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Artist’s impression of the new centre
Pictures: Reiach & Hall

Scotland’s £30m National Performance Centre for Sport will be centred at Heriot Watt University on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Offering high level support for football, rugby and volleyball, the centre is designed to help Scotland’s athletes excel at elite level and be in operation by 2016. Other sports too will benefit – they include athletics, badminton, fencing, hockey and shinty. The new facility will be financed in part by £25m from the Scottish Government and a further £2.5m from each of Heriot-Watt University and the City of Edinburgh Council.

Artist's impression of the centre's layout

Artist’s impression of the centre’s layout

The centre will have a substantial range of facilities. They include a full-sized indoor football pitch with seating for 500 as well as a full sized grass pitch, again with seating for 500. There will be two goalkeeper training areas with floodlights, two grass rugby pitches, five grass football pitches, three outdoor tennis courts and a nine-court sports hall. The design builds on he existing facilities at the University’s centre for sport and exercise but also incorporates a large fitness suite, along with areas for strength and conditioning, hydrotherapy and treatment. The center will also provide office accommodation for sports governing bodies.

One of the main features in Reiach & Hall design is the centre’s roof. Inspired by the angle and trajectory of one of the greatest goals in football history, it follows the flight of a strike by Brazil’s Roberto Carlos against France in 1997. The complex has been developed “around the athlete”, providing facilities and services aimed at creating a positive impact on the preparation and development of athletes, coaches and volunteers.

Professor Steve Chapman,  Principal of Heriot-Watt University

Professor Steve Chapman,
Principal of Heriot-Watt University

Principal and vice-chancellor Prof Steve Chapman said: “This is tremendous news for the bid team and, I believe, for the future of performance sport in Scotland. We have the go-ahead to create a world class sporting facility, combining the expertise we already have at Heriot-Watt with a tremendous location, design and setting which have proved a winning formula and will continue to do so for Scotland’s up and coming sports men and women.”

Describing the decision as “absolutely fantastic news for Edinburgh”, Cllr Richard Lewis, the Council’s Sport convener, added that “Heriot-Watt University and the capital will provide an excellent home to the next generation of top athletes and those involved in helping them achieve their aims. Our bid enjoyed great support from the community and local sport groups will also be able to take advantage of this world-class facility on their doorstep. I’m really looking forward to working with Heriot-Watt as they develop their plans in detail ready for future Olympians and cup-winners in 2016.”

The site’s excellent transport links was one of the key factors which influenced the decision – they provide easy access to the city, Edinburgh Airport and the wider surrounding area. The Edinburgh bid also enjoyed widerspread support from top sporting celebrities including Olympians Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Steve Redgrave, rugby legend Gavin Hastings, footballer Michael Stewart and Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Other submissions had been entered by Dundee City Council and a partnership between the University of Stirling and Stirling Council.

Out of stock at Hampden? Picture: John Pavelka

As sporting weekends go, this one ain’t half bad: the German GP and the conclusions to both the Open and the Tour de France. There are even some friendly football matches to whet the appetite for the forthcoming season.

On Saturday, I find myself staring at a wall.

I’m in the Dollan Baths in East Kilbride, a venue where I spent many a hot and bothered afternoon serving my journalistic apprenticeship, doing agency work (motto: “one par fits all”).

The baths were opened back in the 1960s, with the special guest of honour being Bobby McGregor, the golden boy of Scottish swimming. Or rather, not quite.

The plaque on the wall acknowledges McGregor’s presence, the fact that he was a world record holder and an Olympic silver medallist. And I have a wee issue with that.

Acknowledging a gold medallist is fine. They were the top dog, the number one, unbeatable. However, any time I see silver or bronze medallist, I always get the feeling that it makes them look not quite good enough, only second or third best. A bit like the Little Britain character Denver Mills.

Actually, the reality was their achievement in winning a medal of any colour put them among the very best in the world on a given day. So would it not look better and be slightly kinder just to say medallist?

The final round of the Open didn’t get my undivided attention, for once. The events unfolding in Paris were really just too memorable to drag myself back to the Fylde coast.

However, once the pedals had stopped whirring and the bouquets had been handed out, it was back to see how Adam Scott was doing in his pursuit of a first major.

And it looked like his ability to stand still while everyone else slid downwards was going to be good enough to see an Australian winner.

But oh no! The last four holes saw Scott implode, his game and ambitions falling to pieces, leaving Ernie Els to pick up his second Open on these shores.

What is it with 42-year-old, over-the-hill golfers, the South African following the lead of the 2011 champion, Darren Clarke?

Scott might get over it. History, though, would suggest otherwise. As might Doug Sanders, Simon Owen, John Cook, Jesper Parnevik or Jean van de Velde …

I am again delighted to accept an invitation to appear on STV’s Scotland Tonight, with Rona Dougall refereeing a friendly debate between myself, long-time friend and fellow wordsmith Rob Robertson of the Daily Mail and Scots cycling legend Graeme Obree as to whether Bradley Wiggins had been elevated to Britain’s greatest-ever sportsman following his Tour de France success.

In short, the consensus was that Wiggins was up there, in the top ten, half-dozen, top five or best three, depending on who you asked.

Is he better than Thompson, Coe, Holmes, Redgrave, Lewis, Stewart, Hoy, Taylor, Hendry or CB Fry? A case or argument could be made for all.

And you’d be slightly closer to the mark than the Mirror’s Oliver Holt, who tried to make a case for others.

On Twitter, he said; “Some already acclaiming him greatest British sportsman of all time. Don’t agree with that. One of the greatest sporting achievements, yes.

“[But] In terms of stunning individual British sporting feats, I’d put Graham Hill winning Indianapolis 500 as one of things up there with Wiggins.”

I can only assume the aforementioned journalist was caught up with the emotion when he managed to place Hill ahead of Jim Clark, who was the first Brit to win the American classic, and Dario Franchitti, who has only managed to win the race on three occasions.

Or does he just have a blind spot when it comes to Scottish sport?

I love Twenty20 cricket. And it would be impossible for any lover of sport not to marvel at the innings of Kiwi Scott Styris, who scored the joint-third fastest century in Twenty20 history as Sussex comfortably beat Gloucestershire at Hove to secure their place on T20 finals day.

Sussex clattered 230 for 4, the highest score from any team in the 2012 competition, assisted by Styris – who, returning from a thumb injury, smashed 100 not out off 37 balls including nine 6s.

He was especially brutal on Gloucestershire seam bowler James Fuller, who will want to forget this history-making over. Brilliant stuff …

You couldn’t make it up. Scotland, staging their first Olympic event in 104 years, become the centre of attention – and almost the catalyst for an international incident – when the giant screens at Hampden display the South Korean flag when it was North Korea who were playing in the women’s football competition. Oops.

Good job those Koreans (from the north) are such a fun-loving, understanding, friendly bunch. Because if it wasn’t for the fact that they were already at war with those in the south, it could have got nasty.

While it was Scotland, Glasgow and Hampden who were initially lambasted for this blunder, it turns out the error was in the video package – sent from London.

Oh well, these things happen. As David Cameron said, it was “an honest mistake,” and “we shouldn’t over-inflate this episode”.

The kind of words you would expect from someone who can decant into a nuclear bunker within a few minutes, leaving the rest of us to say “sorry” to a nation as stable as nitroglycerin on a hot day.

Anyway, the mere mention of flags is as good an excuse as any for this.

There were people happy to be at Hampden earlier in the day as USA took on France. And some tweeted their delight at attending free, courtesy of the SFA.

Trouble was, even giving away tickets wasn’t enough for some to turn out.

That wasn’t going to deflate the spirits of those who were happy to go along for the spectacle, but who admitted that they would have stayed at home if it were Team GB playing.

The reason? No Scots are participating in this tournament.

A minor, ironic detail lost on some, who just didn’t realise the reason there were no Scots in the Team GB squad was entirely to do with their generous ticket touts …

And in an open letter to supporters, Celtic’s chief executive Peter Lawwell has urged fans to buy season tickets and back the club as they prepare for what he has described as “new challenges”.

In his letter, Lawwell states: “Throughout our history Celtic has, time and again, stood up for what it believes is right. In recent weeks we have acted accordingly, in the best interests of Celtic and Scottish football.”

Those “best interests” included voting Rangers out of the SPL. Of course, that decision wasn’t taken lightly. But Celtic recognised their fans’ upset at what had gone on across the city, and acted accordingly.

The fans spoke, and Celtic followed.

Maybe some other fans are now talking by not buying season tickets.

Perhaps they are not interested in seeing a one-horse title race. Maybe they only bought season tickets to guarantee them briefs for two Old Firm games twice a year. Or do those supporters think the “product” (namely SPL games) is over-priced and too expensive?

Lawwell hailed Celtic’s unbroken 125-year history. Looks though as if some fans are seriously thinking about taking a break this season, hence the letter …

Forget the fact that the women’s football has kicked off, and forget the G4S debacle, and that minor flag issue, and that you can’t drive anywhere in London.

The curtain rises tonight on the biggest show on earth, the Olympic Games. Who’d have thought it? On time and on budget (well, nearly).

The world will tune in this evening to see the spectacular opening ceremony that many have been talking about for weeks, and that those taking part in have been rehearsing for months.

Director Danny Boyle has promised something special. It will have to be to keep me watching (I’m still traumatised by the giant flowers and the abseiling bees from France ’98).

In Olympic terms, Boyle has much to live up to. No, not the show served up by Sydney, or Los Angeles, or the computer-enhanced effort from Beijing four years ago.

If Boyle wants to win me over, then he has to go beyond the benchmark set a quarter of a century ago by what I consider to be Britain’s greatest-ever festival of sporting excellence, theatre, pageantry and pride.

Danny, watch and learn. You may even watch and weep. I know I still do …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments.

Picture: Tessa Carroll

England comfortably won the first Testagainst the West Indies on Monday afternoon, a predictable outcome given the relative strengths of the respective teams. Or maybe that should be weaknesses in the case of the tourists.

Things ain’t what they used to be for the Windies. Ordinary, average, sub-standard. They have been for some while now, disappointing for me given that they have always been my team.

When it came to Caribbean cricket, I handsomely failed Norman Tebbit’s test. Not because I was anti-English. I was always anti-dull.

And during the 70s, and 80s, none were as colourful as the West Indies.

The World Cup final in 1975 sold me on the calypso cavaliers, Clive Lloyd’s brilliant batting, Viv Richards’ fielding, the steel drums and carnival followers.

But it was the 1976 Test series in England that turned a liking into a love.

I recall all of it as if it were yesterday, for a great many reasons: I left school, started work, had several girlfriends who lasted more than a weekend, and the summer was endless.

And if at Wimbledon everyone else played tennis while Björn Borg played something else, it was the same on the Test venues of England.

The West Indies arrived with their collective tails between their legs, having been thrashed over the winter by Australia. Maybe it was that hammering that made England skipper Tony Greig so cocksure that he could “make them grovel”.

And for two Tests, England competed. At Trent Bridge, Richards plundered 232, but the home side showed some guts in holding out for a draw, David Steele’s 106 in the first innings earning him the same in pork chops – his sponsorship from a local butcher – and justifying his status as the reigning BBC Sports Personality of the Year (awarded for some backbone and a stiff upper lip against the Aussies the previous summer).

The Lord’s Test petered out as a draw as well, the five-rubber series effectively becoming a best-of-three.

For the first time the West Indies were at full strength, with the respective absentees from Trent Bridge and Lord’s – Michael Holding and Richards – giving Clive Lloyd a full arsenal of firepower with bat and ball.

But in the opening exchanges at Manchester, with Middlesex bowler Mike Selvey making his mark, England gave themselves every chance when limiting the visitors to 200-odd, a total which owed everything to centurion Gordon Greenidge.

Now was the chance for Greig’s “Dad’s Army” to show their worth. Instead, it was a cheap capitulation.

Openers Brian Close – selected way past his best – and John Edrich went cheaply. Then the returning Frank Hayes, on his own patch, failed as he fended off a lifter from Andy Roberts.

Roberts was quick, but had the great ability to bowl a “throat ball” (as Richie Benaud described it), meaning the batsmen invariably had to play it. Whether he was trying to remove your off stump or an ear, Roberts’ facial expression never changed.

Steele top-scored with just 20 (one more than Mr Extras), while Holding took five-for as England were skittled for just 71 – or one-under par as one commentator quipped, given that the Open was also on that weekend.

What was becoming evident in that long, hot, record-breaking summer was that as the pitches got harder, so the West Indies scored and bowled faster.

Greenidge was again to the fore, the first player ever to score hundreds in both innings of an Old Trafford Test, ably accompanied by Richards, the destructive master-blaster with 135.

Over the space of a three days England had gone from having the West Indies 26 for 4 on the first day to needing 552 to win on the Saturday evening.

What then followed was arguably the most hostile, brutal, inflammatory and potentially lethal spell of pace bowling seen since the days of Bodyline. It wasn’t cricket; this was what would become known as the “Coconut Shy”.

While Roberts and Wayne Daniel pinned down Edrich at one end, Holding lived up to his “Whispering Death” tag, peppering Close with short-pitched stuff, hitting him several times on the body. A couple of bouncers – speared at the unhelmeted, bald head – came close to decapitating the veteran all-rounder who had made his Test debut in 1949.

Close over-played his part of the gritty Yorkshireman, not willing to show he’d been hurt, until he was bent by a half-tracker which caught him under the ribs.

Holding was officially warned by umpire Bill Alley, but the damage had been done, and the doubt had set in.

Rain arrived momentarily on the Monday, but it was neither enough to end the drought or to stop the West Indies going one up.

The series was decided at Headingley. I was on our family holiday, trying to overcome a lost love (as you do aged 16) in Bridlington. There was a half-suggestion that we might spare our skins from further punishment and visit York or Leeds.

I naturally extolled the virtues of Leeds, for sights and superb shops. I might even be able to sneak to the Test match. In the end the vote was to stay on the beach …

England too must have wished they were on their holidays. The West Indies clattered 450 runs in a day, openers Roy Fredericks and Greenidge smashing 149 before lunch on day one, both making centuries (for Greenidge this made it three successive Test tons), although that was matched by Greig and wicket-keeper Alan Knott.

The returning Bob Willis – part of England’s strategy to fight pace with pace – grabbed five second-innings wickets to give England every chance of squaring the series with 260 needed in the fourth knock.

But the battery of Roberts, Holding, Daniel and Vanburn Holder again proved clinical, and the West Indies danced with delight when Willis was trapped leg-before by Holding’s full-toss to take the match and series.

So it was on to the Oval, for what was a dead rubber. But no one told the West Indies that. If there was any grovelling to be done, it was going to come from South African-born and raised Greig.

The square in south London looked like an oasis of green in a desert, the outfield parched and white through the water shortage. If England’s suffering wasn’t bad enough, given back-to-back losses, someone had decided to use the full playing surface.

Viv Richards took full advantage of that generosity and a flat track, visiting all parts as he made a majestic 291 and the West Indies posted 687 for 8.

But England had made changes, one being the inclusion of recalled Warwickshire opener Dennis Amiss (he and ’keeper Alan Knott were the only Englishmen not asked to bowl in the first innings), and in reply Amiss was another to make a double-hundred.

England fell short of the follow-on target, in large due to the tireless Holding. On a pitch offering nothing but runs, he relied on his pace to take eight wickets in the first innings.

After Fredericks and Greenidge crashed an unbroken 182 in just 32 overs, Holding set about his task again, taking six more English wickets second time around to end with a match-winning analysis of 14 for 149.

Half of Holding’s wickets in the series came in that one match, he and Roberts taking 28 apiece. If they were inseparable, then IVA Richards stood alone as a run-maker, 829 in just seven innings, two double-tons, a century and two 50s, all at an average of 118.42.

And the summer ended. Red Stripe had never been as popular in the UK, Richards would stay high-profile in England with Somerset, and Greig had been made to eat his words.

There was even a song penned, to the tune of Who’s Sorry Now?, with particular resonance in the line “Greig you’re a loser now”. Something that wouldn’t really worry the West Indies over the next decade and more.

We don’t get summers like that any more. Or West Indies teams.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments.

Cricket at Taunton Picture: Roger Cornfoot

Although it might not feel like it, with no sign of an end to the April cold snap, the domestic cricket season has not only started but is already into its third week.

Even if the Abu Dhabi pink-ball-and floodlights-fest between the MCC and the champion county Lancashire is disregarded, the first encounters began extraordinarily early, on the last day of March, with a variety of counties engaged in warm-up (in more senses than one) matches against university teams.

These county versus college matches are curious affairs, of dubious quality but awarded the precious cricketing kitemark of first-class status – all six university teams now have this, with the Cardiff and Leeds/Bradford teams having been upgraded during the past winter. It is as if, for example, the start of the football season saw Rangers and Celtic playing a couple of games against Sunday league teams, with these counting in official records. (Actually, the way Rangers are going, Sunday league football might be what they are soon reduced to.)

That’s the way cricket does it, however – and, for all the complaints dating back decades, there is something almost quaint about this gentle easing-in of the domestic season. It is also often an entertaining time for those who keep an eye on the statistical aspects of the game, given that mismatches have a tendency to produce amusing byproducts in the numbers department.

Easily the most eye-catching mismatch-stat this time round came on 8 April, in the second cycle of student matches, when Durham MCCU (which de-abbreviates to the decidedly curious “Durham Marylebone Cricket Club University”) could muster only 18 when attempting to chase 392 to beat Durham proper – the grown-up county side, seven of whose XI had played international cricket at either Test or ODI level.

Durham MCCU were, admittedly, a man short given that their left-handed number five, Luke Blackaby, was injured. And these things do sometimes happen even to strong teams – witness the mighty Australian outfit collapsing to 21 for 9 (before recovering to the giddy heights of 47 all out) against South Africa late last year.

But the paltry dozen-and-a-half runs served up by the students was woeful – imagine how scathing Jeremy Paxman might have been had they made some similarly dismal score on University Challenge – and was the lowest first-class score in the UK since the remarkable occasion in 1983 when Surrey, playing Essex in a county championship match, were rattled out for just 14. (It was almost even worse for Surrey that day: six consecutive middle-order batsmen scored ducks and they were 8 for 8 before a boundary by Sylvester Clarke “spared them the humiliation of recording the lowest-ever first-class score”, as Wisden put it. They still managed to draw the match, though.)

If the dismalness at Durham provided one early-season quirk, there is another – more commendable – curiosity starting to take shape as well, relating to one of the most prized and selective of cricket lists.

There have only been nine instances – including, inevitably, two by Don Bradman – of batsmen scoring 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May. The most recent was in 1988, when Graeme Hick managed 405 of them in one go. The time before that was in 1973 – I’m old enough to remember this happening – when Glenn Turner arrived with the New Zealand touring party and systematically compiled four centuries in reaching 1,018 runs before June arrived, at a relatively low average of 78.30. (By contrast, Hick averaged 101.90, while Bradman’s two regal progresses, in 1930 and 1938, came at 143.00 and 150.85.)

Most of the others to have done it – all pre-WW2 – are celebrated high-achievers: W G Grace in 1895, Tom Hayward in 1900 (when he reached 1,074 runs, still the highest total), Wally Hammond in 1927 (like Grace, he needed only 22 days) and Bill Edrich in 1938. The least widely known batsman in the list is the Lancastrian Charlie Hallows, who scored exactly 1,000 runs in May 1928.

So it’s a rare feat, and various notable run-machine batsmen who might be thought to have managed it – Jack Hobbs, Frank Woolley, Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Geoffrey Boycott, Graham Gooch – never did. With the reduction in first-class (dare I say “proper”) cricket in recent years, and the increase in one-day activity (which doesn’t count in these kind of records), it had been thought that the list would, like those of batsmen with 3,000 runs and bowlers with 200 wickets in a full season, stay static for evermore, preserved and pickled within the yellow covers of Wisden.

However, while the 3,000-run and 200-wicket marks do look genuinely unreachable, the rise of the most brutal form of one-day cricket might just allow the 1,000-before-June club to acquire the occasional new member. Twenty20 cricket tends to be crammed into June, and to accommodate all that midsummer thrashing the first half of the championship season takes place during April and May. That, allied to the end-of-March start for the university matches, means that a whole heap of first-class runs can again be racked up well before the Druids start preparing their solstice celebrations.

And oddly, given the list mentioned above, it’s possible that the next name to be added will be Compton. Not the great and much-loved Denis, of course – he died in 1997. But the Brycreem Boy’s grandson, 28-year-old Nick Compton, is an established member of the Somerset team, gets to play on the batsman’s paradise that is Taunton, and has embarked on the 2012 season in cracking style.

He started with a century in a pre-season knockabout against Glamorgan (which didn’t count), then made 236 in his first official outing, at Taunton Vale, against the Cardiff students in a partnership of 450 with his captain James Hildreth. Next came 99 and 8 in the first championship match, against Middlesex, followed by 5 and 133 in a losing cause against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. So that’s 481 in five knocks by mid-April – almost halfway there, with more than six weeks still to go.

Assuming Compton isn’t called up for England, he has five full championship matches – and scope for ten innings – before the opportunity passes: Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge and Lancashire at Taunton are faced before the end of April, then May brings Durham at Chester-le-Street, Surrey at the Oval and Durham again, this time at home. Weather, form, and injury permitting, he needs a further 519 runs during those five matches to grab his piece of (admittedly fairly obscure) cricketing history.

Or, rather, he doesn’t. He potentially has 11 innings (or, at a pinch, 12) to get there, as Somerset also have a four-day match against Worcestershire starting on 30 May and straddling the turn of the month. These things have a habit of coming down to narrow margins, and it is by no means impossible that Compton will arrive at Worcester needing something awkward like 80-odd to cross the 1,000-run Rubicon. If that situation does arise, expect the mainstream media to be out in force, especially given the ancestral connection.

Chances are it won’t happen. Plenty of other batsmen have made good starts on the 1,000-run quest before slipping out of form or being thwarted by the rain. In recent seasons Compton’s prolific Somerset colleague Marcus Trescothick and Varun Chopra of Warwickshire (who scored two double-hundreds last April) have both had chances without getting there. Even Compton’s grandfather couldn’t manage it in 1947, the season when he scored a record 3,816 runs overall.

So even now, almost halfway there, the likelihood is that Nick Compton’s attempt will peter out and his start to the season will come to be seen as merely excellent rather than exceptional. But you never know, and it would be nice if he managed it. After an interval of almost a quarter of a century, it’s high time someone did.

NB – Part of my reason for taking an interest in this, and for quietly cheering on Compton, is that I met his grandfather. It was in the late 1970s, at Chesterfield during a limited-overs game between Derbyshire (I was a junior member) and some other county. The great cavalier was man-of-the-match adjudicator, and I was there with my school pal Brian Caulton.

At the break between innings, as was the way, spectators strolled round the outfield. When an extremely well-fed-looking man came towards us, I said to my friend: “That’s Denis Compton”. This provoked scepticism, as the waddling figure didn’t fit the post-war poster-boy image of the man. There was only one way to prove it, so with the nervous eagerness of youth I walked across, asked him to sign my autograph book and shook his hand.

Notwithstanding a hugely enjoyable day later spent with Ian Botham on one of his charity walks, Denis Compton remains the most accomplished cricketer I’ve met. And I still have the autograph.

Cricket ball hitting the stumps

Picture: Graham Dean

If it seems a lifetime ago and a different world, it’s because it probably was. The spring of 1982 would soon be dominated by words and phrases that are being commemorated and recalled again today.

But at that point very few had heard of yomping, tabbing, Goose Green, General Belgrano or Exocet. Those words and places would dominate the headlines, overshadowing and equally dark period in this nations sporting history.

Back then, South Africa was a no-go area in a sporting context, unless you were the British Lions.

South Africa proved they could still play rugby in 1980, but a generation of their cricketers had been idle in the Test arena due to its Apartheid system.

There was never going to be an official tour. But in early 1982 a bunch of English players arrived in South Africa for a month-long tour.

This was breaking the sporting embargo big time. Led by Graham Gooch, the squad also included the world’s top Test run maker, Geoff Boycott, along Dennis Amiss, John Emburey, Mike Hendrick, Geoff Humpage, Alan Knott, Wayne Larkins, John Lever, Chris Old, Arnold Sidebottom, Les Taylor, Derek Underwood, Peter Willey and Bob Woolmer.

If they had expected a ticking off from what was the TCCB at the time or the ICC, then they underestimated the national and international outcry. While they tried to justify their appearance as a way of breaking the apartheid system, no-one bought that excuse.

They were branded “The Dirty Dozen” although, eventually, time did cleanse their collective and personal standings.

At the time however, they were headline news. Until they took to the field of play.

The South Africans were too good, too confident, and had too much to prove (and lose) and against a collection of has-beens, never-beens, and one or two would-be players, even if the PR people tried to pass them off as a full-strength England XI, missing only Ian Botham.

In South Africa, the rebels were treated like sporting royalty, heralded as champions ahead of the three “Tests” and a similar number of one-day “internationals”.

Once the action started however, they looked anything but a first XI.

The South Africans, led by Mike Procter and full of ability and desire, won the Tests series 1-0, and the ODI’s 3-0.

Batsman Jimmy Cook starred, as he would do years later with Somerset, while Vintcent van der Bijl, known to many for his stay at Middlesex, was successful with the ball.

But as news headlines focused wholly on the conflict in the South Atlantic, few paid much attention to the sound of leather on willow, or of cheques being cashed.

Regardless of anyone’s claims or moral stance, few believed the English participants had undertaken this trip for anything other than financial gain.

What they hadn’t bargained for was the three-year bans from international cricket handed down by the ICC, ending the majority of their international careers, Boycott being the most high-profile “victim”.

Of those who did return, Middlesex spinner John Emburey and Essex opener Graham Gooch made the biggest contributions. Indeed, somewhat ironically, Gooch went on to captain England, officially.

Ten years after that illegal trip, South Africa were back in the Test Match arena, officially. Apartheid had gone, and so too the Springboks’ sporting exile.

It’s difficult to recall a time when the Springboks were not participating in the international cricket – and sporting – arena.

It is, perhaps, even more difficult to think of cricketing mercenaries flying halfway around the globe, and turning up to give credence to a corrupt government and society – even for those who lived through that shocking episode.

Luiz, Coloccini or Fellaini? <em>Picture: branquinholxpt</em>

Luiz, Coloccini or Fellaini? Picture: branquinholxpt

By Stewart Weir

So 2011 is nearly over and 2012 is nearly upon us. A chance to reflect, look ahead, mourn and laugh at what has gone before. And, of course, the opportunity to hand out some of the most wanted, valuable and cherished sports prizes around, The Caledonian Mercury “of the year” awards – or the Weirdos, as they are affectionately known.

So see if you agree with the inebriated nominations panel on the best and worst sporting contributions of 2011…

Best channel for promoting Scottish sport
BBC Alba.

Best channel for promoting Scottish sport that should have a red button option for the English language
BBC Alba.

Jeffrey Archer False Start of the Year Award
The Scottish Premier League for no one knowing who was playing when for three weeks.

The How To Spend A Fortune And Wonder What It Went On Award
Winner, Craig Whyte (Rangers); nominated, Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool).

Greg Louganis Diving Award
Winner Garry O’Connor; nominated Sone Aluko (who missed out on the award because he got caught).

The Robinho “Working Your Ticket” Award
Carlos Tevez.

Free kick of the year
Wayne Rooney (for his boot at Miodrag Džudović of Montenegro).

Sponsorship Opportunities Now Available Award
Tiger Woods.

Retirement From Sport Announcement of the Year
Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Retirement From Sport Again Announcement of the Year
Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Retirement From Sport That Failed To Materialise Announcement of the Year
Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Group of Death of the Year
The European Championship finals group draw, which matched Germany, Holland, Denmark and Portugal.

Group of Death of the Year 2012
As above.

SPL Manager Who Has To Explain His Own Jokes Award
Kilmarnock boss Kenny Shiels, after his “banter” about a spat with Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot when he said: “It was the ugly boy from Rangers – the male model from Ayrshire. I think his mascara was running.”

Hansie Cronje Memorial Betting Banker of the Year Award
Salman Butt.

Occasional Top Sports Tipster of the Year
Raman Bhardwaj, STV.

Bookies’ Favourite Sports Tipster of the Year
Raman Bhardwaj.

UEFA Spectator Control Supervisor of the Year
By popular demand, AZ Alkmaar goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado.

Policeman Unlikely To Get Audition For Taggart Award
Strathclyde Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan for this gem.

Limited Edition T-Shirt of the Year
Liverpool’s warm-up top proclaiming their support for Luis Suárez.

Playing Down Chances of the Year Award
Team GB cycling boss Dave Brailsford who said his riders won’t win eight Olympic golds next summer.

Trying To Look Surprised When Expectations Are Exceeded In 2012 Award
Dave Brailsford.

Ronan Keating “When You Say Nothing At All” Award
John Terry of Chelsea.

TV Sports Programme Living Past Sell-By Date Award
Sports Personality of the Year, BBC.

TV Sports Programme Exceeding Life Expectancy Award
A Question of Sport, BBC.

TV Sports Presenter of the Year With More Influence Than He Could Ever Have Dreamt Of
Rob MacLean of BBC Sportscene for setting the SFA’s retrospective agenda…

Ethnic Ignorance Award
Alan Hansen.

Footballer Being Outplayed By An Animal Award
David Goodwillie of Blackburn Rovers for having to watch a Yak perform.

Most Expensive World Championship To Decide Second Place
Formula One.

Russell Grant Knowing What The Outcome Will Be Nine Months in Advance Award
Anyone who predicted Sebastian Vettel would be F1 world champion. Nominations for anyone who predicted Sébastien Loeb would win the WRC, or who predicted Barcelona would win the Champions League.

The Above And Beyond Award of the Year
Darren Fletcher (Manchester United and Scotland).

Sticks and Stones Award
Steve Kean (Blackburn Rovers).

The Travelodge Don’t Book Beyond The Second Friday Award
Andy Murray (at Wimbledon).

The Deputy Dawg Toe Bone Excuse of the Year winner
David Haye.

Wallace Mercer Memorial Trophy For Calculating The Value Of A Football Club
Vladimir Romanov (Hearts).

Horse Whisperer of the Year
For the reaction Ally McCoist achieved whispering in Neil Lennon’s ear after the Scottish Cup tie at Celtic Park.

If We Could Play The Last Seven Minutes Again Award
Scotland XV versus Argentina at the Rugby World Cup.

Attempted Tackle (and Attempted Murder Charge) of the Year
Ex-Rangers full-back Kevin Muscat of Melbourne Victory for this.

If We Could Play The First Seven Minutes Again Award
Kilmarnock for their performance against Rangers on “Helicopter Sunday”.

Fuel Saving Award
Rangers, for keeping the SPL helicopter grounded on “Helicopter Sunday”.

Waste Of Fuel Award
Rangers’ trips to Malmö and Maribor.

Sports Music Video of the Year
Nottingham Rugby Fairytale of Nottingham (featuring Grand Master Jacko).

Cricket Innings of the Year
Virender Sehwag ODI world record of 219 against the West Indies.

Rolf Harris “Have You Guessed What It is Yet?” Award
Hearts midfielder Ian Black who supplemented his non-wages from Tynecastle by doing some painting work.

The Kirk Broadfoot Services To Cookery Award
Cricketing legend Shane Warne who earlier this month burned his fingers trying to make a bacon sandwich.

David Francey Memorial TV Football Commentator of the Year
Ian Crocker (Sky Sports).

Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time Award
Bringing English world champion Adrian Lewis and the man he beat in the final, Scotland’s Gary Anderson, to their Premier League darts tie at the SECC after drink had been taken.

Learning from What Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time Award
Bringing English world champion Adrian Lewis on first in Aberdeen.

The Disappearing Act of the Year
Rafa Nadal for his press conference routine.

Most Tattooed Sportsman of the Year
Scottish boxer Ricky Burns.

Sports Tweet of the Year
“Sh! Frame 14 under way. You could cut the tension with a Black and Decker tension cutter” – from Stephen Fry, as he watched the world snooker semi-final and the majority of the world watched the Royal Wedding.

The Completely Vindicated Sports Performance of the Year
John Higgins, winning his fourth world snooker title a year after being implicated in a betting scam.

Putting Two and Two Together Sports Broadcast of the Year
RTÉ, after that Higgins victory.

Most Disappointed Fan of the Year
This chappie (still to be tracked down) after this miss by Equatorial Guinea against Norway.

Sportsman of the Year
Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni for reinstating England batsman Ian Bell.

Fantasy Transfer of the Year (that failed to materialise)
Ronaldinho to Blackburn Rovers.

Fantasy Transfer of the Year (that did materialise)
Fernando Torres to Chelsea.

Not Using A Parental Guidance Warning Or Flashing Lights Notice During A Broadcast When It Should Have Been Used Award
BBC Scotland, for not cautioning viewers to the appearance of Cillian Sheridan’s Christmas jumper on Sportscene.

David Francey Memorial TV Football Commentator of the Year
Derek Rae (ESPN).

* For those who have noticed two winners of this title, like darts, there are two versions of it…

Party Night Down The Local When A World Championship Broke Out Award
PDC darts.

Breaking A Record We Never Thought Would Be Broken Award
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees for beating Dan Marino’s 27-year-old NFL regular season passing record.

Recycling Human Bodyparts Award
David Luiz of Chelsea, Newcastle United’s Fabricio Coloccini and Marouane Fellaini of Everton for sharing the same hair.

Donation Of Human Body Parts To A Needy Cause Award
David Luiz, Fabricio Coloccini and Marouane Fellaini to Wayne Rooney.

Multiple winner in various categories including Short Lifetime Achievement Award, Precocious Talent Of The Year, Stupidest Hair Style Of The Year, Silly Hat Award, Not Paying Attention To Public Information Films About Fireworks Award and Thinking He Is Santa Claus Trophy
Mario Balotelli of Manchester City.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Mark Cavendish <em>Picture: Petit Brun</em>

Mark Cavendish Picture: Petit Brun

By Stewart Weir

Saturday 17 December
With holidays and the like, Weir’s Week is a week and a bit this time. So cast your mind back to Saturday week and I’m waiting, just waiting. Because it will only be a matter of time before someone utters the immortal line to become the recipient of the Captain Mainwaring Memorial Trophy.

The famous leader of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard was responsible for the now legendary put-down of the young Private Pike, “You stupid boy”.

We haven’t heard it just yet in the world of sport (although my erstwhile colleague Chick Young did deliver the line with some incredulity to a younger member of the press corps in Finland several years back). But we are edging towards it.

A couple of weeks ago at the UK “Lite” Championship, snooker’s Grand Poobah Barry Hearn said he wasn’t worried by “silly little boys” when slated by player Mark Allen.

And today, the papers are full of new Celtic chairman Ian Bankier calling elements of his club’s support “silly little boys” after their antics in Italy.

So we edge ever closer to the first mention of stupid boy, boys, or even Bhoys …

Nicknames in sport have been around as long as sport itself. In snooker, you can’t turn without bumping into someone whose moniker is as famous as they are. We all know who “The Rocket”, “The Whirlwind” and “The Hurricane” is or was.

Boxing too has had its share. Remember “The Cobra”, “The Motor City Hit Man” and the “Brown Bomber” – a tag that could have been invented by Alan Hansen.

Some have been more subtle. Athlete Dave Wottle was “The Head Waiter”, because of how he left it late to make his often-winning run off the last corner, while I liked basketball star Karl Malone, or “The Mailman”, because he always delivered.

And who can forget Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl-winning defensive lineman-turned running back William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a nickname arrived at from his not inconsiderable bulk (a mere 382lbs) and possibly from what was contained within that frame.

Indeed, his winner’s ring – a size 25 – was the biggest in Super Bowl history. No surprise there, given how much he ate.

He was used as an impact player, a specialist in short-yardage gain, virtually impossible to halt in a role where size mattered more than finesse or athleticism.

And many have tried to find a replacement for him, or someone who could emulate his unstoppable presence. On Sunday, many associated with gridiron at all levels eyed-up a latter-day deputy for Perry, although it remains to be seen if proper electrical appliances can be used instead of human equivalents.

When once there was there was anticipation and surprise on the awards night itself, nowadays there is a drip-feed of information in the lead-up to such ceremonies, even with some category winners being announced.

So it is with the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year, with word that 30 years after his biggest triumph, although maybe not his biggest victory, Bob Champion will be the recipient of the Helen Rollason Award.

Champion of course famously won the 1981 Grand National on Aldaniti, held in the affections of the nation for evermore, given that the horse was once deemed fit only for the knackers’ yard and Champion had battled and overcome cancer just to be there.

The Helen Rollason Award was a fitting tribute to the jockey, who ever since has raised monies for cancer charities.

I would never begrudge anyone such an accolade – although I admit that in the aftermath of the race I wasn’t so forgiving.

Aldaniti won, but second was Spartan Missile, ridden by 54-year-old amateur jockey John Thorne. He looked every part the amateur on the run-in, with a style more akin to the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Through time, it would emerge that the stories around Spartan Missile and Thorne were every bit as touching and moving as those of the pairing that beat them that day – although in the moment, I had just seen the 8/1 favourite beaten, and my fiver going the way of the bookie…

My usual Tuesday night (Wednesday morning, actually) stint on talkSport with Mike Graham finds us discussing, amongst other things, standing at football and children’s names.

On the first topic, while the SPL and clubs might be willing to try safe-standing areas, I’m not. Been there, seen it, done it. And seats are far more civilised, and safe.

On the subject of children’s names, Mike and I note that in Scotland 177 babies were called Kai – the same name Coleen and Wayne Rooney gave to their first-born son.

Now in Glesca rhyming slang, “Kai” is to a certain generation (and beyond) a term used for dancing, as in “up the Kai, Kai Johansen” (the former Rangers full-back).

Of course, I imagine the parents of 176 of those weans would be influenced not by the now-deceased Dane, but by the Rooneys’ choice of branding.

But maybe just one couple would follow the (incorrect) notion of the Beckhams and name their son after where he was conceived, hence at the “kai”.

Could have been worse, I suppose. But Beach Ballroom McTavish would just have been plain stupid …

Scotland’s record cap holder and points scorer Chris Paterson decides to call time on his international career.

The 33-year-old, once statistically the best place-kicker in the world, has amassed an impressive tally of 809 points from 109 international appearances and played in four World Cups – another Scots record.

Pretty damn good considering that, for much of the time, “Mossy” was punted from pillar to post when it came to what position he was selected in.

So many records and achievements. But would they be enough for Paterson to find his way into Scotland’s All-Time Greatest XV?

I don’t think so …

And the favourite, cyclist Mark Cavendish wins BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year title, although the Beeb wouldn’t have had a show had it not been for Sky Sports.

With 169,152 votes, or 49.47 per cent of the poll, it was a bit of a landslide for Cavendish (Team HTC-Highroad), who finished ahead of Open winner Darren Clarke (Raleigh Chopper) and athlete Mo Farah (Raleigh Grifter).

I loved reading a few tweets after this success, saying how Cavendish had put British cycling on the map. Good to see Chris Hoy’s similar achievement in 2008 hasn’t been overlooked …

Nice to see a bit of commonsense has prevailed in Holland, where AZ Alkmaar goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado has had the red card he was given against Ajax rescinded by the Dutch FA.

For those who haven’t seen why he was red carded, watch this.

That incident brought to a halt to proceedings with Alkmaar coach Gertjan Verbeek ushering his side from the field in protest – and disgust – while trailing 1-0.

But how refreshing it was to see referee Bas Nijhuis send Alvarado off, abiding by the letter of football’s laws rather than ask any questions about how an idiot appeared on the pitch in the first instance, or what potential threat he posed to Alvarado or other players.

That is why the authorities dropped the red card that should never have been given in the first place. Can these referees think for themselves or are they programmed?

Admittedly, Alvarado’s reaction was a bit excessive. Just imagine what he might have done to a fare dodger on a train.

Saturday 24 December
Was this the day when the eventual destination of the SPL changed? Rangers lose at St Mirren, costly not only in terms of the points dropped, but also in the red cards collected.

The league leaders led by a goal, then lost two before half-time, but continued to make chances when down to 10, then nine, after Lee McCulloch and Dorin Goian were sent off.

During Rangers’ press for an equaliser, sub Sone Aluko was clipped in the box, enough to put a lesser player down. Or, enough to down a player who hadn’t just come back from a two-match ban for diving on the floor.

I wondered if, even in the heat of battle, Aluko stayed on his feet to avoid such controversy again? Going down could have been costly to him. Not going down, as it proved, was ultimately costly to his side …

It’s Christmas Day, or at least it is until around 11pm when it becomes another sporting day, as usual, with the start of the Boxing Day cricket Test between Australia and India. Beats another repeat of the Royle Family hands down.

What I didn’t expect was a Scot opening the batting for Australia – or should I say an honorary Scot?

Ed Cowan played for Scotland in 2008, our overseas, “hired hand”. Obviously, that interlude over here has greatly assisted his progress to the extent he made his Test debut in Melbourne.

Who am I kidding?

Now it really is Boxing Day, and the traditional card of fixtures south of the border. It leaves the Manchester clubs tied at the top (City ahead of United on goal difference only), but one of the most telling results came at Anfield where Liverpool could only draw with Blackburn Rovers.

I couldn’t help but tweet that approaching his first anniversary on returning to the club as manager, Kenny Dalglish has transformed Liverpool from an average club into a very expensive average club.

Usually, such shouts get you a bit of flak – and, on occasion, outright abuse. But not this time. Indeed, a great many – even some Liverpool fans – sided with my observation.

King Kenny may be worshipped in those parts. But whether he’s fit to govern would appear to be a question more than a few are begin to ask …

Night into morning and my weekly sting with Mike Graham on talkSport. Alex Salmond aside, we talk betting and in particular the odds offered to up by McBookie.

There are some interesting ones for 2012. For instance, Scotland are 20/1 to win their World Cup qualifiers in 2012, but 2/1 to lose their manager Craig Levein.

Talking of managers, Neil Lennon is 4/6 to leave Celtic in 2012, while Ally McCoist is 5/2 to depart Rangers, who are 6/1 to go into administration and 33/1 to go bust – identical odds to Gerald Butler winning an Oscar or Susan Boyle getting married.

So Rangers appear safe, then …

Talking of weddings, Andy Murray has more chance of marrying his girlfriend Kim Sears (2/1) than of winning Wimbledon (7/1).

I’d say Murray has more chance of marrying Rafa Nadal than winning Wimbledon, but I’m not taking bets …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Sachin Tendulkar – still one short <em>Picture: arunramu</em>

Sachin Tendulkar – still one short Picture: arunramu

By Stewart Weir

The first day of the weekend, traditionally our biggest sporting day, often provides a bit of a mixed bag.

South Africa these days is a unified nation, which on a sporting stage has hosted cricket, rugby and football world cups. With memories of those events, it’s difficult to think that South Africa were, rightly, sporting pariahs at one time, banned from international sport because of their policy on segregation and apartheid.

It would have been something of a history lesson for many watching the news at the weekend to hear of the death of Basil D’Oliveira.

People talked of his Test record and his performances for Worcestershire. I best recall him for the latter, in his mid-40s, with a torn hamstring, batting with a runner in the Benson & Hedges final at Lord’s against Kent.

But all the runs, all the wickets and catches he amassed over the years would never square with his greatest achievement. For D’Oliveira unwittingly began apartheid’s demise in 1968.

While the world debated exactly what to do with South Africa, the Test and County Cricket Board selected D’Oliveira for England’s tour there. Actually, they didn’t initially.

They, for want of a better description, “bottled”. Knowing what his inclusion, as a Cape Coloured, would mean, they omitted him from their original selection, only bringing him in after injury ruled out Tom Cartwright.

The South Africans said no. England didn’t tour, although there was plenty of pressure on them from those who believed politics had no place in sport.

But England didn’t go, the world took notice, and South Africa were ostracised, becoming sporting outcasts thereafter – except when the likes of the British Lions went there in 1974 and again in 1980. But that’s another very different story…

He didn’t quite read or broadcast such stories, but sports fans – and even those who hated sport – would hang on every word uttered by Tim Gudgin.

His voice is one I’ve recognised since I first got into sport. The man who once read the racing and rugby results has, since the death of Len Martin, “decided” whose Littlewoods or fixed-odds coupons would be successful.

But Saturday saw him retire from making – and breaking – many a dream, aged just 83! Another victim of the Beeb’s switch to Salford, perhaps?

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, “Captain America” was being acknowledged for winning his 100th cap.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra’s achievement was marked by Rangers, who presented him with a silver salver. A nice gesture, even if his cap count on arriving in Scotland stood at 91.

At that rate, maybe a special medal should be stamped for ex-Gers skipper Gavin Rae…

First mention in despatches goes to Tom Hall, editor of the Scottish Football Blog, for his “fitbablether” Blogathon which saw 24 hours, 24 posts, 16,665 words crafted and so far over £840 raised for Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup.

Let’s do it all again soon. Like tomorrow?

Perhaps not the quantity of memorable sport on the box this weekend, although that’s not strictly true. For Power Snooker, ITV4’s major sporting contribution to weekend viewing will live long in the memory.

When it comes to snooker, I am a bit of a traditionalist. I know, there are those who say snooker can be dull, boring, uninteresting. And that’s true. But that’s why Match of the Day has a final match of the day every Saturday night.

Even the best league in the world (allegedly, which is why Messi and Ronaldo play in Spain if you haven’t noticed) has the odd dud game.

When people talk about atmosphere and excitement at snooker, they might refer to the bear pit that was Goffs, once home to the Irish Masters, or to the drama of a Wembley Masters final of which there have been many over the years, or to a late-night Crucible semi-final.

No one, to my knowledge, has ever commented on the atmosphere generated by one of snooker’s bastard children, such as Power Snooker or 6 Reds (snooker’s equivalent of the Morris Ital), unless they were being paid handsomely to comment – or commentate – on proceedings, their every word over the weekend whipping me up in to a frenzy of apathy and boredom.

Power Snooker, had everything. Maybe that was it’s biggest failing.

But if you can imagine the best snooker players in the world, a commentary team ODing on caffine-boosted energy drinks and a snooker table, fused, reheated and mixed with elements of Pot Black, Countdown, Loose Women, karaoke night at your local Miners’ Welfare just before last orders, some Asbo-dodgers, and a set of rules which even had those officiating glancing at each other as if they’d been set either a Krypton Factor task or a paper on the causes of the National Socialism in Germany during the 1920s, then you have Power Snooker.

As you can tell, I’m undecided.

I thought I might have been alone. Until I saw what John Higgins, the reigning world champion (and sounding a tad like Olympic great Sir Steve Redgrave), had to say about the thing.

“If you ever see me anywhere near Power Snooker again you have my permission to shoot me,” said Higgins.

For the moment, I’ll also put him among the undecided…

David Beckham basks in the glory of helping LA Galaxy to a 1–0 win over Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup final. He will now decide on where his future may be, possibly with PSG, and in playing for Team GB in the Olympics.

Beckham’s team-mate Robbie Keane said winning the MLS Cup caps a fantastic week for him, after securing qualification for Euro 2012 with Ireland.

Keane meanwhile won’t be seeking a loan move between MLS seasons, so no short-term switch back to the club in Scotland he always wanted to play for.

Which will come as a huge disappointment to many supporters of that great club. But I’m sure Gers fans will get over it.

World Cup winning coach Graham Henry rules out seeking any post with England in the wake of their recent management cull.

It’s worth watching this interview with the All Blacks coach, if just to hear one of the shortest answers on record to one of the longest questions ever broadcast.

Henry lays out at length what he wants to do in the future, and the reasons why an England role doesn’t appeal to him, one being that he wanted to spend time with his grandchildren.

So he likes kids – although not all of those selected by England for the World Cup…

In English football you have the haves and the have nots. There is also a third category of those who have so much, they don’t really know what they have and have not. Manchester City and Chelsea fall into this category.

The latter now see their chances of qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League dependent upon not losing to Valencia in the final group game after a last-minute loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

City, meantime, are in an equally perilous state going into their final tie, having lost 2–1 to Napoli – whose president, Antonio de Laurentiis, couldn’t miss the opportunity to put the boot in a bit more.

“I think Sheikh Mansour just wanted a toy when he bought Manchester City,” De Laurentiis said. “If they don’t win something quickly, he could just go somewhere else and buy another toy.” Ouch!

Talking of buying things, City’s loss wasn’t lost on some who might use a well-known credit card for certain purchases.

Man City’s loss in 2010/11: £194.9m.

Man City’s salary budget: £174m.

Owner’s outlay: £1 billion.

Losing to Napoli: Priceless.

Miracles do happen. American Samoa – officially ranked the worst international football team in the world – won a game for the first time in their history when they defeated Tonga 2–1.

The US protectorate had of course made the headlines a decade ago when they nearly became the Bon Accord of the international game, losing 31–0 to Australia.

“This victory would now be part of soccer history,” said coach Thomas Rongen. “Maybe we have a chance to do something special here beyond this one game. But let’s enjoy this one right now.”

Yes, let’s. Silver salver all round, I say…

There are sports fans, and then there are sports presenters. Then there are sports fans who present. And in that last category you’ll find STV’s Raman Bhardwaj.

At 4:47am this morning he tweeted: “Sachin Tendulkar misses out on getting his 100th 100. Out for 94. Gutted. :-(“. Such dedication.

Within a minute, however, 4:48 according to the Twitter clock, another cricket-loving nutter had replied saying that “he [Tendulkar] could learn a thing or several from Geoffrey Boycott…”.

I was of course referring to the Sir Geoffrey’s hundredth first-class hundred at Headingley in 1977…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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<em>Picture: Tom Reynolds</em>

Picture: Tom Reynolds

By Stewart Weir

I’ve probably watched more football than most, so I’ve seen and heard most things that fans, friend or foe, can verbally hurl at players. Occasionally comic genius, at times barbed and cutting, but for the majority of the time just a drone, part of football’s noisy soundtrack.

Have a few thousand signing or shouting the same thing, and the effect is far greater. Someone, somewhere thought up the “two Andy Gorams” line, but delivered en masse, it turned into one of Scottish football’s best jibes.

Similarly, Scotland’s Tartan Army have been vocal over the years, and their “you only sing karaoke” directed at Japanese supporters in Yokohama was fantastic.

For the most part though, fans tend to show their emotions with oohs, aahs, eeks and yelps, accompanied by applause.

The later is the universal sign of appreciation, even on occasion directed at opposition players, almost certainly when someone is struck down by injury.

Maybe last Saturday was just an odd occasion, a one-off. But there was nothing particularly sporting, good-natured or respectful about sections of the Aberdeen support who cheered and jeered Steven Naismith of Rangers as he was stretchered off at Pittodrie.

I say sections of the Aberdeen support, because from what I saw, large sections of the ground was unfilled, shopping with the wife, watching on TV, or just not being arsed better options than paying to watch the once-dandy Dons live.

Still, those who were there made sure they stuck out with their treatment and abuse of the stricken Naismith.

Of course, maybe it was just the pitch-side effect microphones that picked it up and made it sound worse than it was. Maybe it was a microphone placed in front of the most vociferous Aberdeen fans. Maybe ESPN overdubbed someone else making those chants.

Maybe Aberdeen supporters are just running out of excuses.

We all know there is no love lost between Aberdeen fans and Rangers, with Aberdeen fans and the west of Scotland-biased media that Sir Alex Ferguson (who has been away from Pittodrie of 25 years now), once goaded, or with Aberdeen fans and Celtic, with Hibs, with most of the world in fact.

Social media allowed some Dons followers to have their say on events last Saturday. And to a man, or woman, they tried to justify or excuse the abuse hurled at Naismith, everything from him (Naismith) trying to break Rob Milsom’s leg and so getting what he deserved. Or what about Rangers just being cheating, diving bastards, like when Sasha Papac fell over to win a penalty at the weekend (which I think happened after Naismith had gone off), or Kyle Lafferty getting Charlie Mulgrew sent off at Ibrox (that’s Charlie Mulgrew, now of Celtic).

Or what about the Glasgow press again raking up Neil Simpson’s tackle on Ian Durrant, again nearly quarter of a century ago?

Actually, a great many of those working in the media won’t remember that because they are too young, and the only people raking that up are those who sing “Nice one Simmy”.

See what I mean about running out of excuses?

Irony of ironies, on Saturday, Aberdeen’s lifeline came from Ricky Foster, the captain, who as I wrote about a few months ago, took dogs abuse on the club’s pre-season tour because he’d just returned from a season-long loan deal at Rangers.

Oh, and they had an excuse for that as well …

Knowing several rally drivers as I do (some considerably quicker than others) they earn a living at high speed but are always last-minute when it comes to other things.

So no surprise to read that Swedish driver Per-Gunnar Andersson’s wife Marie-Louise gave birth to their son Alvin on her way to the maternity hospital.

Obviously from his first appearance, young Alvin has a liking for cars.

“He seems to have it in his genes,” Andersson told the Swedish newspaper Expressen. As opposed to his missus who almost had something else in her jeans …

Andersson – known as “PG” (although I won’t be taking Tips from him, “boom boom, I’m here all week …”) – is used to listening to pace notes when he’s driving. But you can imagine his wife calling “bump, fast, open right, open left, water, push, BABY!”

Still, all are doing fine, and the car has scrubbed up well. Something else you can do in a BMW …

El-Hadji Diouf, no stranger to these parts, either when either spitting on Celtic fans or as specialist wind-up merchant for Rangers, signs a three-month deal at Doncaster Rovers. Sochaux, Rennes, Lens, Liverpool, Bolton, Sunderland, Blackburn, Rangers, Doncaster. Get where you’re headed career-wise, “L”.

Diouf arrived at Doncaster along with Pascal Chimbonda and Herita Ilunga, part of agent Willie McKay’s endeavours as the club’s transfer consultant. I wonder who is agent to those players?

The tactic is simple, as McKay explained last week. “In every squad there are two or three good players who aren’t getting a game for whatever reason.

“We will take them to Doncaster, put them in the shop window and sell them on with sell-on fees.” Having been party to a similar project, it is a sound plan, in theory. But Doncaster need it to work.

As does Diouf. Because the only gig in town still left open to him after this could be that of a panto villain …

Still in Doncaster, and it is an emotional and poignant night for Rovers striker Billy Sharp, who plays just three days after his two-day-old son, Luey Jacob Sharp, died on Saturday.

Fittingly Sharp scores, the message on his shirt saying everything.

And for once, a referee – on this occasion Darren Deadman – didn’t brandish a yellow card, using his compassion and judgement to see beyond the Laws, rules, regulations and directives, and allow Sharp his moment of glory and grief.

Much of the early part of the week was spent seeing, reading and listening to the achievements of Glasgow City. No, not the local council, but the women’s football team who had just reached the last 16 of the Champions League.

A great achievement no doubt. And their reward was to have their away tie against Potsdam broadcast live, on BBC Alba.

I tuned in to be nosey, and to undertake some considered research for Weir’s Week. The end result: Potsdam 10 Glasgow City 0. the biggest defeat in the club’s history. I suppose that’s what happens when you come up against the big boys, er, I mean girls.

I hope the girls enjoyed their moment in the limelight, for somehow I don’t think the second leg will be deserving of the same hype and press attention …

A dark day for cricket as former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt is jailed for 30 months for his part in the conspiracy to bowl deliberate no-balls in last year’s Test match against England.

Test bowler Mohammad Asif, 28, was jailed for one year and bowler Mohammad Amir, 19, has been sentenced to six months while their agent Mazhar Majeed was jailed for two years and eight months.

It’s the first conviction of its type since the infamous case involving Sheffield Wednesday players Peter Swan, Tony Kay and David Layne, nearly 50 years ago.

Both cases were revealed by national newspapers, begging the question somewhat, why sporting bodies persist in employing ex-cops when investigative journalists have a better strike rate? And I should know.

Bowling no-balls to order is quite an easy scam, as is another one I’m currently writing about. More of that in print soon, I hope.

But of course, the bowler needs to be in complete control in order to deliver the illegal ball – and bet – at the right time. Probably why no-one ever employed Devon Malcolm or Mohammad Sami as a spot-fixers …

David Beckham helps LA Galaxy to the MLS Western Conference final after the beat New York Red Bulls 3-1 on aggregate.

I’ve never fathomed the “conference” system in American sport given these two are divided by a few thousand miles. On the pitch though, it was Beckham who divided the two, setting up one goal and winning the penalty to help Galaxy win 2–1.

Beckham PLC also set up the winner in the first leg. So all in all, he’s made a difference before he returns to Europe (as I wrote last week) and what might be Olympic glory. We’ll see.

That first leg however, was worth watching. To see what I mean, forward it on to 7:30.

Imagine if that had happened at Hampden, Celtic Park or Ibrox? Parliamentarians, polis, SFA, SPL, SAS would have been diving in, condemning all and blaming it all on cheap drink, religious intolerance and sectarianism.

Missing the point that football is a passionate game, whoever plays it, or wherever it’s played …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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<em>Picture: Britanglishman</em>

Picture: Britanglishman

By Stewart Weir

Can’t say today was anything other than very, very, very wet, standing on top of Drummond Hill, looking out over, well, frankly nothing but low cloud. The Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally has filled the agenda for the past few days.

Driving up, I marvelled at how beautiful and scenic Perthshire is at this time of year. That is, when you can see it.

The deepest, darkest forests are a great place to lose yourself, and, all touch with the bigger world. Mobile signals go in and out with the tide, so there was really no use concerning ourselves too much with what was happening with Scotland and England at the Rugby World Cup, that was, until it was too late. More later.

Match Of The Day then became the Sunday morning show, by which time I knew all about, or knew the story behind, Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell being sent off in the Merseyside derby.

Rodwell saw red after a challenge on Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, or rather, was given his marching orders when Suarez tripped over him. It was never a sending off, indeed it was never a yellow card, and almost struggled to be considered a tackle. But Martin Atkinson saw fit to dismiss him. The good news will be that the FA will decided to withdraw the suspension. As if that makes a difference…

These successful appeals seldom matter, because the damage has already been done, in Everton’s case, playing 60-odd minutes without one of their most influential players.

Atkinson made the call, and got it horribly wrong. We all make mistakes. But he had another three helpers at the side of the pitch who got it equally wrong. Another great case for TV replays and another great case for some people to be refereeing park football for several weekends.

Spotted this wonder goal during a trawl. It is quite remarkable. Once saw Derek Johnstone score with a diving header from outside the box against Wales, but maximum that would have been 20 yards. The bit I like in the BBC’s text is that officials asked the police to come in to “verify the distance”.

Obviously, the polis have little to do around Norwegian fitba matches …

Scotland return home from the Rugby World Cup, although we knew they would be ever since they lost against Argentina. That they were going to beat England by the required margin and hope the Pumas lay in front of the fire licking their nether regions rather than beating Georgia was just for dreamers.

From the papers I saw, only Scotland on Sunday carried Scotland’s demise on their front page the day after, only the Herald on Monday. Had it been football, the call for heads, especially Andy Robinson’s, to roll would have been week-long.

Coach Robinson wants to keep his job and said so again. And probably will. Because it doesn’t appear as if too many are interested in Scottish rugby, especially in print.

Karen Murphy. Remember her name. Because when it comes to broadcasting football, she might turn out to be as famous, or infamous as Jean-Marc Bosman has been to transfers.

Today she won a landmark court case against the Premier League, a European court backing her right to show football in her pub purchased from a Greek broadcaster, rather than through Sky and ESPN.

Mrs Murphy claimed the Premier League’s stance was “contrary to EU law” on the freedom of trade, and won her case.

The upshot is that landlords could now be able to show all 380 Premier League games a season by buying decoder cards and subscriptions from TV companies based in other EU states for less than £2,000 a year, when similar Sky packages could cost six-times that.

All of which, came as a surprise to me. Because I don’t know how many pubs I’ve been in over the last umpteen years who show live football around the clock, from around the world, especially Scandinavia and the Gulf states.

Licences and agreements may well have been infringed or broken. But from my experience, there doesn’t appear to be too many on the ground trying to police or protect the rights holders.

Sad news that former England bowler Graham Dilley has passed away aged just 52. Perhaps I’m doing his memory a disservice there. Maybe I should call him an all-rounder given that arguably his most famous moment came with the bat, accompanying Ian Botham during his famous knock at Headingley against the Aussies some 30 years ago.

Years later, “Dill’ acted”as Scotland’s bowling coach during the 1999 World Cup. After one match, some spectators, press and players joined for an impromptu knockabout, with me showing my prowess as a “leggy” I had, through no practice, developed a confusing delivery, the “straight spinner”, where despite every effort to rotate the leather, it floated like a brick.

As Dilley and others walked across the outfield, he commented that anyone who could bowl that badly shouldn’t be allowed to write about cricket, to which I replied, he should see me playing football (on more than one occasion compared to the rhino from Bedknobs and Broomsticks) – and I got an award for writing about that.

The ugly, shadowy world of sports betting and alleged fixing shows face again in North Lanarkshire, this time with Motherwell midfielder Steve Jennings arrested over irregularities around the player’s sending off against Hearts last December. It is reported that the scam would have been worth £100,000. Nice dosh, if you ever get away with it.

But having been involved in various enquiries, stories and investigations in the past, it will come as a surprise to many that there are not hundreds and thousands queueing up to make bets on players being sent off, or snooker players winning matches by the correct score.

Indeed, some matches might only have one bet made on them – and if that is something substantial, or out of the ordinary, then it sticks out like a sore thumb – something bookies, who loathe paying out on anything, spot a mile off.

And these days, such “hot” bets are usually accompanied by a call on the hotline, to the local nick …

Good news from the Scotland camp that Darren Fletcher’s tonsils might be okay for the “must win” (No.423 in the history of Scottish football) game against those Euro-giants, Liechtenstein. I am however, not so sure whether this is so he is fit to play, or, lead the karaoke when they get back to the hotel …