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Judd Trump

Stephen Hendry

In sport, small is rarely beautiful.

The important football matches are played out in aircraft hangars intended to foster some sort of family intimacy. Roger Federer and Andy Murray knock up in cavernous amphitheatres. Even darts has moved from the snug to the O2 and the SECC, thanks to Barry Hearn, the PDC and Sky Sports. (That’s what makes the atmosphere at the more intimate rival BDO event more fun.)

Hearn, firmly behind the wheel at World Snooker, may have grand plans for the sport but he couldn’t tamper with the Crucible. No matter how much former champion Mark Williams may dislike it.

The theatre, which was founded in 1971, has hosted the championship since 1977. So the history of snooker at Sheffield’s Crucible is almost as old as that of the theatre itself. It has a three-figure (980) capacity, as opposed to the MCG’s six-figure capacity in cricket. No audience member is more than 22 yards – the distance of a Mitchell Johnson delivery to Andrew Strauss – from the action. And for the first week-and-a-half of the tournament they split the theatre in half so that double the number of games can be played.

To see Stephen Hendry knock in his third maximum at the venue where he reigned throughout the 1990s was a triumph of experience over common sense.

The third red and black both struggled in, his cue control was better in his 90s pomp and there were a few near-misses which in snooker means the opposite. The most anxious moment for this writer came with the blue–to–pink, with the realisation that a mobile (mine) may not have been switched off after the mid-session interval. Hendry, as you would expect from a man who started playing there in the 1980s, never looked fazed.

But the celebration, the nipping next door of former winners Ken Doherty and Neil Robertson to congratulate him, and the clenched fist of appreciation from his opponent Stuart Bingham were all wonderful. In few other places in sport would you see such mastery at close quarters. It’s even rarer to see it from a man who hasn’t won the tournament for 13 years.

The best thing about snooker is that they clap each other’s shots, call their own fouls and even turn up for work in a suit. The worst thing about snooker is that when most men wear waistcoats, they don’t have sponsors’ logos emblazoned on them.

The script ahead of last weekend’s visit to the World Snooker Championship – taking in games featuring Hendry, defending champion John Higgins and 2004 UK Championship winner Steven Maguire – had the initial feel that the golden era of Scottish dominance in the sport was over.

The hot young player is Bristol’s Judd Trump, so close to winning last year, and there has been an explosion in players emerging from China while Hearn has overseen the introduction of new tournaments in Thailand, Germany and Brazil. Hendry has fallen out the top 16, Higgins hasn’t won a ranking event all season and Graeme Dott’s finals in 2006 and 2010 were almost tarnished by his 1-10 first-round humiliation here.

Stephen Maguire, Scotland’s only real form player, was facing 17-year-old prodigy Luca Brecel, the youngest-ever player at the Crucible and the latest potential addition to the famous Belgians list featuring Hergé, Georges Simenon, René Magritte and only a few others. Many were expecting Maguire to lose, but it was other seeds – most notably Mark Selby and Ding Junhui – who failed to survive the first round.

Higgins nearly joined them against Liang Wenbo, being at one point 3-4 and 0–54 down, then 6-8, before sneaking through 10-9.

Hendry had to qualify for the first time in 27 years, his preparation had been criticised by Ronnie O’Sullivan after a promotional trip to China ended two days before the tournament, and his season had been more stop-stop than stop-start.

Just when the knives were being sharpened for Scotland’s standing in the sport, Hendry stepped up and knocked in his 147.

However things play out in Sheffield – and the second-round duel between Hendry (seven titles) and Higgins (four) will see another Scot fall by the wayside – the golden age of Scottish snooker cannot yet be consigned to history.

And whatever happens, Scotland will be represented at the final: Dunfermline’s Michaela Tabb is down to referee.

Sócrates, 1954–2011 <em>Picture: Sergio Goncalves Chicago</em>

Sócrates, 1954–2011 Picture: Sergio Goncalves Chicago

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
The BBC’s A Question of Sport has been going a while. By chance, I came across it on BBC Northern Ireland on Saturday afternoon.

It’s a show I’ve had an association with one way and another. It was what made me learn facts and figures around sport, I’ve booked guests for the show, helped Ally McCoist prepare for the programme (John Parrott called it cheating) and even did the rehearsals for the show in Glasgow.

It’s changed personnel, been shunted around the schedules and is now more light entertainment with a sports theme than hardcore athletics. And to be honest, I’ve lost interest with it.

I’ve not watched it for ages, until the weekend. Some of the format is the same, but suddenly the teams were playing on what appeared to a be a Wii or PlayStation simulator.

Has A Question of Sport morphed into They Think It’s All Over? At least the latter employed real comedians for laughs. Needless to say, my interests wasn’t rekindled …

Sunday
There was no one who took an interest in football in the early 1980s who didn’t marvel at the Brazilian star Sócrates. He bossed the midfield, striking with his height, curly mop and beard. And boy he could play.

One marvelled even more that his real name was Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, that he was a qualified doctor, that he smoked 60 fags a day, and liked a bevvy.

Unfortunately, the latter duo did for him eventually, aged just 57.

His passing was followed by the tributes, including those who thought he was part of the best team never to win the World Cup. And I can see why people would make that claim.

Sócrates played alongside brilliant players like Júnior, Leandro, Zico, Éder, Falcão and Cerezo. And they were a great team. Just recall how they dismantled Scotland.

But they were flawed, namely in that they could not defend, as Italy showed in a World Cup classic. And great teams can defend. So that, and the fact they never even reached the semis, never mind the final, for me precludes them as contenders as the best team never to win the World Cup.

France that year had as good a case, given they were cheated out of a final place, although it would still be a contest between Holland from 1974 and Hungary from 20 years earlier. Why?

Because I watched the Dutch in 1974, and I have read about and seen film footage of Hungary. That and the fact that the late Bob Crampsey rated them so highly. Good enough for me …

Monday
More brouhaha over the London Olympics with the news that another £40m is being invested in Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. This time those sounding off came from many within sport, saying so much could be done in sport with that kind of money.

Most people said “grass roots”. But you don’t need those with 3G pitches.

I’d like to see a breakdown of what exactly you get from a £40 million top-up for two ceremonies – which up until Monday we were being told were going to be unforgettable anyway.

A flypast by the original Dambusters? The Beatles reforming? A handout of a grand to everyone in the stadium to applaud madly and tweet feverously about how spectacular the spectacular had been.

Or with it be for extra security costs? No, don’t be silly, they needed an extra £250 million for that. Still, there is some change left out of the £9.7 billion set aside for London. Hope they keep a quid back for matches to light that torch …

Tuesday
Snooker’s UK Championship was one of the big events on the calendar, the matches all the way through decided over two sessions, best of 17s or 19s. Proper match snooker.

This year, though, the format has changed in York. Best of 11 is order of the day, a kind of UK Lite if you like. But what it would mean is that matches would be finished in a session, something of a bonus you might think.

Certainly when the draw threw up world runner-up Judd Trump against former world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, people didn’t care how many frames they played over.

So at 5–5, facing a deciding frame, this was as good as it gets – or rather, as good as it got.

Because BBC decided, in their wisdom, to leave Trump–O’Sullivan for the scheduled episode of The Hairy Bikers.

Oh, you could have pressed the red button – and many viewers would have done so willingly if it had been wired to some high explosives.

There is a snobbery at the BBC when it comes to snooker. Basically, we should be glad they still broadcast this ancient pastime, even if it hammers other sports in terms of audience figures.

The Beeb would never have left Murray vs Nadal at 5–5 in the final set at Wimbledon, or Jonny Wilkinson on a last-minute kick at Twickenham, or with a British golfer teeing-off on the last hole at the Open, regardless of what those bearded, motorised chefs from the north of England were knocking up out of offal and sawdust.

Needless to say, Eurosport – who stuck with this mini-classic to the end – gained quite a few new viewers after Tuesday.

Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom on the airwaves. I had a right good chuckle when the Sky Sports presenter on Sky Sports News referred to SFA compliance officer as “Vincent Loony”.

Simply stating the obvious?

Wednesday
One thing is certain in snooker. There is always as much going on off-table as on it.

My disappointment at the UK Lite was reiterated, rather more forcibly during his news conference the previous day by Mark Allen, who had some choice words for snooker’s boss, head honcho and some may say dictator Barry Hearn.

“The players don’t really matter, so f*** the players,” said the Ulsterman.

“Whenever Barry came in, one of the first things he said was that the World Championships, UK and Masters wouldn’t be touched. Only 18 months later, the UK format has changed.”

Hearn countered, Captain Mainwaring-like, by dismissing Allen’s criticism of him as that of “a silly little boy”.

And you can say these things when no one will call you to task and you own 51 per cent of the game, something some of the players voted over to Hearn.

That’s not a dictatorship, merely a controlling interest …

Thursday
Hurricane Bawbag strikes the country. But another weather front causes backpage headlines.

The Aluko Storm might continue to run for a wee while after Rangers new boy Sone Aluko was done for diving by an SFA court of coffee and buns.

Diving is cheating, although Aluko might have claimed on another day the wind had blown him over. So I don’t mind things being dealt with retrospectively.

What I do take issue with is that the penalty handed to Aluko is ultimately the same served on Wayne Rooney, by a different court, for booting an opponent. During the game it’s a yellow. But post-game, it becomes a suspension, all because an official has been had, or proved to be inadequate.

And, I really do shake my head when Aluko is suspended and Garry O’Connor of Hibs is not even given a ticking off for an even more theatrical dive to win and score a penalty against St Johnstone.

Promising transparency, the SFA have conjoured up another baffling decision and excuses to match.

On a lighter note, the weather did cause some grief to footballers.

Was this God getting his own back on Garry O’Connor? The best bit is near the end. I didn’t realise Fatima Whitbread trained with the Hibees and got someone to collect her javelins …

Friday
Timing is everything in sport, but surely it is coincidental that hours after Rangers voice their unhappiness at the SFA, one of their own sticks up a couple of Churchillian fingers at the SFA by declaring he wants to play for Team GB at the Olympics.

If I were Steven Naismith, I’d be happy to be playing again properly by the time of the 2012 games.

But as I discussed last week, the SFA are toothless when it comes to players wishing to pursue their Olympic dream.

While he has Olympic ambitions, however, Naismith might have trouble convincing his club manager Ally McCoist that disappearing for a month at the start of the season is a great deal for him and Rangers.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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The name's Bond … Nigel Bond (again)

The name's Bond … Nigel Bond (again)

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Royal weddings are not popular everywhere, some might say particularly around this parish. But the big match, with the end result of Hearts 2 United 1, captured the nation, or most of it.

Stephen Fry was one who didn’t tune in to see all the Queen’s horses and men. Rather than events in Westminster Abbey, he was absorbed by the drama unfolding at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre and the semi-finals of the world snooker championship.

“Sh! Frame 14 under way. You could cut the tension with a Black and Decker tension cutter,” Tweeted the broadcaster and actor.

While the mixture of horse-drawn carriages and motorised carriages (or bingo minibuses to others) shuttled folk around before and after the service, it was the appearance of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, driving out of Buckingham Palace on their own, which showed what a normal couple they were, with William at the wheel of an Aston Martin. A great British marque accompanying this country’s newest marketing tools.

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It made for a great picture, so long as you ignore the fact most newlyweds can’t lay their hands on an Aston Martin DB6 Volante. It was nothing more than a corny, cheap, stating-the-obvious publicity stunt, tailor-made to attract maximum exposure just when things were going quiet.

Which is why I once hired an Aston Martin DB5, entirely to fit in with the headline “Bond’s Back” on a publicity shoot I organised ahead of snooker player Nigel Bond’s return to the Crucible in 2001. Indeed, I hired two cars and a couple of Bond-like girls to accompany him and them.

Countless publications used it, and we even transported Nigel to the venue in this most-gorgeous set of wheels, which the BBC made full use of.

And those pictures and footage have continued to appear ever since. In 2009, ahead of another televised event, I got away with using those same eight-year-old pics. So folks, you probably haven’t seen the last of that other Aston, or its passengers.

Still in London, ‘Arry Redknapp was bemoaning the fact that while we can put a man on the moon we don’t have a away of deciding whether a ball has crossed the line or not.

Spurs can feel hard done to, as the saw a winning position turn to a losing one against Chelsea thanks to two poor decisions made by the referees’ assistants, or linesmen as I still call them (even if they are women).

Chelsea were the beneficiaries on this occasion, as was Frank Lampard – whose shot it was that squirmed through Heurelho Gomes and “over” the line.

If you listen to the old football adage, things even themselves up over the course of a year. So, Lampard got a goal he shouldn’t have got, when last summer he didn’t get a goal he should have been awarded.

And as every follower of the great game knows, things will eventually balance themselves out on the football’s scales of justice. Three league points and a win over Spurs, against progression in the World Cup and a win over Germany.

I’d get Trading Standards in to have a look at those scales…

Sunday
And it’s a mournful Sunday with Eddie Turnbull, Ted Lowe and Sir Henry Cooper all moving on to that big sports stadium in the sky.

Cooper was the only one I didn’t work with, although I did meet him.

His career ended in controversy just over 40 years ago, beaten on points by the young pretender, Joe Bugner – who, in one dubious verdict, was elevated to the status of British, Commonwealth and European champion, great white hope and public enemy no.1.

Beating ‘Our ‘Enry’ was not a great career move for Bugner, although it did Cooper no long-term harm as he became a semi-permanent fixture for a decade, as a captain on A Question of Sport or alongside Kevin Keegan and Barry Sheene advertising the great smell of Brut.

I recall at the time of the Bugner fight that one of the big car manufacturers (I think it was Ford) was doing a promotion for a new range and had signed Hungarian-born Joe to be their face.

A classmate of mine appeared the day after the fight with Bugner postcards, provided by his old man who was in the car trade, heralding Bugner as champion and proclaiming how much he enjoyed driving the new model.

My pal couldn’t give them away for friendship or money. Even ten-year-olds were disgusted at the outcome.

I shared a press box, a phone and a notepad with Eddie Turnbull a few times. His managerial days were behind him when he signed up to be a “name” for an all-new sports paper in the late 80s, as did quite a few of his ilk.

It was something of a shock for him (as was my style of ghostwriting) to find his name appearing on the pages of a publication which found a world war two bomber on the moon, reported that a monkey had landed a plane and boasted (and boosted) several dozen big-busted girls from around the world, suitably enhanced by plastic, silicone or Apple Mac.

Columnist for the Sunday Sport wasn’t quite what Eddie (or any of the other celebrities) quite expected. But the money wasn’t bad, and it got Eddie, who was always good company, out to the football. And, he outlasted that paper by a month.

There was something ironic that Ted Lowe chose to whisper for the last time on the day of the world snooker final, given that 15 years before, the world final between Stephen Hendry and Peter Ebdon had been his retirement bash.

As I was press officer for World Snooker (a position that gave me diplomatic immunity, a personal UN security team and a 20/20 insight into what went on behind the scenes), Ted presented me with a beautifully handwritten letter, etched by fountain pen, the basis of his farewell speech and retirement announcement.

It looked less impressive once it appeared on a computer screen, or in print, and especially once it had been put into tabloid–speak. Sadly, Ted’s farewell was somewhat overshadowed by the events surrounding a certain Ronnie O’Sullivan.

It was also played down massively by snooker’s governing body, whose key board members were such an insecure and paranoid bunch that they first didn’t want any release to go out on their behalf, then wanted to censor what Ted had to say, then changed their mind because they wanted to make more out of Ted because they didn’t want the final overshadowed by Hendry who they feared was becoming bigger than the game itself.

Who said snooker was simple?

Monday
Perhaps John Higgins, or perhaps not. His story is quite remarkable. Suspended for six months this time last year for bringing the game in to disrepute, he came back, won in Germany, won the UK Championship, lost his father, friend and long-term travelling buddy John senior to cancer, before winning a fourth world title against Judd Trump.

Trump’s day might come. He is just 21 – although, putting that in context, he was still older than the youngest-ever winner, a certain Stephen Gordon Hendry. Trump was exciting to watch, but snooker is a game where you cannot take liberties and better potters than he have found over the years that the more flash you are, the more likely you are to burn.

Higgins has the drive and desire to win again, and possibly again. Given everything he has been through, there was always going to be emotion and tears afterwards.

They didn’t have to be coaxed out of him by Hazel Irvine, who seemed intent on getting the right reaction from Higgins. Although, in saying that, she must be the first reporter in history to actually start crying herself because she knew what effect her line of questioning was going to have on the newly crowned king of the baize.

This was also the day where the most evil, despised and hated man in the world was tracked down and taken out. However, there are no reports that Celtic are looking for a new manager…

Tuesday
With Osama bin Laden dead and Rangers fans banned from Europe, has there ever been a safer time to travel?

It appears as if UEFA’s threats and financial hits have finally knocked some sense in the Ibrox support, who have responded by pledging to self-police any sectarian singing.

Representatives of around 80 supporters clubs (is Jürgen Klinsmann Loyal still going?), the Rangers Supporters Trust, the Rangers Assembly and the Blue Order met and vowed “to eradicate” the problem “by more stringent self-policing.”

If you see me turning blue in the near future, it will only be because I’ve been holding my breath for so long.

This week’s winner of the “But for the grace of God” award goes across the seas to Ireland for this entry.

Easily done. Now, where’s that CD of my favourite Irish singer, Ella Fitzgerald…

Wednesday
And there is a bit of an outcry as badminton chiefs are called “sexist” with plans to force women players to wear skimpy skirts instead of shorts at the London Olympics.

The new dress code – based on advice from sports marketing giants Octagon as they attempt to lift audience figures for the women’s game – would come into effect at this summer’s world championships at Wembley Arena, and would also apply to the 2012 Olympics.

The increased popularity of women’s volleyball, where scantily-clad athletes are the norm, appears to have given notion that the one-size-fits-all fix for female sport is to wear less.

In women’s sport, dress codes are highly controversial. Golf and tennis have sexed-up, for want of a better description, while not so long ago even Sepp Blatter suggested women wore hotpants in football.

I bet he’d want cameras in the goals then.

Thursday
We all know the English Premier League is the best league in the world. Because those who cover and promote the English Premier League tell us so.

That’s why Spain’s La Liga had two clubs in the semi-finals of the Champions League, and why Portugal’s Primeira Liga had three teams – Braga, Benfica and Porto – in the last four of the Europa League, and now both finalists.

All of which will be forgotten if Sir Alex’s boys do their stuff at Wembley.

Friday
A week ago, I signed off by saying “things might be brighter around Ibrox should Mr Whyte’s takeover take place next Tuesday. Or not, as will probably be the case, again…” And guess what?

It now appears if today is the day that Craig Whyte will finally take over at Rangers. That’s if it’s not next Tuesday again…

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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

Saturday
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.

Sunday
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…

Monday
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.

Tuesday
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?

Wednesday
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…

Thursday
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.

Friday
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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