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Eric Bristow

<em>Picture: Justin Kraemer</em>

Picture: Justin Kraemer

By Stewart Weir

Winter happens. And some years it happens more than others. Unless you’re reading this from your holiday home in Barbados, or you’ve emigrated to the Antipodes, you might have noticed we’re in the middle of a cold snap which has played chaos with the sporting calendar. Football is particularly badly hit again, the mounting pile-up of snow causing a similar pile-up of fixtures. Still, it has stoked the debate again about winter shut-downs and the likes.

At one time I was all for it, particularly when spending many an arduous hour, sipping freshly squeezed orange juice while watching Rangers train in Florida. A decade ago, Rangers jetted 3,000 miles just as Scotland began to endure a pleasantly mild January.

Since the referees strike in the last weekend of November, only a handful of SPL matches have been played. Pretty much all of December has been wiped out. And there is still no sign of a thaw.

A year ago, snow set in the week before Christmas and the chaos lasted through much of January. Indeed, the “live” clash between St Johnstone and Rangers at the end of February was another victim of the cold. So, without trying, that’s three months where a case could be made for having a break.

In principal, a winter shut-down seems the right and proper thing to do. Unfortunately – and this always has been the biggest barrier – no-one has a clue the best time to have it.

Given the environment in which it belongs, the BBC Sports Personality of The Year awards could easily have been tested for steroids given the size that it has grown to. Several years ago, it was a cosy wee show where the nation (although I always had the sneaking suspicion that it was just England who took an interest) would wait to see what hard-luck story had captured the imagination, and was therefore worthy of a trophy.

These days however, SPoTY has turned into an extravaganza, with Sunday’s gathering at the LG Arena in Birmingham played out in front of 12,000 guests.

Tony McCoy won, his Grand National success obviously tugging at sufficient heart-strings for people to register a vote, although what can’t be ignored was the support whipped up (still legal under Jockey Club rules) from within the racing fraternity. In a ten-horse race McCoy gathered 42% of the vote, an amazing statistic and one which might have the Electoral Reform Society using it as a case study.

If SPoTY has changed in size it has also radically amended just where it pulls its “personalities” from. Winner McCoy’s biggest success this year was in the Grand National, covered by the BBC, while third-placed Jessica Ennis has performed mostly in front of licence payers, which also applies to diver Tom Daley (6th).

But Strictly BBC viewers just wouldn’t be familiar with the best of the rest.
But of the rest, runner-up Phil Taylor is only ever seen on ITV or Sky, the latter also being home the majority of the time for Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowall, David Haye and Graeme Swann, while Eurosport would have a stake in Mark Cavendish and slider Amy Williams (although she did take Olympic gold on the BBC.)

Victory for McCoy (who should slip his election agent either a fiver or a few tips for a job well done) will placate followers of the gee-gees who have always claimed those involved with that industry have never got the recognition they’ve deserved, a view I’ve always subscribed to – ever since the year my vote for Red Rum didn’t count!

Sam Allardyce’s sacking but a week ago from Blackburn hasn’t so much left a void as a complete mess. While Big Sam was shown the door along with assistant Neil McDonald, coach Steve Kean was kept on, something that obviously rankles with Allardyce. Scotsman Kean is obviously well thought of in football, and the new Indian owners at Ewood Park have shown faith in him by installing him as caretaker manager, which appears to have tipped Allardyce over the edge. “If there was anybody capable of looking after the reins when I left, with all due respect to Steve, it would be Neil,” admitted Allardyce, who is still wondering, and angry, as to who has been two-faced in this saga. But better, Sam, to rise above it, keep your dignity, and say nothing – and watch on as the buggers find out the hard way who really knew what they were doing …

I like my darts. I like my cricket. So I was always going to love Sky’s coverage of the PDC World Championship from the Alexandra Palace when Andrew “Freddie’” Flintoff joined Sid Waddell in the commentary box. Classic TV, with Freddie giving it all the chat and delivering some classic “oooone-hundred-and-eighteeeee” calls. The fans loved it and so too did the producers on Sky Sports News, who ran the feature right through Wednesday. Whatever anyone thinks of master showman and impresario Barry Hearn, he and Sky really have turned darts into the most watchable sport on the box.

At a press conference, SFA chief executive Stewart Regan and its president, George Peat, give their first public reaction to the McLeish Review, the former First Minister’s report into the workings of Scottish football. Peat arrives with a toy dinosaur in hand. “A member of staff gave it to me a few years ago,” smiled Peat. “It adorns my office every day, just to remind me.” Of what George?

That the SFA is a prehistoric organisation? Or that you may be plastic? Or that someday you’ll have to ask who plays at Jurassic Park?

When your physics master at school weds your music teacher you have to wonder what will come out of that relationship. Possibly someone who can get a tune out of a Periodic Table. But in my case, it was Scotland prop Euan Murray. So having always taken a biological interest in his career it was good to see him signing a two-and-a-half-year contract with Newcastle Falcons. The 30-year-old had been without a club since being released by Northampton, partly because he refused to play on Sunday due to religious beliefs. That problem shouldn’t arise too often with Newcastle as they mostly play on a Friday evening.

Friday and Christmas Eve. No, not a couple Tommy Sheridan met at Cupid’s. But one may wonder why his lies and fall merits a mention in this article. It is entirely because of his victory speech outside the Court of Session after winning his defamation case against the News of The World.

Back then, Comrade Tommy proclaimed: “Gretna have made it into Europe for the first time in their lives, but what we have done in the last five weeks is the equivalent of Gretna taking on Real Madrid in the Bernabeu and beating them on penalties, that’s what we’ve done.”

It was a very good analogy at the time, but one that was ultimately flawed.
This tie was obviously always going to be played over two legs, home and away, Edinburgh then Glasgow, so less chance of a real upset.

At Gretna, as with Sheridan, honesty was just a veneer. And Gretna paid the price for living their dream when lying to others, and for believing they were bigger than they were and could take on the establishment. And Gretna were sent down and went out of business. But I’ll stop the analogies there.

What I will tell you is that both he and I were columnists together at the Scottish Mirror a few years back. On one particular day he asked to borrow one of my books, How To Get Three In A Bed.
A few weeks later he returned it. “Not what I was expecting,” he said, to which I replied; “I was surprised you wanted to read a book written by Eric Bristow in the first place …”

Tommy left court last night but realised he’d forgotten something. He walked back in to find the cleaning lady bending over while dusting the judge’s chair. “I’m here for my holdall,” to which the wummin replies “d’ye no think yer in enough trouble already Tommy!”‘

Ho, ho, ho and a Merry Christmas …

Ronnie Moran, Kenny Dalglish and Roy Evans. <em>Picture: Wekkuzipp</em>

Ronnie Moran, Kenny Dalglish and Roy Evans. Picture: Wekkuzipp

By Stewart Weir

Paul Whitehouse’s Fast Show character Archie was an old geezer who had matched anything anyone else had done as a profession. Whether it was ballet, bricklaying or bomb disposal he described it as the “hardest game in the world”.

In sporting terms nothing is as hard as boxing. Anyone who has covered the noble art has nothing but admiration for the devotion, dedication and the guts, blood, sweat and tears that goes into making a champion. Unfortunately in most cases, those same commodities are also in abundance in most losers. It’s difficult to follow fighters on their journey (to use an Audley-ism) without feeling some of their pain and anguish when it goes wrong. Like when Gary Jacobs was victim of a home-town verdict in Paris against Ludovic Proto. Or when Donnie Hood was knocked cold by Johnny Bredahl in Copenhagen. Or seeing Drew Docherty dismantled by Vincenco Belcastro.

So while Ricky Burns was maintaining his status as king of the world at Braehead Arena, on the undercard Paul Appleby was probably losing the chance to face Burns in an all-Tartan world title contest next year. Appleby lost on a split decision to Ghana’s Joseph Laryea in their vacant WBO intercontinental super-featherweight title fight. He didn’t just lose; he went home with a “sair coupon” (or sore face from my Firrhill reader). But battered, bruised and cut-up both internally and externally as he was, Appleby still gave an emotional ringside interview minutes afterwards. How my erstwhile colleagues wish many SPL mediocrities were equally forthcoming when the only thing damaged is their egos.

The Sunday Mail Sports Awards (which I mentioned last week and thanks again to Euan McLean for the invite) gets its airing on STV. A slick production and one which is rounded off by the Dalglish family’s challenge to The Osbournes. Wise cracks galore from Kelly, Paul and Kenny, and a funny tribute too from top comic John Bishop. Dalglish, or rather the “King of the Kop” Dalglish, picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award. Brilliant whether with Celtic, Liverpool or Scotland, that his abilities still have the ability to make watchers shake their heads in awe and wonderment some 25, or 30, or 35 years after the event, only emphasises how good we once had it as a country.

The compilation footage of his goals was superb, each cheered and applauded as if they were live, especially his record-breaking strikes for Liverpool, against Ipswich, making him the first player to score a century of goals on both sides of the border for a single club, and his effort to beat Spanish ‘keeper Arconada at Hampden during the qualifier for the ’86 World Cup in Mexico, equalling Denis Law’s tally of 30 goals for Scotland. How good we once had it, particularly when pitched against where we currently are, namely, that the last player in Scotland, who had record-breaking goal-scoring prowess bestowed upon him, is now just a sub at Middlesboro and doesn’t even get quoted internationally …

And to Telford where Stuart Bingham is responsible for the first major upset at snooker’s UK Championship when he reels off five frames on the spin to defeat four-times former winner and arguably the biggest attraction in the game, Ronnie O’Sullivan. At least Ronnie was gracious in defeat with no mentions of his disillusionment with snooker or imminent retirement. Bingham was chuffed, but obviously he still had something of a gripe with “The Rocket.” Said Bingham: “We used to practise together. He would text me and ask if I wanted a game. But he hasn’t texted me for nearly a year.” Probably no Valentine’s Day card then, and Christmas might slip past without so much as a note let alone a gift. Looks like it will be just a table for one again then Stuart …

England, thanks to a superb batting display by the South African-born Kevin Pietersen (he now bats at No 4 behind the South African-born Jonathan Trott who regularly comes in at three to replace their South African-born captain Andrew Strauss) rout the Aussies in Adelaide to go one-up in the Ashes series with three to play. Last time it was 5-0 to the hosts Down Under. But that, as the Australians are now finding out, was when they had a team full of champions; Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist, Lee, McGrath and Warne. All now retired, and all now greatly missed. So missed in fact, that a campaign has started to get Warne in as captain.

Are the Aussies that desperate?

There is something terribly English about The Ashes, the most hyped two-horse race in sport, just pipping the Boat Race in terms of knowing which two teams will always make the final. That I’ve spent many a sleepless night watching events unfold on the other side of the world is merely coincidental.

Back in snookerland, seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry – who just pipped Jimmy White 9-8 in the previous round – goes down 9-6 to Mark Williams in the last 16 of the UK Championship, a match which will last long in the memory only because it was so rank. Afterwards, Hendry reveals he has been battling “the yips” for the last ten years. Does that include David, the former Chinese Detective?

Actually the yips, for those who are wondering, is more commonly associated with golfers, manifesting itself as involuntary movements when playing a shot, or being forced to jerk either cue or club when you freeze on a shot. Darts legend Eric Bristow was another sufferer, although just for him they invented “dartitis”. “On some shots I don’t even get the cue through,” said Hendry. “I think I need to phone Bernhard Langer to see how he got over the ‘yips’ because that’s what I have.”

Hendry’s plight is a sad one. Currently he is a shadow of his former self, judged by some for his performances now and not on his unsurpassed former glories. The thought of Hendry missing out on the Crucible this year is almost unthinkable. But then, at one time, so would be Stephen admitting to such human frailties.

Britain’s Dereck Chisora is right up there when it comes to Who’s Who in boxing circles. Did you see Chisora’s name there and ask yourself “who?” – I rest my case. While David Haye is a heavyweight world champion, Chisora’s bid to match his countryman was stymied after Wladimir Klitschko pulled out of Saturday’s world heavyweight title bout. IBF and WBO champion Klitschko withdrew from the contest in Mannheim, Germany, claiming he had suffered a stomach injury. But little-known Chisora is a threat, not just to Klitschko A and B, but to the whole heavyweight business. The world – and in particular pay-to-view TV – wants to see Haye against Wlad the Lad or his brother Vitali. Chisora, deserving of his opportunity having put pen to paper, could get in the way of those main events. So don’t be surprised that once Wladimir is fit again, it’s David Haye on the bill, and not Dereck Who?

There is said to be a madness brought on by long-term exposure to the whiteout conditions experienced in the Arctic and Antarctic. I had similar symptoms this week, but that was entirely down to a burst central heating pipe. However, you have to wonder if one or two around Motherwell have been afflicted by the same madness.

Take Mr Brown of Fir Park Street. On Monday the snow set in. On Tuesday, he found himself confused and disorientated by an offer to move elsewhere with his trusted friend Archie, who would have been headed back to a former home. On Wednesday Craig (to his friends) was pledging his love, devotion and future to the wee boys to the Wee Alpha and the delights of Steeltown. But by Thursday after making certain demands regarding bringing in new little helpers, he had resigned to be installed immediately as favourite to move north to the Granite City.

While Brown worked without a contract at Motherwell, he might want to work with a safety net, hard hat and bullet-proof vest at Pittodrie. With a wealth of managerial experience, he knows what he is doing. Managing Aberdeen, as Ian Porterfield, Jocky Scott, Alex Smith, Willie miller, Roy Aitken, Alex Miller, Ebbe Skovdahl, Steve Paterson, Jimmy Calderwood and Mark McGhee would confirm, is neither simple or easy.

It never is when you re-locate to a time warp.

Each has tried and failed to live up to the achievements Alex Ferguson. But as he’s slightly tied up and has been for the last quarter of a century, Aberdeen have drawn up a wish list and managed to tick of several boxes in advocating wee Broon as the man. For instance, he must have played with Rangers, and must have been mentioned at least once for the Ibrox managerial role; must be able to apply for a bus pass, must have formerly managed the Scotland international team at a World Cup, must have called on the services from time to time of James Leighton and Andrew Goram, must be able to identify a decent filly and must have a working relationship with Archie Knox. So Craig Brown is more of perfect candidate that it first appears. And if it all goes wrong, at least the pension will have been sufficiently topped up.