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John Greig

Dan Wheldon, 1978–2011 <em>Picture: US Army / Jim Greenhill</em>

Dan Wheldon, 1978–2011 Picture: US Army / Jim Greenhill

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
All we ever hear about in football is technology and the desire to use it to make refereeing decisions right. Proof today that all the technology in the world doesn’t necessarily mean the right decision will be arrived at.

Referee Alain Rolland stunned everyone by producing a red card to dismiss Wales captain Sam Warburton early in their Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.

No one I know said Rolland got it right, except the International Rugby Board (IRB).

“Alain Rolland’s decision to issue a red card was absolutely correct,” said referees manager Paddy O’Brien. Well they and he would say that, wouldn’t they?

Of course, Rolland made his decision on his own, without consultation, and quickly. But would it have been different had he asked an assistant or the TMO (television match official)? Based on what every expert who saw it a second time said, I have to think “yes”.

Sunday
On every poster or ticket for a car race or rally there is a simple warning. It reads: “Motorsport is dangerous.”

On Sunday those dangers were exposed in the most horrendous and devastating form when British driver Dan Wheldon was killed when he was involved in a 15-car pile-up at the Las Vegas Indy 300, the final race of the 2011 season.

Drivers had warned prior to the race that the track wasn’t big enough to take a 34-car field, where Wheldon – who had been unable to secure a regular drive this season despite winning the Indianapolis 500 – started at the back of the pack.

Had he succeeded in crossing the line first, he would have received a $5 million bonus (later rounded down to under £200,000). Not that this was a contributory factor in his accident. He was a racer who wanted to race.

Wheldon, married with two young children, was still relatively unknown in the UK outside the motorsport community, but he was twice a winner of IndyCar’s biggest race, the Indy 500, winning around the Brickyard in 2005 and for a second time just five months ago.

His death, the first in IndyCar since 2006, meant there was no celebration for Scotland’s Dario Franchitti who won the overall IndyCar championship once again, but who had warned in advance that he thought this race was an accident waiting to happen.

It also reinforced, for those many millions who might easily have forgotten, that motorsport, entertaining as it might be, can be a deadly business.

Wheldon’s death shocked the world. But where in the world of motorsport should he be placed?

A glance at the record books shows him third after Jim Clark and Graham Hill in the list of Brits to win the Indy 500. Certainly, a talent lost.

Monday
Gough, McCoist, Cooper, Young, Gascoigne, Laudrup, Butcher, Morton, Waddell, Johnstone, Cox, Goram, Thornton, McPhail, Albertz, Caldow, Shearer, Johnston, Brand, Millar – oh, and Baxter. And if I’ve missed anyone from that list, well, I’m sorry. But the reality is you are just making up the numbers.

Because everyone else who has ever donned the light blue, royal blue or lilac blue (for those who wore the not-guaranteed-for-one-machine-wash Admiral number) comes second to one man in the list of Rangers greats. Because he is the greatest.

Not me saying that about John Greig. The club, the fans, and players past and present have acknowledged that fact. Unfortunately, it would appear the new regime at Ibrox is not quite as accommodating.

Today Greig resigned as a director of Rangers, marginalised in his position by the new owners.

The majority of those who every other Saturday (occasionally Sunday and not always at three o’clock) turn up at Ibrox to see their team can take loss, debt, sheriff officers, HMRC, dodgy results, dodgier players, court orders by previous “establishment” figures, freezing of assets and unbalanced reporting.

But alarm bells really started ringing on Monday amongst the red, white and blue ranks when Greig, and former chairman John McClelland, quit the club.

That someone like Greig has seen it proper to call time on the club he loves (next to Hearts) brought everything of what has gone before to a head. “What is going on?” was the question, if not directly asked today by Rangers fans, then certainly one that crossed their minds more than once.

Craig Whyte has invested in – or inherited – a ticking, toxic, financial time bomb.

He might make it safe. Or he might need others to help. But keeping the support informed and onside, I would have thought was a must. And having the “Greatest Ever Ranger” walk out the door is hardly going to endear Craig Whyte to many Gers fans who still see him as a Motherwell boy made good who can afford a very expensive Rangers tie.

Tuesday
Top of the league, glamour friendly with Liverpool next, and Rangers make the headlines by withdrawing “all co-operation” with the BBC over what it said were “repeated difficulties” with the broadcaster this season.

Much of this stems from when a news reporter gatecrashed a football-only press conference to confront new manager Ally McCoist – on the eve of his first league match in charge of the champions – on the issue of sectarianism.

Not the done thing, and a tactic that left some experienced heads within BBC Scotland Sport shaking.

While that was patched up, the proposed documentary to be aired this week is viewed by Rangers as “prejudiced muckraking exercise” – another example, perhaps, of what they perceive to be biased BBC reporting deemed “neither accurate nor fair”.

Fair comment, some would say. Others would call it siege mentality mixed with a soupçon of paranoia.

The BBC, meanwhile, said it denied the allegation and placed “absolute value” on its “accuracy and impartiality”.

Is that the same kind of “accuracy and impartiality” which saw a wee weather lassie refer to Ibrox as “Castle Greyskull” (actually home of the He-Man good guys), or tagged a photo of one-time Gers midfielder as Kevin “c***” Thomson”, or labelled a picture of Nell McAndrew modelling the new Rangers kit as “the hun”? Or is that paranoia, albeit examples seen by thousands?

The notion that Rangers don’t do bans is of course true only to a certain generation who have, for the most part, only ever had to deal with people such as Walter Smith and Alex McLeish, who would tell you to your face what problems they had, leave you in no doubt as to their feelings, then drop it and move on. Sir David Murray was in much the same mould.

But others can recall when banning orders were a regular occurrence under former manager Graeme Souness. James Traynor, then of the Herald, was one such target.

His sports editor, Eddie Rodger, decided two could play that game, and would only use pictures of Rangers players wearing the club’s old kit – or worse (or better) still, use ancient pics of people wearing CR Smith-sponsored jerseys when Rangers were backed by McEwan’s Lager (or “Pish Lager” to dedicated readers of Not The View). Traynor was soon reinstated.

Could a similar tactic work for BBC Scotland? Not really. Not when you place “absolute value” on your “accuracy and impartiality”. And the fact that Gers supporters, for all their Sky and ESPN packages, still pay your wages.

Story about bigotry – captions with orange parades or guys with Rangers gear on.

Story about football violence – picture of Rangers supporters.

Story about Hearts fans booing a minute’s silence when the Pope dies – picture of Rangers fans.

Wednesday
Wales coach Warren Gatland receives a mixed response to his claim that the Welsh coaching staff considered cheating during semi-final loss to France.

Gatland admitted that, with Warburton sent off and prop Adam Jones injured, they talked through the possibility of feigning injury to another prop, which would have led to uncontested scrums.

Wales decided equally quickly to play by the rules. But Gatland’s comments dismayed the IRB, baffled others and were praised in other quarters.

If you considered cheating, and don’t, why tell anyone?

And if you considered cheating, and don’t, are you an upholder of morality, or someone whose morals who should be questioned for what you thought in the first place?

Me, if I was going to do it, I’d have done it. And if not, I’d have kept my mouth shut – unless it was full of fake blood.

Thursday
Peace in professional snooker doesn’t last very long.

This week, Ronnie O’Sullivan, the three-times world champion and arguably still the biggest attraction in the game, claims the game’s governing body is “raping” him by making ranking points available for smaller tournaments.

The language is emotive. Stephen Maguire is another to sound off, saying he feels like a “prostitute” turning up to play because he has to.

O’Sullivan’s problem is that he doesn’t want to play in the Players Tour Championship events, of which there are a dozen and which have a first prize of £10,000. More importantly, however, they carry ranking points.

And points win prizes in snooker, because with them you can stay in the elite top 16. Without them, you need to qualify for some major events.

So for good attendance, and a few good runs, you can push yourself up the rankings – great is you are a lesser, journeyman pro, not so great if you are one of the star turns. It’s a bit like asking Frank Sinatra to play Cleland Miners’ Welfare as a way of keeping his Las Vegas gig.

Still, Barry Hearn, leader of the snooker circus for more than a year now, can continue to do it his way, because the players, many of whom voted him into office, gave him the mandate to do things his way.

The players, when getting rid of the previous regime wanted two things; more money and more tournaments, the latter without really specifying what kind of tournaments.

There is more money. It’s just that it’s shared around differently. And there are certainly more tournaments. So they got what they demanded, although now they might appreciate exactly what is meant by “beware of what you ask for”.

Friday
France name the same team as beat Wales for the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand on Sunday. Well, not exactly.

Because on Sunday, Alain Rolland is only a touch judge.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, track-fighting man <em>Picture: Chell Hill</em>

Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, track-fighting man Picture: Chell Hill

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Usain Bolt aside, athletics has been up against it in recent times, drugs putting a question mark against everyone. So those in charge of the sport have tried all kinds of marketing ploys to lift the popularity, from Golden to Diamond leagues, strange-coloured vests, and world record attempts at every opportunity.

But it appears they might have cracked it with a completely new event – the middleweight street-fighter 3,000m steeplechase. I know there have been wee neds and polis throughout Scotland participating in this event for years, but never on a world stage.

Watch this and tell me who wouldn’t want this in the 2012 London Olympics or Glasgow 2014?

Channel 5 has live boxing, the British and Commonwealth heavyweight title fight between holder Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury.

Fury took the win on points after 12 rounds, which I had scored 117–112 in his favour. There were some inquisitive looks at me when the MC read out the judges’ scorecards, the first two giving Fury the fight by the same margin. There are those amongst my family and friends who forget what I used to do for a living.

All in all, it was more thud and blunder than blood and thunder, but a good enough scrap nevertheless. I’d score the contest 7/10, above average, because over the years I’ve paid more to watch worse…

Sunday
The German Grand Prix lost out to a BBQ. I admit, I missed a great race (although I watched the highlights later).

Star performance of the day comes from Mark Cavendish, who won the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris, becoming Britain’s first winner of the green jersey for the race’s best sprinter.

Cavendish deserves the plaudits for his achievement, although what he won was a series of races within one big race. Overall, he finished 130th, ninety-nine places behind the top Brit, Geraint Thomas.

Still, Cavendish rewrote the history books in capturing that green jersey, and had plenty more written about him as a result.

But imagine if he had taken such a title and finished at the head of the field. What media frenzy would have followed that?

Well, back in 1984, that’s what Scotland’s Robert Millar did, winning the King of the Mountains red polka-dot jersey outright and finishing an amazing fourth overall.

But Millar’s incredible performance merited probably a tenth of the exposure in this country that Cavendish’s did.

That’s how much sport has grown in the last quarter of a century. Or do I mean the hype around it?

Monday
While he might never have enjoyed the hero-worship of Jimmy White or Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry was always a popular guy.

People presented him with awards aplenty, adoring fans even commissioning special trophies to mark his achievements, with my good friend Neil White’s Waterford Crystal piece commemorating Hendry’s 100 Crucible centuries a particularly striking gift.

Whenever the seven-times world champion was signing autographs, there would be a lengthy queue, with all sorts wanting him to pen their books, photographs, programmes, tickets and the likes – and, in the case of a few daring young ladies, certain parts of their anatomy.

Stephen joked a few months that he was now the property of the granny brigade. But just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse when it came to admirers…

I have to say, all credit to Stephen for posing as an Apache warrior…

Tuesday
While Rangers entertain Malmö (although they struggled to do the same with the home support) in their Champions League qualifier at Ibrox, holders Barcelona are participating in the Audi Cup at the Allianz Arena along with Bayern Munich (who they would eventually defeat in the final), AC Milan and Internacional from Brazil.

Audi spend a shed-load of dosh year-on-year backing their own record-breaking team in endurance car races, especially at Le Mans.

But while there are those out there trying to tell butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers just how wonderful motorsport sponsorship is for brand awareness, here is one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world sinking even more cash (they are official car suppliers to Manchester United) in football.

What does that tell you about the power of the glorious game?

Back to Ibrox, and in the inner bowels of the great stadium ahead of the game, I’m interviewing the legend that is the “Greatest Ever Ranger”, John Greig. “Greigy” is helping me with a few chapters for a book idea I’m working on and complains bitterly that I’ve asked him to recall some details from nearly 50 years ago.

He then rhymes off team-mates, goalscorers, who passed to who and other recollections as if it were yesterday.

What does that tell you about the power of the glorious game?

Wednesday
One year to go to London 2012. 365 days now, or is it 366? It’s a year, anyway. Unfortunately my preparations have been curtailed somewhat by injury (a long-term Achilles problem has flared up again), and the fact that I am still trying to decide what event I want to compete in. This decision-making process will be all the easier once I work out what sport I am going to be good at.

I’m still thinking football, as the token Scot – or judo, as you would get to keep a nice jacket if nothing else.

It might be my imagination, but champion diver Tom Daley has started appearing even more regularly on my TV, fronting the Nestlé “Get Set, Go Free” campaign.

Now as a diver, young Tom is agile, inventive and expressive – all of the things he is not in this advert.

I noted that while he tried out golf and hockey, the kept him well away from horses. Copyright there probably belongs to Zara Phillips.

Of course, there has only ever been one athlete capable of world-class diving and being able to act with it. Watch and learn, Tom, from a master at work.

Thursday
El-Hadji Diouf has always had the ability to play at the very highest level. He has also had the ability throughout his career to start a fight in an empty hoose.

This week Diouf fell out of love with the Senegal Football Federation (FSF) which banned him for five years after comments he had made on Radio France Internationale, in which he claimed that “the whole system of African football is corrupt”. I couldn’t possibly comment.

But Diouf is naturally upset by the outcome and promised he would “go to war” with the FSF. Well, he wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t warring with someone. Ask Scott Brown, the players of QPR, and at least one Celtic fan. The list is endless.

This latest spat, coupled with Diouf’s non-appearance for Blackburn’s return for pre-season training, has put his future at Ewood Park in doubt, with Rovers boss Steve Kean indicating that perhaps the time was right for the player to leave the club.

And here was me thinking that Kean had allowed Diouf to play at the tail-end of last season with Rangers, just so he could welcome him back with open arms.

However, there might have been some method in El-Hadji’s madness, missing the making of this.

Maybe Tom Daley isn’t that bad after all…

Friday
Northern Ireland’s second-best golfer Rory McIlroy doesn’t like criticism levelled at him by American broadcaster Jay Townsend on Twitter.

After seeing the US Open champion double-bogey the last hole at Killarney, Townsend tweeted: “It was some of the worst course management I’ve ever seen beyond under-10 boys’ golf competition.”

McIlroy countered: “Jay Townsend shut up… you’re a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing.”

Townsend responded with: “I stand by my comments.”

The Ulsterman retaliated with “Well, I stand by my caddie,” and then revealed: “I have now blocked him on Twitter so I won’t be reading anything more.”

Different sport, different people, different times and different technology.

But you could never see someone like Graeme Souness in his pomp, or Sir Alex Ferguson, resolving their differences with someone by telling them they’d blocked them on Twitter…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Ally McCoist

Ally McCoist

By Stewart Weir

Weddings are all about something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. There was one taking place at Ibrox earlier today as the press assembled to ask questions of a man who could himself easily tick off three of those four “somethings”.

Ally McCoist is an old favourite at Rangers, and their new manager. No colour other than blue could be used to describe him.

Borrowed, however – especially if it came to time – is something McCoist will be keen to avoid as he sets out on the latest chapter of his Ibrox career.

On a day described by one hack to Coisty as “the eve of your era,” the legend just wanted the waiting to be over, even if the reality is that he’s not had to wait that long given the new season is kicking-off part-way through most folks’ summer holidays.

“Not too many people have had the opportunity to manage this great club, and this is a wonderful opportunity,” said the former twice European Golden Boot winner, his inauguration almost complete. Just a serious game needed to complete the crowning – and tomorrow lunchtime sees Rangers open their SPL campaign at home to Hearts.

Time – borrowed or not – will tell whether McCoist is up to the job of replacing arguably the club’s greatest manager, Walter Smith.

And McCoist is grateful Smith has left him something worth inheriting, namely a team that has won the last three SPL titles.

“I’d say that is an advantage. You’re guaranteed the boys have been over the course, over the distance, and our lads have done that – so the pressure is on me.

“And I’m following the hardest act of all,” continued the former Scotland hitman, who admitted a young McCoist would have been “flabbergasted” at where the club’s record goalscorer now finds himself.

“At 29 or 30, I never thought about it [management]. But by the end of my career I’d started doing my coaching badges, one of my better decisions. Will I make it as a no.1? Time will tell. But I’ll be as committed as I’ve always been.

“He [Smith] won three titles and got to a European final. If you offered me that right now I’d take it.

“There is a bigger weight of responsibility as is your awareness of the job. But it’s still the second-best job. Wearing the no.9 shirt and scoring goals for Rangers takes a bit of beating.”

What is evident is that McCoist’s single most driving influence is still as sharp, still as acute and still at the forefront of his thoughts today as it was two decades ago.

“Results are always the most important thing. The biggest emotion? I want to win, as it’s always been.

“You win trophies, have a few weeks away, dust yourself down, and get ready to go and win them again. That’s the way it is at this club” – this is the exact same philosophy McCoist that related to me, sitting pool-side in Tuscany in 1993, when he for one didn’t know whether or not his “Super” days were behind him as he battled back from a broken leg collected on international duty in Lisbon.

That positivity will please the Ibrox loyal, a hoard who haven’t always been as loyal as they would make out.

McCoist first arrived at Rangers when John Greig was the manager, since voted the “greatest-ever Ranger” – but one who was ousted when the support stopped supporting.

McCoist also saw them disappear on Walter Smith – who matched Celtic’s achievement of nine-in-a-row – when he failed to deliver silverware in his final game.

So how will Ally handle the pressures of the post and the fickleness of the fans?

Probably as easily as he handled the picture board on A Question of Sport – even if he did cheat on occasion.

He is a winner. For the majority of the time, it’s all he has known in his 15 years as a player and four-and-a-half as assistant manager at Rangers.

McCoist may have come across as the cheeky chappie, the wit, the joker and the jester throughout his career. He might be a bit more serious these days, but there is no mistaking the twinkling eyes and the engaging smile. What they mask, however, is a born winner.

On one pre-season tour, McCoist took “affirmative action” against a team-mate, not because he’d wound the striker up by stealing the hat he was wearing on a night out.

It was more because McCoist had had enough of the junior squad member sandbagging during the week, treating the trip more as a holiday than as a grafting session, the kind needed to prepare for a long-term campaign.

McCoist now finds himself in a position where the first month of competition could shape his tenure.

Malmö await in just a few days, a game crucial to Rangers’ European ambitions – and therein their finances – while McCoist continues to shop around for new faces to strengthen his squad, and his hand.

If the jury is out on McCoist the manager, we may not have to wait too long before the first verdict is delivered.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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The Rangers crest
By Stewart Weir

There was a time when only big internationals or cup finals merited live TV coverage.

Nowadays, half the stuff broadcast live and exclusive doesn’t deserve a look, never mind a second one. Not so Saturday’s SPL match between Hamilton Accies and Rangers.

ESPN (who have filled a bit of the void left by Setanta) gave punters the chance to view their wares over Saturday and Sunday for nowt. A giveaway, a freebee.

Nice touch as it was, in reality it was nothing more than a marketing ploy to try and get folks to buy in to their coverage of the MLS, Bundesliga, Serie A, and of course our very own Scottish Premier League.

Top of the bill at noon on Saturday were “The Accidentals” against the champions. But, pitched against Everton v Manchester United, and free or not, the South Lanarkshire showdown was always going to be a distant second in terms of viewers.

Still, I ended up, well for 45 minutes at least, being one who tuned in to the former.

No, it wasn’t that my home-town team were playing. Nor was it about not knocking back something for nothing.

It just took me that long to work out what I was watching, and why.

While Accies were resplendent in their red and white hoops, Rangers looked nothing like themselves, turned out in something more akin to the New Zealand rugby team. Even the visiting punters at Douglas Park found themselves confused when it came to singing about “Walter Smith’s Blue and White Army”.

Saturday saw the Ibrox club debut their newest away kit. And of course, they had to. Think around the problem.

On the road, and with a great, smashing, super away outfit that was obviously modelled on Bully of Bullseye fame (in other words red and white stripes), there would just have been too much of a colour clash for punters, officials and commentators alike.

So Rangers just had to play in their third-choice little black number.

But silly me. Here was me forgetting that Rangers actually play in blue. And in forty-plus years of watching fitba I have never mistaken Hamilton Accies’ colour scheme, whether horizontal or vertical, for that of the Gers.

So why a black kit at the weekend?

It has nothing to do with creaming more out of their punters. They do require a third strip for Europe.

Actually, in the space of eight words, I’ve changed my mind. It is about cashing in on every last penny.

I could say it will be the only way the Ibrox will find themselves back in the black this year, but that would be a cheap shot – which is more than can be said about this latest kit, retailing between £28 and £35 depending on what size of Bear you are.

I completely understand why clubs need change kits. There will always be colour clashes. But three?

Wearing it on Saturday against Hamilton was just the most blatant fashion show before Monday’s release, an attempt to get more money out of punters. What was wrong with the traditional blue?

Of course, those who suffer from colour blindness may have already latched on to the point that people with that affliction tend not to see red or green.

Given Accies hooped tops, do you think Rangers will therefore break with tradition the first time they travel to Celtic Park this term by wearing black in Paradise?

It is of course all one big con, and one which has been perpetuated for ages.

Anyone remember the purple strip that Rangers brought out in the early 90’s, again on the pretext that it was for Europe?

Some mugs bought it, although to be honest the only places I ever saw it worn was on building sites or in photos of the less-well-off in Malawi. Most just had a lilac whine, seeing right through the cunning plan.

And if I am not mistaken, Rangers only wore it once, when they crossed the water to face those giants of European soccer, eh, Motherwell. Is it just something with coming to South Lanarkshire?

It seems to be a perennial problem when Rangers have a second-choice jumper in red and usually accompanied by red neck. But not always.

I recall some time ago John Greig, in his capacity as PRO at Ibrox pointing out as he left a press conference ahead of a Champions League qualifier against IFK Gothenburg that Rangers – with a blue and a white kit to choose from – had to play in red because of a colour clash.

A second after he’d left the room, Greigy re-entered and barked; “This is a one-aff – dinnae anybody printing we’ve brought out another set o’ strips.” Third kits have always been a touchy subject in Govan.

And those across the other side of Glasgow are not above and beyond reproach either.

What does green and white hoops clash with? The first person who puts Hibs up as an example, dig out your Topical Times annuals of the early 70’s to see how Celtic and Hibs happily met in a series of finals, both playing in traditional colour schemes.

And remember, that was at a time when many still only had a black and white telly.

Oh, and for those famous Hoops. How Celtic fans are proud of them. The most famous colours in the world? So why turn up at Old Trafford a few years ago wearing yellow?

To repeat myself, I know the need for a change of clothes. But it’s when they are worn, and the need to almost to justify having them, that sticks in my craw, not to mention confusing the hell out of me.