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James McCarthy

Sepp Blatter <em>Picture: AsianFC</em>

Sepp Blatter Picture: AsianFC

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Whether it’s because there wasn’t any meaningful football on (and I include England vs Spain in that category), but rugby union dominated many of the sporting headlines, both on and off the field.

We’ll consider onfield matters first. And there is little doubt that much in the same way as the Champions League has captured the imagination of football fans, so the Heineken Cup has done the same in rugby.

The big kick-off took place today, with Edinburgh causing a shock and a half by beating London Irish. Not to be outdone, Glasgow Warriors then defeated Bath 24 hours later. Here’s hoping they haven’t peaked too early.

Glasgow’s win was dramatic, coming in the final seconds. I still think, however, that the Cliff Hanger Award (named after a little-known Welshman) would go to Munster, who beat Northampton Saints with Ronan O’Gara’s last-gasp drop-goal.

It’s been done before, I know, but on the 40th phase! I don’t think so.

Off-field, Mike Tindall is fined £25,000 for his off-piste (or very pissed) antics during the Rugby World Cup.

It might have come as a surprise to him that he’d be in the media focus. I mean, who would be interested in a former England captain, a World Cup winner and the man who happens to be married to HM The Queen’s grand-daughter?

But rugby players – especially English ones – have been fair game for years.

I recall, some 15 years ago, Mike Catt being warned what he and his ilk could expect now that they had become professionals and won a Grand Slam or two.

The caution came from Ronnie O’Sullivan, then still just 21, who’d had his own run-ins with HM’s press.

“Wait until you come home from a night out and the camera flashes go off in your garden,” Ronnie warned. If Catt was able to live the quiet life in Bath, the same couldn’t be said for one of his England colleagues, namely Will Carling.

So Tindall should have known there would be more than just rugby lovers (or ex-lovers) keeping an eye on him.

The fine, however, seems way over the top. Rugby Football Union director Rob Andrew said Tindall’s actions “reached a level of misconduct that was unacceptable in a senior England player and amounted to a very serious breach of the Elite Playing Squad code of conduct”.

Twenty-five grand down for attending the Mad Midget Weekender, being a bit tipsy, some cavorting, and a porky pie? God knows what the fine or punishment would have been had he actually thrown a dwarf on that night out…

Sunday
There was a time when the Lombard (later Network-Q) RAC Rally dominated BBC schedules. William Woollard, Steve Lee and Tony Mason became semi-permanent on BBC2 for what was then a five-day marathon, even visiting Scotland year-on-year.

The rally still exists, not that you would know unless you were an avid petrolhead. These days, it’s called the Wales Rally GB – and if you want to see it, you’ll either need a dustbin lid on your chimney, or to live in Wales.

BBC Wales got an hour of highlights, S4C packaging up a preview and action from the four days. But unless you paid for the privilege, you’d see nowt on your TV.

For the record, Ford produced a 1–2–3, crumbs from the master’s table after Sebastien Loeb was crowned world champion for the eighth time, despite not finishing after being the innocent party in a road traffic accident which broke his Citroën.

He wasn’t alone, however, in not getting to the end, as this footage shows.

Some found it hilariously funny. But you have to ask what the hell those supposedly well-trained marshals were about allowing such carnage, and expensive carnage at that, for so long?

Or were they just upping the entertainment level to attract a crowd for next year?

Monday
Scotland’s Under-21’s score a remarkable 2–1 win over their Dutch counterparts in their European qualifier in Nijmegen.

Congratulations, hearty handshakes, praise-be and all the rest of it. But I for one ain’t getting too carried away.

Scotland has had successful youth and under-age teams in the past: 1983 in Mexico, 1989 in Scotland. But once they get all growed-up, they seem to lose something – mostly important, qualifying matches…

Tuesday
Not so the Irish. A decade after they last made a major tournament, the 2002 World Cup, Ireland are among the finalists for Euro 2012 after caning Estonia 5–1 on aggregate, the hard part done long before the return leg at the Aviva Stadium.

Investment (much of it private funding) in Giovanni Trapattoni finally paid dividends for the Irish. Is that something Scotland might consider? Is there a Scotsman (a) wealthy enough and (b) mad enough to invest? Of course, we don’t need to go to such lengths. We are in Craig Levein’s capable hands.

In booking their tickets to Poland and Ukraine next summer, two people in particular have justified their decision to follow their international careers on the Emerald Isle.

Scots-born Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy should be in Trapattoni’s plans next summer. Of course, there are those who will be on their high horses as regards these “traitors” swapping blue for green.

Funny though, as I said to Mike Graham on talkSport, I can’t recall too many jumping up and down when Owen Coyle, Ray Houghton, Bernie Slavin and Tommy Coyne “became” Irish. Can you?

Wednesday
I’ve mentioned him in dispatches before, but dear old FIFA president Sepp Blatter has made an arse of himself again, this time by claiming on CNN that “There is no racism [on the field], but maybe there is a word or gesture that is not correct. The one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands.”

It obvious that Mr Blatter just doesn’t get it, or isn’t able to work out, how certain groups might be offended by his take on life and the world.

I mean, it was he who said, following Cristiano Ronaldo’s move from Manchester United to Real Madrid, that “There’s too much modern slavery in transferring players or buying players here and there, and putting them somewhere.”

And when asked about that fact that homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, hosts for the 2022 World Cup, Blatter giggled: “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.”

And famously, when asked about women’s football, he told SonntagsBlick: “Come on, let’s get women to play in different and more feminine garb than the men … in tighter shorts, for example. In volleyball women wear different clothes from the men. Beautiful women play football nowadays, excuse me for saying so.”

I was critical of Blatter’s words regarding the ladies, but in hindsight I might have been too quick to pass judgment.

Maybe he does have a point. Maybe the girls should strip off a bit more. And if there are any reading this who feel offended by those comments, I am more than willing to shake their hand to make things better…

Thursday
He’s banned the Scottish press, but Vladimir Romanov doesn’t stay quiet, this time announcing through a Russian news agency that he could sell Hearts and purchase a theatre instead.

As I tweeted, if those were his long-term plans he should have perhaps have held on to Elvis.

Of course, given the way the current performers at Tynecastle are paid, or not, maybe it’s his intention to have them sing for their supper.

Friday
Meanwhile Rangers, who will be taking Indian players Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua on trial this month, are seeking to break into that potentially massive market by offering match coverage in Hindi.

Plans are being made to provide a Twitter feed to India’s 250 million Hindus, starting tomorrow with the SPL game against St Johnstone.

I just wonder if the fans might join in on this marketing exercise by changing the words to a few of their songs, like “We’ll guard old Delhi’s Walls…”.

Joking aside, it reminds me that a quarter of a century ago, some Indian engineers came to work in Motherwell on an exchange project, and were introduced to the delights of Easter Road and Fir Park.

First up, they travelled to Edinburgh on a Rangers supporters’ bus, and someone explained to them during the game why Hibs were being referred to as “those Paddy bastards” – commonplace then, possibly illegal now. (Although is anyone quite sure?)

In midweek, the Indians were treated to a League Cup tie by some Motherwell fans, shocking their hosts to the core when one shouted “Get in to these Paddy bastards.”

The opponents that August evening? “Patrick Thistle.”

I’ll sign off this week with a request for some support. There was an old fella sat near me at the football. He was there for the last game of the season. But he was missing for the start of this term.

From being a bright, cheery soul, he had in the space of just a matter of weeks needed to be hospitalised, so rapid was the onset of dementia.

There was not a person who knew him who wasn’t visibly shocked both at the news, but also the speed at his decline.

Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised. Dementia is an illness which affects the brain, causing a progressive loss of mental powers.

It is the fourth-biggest killer for women in Scotland and the ninth for men, and between 58,000 and 65,000 Scots have the disease. By 2031, more than 100,000 people in Scotland will have dementia.

Charitable support is needed, and football supporters are being asked to contribute both in terms of money and memories.

So a special mention this week goes to Tom Hall, editor of the Scottish Football Blog, who at noon on Saturday will embark upon a 24-hour blogathon, raising money for charity, especially Alzheimer Scotland.

I will be lending some supportive words to his cause – and I’d ask all who read this, or Tom’s words of wisdom, to think about lending some financial support to what is a great cause.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Sportacus – or Francesco Totti? <em>Picture: Daniel C Griliopoulos</em>

Sportacus – or Francesco Totti? Picture: Daniel C Griliopoulos

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
And the Six Nations draws to a close with the usual amount of cheers and tears. Scotland beat Italy to avoid the wooden spoon – or, given the close relationship between the two nations, maybe it should have been the ice cream scoop.

But the big event saw England fall at the final hurdle to the Irish, so missing out on a Grand Slam. I mean, they only had to turn up to win, such was the 1990-like pre-match hype. That result meant that Wales had a chance of taking the championship, if they beat France by 28 points.

Who the hell started heaping such expectation on Wales in advance of the match in Paris?

Regardless, it was ill-founded, with the French running out easy winners – so handing, if you have been following things, the title to England. They received the series trophy, not in front of 70,000 spectators at the Aviva Stadium, but witnessed by just a few cameras and photographers in a Dublin Hotel.

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An anti-climax, or what? England had few complaints, despite their rally after the break, soundly beaten 24–8 by an Irish side which had led 17–3 at half-time.

“We won the first half, but England won the second half,” said Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll.

Wait a minute. 17–3 at the turnaround, 24–8 at no-side. Surely Ireland won the second half 7–5?

Poor arithmetic, Brian. Or do you have ambitions to be a future Irish finance minister?

Sunday
Rangers beat Celtic 2–1 to take the Scottish League Cup. But that’s not the football highlight of the weekend.

Fiorentina and Roma playing out a 2–2 draw is hardly a scoreline to set pulses racing. But in scoring two goals for Roma, Francesco Totti (who has more than a passing resemblance to Sportacus from Lazy Town, minus the moustache) reached the landmark tally of 200 goals in Serie A.

To put that in to context, Serie A is more than a century old. But Totti is only the sixth player to reach that elusive mark. Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola from the 1930s, and Gunnar Nordahl and José Altafini from the 50s and 60s, had their double-hundred before Roberto Baggio (the unthinking man’s Stevie Fulton) arrived, some 33 years after Altafini.

A decade on, and Totti has emulated their feat. But at the age of 34, he might not add too many more to his collection and certainly doesn’t have a hope of catching Piola’s all-time high of 274.

Of those still playing in Italy’s top flight, only Alessandro Del Piero is close to becoming the seventh member of this exclusive club.

Indeed, it’s not so much a case of marvelling at who has netted 200 goals in Serie A, as recognising the famous names who didn’t even come close: Gabriel Batistuta on 184, Luigi Riva and Roberto Mancini each with 156, while on 142 is Christian Vieri, who does not make tellies for Panasonic…

But returning to the League Cup, do you realise petrol was only 88p a litre when Celtic last won a trophy? Yes, that long…

Monday
It would have been easy to miss it. But the draw for the Betfred World Snooker Championship took place on Monday, where 16 seeds were matched with 16 qualifiers to decide the first round proper at the Crucible.

There was a bit more razzmatazz about the draw, as there is with most things concerning Barry Hearn. No more the draw being held on the radio (which ended in a cock-up when the same player was drawn against two different opponents), or in secret, as it was a few years ago, the outcome held over for a day before being announced. Did I hear the word “fix”?

But even Monday’s event was a pale and poor imitation of what was once the norm, when the draw took place at peak-viewing time on a Saturday afternoon as a main feature on Grandstand. Snooker may still be as popular, but it just doesn’t feature as near the front of the Beeb’s sportfolio…

Tuesday
No sooner had Rangers placed the Co-operative Insurance Cup in their trophy cabinet, than they heard they would be defending the Scottish Communities League Cup next season.

There probably has never been such an extreme switch in where sponsorship cash has been sourced. From the Co-op – mutual, benevolent, social and community based – to the £1 million promised by Scottish government from pimping, fraud and drugs.

Sorry. It doesn’t come directly from the Scottish government’s activities in pimping, money laundering and the likes. The investment actually comes from cash seized from criminals, through the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The Proceeds of Crime Cup? Now that would get you recognised. I hear the Colombian authorities are looking at having a Cocaine Bowl next season.

And just a thought. After all the brouhaha of the Old Firm game at Parkhead a few weeks ago, could there be a chance in the future where troublesome managers and players – already threatened by authorities and polis alike – might end up as unsuspecting sponsors of a cup competition their teams are entered in?

Wednesday
And Elizabeth Taylor dies. Many mourn her passing. I just reflect on the small fortune she probably cost me over the years.

See, because of her, I fell for the likes of Charlotte Brew, Jenny Hembrow, Linda Sheedy, Geraldine Rees, Joy Carrier, Valerie Alder, Jacqui Oliver, Gee Armytage, Venetia Williams, Penny Ffitch-Heyes, Tarnya Davies and Rosemary Henderson. Not in the way you would “fall” for a movie star.

No. I thought that at least one of them would follow Liz and win the Grand National, just as she did on Pie, by Two Get One Free out of The Local Bakery (that’s not an offer to look out for on your next shopping trip, but the sire and dam), in the 1944 film National Velvet.

So muggins here always thought that the dream world of the big screen might just become reality. Much to the delight of my local bookie.

Ach, he’s not bad really. If I stick twenty quid on them, he does give me 500/1 every year on Kilnockie winning the Scottish Cup.

Thursday
Talking about Hollywood, that thingy called YouTube (or YouYaTube, as the rival Glesca derivative is known) makes stars out of ordinary folk. Just film it, edit and stick it up, and before very long there you are, entertaining people you have never been formally introduced to, who are laughing at your expense.

This blockbuster was sent to me the other day. No animals were harmed in the making of this video. However, the same cannot be said for pies and pints.

Judge for yourself, and please tell me a) if Voiceover Man from The X Factor has anything to worry about, b) if this is not the best hand-off you’ve ever seen and c) do people’s arses look bigger on screen?

PS – Should anyone take exception to this offering, my name is Roddy fae Selkirk…

Friday
I suspect like a great many, I get confused over who can play for who at international level. It’s now become the norm that you can play for anyone, even if you have represented a different country at an under-age level.

Take Victor Moses, sold to Wigan a few years ago as cash-strapped Crystal Palace hawked off any talent they had. Despite playing for England at under-17, under-19 and under-21 level, Moses might play for Nigeria against Ethiopia in the Africa Cup of Nations – which, apart from the word “of”, is ostensibly the same as the old African Nations Cup.

Moses was born in Kaduna, Nigeria, but has dual nationality. He may, quite possibly, have triple nationality. But Ireland are not sure whether they have a claim because of the similarity between national flags.

Anyway, the FIFA police are not happy because protocols and paperwork haven’t been completed, making Moses ineligible, or at least until someone finds a pen.

But hang on. Could Scotland have a claim? I mean, we had Jordan. And Moses would have been nothing without Joe…

Surely Moses is a British or UK passport holder. I’m sure someone at Wigan could have a word with him. Maybe James McCarthy for instance. Oh, maybe not the best choice there.

Of course, Nigeria have bigger problems. Goalkeeper Victor Enyeama has been ruled out of the game because of an ankle injury, and sadly not because he’d accidentally been stuck up someone’s arse…

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A gavel: key tool for America's No 1 pastime - litigation. <em>Picture: Brian Turner</em>

A gavel: key tool for America's No 1 pastime - litigation. Picture: Brian Turner

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
I’m always suspicious of anyone who lists Grumpy Old Men amongst their must-view TV programmes. A bunch of guys moaning how things are not as good as they were and complaining about today’s version of events. I love it.

Watching three Six Nations rugby internationals (which, to be honest, would have been far better than seeing six Three Nations ties) I couldn’t help but think things were better a while back. In fact, not such a while back.

France vs Scotland was okay if you like poor defence, and five minutes of the Italy vs Ireland game when the hosts looked like springing a last-gasp surprise – was exciting. But for the most part, this was dull.

I’ve had the argument several times. That today’s game is played by faster, fitter men, that teams employ defence coaches to stop the opposition playing, and that tactical substitutes mean teams are able to change their game plan when the opposition show signs of weakness.

All compelling reasons to switch off. Brian O’Driscoll would be a “player” in any generation. But better than Mike Gibson?

Fitter, yes. And these boys are impressive in the gym. But being able to do another ten squats or bench-press 300 lbs doesn’t mean a damn if you can’t tackle a fish supper or side-step a bus shelter.

And as for defence, if I want to see rugby league-style flat-line cover, I’ll watch rugby league which is faster, more fluent, and is played more with ball in hand.

I grew up loving Andy Irvine’s cutting, dashing style, racing into the great unknown where he regularly went from hero to zero and back again, often on the same run. And now, Scotland have a full-back called Hugo …

Sunday
Visiting TV land again, there was once an American sitcom which rounded up off the weekly plot line with; “Confused? You will be after this week’s episode of Soap!”

Sunday’s Old Firm game had me head-scratching again. In recent times, the authorities in Scotland have worked hard to stamp out sectarianism. Trench foot amongst Rangers fans is at an all time low (in public at least), having not had to wade through blood up to their knees since legislation prohibited use of the “F” word.

The confusion for most people is that while they hear and see the measures taken to stamp out this offensive language, it appears to be one side of the great divide who are held in check.

The “N” word, once in regular use when referring to the black community, or brown when it came to shoe or furniture colour, is not outlawed, almost entirely by public opinion.

And rightly so, although I stop short of those who would have Guy Gibson’s dog written out of the history books. In fact, some would have the VC-winning aviator expunged from the records for flying a plane dangerously and causing flood damage.

Where confusion reigns is when the ‘N’ word is used by sections of the black population, a mixture between a term of endearment and a badge of honour.

I might be mistaken, but that also appears to operate amongst Celtic fans.

On Sunday, unfurled at Ibrox, was a banner proclaiming “Paddy McCourt’s Fenian Army”. A few people I spoke to, there not as supporters of either club but as sponsors’ guests, pointed it out asking if that wasn’t “a bad word these days”.

And that’s where a bit of the confusion arises. Because what is bad – if not illegal – for one section of society surely has to be bad for another?

But my real confusion was wondering why the two police officers standing directly in front of the said banner didn’t see it, or act. I would suggest a trip to Specsavers, but they might not see the bus to take them there.

Monday
The Americans would have you believe that the Super Bowl is the greatest show on earth, the climax to the NFL season and this year contested between eventual winners Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The certainly know how to put on a show or several, from the F22 to-the-second fly past to the Black Eyed Peas’ half-time performance, all watched by a record TV audience.

It was supposed to be a record stadium audience as well at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, but they fell 766 short of the 103,985 who viewed the 1980 final at the Rosebowl, Pasadena.

And thereby hangs the tale. For Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the NFL corporation are now being sued by fans who paid $100,000 for season tickets but didn’t get a seat for the Super Bowl.

Stadium works meant that they didn’t get to see the climax of the NFL season. And the one thing you don’t do in the most litigious nation on the planet is make promises you can’t keep.

Instead of prime, line-of-sight seats, those who turned up were handed folding chairs. Had that happened in this country, the world chair flinging record would have been broken several times over, followed by various visits to the Sheriff Court.

But in Texas, some individuals went straight to the federal court to seek $5 million in damages – oh, which can be tripled under the State’s trade laws.

Somewhat in excess of the NFL’s attempted compensation of $2,400 – triple the ticket’s face value – and a ticket for next year’s Super Bowl, which was then added to with the offer of a ticket to any future Super Bowl, plus return air fares and hotel accommodation.

There will be a middle-ground to be had in this case. Probably $4.9 million and a pair of tickets for every future Super Bowl, plus flights, hotels and the likes. And maybe even a game if you take yir boots …

Tuesday
A war of words erupts between Blackburn’s unwanted El-Hadji Diouf and Celtic’s “waste of money” Scott Brown over who said what and who had the last laugh after Sunday’s 2-2 Old Firm Scottish Cup draw at Ibrox.

For me, there was only one winner. Brown’s superb equaliser, and his all-round play when Celtic were down to ten men, was inspirational.

Great that we have him playing for Scotland …

Wednesday
… or not as was the case. Scott Brown is injured in the warm-up at the Aviva Stadium (wonder if they have insurance for that kind of thing), with Celtic boss Neil Lennon seeking clarification if the grass seed had indeed been imported from Senegal.

As for the game, Scotland beat Northern Ireland 3-0 in the Carling Nations Cup in Dublin. Within a second of the final whistle I’ve received a text message proclaiming “The Tartan Army has a spring in its step again.” How easily pleased are some?
The Carling Nations Cup, in terms of meaningless competition, ranks alongside other Mickey Mouse tournaments such as the Kirin Cup.

We haven’t qualified for a major championship since France ’98. So a bit of reality please before we get too euphoric about winning one match in a kick-about series against equally useless neighbours …

Thursday
And on the back the Dublin internationals, Wigan manager Roberto Martinez says midfielder James McCarthy faces a “very, very deep” decision on where his international future lies.

Glasgow-born McCarthy, formerly of Hamilton Accies, has played for the Republic of Ireland but not yet in a competitive international, a point not lost on opposition supporters during his time in Scotland.

I’ve never changed my views on this. McCarthy has already made his choice.

I felt the exact same with Dominic Matteo, Dumfries-born, but who chose to represent England at under-21 level. He didn’t progress to full-international status until Scotland rescued him – and then we were the only country he ever wanted to play for.

Why take other nations cast-offs when we have dozens of our own …

Friday
There is a bit more clarity over what might happen to the Olympic Stadium (I am thinking of starting a Facebook campaign to have it called the “Alf Tupper Memorial Stadium”) after the 2012 Games with West Ham’s bid winning favour from the Olympic Park Legacy Company executives.

The OPLC board like West Ham’s option – ahead of Spurs – as they would keep the athletics track. Or at least that’s the plan this week.

West Ham have more important things on their mind currently, like avoiding relegation along with Wolves, Wigan and West Brom with any three from four favourites to head down and out.

Relegation ready-made for online and the internet – W, W, W drop …