Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #14

So here we are, bidding farewell to another fantastic Stoke City season with the clubs highest finish in the Premier League table yet. On reflection it has been a privilege and honour also to have had the opportunity to document and share my journey to become an International dressage rider. It has been a great experience and to conclude with my final column this season with the news that I have achieved that goal, making my International debut for Great Britain just a few weeks ago, is very special for me.

 

My Dutch ‘Mission’ 

Jim Lovell, one of Nasa’s finest astronauts and most well known for being on the ill fated Apollo 13 mission (known as the “successful failure”) believes every mission has a glitch. This was realised as I was packing my horsebox in preparation for our imminent departure to Holland for an International show when I discovered my tack locker had a flat tyre. This may seem insignificant, but with immovable deadlines and the fact I am reliant on the tack trunk to move heavy tack and equipment, I needed this tyre to be functional. Of course this happened late in the day on a bank holiday Monday so solutions were limited. Thankfully after a dose of “tyre weld” (which I had never heard of until that day) and some ingenious rigging of the tyre, we were back on track and my groom and I could breathe a sigh of relief that we wouldn’t be having to carry heavy tack and equipment for miles and miles across the showground. However, little did I know, that 24 hours later this would pale in comparison to my ‘mission’s’ major glitch!

The evening before our early morning departure, I was packing the last few items into my horsebox ready to get home to see my family and finish my packing. With no warning, a huge explosion in the locker I was walking past nearly knocked me off my feet. A few long seconds later, still trying to gather my thoughts, I could hear sinister sounding ‘sizzling’ and an overwhelming smell of sulphur. I carefully opened the locker door to see the devastation caused by one of the lead-acid batteries exploding with shrapnel and battery acid everywhere- a dangerous situation I have since discovered. Thankfully no one was injured but this still meant I had a very serious situation to deal with late in the day. Swapping lorries was not an option with all legal paperwork required for my horsebox to travel with the horses filed with various organisations. Locating a willing mechanic on a Monday evening was a tall order which we were unsuccessful in. A few frantic phone calls later, Richard’s son Joe, who is an International show jumper for Great Britain, took on the role of ‘chief mechanic’ and went to work till late in the evening replacing my lead-acid batteries with gel ones from his truck. After a few safety checks, we were thankfully on our way the next morning as planned with Foxy and another horse Bubble happily munching away in the back completely oblivious to the drama that had unfolded the evening before. I have had this truck for over three years with no issues and have waited a lifetime to travel to my first International show, and it would be hours before we go that a glitch would threaten this mission!

After an incredibly long journey the next day, we pulled into the showground in Roosendaal, Holland and went to work getting the horses settled into their temporary homes for the week and unpacking all our equipment (the tack locker wheel worked a treat by the way). It seemed we Brits were keen to arrive with majority of the British contingent already in situ and was a great to see so many familiar faces which immediately calmed my nerves.

The International show was an amazing experience for me personally. I must have experienced every emotion from nerves, trepidation and anxiety to elation, relief and pure joy at the occasion. The intensity of learning I experienced was almost overwhelming at times but it paid off with two good performances from Foxy and I. Sadly, it was not perfect with a few ‘rider’ errors that were costly in the final scores, but Richard was pleased and said I did a great job considering my inexperience at this level of competition. The first big show is always the hardest with emotions running high- next time I know I can easily improve on my scores with more settled nerves.

 

Happy Holiday

Although the Premier League season will have wrapped for another season, our schedules will remain packed throughout the summer break. Not only does Asmir have an International qualifier for Euro 2016, my calendar is bursting at the seams with competitions to accommodate around family holidays. It is an opportunity for Asmir to attend and support me at my shows, which can be more difficult to fit in during the busy football schedule.

I have a one off event that Asmir will be my ‘manager’ for and that is when I am put through my paces, as a contender, with the original Gladiators from the 1990’s television show when they reunite for a one off appearance at Bolesworth International show. Even the famous referee John Anderson will be officiating proceedings with his super Scottish voice he is well known for. So if you fancy a good laugh and a great day out with the family it is running on the beautiful Bolesworth Estate in Cheshire on the 18th-21st of June and perhaps Asmir and I will see you there.


Wishing you all a wonderful summer break and here’s to a successful 2015/2016 season for Stoke City.


Nicolle x

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James Keir

 Certified Technical Coordinator  Certified Hardware Technician - Orange & Black Ice Hockey Fan - Technology Enthusiast - Podcast Junkie - Coke Zero Fiend

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #13

The FA Cup Semi Final saw Aston Villa be victorious booking their ticket to the final in May, and lots of amusing jokes about Steven Gerrard’s revised birthday plans. It seems only yesterday that half of Wembley was adorned by sea of red and white with Stoke in the 2011 final. Where does the time go? The final stages of the FA Cup are always a gentle reminder that the Premier League season is drawing to a close for another year. The campaign for the FA Cup trophy begins as early as August as the Premier League season gets under way for the 2015/2016 season. At least not before Asmir and I get a chance to get away for a short break to enjoy some time off.

Usually Asmir’s International commitments for Bosnia in the summer break can make finding time for a holiday a little challenging, but even more so when we are now factoring in my competition commitments. We have tried to sit down to make plans and this year, it seems that I will be the one complicating matters as my schedule is incredibly busy with shows through May and June. A silver lining is that Asmir can make a rare appearance at my shows, as his schedule doesn’t always allow for him to attend during the football season.

 

Viva Las Vegas

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro retained their World Cup title for the second year running, doing the double taking wins in both the Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Freestyle. This crucial result means Charlotte still maintains history as the only rider to hold the Olympic, World, European and World Cup titles, not to mention she also holds all three world cup records! It could be a very very long time indeed before we get to witness such an exceptional partnership between horse and rider. Valegro is no ordinary horse and in our equestrian community, he is our ‘Pelé’ and will be remembered for all eternity.

It’s a strange thought of world class Dressage, famous for its conservative and traditional appearance, taking place just a stones throw away from the famously bright, excessive and over the top Las Vegas strip. Is this really the ‘utopia’ for adults? It is only fair if the kids can have Disneyworld. One would think the two just wouldn’t compliment each other, but how wrong I was! Hosting the FEI World Cup Finals was the gargantuan Thomas & Mack Centre that usually houses avid college basketball fans. It was bursting at the seams as equestrian enthusiasts from all over the world descended to middle of the Nevada desert. 


A Hop, Skip and a Jump to Holland

If you are someone who dreads just thought of packing for yourself or the kids for that long awaited holiday, then you can only imagine what packing the ‘suitcase’ for a horse entails. The time has come for my imminent departure to Holland to take part in my first International competition representing Great Britain. As you can imagine this is a long awaited ‘dream come true’ that I couldn’t be more excited about (and not least forgetting a little trepidation which is normal).

And so it begins, the Tetris style packing to ensure that every square centimetre is adequately occupied with essential gear. This includes heavy bags of feed, shavings bales and hay to ensure plentiful supply for the duration of the travel and show. Topped off with vital equipment such as tack, rugs, buckets, competition gear and stable equipment that has to be squeezed in. And not forgetting the space for the horses to travel in too. Then comes the ‘people packing’ of our clothes, equipment and food and eventually you can collapse with an exhausted sigh of relief that you have achieved your first challenge preparing for the competition and you haven’t even left the yard! The real work begins when you get to the show…….

I look forward to sharing my experiences of Holland and the trip with you next time!


Nicolle x

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James Keir

 Certified Technical Coordinator  Certified Hardware Technician - Orange & Black Ice Hockey Fan - Technology Enthusiast - Podcast Junkie - Coke Zero Fiend

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #12

The American sports season is now in full swing and Asmir couldn’t be happier. The amount of sport taking over our television at home has been incredible, with the spring baseball season commencing in the States, the build up to the NBA basketball finals beginning. The continuous Masters coverage took over every phone, tablet and television Asmir had access to last weekend. I didn’t feel left out however, as this meant I had no excuse to avoid studying for my upcoming exam. For those of you that don’t know, I proudly hold an HGV license and as I may need to drive other rider’s horses as well as my own I have to hold the drivers Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) as well.  So I have spent many happy hours studying such fascinating subjects as the EU working time directive, various load-handling systems and transport heath and safety! Having done all this, I am planning to take the test to drive articulated vehicles (Yes, articulated horseboxes!). Perhaps I could join Lisa on Ice Road Truckers one day?!

This week sees the start of the FEI World Cup Finals in Las Vegas where Charlotte DuJardin and Valegro are set to defend their title. It has been exciting watching the qualification stages up to the finals and even enjoying the coverage of the horses’ journey over the pond to Las Vegas. Forty of the world’s top showjumping and dressage horses gathered in the early hours at Amsterdam airport before boarding a chartered cargo flight direct to Las Vegas. Many people often ask me how the horses move inter-continentally and they are usually quite surprised to hear they can take flights just as we do. They fly in pairs in a special stable crate and get loaded into the hold by the hydraulic lifts just as any other cargo. A team of grooms travels on the same flight, and has access to the horses throughout.

 

Although I was due to attend this fantastic show, I made the decision to stay home and focus on my training for upcoming International shows, one of which will be my debut riding for Great Britain. I look forward to telling you more about this in my next column.

On the note of good results, I was thrilled to have a first place at “Intermediate I” (the highest advanced test I have competed in to date) in a recent competition with Foxy. This gives me great optimism as we move ever closer to the top test level in dressage, Grand Prix.

 

It was great as well to witness the passionate Stoke fans celebrate a well deserved point, on a rare away match trip for me to West Ham. Unable to control our sheer delight at the last second goal for Stoke, my family, friends and I threw our hands up in the air jumping and cheering in delight to suddenly feel the icy disapproving stares of the West Ham fans that were surrounding us bearing down on our group. Safe to say we made an immediate and swift exit to the safety of a hospitality box. It was a great feeling to see Stoke take a point home from London last Saturday.

Also in recent news, Asmir had a successful European qualifier against Andorra winning 3-0 securing their position in the top 3 of the table. These 3 points were vital as Bosnia got off to a slow start. The new manager with his own playing style has complimented the playing style of the team, and the future for Bosnia’s Euro 2016 campaign looks very brighter.


Nicolle x

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #11

Wouldn’t be it great if Stoke make it three wins on the trot tonight against Everton? Stoke at home have always been a dominating force, even against some of the world’s best football teams. I think that is a valuable tool for mental preparation for both teams. I have always felt that Stoke emerge from the tunnel at the Britannia with a physical and psychological advantage, which is always noticed by everyone I bring to a game, leaving them feeling very ‘pumped’. It is hard to ignore the fantastic atmosphere that is synonymous with Stoke City’s loyal fans.  Long may it continue!

 

A Tale Of Two Goalkeepers

This Wednesday the 11th of March, here at the Britannia, the Tony Waddington suite will host a rare goalkeeping event aptly named ‘An Evening With Banks & Begovic’. It will be a fantastic opportunity for Asmir and the famous Gordon Banks, to share with fans their lives as successful goalkeepers who have experienced the very top of the game, including World Cup’s. Asmir is truly flattered to be included in an event alongside Gordon, who he grew up within his sport admiring as one if his goalkeeping inspirations. Whilst writing this column, Asmir recalled the moment, when he was very young and living in Germany, of being told about Gordon Banks as his dad regaled the story of one of the finest goalkeepers in the sports history. So for Asmir, it is truly an honour to be able to share the stage with one of his idols. I am sure Asmir will have as many questions for Gordon as the audience in attendance does.

I can really relate to this experience for Asmir as I am in a similar situation. As many regular readers of my column will know, I am based and train full time with my mentor and trainer Richard Davison. He is one of Dressage’s most successful, influential and well-respected individuals. I have not only participated in Dressage, but have always been a huge fan of my sport and followed Richard and his horse’s successes with great interest. So to find myself now working with him on a daily basis is an amazing opportunity, and sometimes a surreal one, that I do not take for granted. During the first few years of first team football, Asmir used to remark about how unbelievable it was to come home, having played in a match against world famous players that he grew up watching as a boy, having now found himself on the same pitch as them.

I believe that in sport when you find a mentor or coach you connect with, you become a sort of ‘heir’ to their priceless knowledge. The student develops into the platform for which to carry on their philosophies and invaluable wisdom gained through their mentors careers and experiences, that I hope to share someday, perhaps in the future, with a student of my own. I am sure the same can be said for Asmir who has had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented and successful goalkeeping coaches, one of note, his current coach, Andy Quy.

 

International Interest

Well I can’t believe that I have reached a point in my career where serious discussions have now begun regarding which International shows I will be attending this year. It is a momentous moment for not just myself, but for Asmir and my family who have been fantastic supporters throughout my life’s preoccupation with horses, along with my Olympic dreams! This is a far cry from when I rode my first low-level affiliated Dressage test just a few short years ago. Now I am preparing myself, and my horse Foxy, for our International debut. I can barely believe it and you can imagine it is a dream come true. I hope that this is the start of an exciting International career that I can take to the very top levels of our sport. The official paperwork has been filed and I will now officially represent Great Britain (que the ‘Rule Britannia’ chorus playing in my head!). It is an honour and privilege to represent my country, as Great Britain has produced some of the best horses and riders in the history of the sport.

I look forward to keeping you posted on my journey. Now Asmir and I are tasked with balancing life with two International athletes under one roof. Certainly will provide plenty of conversation and keep things fun and interesting.

 

Nicolle x

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James Keir

 Certified Technical Coordinator  Certified Hardware Technician - Orange & Black Ice Hockey Fan - Technology Enthusiast - Podcast Junkie - Coke Zero Fiend

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #10

I am feeling very optimistic that spring must certainly be around the corner now we have passed the first half term of the year. I know Asmir and I, after a long winter of training outdoors in all weathers, are ready for some respite from the elements. I am sure that can be said of the fans who have braved the weather all winter to support their teams.

 

Oscar Inspiration

I love the Oscars! One of my favourite television events of the year as throughout my childhood I was nurtured on great movies.  I was recently inspired by the film The Theory Of Everything, the biography of Professor Stephen Hawking’s struggle after his diagnosis at the young age of 21 with motor neurone diseases (or ALS- yes, that’s the one that everyone did the ice bucket challenge for last year to raise awareness). It was really sad and difficult to watch the physical and financial struggle, for such an academic of the highest caliber. Although Stephen’s diagnosis was bleak with only two years to live, he never gave up fighting. He has defied all odds and although his body may have all but given up, his mind was and still is to this very day brilliant.

It was interesting to note that there wasn’t (and I believe still isn’t) the level of financial reward or recognition for such academically talented individuals, yet in today’s celebrity obsessed culture, people are reaping financial reward and fame without having any actual ‘talent’. I was glad to see Eddie Redmayne win the Oscar for best actor, as he was truly remarkable as Stephen Hawking. He gave us a glimpse into his life as he was before we knew of him, as he is today, wheelchair bound and mostly succumb to the physical effects of the disease.

It is always nice to lose yourself in a good movie, something Asmir and I look forward to when it has been a busy few days or weeks. With that being said- both Asmir and I joined the masses, as the worldwide movie phenomenon, Fifty Shades Of Grey, premiered after years of anticipation. I can admit that Asmir took very little persuasion to see the film as he actually suggested we see it. Having read the trilogy when it was all the rage and every woman everywhere had a Fifty Shades book firmly in her hand, intrigued by the infamous fictional character Christian Grey, I knew what to expect and Asmir had no idea! I can’t say this was of quite the caliber of The Theory If Everything but was worth seeing what all the hype was about. Interestingly enough, it was one of the few films that Asmir DIDN’T fall asleep in- I wonder why that was? ;-)

 

The Psychology Of Sport

This is a topic that dominates most conversations in the Begovic household. For years, Asmir and I have exchanged views and discussed opinions we hold with regards to our psychological approaches and beliefs with our respective sports. It is one of the fundamental foundations that run parallel to the talent either possessed or required for success in any sport. We are both very interested how our psychology can positively influence our athletic performance. I have worked with a sports psychologist for a few years now and found this to be an invaluable asset to my mental development for me in my sport. I believe that any success in any career is highly relative to ones mental approach. Here is one of my favourite quotes:

 

“Some people want it to happen, some people wish it would happen, others make it happen”- Michael Jordan

 

Although it is important to be consistent in my competitions and results, sometimes there are days where things just don’t go your way. Whether it was due to events in and around the competition environment that proved as unexpected challenges, being hampered by weather changes, behavioural changes in your horse and so on. Much of my work with the psychologist is learning to use these adverse conditions and mistakes as a result to my benefit. A recent outing presented me with many unforeseen challenges that at the time were frustrating, however on reflection, were incredibly valuable to me from an educational point of view. It is with these mistakes, that we learn the most and I have learnt not to be afraid of making mistakes. As a goalkeeper, Asmir admits much of their learning, especially from a young age, is from making mistakes. However the key to becoming a great goalkeeper, is learning from them and not making the same mistake twice.

Competition for Asmir has not been limited to the turf this month, proving to be a popular contestant with his recent fourth appearance on A Question of Sport. His current record stands at 1-2, so he will be happy to even the record. You will have to tune in to see if he manages it this time. I heard that even Dressage made it into the famous sports quiz show and proud that my husband got that question right straight away- I would have been bitterly disappointed if he hadn’t! Here’s to three points today with a busy week ahead as Stoke welcomes Everton next week for a late night battle on Wednesday.

 

Nicolle x

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James Keir

 Certified Technical Coordinator  Certified Hardware Technician - Orange & Black Ice Hockey Fan - Technology Enthusiast - Podcast Junkie - Coke Zero Fiend

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #9

Trying to focus on writing this column, whilst watching the battle between Newcastle and Stoke play out on the television in front of me, is certainly a challenge. I am so relived that Crouch snatched a point to draw in the dying minutes of the game with his trademark header. Newcastle is always a long way to go and not get a point- so all in all a good result.

On the note of good results, Asmir was thrilled to watch the New England Patriots win the Superbowl. He stayed up through the night till the very end on the edge of his seat to witness one of the greatest games NFL fans will have ever seen. Both teams were incredible but Asmir’s team were the victors with Tom Brady being declared the MVP (most valuable player) which is such an honour.

 

 

Strictly Come Dressage…

The time has arrived in training where we have turned out attention to designing and creating a freestyle for this competition year. This process is so involved and somewhat complicated which one would never necessarily expect or know about when you see the final polished performance in the competition arena.  The critical point in this process is designing the floor plan that has technical difficulty but is ride-able to ensure maximum marks can be gained from the judges. Choosing music to compliment the horse and rider combination is the final step and is crucial as the right or wrong music can affect the perception of what the judge sees and interprets- too heavy and loud and it can make a horse look flat and heavy, too soft and light and can detract from the presence of a very powerful moving horse. This process is no doubt similar for figure skaters and gymnasts. We work tirelessly on perfecting our freestyles, as it is an opportunity to showcase and play on our horse’s strengths and gain some our highest percentages.


The long winter months can stifle the enthusiasm of even the most positive and dedicated of people and athletes, but I have found the key to this is in fitness work. Although I can ride three or more horses a day, this isn’t enough to rely on for fitness. It is important I push myself out of my comfort zone. So I can’t recommend enough getting on those trainers and getting active. Summer can’t be far now…so I hope!


Bosnian ‘brothers’

Tonight, Asmir will be re-united on the pitch with Bosnian teammate and friend, Edin Dzeko. Usually, Asmir would be watching Edin at the other end of the pitch netting the goals for Bosnia, but against Man City, Asmir will be coming face to face with Edin’s attempts on goal. It doesn’t matter whether you’re best friends or even family, when you play against them on the pitch, you always play to win. Asmir and Edin will meet again in March for the next International break where Bosnia will play away to both Andorra and Austria as they continue their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Here’s to a great result tonight. Now the transfer window has closed for the last time this season, we can now focus on Stoke hopefully achieving their highest finish in the table yet. I am feeling very positive and optimistic about that with such a strong and talented team going forward.

 

Nicolle x

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #8

It is great to be back writing my column after a short break over the Christmas period. I cannot believe that we are at the end of January already. The way the fixtures have fallen so far has meant that it has been a relatively quiet start to the New Year at the Britannia, with only Wrexham gracing the pitch for Stoke’s winning FA Cup home fixture. Since then, Stoke have advanced ever closer to Wembley Stadium with this weeks win against Rochdale.

My competition year started with great success at Addington High Profile show a few weeks ago. The freezing weather conditions and threat of snow couldn’t stop us hardcore ‘Dressage Diva’s’ from strutting our stuff. I knew it was really cold when I was rudely awoken at 3am by the subzero temperature in my truck and I swear there was even ice on the inside of my windows. Clearly I hadn’t travelled enough in these colder conditions when I admitted, to an astounded audience, that I in fact did not own an essential piece of equipment, a heated blanket! I now have my very own safely stowed away for next time. I am feeling really positive and excited about the upcoming year.

 

The ‘Chronic’ New Years Resolution…

Speaking of the end of January- how are everyone’s New Years resolutions going? It is inevitable that we all set out with great determination to succeed with our resolutions and if you are still going strong- good work! Like many, I ditched the chocolate and treats and my wine glass has been sat empty having been denied its preferred Pinot Noir. All in favour of the gym partnered with a healthy and ‘clean’ diet.

In preparation for this year’s competition season, it is important that the focus on fitness and health is not exclusively applied to our horses, which we treat as top athletes, but to also ourselves as riders. Therefore I have embarked on improving my fitness and diet and I have to say that I am already feeling the benefits and have wondered why I didn’t come to this revelation sooner? It is a careful balance between training, preparation and management out of the saddle, which is predominantly where most of the work is done.

This same methodology is what is practiced by footballers; with the majority of time being spent perfecting their bodies for their careers and honing their skills in daily training. The actual game time is but a fraction of the work and dedication that they put into their careers.

With the Premier League season continuing through the colder months of winter, the opportunity of a warm weather training break is always welcome. Stoke recently returned from a week in Dubai where they were able to take some respite from the bitterly cold weather that has grasped the UK and enjoyed time training together in the sun with a chance for some team bonding. Asmir commented to me that the trip was great as everyone returned feeling refreshed, recharged and positive, ready to build on what has been a strong start to Stoke’s season so far. So as I always say, the parallels between horses and footballers are similar indeed.

 

Super Bowl Sunday

It is one of the world’s biggest sporting events, famous not just for the American football, but for its half-time shows usually with a dose of celebrity controversy mixed in. For advertisers, this is some of the most expensive television time I the world with a thirty-second advert slot costing over four million dollars. For the fellow horse (and beer lovers of course), we wait with baited breath each year to see what advertising delight Budweiser will produce with their famous Clydesdale horses that always bring people to tears with their endearing plot lines.

Asmir will of course be cheering for his team of choice, the New England Patriots, who have made over eight appearances in the final and won the prestigious trophy three times. Not only is Asmir a huge fan of the Patriots but also one of his most admired athletes is their star quarterback, Tom Brady. Maybe it is the similarities in their respective roles of on the field that Asmir can relate to Brady- or is it because they look very alike? I’ll leave you to be the judge of that.

 

 

‘REAL HOUSEWIVES’ HAS ARRIVED….

The famous reality franchise has arrived all the way from America and has debuted in the UK. What a treat it is to see another Stoke City wife adorning our television screens. Tanya Bardsley is fast becoming the star of the reality show Real Housewives Of Cheshire, showcasing the luxuries that Cheshire has to offer its residents. Tanya is proving to be one of the most liked and popular on the show with the viewing audience, which comes as no surprise as she’s incredibly down to earth and very funny.

Go #TeamTanya!

 

Till next time…

 

Nicolle x

 

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #7

Wouldn’t it be great to see in Christmas with three points today?! The sound of sleigh bells and Christmas songs are everywhere I go and that means they are ever playing on repeat in my head. Having grown up in a traditional small town in Tennessee, Christmas was a very big deal taken very seriously. There wasn’t a space in town that hadn’t been adorned with fairy lights, fresh greenery wrapped in beautiful red velvet ribbon, or some kind of Christmas ornament. To top off the quintessential Christmas look was the six feet of perfect powdery white snow that fell on schedule every winter. Thinking back, it really was a beautiful way to enjoy Christmas. I think I might be asking a bit much to wish for a white Christmas here, for not only is it inconvenient but also would be likely to threaten the busy and hectic football calendar over the festive break.


Christmas Cheer

It is always an interesting time of year for Asmir and I as we both find Christmas to be the busiest for us in our careers, whereas most people look forward to a welcome break, with their feet up enjoying the company of their families and friends. It is something that we have adapted to over the years and have found a happy balance with our training and schedules. For both Asmir and I, our daily training continues as normal over this period as the games come thick and fast for the players, and also the horses need to be kept fit and in training for the imminent 2015 competition season.

We have found the best way to balance a traditional Christmas celebration in our family is to have our family Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, which is always beautiful being lit by candlelight. We are up early the next morning with our daughter to watch her delight at seeing Santa’s overnight delivery sitting at the base of the tree, where after presents, we enjoy a brunch with all the left-overs before seeing Asmir off to training for the Boxing Day game. At this point, overfilled with turkey and all things yummy but bad for us, we collapse on the sofa, no doubt like everyone else is, to enjoy the television delights for the rest of the evening.

Whilst Asmir prepares for the game at the team hotel, early that morning you will find me at the yard mucking out and helping with the horses. It always surprises some people when they realise that we still have to look after the horses as normal on Christmas and Boxing day, but sadly horses have not yet learned to look after themselves and as far as they are concerned, it is just as normal a day as any other.

With the Boxing Day game only a few clicks north on the M6 at Goodison Park, it will be a popular game to attend for the families of the players and Stoke fans alike. No sooner will the final whistle blow, that the team will be steaming back down the motorway to prepare for West Brom at home a few days later bringing the 2014 football season to a close.

Dressage Dreams

It has been an incredible few weeks (and years for the matter) for Dressage’s greatest and most successful competitor and ambassador, as Charlotte DuJardin, was fourth in line for the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year award. It has been a whirlwind few years for Charlotte and my beloved sport of Dressage as it has danced its way onto our screens and around the world. A few years ago it wasn’t a sport you would see on mainstream television, but thanks to Charlotte and her dancing partner Valegro with their incredible achievements, it is now starting to appear amongst some of the largest and most long-standing sports. It was incredible to watch Dressage be profiled alongside such great and historic sporting events that regularly adorn the front of the sports pages.

Charlotte, earlier this week, will have attempted to break two of her three World Record’s when she competed at Olympia International Horse show in London. I can’t wait to tell you all how she got on as Asmir and I will have been there for our annual visit with our family and friends to kick off our Christmas celebrations.

Here’s wishing you all a wonderful Christmas full of joy, laughter and happiness!

Nicolle x

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #6

Christmas is officially here. Time to dust off the baubles and crack out the wrapping paper. Christmas came early with the addition of Roddy the pony, the newest member of the Begovic clan. He was passed down from a Dressage dynasty, the Hughes family with both Gareth and Rebecca riding at International level in Dressage with their young daughter Ruby who is already following in their footsteps. As Ruby outgrew Roddy, we were offered him for my daughter, so it seemed an ideal match. I am sure Asmir would rather she preferred her golf clubs or tennis racket, but as it happens, it seems she has inherited my affinity and passion for horses.

It has been a busy few weeks and not without some health concerns- the night before my solo departure to my last big show of the year, Bury Farm High Profile show, Asmir was struck down with the virus that was sweeping through Stoke’s training ground seemingly trying to take down the players caught in its path. Poor Asmir endured a grueling night of sickness before calling in sick. In the eight years that I have been with Asmir, this was only his second day off work as ‘sick’ so that indicated to me how dreadful he must have been feeling. By this point, I had been around Asmir for at least 24 hours prior to sickness so I mentally readied myself for the inevitable sickness to grasp me, most probably when I was at the show three hours away and on my own. Thankfully and gladly I am relieved to report that I dodged the virus this time. To be away from home, living in my lorry with a horse to take care of meant that I just couldn’t be ill. Perhaps it is the commercial amount of sanitizing hand gel that I use on a daily basis with the aim to stave off any potential cross contamination between humans. That is often why I prefer the company of horses as I am famously OCD and horses do not pose a ‘germ’ threat in my view!

The show was a great personal success for me achieving one of my highest scores to date at Small Tour level, which was a great way to end this competition year. Soon enough we will be making our preparations for our International debut next year, which has been a life long ambition of mine. Bury Farm held the show, the same venue as The Dressage Convention, and my experience there nearly ended before it began when my horse decided the muddy puddle at the bottom of the ramp posed as a life threatening hazard in his mind, so Foxy leapt off the side of the ramp catching the back of my leg with his metal clad hoof before eventually landing in ‘said’ muddy puddle dispersing its contents all over me, much to the delights of the passing show jumpers, who had a little snigger to themselves.  So much for team spirit! I held my mud covered head high and marched him off to the stables and pretended not to be bothered despite the fact my dignity was left in tatters at the foot of my lorry’s ramp.

To sign off on a more positive note, Asmir recently visited his chosen local charity, Redgate Clayton Football Club. He took with him, a cheque for £10,000 from the Asmir Begovic Foundation, which will allow the club to develop and extend their facilities to accommodate and allow children the use of not only the training facilities, but also in Sunday league games.

Nicolle x


Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #5

I am sure I am not alone when I, along with football fans around the country, collectively breathe a sigh of relief that we have finally reached the mid-season interlude in the International calendar. We can look forward to four months of uninterrupted weekends filled with Premier League games. This period in the season I always look forward to as my family and I get to see more of Asmir at home. The commitment to International football can be really hard for the families and the players due to the regular and long periods of separation. However, if results for qualifiers haven’t been favourable for Asmir and Bosnia then the extended break between games can be an anxious one as they anticipate their next qualifiers. That brings me nicely onto the next chapter.

 

Bosnia’s Battle

It has been a disappointing start to Bosnia’s European 2016 qualifying campaign having lost two games and drawn two games. This has left Bosnia hovering just one place from the bottom of the table. It is a far cry from the dizzying heights of topping the table for their World Cup qualification. The real battle will commence in March when Bosnia meet Andorra with a new manager (still to be decided) at the helm. The presence of a new manager will require quick adjustment from the players and staff with only days to prepare together. Asmir though is looking forward to a fresh and new chapter for the team and is optimistic for their remaining games. Although, Asmir knows that it won’t be easy with qualification relying on Bosnia winning their remaining six games to secure even a play-off place for Euro 2016. 

One positive though to take away from Bosnia’s 3-0 defeat to Israel was seeing Asmir captain his Country for the very first time, a role that Asmir filled with natural ease and skill. His innate ability for leadership is a crucial trait for top goalkeepers. The response to Asmir’s captaincy was really overwhelming and very positive. Once Edin Dzeko reaches full fitness, he will resume as Captain with Asmir Vice-Captain, two players and people well suited for these most coveted roles.

 

 

Football of the 'American' Variety…

Our annual pilgrimage to Wembley to watch the NFL came around quickly this year. It was this time last year that Asmir and I introduced Ryan and Kath Shawcross to the delights of the American game of ‘football’. This was not before enjoying the fantastic win against Spurs earlier that day. Kath and I made our way by train for a fun filled weekend in London for a rare few days off. With International break starting that weekend we were delighted to be joined by Asmir’s Bosnian teammates, Haris Medunjanin (Deportivo de La Coruña) and Mensur Mujdza (SC Freiburg), both of whom Asmir has a very good friendship with. It was a treat for them to get a chance to watch a Premier League game as they both play in Spain and Germany respectively.

Having been a big fan the Spanish Riding School in Vienna for many years, I was delighted when they contacted me to arrange tickets to the Spurs game. So there I was, joined by five of the infamous Spanish Riding School riders (that’s a really big deal for me as a Dressage rider as they are iconic in the equestrian world), who enjoyed a traditional beer and a good game of English football. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves as the atmosphere was fantastic with non-stop singing from the Stoke fans throughout the match that kept them smiling.

As soon as the final whistle blew, I waved off the Spanish riders as they had to head to the stables to train their horses for their upcoming shows at Wembley Arena. The Bosnian contingent, along with Ryan, Kath, Asmir and myself, jumped into our waiting van to be whisked off to Wembley Stadium to see the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Dallas Cowboys. We made it just in time to witness the beautiful and emotional tribute to our fallen hero’s, as it was Remembrance Sunday, along with the fantastic National anthems of Great Britain and the United States. As usual, the organisers never fail to impress bringing the authentic game-day entertainment (including the cheerleaders) and hospitality all the way across the Atlantic.

The next day, before Asmir departed to Bosnia, we made a visit to the Tate Modern on the bank of the Thames for a private tour of their galleries for some cultural enrichment. I thoroughly enjoyed it and having a well educated expert guide us in discussions made me appreciate art in a whole new way. Something I would recommend to anyone visiting a gallery. Till next time …


Nicolle x

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #4

Six hours on, bound for my daily training near Uttoxeter, I have been unexpectedly detained on the A50 after being caught up in today’s (Tuesday’s) national newsworthy road closure. As a result, my car is presently my ‘mobile office’. Although unconventional and with little distraction other than to stare into the horizon, I was able to make the most of the delay and write my latest column. I certainly have had plenty to reflect on over the last few weeks as they have been busier than usual.


Cardiff or bust….

Horses have certainly been the main cause for my hectic schedule, mixed with Asmir’s constant International commitments with the continuance of qualifiers for Euro 2016. The first of two recent matches began with a road trip to Cardiff where we were graced with the presence of the Bosnian squad in our own ‘backyard’ for a change. It was welcome relief to be able to jump onto a corporate coach, that we borrowed from Stoke for the weekend, instead of a plane and steam down the M6 to Cardiff. Prior to the game, my family and I were able to visit the Bosnia team hotel, adjacent to ours, for a coffee and quick catch up with Asmir. It was great to have a moment to catch up with the rest of the team, having last spoken to them all the way back in Salvador, Brazil many months ago.


Little did I expect to be met and greeted by the swarms of Bosnia fans inside the hotel reception, always ever present and passionately committed supporters of their country’s national football team. Asmir was on good form and ready to face the epic Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale teamed with a strong Welsh side. A goal-less draw was a fair result with both goalkeepers having a very strong game. Asmir though stood out on the night with one of the finest saves I have ever seen him make in his career so far. After blocking an angled shot from Bale in the dying seconds of the game, Asmir preserved the fact that Bale has not been able to score past Asmir in six meetings between them so far. Long may that statistic last!


As we departed Cardiff the next morning, the team hoped on a flight back to Sarajevo where they had to prepare for their next game against Belgium. Asmir knew that they would be a challenging side with the strength and talent that Belgium displayed in their successful extended run in Brazil, having made the quarterfinals.  On the night, Bosnia were a competitive side and were looking as though they may win having gone ahead with an early goal from Dzeko, when an uncharacteristic mistake from Asmir levelled the score, and the game finished 1-1. A respectable result, but without a win so far in their qualifying campaign, Bosnia may struggle to get out of the group. Hopefully this elusive win will come when Bosnia faces Israel in their next game.



Horses, horses, everywhere!

Upon Asmir’s return from International break, I promptly departed for an exciting five-day trip for two big Dressage events. The first was attending, as a rider (and operations help) with my horse Foxy, The Dressage Convention, hosted by my mentor and trainer Richard Davison and his long standing friend and British teammate Carl Hester, two of our sports greatest riders and trainers. It was an honour for me to be able to mix and exchange training ideas with some of Equestrian’s finest talents ranging from Internationally renowned judge, Stephen Clarke, gold medal winning freestyle maestro Tom Hunt and Spanish Riding School superstar Florian Bacher to name but a few. It was three well attended jam packed days, as the event slogan rightly stated, “Where training methods meet”. Being able to ride in front of so many people including our amazing hosts and presenters was a brilliant opportunity for Foxy and I. It was a welcome experience without the added pressure that you are faced with when you come down the centreline with the sights of 3, 4, 5 or even 7 judges glaring at you in competition. I must say one of the highlights was riding alongside Carl on his giant World Equestrian Games’ medal winning mount, Niptuck. It was a chance to have fun and strut our stuff!


As soon as the show wrapped on Sunday afternoon, and already overwhelmed with fatigue, it was all action stations as we readied the horses for their departure home. Richard, Tom Hunt and I departed straight to Stansted airport for a late night flight to Billund, Denmark where we were to attend the 2-day annual Global Dressage Forum. It was a little surreal as our bus full of Dressage’s finest from around the world arrived late into the night at the Legoland hotel where were all assigned our ‘themed’ rooms. You can imagine it was an exciting exchange over breakfast as we all discussed which theme of bedroom each of us had-I think Pirates was in the majority.


The forum was being held outside of Holland for the first time in fourteen years at the exquisite Blue Hors Stud with world-class facilities and horses. The forum is a wonderful concept where for two days every area of our sport is discussed and dissected in detail including presentations of innovative ideas and directions that we can move towards from training to commercial development. It was a very educational, informative and thought provoking experience in one of the finest equestrian facilities one can see in the world. It was like my own version of Disney World. No expense had been spared with the best of everything on offer. I envied the horses there as this Stud equates to the finest 7 star luxury for people!


No sooner had I departed Stoke that I was back home again, exhausted, but freshly enlightened and excited by my sport of Dressage and the potential it has for the future and those involved with the sport. The newly gained recognition and appreciation of the ‘dancing horses’ has certainly created the opportunity for reaching a wider market with new and exciting competition formats in the pipeline. One such is having ‘knock out’ rounds with two or three riders simultaneously riding movements against each other, with the best pairing remaining till the end, a bit like in ballroom dancing.


This weekend, as the whistle at the Britannia signals for kick-off against West Ham, should I be offering my final salute on the centre line as I finish my test at a High Profile Show. It is always hard to miss Asmir play as it is such a joy to watch him do what he loves, but so is the nature of our schedules, that there are inevitable clashes.


Nicolle x

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #3

It is such a pleasure to start with acknowledging Stoke City’s special “Marvellous Matchday” in honour of former kit man Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin. Stoke-On-Trent came to a rare standstill, along with the rest of the country, when BBC2 premiered the part biopic part musical drama, Marvellous. It was the most sincere, heart-warming and tearful ninety minutes of television I have ever watched, simply, it was splendid! The delightful portrayal of Neil Baldwin’s story enlightened us to the experiences of a man unconsumed by self-consciousness and with perpetual optimism that left viewers moved and inspired. I certainly took a moment to reflect on the many positive life values and morals that can be learned from Neil. Here’s to you Nello!

 

Bosnia’s Brazilian Adventure- Part Three

 

Having eventually arrived on the team plane, destined for Sao Paulo, we sat back in our seats surrounded by the staff, players and family. That was when everyone’s conversation, focus and thoughts turned to Game Two: Bosnia v Nigeria in Cuiaba in six days time.  Upon landing, the team were swiftly whisked away on the official team bus flanked by the now customary security; armed military soldiers. I often reflected and observed the parallels of the armed guards and the players, both ‘soldiers’ for their respective professions.


Many hours later on the family bus, having driven through what seemed like the Amazon (apparently it wasn’t) we arrived at our hotel. It was a few minutes drive away from the team base hotel, and thankfully a little more luxurious then we expected. Driving though the traditional and small, beach-side town of Guaruja, it was clear to see that a World Cup team being based there was the biggest thing to happen there in a long time. No expense was spared as Bosnian flags we displayed on every space possible and even the efforts extended as far as investing in a three-story high inflatable team jersey that stood proudly, day and night, signalling to those passing by that this was the ‘official’ Bosnia team hotel. The sense of event was inescapable and certainly added to the Brazilian flare we experienced throughout the trip.


During the months and months of planning, we had envisaged that our arrival in Brazil, especially Guaruja, would be the start of a beach holiday with a little bit of football thrown in. Instead is was a test of expert logistical skill and planning as we travelled relentlessly across the enormous country with a few rainy days at the beach in-between.

The story of “4 cities in 1 day” is one of my favourite to recall, as it was one of the most memorable experiences, for the good and the bad. The day of the game where Bosnia faced Nigeria began for the family at 4am in Guaruja as we departed on our trek through the “Amazon” to catch an early flight to Cuiaba. The chaos that we met at Sao Paulo airport was overwhelming that morning with the huge crowds of people travelling, from regular tourists and locals now being magnified with the scores of football fans moving around the country.


After a short flight North, now a little bit closer to the ‘real’ Amazon, we exited the plane and were immediately hit by the extreme heat and humidity of the midday sun. It certainly was a welcome reprieve from the persistent monsoon weather we had been experiencing for the last week in Guaruja. Little did we foresee the negative effect these weather conditions would have on the Bosnian team. Some would say that the game was lost even before the anthems and handshakes had ended. By kick-off, even the fans in the stand were finding the extreme heat and humidity unbearable so one can only imagine the effect on the players. I will never forget as the camera panned across the Bosnia players during their national anthem, that they all had beads of sweat pouring down their reddened faces to their sweat drenched jersey’s, signalling to those watching that they were certainly feeling it too.


The game ended in a 1-0 defeat for Bosnia, with Stoke and Nigeria International striker, Peter Odemwingie, scoring the only goal of the game, ending Bosnia’s World Cup campaign. I, along with many of the team’s family members, hadn’t considered what would happen if Bosnia lost so we were all taken a little by surprise. A very depressing flight through the night on the team plane to Salvador, the most dangerous city in Brazil, awaited us upon our departure from the stadium.


Having arrived in Salvador in the early hours of the next morning, we found half our suitcases had gone missing, but eventually they were located at the team hotel having been collected by mistake-Phew! As it happened we were residing within the same resort complex as them team right next to their luxury hotel (minus inflatable shirt), and wait for it, our very own roach motel. Not what you need when you have been up and travelling for over 24 hours, so with our remaining suitcases in tow and delirious from sleep deprivation, we arrived at the gates of the team hotel with intent and purpose to find accommodation within their base. This of course was an unwelcome development for the Bosnian FA, but we didn’t have any other choice, especially with security within our accommodation being paramount. Thankfully and gratefully, they allowed the families to move into the team hotel which had been reserved exclusively for the squad so there was plenty of room, but we did not have access to the usual amenities that one would expect from a luxury hotel.


With little else to do to occupy ourselves, being confined to the safety of the heavily guarded hotel, our days there were centered around the player’s meal times, as we only had access to the food that was left over from their meals. We did have the last laugh though, as we endeavoured to obtain contraband in the form of wine and chocolate from said neighbouring ‘roach motel’ to enjoy in the evenings, of course once the players departed to their rooms for rest. It was a sort of antiquated experience; similar that of the ‘Downton Abbey’ social divide of ‘upstairs, downstairs’. It wasn’t all that easy either trying to remain invisible to the staff and team, so as not to be deemed a disturbance, but we managed well enough.

The final group match against Iran in Salvador was one with a good and friendly atmosphere with both teams having already exited the World Cup. It was just pride left to play for. The 3-1 win for Bosnia was a historical first win at a World Cup so it was welcoming to leave with a positive result. After the game, the players departed back to their base hotel before continuing onto their home destinations. That night, we headed to a well recommended Brazilian restaurant in the local area where we feasted on a delicious banquet of local delicacies before commencing the long journey back home, which for us started the next morning. I must admit that one or too many Caipirinha’s (Brazils’ national cocktail of course) were consumed that evening.

 

From Salvador to Rio, then onwards to London Heathrow, and having landed within an hour of Asmir’s inbound flight, that was where we rendezvoused and our Brazilian adventure ended. Not of course before we made the trek back to the Midlands whilst excitedly discussing our plans for a quiet get away before Asmir re-joined Stoke on pre-season. And before you knew it, we have started this process all over again with the commencement of Euro 2016 qualifiers!

 

Nicolle x

 

 

 

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #2B

Before I continue my trip down memory lane in the second of my three-part series on the World Cup, I must mention the success of Asmir’s first gala evening for his foundation. The inaugural Asmir Begovic Foundation gala evening was held, appropriately, at the Britannia Stadium on the 14th of September. It was a hugely successful and well-attended evening and the generosity of the guests was outstanding. With exciting auction prizes up for grabs, the bidding wars began. It was great to see Edin Dzeko, Charlie Adam and Glenn Whelan, amongst others, all get involved with the bidding! All in all with the auction bids and raffle ticket sales alone, the gala evening raised £25,000, which was then generously doubled to £50,000 by the Chairman of Stoke City, Mr Coates and his wife, Mrs Coates. Asmir and all those involved with the Asmir Begovic Foundation are still truly overwhelmed and cannot begin to express their heartfelt thanks to all those that have supported the charity’s cause, which is so close to Asmir’s heart.


Bosnia’s Brazilian Adventure- Part Two

Let the games begin!


The big day had finally arrived. We woke to feelings of excitement, anticipation coupled with a little anxiety, emotions that are usually associated with that of an impending wedding. As we grazed through breakfast and sat amongst all the friends and families of the Bosnian contingent, everyone talked excitedly of what awaited the players with the three upcoming group stage games that were now upon us. It was lovely and reassuring to see how relaxed the players were that morning. With most opting to enjoy the peace and quiet of their rooms, a few players were spotted strolling around the hotel taking in the atmosphere that was building up outside the hotel. The Bosnian fans arrived in their droves along with the press and their multitude of cameras and long-range lenses. With Argentina being Bosnia’s first opponent, the country’s legendary football status attracted quite a lot of attention from the national and international press. It was astounding how many Argentinian fans, donning their Messi shirts, were outside of the Bosnia team hotel. 


With kick-off not till later on in the evening, we had some free time in the day to explore more of the buzzing and colourful city of Rio De Janeiro. We had an excursion to the famous statue of Jesus Christ, known as Christ the Redeemer. We boarded an official mini-bus at a specified location where we were all whisked off up the windy narrow roads to the statue. We had no idea what to expect when we arrived, but it simply took our breath away when we reached the summit. The view was incredible and we felt as though we could see every inch of the city from up there. The expanse of the Favelas, the heavily populated slums in urban areas of Brazil, was really remarkable from our aerial position overlooking the city. Seeing the Maracana in the distance gave us all goose bumps as we anticipated our arrival there later in the day to watch that historic first game.


Whilst climbing what felt like an endless amount of stairs, we must have passed football fans from all corners of the globe. Everyone was swathed and covered in their beloved country’s football jersey, flag or any memento to their team and its players. Everyone along the way would stop to take pictures and wish each other good luck for their journey in the World Cup. It was incredibly exciting and we could all really feel the party atmosphere that the city of Rio is so famous for. After purchasing a few obligatory souvenirs and a quick coffee, we began the very speedy decent down the mountain again. These drivers do this journey all day everyday so are a dab hand at getting up and down the packed narrow roads as fast as the vans allow (not great for sufferers of motion sickness such as myself)! 


After a short respite back at the hotel, we all gathered in the reception a few hours before kick-off to see the team leave for their first game in a World Cup tournament. The scene inside and out was awash with Bosnia’s national flag colours of blue, yellow and white. As the players boarded the team bus and departed to the Maracana Stadium, they were immediately flanked by swarms of armed military personnel, outriders, police cars and a police helicopter escort that flew low and directly over the team bus whilst they travelled through the city. There was no doubt that FIFA took security very seriously when it came to the transportation of the teams and its staff. Although initially it was a somewhat intimidating scene, it did become a very reassuring and typical part of the trip. 


Shortly after, the Bosnian contingent travelled to the Maracana and in the warm, dark evening, the stadium was lit up beautifully as we had seen the night before, however this time, there were thousands of cheering fans crowding the streets and at every entrance to the Maracana. 


After the long awaited kick-off and with the game being beamed around the world, sadly Bosnia slipped an own goal from Kolašinac after only three minutes, but the team were not deterred and their fighting spirit prevailed with Ibišević scoring Bosnia’s first ever goal in a major tournament in the second half. Sadly though this was not enough to bring in a point to counter Messi’s winning goal and the game finished 2-1 to Argentina. 


Once back at the hotel, it was all action stations as the team and the travelling party prepared to depart early the following morning for the remaining ten-day tour of Brazil with two games to go- Nigeria and Iran. Boarding passes at the ready, we left the hotel shortly after the team convoy, both destined for the same chartered flight to Sao Paulo, however without all the security and its trimmings the team were benefiting from, the family bus was at the mercy of the famous Rio traffic. Two hours into what should have been a twenty-minute trip, having also unknowingly been heading to the wrong airport at some point, we finally reunited with the team plane on the tarmac, with a surprisingly patient onboard crowd.


This was where the real adventure began as we hopped from city-to-city, hotel-to-hotel and stadium-to-stadium to follow Bosnia on their Brazilian adventure. Until the next time where Part Three of the series will conclude with the final two games and all that happened in between. 


Till next time………

Nicolle x

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper’s Regime- #2A

Well I was undeniably distracted writing this column with the unexpected result that was unfolding before my eyes in watching Bosnia suffer a shock defeat to Cyprus in their opening Euro 2016 qualifier. I was hoping that I would be able to start on a more positive note today. I am disappointed for Asmir and the team because, until tonight, my ‘football’ feet hadn’t touched the ground after the euphoric experience of the World Cup and its preceding qualifying campaign for Bosnia.

There have been some changes to the squad since Brazil, with the exit of stalwart players being replaced with newer but promising faces. Like it is in any team, they need time to adjust and acclimatise to each other. Although Bosnia may have suffered a defeat this time, I am confident, from the moments of determination displayed tonight in Zenica, that they will be back with fire in their guts to win their next qualifying match. They are not called ‘The Dragons” for nothing!

Bosnia’s Brazilian Adventure- Part One

It is truly remarkable that the journey to qualify for Brazil began for Asmir and the Bosnian national football team all the way back to their 8-1 victory against Liechtenstein on the 7th of September 2012. Their successful qualifying campaign concluded with a decisive 1-0 victory over Lithuania on the 15th of October 2013- an evening I remember very well! It was an incredible day to say the least, as it was also an unusual one of sorts.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend this crucial final match as I was driving my lorry on a three day round trip to Germany to pick-up my horse Foxy, who I had just purchased. As it happened, there was a convenient truck stop near Asmir’s family home outside of Heilbronn, Germany. I was very fortunate, along with my groom Heidi (who incidentally was born in Germany), to be able to enjoy watching the game with Asmir’s family whilst tucking into a much needed and very tasty Bosnian feast with the game playing on the laptop nearby. It was one of the most intense meals I have ever experienced as we all struggled to make general conversation amongst ourselves with the magnitude of the game and its result weighing on all our minds. As you already know, Bosnia won and were through to their very first World Cup (and it is a wonder that any plates or glasses were left in one piece on the table as we all wildly got to our feet in celebration).  That night as I tried (unsuccessfully I may add) to sleep in my lorry, little did I know of the scenes that were unfolding in Bosnia as their entire population took to the streets to celebrate and welcome the team who made a prompt return to Sarajevo that night to join in the street celebrations. Witnessing the recorded scenes the next morning over a truck-stop coffee, I knew then we were in for a very exciting journey, and it didn’t disappoint.

 

Take off time.....

All aboard for Rio!

All aboard for Rio!

As our travelling party of eight, consisting of mine and Asmir’s direct family, settled into our seats on our twelve hour flight bound for Rio, we couldn’t believe it was really happening. By this time, Asmir had already been away for a month with the team in preparation for the group stages, so we were all very excited to be reunited with him, even if it were only for a few precious moments at a time. The flight time passed by surprising quick, no doubt aided by our excitement and anticipation. It seemed like in a flash of a moment we had whisked through all of the usual airport arrival procedures and were speeding along Rio De Janerio’s highways towards our hotel, which was joined to the team hotel. The moment we pulled up and parked next to the official team bus adorned with the official World Cup logo’s flanked by 24/7 armed guards, we really knew we had arrived.

Asmir greeted us with his teammate Haris Medunjanin, much to the delight of the fans that were steadfast in their patience for hours and hours each day, in the hope of catching glimpse or photo of a passing player. You couldn’t have written what happened next in all the chaos of excited fans, mounds of luggage, and customary ‘hello’s’. Whilst all this was going on, I recognized a man in the distance and casually said to Asmir and Haris that I could see Maradona going into the hotel to which they both instantly and simultaneously dismissed me, probably because they assumed I wouldn’t know who he was, but lucky for them I did. After I insisted they look, their faces dropped in amazement and disbelief, as if Santa had just appeared before their very eyes, and Asmir thrust his phone into my hand demanding a picture with Haris. I found it amusing as Asmir usually keeps his cool when meeting high profile or famous people, but he failed miserably here as he and Haris ran and flanked a compact sized Maradona for that once in a lifetime photo. That moment was a wonderful way to kick-off our tour of Brazil and is one of my favourite photos from the trip. 

After a good night’s sleep due to exhaustion (thankfully jet lag hadn’t quite grasped us yet), the family and I had a lovely day sightseeing around Rio, most importantly strolling along the infamous Copacabana beach. It was alive with music and people everywhere, celebrating the arrival of biggest show on earth and it is no joke that football is practically a religion out there. It was really nice to be able to mix with the players and their families in the day. It made for a relaxing atmosphere, which I am sure, was most welcome for the players. For me personally, one of the most special moments of the trip happened the eve of the first group game against Argentina, that was being staged at the colossal and monumental Maracana stadium in Rio. A privileged few, mainly a small number of the players’ families, were invited to watch Bosnia’s pre-match training session at the Maracana. I have been to many venues to watch Asmir play over the years, but walking into the Maracana was a breathtaking moment as the enormity of it all hit me. There was a wonderful calm in the stadium and I relished in the opportunity to be able see it empty and just take everything in. The most poignant moment was seeing Asmir walk out of the tunnel for the first time and as he stopped and looked around to take it all in, he smiled to himself. I could only imagine what that moment must have felt like for him- from boyhood dream to reality. I had tears in my eyes, as I was so overwhelmed with pride and happiness for him. As my step-dad Andy and I took our seats, amongst 78,800 empty ones to watch the training session, we knew we were in for quite the show in less than 24 hours time…and let’s say we weren’t disappointed!

 

To be continued………..

Nicolle x

Dressage Dreams and a Goalkeeper's Regime - #1

Back to work.....

Photo Credit: Joanna Prestwich

Welcome back everyone to a new season at Stoke City! I am sure many of you are relieved to see the football free weekends this summer behind you and look forward to what this 2014/2015 season may bring. I am very excited to be back with my column for the second year and Asmir and I look forward to sharing with you over the next few installments our experiences of a very exciting World Cup in Brazil this past summer. There has been plenty of positive development in my Dressage training and competitions as I look ahead to the next phase in my training, as my horse and I work our way further up the levels. Most certainly the phrase of being ‘back in the saddle’ applies to both football and horses!

 With the recent arrival of new members of the team, it is obvious that they could bolster what could be Stoke City’s most promising squad since their promotion into the Premier League. I for one know Asmir is feeling very confident with this year’s squad and is optimistic for great things for Stoke City this season.

Writing this introductory column for today’s season opener against Aston Villa has been a great opportunity for me to reflect on the progression both Asmir and I have made in our respective careers since my first ever column last year. We are both ever grateful for the opportunities that we have to participate and develop our passions in football and dressage especially with all the friendships formed along the way. All though it can be challenging at times to have two professional athletes in our marriage, there are plenty of wonderful people we get to meet along the way in our journey together.

 

Bosnia’s Brazilian Adventure

Asmir with Stoke City team-mate Peter after Nigeria beat Bosnia 1-0 in Brazil

After taking a short break post Brazil, Asmir was pleased to be re-united with the Stoke squad at their pre-season training camp in Germany. This was no doubt a familiar environment for Asmir, having spent over 6 weeks of his summer living in close quarters with his Bosnian teammates. They ate three meals a day together and spent very little time apart which served its purpose of maintaining team camaraderie and spirit which was obvious on the pitch. The Bosnian National Team looked in fantastic shape and ready to go from their arrival at their training base in Guaruja near Sao Paulo.

Nothing though could have prepared me for the difficult separation from Asmir during this period. This was easily the most challenging aspect of the World Cup for any of the player’s and their families, but on reflection it was a small sacrifice to make to see Asmir stand proudly along side his teammates in some of the most spectacular stadiums and atmospheres in the world.  It was a privilege for my family and I to be in Brazil during the group stages to support Asmir in the World Cup and there are plenty of experiences and memories that I will cherish forever. It most certainly was an adventure especially when there were unexpected changes in schedule at the last minute that found us scrabbling to keep up with the team as they moved from city to city. The Brazilians colourful and welcoming culture was something I will never forget and a highlight of the trip. As there just isn’t enough print space to share it all with you now, I look forward telling you all about it with exclusive behind the scenes stories and photos over the next few installments. So here’s to hoping for three points today as I sign off on my opening column of the season. Till next time…….

 

 Nicolle x