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FA Cup

Mark Selby won the Masters – on the ‘red button’

Most people woke to the tragic news that former Dundee, Rangers and Dundee United midfielder Ian Redford had been found dead, aged just 53.

Ian Redford - RIP

Ian Redford – RIP

Redford was the most expensive transfer between two Scottish clubs when he moved from Dens Park to Ibrox in February 1980 for £210,000 – ten grand more than the figure Rangers had rejected by Dundee the week before!

Arguably however, his best days came with Dundee United, part of Jim McLean’s team that reached the UEFA Cup final in 1987, Redford scoring the winner in the semi-final against Borussia Monchengladbach. And he wasn’t finished as a winner either, helping Raith Rovers to both the First Division title and most famously, beating Celtic in the League Cup final in 1994.

I go back to his Rangers days though, a time which for Redford yielded medals and some truly wonderful goals, outrageous in their delivery, sheer gallus in their execution. A time when he was often paired alongside Davie Cooper. Coop was genuinely amused with how disinterested Redford seemingly could be at times with football, and once admitted he thought that if Ian ever won the pools, he’d buy Ibrox and turn it into a nature reserve and deer park.

Like Cooper, Redford has left us far too early. Like Cooper, perhaps we didn’t realise how good some of the players of that generation were, Ian Redford definitely being one of them …

TV companies, cameramen and producers, do like to focus in on managers these days, often coming up with a study of gritted teeth and nasal hair. And on occasions, something they had hadn’t bargained for.

Alan Pardew (Picture from Wikipedia)

Alan Pardew
(Picture from Wikipedia)

Like Alan Pardew’s language during the Newcastle United – Manchester City game when the irate Magpies boss was seen to mouth several obscenities in the direction of his opposite number – Manuel Pellegrini – including use of the ‘C’ word. Oh yes! Pardew apologised later, but not quite as much as the various Sky commentators and presenters had to.

I’ve mentioned before, especially in boxing, that if you stick cameras and microphones under the noses of sportsmen, coaches and managers in the heat of battle, you are asking for trouble. Maybe it’s time that kind of edit was hidden behind the red button?

Talking of red buttons, it only took one afternoon of The Masters before snooker fans were being instructed to reach for the remote in order that they could watch the deciding frame of the match between defending champion Mark Selby and Mark Davis. Ski Sunday, a recorded highlights package, was apparently more important than live coverage of the sudden-death 11th frame, which Selby won. I know most TV’s and devices are fitted with the red button facility. But why not stick the skiing on there and leave the snooker uninterrupted?

Or are there few snooker fans amongst BBC execs?

Cristiano Ronaldo wins the Ballon d’Or, beating Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery. It was the outcome most predicted given the year the Real Madrid star has had.

I have to admit I was more interested to see who the various managers and captains voted for. England boss Roy Hodgson and his captain Steven Gerrard both went for Ronaldo, while Scotland coach Gordon Strachan and international skipper Scott Brown voted for Messi.

I suppose it’s all about personal taste – or being able to identify winners ahead of also-rans …


Andy Murray

Andy Murray

Andy Murray is relatively untroubled in beating Japan’s Go Saeda to get his Australian Open campaign off to a winning start. I say relatively untroubled if you ignore the searing temperatures which has ball boys fainting, some of the women players burning their bottoms on the uncovered seats, and Murray himself claiming that if players were asked to continue in such heat, the consequences could be tragic.

It was nice then, given the extreme conditions, to see Murray being watched by one gentleman in a ‘See You Jimmy’ bunnet and wig. Nothing like being properly attired for the setting …

David Goodwillie

David Goodwillie

After Dundee United had shipped loan striker David Goodwillie back to Blackburn, Rovers boss Gary Bowyer stated he wasn’t sure what the next move could be for the Scotland striker, but that he could even be in his squad for the FA Cup tie against Manchester City, managed by the ‘old c***’ Manuel Pellegrini. In the end he wasn’t, and City won 5-0. I couldn’t help thinking though that had Goodwillie played, it would still have been 5-0 …

Once again I am honoured to be invited on to Scotland Tonight presented by Rona Dougall as a guest, this time to talk about the Rangers players refusing to accept a 15% wage cut.

Once again, that dreadful ‘C’ word appears. But rest easy, not over the airwaves thankfully, but on my Twitter timeline, as in ‘you’re never aff the telly ya **** talking about Rangers.” Of course, such a perceptive comment didn’t come from a fan of the Ibrox club. Neither did it come from anyone very perceptive either given that I have appeared on the show talking about drugs in sport, snooker, the Commonwealth Games, the SPFL, the Tartan Army, ‘Ballboygate,’ Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Celtic, twice.

This would also slightly dent the observation that the programme is ‘always talking about Rangers,’ – although that was made by a follower of that club, for a change …

Dunkin’-Donuts-Logo CroppedFriday
Liverpool announce a global sponsorship partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts, which immediately sparks protests from some quarters that this send out the wrong message to children and ultimately could cause lasting health issues.

Well, I have news for those individuals concerned about what those round delicacies might do to you. A couple of dozen Dunkin’ Donuts a week, even a day, wouldn’t be as detrimental to your wellbeing as a round or two with Duncan Ferguson. And no-one complained about him being in the city. Liverpool I mean, not Glasgow …

Ross Country’s Victoria Park in Dingwall

Days after the riots in Amsterdam, Dingwall was a far quieter place as Ross County played host to Celtic, almost entirely due to (having viewed the video footage) not a single undercover tram being on duty!

BT Sport Logo 3Big story of the day was BT Sport capturing the broadcast rights for the Champions League. According Dan Roan, reporting for the BBC, this deal was worth £900m, giving BT Sport the rights to Champions League and Europa League from 2015 onwards, enabling them to show 350 live games a season.

Roan then added; “This afternoon BT’s viewers had to make do with Celtic’s match away to Ross County.”

‘Make do’ with the first British team to win the very competition you had spouted on about? It’s one thing being dismissive of your broadcast rivals. Just don’t come across as being condescending and ignorant with it …

Those who did observe the Ross County – Celtic SPFL game would have probably noticed what they didn’t observe – a minute’s silence.

No minute's silence An oversight?

No minute’s silence
An oversight?

Whether you do, or in their case don’t have a minute’s silence ahead of a football match is entirely down to the individual club. Some of course can’t, and won’t, simply because their fans are hugely untrustworthy at such moments of Remembrance. I mean, how difficult is it to stay quiet for a minute?

What you don’t do is come out the next day with a press statement that makes you look completely amateurish, as Ross County did with a communiqué that said; “The lack of a minute’s silence was not an operational or policy decision but an error of omission arising from a failure to address changes in staff responsibilities, and the matter is being dealt with internally.”

Really? Given that the game was live on TV and therefore governed by timings, and that the club officials would have had dialogue with the BT Sport producers about, er, timings, it is impossible to see how this oversight occurred. The other clue, and you wouldn’t have to be Taggart to pick up on this one, would be the number of people wearing poppies. Someone, somewhere might have picked up on that surely?

Next day, Gillingham were forced to make an almost identical apology for a similar ‘oversight’ and ‘miscommunication’ before their FA Cup tie with Bracknell. So much consternation and upset at both ends of the country. But was it such a calamity, such a disaster? I mean, no-one died, did they??

I watched BBC1 Northern Ireland’s documentary about the song ‘Danny Boy,’ that haunting, melodic Irish ballad, written by an Englishman.

The programme reflected on where and when the song was sung, and fittingly included former world boxing champion Barry McGuigan and how he used the song – sung ahead of his title contest with Eusabio Pedroza at Loftus Road by his father Pat – when uniting two communities as they supported him on his way to the top.

For me, a more poignant occasion was when Dr Sean Donnelly sang Danny Boy, Northern Ireland’s anthem at the Commonwealth Games, after Jim Webb took light-middleweight gold in Victoria in 1994.
Boxers, hard men? Not a dry eye in the house!!

And as we all expected, Terry Butcher is installed as the new manager of Hibs. I wish the big chap well in his new capacity as the Easter Road club’s next ex-manager …

UEFA LogoUEFA fined Ajax £21,000 for fans displaying an offensive banner at their Champions League home game against Celtic. The Amsterdam club were found guilty of ‘improper conduct’ and rightly punished.

For those of a nervous or delicate disposition, look away now. But the message on the banner said ‘Fenian Bastards.’ I can only think the word ‘bastards’ was what upset folk, and in particular UEFA. Because when the ‘F’ word has been displayed on banners around Scottish football grounds in recent times (accompanied by a footballer’s name and the word ‘Army’), the SFA have done nothing.

Probably they were just unsighted or looking elsewhere …

Retirement day today; one planned, one unexpected.

In Mumbai, Sachin Tendulkar took to the middle for possibly the last time in what is his 200th Test match. Arguably the greatest ever Test batsman, the 40-year-old ended the day against the West Indies poised, perhaps, for one last century, a fact not lost with the newspaper headline writers, one declaring; “On 38, with a billion prayers.” It would transpire a billion prayers weren’t quite enough.

Dario Franchitti (Pic from Wikipedia)

Dario Franchitti
(Pic from Wikipedia)

More than a few prayers would have been said a few weeks ago when Scots racing driver Dario Franchitti ploughed into a wall at Houston Grand Prix. From the resulting injuries, news on Thursday that the four-time IndyCar champion had been forced to retire on medical advice.

The 40-year-old’s name wouldn’t necessarily register with some of his countrymen, all of his best work – including three Indy 500 victories – done Stateside. As a result, he maybe didn’t quite get the exposure or coverage he deserved, hence the irony of him making the headline with his near-fatal smash when his greatest achievements we tucked away on wing columns. Not everyone ignored him. The Sunday Mail did make him their Sportsman of the Year a couple of years ago. But then the do have individuals there who do recognise greatness in sport, not just a ball.

No doubt Franchitti will be upset at time being called on his career. But, I am not one who will call this announcement ‘sad news.’ Sadly, I know only too well much sadder ways to of bidding farewell to motorsport …

It will probably take 180 minutes, maybe even extra time and penalties. But tonight sees the first instalment of Portugal versus Sweden for a place in the World Cup finals next summer. In essence, this comes down to a shoot out between Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two of football’s greatest egos.

Amazing though to think that one of this pairing won’t be gracing the biggest stage in the game. But it’s happened before. Just think of George Best, Eric Cantona, Liam Brady, David Ginola, a planeload of Welshmen, David Hopkin …

Steve Davis <em>Picture: jeppe2</em>

Steve Davis Picture: jeppe2

By Stewart Weir

It’s cup day, north and south of the border, and oh the romance of it.

But as I tweeted, on the evidence of the Birmingham City–Wolves game in the FA Cup, with empty stands, little thrills and second-string teams, if I served that up as romance I’d be dragged off to relationship counselling.

Still, by the end of the weekend, the FA at least were confident of setting a 30-year high on attendances, although that might have had something to do with how many well-supported clubs had home ties.

For a few years now BBC Radio Scotland have, on Scottish Cup day, gone with what they bill as “Open All Mics”. For the unfamiliar, Radio Scotland is to the left of Radio 5 Live on the dial.

Basically, everyone talks over one another, or rather calls out when they’ve got something of importance to tell the nation – or, in the case of one or two, shouts very loudly to say that the goal they were proclaiming was offside.

If it were left to me, I’d add some background effects, like the clinking of glasses, maybe some drinks orders being overheard in the background, or a slot machine paying out.

What seems to be a recipe for a rabble actually works brilliantly well, with Richard Gordon a great host (or should that be licensee?) and the whole programme generating some genuine cup excitement.

Like cricket, where you watch TV but listen to Test Match Special, cup football – between the hours of 2:45pm and quarter past five, is equally well catered for with Sky’s Soccer Saturday accompanied by BBC Radio Scotland …

Other than the most diehard Rangers fan (I assume all Arbroath fans were there), or someone from the SFA’s hierarchy (cough, cough, huh hum…), the vast majority of football fans would be tuning in to see the Manchester derby between City and United in the FA Cup.

The prospects of viewing this encounter were assisted greatly by the fact it was on terrestrial, commercial, council telly, with ITV showing the match to all of the country – except Scotland.

We had a programme about red kites from Wales being imported into Ireland, a documentary appearance from Walter Smith, and a James Bond movie while the rest of the UK watched an epic clash at the Etihad Stadium.

Has independence already happened without me noticing?

For those who didn’t know the outcome, look away now, but United triumphed 3–2 against ten-man City – although the headlines started before a ball was kicked with the comeback of Paul Scholes.

Having retired in the summer, he couldn’t see his old mates toil with a lack of form and mounting injuries, so offered his services to Sir Alex, who gratefully accepted.

So Scholes started on the bench, but was introduced in the second half. His short cameo was still being talked about the next day, thanks mainly to some amazing stats around his appearance.

Scholes made 71 passes, with a 97.2 per cent completion rate. Impressive. Well not, actually.

This is a classic example of lies, damn lies and statistics. Anyone can roll a ball a few feet when unchallenged, to an unmarked team-mate, which many (if not the majority) of Scholes’ passes were.

What the starts didn’t say that of his 2.8 per cent uncompleted passes, one gave possession away from which City scored their second.

Stats in sport are either tremendously useful, or entirely useless.

It’s like Chris Paterson being, statistically, the best place-kicker in the world – but not winning anything. Or Ian Botham beating Andy Roberts’ record at the fastest to 100 Test match wickets, not taking into account that Roberts bowled mostly against top-order batsmen while Botham picked up eight, nine, ten, jack.

Or Neil Lennon having the better of Walter Smith over a season in Old Firm encounters, but the latter retiring with two trophies while Lennon made do with the Scottish Cup.

As I say, statistics in sport are either tremendously useful, or entirely useless – or, at least, 68.71 per cent of them are …

There is an old saying, especially in football, about never going back, that it will never be as good second-time around.

Some people have disproved that theory – but they are, on the whole, in the minority.

It’s early days yet, but if first impressions are anything, then Thierry Henry is one who doesn’t go with the accepted flow.

On as substitute against Leeds United, it took the Arsenal legend just 10 minutes to show the reasons why there is a statue of him outside the stadium.

Henry coolly slotted the only goal of the game, as he had done 226 times before as a Gunner, collecting through the inside-left channel, working the ball on to his right foot, opening up his body to enable him to curl the ball past the ‘keeper.

The reaction of Henry himself and his celebration with his “new” team-mates and Arsène Wenger made it a special goal – and an even more special moment.

And, with that one hit, it sunk home to my son in an instant why I am so proud of the signed Henry shirt that adorns my study wall …

And Luke Patience is centre-stage as the first Scot to qualify for the Olympic Games. I can only assume Andy Murray must have a bye rather than having to qualify.

Patience, apart from being a virtue, is a 25-year-old yachtsman, who will compete in the 470 Dinghy class with English partner Stuart Bithell and who hails from Rhu in Argyll.

The significance of Patience’s selection was lost on a great many. Maybe it wasn’t in the press handout? Or they never listened to BBC’s Brain of Sport in the 80s.

But 104 years ago – in 1908 – the Olympic Games came to Scotland, in the shape of the 12-metre yacht racing, staged on the Firth of Clyde, the only Olympic event ever held here.

The gold medal was won, over two races, by a crew entirely made up of Scots. A good angle into the Patience stuff, as it was for Doug Gillon in the Herald.

I won’t try and better the headline on David Hendon’s Snooker Scene blog, that “It Was 30 Years Ago Today”.

But in snooker terms, events at Oldham Civic Centre on 11 January 1982 were as significant as Roger Bannister’s sub-four minute mile run at Iffley Road, or Garfield Sobers smashing Malcolm Nash for six 6s in an over.

Steve Davis was already the world champion and would, over the decade, set all sorts of records. But that night in Oldham in the Lada Classic (don’t laugh), Davis made his mark in the history books by compiling the first officially ratified 147 maximum break on television.

There would be more famous – and one could easily say more glamorous – 147s over the next few years. Kirk Stevens’ maximum at the Masters in 1984, following in the chalk-marks of countryman Cliff Thorburn a year earlier with his magnificent 147 at the Crucible, the first ever in the World Championship.

But it was Davis who did it first in front of the cameras – albeit because, a few years earlier, the technicians and cameramen took a tea-break which coincided with a perfect frame from John Spencer, who ironically provided the opposition to Davis on his momentous evening.

There have been 85 official 147s made in tournaments, a great many of which I have either seen live, written about, or watched on TV.

Davis’s remains special, as to this day, it is the only one I’ve watched on a black-and-white portable. And even watching it again on YouTube, I still cry “No” when he leaves the cue ball directly above the pink.

But, just when it all looks like going wrong, Davis came up with a magical recovery to secure a magical sporting moment …

So no sooner than he is made a Scot, Steven Shingler and Scotland find out he is ineligible to play for any other country than Wales, according to the International Rugby Board.

The 20-year-old London Irish fly-half was named in the Scotland Six Nations squad by coach Andy Robinson, believing the uncapped back was available for selection through his Dumfries-born mother.

But Shingler’s appearance at full-back for Wales at under-20 level meant that he could only represent them at international level.

Scotland say they will appeal. However, surely the lesson here has to be is that if you are going to fish in the genes pool, make sure you don’t have to throw back what you think you’ve caught.

I suppose the Welsh believe they are right. But then, they thought that when they gave Kiwi-born Shane Howarth 19 caps thanks to Welsh grandfather – who it transpired was himself born in New Zealand. Oops …

Maybe it was coincidence that they ran the story on page 13 on Friday the 13th, but the Daily Record today highlighted the demise of Rangers’ dream £350m Ibrox Project.

Unveiled 2004, it was to feature a casino, a 140-room hotel, a few hundred apartments, shops, bars, restaurants and even a rooftop football pitch. But, of course, it never transpired. What happened?

The article answers the question, although the Record would have to have donated the other 79 pages of today’s paper to answer the many questions Rangers fans would like answering …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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<em>Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos</em>

Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

By Stewart Weir

Manchester, red or blue, had cause for celebration today. A point secured at Blackburn winning United the Premier League title, a goal at Wembley enough to give City their first FA Cup win since 1969. So all happy, then.

Well, not everyone. The last ten minutes at Ewood Park was a bit of a farce, as United settled for the point they needed and relegation-threatened Blackburn for the point they wanted. It was reminiscent of several years ago when Rangers won the title at Easter Road (or, more accurately, Celtic lost it at Fir Park) when Hibs didn’t want to concede another goal or they would have missed out on Europe and Rangers weren’t interested in adding to Nacho Novo’s strike.

City’s win over Stoke City gave them their first pot since the League Cup in 1976. Seems like yesterday!

Of course, if I’d spent £350 million assembling a team, and my goalscorer Yaya Touré was on £220,000 a week (mental arithmetic says that’s £10m a year, which is mental), I’d be expecting to not only win the FA Cup, but the Premier League, the Champions League, the Eurovision Song Contest, Horse of the Year Show, Crufts, a Grammy or two, an Oscar, the US presidential election and the National Lottery at least several times over.

Maybe that shows how easy pleased some people are…

It was billed as “Helicopter Sunday”, a day when the ever-changing drama unfolding in Kilmarnock and the Parkhead area of Glasgow deemed air travel as the quickest form of transport.

But the reality was that the SPL could have saved themselves a small fortune in aviation fuel and delivered the silverware to Rugby Park on foot.

Those who had wondered all these years what was actually said in Celtic’s pre-match huddle will be keen to know that, on Sunday, the final words were “Rangers are one-up!”

Not true of course, as the games kicked off simultaneously just to add to the occasion, with the outcome also known simultaneously less than seven minutes later. The title was going back to Ibrox for a 54th time, making it three-in-a-row, and a fitting send-off for Walter Smith.

Kyle Lafferty, much maligned at times, grabbed the match ball with a hat-trick, taking his tally to seven goals in the last six games and maintaining his record of scoring on the last day of the season, just as he did at Tannadice and Easter Road.

Playing away on the final, title-deciding day of the season in three consecutive years? That might be considered cause for a conspiracy in some places.

Lafferty’s goals were important. But arguably no more vital than those from Kenny Miller who hit 21, a phenomenal contribution when compared to the SPL’s other goal machines, especially given that he only lasted half a term before bailing out of Ibrox for Turkey.

Celtic did pick up a trophy on Sunday evening, when Emilio Izaguirre – who already had the Scottish PFA and Premier League awards on his mantelpiece – was similarly honoured by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association. Better than Allan McGregor over a season?

I don’t think so. Not even by a point…

Honestly, you wait for one bus to run over a trophy, then two come along in the space of a few weeks.

Copying the example set by Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, who managed to get the Copa del Rey lodged under a double-decker, Ajax goalkeeper Marteen Stekelenburg fumbles the Eredivisie plate with similar consequences. Admittedly, it does look like a very ornate wheel trim, but there was no need to do this to it.

Stekelenburg is a target to replace Edwin van der Sar at Old Trafford, which could force his transfer fee up by a few million. Not because he’s worth it, but with the number of trophies United win, insurance cover could be astronomical…

An historic day. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, visits Dublin – which, by chance, would also host the Europa League final the next day.

Not the usual thronging crowds around for a royal visit, and what did go on was kept in check by the Garda. Of course, if you look at the bigger picture, their job was made a lot easier, not by a lack of interest, or detailed intelligence, or assistance from their British counterparts, but by PSV Eindhoven.

Elsewhere, there appears to be some consternation emanating out of Rugby Park over the number of Rangers fans who filled the stadium for Sunday’s game.

I assume they were Rangers supporters, based on the attendance being 16,173 against a season’s average of just 6,427 (figures courtesy of the SPL’s own website).

Kilmarnock expressed regret at the number of away fans present in home sections at Rugby Park, putting their unhappiness down to safety, segregation and security issues.

It should be noted this had nothing to do with Kilmarnock being unable to charge Rangers supporters, who had bought empty “Kilmarnock” seats, an extra fiver. Of course it didn’t…

And talking of Old Firm fans, Celtic manager Neil Lennon urged supporters to stop offensive songs, saying: “In recent times, there has been a re-emergence, from a small minority, of some of the singing and chanting which is simply not acceptable.”

These songs have at times been inaudible to the human ear and can usually only be picked up by TV and radio effects microphones around the pitch.

BBC Scotland’s Bigotry, Bombs and Football documentary, scheduled for the following evening, highlighted the measures being taken by Strathclyde Police, and both Rangers and Celtic, to curb sectarian behaviour.

Reporter Reevel Alderson revealed that in three years, across their entire area, Strathclyde Police have arrested 800 people for sectarian behaviour. In the past seven seasons, Rangers have banned 548 supporters for a similar offence, and in the past five seasons, Celtic have banned six season-ticket holders for sectarian or offensive behaviour.

Does this mean that (a) Rangers should police Strathclyde, (b) Neil Lennon has drawn attention to a problem that doesn’t exist, or (c) Mark Twain (or was it Disraeli?) was right about lies, damned lies and statistics?

Talking of Strathclyde’s finest, their long-running investigation into alleged match-fixing allegations against snooker players Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett is at an end.

Bookmakers alerted authorities to “irregular betting patterns” around the match, which took place during the UK Championship in Telford in November 2008. They had taken numerous bets on the outcome of the match being 9–3 in Maguire’s favour.

Maguire won by that margin. But suspicion was raised by a black missed by Burnett which would have made it 8–4.

And since then, both players have been subjected to scrutiny, rumour-mongering and innuendo.

But all of that should now be put to bed. A Crown Office spokeswoman said: “Following a full and comprehensive investigation the case was reported for the consideration of Crown Counsel who, after careful consideration of all facts and circumstances, decided there is insufficient evidence to justify a criminal prosecution.”

I spoke to both players ahead of the recent world championship, where it was plainly obvious that neither had anything to say, other than how sick they were, because they had nothing to say in the first instance.

I’m guessing here, but after two-and-a-half years, and regardless of the online accounts across Scotland opened on a particular day, you would have thought something would have come to light – if there was anything to come to light.

I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that this news comes just a week after Taggart was made redundant.

Even so, you have to wonder what the game’s governing body is scheming up when WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said; “We are treating this case very seriously. We will now be given access to the evidence connected with the case, and our disciplinary committee will review that evidence thoroughly.”

And who do they have on that committee. Hercule Poirot, Jack Regan, Miss Marple?

Or do World Snooker want to bid against Rangers to police Strathclyde?

And it’s congratulations to Gary Anderson for winning his first televised PDC title, landing the Premier League with a 10–4 final win over world champion Adrian Lewis at Wembley.

Given the venue, and given the reception Lewis got in Glasgow a few months back, I’m sure he glanced over his shoulder a few times to see if there were any advanced divisions of the Tartan Army making a pilgrimage back to their old haunts.

Brilliant as Anderson did in winning, and in finishing runner-up to Lewis in the world championship final, it’s sad he maybe isn’t getting the recognition he deserves.

If you asked most punters to name a Scots darts player, how many would answer “Jocky Wilson”? But then again, he did make it big.

London 2012 organisers reveal that they have received more than one million requests for seat tickets for the Olympic men’s 100 metres final – yet only 8,000 will get to carry the Olympic torch for a mile on its journey around the UK. So further enhancing our reputation of being a nation of armchair sportsmen and women…

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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<em>Picture: Thejaswi</em>

Picture: Thejaswi

By Stewart Weir

And the FA Cup takes centre stage south of the border with a mixture of ties and replays to decide who would progress through to the fragmented quarter-final draw, and a place in the last ten. No, I know that doesn’t sound right.

Live Saturday early evening viewing on all ITV regions (except for viewers in Scotland on council telly as you lot should have been going to see your local team even though they weren’t playing on Saturday and STV don’t show any Scottish domestic matches anyway) was Manchester United, managed by a Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson, against non-League Crawley, led by another from these parts, Steve Evans.

Stop there for a second. But does anyone else think there is something of the Freddie Starrs about Evans?

Continuing, and Fergie was not best-pleased after his side’s efforts in only managing a 1-0 win. While others would take that result and move on, a win is not a win in Ferguson’s eyes if you fail to put the likes of Crawley in their place.

Ferguson had of course been a cheerier wee soul beforehand, saying how he would welcome Starr, I mean Evans, who had brought along a special bottle of red wine as a gift for the Knight, hoping he would be offered the chance to commune in the presence of the oh so great one.

Sir Alex nodded his way through the pre-match platitudes, saying that Crawley would be given every respect on their Cup Final day.

What did irk him, was the interviewer’s assertion that “and of course, this is a match-up between two Glaswegians.”

“Naw, no he’s not … he’s from a wee village on the outskirts of Glasgow [Cambuslang to be exact],” said the Govan boy. Nothing like showing all of England how parochial us welcoming Scots can be

I read with some interest (which is more than I will do with his threatened tome) that the British Olympic diver Tom Daley has signed a megabucks deal to write his autobiography – at the age of just 16. Maybe crayons will be included.

But what has he done at that age? What will the chapters be: Almost Drowning For The First Time, Santa – The Truth, Hair, Where! and Spots?

I can’t imagine it will be terribly honest either. Who’s going to go into detail about how they were always tired as a 13-year-old, not because of the training regime but because masturbating four times a day really takes it out of you. Not to mention being embarrassing if you are standing on top of the ten-metre board.

Still, Penguin (the publishers, and not some teen fantasy) aim to bring out the youngster’s life story in spring 2012, three months before the London Olympics start.

So sales of the book won’t be affected if he fails to make a splash …

Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting loses half his match fee after being found guilty of taking out his frustrations on the dressing room TV following his run-out for just 28 against Zimbabwe.

While Australia won in the end, Ponting was the financial loser after it was reported he’s broken the telly by throwing his gloves at it. In addition to his fine, he also offered to replace the damaged item.

Never nice to see someone like Ponting joining the John Logie Baird Memorial Club, which of course was set up for sportsmen who had shown particular venom either in or through (or should that be threw) televisions. I think Graeme Souness is still their president.

“When Ponting was run out, he was perhaps frustrated. He threw his gloves straight at the TV,” Gujarat Cricket Association secretary Rajesh Patel said. “It was an LCD TV, which was properly damaged. We could not view anything.”

That was before they found out it wasn’t connected to a satellite dish …

It’s all about the numbers today when the Olympic Velodrome in London is opened.

Apparently It took a team of 26 carpenters eight weeks to install the Siberian pine track and more than 350,000 nails were used on its 56km of timber surface.

I’m thinking these are the same chippies that did the flooring in my house, 56 kilometres of wood for a 250m track. A bit of waste there I think.

But no. The whole 23-month Velodrome project cost £94 million – which is on time and under budget.

This was on the same day MPs deliver a scathing report on waste by the Ministry of Defence who had cost the taxpayer a staggering £8 billion after cancelling the Nimrod and Sentinel reconnaissance aircraft and an overspend on the Eurofighter/Typhoon order.

Now, far be it for me to suggest such a thing, but, maybe if the Olympic purse-holders had been in charge of the military purse, then we might have got the planes we needed, to a cost, and on time – handily ignoring they were constructed out of Siberian timber and pedal-powered.

Cancelling any sporting event has a knock-on effect somewhere.

Anyone who has ever tried to return a thousand pies back to the local bakery when a fitba match has been frozen off will empathise with Formula One Management picking up the tab for the cancelation of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Formula One Management is Bernie Ecclestone’s business, where all empathy ends.

Bahrain was to have been the first round of the 2011 world F1 championship, but civil unrest meant the race was put off in the meantime, or for all time. It’s difficult to gauge civil unrest.

And the cost of cancelling that race? Around $40 million. That’s a lot of pies in any currency.

And still in the Middle East, it is reported that the royal family of Qatar is preparing a fresh £1.5billion bid for Manchester United after the Glazers (who don’t do new PVC windows) rejected an earlier offer.

It appears the Americans have already knocked back £1bn, and are holding out for a figure closer to £1.8bn, give or take a few pies. The royal family of Qatar is preparing a fresh £1.5bn bid for Manchester United after the Glazers rejected an earlier offer.

Compare that to the £20 million United “sold” for in 1989. Of course, it didn’t sell, because the deal struck by Isle of Man-based property tycoon Michael Knighton fell through when his financial backers backed out.

So he bought Carlisle United instead. And those bankers have never regretted their decision since – much …

Former Celt Aiden McGeady may have turned his back on Scotland. But indirectly he could have ensured Scotland two Champions League places from 2012/13.

His Europa League goal meant Spartak Moscow beat Basle on aggregate, a result likely to keep Scotland ahead of Switzerland in coefficient rankings.

Of course, every single Scots football fan will be grateful for McGeady’s contribution. Not.

Because others will point to the fact that Maurice Edu is responsible for keeping Scotland ahead in that particular race thanks to his late, late goal for Rangers against Sporting Lisbon.

Indeed, that goal was so late, that there were several dozen re-writes made by those covering the game. But none had to work as quickly as the moderators on BBC’s soon-to-be-scrapped 606 forum.

A certain Alfonso1234 – a Celtic fan on the Rangers board – thought it would be clever to have a pop at Gers fans, stating that they now wouldn’t have the excuse of paying too many games when their team lost the SPL title.

Unfortunately for Alfonso1234 (presumably a pseudonym, although there is no guarantee of that), his barb remark came seconds before Edu’s dramatic equaliser. And once it was up, there was no taking it down.

Texts and emails flew around the nation as poor Alfonso was ridiculed, pilloried and abused to such an extent that BBC’s mods had to take every reference of the poor man off their site, as shown in this (broken) link www.bbc.co.uk/dna/606/A81798871.

I have to say, the great majority of the comments were hugely funny, the best arguably being; “If Carlsberg Did Premature Ejaculation …” – which even gained praise from Celtic supporters!

By Stewart Weir

Few players over the years have galvanised opinion quite like El-Hadji Diouf. In these parts, while visiting as a Liverpool players, he endeared himself to the Celtic support by gobbing on one fan who had playfully patted him on the head. For that he was fined £5,000. And Spit the Diouf (who really should be introduced to Bob Carolgees) was at it again a few years later when he spat at an 11-year-old Middlesbrough fan. Must make you something of a hardman in Senegal.

This weekend though, if it were possible, Diouf stooped even lower after QPR striker Jamie Mackie suffered a broken leg in a challenge with Blackburn defender Gael Givet. Diouf, it is alleged, abused Mackie as he lay on the pitch.

Of course Diouf denies it.

But you have to think that something must have been said to rile the QPR players and management to that extent. QPR defender Bradley Orr and goalkeeper Paddy Kenny posted comments on Twitter, Orr suggesting; “Never come across a more repulsive human being than E-H Diouf!” adding “The things he was saying were disgusting! The lad has just broken his leg! You horrible disgusting man E-H Diouf! Your time will come!” Kenny waded in with: “So gutted for the boy Mackie, football can be horrible sometimes, and that **** Diouf will get it one day, what goes around comes around.”

Mackie’s fingers still worked, enabling him to Tweet; “Proper disappointed that e diouf was in my ear while I’m on the deck with a broken leg.”

QPR youth coach Marc Bircham called him a “scumbag” while their boss, Neil Warnock, called Diouf “a sewer rat.” Even this early in to 2011, El-Hadji Diouf is off a few Christmas card lists …

Not so much the king is dead as the King is back. Twenty-four hours after Roy Hodgson departs Anfield, Liverpool re-instate Kenny Dalglish. And all is well in the world with Liverpudlians, Scousers and Kopites – if you ignore their team. Within half-an-hour of being back on the bench, Dalglish finds out just exactly what he’s let himself in for as a penalty in the first minute and a red card for his captain end Liverpool’s FA Cup challenge against Manchester United.

If that was bad, Wednesday must have been a whole lot worse as Blackpool completed a league double over their coastal rivals. Many questions directed at Dalglish between those matches centred around how he would cope with managerial life a decade after he had last fulfilled that role. He intimated he had mellowed, and their was the jovial quip about Ryan Babel not being capable of mocking up the picture (of referee Howard Webb in a Man U kit) that landed him in hot water with the FA. And oh how the journalists laughed. I wonder if they’ll be so jolly if, or when, Kenny goes in the huff, and they end up having a press conference a city centre pub you wouldn’t frequent other than by accident …

Rangers beat Kilmarnock 3-0 in the Scottish Cup. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Not so with the attendance in that game. A stinking, if not stupid night for a game, coupled with live TV and a refusal from Kilmarnock to reduce the ticket prices, meant just 13,215 visited Ibrox, the lowest crowd there in 25 years. And if the years have hurried past, that makes it pre-Souness! There is a time and a place for live football. But shifting a match to a Monday just for TV is typical of the way regular fans are being abused. Overkill is killing interest in the game.

FIFA’s Ballon d’Or Puskas Award – the very wordy title for their Goal of the Year – was won by Bayern Munich midfielder Hamit Altintop for his volley while playing for Turkey. It was a great strike and polled more than 40% of the online vote, beating by a distance the likes of Giovanni Van Bronkhorst, Lionel Messi, Samir Nasri and Arjen Robben. But I bet you there’s another one, or two, or several, just like that one over the coming year. I doubt however if you’ll see another quite like the incredible back-heeled volley netted by Glentoran’s Matty Burrows (see below). The only reason I can think he didn’t win was that many would have considered it a freak or fluke goal. But he meant it all right.

Back on the subject of overkill, Manchester United’s FA Cup fourth-round clash with Southampton has been selected for live television coverage by ITV.

No surprise there in what was something of a mediocre draw. And no shock either than Fergie and his lads are again live and exclusive somewhere. Indeed, the shock would have been all the greater had the Old Trafford giants not been alive and kicking in the FA Cup. For believe it or not, Manchester United’s visit to the south coast will see them play their thirtieth – that’s 30 for those who wish confirmation – successive live FA Cup dating back to their 0-0 draw with Exeter in January 2005.

Like Barnum & Bailey coming to town, everyone turns out to see them, so TV executives have less chance of embarrassing gaps in the stands, as there were at Ibrox on Monday. And if they happen to be the hosts, Old Trafford is always full all of the time. And for those reasons, here’s to Sir Alex chalking up yet another record.

More bullets in the post for Celtic personnel, with Paddy McCourt the target for a few rounds, just like team-mate Niall McGinn and manager Neil Lennon. It brings in to sharp focus just how many eejits there are still out there who would target individuals just because of where they came from and who they play or work for..

Browsing on my mobile. I spot a line online somewhere connecting Kris Boyd, the once-prolific former Rangers striker and now out-of-favour with Middlesbrough, with Turkey. I am not sure whether this was in relation to a move there, or how those in England view him …

<em>Picture: Hamilcar South</em>

Picture: Hamilcar South

In the wake of the 11-hour, 183-game Wimbledon encounter between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, here are four other sporting encounters that took a while to finish.

Timeless Tests

Long before the invention of Twenty20 cricket, there was the complete opposite – the “Timeless Test”. The idea was that if a series was undecided coming into the last match, it would be played to a conclusion.

Two notorious matches put paid to this. The final test of the 1929–30 series between West Indies and England, played in Kingston, Jamaica, from 3–12 April 1930, was agreed drawn after nine days of play (the Sunday was an allocated rest day), when the last two days had been lost to rain.

The Windies (as they decidedly weren’t called at the time) had reached 408 for 5 in pursuit of 836, after the England captain – the Honorable Frederick Somerset Gough Calthorpe – declined to enforce the follow-on despite being 563 ahead on first innings.

Even that match, however, was overshadowed by the last test of the 1938–39 MCC tour of South Africa, played at Durban, 3–14 March 1939 (there were two Sunday rest days). The home side scored 530 and 481, against 316, such that England started their run chase late on the sixth day needing 696.

Despite the loss of occasional wickets and the whole of the eighth day to rain, Paul Gibb scored 120, Wally Hammond 140 and Eddie Paynter 75 – but the pace of proceedings can be seen in that these three hit only 14 boundaries between them.
Bill Edrich was more sprightly, scoring 219 with 25 fours, and the match was in the balance when more rain arrived on day ten. England needed 42, the South Africans needed five more wickets – it was anyone’s game.

The tourists had a boat to catch, however – and there has never been another Timeless Test.

Airdrieonians v Stranraer, Scottish Cup, 1963

Not so much a match that wouldn’t end, more one that proved difficult to get started. It was a severe winter, and 12 January, the original date for the first-round tie, slipped by – as did 32 subsequent arrangements. There were 11 attempts to play in January, 17 in February, and five in March, before the Monklands team won 3–0.

Other saga-length football fixtures include Inverness Thistle versus Falkirk in the second round of the Scottish Cup in 1979, which needed 28 attempts before Falkirk won 4–0. That same winter saw the third-round FA Cup tie between Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal – this survived the weather but needed four replays, after successive matches ended 1–1 (twice), 2–2, 3–3 and finally 2–0 to Arsenal.

That the Gunners went on to lift the trophy might offer some encouragement for the weary John Isner at Wimbledon.

Anatoly Karpov versus Garry Kasparov, world chess championship, 1984–85

Karpov was the reigning champion, having held the title since Bobby Fischer declined to defend in 1975. Kasparov was the coming man, and the match was played in Moscow, with a tennis-like system whereby the first to win six games would take the title. The problem, however, was that draws were deemed not to count – and there can be a lot of draws in chess.

Karpov began strongly, winning games 3, 6, 7 and 9. There was then a sequence of 17 draws, before Karpov won again. It now seemed a formality – but Kasparov began what Raymond Keene, in The Moscow Challenge: Karpov–Kasparov, described (with a little hyperbole) as “almost certainly, the most impressive rearguard action of any sportsman in any discipline in the history of recorded sport”.

After four more draws, Kasparov won his first game. Another 14 draws followed, then – with the frail Karpov struggling – the younger, fitter challenger won two in a row.

With the score now 5–3, both men professed a keenness to continue, but Florencio Campomanes, president of the governing body, intervened and abandoned the match. The whole thing had lasted just under five months, and there has never been another open-ended contest.

The two Ks played a best-of-24 rematch in the autumn of 1985, with Kasparov taking the title 13–11.

Tom Reece and the record billiards break

Reece (1873–1953) was a Welsh billiards professional, who played Joe Chapman in the summer of 1907 at the Burroughes and Watts hall in London’s Soho. The intention was to set a new record for the highest break, and the match was played to 500,000 points.

After the opening exchanges, Reece started a break that was to occupy him for almost five weeks. By the time the match was won, the break had reached 499,135.

Much use was made of the cradle cannon – where the two object balls are nudged and nurdled in a corner near-endlessly. With the game effectively having been “solved” by Reece, the cradle cannon was soon restricted and subsequently outlawed. (Reece had accumulated 249,552 cradle cannons during his break, scoring two points each time.)

The great puzzle about all this, however, is what Chapman did while Reece was racking up the points. Did he sit in his chair and snooze, read the paper, have the occasional fag, go down to the bookies?

Seemingly he played and won a lot of games of “Indian pool”. Never can any sportsman have been reduced to quite such a passive role – whereas Nicolas Mahut, with his 103 aces and 91 game-wins, undoubtedly played a full part in recent events at Wimbledon.