Weir’s Week: All hail Seve, waving off Walter and the Lennon assault

<em>Picture: Peter</em>
Picture: Peter
By Stewart Weir

In sport, there are those who win, and then there are those who win with a style, a bit of panache, and plenty of passions.

It’s the difference between being predictably good, and unpredictably brilliant.

You had it in snooker with Steve Davis and Alex Higgins, between Prost and Senna in F1, and in tennis, with Lendl and McEnroe.

It’s the same now. Many admire the ability of Federer, but many others love the way Nadal goes about his business. So it was the same in golf.

It was why, when others were winning more often, Arnold Palmer charmed a generation, and why Lee Trevino’s lack of conformity was so appealing. And definitely why even non-golf lovers would watch Seve Ballesteros, who sadly succumbed to his long battle with cancer on Saturday.

Others had won The Open by bigger margins, or with better scores. But when Seve did it in 1979 at Royal Lytham, probably no one before – or since – has taken such an unorthodox path to victory, playing from bunkers and rough, and even from walkways.

He even played out of a public car park. And yes, while I concede others have also done that, not many did it while holing for birdie at the 16th on their way to collecting the Claret Jug.

Five years on, and his fist-pumping salute to his own brilliance, on the final green at St Andrews will forever live with those who watched golf because of him.

Of another 70s superstar, it was said that while others played tennis, Bjorn Borg played something else. That could just have easily read for golf and Seve.

So the sporting world lost a hero, and Spain lost arguably their all-time greatest sportsman. The players of La Liga honoured his passing, as did Spain’s current sporting “matador” Rafael Nadal, who called him “irreplaceable” and “a pioneer”.

And other less-well known sportsmen also paid their respects. In the World Rally Championship, Mini driver Dani Sordo wore a black armband to acknowledge the passing of his countryman. It was a sad day for Spain and for sport worldwide.

So did the correspondent interviewing Sordo on Saturday morning really have to ask why he was wearing it. Or was his first thought that it was an aerodynamic modification or a go-faster stripe?

Even after all the crisis, dramas, twists, turns and machinations, and still Sky Sports and the English Premier League manage to get a title decider game between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Well, the destination of the big prize was in little doubt after the flying start Javier Hernandez gave United. He is of course, nicknamed and known as “Chicharito” – Spanish for “Little Pea”. Of course, our own domestic game has been blessed with some Little Ps as well …

But a 2-1 win mean United need only one more point to secure the English league championship for a 19th time, so surpassing arch-rivals Liverpool.

Great manager that he is, on occasions you forget the magnitude of Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievement at Old Trafford.

But former Liverpool and Partick Thistle legend Alan Hansen went some way to summing it up, when he pointed out that when Liverpool reached the 18 mark, United were on just seven.

A measure of Fergie’s greatness, and just how far Liverpool’s standards have slipped.

How could I forget?

As promised several times, Rangers finally changed hands for the small matter of £52.5 million when Craig Whyte became the new owner, taking over from Sir David Murray. And just in the nick of time.

How many would have renewed their season tickets on the back of not knowing what kind of team Rangers might put out under Ally McCoist next term, especially given that Thursday was the deadline for renewal applications, while the new first team kit would also go on sale this week.

Those are big money earners for Rangers. So they could ill-afford the indecision to go on much longer.

And it could be quite a coup for Whyte. But the club one week, championship delivered the next. If that is the scenario, someone should maybe tell him it won’t always be that good.

It was an evening packed with emotion in Govan as Rangers beat Dundee United 2-0 to keep their charge for a 54th championship title on track.

Of course, it might have been different had United actually tried and made things more difficult for Rangers instead of just rolling over and laying down to the champions at Ibrox.

Please, that’s not an accusation, just an observation, albeit it one which is completely skewed given that in the closing minutes only a great save from Allan McGregor and the width of a post preserved Rangers’ lead and points haul. But you know how things must look on paper…

That aside, the final whistle brought the curtain down, or at least on that particular sporting window, for Walter Smith, in charge of his team for the last time on home soil.

In two instalments, Smith’s record with Rangers is enviable. And of course, it could become more so depending on what happens come “Helicopter Sunday”.’

It was fitting then that he took the applause and the acclaim from those who have supported him through thick and thin (or is it broad and narrow?) especially over the last few years, where his ability to make and mend have taken Rangers to the verge of a third-successive league title.

Afterwards, the masters apprentice Ally McCoist went out of his way to leave everyone in no doubt that Smith and co’s walk around the pitch was not a victory celebration or lap of honour, but all parties showing their appreciation of what was Walter’s Last Stand (even if the real one comes at Rugby Park on Sunday).

I can understand why it was done. During his first tenure as Rangers boss, Smith’s last day was disappointing and the ultimate anticlimax given everything that had gone before.

Even so, I am a great advocate of such gestures being left to the very, very end. Maybe it is because of some deep-seated scarring I suffered many years ago. I mean, I was one of those who turned up at Hampden in 1978 to cheer Scotland before they went to the World Cup finals…

And Motherwell will appeal owner John Boyle’s £2,500 fine imposed by the SFA after his fracas with Aberdeen boss and former employee Craig Brown in April.

Brown was censured for his part in the after-match scuffle after the game at Fir Park, while Boyle was fined and severely censured.

Obviously the difference between being censured and severely censured is in the wording. Something akin to being a bad boy, and being a very, very, very bad boy, who is also now £2,500 poorer.

As I said a few weeks ago, if you let club chairman away with such behaviour on the pitch (and what was he doing there in the first place?) you give any Tom, Dick or Hearts fan an excuse to do the same …

The attack on Celtic manager Neil Lennon gave the SPL and Scotland the kind of exposure it doesn’t need. Only an idiot would condone such actions. Unfortunately, there are plenty out there, if you haven’t noticed.

What I did notice in an instant on Wednesday was the kind of coincidence that is a conspiracy theorist’s dream.

For just as the Jambo hooligan was entering the technical area (and the SFA will have something to say about that given what happened to a Mr Boyle of Motherwell), the video advertising boards were flashing up various plugs for BBC Radio Scotland’s output.

And as the cowardly thug tackled Lennon, what flashed up in the background but Your Call with Jim Traynor.

People pay top dollar for that kind of brand awareness. So well done to whoever bought up those hoardings for a live Sky game. What exposure and what impeccable timing!

Today questions aplenty are being asked about what this assault says about security, safety of individuals and Scottish society in general.

The biggest question for quite a few taking heads was: “Why Neil Lennon?”

Former Celtic striker Andy Walker said that he had “never known any figure to be so loathed, so demonised, so hated,” and that “we have to ask ourselves why that is”.

I’ve asked myself that one, although perhaps not with the same incredulity as some. Because I can see why some found Lennon’s actions, after the last (and I say that with some relief) Old Firm game when he cupped his hands behind his ears as if he couldn’t hear the jeering Ibrox hoards, as being antagonistic. Level-headed individuals – including many within the media – called those actions ill-advised. But they would have done so regardless of what individual had been involved.

Lennon saw differently. “It’s called humour, all right?” he said afterwards. (So he won’t be upset then at the “joke” doing the rounds that Wednesday’s events were the first ever example of the fan hitting the shit. That for some is also called humour.)

Similarly, I can see why calling into question the efforts of those playing Rangers – like Motherwell and Hearts – who lost 5–0 and 4–0 respectively might be enough to spark a reaction from management and supporters of those clubs.

Lennon said: “What we are looking for is somebody to compete and give Rangers a game. There has not been much evidence of that in their previous two games.”

He attempted to qualify that by stating; “I made an observation on the basis of results. I said there was little evidence in the 5–0 and 4–0 defeat, but that’s not an accusation, that’s more of an observation.”

So why Neil Lennon?

Because in many eyes he appears to have gone out of his way to wind up either the management or fans of other clubs, through words or actions. And I don’t think another boss in Scotland has done that. But that’s not an accusation, that’s more of an observation.

Of course, that doesn’t make it right to threaten or attack someone. That is abhorrently wrong. But some headbanging scumbags need little, if any excuse, to justify their actions.

Just 24 hours to go to the showcase game of the season in England. But unlike previous years, the FA Cup final has to share the billing with league fixtures, all because everything this year is geared to getting Wembley right for the Champions League final.

OK, Manchester United’s potential coronation at Blackburn, and the games at Blackpool, Sunderland and West Brom, will all conclude before the three o’clock start at Wembley. But the FA Cup final once had centre stage all to itself. Further proof, if it were needed, that the famous old tournament is now an afterthought behind the Premier League and Champions League.

Still, at least it is still live on terrestrial television, on ITV – except for viewers in Scotland who can see Thirteen Days, a tense political thriller starring Kevin Costner and Bruce Greenwood from 2000, a tale set during the 1962 missile crisis when the US discovered that the USSR was building Cuban missile bases.

1962 eh? Probably where someone’s thinking was when scheduling the SPL kick-offs for the same time.

Still, Sky viewers can always his Channel 993 for ITV in London, or if you don’t access English networks, retune using these instructions.

Or you could always watch St Mirren v St Johnstone in the “Battle of The Saints” which you won’t find on any of the religion channels – 580 to 598.