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Time was running out and a fifth, sixth, and seventh goal were needed.

They would, astonishingly, arrive, because that’s what football miracles are made of.

But we’re jumping ahead.

This has been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs.

Manchester City are on the brink of retaining their Premier League title. Newcastle United have pulled off a record-breaking escape from relegation and are looking toward a bright future. And Wigan have gained promotion to the Championship.

But for sheer drama, none of these stories can quite compete with that of Bristol Rovers, owned by Jordanian businessman Wael Al-Qadi.

At one point, the club was second to bottom in League Two, 91st out of 92 clubs in the pyramid of English football. To say promotion to League One was against the odds would barely scratch the surface of the events of the season.

“It was one of the most crazy, demanding seasons, really tiring because we went through it all, the lowest of the low to the highest of the high,” said Al-Qadi. “In a normal season, I’m here 50 percent of the time, I attend 50 percent of the games, but this season, because of what was going on, the upheaval in the club, going from rock bottom, I was here a lot more. And as a result, negativity and stress and lots of problems arose from within the club, and around the club there was pressure on me to get rid of the manager (Joey Barton). It was basically a revolt from within the club to make change.”

Some difficult decisions had to be taken, ones that have been vindicated spectacularly.

“I stuck with him and as a result, I cleaned house in the club, everybody was just pushed out and I appointed the new CEO (Tom Gorringe) who was with us as a commercial director, he became the youngest CEO in English football. Sweeping changes all across the club in all the departments brought in new, young, energized people.

“The combination of Tom, Joe, and me we rode out the storm, and results started to happen,” he added. “It went from a total negative dark place to be, to a ride of success which was fantastic. The quality of football being played, the goals, fairytale gains, being 3-1 down with 18 minutes left to win 4-3 in the 95th minute, stuff like that. It’s just incredible.

“And then the final game of the season, ‘the miracle’ I call it, a footballing miracle, to witness that was just unbelievable. And then what happened after the celebrations. The whole city, for not only that night, for days and weeks, they’re still talking about and it will go down in the folklore of the club as one of the greatest achievements ever.”

May 7, 2022, and Bristol Rovers are playing Scunthorpe United at the Memorial Stadium with an automatic place in League One on the line. But they trail Northampton Town, second in League Two and playing at Barrow, on goal difference.

“Going into the game, it (automatic promotion) was unlikely, we had to first of all win by five goals just to catch up and hope at the same time, if we didn’t do that hope we win and Northampton draws or loses,” said Al-Qadi.

“So I asked the manager, ‘Are we going for it? And he was like, hell yes. So I knew we were gonna attack and go for goal difference because we’re not relying on the other teams to do us favors. So the lineup was totally attacking, we put in wing-backs who are wingers actually, we changed the line up to basically nine attackers and just two defenders and I knew we were gonna go for it.”

What happened next defied all footballing logic.

“So we started off well but then the news filtered in, 1-0 Northampton, then 2-0 Northampton, then 3-0 Northampton, so you’re kind of deflated, and you start thinking, okay, at least we’re in the playoffs, it’s not the end of the world. And then we scored a goal, and we scored another goal. And Barrow scored the goal. That’s three goals wiped off the deficit of eight.

“So at halftime, there were five to go, and honestly I thought that it was doable because I know we were going to go all-out attack. I know that we’re one of the fittest teams in the league, I know that a lot of our goals are scored in the last 15 minutes, so it was just me expecting the next goal to go in.

“And then after that went in, I was like, okay, when’s the fourth going in? And then, okay, when’s the fifth going in? Then the sixth goal (on 79 minutes). And then when the seventh goal went in (85), I lost it completely. It was, it was just incredible.”

Having pulled off the impossible, there was a brief, but terrifying, concern that it could all be in vain when the fans invaded the pitch before its conclusion, with the referee taking the players into the dressing rooms for 15 minutes.

“We were under the whim of this referee,” Al-Qadi said. “His decision could cost us, basically, promotion. So I went down on the pitch and addressed the crowd, ‘Please do not come onto the pitch’, because this referee could abandon the game again.”

After Barton addressed the crowd as well, the match was completed and the celebrations could start all over again.

Al-Qadi’s faith in his players to pull off the result was not based on blind optimism either. Increasingly throughout the season, the team had shown a capacity to score very late, decisive goals, a legacy of their improved fitness.

“When Joe came in, he realized that we were way behind in standards in fitness and sports science and nutrition,” he said. “So he did a complete overhaul in that department and he brought in people who he knows and trusts and who he’d worked with before. For example, we got in Tom Short, ‘Shorty,’ from Premier League Burnley. He had treated Joe when he was a player at Burnley and got him fit again, so he knows his capabilities.”

Al-Qadi calls Short and all the backroom staff “unsung heroes” for their part in the promotion.

“Joe built a super fit team that lasts beyond the 90 minutes, you could see it throughout the season, where other teams drop off around the 75th minute, and we keep on going. We’re fitter, we’re stronger, and the results speak for themselves.”

A week before the promotion was secured, Bristol Rovers had pulled off another miracle away at Rochdale. Losing 3-2 into stoppage time, Barton’s team somehow managed to turn almost defeat into a 4-3 win, a match Al-Qadi watched with the traveling support.

“It’s just crazy, I wanted to get on the pitch,” said Al-Qadi. “What a day. We had to win to keep up with everyone at one stage, we win, we are losing, we were out of the playoffs. Imagine we were losing 3-1 with 18 minutes left, we were out of the playoffs. Even going to the 90th minute, we’re losing 3-2, two out, and then all of a sudden we’re in and then the next week, we get promoted. It’s crazy.”

Rovers took more than 2,000 fans to Rochdale and Al-Qadi’s presence in the stands was proof that six years after taking over the club he is as much a fan as he is an owner.

“You have to enjoy it,” he said. “You have to because there’s so much stress and anger and you know, falling out with people and people don’t see that, it’s not just about watching a football game and enjoying it. So I guess it’s like a balance with all the joy you get. It balances out all the other negative stuff that you have to deal with, and we have dealt with, and how the season was crazy.”

With no stress of a playoff to worry about, the Bristol Rovers fans have been wallowing in the joy of “the miracle” and the chairman is enjoying the ride even as, behind the scenes, preparations for League One are already taking place.

“You should see the fans. I mean, my God stories of lost ones, dear ones, that they bring their pictures of the dear ones to the game. And after promotion, they just put that picture up and take a memory picture for them. It’s done for them. It’s so many stories, you know, it’s just unbelievable. I met a guy who flew in from Australia just for this game. And I was so relieved for him, because imagine if we didn’t make it.

“And another guy from Canada,” he added. “I was picking up my son at the airport in the morning. He came in from the US, and I was stopped by the flight steward who recognized me, (he) came up and said, ‘I just flew in from Ireland. I’m gonna go get changed and go to the game.’ It’s just beautiful stories.

“They’re over the moon, they’re just really happy,” Al-Qadi said. “They’re loving the football we’re playing at the moment. They say it’s the best football they’ve ever seen. It’s really satisfactory to hear that.”


Veteran Sjostrom, teenager McIntosh complete golden doubles at swimming worlds

Sarah Sjostrom, who has been winning world titles for 13 years, and Summer McIntosh, who has been winning them for four days, both collected their second gold medals of the week in Budapest on Saturday.

Sjostrom, a 28-year-old Swede who won the 50m butterfly less than 24 hours earlier, added the 50m freestyle, her 10th world gold.

McIntosh, a Canadian 15-year-old, held off 16-year-old American Katie Grimes to win the women’s 400m medley title.

McIntosh, who won the 200m butterfly gold on Wednesday, claimed her fourth medal in Budapest in four minutes and 32.04 seconds.

Grimes was 0.63sec back, while another American, Emma Weyant, was a distant third ahead of Hungarian 33-year-old Katinka Hosszu, the defending champion.

“I tried to push my body as much as possible,” said McIntosh. “The crowd gave me so much adrenaline.

“I really felt my body in the backstroke.

“Katie is a top competitor, I like racing against her since we are in the same age group.”

Sjostrom finished her sprint in 23.98 seconds, 0.20sec ahead of Pole Katarzyna Wasick, with Australian Meg Harris and American Erika Brown tied for bronze.

The Swede took her first European title at 14 and her first world title a year later in 2009. This was her 20th world championship medal.

“Maybe my mind-set and also a lot of hard work, but also I love what I do,” she said of her longevity.

Sjostrom narrowly missed another medal when she anchored Sweden to fourth in the women’s 100m medley relay that closed the championships.

“It’s been a busy four days for me,” she said.

“I feel like it’s business for me too, I just go in and do my job I guess.”

The US won, anchor ed by 17-year-old Claire Curzan. Australia were second and Canada, with Penny Olesiak holding off Sjostrom, third.

The men’s 50m backstroke gold medal was presented twice, with the US anthem played twice.

In the first race of the evening, Justin Ress was disqualified after video review for finishing entirely under water as he touched the wall first.

His training buddy Hunter Armstrong was awarded gold, winning in 24.14 seconds.

Ksawery Masiuk, a 17-year-old Pole, initially took silver, 0.35sec back, with Italian Thomas Ceccon, who set a 100m backstroke world record on Monday, taking the bronze on loan.

Armstrong wiped a tear away as he stepped off the podium after accepting the gold in the evening’s first medal ceremony.

“I’m very disappointed my team-mate was disqualified and hopefully Team USA’s protest will be successful,” he said.

He got his wish, when a jury upheld the appeal. Ress came out alone to stand on the top step of the podium and receive his medal in the last medal ceremony of the championships.

Ceccon had taken pre-emptive revenge by swimming the breaststroke leg as Italy edged the Americans, the reigning champions and world record holders, in the 100m medley relay final. Britain were third.

That was a fifth gold for Italy after Gregorio Paltrinieri earlier swum the second fastest time in men’s 1500m freestyle history to win his third world title in the distance.

The 27-year-old Italian surged away from the start, setting a breakneck pace.

He was on world record pace for much of the race before fading at the end to finish in 14min 32.80sec and miss Sun Yang’s mark by 1.78sec.

American Bobby Finke was second, 3.90sec back, with Florian Wellbrock third at 4.14.

Paltrinieri said he had been motivated by finishing fourth out in the 800m

“I came out with the mindset that I wanted to destroy the pool,” he said after becoming the oldest ever 1500m world champion.

“I’m 28 in a couple of months,” he said. “But I’m still learning.”

Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte won her first world gold since 2013 when she edged Italian 17-year-old Benedetta Pilato by 0.10sec in the women’s 50m breaststroke final. South African Lara van Niekerk was third.

Meilutyte had not won a major championship medal of any color since 2015.

“It’s nice to be a world champion,” she said.

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Chun balloons to 75 as her lead shrinks to 3 at Women’s PGA Championship

This was the moment the rest of the field needed: In Gee Chun standing near the trees, contemplating her situation and then eventually heading back to the point of her previous shot.

A shaky third round cut her lead at the Women’s PGA Championship in half.

Chun shot a 3-over 75 on Saturday, leaving her three strokes ahead going into the final round at Congressional Country Club. On a day the leaders had plenty of trouble, Chun was holding her own until she made a double bogey on the par-5 16th hole.

“Looking forward to an exciting final round already,” she said. “If it’s going to be too easy, then I feel it is boring.”

It looked like the final round might be boring — or at least anticlimactic — as Chun maintained a comfortable lead through much of Saturday. She bogeyed Nos. 1 and 11 but birdied 2 and 12. Her lead was at five when she had to play her third shot from some tall grass on the 564-yard 16th.

That shot put her in even more trouble, in an area with tall grass and some trees. She took an unplayable lie and went back to the previous spot to re-hit.

An 8-iron from there went over the green, but Chun did manage to get up and down for a 7. The two-time major champion from South Korea led by five shots after the first round and six at the halfway point. After the third round, she had an 8-under 208 total.

Lydia Ko (76) and Jennifer Kupcho (74) — Chun’s playing partners — had their own problems, but Lexi Thompson and Hye-Jin Choi both shot 70 and were tied for second with Sei Young Kim (71) at 5 under.

Thompson will play in the final group as she tries for her first major victory since 2014.

“You always want to be in the final group in any tournament,” she said. “I love that the hard work has been able to pay off for me. I’ve been putting in the time, so to see it pay off and pay dividends means the world to me.”

Ko wasn’t able to take advantage of Chun’s struggles. She bogeyed four of five holes during one stretch on the front nine, then birdied four of the next seven. She wrapped up the round with four straight bogeys.

Kupcho had three birdies and three bogeys in the first seven holes and couldn’t gain much ground on the leader.

Kim, who won this event two years ago, had a comparatively drama-free round with two birdies and a bogey. Choi shot 34 on the back nine while playing in a group with Thompson. They’ll be together again Sunday.

“It was the first time playing with her, and I actually watched her as a fan when I was an amateur,” Choi said. “It was a good experience to play with her. Of course, I tried to focus on my game.”

Thompson made three birdies on the back nine, including a putt from about 30 feet on No. 15. She has 11 LPGA Tour victories but none since 2019. She’s played her way into contention after a first-round 74.

Thompson finished second at Crown Colony in February and at Upper Montclair last month.

“I know I’m in a good state with my game and just my mental state, so going out tomorrow enjoying the walk with my caddie and hopefully a lot of fans out there supporting us,” she said. “Whatever score I shoot, I shoot.”

Hannah Green (72) was fifth at 4 under, a stroke ahead of Atthaya Thitikul (68), who was so far behind at the start of the day she was in one of the groups sent off on No. 10. Brooke Henderson (73), Kupcho and Jennifer Chang (73) were tied for sixth with Thitikul.

NOTES: US Women’s Open champ Minjee Lee (73) was 2 under. … Defending champion Nelly Korda (72) was tied for 29th.

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Schauffele leaves it late to retain Travelers lead

Xander Schauffele produced a late birdie spree to hold onto a slender lead at the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship Saturday with a 3-under par 67.

Schauffele, who led by five shots after Friday’s second round, will take a one-shot advantage into Sunday’s final round at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut.

But the 28-year-old from California left it late to ensure he would remain on top of the leaderboard on Saturday with a pair of birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to drop to 17 under for the tournament.

He rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th and then drilled an iron from the fairway to a few feet for a further birdie on the 17th.

That ultimately allowed Schauffele to finish the day just in front of red-hot Patrick Cantlay, who had a bogey-free 7-under 63 to move to 16 under.

Schauffele is looking forward to a final round duel against close friend and Ryder Cup playing partner Cantlay.

“It will be fun. I’ve been looking forward to playing with Pat in a final round,” he said.

“We don’t get paired together very often in regular tournaments, only in those team ones.

“So there’s a certain level of comfort we have playing with each other and hopefully that pays off and hopefully we can make a lot of birdies.”

Cantlay was similarly enthused by the prospect of a final day shootout with his friend.

“We actually haven’t played that much together in tournament play, maybe only three times in the last three, four years. So it will be good to go out there again with him,” Cantlay said.

“It’s always nice to be out with him, if he’s on my team or if he’s not. I’m going to go out there tomorrow and try as hard as I can and let the chips fall where they may.”

Sahith Theegala is three off the lead on 14 under after his six-under-par 64.

The highlight of Theegala’s round came with a brilliant eagle three on the par-5 13th, when he reached the green in two before rolling in an 11-foot putt.

The only blemish on an otherwise flawless round came at the 18th, where he made bogey.

Kevin Kisner is one behind Theegala on 13 under after his four-under-par 66.

Scotland’s Martin Laird is tied for fifth with Lee Kyoung-hoon on 12 under. Laird and Lee both carded four-under-par 66s.

Four players including first round co-leader J.T. Poston are tied for seventh on 11 under, while Scottie Scheffler heads a quartet on 10 under after a five-under-par 65.

But there was more disappointment for Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.

The four-time major-winner who shot an 8-under 62 in the first round had fallen away on Friday after a second round that included a quadruple bogey eight on the 12th hole.

McIlroy navigated his return to the 12th safely on Saturday with a par, but was already struggling after making a double-bogey and bogey on the front nine.

Two more bogeys on the 14th and 16th holes left him tied for 31st place on six under, 11 shots off the lead.

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