Jobs for the Boys and Girls.


I’ve had a few decent jobs. I’ve had a couple of bloody awful ones too. I spent a good deal of my working life at The Telegraph; then a decent amount of time in London at TIME Magazine. I spent only a few months in the employ of Rupert Murdoch, but I don’t think he misses me. He’s probably got plenty on his plate to worry about at the moment anyway. Mr Dacre doesn’t lay awake at night wondering why I only did a couple of weeks freelancing on his Daily Mail. At least I assume he doesn’t. How much time Alexander Lebedev spends wishing I was still at The Independent, only he knows. When he gets too depressed about it, he goes off and punches someone, I hear. Robert Maxwell fell off his boat before I got the chance of working for him. Pity.

So you’d think that the constant moaning and whingeing from her father might have put a young Bealing off of journalism, wouldn’t you ? Well apparently not.

If you click on the picture above you’ll see an interview with former Tory politician Ann Widdecombe, the first raft of questions being asked by my eldest daughter Lucy (bottom right hand corner of this photo) . The more observant of you will notice Lucy keeps here questions to Ann’s role in Strictly Come Dancing rather than tackle her on political issues. It’s probably for the best: Her dad, whereas he would have struggled to come up with anything coherent or relevant to ask about Strictly, would have ended up on an assault charge should he ever have had to ask Widdecombe about her “struggle against Socialism”. Probably why her dad ended up as a picture editor, rather than an interviewer. You’ll also note that Lu speaks the Queen’s English unlike her father. Another advantage she has over me.

So that’s my eldest sorted out for the future, but the job market is a precarious one. My current job of “Watching Columbo and Printing T-Shirts” is one of my favourite jobs I’ve had, it just doesn’t pay anything like I thought it might. Almost the opposite in fact. On the other hand, I’m working at a place I like (home) with people I like (my mate Rob) and the hours are pretty good.

It could be worse, I could be Andrew Strauss who’s looking particularly precarious in his job as England cricket captain, his team having lost its fourth test match in a row. There’s no disgrace losing in Sri Lanka. The conditions are brutally hot and the pitches are so different from those in England that you’d need to be a particular talent to pull off a win, especially in Galle which has the reputation of being a graveyard for English players, and in particular English bowlers.

Bealing leads off The Fleet St Exiles having taken 6-22, taking them to a
3 wickets victory against the Sri Lankan Airways XI, Galle, Sri Lanka 2005

Then again some people are luckier than others. My good mate Dave has finally ended his long wait for a permanent job by landing a plumb one on a magazine. It’s been a long wait for him and I was thrilled when he called to tell me he’s landed it. Well done, Wavey ! Then there’s rugby’s Stuart Lancaster who has just been given the job which everyone in the country (57 Old Farts aside) thought he should have been given weeks ago. The new English Rugby Coach has fought off seemingly nearly every other coach in the world for the job before the old Twats of Twickenham finally run out of South Africans to turn them down. The RFU were forced to give the job to Lancaster, something they should have done when it was clear he a) knew how to coach a rugby team and b) had no time for show ponies. Celebrity coach he ain’t. And thank fuck for that.

Andy Robinson keeps his job. Yes, really. The Scotland coach had presided over a team which last won a match in black&white but somehow managed to convice the SRFU that he’s the one for the post. Can there be another man in the country (and yes, we can still count Scotland in that) who’s luckier to be still employed ? No, not if you don’t count Francis Maude there isn’t.

The Idiot Saville Row Tory Cabinet Office Minister Maude emplored drivers to fill up their Jerrycans with petrol and prepare for fuel shortages due to the tanker driver’s strike and that “there are lives at stake”. Once people had Googled what a Jerrycan was (apparently not everyone’s obsessed by WWII like me), checked that there is no strike (and won’t be one for at least a fortnight, and even then, probably not) and that the tanker drivers weren’t using Mad Max II technology to threaten people’s lives and protect the remaining gasoline, everyone assumed Maude would be taken round the back by Dave and Gideon and pummeled to death with his own Jerrycan. Sadly not.

“Half a tank of unleaded and 3 lucky dips for tonight’s lottery, please mate.” – a scene from Mad Maude II: The Road Warrior

For starters, Dave was too busy telling us how much he loved Pasties, and about the hilarious incident when he recently bought a pasty on Leeds railway station from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. MMMMmmmmmmm….Yum Yum. Trouble is all the poor sods at the Leeds station branch of the West London Pasty Company lost their jobs in 2007. So all that justification by Dave, all that gettin dahn wiv da prols an da kidz was, ow u say,  a load of old bollocks.

Still, Dave’ll soon have some proper opposition in Parliament to point out all his mistakes, scandals, lies and wrong-doings. George Galloway is back in a job. Sadly, it’s true. The Big Brother Cat Impersonator is back in his job as an MP, this time by winning a by-election in Bradford West, a once Labour stronghold. George won by a landslide by campaigning on one issue: An anti-Afghan War campaign in the predominantly-muslim neighbourhoods of Bradford West. He even intimated earlier in the campaign he actually was a musilm (he isn’t really).

Just fancy that: A tv celebrity, however micro and annoying to you and me, campaigns in a Muslim area against a war seen by many to be anti-muslim, securing a 10,000 majority and WINNING a by-election in a previously Labour heartland. Now who could have predicted that ? Should anyone in Labour be brought to account for this humliation? Should Mr Millipede still be in his job ?

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Coming for to Carry Me Home. Please.


A mere 17 months after the Rugby World Cup commenced and we have already arrived at the Quarter Final Stage. Well we will do soon anyway. I’ve had marriages which didn’t last as long as this tournament.  The competition, like World War I and my nuptials, will all be over by Christmas.

So the minnows of Namibia, America and Scotland have returned home, leaving the heavyweights of world rugby to slug it out over the next 76 weeks (plus extra time) to see who are the kings of the joint 14th most popular sport in the world. The usual suspects are still in the mix, the usual favourites are ready and waiting, just a flankers jockstrap away from choking again and going home themselves. Whatever happens the final will be contested by one team from the northern hemisphere and one from the south. That’s just how the draw worked out. Honest.

Next Saturday, sometime around when the sparrows are emitting gas over your lawn, England will play France in a match-up that has all the appeal of a maggot-infested sore on your nan’s back. France, the headless cockerels of world rugby, have exceeded themselves in their ineptitude this year. Just when you think they have hit rock-bottom, Les Bleus produce a performance of such sparkling awfulness that only one team left in the competition could hope to match it. Step forward the English.

England are playing as if they’ve all been out on the piss the night before, kissing dwarfs and abusing young women as they go about their nocturnal beano. But, of course, no professional outfit would behave like that, especially when the team are playing like Avon Rugby Club 5th team, not the only team from the north to win the bloody trophy. This match promises very little indeed. Never will the phrase “like two bald drunk men fighting over a comb” be more aptly applied.

To complete the Keystone Cops feel of this particular England squad, we have the all-singing and all-dancing Matt Stevens, star of the X-Factor, but fuck all else, and Matt Banahan – a huge Sunday-morning-lummox-of-a-man who apparently plays on the wing. Retired props from all over the kingdom are lining up to pit their arthritic knees and prolapsed backs against Stevens, a prop picked for his speed and work ethic around the park. Pity the selectors didn’t choose a prop who could actually…er…prop. As for Banahan, this tattooed titan who stands solid like a particularly immobile wind-break, I have no idea why he was picked. Perhaps he hold Stevens’ mic during gigs. Maybe Matt S. and Matt B. could swap positions ? It couldn’t get any worse.

If both teams could lose and both go home it would do the tournament and the fans a big, big favour. Although, of course if England were to make the final it would mean legendary Wayne Barnes (being English too) would not be permitted to referee the game. Most rugby fans would be happy with that. Barnes, the North’s answer to the shocking Steve Walsh (or Bryce Lawrence, depending where in the world you’re reading this) is the only bloke in the competition who thinks Matt Stevens is playing well. He has missed forward passes, punches and offsides galore. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s missed a few scrums too – he looks in the wrong direction so often. If only he’d miss a half-dozen games of so over the next month-or-so.

So if England go home, Barnes stays. Which would you prefer ?

Barnes awards 3 leg byes to Canada

A couple of hours before the Franglais débâcle (see what I did there?) the Irish meet Wales in the battle of the only two European sides who have demonstrated an understanding of both the rules and purpose of the sport of Rugby Union. The lads in green run around frenetically, in the way that all Irish sides play rugby, football, chess and guerilla actions against an occupying force. There always seem to be more of them than you and, after they’ve practised a bit of fenian footwork all the way up the back of your head, there usually are.

The Welsh haven’t had a team like this one since we went decimal. Not since JJ, JPR or Mervyn has the Principality produced a XV which didn’t make you wanna curl up and giggle your sphincter off. For years my mate in Paris (forget his name) has been losing his shirt on every game these European Shoulder Chip-Wearing Champions have played. Now this year we may finally see a side from the west Offa’s Dyke get close to winning the Cup, and my mate (…nope, still can’t remember it) will be able to, not only recoup his Francs but also to wear that red Welsh replica shirt in the cafes and bars of some arrondissement or other without looking a complete berk. He’ll be safe in the knowledge that for the first time in living memory Frenchmen will walk past him without pointing and giggling. Well, not about him being Welsh anyway.

But my money’s on the Irish to see them off. It has to be. I am not well enough for Wales to win anything, and one funny turn-per-year is enough for me.  I’m nearly out of blood-pressure pills as it is, and fearing the Taffs will prevail may well send me reaching for the super-strength Ramipril.

In the other (Southern) half of the draw, I can’t see past the Boks to make the final. The Kiwis, as we know, are prone to choking on their own smugness-cake if they get within a maori vuvuzela of a final appearance. Their talisman, the perennial show-pony Dan Carter has exited, stage left, and the AB’s are already drawing up a list of excuses to call upon when they succumb to the inevitable. (the English have knicked our shirts being the more laughable) and, just in case that doesn’t work this year, they have started thinking about the 2015 competition.  They should be good enough to trounce the Argies (if they don’t it’ll really kickoff down there in 1957land) but I suspect the SAffers will be too strong for them, having dealt with the non-tackling, non-scrummaging, smarm-fest that is the Wallaby XV. The loss of the siege-gun kicker Frans Steyn to injury will not stop the Bokke Juggernaut rolling on (funny how there are not endless stories and whines on how boring the Steyn sisters’ kicks are? They are clearly much more exciting than Johnny Wilkinson’s boring kicking tactics.)

So I look forward to an Ireland vrs S.Africa final, with NZ running circles around a hapless and helpless English team in the 3rd place play-off.  I won’t predict the score of the Final ’til I see who’s refereeing. It’ll apparently be either Bryce Lawrence or a traffic cone, depending on who is judged to know more of the rules. The Jury’s still out.

The Taking of Eltham 132


I was all over the place this morning, in every sense. I don’t suppose staying awake for most of the night to watch the latest demolition of the Aussie cricket team will have helped with my fuzziness, though one would have thought having watched our brave lads once again stuff it up em would have brightened my mood immeasurably. Even so, as I left Railway Cuttings around 12.30 this lunchtime I was aware that I was a particularly tired and miserable old Hector.

I needed to pick up something down in North Greenwich at the O2. The Dome. The Millennium Bivouac or whatever it’s called this week. Then from there I needed to go to Eltham to deposit a cheque into my good friends Nathaniel Westminster & Co. It was cold and damp as I trudged up to the village to catch the first of the buses I needed to use to navigate my way around SE London. After twelve steps along the road it started raining with feeling. My mood didn’t improve much.

As I yomped by the infants school on the way, the teachers were yelling at the kids to get inside out of the rain. I don’t remember my schoolmasters calling us in out of the playground to get dry. I’m sure we ended up huddled under a tree in the corner, fatties on the inside, skinnies on the outer (sorry, the phone lines for this week’s quiz question “Where did Bealing stand?” have been closed).

Come to think of it, when we were their age we were never issued sun hats in the summer nor reflective vests when we went on school trips, but the hats seem to be de rigueur whenever the sun peeps through and my train to London is often full of little yellow herberts looking like an Oompa Loompa chain gang. When we went out on school trips we were pretty much left to our own devices. They counted us out and counted us in, rounding up any odd numbers. Or down – no two teachers ever counted us in the same way. We once lost thirteen kids on a trip to London Zoo. Five of them are still missing, presumed eaten.

But I digress.

Up to the bus stop, my coat sopping wet by now, to join the end of a queue of five or six other poor sodden sods. The electronic sign on the bus shelter said the 108 bus to North Greenwich would be 7 minutes. Sure enough, 11 minutes later it arrived. The people ahead of me filed onto the bus, one by one, until it was my turn to take the step up on board. Just as I was about to do so, and with military precision some young, complete cabbage, replete with man-bag and ipod ran up the hill towards us and with one bound leapt in front of me onto the footplate and got on board ahead of me. I was shocked and stunned, and not a little amazed. However, true to form, I kept my feelings of deep resentment and savage anger to myself. My only concession to my fury was to bark at the middle of my voice “Jesus! there are a lot of rude bastards around”. But the object of my disaffections had long since moved along the bus, and anyway his earphones were clamped to his lugholes so he was deaf to my rantings (thank christ: he was a big unit).

Alighting at the Dome, I quickly went about my business and after no more than fifteen minutes I found myself in another queue, this time waiting for the 132 bus to Eltham which, as if to catch us all by surprise, arrived on time. There wasn’t a seat to be had, so me and this rather plump, elderly woman (almost indistinguishable nowadays) carrying numerous heavy shopping bags stood rather closely together in the well usually reserved for baby buggies and wheelchairs. I would have happily sat in either if they were available. The old girl looked knackered and I wasn’t sure she’d make the trip.

Facing us, virtually touching the old lady’s knees, sat a thirty-something couple. He had an accent – either American or Canadian (to my shame I still can’t differentiate one from the other) – and had clearly been in the country a lot longer than his partner as he was going through his shopping bags, minutely detailing and explaining the buys therein. Clearly both the food and toy Departments of Tescos in nearby Bow had taken a bit of a pounding.

“This is Clue” he bellowed at a rather irritating volume “but for some reason they call it ClueDO over here”. She was sitting right next to him. Why was he shouting? “I can’t figure why they’d wanna change the name.”

He pulled out the next item from his jamboree bag. “And see ? They have Peanut Butter Cups here. I didn’t think they had them over here. I looked for them for weeks. But now it turns out they totally do. So I bought some. Awesome. It’s so tough to find anything over here that you really need.”

“Wow!” said the girl, looking as if she was feigning both interest and consciousness. I felt a touch of the Basil Fawltys coming over me. (“I’m sorry if the road wasn’t wide enough, a lot of English cars have steering wheels”)

If it wasn’t for the wilting poor cow next to me, I could have put up with this loud, irritating twat. As it was, I was getting a little concerned that the old girl was buckling. Eventually, remembering my annoyance at the queue-jumper earlier, added to my irritation at this boring git in front of me, I could no longer help myself.

“Scuse me for butting-in, mate,” I was leaning in close to him so as not to make too much of a scene “but you might be interested in another couple of strange things we do over here ?”

“Oh yeah?  Like what ?”. He seemed genuinely interested.

“Well,” I continued “For starters, when we see an old lady nearly collapsing in front of us, we often get up and offer her our seat. We also use phrases like ‘oh I’m sorry’ and ‘excuse me, would you like to sit down?’ ”

He looked embarrassed, as did his girlfriend. He jumped to his feet and hurried the old biddy into the seat. “Sorry, man, I didn’t realise” he offered.

“Don’t apologise to me, mate” I retorted, “apologise to that lady, you ignorant fucker”. I think that one broke down any language barrier ok.

For the remainder of the trip I buried  my head into my phone messages, my work here being done. The rude and boring Canuks/Yanks got off soon after our exchange. The old lady and I swapped knowing glances. Her my Damsel in Distress, me her Shite in Whining Armour. Or is that armor?

I had finally woken up. I was on a roll. And just in time to visit the bank. That was bound to cheer me up.

 

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MOVEMBERADVERT

Roll Over Beethoven


So the match is over, the race is run. Nothing else left to do than take to the podium and soak up up the applause, pick up your medal, then face the flag, put your hand over your heart and sing your guts out to the national anthem. Simples, as they say.

If you happen to be British you don’t get to hear your national anthem much – certainly not after sporting events. The soundtrack of my youth would more likely include the East German, USSR and USA anthems than the British one. Throughout the 70s and the 80s being crap at sport was something that not only defined us as a nation but thankfully spared us and the rest of the world the torture of listening to God Save the Queen. My god it’s dull. It’s a dirge and it’s terribly, terribly, boring and tedious and dull, never mind the sentiment in the lyric: asking one bloke I don’t believe in to save a woman I don’t believe in.

The only national anthem slower, duller and less inspiring than ours is possibly “Oh (fuck it’s) Canada”. Were both tunes penned by the same guy? Fortunately the Canadians tend to be as feckless at sport as we are so the chances of listening to their anthem are equally slim. There are some terrific tunes out there, to be sung in the name of sporting excellence and patriotic pride, just GB and our colonial Canucks don’t possess one.

The Italians have a great one – “Il Canto degli Italiani“(The Song of the Italians) – even though it seems to be three songs stuck together. Watching the Italian Rugby team belt it out before an international match, tears rolling down their eyes is truly a marvellous spectacle. The French song is great too – I always well up when that woman sings “La Marseillaise”- halfway through Casablanca. Few would deny “The Star Spangled Banner” is a cracking tune, even if it’s a bit overplayed, and hearing the old Soviet song – the nattily entitled “Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii” was always a thrilling experience, right up until The Pet Shop Boys butchered it.

“Advaaaaaaance Australia Fair” always reminds me of “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”, but at least it’s a happy little ditty. Brash, short and childlike – sort of sums up the whole nation really. The Germans still insist of using the same tune as was rather popular over there in the 1930s and 40s, they’ve just changed the words a bit. Uber alles, they seem happy with it, so who are we to cringe ?

So it was with some trepidation and reluctance last night that 12 half-pissed and totally knackered European golfers took to the stage to collect the Ryder Cup. The speeches over, they stood as one, faced the row of flags representing their respective countries and drew breath. The PA system burst into life with a lovely rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, from his 9th Symphony.

“What the fuck’s this?” squawked one critic with whom I was watching the coverage.
“Mozart” says I, erroneously.
“Why the fuck are they playing Mozart?” asked another couch-bound pal.
“It’s the European Anthem. This is your anthem” I informed him, correctly this time.
“Is it bollocks. Who voted for that then?”
In truth, I’m unused to arguing over either 18th century music or the voting systems of the EU, but I gave it a go.
“The European government did. Ages ago” (apparently it’s been our anthem since 1985, it’s just few realise it) “It’s a good tune, isn’t it? Better than ours”
“But it’s German !” someone pointed out in horror. Admittedly they had me there.
“Could be worse” I offered “Could be Mahler”
I was greeted with blank Homer-esque looks. I tried again. “Well there are so many different nations, they just chose one which encapsulated the continent as a whole”
“Bollocks !” came a cry from the armchair. Strange, I didn’t remember inviting Melvyn Bragg round to watch the golf.

Back on stage, our golfers were clearly having similar doubts about the music. There they stood, motionless, looking both a little bewildered at what they were listening to and what they were supposed to do. Just one – the great Miguel Angel Jimenez – seemed to be singing along. But what was he singing ? Did he know the words ? And in which language was he singing them ? Or was he just making them up, mouthing nonsense like an English Politician at a Welsh political conference ?

So I looked the lyrics up:

Joy, beautiful sparkle of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium!
We enter, fire-drunk,
Heavenly one, your shrine.
Your magic again binds
What custom has firmly parted.
All men become brothers
Where your tender wing lingers.

Personally speaking I have never entered Elysium’s daughter, fire-drunk or otherwise, but apart from that it seems pretty placid and neutral, doesn’t it ? It’s not a rabble-rouser, it’s not particularly jingoistic and unlike the original words of “God Save the Queen” it doesn’t point out that there are “Rebellious Scots to crush”, even if there are. And it’s a nice tune, so why not adopt it as our own ? Teach it in schools, rugby and football clubs the continent over. Job done.

Or rather it isn’t.

With no Ryder cup to watch any longer, I switched channels this morning to take my first glimpse at The Commonwealth Games. This has always been a bit of an oddity in the sporting calender because, as there are no Russians, Germans or Americans to lose to, we have to make do with losing to Kenyans, Australians and South Africans. It’s also one of those rare sporting competitions when Great Britain splits into its component parts of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the other lot, who compete against each other. Here again “God Save The Queen” is not appropriate as HRH is Queen (apparently) of all the competing nations, and it would be a bit boring (as if it wasn’t anyway) to have to listen to the same turgid song at each medal ceremony. So, the Jocks have chosen “Flower of Scotland”, the Northern Irish “Danny Boy” and the Welsh, well probably “Delilah” or something, but they’re not expecting to get the record out of its sleeve for a while.

England have traditionally gone for “Land of Hope and Glory“, a full-thrusting, ball-breaking sing-yer-heart out sort of number, a million miles away from “God Save…”. And so, having watched the English swimmer Fran Halsall romp home in the 50m butterfly I sat back to enjoy her picking up her medal, stood as she was between the two Strines who were both predicted to beat her. There she was, gold round her neck, as proud as punch and the band struck up. But we were not to be treated by “Land of…” but instead we got “Jerusalem”.

Now Jerusalem is a lovely old song, sung at school assemblies and on rugby terraces throughout the land. But it does have a tendency to go on a bit (remind you of anyone?). But nevertheless, we’re told that there was a national poll in which “Jerusalem”, as recorded by the The Grimethorpe Colliery Band (I’m not making any of this up) won the day by beating “Land of Hope etc” by some votes to some fewer. National poll my arse. Anyone out there asked to vote for this?

So off they went, knocking out a decent rendition of William Blake’s poem. One verse takes a good while to complete. We got both verses of it. And poor old Fran had to grin and bear it. It went on forever. At the start she look excited and a little bit teary. By the end she looked embarrassed, cramped up, bewildered and in danger of nodding off. To win her gold medal she swam one length of the pool in 26.24 seconds. The anthem took 2 minutes 25 (yes I timed it). I emailed the fragrant Clare Balding at the BBC if this was a Commonwealth Games record.

She hasn’t replied, but I suspect it is a record. For now. I’m starting a new “national” competition to vote for England’s anthem for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (which’ll doubtless make Delhi look like Las Vegas). Suggestions so far include “Bohemian Rhapsody” “Bat out of Hell” (extended version) and “Eskimo Nell”. My plan is to find to an anthem longer and more tedious than the 50k Walk. Morrissey albums are exempt on humanitarian grounds.

Elsewhere: The Philippines crack down on anthem abuse

A Spot of Bother


Flat.

I remember feeling like this before. I’d seen Ben Johnson win the Olympic 100 meters final in 1988. I’d watched the race live on tv and it was a fantastic spectacle. Johnson was sensational. He mullered them.

Except he wasn’t and he didn’t. He was stripped on the gold medal, having taken performance-enhancing drugs. I took it personally. To have enjoyed such a magnificent performance, then just hours later to have that enjoyment dashed by learning that the Canadian was a drugs cheat. I felt hollow. It was a real downer.

I suspect I wasn’t alone when my initial joy at seeing Usain Bolt run for the first time was tempered by the fear that he too may be on something. I remember turning to The Incumbent and saying “oh god, I hope he’s clean”. Bolt was a new face, a fresh face, with a touch of class, a bit of the rebel about him. He had a cheeky smile and a rehearsed pre and post-race comedy routine.

He didn’t act like a middleweight boxer on the blocks:- sniffiing and snorting, punching the air like these sprinters tend to do. He winked at the camera, he struck the pose, he actually looked like he was having fun. “For Christ’s sake let this bloke not be a drugs cheat”. Pleasingly at time of writing Usain seems to run short distances in very fast times without the help of any illegal stimulants (though I’m told he loves a Guinness or three) .

Cycling and F1 seem forever to be making headlines for some form of cheating or another. The lack of moral fortitude that surrounds Grand Prix racing is well documented, at one stage a F1 team impelled a driver to risk death to both himself and to the watching spectators by crashing his own car into a wall at high speed. All for the good of the team.

There is a school of thought that professional cyclists couldn’t possibly perform to the high level they do throughout the season WITHOUT taking drugs, such are the pains and stresses the riders put themselves through. Drug abuse in this sport is rife. Almost accepted.

So common are the instances of cheating in the above sports that it’s difficult to see any fan (and there must be some around, surely ?) getting too upset when the next scandal is exposed. It’d be a bit like a soccer fan having his week ruined because he saw a center forward dive in the box, or a midfielder feign injury, or a player wave an imaginary red card to get his opposite number sent off. It just happens far too often.

When South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje was discovered to have accepted money from a bookmaker in exchange for making certain decisions on the field, the world of cricket was plunged into a mire of cheating, gamesmanship and skulduggery. Part of my world, and of cricket fans the world over, fell apart. Cronje, up until that point, was universally regarded as a good egg, a model sportsman. Our beloved game was in danger of being dragged into the murky depths previously thought to be the domain of baseball, Italian football and national hunt racing.

The very phrase “it’s not cricket” was born out of a sport which prided itself on fair play, the corinthian spirit, and the feeling that ours was a noble sport, played by gentlemen (conveniently forgetting that the greatest of all english cricketers, W.G.Grace was one of the biggest rouges, diddlers and rapscallions the world of sport has ever known.) “It’s not cricket”. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not how to play the game ! If Hollywood ever portrays an old English duffer they’ll invariably write “it’s not cricket” into his dialogue to illustrate he’s both English and clings to this quaint idea of “fair play”

Cricket, apart from being the greatest of all games, is perfectly set-up for betting and therefore cheating. There are so many opportunities to bet on each part of the action, and if people can bet and make a lot of money on those events, then you can bet your favourite testicle that someone will have worked out how to fiddle the outcome, con the bookie and make even more wads of cash out of it. And that leads us on nicely to the current scandal which has erupted over the weekend.

Several players on the Pakistan team currently playing against England in a series of matches have allegedly received money from persons unknown to bowl ‘no-balls’ (foul balls) at specific times during the match. Evidence gathered by the London News of the World newspaper suggest that specific moments were singled out for these illegal acts to occur, and right on cue that’s exactly what happened. Apparently it’s called Spot Fixing (as opposed to Match Fixing). It doesn’t seem to have altered the outcome of the match (the Pakistanis lost heavily, and would have done so in any event) but the inference is that if these lads have been found out to have taken cash for intentional cock-ups here, what else has been going on ?

Have they previously thrown matches ? Have they gotten themselves out earlier than they would have naturally have done so ? In the multi-billion dollar world of cricket betting it’s impossible to predict you’ll win a match, but much easier to chuck a match, or drop a catch or bowl a ‘no-ball’. There’s been a suggestion that some of these young men don’t merely enter into these nefarious activities because of the financial rewards offered by the odd dodgy better or bookie. Allegedly players have been intimidated, families and friends have been threatened, some have even been kidnapped. All very murky, if not distasteful and distressing stuff.

But it’s much sadder than that. One of the headline-grabbing names accused of taking bribes is that of Mohammad Amir, an 18 year old fast bowler who has been quite magnificent this year. Watching him bowl gave me the same goosey feeling that I had when I saw Bolt run the hundred meters for the first time, when I watched Ian Botham skittle the Aussies in ’81, and Freddie Flintoff destroy bowlers in 2005. I never saw George Best play as a kid for Man Utd (before he hit hit the bottle) but I reckon if I did I would have been awe inspired, realised this was the next great player. Amir has been sensational. The youngest bowler to reach 50 wickets in Test cricket, he plays the game with a smile on his face while all the time retaining that nasty streak all great fast bowlers need. But the headlines wont say that in the morning, or for weeks to come.

If these allegations are substantiated, Amir will be forever associated with this next sorry episode in cricket’s recent squalid history and not his fantastic feats on the field of play . He won’t be the first (or the last) from his nation (or any other) to be involved in back-of-the-hand deals with back-streets betting sharks. But if you’d have watched him this summer, as I have, you’d be as sad as I am for having that joy of seeing the beginning of a brilliant new career replaced by the despair of yet another young talent seduced by the dark side of professional sport.

Flat ? You bet I am.

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Give Me your Tired, your Poor, your Huddled Masses


David Beckham came into this world on May 2nd 1975. By my reckoning that makes him 35 years old. When Fabio Capello told the media that Mr Beckham no longer featured in the England manager’s plans for the future, newspapers front pages and tv news bulletins went bananas. Some called it a disgrace that Golden Balls had not even received a phone call to tell him of his forced retirement, others pointed out he was a 35 year old recovering from injury and was clearly past it. On the other hand, there were those that said Beckham was sill the best crosser of a ball in the country. Then again, The Daily Express predicted that Beckham’s retirement would effect house prices.

This week Liverpool have been trying to re-sign Sami Hyypia from Bayer Leverkusen, but the Germans want to keep hold of the 36 year-old. A few weeks ago Capello thought 40 year old David James was the best goalkeeper in England. Fabio is 60-odd so we can put that down to dementia.

Paul Scholes was born on November 16th 1974. Scholes was recently awarded the man-of-the-match prize when his team Man Utd beat Chelsea at Wembley for the Community Shield, whatever that is. In a pitch-side interview after the game, Scholes was asked if there was any point Capello calling his to select him for England duty. “Probably not”, smiled the meek Scholes.

Like Scholes, Marcus Trescothick withdrew his services from his national team well before time. The brilliant opening batsmen for Somerset and England retired from international duty at the ripe old age of 31, citing manic depression and an unwillingness, nay incapability to travel, preferring to play county, not country. A good decision for him and his family, a potentially disastrous for the England team, as four years on Marcus is one of the most destructive and successful batsmen on the professional circuit, proving an old man can still play professional sport, even with two black labradors strapped to his legs.

Temporarily free of black dogs chasing me around the outfield, I again took to the field yesterday at the grand old age of 45¾. I dunno how Scholesie, Trescothickie and Beckhamie keep fit enough to run round around at the weekend, but Bealingie was more than a little fatigued after throwing down 9 overs of assorted rubbish. Both ankles, both knees and a hip were (and are) screaming out for mercy, and the fat, overripe pumpkin which passes for a head on top of my shoulders was in danger of meltdown.

The two Kiwis and one Aussie in our team were genuinely concerned as to my wellbeing. But from my position of all fours at fine leg, and between retches, I indicated I was fine and that I always looked like this. Elsewhere on the field, the two lads from Bangladesh lads were struggling to contain their amusement. Surprisingly, I’ve let my Bangladesh vocab slip of late, but by the way they were doubling up, puffing their cheeks out and pointing at me, I suspect they weren’t discussing field placements. Having said that, I understood little more of what the antipodeans were chortling about. “Here, mite, you seck?” Now what the fuck does that mean?

Our team, as you can see, is a cosmopolitan affair. It always was a rather rag-tag bunch of hack journalists, retired hacks, wannabe hacks, mates of hacks, mates of hacks’ sons. But over the past couple of years we’ve widened our net to include brothers and cousins and mates of mates of sons of hacks. Anyone really. It’s sad, as what started out as a journalists’ team can no longer raise 11 good men and true from it’s own ranks to enable us to put out a side every Saturday. Journalists get sent away on assignment, work weekends and work shifts. Sometimes the skipper would make 70 phone calls to try to raise a side, but to no avail. Hence the need for outsiders or ‘ringers’ to fill the breach.

The great thing about it, of course, is that the wider your net the more chance of including men that can actually play the game. And this has certainly proved to be the case for us. We take no notice of nationality, creed or colour. Just as long as you can wield a bat, throw a ball and run around for a bit then you are in. If you can actually catch a ball you’ll probably be made captain. If you buy a round after the the match, Life President. Complete arses need not apply. We’ve had a couple of infiltrators but they’ve been spotted and weeded out before they could do too much damage. They’re easy enough to spot:- they don spirally caps, old school tie as a belt, play for themselves not the team, buy their own beer, drink halves – you know the sort.

So yesterday, for example, we took to the field with 2 Kiwis, 1 Aussie, 2 Bangladeshis, 5 Englishmen and a Welshman (he has to play – he’s the skipper). There’s a few more New Zealanders, Strines and a couple or Welshmen who also play regularly, making us quite a little League of Nations. And you know what ? We’ve started winning games. A lot of games. Winning a lot of games very well indeed. Yesterday we beat The Times by ten wickets. A complete stuffing. Broke my heart, well almost.

The English Cricket team is full of South African ringers at the moment and seems to be doing ok. The New Zealand All Blacks have more than their fair share of Pacific Islanders drafted in to bolster their number and no-ne seems to mind. There have been a couple 6ft 6″ ginger Antipodeans representing Japan at rugby over the years, Aussie cricketers with Afrikaans accents, assorted Africans running for Denmark at the Olympics, Canadians masquerading as British tennis players. Half the Scottish rugby team would be more at home in Dunedin than Dundee (mind you, who wouldn’t ?).

So it seems Flags of Convenience are de rigueur. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you were born, you can play for who you like, if you can demonstrate you will actually improve the national side you’re bidding for. Would Mikel Arteta be a welcome addition to the England football team ? He has apparently made himself available to Fabio Capello. He made 12 appearances for Spain, his country-of-birth, at under-21 level but none as a senior pro. You gotta believe (as he obviously does) that at 28 he’s obviously missed his chance to do so. So now he’s offering England his services. Does Fabio choose him over all the young English lads who are striving to make the grade in their own country ? Do we embrace him as one of our, as we did with Greg Rusedski, Kevin Pietersen, or Zola Budd (another Daily Mail triumph) ?

Would we be happier winning nothing with our own nationals, or winning everything (maybe) with these sporting mercenaries ? It’s all a matter of personal taste and judgement, I guess. Personally I’d rather have an old Scholes, a past-his Becks, or a Manic Marcus, than a fit-but-foreign Zola, Mikel or Kevin. But, if it’s all the same to you, I wanna keep our Aussies and Kiwis to help us stuff The Times at cricket one Saturday every summer.