For We Are Young and Free


It’s been a rather enjoyable summer, all things being considered. If you happen to be a Pom, (which I am) and enjoy your sport (which I do) you find yourself in one of those periods in your life on which you will look back in years to come and wonder how the hell it all happened.

Of the three main sports worth talking about, The British Lions won the Rugby, GB & Europe hold the Ryder Cup, and England won the ashes before Alastair Cook had time to dust off his lucky Bobby Tambling jockstrap. In other fields, a Scotsman holds the Wimbledon Title for the first time since the Reformation, our naturalised Brits keep running, jumping and cycling faster than other counties’ naturalised citizens and, as yet, seem more adept at avoiding awkward questions about pills and blood transfusions than their fellow competitors.

This is all very odd indeed.

I am of an era where the word British was always preceded by “Plucky”, “Gallant” or “Useless”. There was a clear world order of things : 1) The British invented a sport. 2) The British got bored of playing amongst themselves, so took the game to the colonies. 3) The colonies (and anyone else who happened to be passing) beat the British.

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A small boy asks for the autograph of the winner of the 1908 Reculver to Penge Bicycle Race.

And this was how it was since sport was invented. Americans held all the golf and the tennis titles (very occasionally helped by a German, Swede or Strine). The Aussies and W Indies were the best at cricket, New Zealanders won the Rugby. West German men dominated the football (mainly), East German Women triumphed at the swimming (manly) and everyone else won Olympic Gold at our expense (the exception being Moscow 1980 when no-one else turned up). 

Oh yes, of course, there were always exceptions which proved the rule. Occasionally you’d get a Daley Thompson or an Ian Botham who’d become world-beaters, but on the whole we were useless. Our coaches were useless, our stadia crap and all our sportsmen and athletes went to college in Florida because over there they had real grass and something called sunshine.

Leaving us with Torvill & Dean.

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Mr & Mrs Jagger of Dartford, Kent, thoroughly enjoying themselves at a cricket match at The Oval, London 1972. Australia won by 5 wickets. Again.

Somehow this all changed. Somewhere between Shane Gould and Rebecca Adlington, between Mal Meninga and Johnny Wilkinson, since Rod Laver and just before Jock McSour, the British began to win things. Some genius in Westminster had the brain wave of giving money to each individual sporting organisations in the country for coaches, equipment and facilities. Invest in the country’s youth and watch it flourish.

Bugger me it works !

Of course, not all sporting bodies in the country got with the program. Some, like the FA and Football Premiership, reasoned that if we could attract enough mercenary and racist show ponies to our leagues, pay them so much money that, at the first flash of an agent’s instep, they’d drop you for another club. Only by playing against and alongside these players will our own boys improve and therefore, so the argument goes, will the National side improve and become World Cup Winners.

How’s that working out for you ?

But putting soccer to one side (putting it to sleep would be more humane) it does seem like something has worked. Our South Africans bat longer, run faster and cycle further between ‘comfort breaks’ than their South Africans; Our golfers (men and women) regularly pop across the pond to nick their silverwear; the Spirit of Seb Coe is still in the ascendency (in all parts of the land apart from my house) as young men and women who have benefited from our own little version of the GDR approach, run jump and swim faster, higher and longer than anyone else (well more than they used to anyway).

Most gratifying, of course is that this:

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has become this:

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It’s not just money that has caused this turnaround in fortunes, it is of course the attitudes of the Powers at Be. It’s the sudden (!) realisation that sport is great for the young, the soul of youth, and the heart of a nation. Winning is not everything, but is great for the spirit, and allows people like Cameron and Blair to use words like Feel Good Factor, and to jump on that bandwagon, drenching themselves and their political parties in the sweat and toil of others. (The reader will please note that during an Ashes Series, of course, winning is everything— but you get my drift). If school headmasters since Tom Brown’s days realised the importance of sport, why did it take until 1990 for any British Government ?

So as a finale to my summer there could have been no better received call last night than that from an old pal of mine who announced that unfortunately he’d had some people let him down, and he was stuck with two seats for the first day of the Fifth Test at The Oval today. “Would you and the missus like to go?” he asked, hopefully.  Being a good friend, I couldn’t see the poor man left with extra seats to fill. I threw my spirally cap and monocle into the ring.

Therefore this morning like Mick and Bianca before us (though hopefully slightly better-attired) The Incumbent and I shall take our places in the OCS stand for the first day of what promises to be a five-day-long party. Being 3-0 up already it will seem very odd that there is nothing to play for. CORRECTION:  there often used to be nothing to play for by the time we reached the Oval, but because the Aussies had already won the series. The boot with the big toe poking through the hole is definitely on the other foot this morning.

I don’t expect it to be a packed house. I’m looking forward to many a Strine Whine of “Oh look, anyone want 8 spare tickets ?” as I emerge from the Oval tube this morning. Memories of the vast expanses of empty seats at the MCG and SGC from 2009 tell us that your Aussie doesn’t turn up to see a losing side. He’ll have to get use to it. We did for years.

The English have included in their squad 2 relative unknowns — presumably to give them experience of carrying drinks out to the middle. The Aussie, bless them, have included 8 unknowns in their side — although 7 of these have already played 4 tests this summer. The ACB are busy trawling the practice nets and academies of Papua New Guinea, searching for more leg spinners and opening bats before their government pours them back into the sea. Let’s all hope that works out for them (the ACB, that is, not the government: The Government can go fvck itself).

World cricket is poorer for a weak Australian team.

Albeit funnier.

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Don’t Say I didn’t Warn You


Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au, Dec 7th 2010

England’s thumping of Australia in the second Ashes Test nearly sparked a different type of thumping between veteran cricket rivals Ian Botham and Ian Chappell in Adelaide.

The English knight and the Aussie had to be dragged apart after reportedly clashing in the Adelaide Oval car park.


The two men, who are said not to have spoken to each other since 1980 despite being regular cricket commentators at the same events, squared up as Botham waited to be picked to go to the airport, Britain’s Daily Mail reported.

Chappell, from Channel Nine, “muttered something highly provocative as he went past”, reported the paper, and Botham, from Sky, snapped: “What did you say?”

They dropped their bags and “went for each other” before being separated by their colleagues from Channel Nine and Sky.

“It could have got very nasty if there hadn’t been people on hand to keep them apart,” a Channel Nine source was reported as telling the Mail.


“They reacted quickly because we all know the history between these two. They might be aged 55 and 67, but neither of them are the type of people to give an inch in the face of conflict.”

Vaguely similar to The Sharp Single’s “It is Written” Dec 30 2009:

Brisbane…

Ian Botham arrested pending inquiries into an alleged incident in the bar afterwards which leaves 6 members of the Aussie press corps needing treatment. Four (empty) cases of Shiraz and a cricket stump are bagged and sent to forenics.

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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It Is Written


Predictions.

When crap journalists can think of nothing else to write about, and editors have nothing sexy with which to fill their pages, we are left with long and exhausting lists of predictions for the coming year. Here at The Sharp Single things are no different. So read this and you need not read another til, ooh, next week I should imagine.

2010 and all that.

In January David Tennant becomes Dir Gen of the BBC, narrowly edging out the twin-bid from Mathew Horne and James Corden. It’s believed that the board said they didn’t want too much hilarity during important meetings, and yet they still plump for Tennant. Peter Andre marries himself. Katie Price explodes. Her life has gone tits-up.

The recession ends in February. Then it starts again a week later for those of us under £150,000-a-year when the government raises income tax to pay for a Champagne and Crayfish bar at the 2012 Olympic Equestrian stadium.
Following another attempted rectum-launched terrorist attack on an airliner, all passengers are now asked to remove their underpants through customs. John Prescott and Amy Winehouse are exempt. In the third week of February, due to an administrative error there is no sale on at DFS. Early march sees Hazel Blears join the Tory Party, and Peter Mandelson join the Brownies. Boris will say nothing sensible or vaguely relevant all year.
I lose 20 lbs by the end of March, in preparation to put on 25 by late June. In an astonishing turn of events, Jude Law continues to receive offers of work. In April, a virulent strain of Gnu Flu sweeps through Fleet Street and Sky News studios. Some people are almost likely to very probably have a tickly throat. The epidemic is expected to last until a proper news story breaks.

A Briton wins the first seven races in the F1 Championship. Meanwhile, in sport, Chelsea win the Premiere League by one point from Arsenal when, in the Blues last game three late deflected off-side penalties are allowed by the ref, a Mr S.Wonder, apparently. (By the end of the year, each match will be officiated by 7 refs, 2 linesmen, a sheepdog and The Met Police.) Alex Ferguson is finally pickled and displayed in the Man Utd museum for all eternity. United appoint Victoria Beckham as their new coach.

Gordon Brown loses the election and takes his seat in the upper chamber as Lord Thankgoditsallover. Fox hunting is re-legalised by the new Tory Government, as is hanging, public masturbation and child chimney-sweeps. Charlton Athletic make the play-offs only to lose to Millwall, 3 fan deaths to 1 (Duckworth/Lewis method).
In late May, the newly-appointed Minister for War, Mr Liam Fox, announces the Government’s new big push in Afghanistan. Plans are made to enlist every first-born child from labour-voting households (that’ll teach ’em). June 16th, fifty-three women in Florida, California and St Andrews simultaneously give birth to babies of mixed-race and a smashing set of choppers. The women, all blonde, rather soiled-looking, hotel cloakroom attendants immediately sign contracts with The Mail on Sunday. Gillette sales plummet. Or soar. July 21st, a string bag full of lemons is seen being delivered to The Crown public house, Blackheath. But no ice.
By the beginning of August, after a summer of riots and general discontent, Police officers are allowed to carry machetes while on crowd-control duties. All fingerprints and DNA of police officers are removed from the system, to be replaced by those of mortgage-defaulters and lollipop ladies.
Brazil win the World Cup. By now, England have already been roasted by the West Germans, Capello is poached by Portugal and grilled by the press. Then he goes and gets smashed.
Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is seen urinating up against the Grace Gates at Lords after a particularly convivial lunch during the One Day International vrs Australia. The press dub it ‘Gategate’.
In late September after a ‘leaked’ press release it is widely reported that this year’s must-have toy for Christmas will be Mattel’s Stoat Family Fortunes (David Tennant Edition). A week later all stocks are sold out. Individual members of the Stoat family change hands on eBay for up to £300, except the very popular ‘Piper Stoat’ which you can’t get for love nor money.

In October I turn 40 years old for the seventh time running. Later that month armed police from the crack ‘Arrest Innocent People Squad’ raid a flat believed to be the HQ of a sleeper cell of Al Qaeda, responsible for the alleged underpants plot earlier in the year. Yet again, their information is found to be shoddy: Having forced their way into the premises, all they find is a derelict, uninhabited shit-hole, of no use or interest to man nor beast. And that’s not this years’ only connection with Wales: After a particularly wet autumn at Celtic Manor Golf Club, play is suspended during the foursomes on the opening day of The Ryder Cup when US player Stewart Cink’s caddy is tragically drowned while replacing a divot. Organisers pledge never to attempt to hold the event in Wales again, at any time of the year.
November 2nd and the Google Street View van finally visits my street, when it catches me stealing my next door neighbour’s wheelie bin, to replace mine which was stolen the week before
Thursday Nov 25th, Brisbane: Australia finish the first day of the first Ashes test on 431-1 (Ponting 230no, Katich 125no. Swann 1-250). Ian Botham arrested pending inquiries into an alleged incident in the bar afterwards which leaves 6 members of the Aussie press corps needing treatment. Four (empty) cases of Shiraz and a cricket stump are bagged and sent to forenics.

December: Keith Harris and Orville win Strictly Come Dancing, beating Clare Balding in the final, watched by 48 million catatonic viewers. On a visit by my children, mid-month, I resume the mantle of ‘Best Dad in the World’ – the first time I’ve held the title in 12 months. Their Christmas lists are then handed to me.
On Dec 23rd, a new supply of Piper Stoats arrive on the docks in Liverpool. Massive queues form and14 people are crushed in the ensuing riot when it’s announced sales are limited to one buyer each. Dec 29th: Mattel recall all sets of Stoat Family Fortunes due to a massive, dangerous design fault. Hundreds have been maimed by Piper’s sharp protruding teeth. Richard Branson makes an aggressive takeover bid for the company. Awaiting details of the photocall.

Happy 2011 to both of you

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