A Corner of an English Field that is Forever Foreign


Following the complete disaster of England’s first test vrs South Africa, (info correct at the time of going to press) it’s become apparent to the English selectors that they don’t have enough foreign – born players in their ranks. When English cricket has found itself in trouble (and that’s happened more than once down the years) the law books have been scrutinised and harsh critics may say altered to fit our needs.

Many a colonial has found not just a home in England’s green and spinning land, but a decent and lucrative career in playing for our national side before they bugger off to Kerry Packer/Beaches of Durban/The Indian Premiere League (delete where applicable).

A quick glance down the list of the jewels of the Empire which the MCC have gleaned over the years give you some idea why players from Deepest and Darkest are so attractive to them:

Basil D’Oliveira (1966)
Tony Greig (1972)
Allan Lamb (1982)
Ian Greig (1982)
Chris Smith (1983)
Neal Radford (1986)
Robin Smith (1988)
Andrew Strauss (2004)
Kevin Pietersen (2005)
Matt Prior (2007)
Jonathan Trott (2009)

And so keep your eyes peeled for the next in line. A right-handed bat, who bowls occasional off-spin with an occasional wrong ‘un, he averages 48 with the bat and a little over 19 with the bow&arrow.  Mustard in the covers and his running between the wickets is legendary, though his calling needs work, apparently.

From this picture alone, he impresses me more than Ravi Bopara.

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On Your Marks, Get Rich, Go


It’s nice to hear that the Olympic Torch will be in Croydon today. All morning I’ve been singing to myself  “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, fire’s coming home…”.
I suppose if (as has often happened on this relay) the flame goes out they can always re-ignite it with the embers of a burning sofa left over from the riots.

Yes, there’s no getting away from it : IT’S here. That event that you and everyone at T’BBC Salford has been looking forward to.  London 2012 is here and it doesn’t matter that, like me, the very thought of Sebastian Coe induces in you a touch of the Yangtze Rapids it’s here to dominate your tv set, pub conversation and in some cases, the very hell you live in.

Nobody enjoys sport more than I do (unless I have to actually compete in it, you understand) but I do get the taste of a thousand lemons in my mouth as the BBC commentaries and fanfares are drowned out by the clinking-clanking sound of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Samsung, Procter&Gamble (as if it’s much of a gamble)  G4S and the rest of them hauling sack-loads of our cash out of the country. And all this before Brendan Foster even gets the chance to sober up, or Michael Vaughan interviews Steve Redgrave about his two Olympic Gold Medals.

The decision to move the BBC out of London in the Jubilee Year (in the end, the Queen refused to move to Bury) and the LONDON olympics is really bearing fruit now. The team in Salford are left to report on events in London the way that Jeremy Bowen used to report on events Syria from a vantage point over the Jordan border. They do, of course, have people nearer the action, but for Orla Guerin read Carol Kirkwood, and for John Simpson read the brilliant Mike Bushell. From their gantry this morning above Freedom Square…sorry…Olympic Park, Carol kindly familiarised the viewer with the London skyline, as if it was us who’d been away, not them:

“…and to the left of the screen you can see the Shard: one of the biggest buildings in London…if not the biggest”. It’ll be one or the other darling, but well done on your preparation nevertheless. She ran out of time before she could show us the exact location of the community Gun Emplacements “Sponsored by Accurist”.

Bushell, with his Homer Simpson gormless smile splashed across his face, sat motionless, desperately trying to remember that Wiggly Baggins had won the Tour de France and not scored a double-hundred at Chelmsford yesterday. Such a pro.

Somewhere between the enthusiastic amateurs and the Shard in the distance (however big it may or may not be) one could just spy the scene of the crime, Park Olympia: A dozen or so thoughtfully-designed, and on a few occasions, strikingly beautiful stadia dotted around what looks like the industrial storage facility next to Heathrow’s Terminal 4.

 If not exactly a war-zone that Kate Adie would be proud to report from, then something that needs the help of the Olympic torch and an accelerant. My knowledge of the English language is not advanced enough to express my sentiments on the bit of sculpture in the middle.

So, at last the sun has come out, as if to welcome the world’s finest athletes to our shores. (I knew it would be hot this week – Carol Kirkwood predicted snow) It certainly shone on 12 South Africans yesterday as 11 of their cricketers made life miserable for an Anglo/Bokke XI at the Oval yesterday, and the 12th – a golfer- not only won The Open at Lytham, but went a long way to dispelling the myth that no-one has ever met a nice South African. Ernie Els overcame the hapless and helpless Aussie Adam Scott who Devon Loch’ed up the home straight, playing the sort of golf that I’d be proud of – bogeying the last four holes.

Poor Adam, it’ll be tough to forget that one. Clearly his caddie Racist-Stevie Williams (it’s a double-barrelled forename), who has claimed all those Tiger Woods victories as his own, clearly lost his golden touch and should now be sacked, never to whiten our door again. Some weird mirrored symmetry in a liberal-thinking, white South African, beating a bigoted kiwi.

But never mind all that now. It’s Olympic week. So gird your loins and cheer for your boys (and girls). Cast aside your petty squabbles with racism, corruption, corporate greed, scorched earth policies and financial impropriety. This is England, after all. You should be used to it by now.

Cry God for Bradley, Rebecca and Saint George !!!

And Seb can go and fuck himself.

In Chambers, Balding Out, Bernie In.


Qualifying Session: Trouble with the fuel pump in the McLaren Pit

This’ll shock you: I’m not an expert on Bahrain Politics. Every morning for the past week the BBC has been reporting on the protests in the Bahrain capital of Manama ahead of this weekend’s F1 Grand Prix. The Beeb, who coincidentally last season lost it’s right to exclusively cover F1, has devoted extensive coverage (or as extensive a coverage as the Bahrain govt will allow) of the protests against the shocking human rights violations, and against the Formula 1 juggernaut staging a show at this time.

Amazingly, and what really amazed me, the Crown Prince of Bahrain thinks the race should go ahead. As does Bernie Ecclestone. The BBC actually bothered to broadcast that interview. Hold that front page. Bernie, sounding more and more like Porky Pig as he’s asked to justify racing during the start of a revolution may as well have said “Erbederbederbederbe th th th that’s all folks”. This race means a lot of cash for Bernie and F1 and he wasn’t about to start giving coherent answers to pertinent questions just to satisfy news outlets.

Mountains to climb: Bernie Ecclestone (bottom left hand corner)

Instead he went down the “never mix sport with politics” line. A line he conveniently forgot a few years ago when he was bunging Tony Blair a million quid. It’ll be tough for Bernie to regain and rebuild his reputation after this one (what am I saying ?? WHAT reputation ?) especially after the F1 road show moves on in the next few weeks to the Burmese, North Korean and the ever-popular 1930s Germany Grand Prix(s). [subs: please fill in here the plural of Prix]

True to form, the British Government have been Chocolate Teapotting this one. Not a word has come from Cameron or the Tory govt (I think we can forget the Con-Dems now, as they’re even lagging behind UKIP in the polls) about not traveling to Bahrain, or propping up an evil society (and how could they, indeed? ). So the Democracy movement in Manama is left to fend for itself. Protestors on the streets of the capital, petrol bombs thrown at tanks and armoured cars. I woke this morning to hear on the radio to reports of columns of tanks forming on the city streets, which at first I mis-heard as “the re-formation of Manama Armour ” Thanks god I was mistaken. No-one needs to hear their version of Venus again.

Manama Armour: Terrifying

It fills me with nostalgia seeing wave after wave of F1 drivers lined up in front of the cameras  to trot out lines such as “sport is the most important thing” (Felipe Massa) . Similar stuff was script-written for the rebel cricket tours of South Africa in the 1980s and 90s when the cream of English cricket disgustingly ignored the plight of black and coloured South Africans under the apartheid regime and took part in a series of matches which many saw as an endorsement of the racist system and administration. The players were exiled from the sport thereafter, but many (or even most) have been reinstated to some of the highest positions the game can offer. It’s not something the sport should be proud of.

"This has nothing to do with the huge wads of cash on offer". Mike Gatting, future English Head of Selectors David Graveney and John Embury before the 1990 Rebel Tour to Suth Africa.

I don’t expect for one minute they will down-tools and come out on the side of the trodden masses. I suspect the Bernie’s hierarchy (or lowerarchy in his case) has the morals and conscience of the Dwayne Chambers Fan Club. Chambers looks like he’s going to win his case against the British Olympic Committee‘s by-law ruling that the drug-taking sprinter should be barred from competing at the Stratford Sports Day this summer. He and the other cheat (that we know of), cyclist David Millar look likely to be allowed to race alongside others who took the rather naive route of hard work, good diet and hard training to achieve their goals. Well Done the Olympic Movement !! Do you have anything else up your sleeve which may make these games less attractive to watch ?

In completely unrelated news, Caster Semenya has qualified to represent South Africa by two balls to none (Duckworth-Lewis method).

Now the good news: Claire Balding is to leave the BBC, probably to go a work for the Channel 4 Racing team, where her anticipated teaming up with John McCririck seems likely to be the first X-Rated horse racing coverage on British TV. I’m having nightmares about it already. Balding will leave after the BBC (yes, I am having a go at them again) shed their responsibility of covering the Grand National and therefore just about their entire racing coverage. No great shakes, you might think. But for me it means La Balding won’t be popping her fat head and chin up during coverage of any of the remaining sport which the state broadcaster clings on to.

Balding (left) the new female to McCririck ?

Rapidly fashioning herself as a poor man’s Steve Ryder, Claire will now doubtless be employed to take the piss out the teeth of competitors at the Paralympics, which only Channel 4 have the rights to. Imagine ie: Balding, McCririck and Hopeless Deley. What a missed opportunity.

Finally, the cheering yet astounding news that Fabrice Muamba may play soccer again. In an interview to be published in tomorrow’s Sun on Sunday (let me know how it reads, will you ?)  describes how, even though they are baffled by what happened to him and his heart, doctors have not ruled out the possibility of the 24 year old Bolton FC footballer playing the game again. The popular midfielder “died” on the pitch for 78 minutes last month (please, no Charlton jokes here) yet the chances are he will play again. Truly amazing and inspiring.

My doctor told me this week that there’s no chance of playing cricket all the time I’m still taking Warfarin.  The chances of nicking myself and spurting blood all over my short and square legs is too much of a risk to take. So that rules out another season for me. He did, however reckon I’ll be able to play golf, “no problem at all”. Which will be a first for me.

Now back to Ted Kravitz in the Pit Lane.

Behave Yourself, Sir! You’re (supposed to be) an Englishman


Knowing who to cheer for when South Africa play Australia is a bit like, for me anyway, deciding who you’d want to win if The Third Reich played Pinochet’s Chile. However, if there is any enjoyment to glean from such a contest it normally arrives when one side humiliates the other. A fine innings of a duck from former skipper Ricky Ponting helped his side on their way to 47 all-out, having been 21-9 at one stage.

Amazingly, the Bok’s are still favourites to lose this match, their batters doing little better themselves during their first innings effort. Anyway, having sat through the English cricketers pouting, posturing and under-performing in India recently, it’s nice to see someone else squirming in embarrassed agony for once.

Let’s hope the spoilt brats of Jimmy Anderson, Swanny and fellow cry babies can collect their toys, put them back in the pram and learn how to lose as well as win with dignity, then next summer’s test series against South Africa might be worth watching. The English team were were lovely lads, sporting icons, and sweet boys when they were on top against the Aussies last time round.

This side were rightly lauded by all for their humour, camaraderie and good sports when they were sweeping aside all teams put up in front of them. I saw them several times at Lords and The Oval and they were a joy to watch, welcome to marry my sister any time (if I had one) .

Cracks in their genial and generous facade began to appear when they lost to the Windies at the end of the summer. By the end of the disastrous Indian campaign they were positively nasty. If I want to watch such behaviour on a sports field, I’ll go back to watching soccer. Something call a “Jade” and sporting an earring and tattoo combination worthy of Dale Farm should never be eligible to play for England in the first place. If he’s gonna behave like a thug on the pitch he can go back to Jonty, Morne and Herschelle as soon as he likes.

Come on chaps. Play up and play the game, as Plum Warner may have said.

Fair Play and Fablass


For those unlucky enough to be watching NZTV coverage of the rugby let me tell you what happened. The welsh flanker and captain Sam Warburton picked up an opponent in a tackle, turned him over in the air and spear-tackled him, head-first, into the ground. A sending-off offence. So Irish referee Alain Rolland sent him off. The tv coverage missed half of this. TV in 1957land isn’t interested in anything that doesn’t involve some part of Dan Carter’s body, but you’d have thought at least ITV, who took the tv feed here in Blighty might have spotted a) the serious foul and b) the red card. They didn’t.

The first the pundits and commentators knew of it all was when they saw pictures of Warburton on the bench. They assumed he had been given a yellow card. This was Warbuton’s Rooney moment. A week after Wayne had been hounded out of town for kicking a player in the leg, Sam was given legal aid for trying to break a bloke’s neck. “Our little Sammy didn’t mean that”. “He’s not like that.” Well, Mr and Mrs Warburton, he did and he is. Sorry.

For the next 80-odd minutes (it’s still going on as I speak) the bleating from various welsh former players and their collaborators whinged and whined about the decision: Referee Rolland had administered a “huge injustice”. No he didn’t. Steve Ryder – the ITV anchorman – even said the welsh were “cheated” by the referee. No they weren’t. I happen to know that Mr Ryder is a Charlton Athletic supporter, so he can be forgiven for not having seen a lot of real sport. Fit professional men running around at pace must be very confusing to old Steve. Luckily he had former Rugby stars to help him out.

Francois Pienaar, the Matt Damon impersonator,  said the tackle was excusable in the cauldron that is a world cup semi-final. No, Matt.  Semi-final or no semi-final, you can’t pick a bloke up and spike him into the ground. When the kiwis do it to Brian O’Driscoll during a British Lions tour there’s a national outcry. If it were a Frenchman doing it to Lee Sixpence Ha’panney, Gareth Thomas would have been screaming blue murder. Not just screaming.

Next to Francois was Larry Dallaglio, looking lost without big Johnno to stick the boot into. Larry manfully joined in with Steve, Frank and welshman Martyn Williams in vilifying the ref. Oddly none of them lambasted the welsh for not taking advantage of drop-goal situations. Nor was the boot of Stephen Jones (surely now, the winner of Club Foot of the Year Award) blamed for the fact that they lost by one point. I lost count of how many kicks he missed.

The refs have been woeful this tournament and here at The Sharp Single we may have pointed out a few of the culprits. Rolland was never on our hit-list and certainly won’t be because of this performance. Though he nearly snuck in there when, with five minutes to go, he awarded a penalty to the Welsh in front of the posts. A shocking decision. Even Gareth in the comm box admitted it. Fortunately, Lee TwoBob missed the kick for the three points. If he’d have kicked that one the Taffs would have won the game due to a rank decision.

Didn’t hear Ryder and friends moan about that one.

The French were a poor rugby side all match. The Welsh looked up for it and none could have begrudged them the win. But they didn’t. Until the Australians change the rules, the side with more points wins the match. That’s how it works. Sorry. The English were shite all competition and are already back home paying their fines (those of them who aren’t still in Kiwi gaols). Good riddance to them. The Scotch never even bothered to send a team. So please, Wales, take it in good grace, shut up and fuck off home. Oh, and pick up those chips from your shoulders before you leave. Thanks.

Tomorrow Rugby Union meets Rugby League in the second semi-final. A game one side wants to play without forwards. After all, they beat the SAffers without any so why not the ABs ? If they win this cup it will be the death of Rugby Union. The Death of Rugby Union.

I pause here to allow my Aussie mates to pick up the keyboard and tap away furiously (cue the phrases “whingeing poms”; “spectator sport”;”jonny fucking wilkinson” etc etc  ad nauseum).

It won’t of course come down to the forwards. It’ll all be decided by a moment of genius or stupidity by Quade Cooper. By not changing his name from Quade, you’d have thought he’d been stupid enough for several lifetimes. Sadly not. This bloke makes Campo look like a solid and safe pair of hands. He was born a Kiwi but plays for Aussie. How to make friends and influence people. Quade (my spellchecker still doesn’t like that)  has the chance tomorrow to make a lot of friends, on one side of the Tasman or other.

So I shall remove my beret and don the Silver Fern in the hope that a team still using the scrum and lineout to secure good ball can prevail over the 13-man, tap-thru-the-legs tactics of the Wallabies. I wonder if, as the teams come out, they’ll be a bloke pretending to make noise by blowing into a conch shell, jumping up and down and sticking his tongue out ? I do hope so, it’s so frightfully exciting. Not at all boring.

I worry that referee Craig Joubert is officiating this one. Clearly the better of the refs on show, he should be doing the final not the semi. One can only surmise what that means. Bryce Laurence or Wayne Barnes anyone ? Now THAT would be a final worth watching.

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.

Abide with Me


Let me tell you where I am.

I am becoming a little tired of what the Anzacs are trying to do to my game of Rugby Union. We know they cannot scrummage, ruck or maul, but trying to rid the game of all three scenarios really gives me the ache. Union is in danger of becoming a bastardized (and very boring) form of Rugby League. Two long strings of uniform-sized men spread across the pitch, two men diving into secure the ball while the test of the team hang off in readiness for the next surge. It’s like watching Hull Kingston Rovers verus Wigan. In 1978.

It won’t be long before someone from Sydney or Auckland suggests tapping the ball back through the legs after the tackle (to speed up the game, of course). We won’t have to have scrums at all then. Yes, since that horror of horrors in 2003 when everyone’s Auld Enemy won the bloody thing by pummeling everyone into the ground, forces down under under have been hard at work trying to think of a way to rid the game of a front-eight confrontation. Tune into the Tri-Nations and you could be excused for thinking you were watching an expanded Middlesex Sevens, or your tv set’s on the fritz.

The game’s been played in pretty much in the same way since a bloke called Webb Ellis picked up the ball when a game of soccer was getting too boring (imagine that!). For 180 years the game’s been pretty much the same until Johnny Wilkinson tapped the ball between the posts to win the cup. In the name of speeding up the game, or the ever-popular ‘health and safety’ someone came up with a plan which doesn’t involve those horrid displays of of brute strength after knock-ons and forward passes.

(Please don’t think I’m living in the past, hate change or tinkering with originals. As I pointed out to a pal when having this argument earlier, Godfather III was no improvement on what went before. Leave what’s good well alone, I say.)

Only the South Africans seem to be playing the same guy as you, me, and my sister Julie (now Dennis) used to play all those years ago. Thank Allah for the Boks (and the Argies, while we’re at it- who recently beat up, and should have beaten a very poor England side) for still playing the game how it was meant to be. I even found myself cheering for the SAffers the other day – a first for me – though, in my defence, they were playing against Wales. Who knows, I may find myself shouting for the Taffies one day, if they end up playing Australia or New Zealand. As I say, who knows ?

The English and some of the northern hemisphere nations are branded by the southerners as dull and neanderthal. Their matches are slow and boring, too consumed with the set plays and the loose mauls. Rugby cannot be attractive to new audiences if dirty great lumps of men push and rip against an opposing dirty great lump of men. The game should be about speed of hand, fleet of foot and tries, TRIES, TRIES !!!

Yes to fleet of foot, yes to tries (yes to the trees!), but some of the greatest games ever witness have involved both speed and brute strength (and ever so occasionally a nasty confrontation up front. Remember them ?). The donkeys up front grunt and groan, push and pull and secure the ball for the girls in the backs to tip-toe their way towards the opposition’s try line. I am watching a game at this very moment and it has all of those elements and is very very enjoyable indeed. The USA are playing Russia (no potential for a punch-up here, then ?) A bunch of WWF rejects, bedecked in gaudy stars’n’stripes scrum-caps are competing against  a group of chaps who’s names sound like a collection of weapons, missiles and helicopters (“Sikorsky….passes to Molotov who links with Kalashnikov”). The standard isn’t great but it’s fast, furious, passionate and thoroughly engrossing.There even seem to be locals in within the stadium, watching and enjoying the game too. Perhaps that’s because neither team is managed by Martin Johnson. (Their latest gripe is that England have taken black kit with them. And we’re whingeing poms!).

So let’s hope that during the next match-up between the Blacks and the Wallabies  a game of Rugby Union breaks out. Both are very capable of winning the tournament and one probably will. But I’ve watched more interesting episodes of The Sky at Night than the match I watched between those two recently.

 

Disgusted of Dartford
God’s County
Blighty

What I Like to Do he Dousin


So they haven’t found him yet, then ? You know the one – old mop-heap – as Jeremy Bowen likes to call him. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, as everyone else calls him, in a brilliantly conceived plan, and showing superb foresight, has “had eet on ees toes”, as they’re saying in downtown Bani Walid nowadays.

How this man, a buffoon by all accounts, made his getaway in a convoy of limos, with barely four months head-start is beyond me. Clearly, too, beyond that lot in the Foreign Offices and Security Services. Daffy’s whereabouts is, at present, unknown. Anyone starting to see a pattern here ?? We couldn’t find our own arse with both hands.


Before they left for a bit of winter sun in Burkina Faso, by way of the Nigerien town of Agadez (as in “Push Pineapple, Shake the Tree” fame) Muammar’s men made sure they left behind a couple of good reads (no space in their suitcases, one supposes). The weighty tomes apparently tell the tale of how MI6 was complicit in the illegal abduction and torture of terrorist suspects – crimes for which, until now, Carlton of the F.O. has laid the blame firmly at the doorstep of Uncle Sam.

Even Tony Blair, who up til now has never been thought as of have been a liar  (subs please check this-MB) said that our boys had nothing to do with what’s known as Extraordinary Rendition and that is was purely an American affair. And I for one believed him. If, after all, one can’t believe the godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, who can one believe ? I must start buying Vogue – they get all the best stories, you know.

These men (some of whom actually did turn out to be terrorists, honest) were whisked away by the Brits and the Yanks, off to some black hole in Libya where they were subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation and were bombarded with hours and hours of non-stop, excruciating noise. One can only believe that somehow the CIA and MI6 had got hold of preview copies of Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film, now being screened on Channel 4. This promises to be 15-and-a-half hours of pain and deep misery, comparable only perhaps to a night at a Morrissey concert, an hour stuck in the lift with Michael McIntyre or maybe the pain suffered when your dentist forgets his root-canal kit and opts for using a desert spoon and a mallet.

But to be fair to Mr Cousins (and I’m never anything but fair) we can use analogies from his own world: His whining tone is that of the noise Harry Palmer was forced to listen to in The Ipcress File when he found himself strapped into an east-European brain-washing machine; After barely an hour I was screaming for Reservoir Dogs’ Mr Blonde to hack off my ears; The Incumbent wanted to shoot him with that gun made from a bicycle pump from the scene in Munich.

Being pretty much housebound, couchbound and eggbound for the last six weeks, how I was looking forward to the definitive documentary on my favourite art form. I imagined it to be the movies equivalent of the Olivier-narrated The World at War, or to do for the US what Ken Burns did with Civil War, instead I got an Extraordinary Rendition of my own, with all the appeal of Jude Law trying to act the Yellow Pages.

Mark Cousins: Pretentious, Moi ?

I can only assume Mr Cousins’ voice is as grating to his native Northern Irish homies as it is to me down here in the soft South East. I can’t believe his pretentious bollox is given much shrift in the bars of Belfast. It’s surely doubtful that when the great Fergal Sharkey penned My Perfect Cousin (perhaps in those very same bars) he was not thinking of this bloke. The far-from-perfect Mr Cousins may think I like listening to him and agreeing with all he says. I Dousin.

I suppose I should have known what was coming. I should have known that something was rotten in Channel 4 when they rolled-out their fledgling coverage of Athletics with the opening scenes of the World’s Athletics Championships from Daegu (apparently we looked for Gaddafi while we were there but found no-one). The Incumbent will tell you that if there isn’t a movie showing on our TV there will doubtless be some sporting event or other. As a lover of all things track ‘n’ field (apologies for the ‘n’) I settled down to soak-up a week’s worth of international running ‘n’ jumping, and not a Boris or Seb in sight. What could possibly go wrong ??

A paid-up BBC-phile, I set aside my prejudices (yes I do have some) that Auntie wasn’t showing the event as usual and sat glued, hoping to see a professional, seamless broadcast, mirroring the talent on the track.

Well one can hope. Remember that young US sports presenter in the Boom Goes the Dynamite clip ? (see Sports..er…News… earlier post). Well forget him. This is real talent:

In what I now know to be a pre-Cousins assault, and in one of the few Channel 4 programs not include an autopsy, the station unveiled the wonderfully hapless and hopeless Ortis Deley.  I have to put out a warning to all those who haven’t seen this man before. You thought Carol Kirkwood was useless? Still under the impression that Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood at that awards show were the worst things ever to appear on TV ? Wait just til you watch Hopeless Deley. He delivers here a quite wonderful British and Commonwealth all-comers record for nervous lunacy in front of a camera.

I never thought I’d ever see Michael Johnson look nostalgic for the gin-soaked BBC studio, where the only real task is keeping Brendan Foster upright in his seat during commentary. This left me fleeing for Eurosport- a first for me and not half as truly awful as I thought. It’s a bit like standing outside a TV rental shop and having a poor-man’s Tony Gubba shout the commentary in your ear, as if he’s really there at the event. So not half as bad as I feared.

But soon I was hurtling back for more of the hilarity that was Channel 4’s coverage. Then the rotten sods pulled him from the anchor slot – bloody spoilsports. We were left with the charming and, let’s be honest, near-professional Rick Edwards. Spoilt the whole show.

So here is your chance to catchup. My personal best is 1min 37.5 secs, during his first Oscar Pistorius quote. I nearly wet myself. Take it away, Hopeless.

There would have been more of the above but those radical fun-loving sheisters at Channel 4 have decided that we mustn’t watch their presenter fuck-up for 20 minutes. We have to thank a rival broadcaster for what’s left.

Jessica Ennis. Goodnight.

Don’t Look, Ethel


(Yes yes yes, it’s cricket again – but you’ll like this one)

I think if I ever had to face an Australian fast bowler I’d ask for a blindfold. ‘England’ batsmen Kevin Pietersen has a go at facing a bowling machine, cranked up to serious speeds. He’s pretty good at it. Perhaps that’s the answer, KP ?

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