Weir’s Week: Gale farce, SPOTY herberts and, tragically, farewell Gary Speed

Tributes to Gary Speed at Cardiff City Stadium. <em>Picture: Jon Candy</em>
Tributes to Gary Speed at Cardiff City Stadium. Picture: Jon Candy
By Stewart Weir

Saturday
I have seen football played in torrential rain, snow blizzards and pea-soup fog. And I’ve also seen games cancelled and abandoned because of those climatic conditions.

But, I’ve never been to a game postponed or halted for wind, other than for structural or safety reasons. Yet, many a game has been turned into a farce because of it.

I recall one night when Hamilton Accies and Aberdeen battled a gale at the old Douglas Park. There was no football played, and inevitably, when a goal did arrive, it was because the ball was blown off-course, beyond a defender and into the path of a fortunate poacher.

But the game went on. It couldn’t have been too different on Saturday. Motherwell and Dundee United’s SPL tie was stymied by the force of the wind, so much so, that United manager Peter Houston stated it might be another reason for considering shifting the season.

“This weather’s not conducive to any football at all,” Houston said afterwards. “We’ve got to start thinking about summer football again,” he said. “It gets to the stage where it’s not good for Scottish football to play in this weather.”

I’ve never fancied summer football. But to change the calendar because it gets a bit breezy? Give me peace.

I sympathise with Houston. It doesn’t even need to be anywhere near gale force to make a mockery of the players, and short-change the fans. But you can get gales at any time of year. I’ve been to Arbroath, Ayr and Stranraer in August and seen games blown away.

So what next? We can’t play because of bright sunshine? Sorry, but while I can see the valid point you make, like the wind, I can’t see it happening.

Sunday
“Wales manager Gary Speed found dead, aged 42.” I don’t know how many times I read that before it sunk in. Perhaps it hasn’t yet.

I’m not sure whether the shock was heightened by the fact he’d appeared on Football Focus less than a day before, or because of his age, or that he was making a real go of it as Welsh national coach. But it was a shock, and the manner of his death just shocking.

We might never know what happened to a man, who on the face of it had everything; past, present and future. Maybe he saw it differently. What we do know is that no-one saw this coming. This has left many of his friends, team-mates and colleagues broken, shattered and confused, to a man, each thinking that “if only” their friend, team-mate and colleague had asked, they would have helped. And there were plenty out there willing.

For in death, perversely, Gary Speed’s popularity shone. No-one had a bad word to say about him, almost everyone had a different word on him. All of which makes it even more difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend.

I met Gary Speed twice. The first time he was a Newcastle player, on a day off, with Shay Given and another bloke, in their golf gear, coming back from a charity day.

In the queue to pay, I asked him if he’d enjoyed his day, and he spoke to me, telling me where they’d been, what it was for, and how they were dashing back home. Not the sometime-now normal grunt, of pitiful smile some of his ilk greet you with.

A few years on, I met him back stage at the Reebok, two wee boys in tow, like “mini-me’s” following dad after a game. He was doing the sponsors lounge tour. It must have taken him ages, because he spoke to everyone, making the first friendly approach, often to people shy of the “stars”.

Which he was, even though he only ever came across as a really nice person, as he was to everyone who knew him. Making Sunday’s events all the more unimaginable and unfathomable.

Monday
As has been highlighted with the tragic events surrounding Gary Speed, there is tie, a bond, a connection, even a love between those who have played in teams together, and even in opposition. But not always.

There is certainly no love lost between Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca, the animosity between the two spanning half a century. Sad, although hopefully you will see the funny side of things, which one of this pair just didn’t see.

Tuesday
It used to be that you might get a bit of row brewing around the winner of
BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year – or SPOTY as it’s become.

But now we have a barney just around the announcement of the shortlist.

If I’d been asked to come up with ten nominees, I reckon I might have come up with something close to cyclist Mark Cavendish, Darren Clarke, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy from golf, cricketers Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, runners Mo Farah and Dai Greene, Amir Khan from boxing and tennis ace Andy Murray.

Being honest, I’d have come up with only about five or six, because the rest are just making up the numbers.

However, some are outraged that no women have made that shortlist.

The reason is very simple. None were good enough.

Yes, swimmers Rebecca Adlington and Keri-Anne Payne did well, as Chrissie Wellington who won her fourth ‘Ironman’ world title in October, although I was slightly confused why she didn’t enter the “Ironwoman” event. But against the men, none came close to getting a mention. As I’ve stated, some of the men are in there as padding because at best this is a two or three-horse (stallions only) race.

And by Wednesday, Labour MPs Stella Creasy, Alison McGovern and Joan Walley and the Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson were sounding off. “We are very concerned that, this year, not one single woman has been shortlisted for the public vote,” they said, showing in the same breath how passionate they are about fighting for equality, and their complete ignorance of what actually constitutes a great or worthy sporting achievement.

Wednesday
Celtic lose 1-0 at home to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League, with a goal scored by Arda Turan.

For many however, the culprit was Celtic skipper on the night Berem Kayal, who a day after sticking his nose above the parapets to declare Celtic had better players than Old Firm rivals Rangers, withdrew his head as Turan’s shot flew towards the Celtic goal.

“He misjudged the flight of the ball,” said manager Neil Lennon, defending Kayal from criticism. I have to say, playing hockey and cricket, any time I misjudged the flight of a ball it tended to smack me in the kisser.

Of course, people see things in different ways. Listen and watch goalkeeper Fraser Forster’s view of Kayal’s “misjudgment”’

A tad different to his manager’s take.

Thursday
Having declared my love, or otherwise, for Power Snooker last week, it appears that it’s not as popular now as it once was – like a week ago – amongst some of the players.

The turnaround in favour stems from news that Ronnie O’Sullivan demanded, and was paid, a fee of around £25,000 to play in the Manchester event.

His passion and enthusiasm for the events wasn’t lost on some who commented (mostly on Twitter) at how Ronnie really hyped the tournament in his interviews, and how he’d bought into the concept, when the reality was, the concept had bought into him.

Former world champion Neil Robertson – and one of those guaranteed a minimum of £3,000 – was upset and vocal. “If a tournament needs one player for it to happen, [it] shouldn’t be on at all… I wouldn’t want to see this happening in ranking events because you could see players holding the game to ransom.”

The word Robertson forgot as a suffix there was “again”.

Ronnie admitted a few years ago he almost bankrupted the game because the powers that be decided a decade ago to pay him fortunes just to be the face of snooker.

Ten years on, it would appear, nothing much has changed.

Friday
Almost a fortnight has passed since me and my good chum Mike Graham, talkSport’s nightshiftmeister ruler, imperial wizard and grand pooh-bah of the Independent Republic Of Mike Graham, chatted about football at the Olympics.

Since that July day all them years ago, when the London bid was successful, the home football nations have been at odds about a Team GB, England appearing the singular supplier of talent as the Celtic nations protect their individuality and identity against the evil intentions of Herr Blatter, allegedly.

What Mike and I raised was that despite their vehement opposition to a united team, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland could do nothing if a player decided they wanted to be more British than Celtic (and not in a Mo Johnston or Kenny Miller way either).

Wales had a shot flashed across their bows when Gareth Bale declared an interest in being an Olympian, and now Scotland’s Jamie Mackie has voiced similar intent.

Mike and I both came to the same conclusion, namely, whilst rhetoric and their stance may appear brave, what teeth did the Celtic countries have if someone decided they wanted to don the red, white and blue.

Today, now the question has been tabled, we get the answer. A big fat nothing, zero, zilch.

SFA Chief Exec Stewart Regan says he won’t stand in the way of the QPR striker, mainly because he can’t without having some restraint of trade charge levelled against him and the Association.

So good luck to Jamie. And I say that to all the players. But just remember your regular employers, the clubs, might have a slightly different take nearer the time.

It might have been his Olympic dream, but Craig Moore’s insistence that he wanted to represent Australia in the 2004 Athens Games saw him stripped of the captaincy at Rangers and transfer-listed.

Manager at the time at Ibrox, Alex McLeish, wanted Moore for club, while the player wanted country. The latter got his way, and got the Aussie shirt with five rings on it. But then had to find one to wear the rest of the time when the fun and Games were over.

Mackie might not be the first. But then, I don’t think Moore will be the last either.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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