THE World Firefighters Games are held every two years, with the next one due to take place in the South Korean city of Daegu this August. It is, as you can probably imagine, a kind of Olympics for firefighters, with events from football to darts to arm wrestling to windsurfing to dragon boat racing to paintballing.
The last one was held in Liverpool two years ago. And one of its ambassadors was Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Chris Kirkland.
It’s fairly well known now that Kirkland wants to become a firefighter when he retires from football, having made those ambitions public in an interview with the Independent two years ago.
He was inspired as a youngster growing up in Leicestershire by a family friend, Paul Purser, who was a firefighter based at Hinckley Fire Station. “I always wanted to follow in his footsteps,” he once said, “and as I’ve got older, my interest in firefighting has never gone away.”
Kirkland has done plenty in recent years to promote the work that the Fire Service does and – more specifically – to raise the profile of the Fire Services National Benevolent Fund. Given his interest in firefighting, it was little surprise either that he was asked to help publicise the last World Games, or that he agreed to do so.
The highlight of each Games, by all accounts, is the Toughest Firefighter Alive contest. This event – billed as the ultimate test of a firefighter’s fitness – demands its competitors drag hoses, rescue heavy dummies, scale high walls and then do a stair climb up the side of a building. Kirkland has said it is something he would love to have had a go at.
Instead, his target is to win a trip to another world sporting festival – the one taking place in South Africa a couple of months before the Firefighters Games. Can he do it? Roberto Martinez seems to think so.
Last night’s final match: Wigan 1 Stoke 1
Reporter: Damian Johnson
As usual with a midweek Match of the Day, the show finished by scooping up the remains of Tuesday night’s Premier League games, the last of which saw Kirkland in inspired form to deny Stoke a late victory.
The keeper’s spectacular late save from James Beattie kept the score at 1-1 after Tuncay had cancelled out Paul Scharner’s opener for Wigan. It was a stop that had manager Martinez claiming that Kirkland is a certainty to go to the World Cup with England.
“I am confident Chris will be in the World Cup squad,” Martinez said afterwards. “His performances tell you that, but he has to get rid of the label of being injury prone.”
Yes, and that is a big ‘but’. Kirkland is an outstanding goalkeeper, and has been for several years. But persistent back problems have held up his progress to the extent that his full international career consists of a 45-minute substitute appearance in a friendly against Greece at Old Trafford in August 2006. He has only just returned to action for Wigan after a brief spell on the sidelines over New Year.
But maybe Martinez will be proved right. There are bound to be a few more twists and turns in the England goalkeeping sage between now and June, as James, Hart, Green, Foster, Robinson, Carson and anyone else I’ve forgotten dip in and out of contention.
Kirkland still keeps in touch with his friends at Hinckley Fire Station. If he does make it to the World Cup, they’ll be incredibly proud of him. Almost as proud, in fact, as he is of them.
As he said in that Independent interview two years ago: “As footballers, we are idolised for kicking a ball around, but firefighters actually make a sacrifice.”
1. Blackburn: 6 (GD: 1. 2L: 3.)
2. West Ham: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
3=. Everton: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
3=. Portsmouth: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
5. Stoke: 5 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
6. Hull: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
7. Wigan: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
8. Bolton: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
9. Fulham: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
10. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
11. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 3.)
12. Burnley: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
13. Wolves: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
14. Tottenham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
15. Birmingham: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
16. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
17. Liverpool: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
18. Sunderland: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
19=. Chelsea: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
19=. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
21. Manchester City: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last (Last night’s penultimate match was: Fulham 3 Burnley 0.)
(NB. Teams will receive one point for every time they appear last on MOTD. Appearances on MOTD2 are not included. Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference – the number of times a team is on last with Tony Gubba commentating. Teams still level will then be separated by the number of times they appear second last on MOTD.)