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Bolton Wanderers

<em>Picture: ajimixx</em>

Picture: ajimixx

By Stewart Weir

Another Six Nations weekend. So that’ll mean another loss for Scotland, this time in Dublin against Ireland.

However, despite the reversal, there were still nodding, knowing heads from those on high, suggesting things weren’t all bad.

But for how long can you keep taking positives from losses, and how long can you “buy in”, “see the bigger picture”, or “believe” or “be supportive of ideas” or praise “new thinking” and “build to the future” before someone within SRU’s hierarchy (possibly from the catering department or car parking duties) puts up their hand and says “Actually, we are not very good”?

Watching Scotland and hearing coach Andy Robinson is like viewing an oval-balled version of the “King’s New Clothes”.

Or are we waiting to see if the Italian game makes everything better?

Another week, and another example of why football is in the dark ages compared to cricket, the NFL, rugby and tennis.

In England, the Football Association says they will press ahead with the adoption of goal-line technology after every newspaper and phone-in debates another embarrassing “goal-that-never-was” after Clint Hill “scored” for QPR against Bolton.

Weirdly, when highlighting such incidents, many news and sports editors somehow manage to show Frank Lampard’s effort against Germany from the last World Cup. I can only think it’s constantly on standby, a bit like the apology notice telling you that there is a break in programming and normal service will resume as soon as possible.

But while Lampard’s “goal” is always to hand, for whatever reason, no one is ever quite willing to show the “goal” that put England 3–2 up against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.

And just a thought before bedtime. What are the chances of goal-line technology being introduced before Andy Robinson leaves his post?

“Eh?” That was the reaction from a former Scotland international when I confirmed to him that Gregor Townsend was indeed to replace Sean Lineen as coach of Glasgow Warriors.

The story had emerged in some Sunday papers. The cynic in me would have called it a blatant leak to take the heat off a head coach who had lost again.

The journalist in me, however, would see it a blatant leak to take the heat off a head coach who had lost again.

With Warriors fourth in the Pro12 League, Lineen hadn’t done too bad a job – although the way some had written the story, you would have thought they were fifth in a six-team league. No, on second thoughts, maybe not the best analogy.

Townsend, however, was presented as a man who as a player obviously did no wrong, and was the next bright young thing on the coaching front. Except that he actually is the “attack” coach of an international nation who have won twice in their last 15 Test matches, failed to reach the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup and – sorry for raking it up again – who haven’t won this season in the Six Nations.

Andy Robinson alluded to the fact that Townsend needed to be coaching at club level. But surely that means cutting your teeth at a less senior grade and proving yourself there?

Sorry, but until Monday I thought it was only Her Majesty The Queen who was able to bestow such honours and titles on people. Or are we back to the “King’s New Clothes”?

And Sir David Murray, the former owner of Rangers, breaks cover to give an interview to the media (print, pen-carrying only).

You had to laugh at the moralists amongst the press ranks, trying to justify not being there on their mistrust of Murray when the reality was they were not invited in the first instance.

For Murray to admit he was “sorry” at what had happened, and to apologise to all Rangers fans, would have been enough. But with an audience, he was quick to condemn the man whose pound he is probably having tested for authenticity, Craig Whyte.

“If the information had been available to me at the time, I wouldn’t have done it. I did it in good faith,” Sir David said.

“Any time you sell, there are always murmurings. There was no factual information. And in fact shareholders, press, SFA – I mean, I’m first in the line, but everybody was duped.”

Powerful words. But I did wish he had taken the palms of his hands and squeezed his cheeks and mouth together to deliver his next line (as in “I’m chubby, my mom’s chubby, my dad’s chubby, even my dawg’s chubby…”) when he said: “I was primarily duped. My advisers were duped, the bank was duped, the shareholders were duped. We’ve all been duped. Is duped the right word? I think duped is the right word.”

It wouldn’t have made the entire debacle any less of a farce …

I have always marvelled at people’s ingenuity and sheer-bloody mindedness when it comes to gaining funds for them to compete in their chosen sport. Indeed, I know some who gained government disapproval over their fundraising efforts and went to prison accordingly.

That aside, one can only have admiration for athlete Logan Campbell and his tale of chasing his Olympic dream emerged out of New Zealand.

So determined was the 25-year-old taekwondo exponent to be on the flight to London this summer that three years ago he opened what he described as “a high-class escort agency” in Auckland.

And in that time, he raised the £160,000 he needed to compete internationally to qualify for the London Games. He’s also been disqualified 17 times for screaming “Not the face, don’t hit the face…”.

But in a few months, Campbell will be here, all his efforts worthwhile. I suppose it goes without saying that people get their kicks in many ways …

I will be contacting parliamentarians, people in high office and major media houses to have this day renamed Sir Dave Richards Day, the day when a senior football administrator becomes a guest on Tiswas, when Sepp Blatter meets Norman Wisdom. Judge for yourself.

I’ve heard the FA have since returned his VIP tickets for the Olympic aquatic events this summer, just in case …

Sky Sports have the rights in 2012 to exclusive live coverage of F1 in the UK. I mention that in case you haven’t happened to see a TV for the last three months.

Sky have a cast of dozens Down Under for the season’s curtain-raiser in Melbourne, with more presenters, experts, panellists, talking heads and analysts than you could throw at the sacking of an England football manager. That’s how serious they are about getting this one right.

Where they might be in a few years when they realise that just about every race follows a not-dissimilar storyline, who knows? But just now, everything in the world is bright, colourful and live. As was first practice in the wee sma’ hours of Friday morning.

Of course, Sky’s capture of the rights from the BBC has not pleased everyone. There are countless millions, or tens of thousands really, who say they are passionate about F1, or love the sport, or live for the chequered flag, and who are disgusted that they won’t be able to see their beloved racers in action.

To be honest, they are no different from the passionate and dedicated lovers of football, cricket, boxing and several other sports who, for many years, have paid over and above for the right to see their sport, live and exclusive.

So race fans, join the club – because we won’t hear your protests over the sound of the engines once the lights turn green …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Inside the Tynecastle press box? <em>Picture: AJC1</em>

Inside the Tynecastle press box? Picture: AJC1

By Stewart Weir

This last day of 2011 is particularly enjoyable given the success of my sporting awards, or the Weirdos, as they are famously known. Well received they were, with plans to have a sponsor in place for next December, an awards dinner in 2013, and the event televised in 2014.

Those are the plans, and I’m bringing Craig Whyte and Vladimir Romanov in to the organising committee. So it should happen…

I could reflect on 2011, but let’s keep it current. The last Saturday of the year, the last lot of football with shocks galore in the English Premier League.

Manchester United lose to Blackburn Rovers and Steve Kean immediately offers his support to Sir Alex Ferguson. He’ll need a crutch as well by the middle of the week.

Strangest happening for me was in the game between Stoke City and Wigan Athletic.

Special teams are part of American Football. But Wigan boss Roberto Martínez had his own take on things when his side were awarded a late penalty after Ryan Shotton dragged down Hugo Rodallega.

Martínez immediately made a substitution, sending on Ben Watson to convert the penalty with his first touch of the ball.

OK, it might not have happened in the first ten minutes. But the importance of a goal and a point brought about Martínez’s bold decision.

But how do you break that news to your player?

“Right Ben, you’re on. Eh, and just take the penalty while you’re at it…”

Happy New Year one and all. It has arrived, Olympic year, 2012. Hasn’t time flown since Tony Blair, Seb Coe, David Beckham, the cast of Coronation Street, Bruce Forsyth, Shep the Blue Peter dog, Lord Lucan and the rest of the bid team celebrated the awarding of the Games to London?

As I’ve said before, I really feel part of the London Games – to such an extent that I will definitely go to the Post Office and buy some commemorative stamps.

It is also my intention to take past in the Olympics this year, although I have yet to decide which sport – or sports – to compete in.

My gymnastics training is going well, and I’ve perfected the run-up and landing for the floor exercise. The bits in between are proving difficult, but I put that down to how the Christmas tree is positioned in the lounge.

Similarly, I’ve mastered chalking the hands, a discipline to be practiced for both gymnastics and weightlifting. So I’ll keep you abreast of my progress. Now, for a glass of gin and low-cal tonic. See, even the diet has changed …

I am somewhat disturbed to find out that the efforts I went to in procuring tickets for what may be my chosen Olympic sport, namely synchronised swimming, could be in vain after London 2012 organisers discovered that they had sold 10,000 too many.

Please tell me I’m not sitting with four and a half thousand worthless tickets?

On the bright side, however, I could have an early contender for the 2012 Weirdos “Piss-up In A Brewery Award” and the “It’s These Computers Award”.

Synchronised swimming was an event which was not initially oversubscribed. But when they went back on sale thousands of extra tickets, which did not exist, were made available, a blunder put down to “human data error”.

I recall the same thing happening one year at Hamilton (Old) Baths gala.

However, the good news is that people will be offered replacement tickets for other sports. So, you could miss the synchronised swimming but see Usain Bolt in the 100m final.

And the chances of that happening are about as remote as me coming second to Usain in that race. Still, I’ve got a 4,500 to 1 chance of that happening …

Liverpool state they won’t be appealing Luis Suárez’s eight-match ban for racism towards Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.

So they accept he’s guilty, but Liverpool remain supportive of the player and obviously believe Suárez’s side of the story.

Liverpool’s stance is utterly confusing, from the parade of T-shirts through to now appealing an “innocent” man’s claims for justice. It isn’t exactly black or white.

I could say Liverpool’s take isn’t exactly black and white. But I’d hate to find myself guilty of using a pun …

Manchester United getting gubbed by Newcastle United made the headlines, but as big a talking point was Tim Howard’s goal for Everton versus Bolton.

For those who don’t know, Howard is a goalkeeper, who scored from inside his own area, the fourth keeper to do so in the English Premier League.

I can remember Pat Jennings doing it, and Andy Goram – while Dundee United keeper Hamish McAlpine took the odd penalty and Paraguayan José Chilarvert was so adept that he was a free-kick specialist.

So Howard is in good company. So is the unfortunate Adam Bogdan, namely in having one of his own score against him. And hence why Howard was so understated in acknowledging the goal.

In Test terms over the past few years, Australia has misfired. So too India, given their woeful performance as the world’s no.1 Test nation last summer against England.

However, with the players that they have at their disposal, you will get it right eventually, and someone will suffer. Today it was Australia who prospered and the Indians, already 1–0 down in the series, who ran around the field all day.

The Aussies amassed 659 for 4 declared, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey both making tons, but skipper Michael Clarke making an imperious 329 not out.

That was the highest score by an Australian captain, the highest at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the biggest individual score against India, making him the sixth Australian triple-centurion in Test cricket, with the fourth highest score behind Matthew Hayden, Mark Taylor and Sir Donald Bradman.

“Pup” Clarke would have surely bettered Taylor and Bradman’s mark of 334 – but, as he said, “I’m happy but we’ve got a Test match to win”.

Which the Aussies did, by an innings and 68 runs, rounding off a magnificent Test for Clarke.

And – dare I say it again? – a possible contender for one of the Weirdos in 12 months’ time. No, not Clarke, but Slazenger, his bat supplier since Clarke was aged just 12, and who recently decided not to renew their contract with him.

“Sponsorship Cock-Up of the Year”, anyone?

The disappointment some people suffered in not getting a mention in the Weirdos means they are trying desperately to make the running in 2012 – among them Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov, who is already ahead in the Circus of the Year, Clown of the Year and the Rudyard Kipling Exceedingly Good Fruitcake of the Year categories after this latest rant.

Normally, if someone doesn’t want to speak to the press, I wouldn’t give any of their statements an inch of space. But Mr Romanov really should be laughed at more than pitied.

Anyway, it’s a big weekend in the Scottish Cup with Hearts facing Ayrshire junior side Auchinleck Talbot.

They have the usual mish-mash of painters, car boot salesmen, students, male strippers and the likes, unearthed by the press on such occasions to add that big of magic and colour to the Cup.

And I’m sure Auchinleck will have similarly colourful characters in their ranks …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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The Copa del Rey – a bit bashed <em>Picture: Erik1980</em>

The Copa del Rey – a bit bashed Picture: Erik1980

By Stewart Weir

Semi-final weekend in the respective premier knockout cup competitions either side of the border, with one tie holding a slight advantage when it came to national interest. And you’ve guessed – it wasn’t Motherwell–St Johnstone.

On a day when Wembley was filled with the blue and red of Manchester, Hampden looked somewhat sorry only a quarter-filled – or, more noticeably, three-quarters empty – with the “hordes” from the shires of Lanark and Perth.

Motherwell deservedly won 3–0, with Saints ‘keeper Peter Enckelman the unfortunate recipient of the “Estate Agents Award”, presented to the man who did most to sell a semi.

But while Jamie Murphy and John Sutton scored crackers, you couldn’t help but notice the empty seats around Hampden, which raises the question – as ever – of why a match like this is ever taken to the National Stadium.

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Justification for building it appears to be the only answer. Because with just under 12,000 deciding the big day wasn’t that big in reality, Tynecastle or Easter Road would have made much better sense.

In the south, City shocked United. The next day, Aberdeen and Bolton were just shocking.

From Steeltown to Steel City. I know it began yesterday, but given that it lasts a mere 17 days, there was always going to be time to catch up with the action from Sheffield and the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship.

Saturday brought two big stories. One came before a ball was potted in anger, and was so big it even made the front page of the Scottish Sun. It was the collapse, or near-collapse, of 110sport, snooker’s biggest management stable and a twice-former employer of mine. Indeed, in healthier times, I once was a board director there.

It is a sad state of affairs, which is about all I’m willing to say on the matter as I am restricted for space, something that won’t be a problem when my tale comes out in book form. Take that as the first plug.

Damned or doomed, 110sport’s demise was of their making, nothing to do with events conspiring against them, bad luck, chance or fate.

And certainly not a curse – although the second big snooker headline from the weekend could fall into the category.

No first-time winner of the world title had ever successfully defended the title in Sheffield, hence “the Crucible Curse”. And as if by magic, or other powers we cannot explain, title holder Neil Robertson crashed out, beaten 10–8 by Judd Trump, who this year looks to be fulfilling the potential everyone knew he had.

Speaking to Stephen Hendry last week, he believed Robertson could have been the one to break that trend. But he also conceded that few, other than the person who returned the cup from the previous year, could appreciate the enormity of the task and the expectation around being champion – because regardless of who you are, what you’ve done or how well you are playing, all anyone wants to mention is the dreaded curse.

So the next first-time champ, whoever you may be, be afraid… be very afraid!

Sunday also saw Mandy Fisher, who founded the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association 30 years ago, resign as chairman, chairwoman or chairperson (delete where applicable).

Fisher, 49, began the women’s circuit in 1981 and her commitment has been the main reasons it has survived this long. That said, it has always been the very poor relation in the snooker family. While the winner of the world title (an event open to men and women) pockets a quarter of a million, ladies winner Reanne Evans won just £1,000 for retaining her world title in 2010.

“Mandy’s heart was always in the right place,” said former WLBSA secretary and tournament director Jane O’Neill, “[but] there were always the knockers.”

Which many give as the reason why women can’t play…

And still in Sheffield, Barry Hearn, the Don King of snooker, unveils announcement after announcement for next season.

A ranking event staged in Australia in July (on the back of Robertson’s success), a World Cup in Bangkok, a biennial event where Scotland will be defending champions (and holders since 1996 when since the tournament has been absent never mind bi-anything), and a new format for the Premier League as it becomes a World Snooker event,

Sky Sports will broadcast an event for the next three years, prize money on the circuit will rise to over £6m (although it was once above that) and there will also be the Brazilian Masters, with traditional rules, namely unwaxed balls…

Hearn did however threaten that he wants players to come forward to record a new version of the Chas ‘n’ Dave “classic” Snooker Loopy, which reached number six in the chart 25 years ago.

Who will step up? Hopefully not some clown.

I can also exclusively reveal the song might be revamped to include an instrumental halfway through, just in case Ronnie O’Sullivan doesn’t turn up for his verse.

And the sale of Rangers takes another twist after the club’s chairman, Alastair Johnston, questioned the ability of would-be owner Craig Whyte to fund the reigning Scottish champions to the level required.

Whyte has been reportedly trying to purchase David Murray’s 85 per cent stake in Rangers since last November, thus wiping out their debt with Lloyds Bank.

However, Johnston and some of his fellow board members also want to see money spent on the team.

“Based on the documents we have only been able to review within the last week,” Johnston said, “we are disappointed that they ultimately did not reflect the investment in the club that we were led to believe for the last few months would be a commitment in the purchase agreement.

“Given the requirement to repay the bank in full under the proposed transaction, there appears to be only a relatively modest amount of money available that would positively impact the club’s operations, especially as it relates to an urgent requirement to replenish and upgrade the playing squad.”

As much as he is disappointed, there isn’t a queue outside Ibrox willing to part with £30-odd million to be then told what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their money.

Indeed, there is only one other offer on the table – this sees Rangers FC being exchanged for an apple, a kite (in good repair), a dead rat and a string to swing it with, 12 marbles, part of a Jew’s-harp, a piece of blue bottle glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar (but no dog), the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel and a dilapidated old window sash.

That bid offer comes from a Mr T Sawyer, USA. Negotiations are ongoing, although they say there is nothing of significance in the last item listed.

On the field, Rangers ease past an equally dilapidated Dundee United 4–0. So easy was it that striker Nikica Jelavić had to amuse himself in other ways.

And this week’s competition is: from Paul Mitchell’s commentary, what would you pay good money for?

And as if nothing ever happened, Paul McBride QC will not now face legal action from the Scottish Football Association after expressing regret over recent criticism.

McBride had attacked the SFA after Rangers trio Ally McCoist, Madjid Bougherra and El-Hadji Diouf escaped further bans for their part the “Debacle of Parkhead XXVII” (as you can tell, there have been a few over the years).

McBride had represented Celtic boss Neil Lennon over his disciplinary charge and had accused the SFA of bias, publically stating they were “the laughing stock of world football” and “had been shown to be not merely dysfunctional and not merely dishonest but biased”.

Then he changed his mind, mentioning in his excuse note that he recognised “that offence has been taken to my remarks by the Scottish Football Association as an organisation, its council and its staff, and for that I express regret. I have a lot of respect for many individuals within the SFA…”.

What brought about that change of mind isn’t clear. Legal action, or of being reported to his bosses, who could say? Or did the threat of a parcel bomb just focus things a wee bit more?

I should say, I am not making light of what is a serious matter, and particularly dangerous series of events, least of all for the poor buggers collecting and delivering our post. But I’m surprised no one from the cry wolf brigade hasn’t commented on the potential of a conspiracy, given the Royal Mail have been entrusted with the safe passage of these unsafe parcels.

Terrorist officers from Strathclyde Police have conducted searches and enquiries into who is behind these threats, and have focused extensively on Ayrshire – where despite using ultra-modern and groundbreaking profiling techniques, they have been unable to track down the perpetrators as everyone in that area shares the same DNA…

And in the wee small hours, Real Madrid return home from Valencia to triumphant scenes where the city celebrates their winning of the Copa del Rey after beating arch-rivals Barcelona 1–0.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s extra-time header gave Jose Mourinho his first trophy as Real Madrid coach. But it was more about what happened on the team coach – or, more accurately, what happened under it – that made this particularly memorable.

It brings back memories of other cup celebrations gone wrong, like the night in 1988 when Dean Richards and John Jeffrey took the Calcutta Cup for a walk down Rose Street.

Of course, Sergio Ramos will be reminded for evermore about dropping that cup off the bus.

But what is the best case of dropsy after a cup final? Steve Morrow, Arsenal’s League Cup goalscoring hero, takes some beating – or rather took a beating.

Two days to go to the final Old Firm game of the season and Strathclyde Police chief constable Stephen House believes everything from three league points, to the climate and a day off work could brew up mayhem in the west of Scotland.

“It’s a Bank Holiday,” House said, “it is the last meeting of the season – which is crucial for a result – and the weather forecast is hot. That means people will be drunk and they will get injured or raped, assaults go up and so does domestic violence.

“We do not see the clubs as the enemy. We do not blame Celtic or Rangers for the violence. The people who are responsible are those who use knives, fists or whatever other weapons on their fellow human beings.”

And I don’t disagree. I have seen the frightening aftermath of an Old Firm game first hand. But I’ve seen similar scenes throughout the country when there is not a Celtic or Rangers top to be seen.

Not meaning to trivialise in any way the concerns of some, but I do wonder on occasions whether all this reported serious crime is down to the factors the chief constable details, or the fact the same gentleman has vowed to put 1,000 extra officers on the streets.

More cops doing their job usually means more arrests and more frightening statistics. And more calls for more resources for more of the same and more overtime next time.

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Cricketers or condoms? <em>Picture: AkashSiinha</em>

Cricketers or condoms? Picture: AkashSiinha

By Stewart Weir

A busy day, with two sporting institutions taking centre stage, namely the Grand National from Aintree and the Melrose Sevens – the latter won by the host club, admirably led by Scott “Scarface” Wight.

But it was the previous evening’s viewing which started my week. STV’s The Football Years has been an excellent series, picking out the highlights – and lowlights – from the past few decades. Last week focused on the exploits of Rangers during their treble-winning season and unbeaten European run of 1992/93.

The vintage footage has brought back many memories, of how good some footballers and teams were, and how bad the fashion sense of others.

You would be hard pushed to find any criticism of this series, although some of the journalists who have appeared as talking heads were at best adjacent to the action rather than close.

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That aside, as any editor will tell you, the difficulty with things like this is what you leave out.

Friday’s programme recalled the best Rangers side I’ve seen, which – apart from a sprinkling of “foreigners” such as Hateley, Huistra, Steven, “Disco” Dale and “Miko” or “Chenks” (but seldom Mikhailitchenko with a “t”) – was a Scotland XI better than the Scotland team of the day.

But from the story of that season, there was a minor detail overlooked that I picked up on – namely that Rangers clinched the treble minus future Gers boss Ally McCoist, who had broken his leg in Lisbon having scored a mere 49 goals up to that point.

While much was made about Rangers proving themselves in Europe, the importance of being the best domestically was never, ever, overlooked by the members of that team.

Having won the second dog-fight and with it the “Battle of Britain” against Leeds United, captain Richard Gough held court within Elland Road.

My erstwhile colleague from the Daily Mirror, Harry Harris, who knew Goughie from his Spurs days, tried to press the point that the Leeds encounter was surely the biggest club match the Rangers captain had ever played in.

“Aye, but we’ve got a bigger one on Saturday,” replied Gough.

“But you’ve just beaten the champions of England,” said Harris. “How can Saturday be a bigger game than that?”

“Because,” said Gough, “we play Celtic on Saturday. And if they beat us, they’ll be telling everyone they’re British champions.”

Of course few, if any, of the assembled English press penned that line. Either they didn’t see the significance, or did they just see being best in Glasgow as small-mindedness?

Something that was noticeable on Friday night’s offering was just how passionate Walter Smith was as the relatively-new Rangers boss, struggling at times to contain himself, particularly when his side scored a crucial goal.

Compare that to Sunday’s goal by Niki Jelavic against Hamilton Accies, when the soon-to-be-retired Smith failed to connect with an attempted high-five with assistant coach Kenny McDowall.

The co-ordination and teamwork just wasn’t there. Maybe Wattie is standing down before the celebrations become as embarrassing as Sir Alex Ferguson’s daddy-dancing…

In cricketing terminology, OD stands for One Day, as in the limited-over form of the game. However, you can’t help thinking it might also stand for overdose, something even the most avid follower of the game must be experiencing by now.

Those who think that the Chennai Super Kings or Rajasthan Royals are £6.80 for a pack of 20, or that Deccan Chargers only work for alkaline batteries, or that Kolkata Knight Riders are condoms, won’t know what the IPL is.

But a week after a world cup that took a month and more to complete, we are straight into the Indian Premier League, the live and hitting version of fantasy Twenty20, where the best players in the world become little more than hired assassins.

ITV4 – fast becoming the nation’s leading digital (or is it terrestrial?) sports channel – are showing the action live, which is colourful and fast and should be watchable and entertaining.

But much as I love the game, even I’m feeling a bit jaded by it all. Overkill is taking away from the spectacle. It’s almost like the sequel to a movie which you saw just a year ago, only with more colourful pyjamas.

Still, it beats re-runs of The Fall Guy – but not of The Sweeney.

If the IPL isn’t enough, Australia beat Bangladesh, taking the series after a nine-wicket win with Shane Watson clattering 185 (out of a total of 232) from just 96 balls, including 15 fours and a world-record 15 sixes. Amazing, but so what? …

Snooker has tried to get its act together on many fronts of late, one being how authorities handle illness.

Ding Junhui was fined £2,000 by the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association after failing to report that he was suffering from illness before losing 4–0 to countryman Liang Wenbo in their Euro Players Tour Championship match in Germany.

Officials reported Ding, who was fined for turning up “in circumstances where he may otherwise have properly withdrawn,” and where he was unable to “compete properly, which not only impacts on his reputation but also that of the sport.” Heavy stuff, and changed days indeed.

Remember, this was the sport which over the years had people like Alex Higgins, Quinten Hann and Mark Williams hopping and hobbling around the table because of various leg injuries.

We had at least one player made out to be a drug cheat because he loaded himself up with Night Nurse Cold & Flu, all because withdrawing from an event just wasn’t an option.

On another occasion, the aforementioned Williams was forced to play in somewhat difficult circumstances that only became evident when he stretched for a long pot. Without warning the public or the referee, he dropped his cue and bolted from the arena.

“I bent over and had two options – go for the shot or go for a shit,” was the bold Welshman’s graphic explanation into the nature of his illness. And before you ask, no, he wasn’t on the brown…

Just days away from the Betfred.com “Embassy” World Championship (as someone referred to it recently), and Ronnie O’Sullivan’s participation in the event is called in to question.

I am not one to make light of people’s problems, particularly around issues like depression which have beset Graeme Dott and Mark Allen of late, and O’Sullivan for some time.

Cruelly referred to as “The Two Ronnies” (because no one is ever sure which one is going to turn up), the three-times world champion – arguably the most gifted player the game has ever seen – would receive more sympathy and understanding if he didn’t threaten to retire every time he’s interviewed.

O’Sullivan has sought help from leading sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, the “mind guru” (as the Daily Mail called him) who helped the Great Britain cycling team win eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008.

Fitting perhaps, because you get the feeling one of them will be on their bike soon…

Don’t say we weren’t warned, but FIFA’s latest world ranking list shows Scotland tumbling 16 places down from 50th to 66th.

Playing (and losing) to Brazil doesn’t seem such a good idea now that we’ve lost our place amongst the third tier of European seeds.

Since they were first published in 1993, I have followed these rankings with amusement more than anything, laughing as we are overtaken by some nations which were not even nations when the list first appeared.

It also helps to ease the pain if you read this chart, pop-pickers, in the manner of Alan “Fluff” Freeman (this might help, “Not arf!”) or Tony Blackburn.

Among this month’s big movers – and reaching their highest-ever standing – are Montenegro, zooming in at 24 (although their most famous son Hugo was “Top of the Pops” once). Albania – yes the country which had Norman Wisdom as its cultural hero – are at 50, and Rock-ing The Casbah at 58 is Libya.


A war-torn country ripped apart by civil rebellion and the kind of international assistance you can do without is now higher than this nation which could rightly lay claim to having given organised football to the world. Pathetic.

Of course, it is all too easy to draw comparisons between those who preside over the SFA and Libya.

One has a president who rules with a fist of iron, who has seen off those who would challenge from within, will crush insubordination by unleashing the power of his office against them, who has scant regard for state or international law, and who obviously cares little about his or his nation’s standing in the world.

And the other is led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi…

And it emerges that the SFA bosses are considering legal action against Paul McBride QC after his allegations that they were “biased” towards Rangers and against his client, Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said: “We are now considering, with the benefit of legal advice, whether to sue just Paul McBride for damages or whether to also sue other parties.

“In making his unjustified and inflammatory remarks, Paul McBride appears to be acting as a self-publicist and not as a QC. His wild and inaccurate statements are defamatory and appear to be malicious.”

Where oh where is this all this bickering and paranoia going to end?

Hopefully in the High Court, with the SFA represented by Donald Findlay QC…

And Bolton Wanderers are but days away from an FA Cup semi-final with Stoke City. How well have Owen Coyle and sidekick Sandy Stewart done at the Reebok?

Another great advertisement for Scottish managers making their mark in England – or should that be Scots-born managers, given that Owen Coyle is Irish, by dint of his parentage and his one cap against Holland? Enough genealogy, though.

I first got to know Owen when he was at Clydebank before his £175,000 move to Airdrie. Yes, Airdrie had that kind of money in 1990, and got a debut hat-trick as part of the repayment.

He was still living with his parents then, and on one occasion I had cause to call the family home looking for him.

“Is Owen there?” I asked, to which Mrs Coyle replied: “What one do you want? Auld Oweny, young Oweny or onie Oweny…?”

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What Italy won against France <em>Picture: James F Carter</em>

What Italy won against France Picture: James F Carter

By Stewart Weir

If at any time on your travels you come across a pile of tattoos, there is a fair chance that underneath them all you will find a sportsman hiding.

Pain and the buzz of a Micky Bee machine is a mental and physical combination I can do without. Couple that to mediocre sporting ability (a specialist first-leg runner in the 4×100 relay and an unlucky spin bowler who never found a turning wicket) and you will therefore find no angels, Maori battle garb, flying eagles or pouncing big cats, crucifixes, weans’ names in Chinese, Japanese or Cockneyese or pledges of love or allegiance here.

And I really take my hat off to those Olympians who have their rings done.

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But in the world of sport these days, you just haven’t made it unless you’ve adorned your flesh with the odd pint of ink or three. Basketball star Dennis Rodman was the first I can remember taking body art to new extremes, way before David Beckham became a walking Tate Modern.

These guys can literally carry it off, given the combination of their sporting prowess and their levels of fame, or infamy. They do what they say on the skin.

Needless to say – or should that be needles to say? – I have a slightly different take on those guys playing in the Scottish Third Division and their need to decorate various parts of their anatomy.

Just wait until you’re 60 and your grandson asks: “Papa, what’s your Tasmanian Devil got to do with Alloa’s Clackmannanshire Cup win in 2008?”

All of which and a bit more leads me nicely to the appearance of Scottish boxing world champion Ricky Burns at Braehead Arena and the latest defence of his WBO super-featherweight title.

Burns defeated Ghanaian challenger Joseph Laryea, who retired at the end of the seventh round, supposedly with a broken knuckle – although the only way I could see that happening was if Burns had punched his hand as well.

Burns looks a champion, in terms of both performance and tattoos – although I bet he doesn’t have the bottle to get his own knuckles tattooed in the fashion of one boxer I knew. Jealous of his brother’s “Love” and “Hate” combination, went out and got “Fish” and “Chip”. Maybe it was Ubiquitous…

If Saturday was profitable for Burns, in terms of Sky Sports covering his big night, then so too must it have been for Scots indie rockers The View.

Their latest offering, Grace, has been used on Sky’s Soccer AM and as the wrap-up music on their World Cup cricket coverage and the boxing.

Amazing! I just hope the royalties are as well. But judge for yourself.

Another day of cup football north and south of the border. Over the weekend, there were glorious goals, as in David Goodwillie’s strike against Motherwell, further proving my point of a few weeks ago that it isn’t just Wayne Rooney who could do it.

There were also glorious games, as in the contests between Brechin City and St Johnstone and the battle of the Scots bosses when Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers got the better of Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City.

Arguably the best action of the weekend, however, took place 12,000 miles away when the A-League Grand Final was contested between Brisbane Roar and Central Coast Mariners. This saw the Mariners lead 2–0 with just three minutes of extra-time left, before the Roar equalised then won on penalties to clinch the league and cup double.

It was an amazing final. Actually, it wasn’t. It was an incredible period of extra-time and a nail-biting penalty shootout. Before then, the only thing memorable was the torrential rainstorm which emptied the 50,000 capacity Suncorp Stadium.

I remember Twickers trips of old when the Sunday journey home at least allowed half a chance to square yourself up before work on the Monday. But these Sunday matches are so inconsiderate.

At least there was a morsel of comfort for those homeward bound that Scotland had put up a brave fight against the Auld Enemy, and it was only in the closing minutes that England used their superior numbers (in terms of having ten times the population to choose from) to good effect.

That said, backs coach Gregor Townsend said in advance that Scotland – despite not having won in London since 1983 – had “the players and the tactics” to win at Twickenham. Do I hear cries for drug testing within the coaching set-up?

Instead, Scotland will now face Italy in a bid to avoid the wooden spoon. Typical that the Italians will arrive off the back of their greatest-ever Six Nations victory, having beaten France 22–21.

I watched that match avidly, not because of what the outcome might be, but because – like England–Scotland and the Calcutta Cup – the Euro duo have their own reward up for grabs, namely the Garibaldi Trophy.

I was transfixed right to the end, desperate to see if said trophy was just a big biscuit. How good would that have been?

And even better if it had been presented to the winning skipper by the school janitor, giving him a choice of that or a Digestive…

Less than 24 hours after it started, the digital clock in Trafalgar Square – counting down the 500 days to the start of the 2012 Olympics – stopped.

“We are obviously very disappointed that the clock has suffered this technical issue,” said a spokesman for the Swiss-based Swatch Group.

“The Omega London 2012 countdown clock was developed by our experts and fully tested ahead of the launch.”

I sincerely hope the official timing equipment for the Games works perfectly. Slightly embarrassing to declare Usain Bolt’s 100m winning time as “11 hours, 53 minutes and 27.28 seconds, we think…”.

Sean Lourdes is Jonathan Watson’s die-hard Celtic-supporting character from Only An Excuse. Or should I say Sean Simpson Craig Gemmell Murdoch McNeill Clark Johnstone Wallace Chalmers Auld Lennox Substitute Fallon Lourdes, to give him his full name. Silly and funny – but it would never happen.

Unless, that is, your mother and father happen to be raving Burnley fans.

Welcomed into the world on 28 January (but only just revealed) is Jensen Jay Alexander Bikey Carlisle Duff Elliott Fox Iwelumo Marney Mears Patterson Thompson Wallace. And if you couldn’t make that up, then neither will you believe that the family name is Preston.

You do have to wonder about what goes on in the head of some parents, leaving their poor child open to the ridicule he will face in later life when his friends find out whose name he has. Chris Iwelumo! And here’s why.

With the noise, the music and most of all the beer, Premier League darts is more like a party with some sport taking place in the background. Having witnessed it first-hand, it really is a great night.

Unfortunately, like some parties, a few of those you invite can waste it for everyone. So it was at the SECC.

No doubt someone, somewhere, when they did the scheduling, thought local lad Gary Anderson against Adrian Lewis – the man who beat him in the world final – would be a good idea. And it should have been.

Instead, it acted as the catalyst for an ugly night with racist jeering and bad – if not criminal – behaviour, with beer and coins hurled at players and the stage.

It wasn’t any better outside. The public tunnel that leads from the nearby train station to the venue was awash with drink and piss, smashed bottles galore and discarded food and rubbish. And no, I’ve never seen it like that before or after any football matches at nearby Ibrox.

It was a mess. It was an embarrassment. It was an advert for sport Scotland can do without.

Rangers manager Walter Smith reckons his side should have had a penalty as they exited to PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Cup. Of course, with five on-field officials in the vicinity and a sixth on childminding duties, you would think that someone, somewhere would have noticed.

I can just about buy why you would need a fourth official. But as far as I can see it, given that I have never seen any of them make a decision of any note in any game, those assistants beside the goals at either end do nothing other than enjoy a jolly to foreign lands for a few days.

Of course, frustration got the better of many at Ibrox as Scotland’s last remaining European representative meekly exited. That included one punter, driven to despair and angry at American Maurice Edu’s contribution, who cried: “Edu, Edu, this is shite. You’re shit. This is f*cking fitba, not f*cking soccer.”

The classic example of two nations separated by a common language…

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