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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

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?

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…

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…

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?

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.

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…

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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Photo by: John Dyason

Photo by: John Dyason, under Creative Commons

Some sad news from Wales, where a hillwalker named Graham Bunn has died following a fall from the 747-metre peak of Yr Aran, the most southerly summit on the Snowdon massif. The accident happened last Saturday, 23 October, in conditions that were described by Elfyn Jones of the Llanberis mountain rescue team as “dry but there had been showers in the area and it was wet underfoot”. An inquest has been opened and adjourned.

Graham’s wife Anne was with him at the time – they were at the summit of the hill – and watched him fall around 50 metres down the north face. Both she and a passing walker attempted resuscitation, but Graham was pronounced dead after being transferred to hospital by RAF helicopter. He was less than a month away from his 47th birthday.

I’m writing about this partly because it’s an example of the kind of tragic, hard-to-explain accident to which even very experienced and capable outdoors-lovers are forever vulnerable – and partly because Graham and I had maintained an occasional correspondence from the mid-1990s, and I knew something of the man.

We never met – distance and diary-clutter always put paid to any vague plans to link up for a hill or two – but we swapped letters once or twice a year. The discussion featured hills, football, dodgy knees (and assorted injuries), the housing market and a variety of other topics. Looking back through some of his letters after hearing of his death, they are packed with information and enthusiasm, full of life.

Graham was born in Darlington and lived in Stockton-on-Tees. He was a keen Middlesbrough follower who would also travel to England away games, for example to France and Andorra in 2008. Two years before that, at the end of a season when Middlesbrough had rather miraculously progressed to the final of one of the major European competitions, Graham wrote: “I have made six trips to Europe to watch our UEFA Cup adventure. Grasshoppers Zurich, Stuttgart, Roma, Basle, Bucharest and Eindhoven for the final. Also saw all the home games, except for Xanthi when we were on holiday on Skye. It’s been an exciting, expensive and overall fantastic experience. It’s made all those cold nights in Grimsby and Barnsley worthwhile.”

He then added a typical wry joke: “At least Boro have some consideration for their financially stretched fans, and failed to qualify for Europe next season.”

The correspondence – always by letter, never by email – mainly focused on hills, however. He was a good example of the modern walker, steadily building knowledge and experience across every upland area of the UK and also overseas.

We had swapped the odd letter before 1997, but then Graham and Anne found themselves in a classic Munrobagging quandary. They were within days of completing their rounds with the long-intended Sgurr nan Gillean on Skye when the 1997 list-changes were made. Seven of the eight promoted hills had already been climbed, but not Stob Coire Sgreamhach in Glen Coe, so Graham wrote asking for advice – or at least for clarification.

On 20 September 1997 they duly became the first people to complete their rounds on Sgreamhach (they are numbered 1853 and 1854 in the Scottish Mountaineering Club list), having climbed Sgurr nan Gillean two days earlier – and we continued to swap letters over the subsequent years.

As is sometimes the case with hillwalking couples, Graham and Anne – they married in 1998 – climbed pretty much everything together, certainly any new summits. This led to a joint completion of the Donalds (the list of the highest non-Highland hills in Scotland) on Bodesbeck Law east of Moffat in October 2002, and they had a joint Marilyns tally in excess of 900.

Foreign hills and mountains featured, too, with football-watching trips sometimes combined with walking. “The [Andorra] game was in Barcelona,” Graham wrote last year, “and we went to Montserrat and climbed Sant Jeroni, 1236m, again. Very impressive set of hills, these…”.

Then came the terrible news from Yr Aran – especially tragic given that Graham was still so young. There were still plenty of hill plans afoot – rounds of Corbetts and Grahams were due to be completed on the same day, for instance – and he would doubtless have had some trenchant views on the most recent round of managerial chaos at Middlesbrough FC. I would have liked to have read what he made of that, but sadly never now will.

Condolences to Anne and family and friends. Graham’s memorial service will be held at noon on Monday 1 November, at St Peter’s Church, Yarm Road, Stockton.