam Burling, one of the stadium’s marketing staff.

The stadium is located in the City of Vincent, about a 15-minute walk from Perth’s CBD. If you are coming from farther afield, Claisebrook is the closest rail station, about five minutes away from Gate 4. If you have your ticket with you, the train is free before and after the game. If you wish to drive, there seemed to be plenty of street parking in the area.

Gate 3 is the main entry point and you will emerge onto a large opening where a few food and drink options can be found. Food is fairly typical but reasonably priced. The Kiwi Kar had some meals for $12 but I would recommend the Bratwursts behind the south stand where there were 3 varieties at $8.50 each.

The most expensive tickets are $75, which is a bit dear for this sort of event. The cheapest seats are not even seats at all, but the standing area in the Shed. There are also tickets for $65 and $55, so not that many options – for me the extra dollars for the best seats are worth it here. There are only seven home games per season, so it is obviously necessary for the team to get as much revenue as possible, but for the length of the game (less than 2 hours), it can be a bit much to those of us used to similar prices for much longer matches.

The most noticeable feature here is the colour of the seats in the newly-added sections. They start with dark green seats at the bottom of the section and gradually lighten as you make your way to the top. This is to symbolize the journey from the bright green field to the blue sky and is quite an arresting sight when the stadium is empty. When the fans begin to fill those seats, their light blue jerseys add to the overall experience.

In fact, I was highly impressed with the crowd who showed up in numbers, most wearing the blue jersey of the Force. Several visiting fans came with face paint and other paraphernalia but all were welcomed. Unfortunately, there were a few bad apples who marred the experience for all. First, there was a streaker at halftime, which is somewhat acceptable as it doesn’t really impact the game. The rather portly gentleman was cheered on by the fans as he made his way from one end zone to the other unmolested. Security finally got hold of him and took him away and all was forgotten when the game resumed. Unfortunately, his antics inspired some other idiots who decided that their 15 minutes of fame had to come with five minutes left in a tense game. Security was caught napping again as four others (partly clothed at least) ran from the north end onto the pitch. One visiting player knocked down one of the intruders and eventually order was restored, but it definitely changed the flow of the game, which turned out to be one of the better sporting events I have seen.

The Game

Rugby is a fast sport with each half taking just over 40 minutes. It is not a game that lends itself to constant loud noise or distractions because the action on the field can be quite fascinating. I had been given a seat right near midfield and was amazed by the speed and strength of these guys. Many of the tackles left the recipient audibly gasping, and the brute physicality of the game was apparent from the first whistle.

The visitors were the Crusaders from Christchurch, the most successful team in the history of the competition with seven titles, although their 3-3 start was not promising this season. The Force had never finished higher than 7th and were off to a terrible 1-6 start so expectations were for a blowout.

Surprisingly though, the Force scored first when Sam Norton-Knight broke four tackles and stretched his arm just under the posts to ground the ball just four minutes in. The perfect location for the try allowed Jayden Hayward an easy conversion and it was 7-0 for the home team.

The teams traded penalties (in rugby, a penalty is a kick that is given after a team commits an offense – successfully booting the ball through the posts is worth 3 points) over the next quarter-hour before Luke Romano capped off a long Crusaders possession with a try at the left corner.

Conversions are kicked from a point parallel from where the ball is grounded so scoring in the corner makes the kick very difficult and Tyler Bleyendaal couldn't find the right angle. The ball sailed wide, allowing the Force to maintain the lead, 10-8.

It appeared as if Romano crossed the line in the 36th minute but it was disallowed after a video review showed that a forward pass had been committed earlier in the play. Yes, other leagues make intelligent use of video replay to ensure that bad officials don’t ruin the game. Yet MLB and the NBA still allow 55-year-old men to decide the outcome of events being played by athletes less than half their age. But I digress.

The Force added two more penalties to end the half up 16-8, but the Crusaders got those back early in the second stanza to again move within two points. After that, it was defense that ruled the pitch.

For the last 25 minutes, it was the Crusaders who played like their name, wave upon wave hammering the bulwarks of the Force defense. Romano crashed home for another apparent try but the video review showed that he did not ground the ball properly. Still undaunted, the Crusaders continued to push but a number of drops and other handling errors doomed their chances. As the siren sounded, they were moving within penalty range and the fans were clearly concerned, but a hard hit knocked the ball loose and the Force recovered, kicking it out of bounds to end the game and preserve the hard-fought victory.

It was really a great defensive battle and the best rugby match I have ever seen. I hope to do a Super 15 tour sometime, but that requires a lot of time and money, things that are in short supply right now.

Finally, a big thanks to Sam Burling and all the nib Stadium crew for their assistance in showing me their wonderful venue.



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Essendon Bombers 10.12 (72) at Fremantle Dockers 9.14 (68) (Australian Football League) - April 12, 2013

The Australian Football League is the only fully professional circuit where the sport known worldwide by its nickname "Aussie Rules" is played. When I was a kid, Aussie Rules reached a surprising level of popularity in North America, helped by ESPN broadcasts and Jacko Jackson, a larger-than-life player. Since then, its reach has dwindled but it is still hugely popular Down Under, with over 2,500 clubs playing across Australia. The AFL Grand Final is the most popular event in the land, regularly drawing over 2.5 million viewers and a live audience of 110,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

It is a sport that I had always wanted to see and when I found out that Perth had two teams in the league, I knew that I could combine a Super 15 Rugby match with an AFL fixture over a weekend. So I did.

The League

The AFL has 18 teams, with 10 of these playing in the state of Victoria, where the game got started back in 1897. The states of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and West Australia each have two teams each, ensuring local rivalries are enjoyed outside Melbourne. Many of the stadiums are shared between two or more teams as the size of the field is among the biggest in sport so it is difficult to have multiple pro grounds in the same area. That is the case in Perth, where the Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles both use Subiaco Oval.

The teams play 22 games over 23 weeks, with the playoffs featuring the top 8 teams, culminating in the Grand Final.

The Rules 

Each team has 18 players on the field at one time. The field is an oval, with four posts at either end (above). The  object is to kick the ball through the inner goalposts, scoring a six-point goal. The two outer posts are called the behind posts and a ball that is kicked between a goalpost and a behind post nets a single point and is known as a behind. The umpire signifies a goal by emphatically extending both arms, bent at the elbow. A behind is noted with just a single arm so extended. The score is represented as G.B (T) where G is goals, B is behinds and T is the total, obviously equal to 6*G+B.

Players can run with the ball or pass it forward or backward by hitting it with their hand. No throwing is allowed. Usually though, players advance the ball by kicking it to their teammates. A kick that is caught is known as a mark and the player making the catch is then afforded space to kick again. Often though, the kick is not properly taken, and a mad scramble for possession ensues. This controlled chaos gives the game its energy; tackling and general obstruction are allowed as players try to either pick up the ball or find space to kick it to a safer location.

There are four 20-minute quarters and the play is constant, with stoppages only after points are scored or the ball is forced out of bounds. There is no stoppage on the game clock, which often continues beyond 30 minutes as only the timekeeper knows when the quarter will actually end, sounding a siren when that time is reached.

This is obviously a very simple explanation of the rules of the game and interested readers can further explore the Wikipedia entry.

Patersons Stadium

Opened in 1908, Patersons Stadium is more famously known as the Subiaco Oval. Located in the suburb of Subiaco, the stadium has undergone numerous renovations with the last in 1999 turning the venue into an all-seater. Despite being over 100 years old, Subi has been well maintained and is a wonderful place to get acquainted with the game of Aussie Rules Football.

Getting to Paterson’s Stadium is easy for visitors as long as you are staying close to one of TransPerth’s rail stations. The oval is located between two stations on the Fremantle Line: West Leedersville and Subiaco. I recommend the latter as that affords you the chance to explore the eclectic neighbourhood a bit and perhaps find a place to have a pre-game beer or two.

I was fortunate to receive a media pass due to my work with Stadium Journey and arrived quite early. There was an exhibition match being played between two recreational clubs which gave me a chance to understand the rules of the game. When that finished, I took a tour around. The stadium is on a relatively small footprint so concourses are narrow and there a lot of stairs to get you from level to level, but it works surprisingly well. There are some pieces of art (such as that above) that add colour to certain areas.

Tickets here start at $30 and move up to $75, with three other price points in between. Interestingly, the better seats are those higher up in the stands. As the field is so big, sitting down low is a disadvantage and the top rows would fill more quickly than those down below.

Sections are called “blocks” and there are generally three levels around the entire stadium, although a 400 level has been built behind the west goal. The Premium Ticket at $62.80 is the second most expensive but this might be the best option for sitting upstairs. Tickets are sold via TicketMaster, so you can explore the stadium that way before purchasing. Note that the top 4 rows in some of the 300 sections (OO and above) have seats that offer only a restricted view (below). As well, the upper decks are covered by a roof, while the 100 level was out in the open, necessitating ponchos for those fans sitting there.

I saw dozens of concession stands all around the stadium offering a good variety of what is typical local stadium fare for the most part. Of course, this being Australia, a pie is a must. At $5, they are one of the cheaper options and although they might not be the healthiest choice, they are unique to sport in this country.  Behind Block 103 is the secret spot though: a bratwurst stand where they are cooking the sausages in huge skillets filled with sauerkraut. For just $8, this seemed like the best option for hungry folks.

Overall, I found the Subiaco Oval to be a fantastic spot to catch my first AFL game. The fans were great, the place was sold out with nearly 37,000 on hand, the atmosphere on a rainy Friday evening was wonderful, and there was an excellent game to boot.

The Game

The first bounce to get the game underway

The Fremantle Dockers were hosting Essendon, one of the teams from the Melbourne area. It was only the third week of the season but both teams had won their first two fixtures, so a good match was expected.  Fremantle was celebrating the 200th game for Luke McPharlin as they ran through the sign below (ironically he was injured in the first five minutes and removed from the game).

It is really not possible to recap the match score by score. Fremantle dominated the early going, storming out to a 5 goal lead after the first quarter. The second quarter was much more defensive with the teams combining for just 3 goals and 4 behinds as the half ended with the Dockers leading 7.5 (47) to 1.5 (11).

It should be mentioned that Essendon's coach, James Hird, had been the subject of much media coverage in the days coming up to the match after allegations of being injected with a banned substance. I guess this was used as motivation in the halftime speech because the Bombers game out on fire and scored 5 consecutive goals along with 5 behinds to move within three points at the final break.

The onslaught continued early in the fourth frame but Fremantle finally found a few replies and with time running out, the match was deadlocked at 9.12 (66). Essendon then scored a goal to take a 6-point lead but Fremantle pushed for the tie. With a couple of minutes left, a kick was bounding toward the posts when it bounced wide, yielding a single point. From the ensuing kick-in, Fremantle regained possession and again had a chance. This time the ball bounced into the goal post and through. I thought that was good for 6 points and the win, but the collective groan of the Fremantle faithful told me that I was ignorant of the rules; in fact, a ball that touches the goal post counts as a behind regardless of where it ends up.

Soon after the restart, the siren sounded and Essendon celebrated their amazing comeback with the final score reading 10.12 (72) to 9.14 (68).


Hyphen usage is important. The below sign does not indicate that they are giving away booze, rather that you are not allowed to consume such beverages in Block 113, a fact that I found extremely disappointing.

The Dockers have an anchor as their symbol, but those two inflatable anchors below look like something else, particularly when the right one is labeled "Staff".



Monday, April 15, 2013

SIN-PER-SIN - April 11-14, 2013

I'm back from my three-day jaunt down to Perth, which happens to be the city farthest from New York and other points on the eastern seaboard for those interested in such points of trivia. I haven't written much about aviation lately, so I thought I'd just post a quick bit about the trip before writing about the games I saw.

I left on Thursday afternoon, taking a bus from downtown Singapore to Changi, which had recently been ranked the best airport in the world in a survey sponsored by SkyTrax. The bus takes just over 30 minutes from where I work, making it a much more affordable option than a cab.

The outbound flight was on Tiger Airways, one of the numerous low-cost airlines that make Singapore a great hub for budget travellers. The one-way trip is about 5 hours and cost about $120 US, not a bad deal at all.

Tiger doesn't have online check-in for non-Singaporeans so I had to line up with everyone else, which took an unbearable 5 minutes. One thing about Changi is that they realize that people standing in check-in lines are not spending money, so most carriers seem to have plenty of staff to make things move quickly and get passengers into the shopping area as soon as possible.

Another benefit here is that security is handled at each gate, so after checking in, you proceed straight to immigration. As a Singapore resident, I am able to use an automated gate both coming and going, a process that is easier on your passport as you don't get it stamped each time you travel.

Changi has three distinct terminals, each with a few interesting attractions. Tiger flies out of Terminal 2 which has a sunflower garden and orchid garden, as well as a spotting gallery. Computers with free internet connections are widely available, although getting used much less these days as nearly everyone is taking advantage of the free wi-fi provided. Either way, there are plenty of things to occupy your time while you wait for your flight.

My flight left on time and 5 hours later, I was in Western Australia. The wonderful experience of Singapore's airport was a distant memory as I  now had the task of figuring out the best way into town. Taxis are too costly so I had to choose between Perth's poor public transit or a private shuttle service.

There are four terminals at Perth's airport, with the international terminal being a 15-minute drive away from the main domestic terminals. I don't know who designs these airports that require such a trek between terminals, but it is massively inconvenient, especially given that there is no public transit at the international terminal. There is a free shuttle to the domestic side, which I took hoping to catch a bus downtown. Just as the shuttle arrived, I saw the bus pulling away, and the next bus wasn't for another hour, so I ended up waiting just 40 minutes to take the PerthConnect shuttle at $25 return. Such inconvenience would be a recurring story during my weekend stay, but more on that in another post.

Return Trip

One of the advantages of these LCC's is that they charge the same price for each flight whether you buy a return or a one-way ticket. In other words, there is no cost advantage to buying the return ticket with the same airline, so I used Jetstar Asia for my return leg, paying just $89AUD as I had a voucher affording a $50 discount. In other words, I flew a total of 10 hours for just over $200, an amazing bargain.

The flight was at midnight which gave me some time to explore the airport. Turns out there is an observation gallery that is completely empty in the evening, giving you some peace and quiet away from the crowds and a nice view of the apron. There were also a couple of computers on the main departure level with free internet but little else worth noting. All in all, I can see why Perth ranks #78 in the world's airports and strongly advise the authorities there to improve their transit options to the city, which lies less than 20km from the airport.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

ONE FC 8 "Kings & Champions" - April 5, 2013

I've never been a big fan of Mixed Martial Arts, as it seems like a lot of hype with the action mostly consisting of the two combatants rolling around on the ground. Only recently have I started following the UFC, and even then, just checking the results of the top two or three matches every month and watching George St. Pierre when he fights.

Still, I'm not one to shy away from watching live sport, especially if I have never seen it before. So when a friend told me that ONE FC (the Asian equivalent of UFC) was holding an event in Singapore, I agreed to accompany him. It was the eighth One FC event, and the fourth to be held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. ONE FC began less than two years ago, but crowds have been increasing steadily as their marketing takes hold and it certainly appeared that this evening was sold out, with about 12,000 in attendance, although about half of the seating area was blocked off.

Our seats were in the first row of the second seating area. At $60, these were a good deal as the row in front of us cost $140. The main problem with these seats is that the top of the octagon blocks the fighters' heads as they stand, as you can see below.

Dubbed Kings & Champions, the evening featured 10 bouts, with the main event being two Japanese fighters going after the One FC World Lightweight Championship. Keep in mind that this "World" Championship is only for those fighters who belong to One FC. That is one of the weaknesses of MMA, there are countless groups around the world promoting the sport but there isn't much interaction between them. Just as boxing's three federations render their belts less meaningful, the lack of cohesion among MMA organizations make their championships rather insignificant.

The introductions to each fight lasted around ten minutes, with the most annoying part being an announcer who trilled every R (Frrrrrrrrrrrrrom Brrrrrrrrrrrazil, fighting out of the rrrrrrred corner, Leandrrrrrrrrrrrrro Issa!!!!!!). The fighter would walk out, take his pat down, get greased up by the cut man, and then enter the Octagon. Meanwhile, the ring girl (above) would parade around and inform the crowd that the first round was about to begin.

Out of the ten fights, only two or three were good, with the best bout perhaps the aforementioned Issa taking on Russian Yusup Saadulev. Issa dominated in the takedowns but Saadulev was stronger when standing, and after 3 rounds, I thought the decision could have gone either way. Ultimately, it was the takedowns that gave Issa the victory.

One-time UFC World Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver took on Masakatsu Ueda in one of two Bantamweight Grand Prix Semi-Finals. Pulver (on the left below) is at the tail end of his career and was choked out late in the second round. With the win, Ueda will face Kevin Belingon for the bantamweight title at the next One FC event in Manila.

The penultimate contest featured Melvin Manhoef and Brock Larson and should have been exciting, but both fighters were wary of the other's strengths and they spent most of the first two rounds dancing around, leading to whistling and boos from the crowd. At one point Larson ran around the ring trying to escape a Manhoef flurry, which was certainly the funniest point of the evening. In the end, a third-round takedown by Larson allowed him to pummel Manhoef for three straight minutes and take the bout.

The final bout of the evening saw Kotetsu Boku and Shinya Aoki duking it out for the One FC lightweight crown. Actually duking it out would be an overstatement, Aoki took Boku down early in the first round and tried to get him to tap out. Boku was able to avoid the loss for the first five minutes, but early in the second, Aoki again succeeded in a takedown and this time, he managed a rear choke to submit Boku and take the belt from him.

The whole event lasted 4 1/2 hours, of which there were 90 minutes of actual action. That's more or less the same as two basketball games but I'd have to say that there is much more going on in a typical basketball game. Too much of the fighting takes place on the floor and your view is often blocked by cameramen. In those cases, you can follow the happenings on one of the large screens, but if that is the case, you might be better off just watching at home. Which is where I'll be next time.



Saturday, April 6, 2013

Maple Leafs and Ducks to Meet in the Stanley Cup

Every team in the NHL has now played 36 games so it's time for another of my mid-season playoff previews. That's where I take the standings with every team having the same number of games played and simulate the playoffs based on the season series to this point, which occasionally results in some surprising upsets. I initially did this at 32 games but it was boring as Pittsburgh was so dominant in the East. Now, however, New Jersey has slipped into the 8th spot and they actually lead the season series against the Penguins. That changes everything, as you can see below. ROW is Regulation/Overtime wins, the first tiebreaker when teams are tied in points.

East            Pts     ROW
Pittsburgh      56      26
Boston          52      19
Winnipeg        38      17
Montreal        51      20
Toronto         44      20
Ottawa          44      15
NY Rangers      39      15
New Jersey      39      13

West            Pts     ROW
Chicago         58      22
Anaheim         53      19
Minnesota       44      17
Vancouver       44      15
San Jose        44      13
Los Angeles     43      19
St. Louis       42      17
Detroit         41      16

The playoffs would work like this, with season series records in brackets:

NJ over Pittsburgh (2-1)
NYR over Boston (2-1)
Ottawa over Winnipeg (2-1)
Toronto over Montreal (2-1)

Yes, all four matchups in the East would be won by the lower seed.

Toronto over NJ (1-0)
Ottawa over NYR (3-0)

Toronto over Ottawa (3-1)

The Leafs win the East!

Much less intriguing in the West:
Chicago over Detroit (3-0)
Anaheim over St. Louis (2-0-1)
Minnesota over LA (1-0)
San Jose over Vancouver (3-0)

Chicago over San Jose (3-0)
Anaheim over Minnesota (3-0)

Anaheim over Chicago (3-0)

So Anaheim will take on the Leafs, who fired Brian Burke unceremoniously just before the season started. Burke is now a part-time scout for Anaheim, so if karma plays a part, look for the Ducks to win the Stanley Cup, again beating a team from Ontario.

And if you think this is all bunk, remember that back in 2011, I predicted a Boston-LA final, and those were the teams that won the next two Stanley Cups.

Update: Well, New Jersey has been eliminated, so Pittsburgh takes the East at the 45-game mark, while Chicago takes the West as Anaheim is losing the season series to San Jose at the moment.