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Phil Taylor

<em>Picture: Justin Kraemer</em>

Picture: Justin Kraemer

By Stewart Weir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ho, ho, ho and a Merry Christmas …

<em>Picture: Ryan Dickey</em>

Picture: Ryan Dickey

By Stewart Weir

The wait was finally over. Champion David Haye and challenger Audley Harrison get it on in Manchester in the biggest heavyweight clash in British boxing since Lennox Lewis beat Frank Bruno in 1993. Actually, forget what I said about the wait being over. I’m still waiting for a fight to break out. But that’s what you get for believing the hype. An expensive anti-climax if you forked out £14.95 to watch the seven minutes and 53 seconds of “action”. Unbelievably, that’s what Sky charged for their live output, and for the re-run at nine o’clock the next morning. I wonder how many paid full-whack to see the non-event when they already knew the result? I suppose that means everybody. Who in their right minds would have thought Audley could win. The guy has got everything; the size, the presence and (allegedly) the punch. He’s also got an Olympic gold medal, somewhere. Maybe around his neck, to remind him of what he once was rather than what he will possibly be for evermore – namely someone who talked the talk, then crawled the crawl …

Rally Wales GB ends, world champion Sebastien Loeb taking his tally of world rally wins to 61. Think Woods, think Schumacher, think Phil Taylor. Loeb is in that kind of mix. This year’s event was decided over 20 special stages totalling 225 miles. Compare that to 1985 when the Lombard RAC Rally (even now probably a more identifiable title), saw crews leave Woolaton Park in Nottingham to tackle a staggering 63 special stages run over 549 competitive miles, with a total route distance of 2205 miles. And they say sport hasn’t gone soft.

Sebastian Vettel is pictured partying having been crowned F1 world champion, the youngest ever. Did I miss something. What happened to the expected three-way title fight between Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and the young German? Yet another anti-climax. For me the real sporting tale from the Sabbath (reported upon at some length for obvious reasons) came in Germany, where another world champion, John Higgins, returned to the green baize having served his time for being caught up (and not out) in a newspaper sting. Having hardly picked up a cue for sixth months, the “Wizard of Wishaw” picked up the European Tour Championship event in Hamm. Well done John, although I’m not terribly sure what it says about all the other players around that a man, rubbished and ground down by speculation and tittle-tattle while having to contend with a seriously ill parent, and who has barely practised for half a year, can turn up, beat the assembled field and take a title. Who knows, he may have stumbled upon a winning formulae, in only playing every six months. So, see you in Sheffield then John …

And allmediascotland.com report that ScotsCare, the London-based Scottish charity has announced the shortlist for Scotland’s Greatest Sporting Moment with the winner to be announced to mark St Andrew’s Day. Included on the shortlist is; Celtic becoming the first British team to win the European Cup; Chris Hoy’s third gold medal in 2008 Olympic Games; Stephen Hendry’s winning his unequalled seventh World Snooker title; Liz McColgan winning gold in the 1991 world championships in Tokyo in the 10 000m; Jackie Stewart becoming world F1 champion for the first time in 1969. Any poll like this will always stir up debate. Jim Clark winning the Indy 500 would surpass Sir Jackie’s feat, while I’d always put Liddell or Wells ahead of McColgan. I still think Hendry becoming the youngest ever champion in 1990 was more of an achievement, while Sir Chris is good at a minority sport (tongue firmly in cheek). Which for me leaves just one winner going all the way back to 1967. I do though think the nominations were rather shallow. I mean, where was Jocky Wilson, Freuchie and the Elephant Polo team?

I read that a letter of apology written by Alex Higgins, after he punched a press officer in front of the world’s media, is to be sold at auction. The Hurricane, who’d become a gentle breeze in recent times, ran out of wind earlier this year aged 61. Now a hand-written letter, submitted by Higgins minutes before he was to appear in front of a disciplinary panel to answer charges that he’d punched a press officer, is to be offered up at auction. Auctioneer Charles Hanson said the letter was expected to fetch between £1,500 and £2,000, saying; “It is iconic to the history of snooker and is a letter which marked the beginning of a decline for a snooker genius considered by some to be the most truly gifted player.” So, I had a rummage around to see if I had anything touched by the Belfast genius and came up with an autographed T-shirt, a signed Embassy programme, a shredded beer mat which he had doodled on, and a page from a note book containing his name, and the name, address, account number and sort code of his bank where a cheque was to be deposited for an exclusive interview I’d conducted. How much for that job lot? A fiver, a tenner anywhere? Of course, I’d never sell it. I’m using it in my book.

The Grand Slam of Darts in Wolverhampton sees 15-time world champion Phil “The Power” Taylor wearing spectacles in a couple of his opening games, beating Michael van Gerwen, but losing to Ted Hankey. Taylor then ditched the goggles. Sporting of him to give others a chance, although if he really wanted to even things up, he could have invested in blinkers.

And finally, Celtic chairman John Reid backs calls from SNP MP Peter Wishart for officials to declare which football team they support. So what if you want to be a football referee but don’t support a team? Does that disqualify you immediately? Or do the paranoid say “well, we don’t believe you?” Or, if you do declare you support Albion Rovers, can you live with the ridicule and ignominy that would follow …

<em>Picture: Shine 2010 - 2010 World Cup good news</em>

Picture: Shine 2010 - 2010 World Cup good news

Living in London is, for the most part, a joy. The choice of restaurants, galleries, theatres, parks, museums on offer is tremendous. For all its landmarks, there are some times when life in the capital doesn’t seem that attractive. Those times can normally be pinned down, biennially, to when England are in the finals of a major football tournament.

Scots are made to feel obliged to support their neighbours and the remaining British representatives. Stuart Crawford on these pages suggested as much, and Dougray Scott has joined Ewan McGregor, Sir Chris Hoy, Manchester United’s Darren Fletcher and others in wishing England well. The Prime Minister, whose idea of coalition politics is really being stretched to the limit, thinks every single MP will be shouting “Come on, England”.

There’s no guarantee even his deputy’s house won’t be festooned with Spain flags.

There are Scots, Welsh and Irish supporting England in South Africa but here’s a guess based on a hunch and a wee bit of experience – most of them either a) aren’t that into football or b) don’t live in England.

Any resistance to backing Postman Pat’s men – including the USA- Algeria-Slovenia 2010 Supporters’ Club T-shirts – is seen as petty and graceless, as well as failing some recently invented test of political correctness. There are reasons why I’m unlikely to pass that test – many, many reasons. Here are six:

1. Hubris

There is always a moment in any tournament when someone on TV (possibly Gary Lineker or Clive Tyldesley) says “the problem with the Germans/Italians/Dutch/French is that they’re arrogant.” Huh?

Physician, heal thyself. This week alone, there have beeen sightings of three separate “WORLD BEATERS” headlines, Sky Sports mapped the route of Ledley King (a man who could barely play two games in a row six weeks ago) straight to the final and, of course, the victory parade is already booked.

All this optimism over a team with no confirmed goalie, a right back who can barely defend, two midfielders who go together like ice cream and Branston pickle, and a support striker whose name comes up if you type “cow’s backside”, “banjo” and “couldn’t hit” into any reputable internet search engine.

The only time we were that cocky, in ’78, we managed to raise money for the SFA with an open-topped parade around Hampden before we flew out. That takes a certain chutzpah. Ally MacLeod, in his defence, must have had a twinkle in his eye when asked what he planned to do after the World Cup his answer was, “Retain it.”

There is no such levity to England’s misplaced superiority. As butter salesman Johnny Rotten once said, “they mean it, man.”

2. They’re our rivals

Of course they are. When were they ever not our rivals? Scotland-England belongs in the annals of sporting ding-dongs alongside Borg-McEnroe, Fischer-Spassky, India-Pakistan, Barlow-Baldwin. This is not bound into history, or politics as much as it is about a healthy sense of competitive rivalry. Try asking a Celtic fan if he’ll support neighbours Rangers once the Hoops go out of the Scottish Cup and see how far you get.

For all the (overestimated) number of England fans who say “well, I’d support Scotland/Wales/Ireland if they were in it”, ask them again if we actually had a chance of winning the thing.

3. The players

OK, so what Alan McGregor and Barry Ferguson did was daft. The walk-outs by Lee McCulloch and Kris Boyd were far from helpful.

But no-one sent pictures of themselves in their pants to a stranger, or was seen sneaking out the house of a former team-mate who’s now missed a World Cup. Ashley Cole and John Terry – you’re talking a different class of individual there.

4. The fans

Many of them are fine, upstanding types. But type “football hooligans” into Google and the word “England” is not far behind. The nation of Wodehouse, Dickens, Pepys and Stephen Fry is known for its erudition, wit and culture but some of the people who follow their football team you wouldn’t trust to house-sit a bull mastiff.

5. The adverts

The Ladbrokes “we’re gonna win the World Cup” one, Wayne Rooney being knighted for Nike, Frank Lampard for Pepsi, the Mars one with John Barnes (who clearly approves of the product) and especially the Carslberg one with Stuart Pearce, Phil Taylor, Nigel Benn, Steve Redgrave, Ian Botham – strange for so many Englishmen to endorse a Danish beer firm.

6. Reason number six

Ah yes, six, six…remind me. What’s that….6…6? – so rare to see these two numbers together around the time of a World Cup. So rare to see references to red shirts, hat-tricks in finals or Russian linesmen, Sir Geoff Hurst wheeled out for no good reason, histories of the modern World Cup not starting with either brilliant Brazil in 1962 or the advent of colour in 1970.

It always starts with nineteen-sixty-soddin’-six. As for UNICEF’s donation number ending with those four digits for Soccer Aid, that’s one way of testing your support north of Carlisle, and west of Chester.

The 50th anniversary in 2016 can not be anticipated with anything other than impending dread. These are six reasons why many of us are not in the same camp as Stuart Crawford.

Postscript: please note that this argument contains no mention of the words “James” or “Corden”.