Weir’s Week: Olympic illumination and an SPL exodus

Ann Summers, Olympic torch suppliers?
Ann Summers, Olympic torch suppliers?
By Stewart Weir

I love my Sky Sports, but every now and again you get an information overload – a “stat attack”, as I like to call it. And Friday evening’s Championship encounter between Hull City and Blackpool provided the basis.

And with all the phraseology, there was no doubting that the real action had begun.

It was, we were told, the premiere of the Championship season, the big kick-off in the competition, the opening match of the campaign, the curtain-raiser, the taster to the delights of the English second tier, the tie to get the new term off and running.

But it wasn’t until nine minutes from time that the deadlock was broken by the winner from Blackpool’s Gary Taylor-Fletcher, and this was the cue for someone to press the button which popped up a caption informing the nation that it was his “first goal of the season”.

Really? I’d have never have guessed…

Meanwhile, Lanarkshire has come over all sporty as it stages the 2011 International Children’s Games.

And how nice it was to see so many of the competing kids, in and around the Palace Grounds in Hamilton, being so supportive towards those who will be equally supportive towards them should they reach Olympic standard in years to come.

Or, in other words, they were dining out at McDonald’s…

While the Scottish domestic season tries to get started, England’s big league curtain-raiser – the Community Shield – serves up a full-blooded encounter between Manchester’s footballing neighbours (I almost said foes), United and City.

None of your going-through-the-motions here. Both had points to prove – but, in the end, it was the red half of the city (or should that be the world?) that celebrated, helped to a 3–2 win by Nani’s first goal and United’s equaliser.

An early contender for Goal of the Season – or the winner already? You judge.

While London burns, only the Fickle Finger of Fate would point to today as the launch date for the 2012 Olympic torch design.

Olympic torches are not something I have spent time pondering. Like most torches, they either work or they don’t – and, in the case of previous Olympic torches, “don’t” has often meant “explodes”.

For those who do give a second thought to such implements, the BBC did a very good “guide to” for torch anoraks, including the 1992 Winter Games baton which appears to have its origins from within the drawing office of Ann Summers.

While Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby will have spent countless hours designing, crafting and sculpting the 2012 offering, to the layman, design-wise, there seems to be a standard model, roughly based on the German M43 world war two stick grenade. I mean, all you are really looking for is a stick with a big flame that doesn’t go out and can light things at one end, and a bit of distance between that and your fist.

A simple concept and model some of London’s residents seem to cotton on to very quickly over the weekend…

Visiting Zagreb with Celtic on an ill-fated Champions League qualifying mission in 1998, I found myself in the company of some of those who had fought for Croatia’s independence a few years before. They regaled me with surreal tales of how they went to the front line on the equivalent of a corporation bus, which was still in service, ploughing its normal route despite its proximity to the deadly action.

There were similarly surreal happening in London on Tuesday, when areas of the great city cleared up after three nights of rioting and braced themselves for the potential of even more anarchy – while in another corner, Horse Guards Parade to be exact, there was a preview of what we should expect a year from now, with a beach volleyball exhibition.

Which once again proved the point that, regardless of the spectacle, live sport finds itself up against the attractions of armchair TV sport – all the more appealing if the telly you’re watching it on came free from Curry’s shop-window…

Yet another new report reveals that almost 600,000 fans have stopped attending SPL games in the last five years. Umpteen interested parties were immediately Tweeting away, asking why folk had stopped going to football.

Why? Couldn’t they work it out for themselves?

Scotland has been bereft or star names for several years. Let’s not kid ourselves. Why would you turn out to watch the SPL when some of the “best” players here are seeking moves to the Championship in England?

Add to that increased costs to attend home games, the difficulty – or near-impossibility on some occasions – just to walk up and pay at the gate, and that watching from the comfort of your sitting-room or bar-stool is often more appealing than travelling to away grounds.

And if you are an Old Firm fan, there is an odds-on chance that if you do travel, you face being penalised by a completely unmerited ticket price hike by some greedy chairmen, who see Celtic and Rangers fans as cash cows.

So there. All that, and without mentioning the recession. And for those who had to ask, keep a note of those facts for next year so you don’t have to ask again…

You can call them what you like. But friendly games and glamour challenge matches, at club or country level, have never done it for me. For a great many years I have, where possible, given them a severe body-swerve, basically because ultimately they mean nothing, and should count for even less.

I have seen Scotland beat Argentina when they were world champions, and I’ve seen Scotland beat Germany in Bremen when, three years later, they were in the World Cup final and we were in the pub.

Call-offs before the game, mass substitutions during it, and more often than not a level of physicality that registers around “tame” on the commitment scale have just about switched me off to such contests.

So while Scotland were beating Denmark last night thanks to Robert Snodgrass’s winner (does anyone else see a resemblance between him and “Jazzer” Bett?) and despite Allan McGregor’s blunder, I was instead in the company of another former Scotland goalkeeper – one who has eight books to his name.

Former Birmingham City and Hibs goalie Jim Herriot – with whom I was checking out some facts for a book I’m writing – had his name nicked in the 1960s by one James Alfred Wight, a vet named Alf Wight, who became a best-selling author under the pen-name James Herriot.

“I had to have one because I didn’t want to be accused of advertising by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. And I was watching telly one night when this footballer came on,” Wight (or Herriot) told the Telegraph Sunday Magazine in 1981.

“He was called James Herriot and I thought: ‘That’s a nice name.’ So I used it.”

I can’t imagine anyone similarly honouring the likes of McGregor, Robert Green, Craig Gordon or Joe Hart. But then no one would take the chance now – not if they wanted to avoid some level of litigation.

England are well on top in the Third Test against India, and well on their way – it would appear – to becoming the no.1 Test nation. A nice title, but little more, unlike the offerings and silverware available in international one-day and limited-over formats of the game.

Or the money of offer for performing some feats with a cricket ball. OK, 50p isn’t a fortune – but this contest is worth every penny, and worth the watching.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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