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Tony McCoy

Asmir Begovic in action
(Picture: Creative Commons from Wikipedia)

Saturday
Goalkeepers scoring goals was once limited to a select few. As a kid I recall Pat Jennings of Spurs scoring against Manchester United’s Alex Stepney in the Charity Shield game in 1967 and Peter Shilton doing the same that year for Leicester City against Southampton’s Scottish goalie Campbell Forsyth. Twenty-five years ago, Andy Goram became a Hibs goalscorer, his long punt deceiving Morton’s Davie Wylie.

 Andy Goram defending the Scotland goal (Creative Commons)


Andy Goram defending the Scotland goal
(Creative Commons)

It wasn’t too difficult to recall such occasions, it was a rare event. But then (and I blame penalty-kick taking Hamish McAlpine myself) goalkeepers became glory hunters, throwing themselves in to attack at set pieces, some even become free kick experts, such as Jose Luis Chilavert of Paraguay. Still, nothing quite beats seeing one shotstopper beating his fellow defender of the pokey and custodian of the onion bag from long range.

On Saturday, it was the turn of former Celtic No.1 Artur Boruc to play the fall guy when Stoke’s Asmir Begovic scored from about 87 yards against Southampton. Needless to say, it was wind assisted, and helped greatly by an outrageous bounce. But a goal just the same, one that catapulted the Begovic to joint-top Stoke scorer this season. Remember, one!

Begovic was loathed to take praise or plaudits for his goal, adhering to the Goalkeeper’s Union Code of Conduct, paragraph 27, sub-section eight, which states: “You shall not celebrate at any misfortune that may befall one of your own.” For the record, paragraph 27, sub-section nine says: “Because you might be next …”

Sunday
Within the Goalkeeper’s Union Code of Conduct, there is a section covering injury and how, regardless of personal wellbeing and health, you shall play on regardless, especially after a head knock. The wording for this is found within two section, ‘Bravery’ and ‘Stupidity.’

Hugo Lloris

Hugo Lloris

There is little doubting the bravery of keepers, hurling themselves in where other wouldn’t stick a wary boot, where one kick could have serious consequences. On Sunday, we saw the stupidity element in all its glory. Well most of us did. I can’t be certain Spurs ‘keeper Hugo Lloris knew much about anything after being knocked cold after colliding with Everton striker Romelu Lukaku.

When you consider the actions that have been taken within boxing around head injury, and more recently, the time and effort spent understanding and protecting rugby players from concussion and the after-effects, the actions of Lloris, the Spurs medical staff and manager Andre Villas-Boas to allow the Frenchman to play on appear foolhardy. No, says Villas-Boas, saying such talk is disrespectful to the Tottenham medical staff that helped save the life of Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba.

It might be an idea then for Spurs to rent out their medical staff for this season’s Six Nations, with the guarantee that no rugby player will be unavailable for selection or lost to concussion, or suffer long-term after-effects from head injuries. That’s not what Villas-Boas is saying? It is from here …

Monday
PrintNo one can say the SPFL haven’t been hard at it on the money making front. Just a month after naming Irn Bru the league’s official soft drink, a deal is struck with an online streaming provider to show 58 SPFL matches in China through PPLive TV.

A couple of things. Firstly, the £20m is part of a 10-year rights deal. So you can do the maths. Secondly, online streaming is not TV, therefore your potential audience is greatly reduced. This is something I know all about from past experience. So maybe not as extensive as some would have you believe. Still, First Minister Alex Salmond said it heralded “a bright future”.

He is of course the boss of Nicola Sturgeon, who said at the time of the World Cup draw called it “not bad.” You can perhaps see where my scepticism stems from …

A good 'percentage' of tickets sold

A good ‘percentage’ of tickets sold

Tuesday
I read with interest that of Glasgow 2014 tickets sold this far, 57% have been bought by people living in Scotland, 40% from other parts of the United Kingdom and the remainder from non-Commonwealth countries, with tickets to Commonwealth nations coming from an additional pot.

But overall, 70% of the Glasgow 2014 tickets were made available to the public, while organisers reserved 9% for the Commonwealth Games associations and the Commonwealth Games Federation, sponsors and broadcast partners accounted for 8% and 7% of the tickets respectively, while one ticket in 20 was retained for “contingency” and 1% reserved for Games partners.
An interesting breakdown. But why deal in percentages rather than real numbers?

Because percentages are seldom challenged where true figures demand answers? Sorry, just that scepticism again ….

Wednesday
Former Hibs manager John Collins is behind Terry Butcher’s proposed switch from Inverness Caley Thistle to Easter Road. I never knew Collins disliked Butcher that much …

Thursday
The recriminations about who started, and who was guilty of what in Amsterdam before and after Celtic’s Champions League clash against Ajax are in full swing.

Celtic LogoAs a journalist on such occasions, you write what you see. Video and photographs are not always reliable, either because of the editing or the context they are shown in. For football writers especially, being asked to comment on street violence is a thankless task, usually because you are miles away from the unwanted action. But in this world of instant access and comment through Twitter and Facebook, the legitimate excuse of ‘I didn’t see anything’ really wasn’t enough for some.

Some of my ilk were called blind, one-eyed, biased, even liars by those who believe that football journalists actually have access to satellite images, CCTV and helmet cams from around the globe whilst their actual job is trying to watch and write about Celtic scoring. Just because you are at a game doesn’t mean you know what’s happening through the wall behind you.

Take Manchester, May, 2008 and the UEFA Cup Final. It’s impossible for some to comprehend that I didn’t see any violence, rioting, hooliganism, police brutality or the likes that afternoon or evening. I was at the stadium from just after four in the afternoon, didn’t leave until midnight, and headed south, then north, to avoid motorway congestion. Yes, my desk had called to say there was trouble. But it wasn’t until the six o’clock news the following evening that I saw any evidence of trouble.

ajax-logoEven when you are at a game, there are things you miss. One returning to the Mirror office after an Old Firm game I was asked what I had for the back page on Gazza’s flute playing at Parkhead.

The fact it occurred for a few seconds only in the midst of a furious Celtic-Rangers clash, while trying to find out the name of Andy Goram’s sadly-departed ‘auntie’ and was really only viewable to those behind one goal, or to those tucked up nice and cosy in their warm office with access to Sky’s beautifully slow-motioned images (a) for impact and b) to actually have sufficient seconds to broadcast) was lost on some.

“What the f*** were you doing?” I was asked.

“Watching and writing about the game,” I replied.

Sorry, but I WAS doing my job.

Unacceptable to some then, just as ‘I saw nothing in Amsterdam’ is unacceptable to some today …

Friday
The morning after the night before is likely to have been the same as the morning before the night before for jump jockey Tony McCoy. In a time when the word ‘legend’ is tossed around too easily in every walk of life, but especially sport, ‘AP’ could wear that label and bar several times over.

Tony McCoy - 4,000 wins  A true gentleman of racing (Creative Commons)

Tony McCoy – 4,000 wins
A true gentleman of racing
(Creative Commons)

On Thursday he rode his 4000th winner, a testament to his durability and dedication.

Not many other than jockeys would keep their body at a skeletal weight for their sport, apart from perhaps boxers. McCoy’s diet of cups of tea, some jelly beans and ‘the odd’ bit of grilled fish or chicken means there is little in the way of flesh around his bones, let alone fat.

I have met him once. He is sporting royalty, but after a few minutes of handshakes and pleasantries he departed having made the invited assembly feeling like he was honoured to have met them. That really doesn’t happen too often in sport, particularly in the company of busy, top-of-their-form ‘legends.’

And did McCoy, like so many would have done, ponder how he was going to cash in? No, not a bit of it. Instead he McCoy phoned Sir Peter O’Sullevan, the legendary voice behind horse racing, to offer him the riding boots he had worn when claiming win No.4000 on Mountain Tune at Towcester.

Maybe McCoy hasn’t heard of Ebay. And maybe he hasn’t heard how superstars are supposed to act. A very grounded individual, except when it comes to cajoling a ton of horseflesh over jumps ….

<em>Picture: Justin Kraemer</em>

Picture: Justin Kraemer

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
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.

Sunday
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!

Monday
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 …

Tuesday
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.

Wednesday
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?

Thursday
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
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 …