Weir’s Week: Serbian handball – followed by a Serbian masterclass

Novak Djokovic <em>Picture: angela n.</em>
Novak Djokovic Picture: angela n.
By Stewart Weir

Saturday
I can’t recall mentioning handball too often in the past. But for the handball fan out there you’ll have been viewing the sport’s 15 minutes of glory of an evening on British Eurosport with highlights of the 10th European Championship from Serbia.

I’ve been taking it all in – although, to be honest, usually while wondering where the hell the tennis has gone.

One thing I have worked out is that handball does possess the singularly most-useless position in sport, that of goalkeeper.

Have you actually seen one make a save? I have, but not on a regular basis – and if they do, 99 times out of 100 it’s because it was a bad throw.

One thing is for certain: you’ll never hear a commentator referring to any of that ilk as the Buffon or Schmeichel or Goram of handball.

If that qualifies as the singularly most-useless position in sport, then the singularly most-useless sportsman this weekend was one John McDermott.

He took to the ring in Liverpool, in what was a title fight for the English heavyweight championship, but more importantly, the final eliminator for the British heavyweight title.

McDermott had challenged three times for the Lonsdale belt, unsuccessfully on each occasion.

And he would be denied a fourth attempt, knocked out in just 73 seconds by Olympic bronze medallist David Price. That timing, by the way, included to mandatory counts of eight, and a final count to 10.

Three good hits by Price, and McDermott went down each time.

Now, I have said often that boxing is the toughest game in the world. The training alone would be too much for most fit athletes, though not a category I would place McDermott in.

Oh yes, he had bottle, and he had heart. But most of all he had bulk, weighing in at a mere 19st 5lbs. A real heavyweight, if not quite in peak condition…

Talking about fighting, wasn’t it nice to see confirmation of how much of a 1980s time-warp some Aberdeen fans are stuck in as they arrived in Glasgow ahead of the Rangers game looking for a ruck.

Not heard much outcry from MSPs on the matter. But then, it wasn’t an Old Firm game…

Sunday
Now I do recall mentioning the road to the Super Bowl last week, and this Sunday evening (and Monday morning our time) was dominated by the AFC and NFC Championship finals.

In the first, New England Patriots were crowned AFC champions as they beat Baltimore Ravens 23–20.

And they will play New York Giants, who beat San Francisco 49ers in overtime thanks to a field-goal kicked by Scots-born Lawrence Tynes.

The ball had barely parted the posts before Tynes was trending on Twitter – not because of his 31-yard kick, but to see how he managed to escape Greenock as a kid.

Tynes was the hero. But he owed everything to the holder, Steve Weatherford – who, from a bad snap, collected the ball off the ground, planted it, turned the laces away from the kicker and then stuck a finger on top to hold the ball upright – all in the space of less than a second – to make Tynes’ job as simple as possible.

No wonder Weatherford (no.5) looked rather chuffed.

Monday
And I’ve just heard that next season’s Scottish Cup final has been moved from its traditional Saturday slot to Sunday, 26 May. What!?

The switch is to comply with UEFA rules that prohibit any television conflict with the Champions League final, which will be held at Wembley the day before.

Maybe so, but wasn’t there another Saturday that could be found?

I have learned to accept, accommodate and put up with most fixture times. There isn’t a day of the week, or quite possibly any time slot between 11am and 10pm, that I haven’t seen a football match kick-off.

But shifting the showpiece of the Scottish season to a Sunday, for me, is a non-starter.

The Cup final should be on a Saturday. England manage it, and they are more likely to have teams in the Champions League final than we are.

It all seems very convenient. And the biggest beneficiaries of any switch would again be the broadcasters. Surprise, surprise…

Tuesday
Congratulations are in order for Ross Ford, announced as captain of Scotland for the forthcoming Six Nations campaign.

With injury ruling Kelly Brown out of the spring Tests, coach Andy Robinson turned to the 27-year-old who has impressed during Edinburgh’s run to the last eight of the Heineken Cup.

I hope he gets a decent run in the role – we all know how easy it is to trade in a Ford…

Wednesday
So Alex Salmond sets the question no one yet knows the answer to, namely: “Do you agree Scotland should be an independent country?”

I can’t help thinking that if the SFA had asked a similar question of all those many friends within FIFA that we’re always being told we have, then some of our guys might have made it into Team GB for the Olympics.

Oh, that’s right, some of our guys plan to go anyway.

Thursday
Always nice to see footballers putting something back into their local communities, and that is especially true of Inverness Caley Thistle’s French duo of Grégory Tadé and Kenny Gillet.

They spend some of their own free time at Millburn Academy in Inverness, teaching the youngsters French.

A great idea and one that could be rolled out across the county, starting with English, with special lessons in the classroom for ex-footballers, especially those who are now making a living as TV pundits.

And the first lesson? Where and when the word “did” should be used instead of “done”.

Detention may be required…

There was punishment of a different kind dished out to snooker player Mark Allen, who was fined by the game’s authorities for swearing during a press conference at last month’s UK Championships in York.

As I reported at the time, Allen took exception to changes made by snooker supremo Barry Hearn, telling the assembled media: “The players don’t really matter, so f*** the players.”

That one expletive cost Allen £250. Now they know the going rate, I’m sure one or two players might have a couple of grand’s worth the next time they want to let off some steam.

Friday
Andy Murray loses to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open. I know, it maybe wasn’t the time for the estate agent nickname gag (after selling another semi).

Disappointed as I am, I can take some comfort from the experts who say that it will only be a matter of time before Murray wins a Grand Slam title. Then I think about what has been said, and the head shakes.

It’s Murray’s luck – or lack of it – that his moment in time happens to coincide with the that of three of the greatest tennis players ever to drink Robinsons Barley Water.

Djokovic is world no.1 just now. But it could just as easily be Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer.

Unless there is a complete set of freak results, chances are Murray will run into at least one – if not two – of them through the semis and final of any Major.

That’s a tall order, taller still when you ask if Murray can play any better than he did against Djokovic.

Murray was brilliant. But Djokovic was still better.

It’s no disgrace to lose to the best in the world, the no.1. However, it could be a habit Murray never breaks.

Still, he gave us VFM, especially for the Scots in the audience, vocal throughout, when he led 2-1 in sets.

Out boomed the broad Scots accent – “Come oan Andy” – further proof that we as a nation have supporters everywhere (although maybe not at Westminster).

It reminded me of Scotland’s game against Australia in 1985, the play-off to reach the World Cup finals in Mexico.

The Scots led 2–0 from the first leg, but the trip to the other side of the world for the game at the Olympic Stadium in Melbourne was always fraught with danger – and, of course, there was no real travelling support. There was, however, a Tartan Army in residence, assembled from all parts of Oz and their native land.

I particularly recall one banner high in the stands, which read “Hello Larkhall”.

That, of course, was back in the days when Rangers fans followed Scotland…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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