Weir’s Week: 22nd March 2013

Saturday
The conclusion to 2013 Six Nations Championship was one to remember as WRU Logo Chamions 2013Wales beat England handsomely to land the title, and deny Stuart Lancaster’s team a Grand Slam. It was one of those games that made you smile, not just because of the manner in which the Welsh won, but because so many experts called it so completely wrong.

The word ‘narrow’, or the phrase ‘just a few points’ were regularly used when it came to predicting what might separate these sides at the end of 80 minutes. The 27-point winning margin the Welsh achieved kicked all predictions in to touch.

“England’s bubble has been burst,” said World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward. And he would know. For there was a man who regularly had his balloon pricked as he went for titles and Slams while in charge of England. In 1999 it was Scott Gibbs who did the damage at Wembley, while a year later in the rain at Murrayfield, Andy Nicol led the Scots to a memorable, if unexpected, Calcutta Cup win, so denying England the Grand Slam. In 2001, with the competition fragmented by foot and mouth, England fell at the final hurdle again when confronted by Ireland, and the following term, while it wasn’t in the final game, France halted English title ambitions. Sir Chris HoyWoodward came good in 2003, delivering the World Cup. So, Stuart Lancaster, that’s how you overcome disappointment.

Down Under, the F1 season starts in Melbourne, albeit a damp one which means that final qualifying isn’t completed until the morning of the race. As part of the big day, a bunch celebrities raced around the Albert Park circuit in Mazda 6’s, amongst them Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy, who managed to finish second in his race, but only after knocking the corners off his car during practice. The phrase ‘one careful owner’ doesn’t apply to these cars, especially the one in Frame 3!

Sunday
Seldom on March 17, is St Patrick ever overshadowed by another saint. But today it’s St Mirren’s day as they beat Hearts 3-2 to take the Scottish League Cup, the club’s first major trophy since 1987.

St Mirren LogoWe’ve all known for sometime that the Cup competitions present the best opportunity for clubs outside Glasgow’s big two, to collect some silverware. St Mirren’s success at Hampden meant that six different clubs have won the last six domestic knockout tournaments. So it can be done. It would just be nice, in the case of the league Cup, if some teams – and some fans – took it a bit more seriously at an earlier stage.

Monday
Any poll, survey, chart or Top 10, 20 or 100 is likely to cause disagreement of one sort or another. The Herald, in what is a quiet week leading up to an unimportant World Cup qualifier against Wales, decide to reveal their 50 Greatest Scottish Footballers.

Davie CooperOn day one, ‘the humble jury of Herald journalists’ create a bit of a stooshie by naming Davie Cooper at No.48, three places behind Pat Stanton. Whether this was an attention-grabbing ploy, or an attention-deficit disorder, I’m not sure. Personally, I wouldn’t have had Stanton on the same page as Cooper, let alone ahead of him. But again, football is about opinions, and they cover themselves by claiming the criteria for inclusion must necessarily be vague.

Interestingly, they quote the great Bob Cramspey. “Once players reach a certain level an appreciation of their relative worth is subjective.” Crampsey, who I sat with for many an hour as he compiled his ‘Ask Bob’ column for the Evening Times, also reckoned Cooper was one of the few players who would be considered watchable by any generation. Which, I think, would be enough alone to see him better than 48th by any standard …

Tuesday
Having already sacked Steve Kean in September and Henning Berg in December, Championship side Blackburn Rovers axe manager Michael Appleton after 15 games and just 67 days at Ewood Park. It would appear every manager Blackburn employs is of the interim variety. Either that, they’ve signed up to one of those day-to-day rolling contracts …

Wednesday
I wake up to find one of the tabloids proclaiming that a movie is to be made about Celtic founder Brother Walfrid with none other than Daniel Day Lewis in the starring role.

Brother Wilfrid StatueOf course, when it comes to Scottish football at the movies, nothing, not even Greegory’s Girl, can come close to A Shot At Glory, which starred Holywood great Robert Duvall and the legend that is Ally McCoist. The BBC’s Rob Maclean concurred, suggesting the movie even had a cult following. I’m sure that’s what he tweeted.

Whether Brother Walfrid’s tale, about how he set up a sporting club to help poor families in the East End of Glasgow (or the Kelly’s and White’s as they were better known), ever reaches the production stage, it is unlikely to be as bewilderingly surreal as the making of A Shot At Glory, and the sideshow that was Scottish football’s lesser lights being drawn towards the bright lights.

There are certain things you see in life that make you blink twice and look again. Seeing wee Bob Duvall at the Scottish Football Writers Association’s annual dinner in the company of former Airdrie assistant manager John McVeigh was one such moment, as was witnessing Batman (Michael Keating) at Boghead, or Hermann Goring (Brian Cox) at Rugby Park. As my now-deceased former Evening Times colleague Alan Davidson made mention, “this travelling circus might be more entertaining than the movie itself.” Who am I to argue …

Thursday
Pietro MenneaSad news today that Italy’s former 200m world record holder and Olympic champion Pietro Mennea has died, aged 60.

At the Moscow Olympics in 1980, Mennea denied Scotland’s Alan Wells a golden sprint double. Talking to Wells about that race, he once told me; “He (Mennea) was capable of anything. You were never sure what he was going to do. Sometimes, I don’t think he did either.”

It is a measure of Mennea’s ability that in 1979, he set a then-world best over the distance in Mexico, a mark still not bettered by a European athlete. Indeed, it took 17 years before his time of 19.72 secs was beaten by Michael Johnson at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Johnson’s record since bettered by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt.

Farewell to a true sprint great!

Friday
The Craig Levein Effect is still alive and kicking. Still adverts being fired around on social media telling us tickets are still available for tonight’s World Cup qualifier at Hampden against Wales. And to think the lengths people went to just to get briefs for Anfield in 1977 or Cardiff eight years later.

According to former Wales star Mickey Thomas, this is the worst Scottish team ever. Thanks for that Mickey. Yes, Scotland might not be enjoying the qualifying successes achieved a couple of decades ago. But when did Wales last qualify for a World Cup or European Championship finals tournament? Not even in my living memory. You need to go back to 1958 to find a World Cup finals event that featured Wales, a nation that invented the Eisteddfod just so they could win it.