Friday, June 22, 2007

Football transfers are meant to inflate - Margin

Every summer fans and pundits complain about rising transfer fees. This year the evidence is the £17million West Ham bid for Darren Bent, and the £18million Manchester United spent on Owen Hargreaves.

The blight of rising player fees makes fans exclaim disbelief, and pundits fret about the future. But here at Pseud’s Corner we think for ourselves, so lets celebrate the history of rising prices with a look at the past.

Alf Common - £1,000 – 1905

As one of the best young players in English football, Alf Common left Sunderland shortly after they finished football league runners-up in 1901. He moved to Sheffield United for £350 and went on to win the 1902 FA Cup, scoring in the final against Southampton. Two years later he claimed his first of three England caps, scoring twice.

Common then returned to Roker Park, and quickly left again in a transfer that rocked football.

Sunderland were considered among the big clubs of the English league in 1905. Middlesbrough were trying hard to stave off relegation. They succeeded in doing so partly thanks to an outlay of an incredible £1000 for a player who cost Sunderland a record £520 just a few months earlier.

Boro built on that survival and recorded their best ever league season in 1914, finishing third. But by then Common had moved on to Arsenal where he failed to score as they were relegated in the 1912-13 season. He then finished his career with Preston North End where he claimed a division two winners medal.

David Jack - £10,890 – 1928

David Jack has two notable firsts to his name. One is that while winning the 1923 FA Cup final with Bolton Wanderers, he became the first player to score at Wembley Stadium. The other was that he was English football’s first £10,000 player.

Jack started his career with Plymouth Argyle and moved to Bolton Wanderers shortly after. While there he won the FA Cup twice, scoring the winner in his second triumph, this time against Manchester city in 1925.

Bolton were later forced to sell their most prized asset and top goal scorer because of financial difficulties. Arsenal stepped forward and paid the amazing £10,890 in 1928, 23 years after Alf Common’s landmark move. And just like 1905, this transfer nearly doubled the previous record.

The move proved a success for Jack who joined Arsenal in a golden age under Herbert Chapman. He won the FA Cup again, and went on to win three division one titles in the early 1930s before retiring as younger players pushed him out of the team.

Jimmy Greaves - £99,999 – 1961
Denis Law - £115,000 – 1962

Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law were both the first £100,000 player in English football. And to understand this anomaly you will have to read on to Trevor Francis. In the mean time these two strikers signed for what were at the time England’s two most glamorous clubs.

Greaves had left Chelsea aged just 21 having already scored over 100 league goals. He went to Italy and AC Milan where the lack of a wage cap meant he could earn more money. Law signed for Torino that same year for the same reason, leaving Manchester City who had themselves spent a British record £55,000 on him.

The outcry at Britain’s best players leaving for Italy led to the end of the wage cap. And with that Greaves left AC Milan as their top scorer after just a few months, while Law followed Greaves shortly after.

Bill Nicholson did not want to burden his record signing’s reputation with the status of first £100,000 player. As such he agreed with AC Milan that one pound short of six figures was enough. When Law signed for Manchester United, Matt Busby dispensed with such concerns by paying a whopping £115,000.

These players became legends in what fans consider to be the golden age of both clubs. In 1963 Greaves inspired Spurs to win Britain’s first European trophy. Law then inspired the Red Devils to become the first English European Cup winners in 1968. They both went on to score more than a goal every other game for their countries making Law the current joint top goal scorer for Scotland, and Greaves third for England.

Trevor Francis - £999,999 – 1979

Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough and Spurs manager Bill Nicholson had more in common than their legendary love of passing football. Hence, like Greaves before him, Trevor Francis did not quite earn Birmingham City the landmark seven figures that he effectively cost. Clough wanted to save his player from that pressure.

Oddly though, while Clough set the price £1 below the landmark figure Steve Daley did not become the equivalent to Denis Law 18 years earlier. His transfer from Wolves to Manchester City for £1.438million was a record, but every history book makes Francis the first £1million man.

Trevor Francis was a stunning player at a mediocre Birmingham City, and like Law and Greaves before him he won nothing until he moved. Three months after the February transfer he not only won the European Cup, but scored the winning goal in the final when he headed home John Robertson’s cross.

Sadly from that point on his Forest career went down hill. Clough tended to play him on the right instead of as centre forward; he lost the 1980 League Cup Final, and he missed the European Cup Final that year through injury. He was sold a year later.

Despite his Forest woes Francis continued to be a key figure in the England squad making more than 50 appearances, and in 1981 he moved to Manchester City and then on to Sampdoria with whom he won the Coppa Italia in 1985. He then moved to Atalanta and then Glasgow Rangers where he won his last trophy, the Scottish Cup in 1987.

Alan Shearer - £15million – 1996

Aged just seventeen, Alan Shearer broke his first record on his Southampton debut. He became the youngest scorer of a hat trick in league football, a record previously set by Jimmy Greaves in the 1950s. He also scored thirteen goals in eleven games for England U21s, and in 1992 made his debut for England, scoring alongside Gary Lineker.

That same year Shearer became English football’s most expensive player when that same year he was bought by Blackburn Rovers. The £3.6million was seemingly well spent. Having turned down Manchester United he scored 130 goals for Blackburn Rovers in just four years, 112 of which were in the league.

During his time at Blackburn Shearer won the PFA Player of the year, scored 30 league goals in three seasons, and won the Premier League. He also cemented his place as an England international, winning the Golden Boot at the European Championships in 1996.

That summer he moved to the club he supported as a boy, Newcastle United. The transfer cost Newcastle £15million, nearly twice the previous record, and although it was intended to end their long trophy drought it failed. Shearer earned runners up medals for the Premier League and FA Cup, and was voted PFA Player of the year again, but never won another trophy.

He earned 63 caps and scored 30 goals over his career, and scored a club record 206 goals for Newcastle, the last of which came in his final game for the club against local rivals Sunderland. The fact that more than 100 of those goals were league goals meant another note in history, Shearer joined Jimmy Greaves as only the second player ever to score 100 league goals for two clubs.

£100million – 2012?

Sixteen to eighteen years seems to be a fairly constant period for a 10 fold rise in English football’s record transfer. With that in mind we should plan for the next landmark to be reached in around 2013.

We can also assume a number of things about the player involved before then. He will probably be young, will almost certainly be an international if not before then after the move, and he may not actually cost as much as £100million. He will win trophies before or after the move, and would probably already hold the transfer record before the big one happens.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Realism does not talk of Rainbows - leeroycal

When you think of Steve McClaren there are a number of words that spring to mind: boring, teeth, lucky and inexplicable being but a few. But prior to the England manager's befuddling statement about the rainbow in Tel Aviv 'surreal' was never likely to be one of them. Surveying the events since last year it is surprising it was not a more obvious moniker.

Everything about McClaren's short time in the England job has been lacking in normality, starting from his comical appointment by a boss who blatantly wanted someone else to do the job. Add McClaren's decision to have tabloid rent-a-gob Venables as his number two, his numerous unfounded bleatings to the media about England's potential and his subsequent ability to see positives in the most congenitally awful performances and it suggests that he sees the world in a different manner to us normal, rational people.

This would explain why he believes Phil Neville can be transformed into an international class left-back, like one of Dali's clocks being magically bent around a tree branch; as Franz Kafka's Gregor Samsa was an insect, Steve McClaren's Steven Gerrard is in fact a left sided midfielder. Judging by his 4-3-3 against Spain it appears Steve, like Picasso and the other surreal cubists, believes in creating forms from objects that are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form. He probably has Andre Masson wallpaper in his Soho Square office.

His creative mind is at its most potent when it interprets history. England's 35 years of utter failure with the odd lucky break is to him a rich garden of achievement, liberally peppered with great players of whose legacy this generation are the inheritors. Under Steve's guiding artistic hand they will reach the heights that his staid, functionalist predecessor could not achieve.

You see, unlike Steve, Sven was a stuffy old realist who interpreted everything literally. He saw England's stifling lack of creativity, composure and tournament pedigree as reasons to be resolutely functionalist. He created a dull monolithic sculpture with a strong base, a weaker middle and a top so unimportant he could pick Peter Crouch. This behemoth could sneak results against teams who could actually pass to each other, and this would be enough for the quarter finals and £4m a year.

Portuguese and Italian league winner Sven had obviously not spent time on the Carling Cup winning Middlesbrough training ground and heard the talk of rainbows amidst the smog and mediocrity.

The Branston Rabids Files x4 - file

Little Shoppe of Bolocks Part 2

Previously on Rabids: Hercules Profiterole, the Belgian centre-half and part-time private eye, has had his nose bitten off by his manager Jorges Mourir. Most of the Branston Rabids first team are lying up in hospital but the big Melchester Roofers game is only a few hours away.
Eckle has gone off to get himself a nose guard for the game and found one in the little shoppe of Mr Bolock along with a magic lightbox and a big test tube. They’ve just been discussing the business opportunities presented by an original print of the 1923 FU Cup final which was saved by the heroics of PC George Scorey and his white horse Billie.

“So, all I have to do is get his sperm in here and then come back and no time will be missing right?”

“That’s right,” said the shopkeeper.

“Bloody hell,” said Eckle, his clothes were torn and disheveled and his carefully oiled Belgian hair was all a mess.

“Oh, er…you’re back already!” said the shopkeeper.

“My God, he’s a strong bugger, do you know what I had to go through to get this?”

Eckle was breathing heavily and straightening his hair and clothes.

“Well done, man,” said Mr Bolock holding up the test tube to the light: “There isn’t very much though.”

“Not very much!” shouted Eckle “He nearly throttled me!”

“Don’t be silly, how can a horse throttle you?”

“Horse?” said Eckle.

After they had got Eckle settled down again and the little shopkeeper had washed out the test tube in yellow marigold gloves, they stood back in front of the light box and the old photograph.

“Now, big white bugger right in front of you as you go in, ok?”

“Got it,” said Eckle and allowed himself to be sucked in through the frame again. This time he slipped on the muddy pitch as he landed and before he could get up he was being trampled by hundreds of steel toed hobnails.

He fought his way vertical and marveled at the scene, hundreds of thousands of screaming fans running amok. Broad Lancs and ripe Cockney filled the Wembley air with a frenzied mayhem. Eckle pushed towards the horse thinking how different it all was than the picture; the black and grey suits, white shirts, grey caps, grey skies and pale complexion of the mill workers all in glorious Technicolor.

He reached the proud, grey, stallion and got down to work…

“Oh, er… you’re back already!” said the shopkeeper again “Ooh, that’s nasty, they’ll be able to sew it back on again right?”

Eckle thrust the warm test tube into Mr. Bolocks cold marigold and examined the muddy nose in his hand. Blood was running freely now and the shopkeeper rather curtly moved him out of the shop, stuffing the silver nose protector in his pocket.

“Do call again, good luck in the game!”

The Belgian centre-half ran back to the hospital with his battered hooter in a hankie and a big and heavy black horseshoe print on his bloodied face. Needless to say his hair was all over the place.

They had decided to hold the pre-match briefing on the ward as most of the players were there already. As soon as Eckle had been patched up by a doctor with altogether too many difficult questions, he joined the team.

“…so because of the history with Middlinghamsborough Frost we have to put out a side today…” Sir Derek Tannic-Stanza is saying.

“What? We can’t field a team, look at us” said Eckle and gestured around at the sorry invalids.

“Well, regrettably and unfortunately this is what I’ve been explaining Hercules. If we don’t show up then we’ll be fined a shit load and have points deducted, we’re not safe yet you know.”

“Well I’ll definitely play, I’ve got an antique silver nose guard” he shows it around the team to admiring groans “but most of this lot can’t.”

“You’re too young to remember the blitz me lad. Back then we knew what team spirit was about I can tell you, ‘cos my father has told me many stories and I listened, boy, I listened. We have to muck in and stick together, the show must go on.

"Now, Mrs Glossop, Edie, how’s that cruciate ligament of yours?”

By 3 O’clock they had a team on the pitch, just. There was a last minute panic when it turned out that Mrs Glossop was in fact owned by two South American companies and was contractually unable to fill her position on the wing.

Sir Derek himself went into the stands and plucked out a startled 7 year old girl called Mary to plug the gap. But even then it was a ramshackle old team and it depended a lot on Jaws being able to move his crutches quickly enough in goal.

Although Branston Rabids went ahead early when Mary beet Marcos de Janero to a diving header, Melchester Roofers quickly asserted themselves and a torpid game finished 1-4 to the Melcs.

Eckle helped the shuffling Wilfrid Brambell off the pitch dejectedly.

“Thanks for your help Wilf and don’t worry about that young Wooosh Roobit, he’ll be fine by the time England need him next. You play a tough game old timer.”

“Ay? Naa, fack off.” Said Mr. Brambell.

Later, after showers Eckle decided he was going to go and see Sir Tannic-Stanza personally. As he approached his stainless steel office he could hear voices.

“…a packet I can tell you, saved 80 grand on first team wages, ha ha ha, ha, and made another 300 g’s on the bet, brilliant!” the chairman was boasting.

“You don’t mind betting against your own team?” asked a smooth and well-dressed Italian voice.

“It’s a god eat god world Poppi and we all have to eat, non?”

Eckle couldn’t believe his ears, he was Gallically outraged and started to stride towards the office when “BAFF” the lights went out and he slipped into the sort of unconsciousness that comes of a brick on the back of the head.

One minute office furniture the next naked in a rocky cove on a deserted island off Sardinia; it had been one of those days, thought the Belgian centre-half groggily.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

41 Seconds From Glory, or Why I Hate Mark Hughes - leeroycal

Mark Hughes is a respected figure in football, a glittering career as a player has led to managerial achievements and he is universally liked as a man and as a professional. I however am an Oldham Athletic fan, so I hate him.

Under Joe Royle, the Latics dared to dream for five glorious years between 1989 and 1994, we had cup final and semi-final appearances, goals galore and finally promotion to the first ever Premier League season in 1992 . When Sky TV invested millions in football broadcast rights I doubt the trendily-spectacled creatives wanted the image of a sweaty, ugly, ginger, balding Andy Ritchie running on a treadmill as part of their prime marketing push. Our elevation gave them no choice in the matter.

Oldham stayed in the top division that first season on goal difference thanks to a typical humdinging 4-3 win against Southampton on the final day. The 1993-94 season was an equal struggle, but we did put a decent FA Cup run together, bringing us face to face with Manchester United in the semi to be held at Wembley.

The game itself was so turgid that I half expected Leonard Cohen to be the half-time entertainment, but this all changed in the second period. From a corner, United keeper Schmeichel dropped the ball and Oldham full-back Neil Pointon, fresh from a tour as the lead singer of Iron Maiden, smashed the ball in. All we had to do now was hold on. And hold on we did, until 41 seconds from the end.

Brian McClair hoofed the ball over his head into the area and as the ball dropped over Mark Hughes' shoulder, and while four feet in the air and parallel to the ground, he scored one of his specials by volleying it full blooded into the top corner of Jon Hallworth's net. To this day I am convinced that he dislocated his leg to hit the ball it was so improbable a strike. United went absolutely bananas, but for us it was the end of our season.

We had a tough run-in to face in our attempt to stay up, but that one strike laid waste to our fight and our desire. If you watch the slow-motion replay, as Sparky peels away to celebrate you can actually see the souls of the Latics players drop out of the bottom of their shorts. We were hammered 4-1 in the replay.

The ripples of this moment could not have been in more stark contrast for each club. United had until this point been struggling for recent form, they had lost the League Cup to Aston Villa, and indifferent League performances threatened their push for the title. Following Hughes' volley, they put together a run of wins that secured the League and then the Double by defeating Chelsea in the final. They have done alright since as well I think.

Oldham spent the rest of the season looking like they were running through treacle, and when the drop came it was as painful as it was inevitable. Captain Mike Milligan left for Norwich and centre-back Richard Jobson went off to reform The Skids. Joe Royle himself took the Everton job in the autumn and the club then dropped once more two years later. There have since been liquidation scares, bungled takeovers and more managers than a branch of McDonald's.

Still, at least we're not Leeds.

Good riddance Maradona: Argentinos Juniors '85 season - Pipita

Argentinos Juniors, 1985 South American Champions - The benefits of Maradona’s departure

Selling Diego Maradona to Boca Juniors in 1981 almost cost Argentinos Juniors immediate relegation. In the very last game of the Metropolitan tournament of that year, Argentinos, second from bottom in the league, faced one of the big five of Argentine football, San Lorenzo, who were just one point above them. This game would therefore settle the second relegation place, and Argentinos were naturally forced to win. A goal scored by Carlos "el loco" Salinas, one of the players received from Boca as part of the Maradona transfer, sealed the relegation of San Lorenzo to division two for the first time in that club’s history.

The fact that Argentinos had received a significant amount of cash and four very useful players from Boca, amongst which Salinas and the classy midfielder Mario Zanabria were the most talented, did not seem to be enough to minimally compensate Diego’s departure. In 1980 Argentinos had enjoyed the best season in the club’s history finishing runners up for the first time ever in the Metropolitan championship, with Maradona scoring more than forty goals during that whole year.

After a pretty grim middle-of-the-table season in 1982, things gradually began to brighten up with the arrival as coach of former River Plate legend Angel Labruna at the beginning of 1983. Having recently enjoyed tremendous success at that club winning six titles during 1975-81, Labruna was brought in to liven up the spirit at Argentinos after Diego’s departure. At a time when the then Argentine national Coach Carlos Bilardo was persistently emphasizing the futility of using wingers, Labruna decided to base his new team’s tactics on a classic 4-3-3 scheme playing two very fast wingers up front.

Former Velez Sarsfield striker Pepe Castro played on the right wing and the relatively unknown Carlos Ereros was purchased from a Mendoza team to play on the left. Centre forward Carlos Pasculli, later to score Argentina’s winning goal against Uruguay in the 86 World Cup, benefited enormously from the speed and accurate crosses of those two wingers. In order to make this attacking minded scheme more effective, Labruna had very wisely decided to "rent" a pitch with much wider dimensions than the Argentinos one. The Nearby Ferro Carril Oeste stadium was considered more suitable for this purpose, and for the next twenty years it would stage Argentinos’s home matches.

Labruna reinforced the rest of the team with a couple of former River veterans, JJ López and Morete, and two other players he had coached at that same club defender Pavoni and the versatile utility midfielder "Nene" Commisso. Mario Olguin, who played full back in Argentina’s 1978 World Cup winning team, provided extra quality to the defense, and a talented but somewhat lazy midfielder also purchased from a Mendoza team, "Panza" Videla, added skill to the team. At the heart of the midfield a key player emerged from the junior ranks: "el checho" Batista, also to become world champion with Argentina in 1986.

By the time of Labruna’s sudden decease in late 1983, the team had already found its momentum. Cesar Menotti’s former assistant coach Marcos Saporiti was named new manager in early 1984, and immediately made it clear that he would not in any way alter the team’s attacking mentality nor would he modify the squad inherited from Labruna. Argentinos went on to win the metropolitan championship of 1984, the club’s first league title, and consequently won the following Nacional tournament. This second championship was achieved after Saporiti had already left and was replaced by new coach "Piojo" Yudica, who stuck to the same players and tactics.

When Argentinos embarked on their first ever Libertadores Cup campaign in 1985, a major change occurred in the forward line: Pasculli left for Italy and the promising and highly talented Carlos “Bichi” Borghi was promoted to replace him. Borghi was not such a “goalscoring machine” as Pasculli, in fact scoring was to be one of his main deficits, but his tremendous skill, sophisticated passing and great understanding with Videla, allowed Castro and Ereros to get into scoring positions more often than before. After eliminating Rio de Janeiro teams Vasco and Fluminense, Argentinos defeated the Libertadores Cup holders Indpendiente in two memorable semi-finals and went on to beat América de Cali in the final on penalties after a third match play-off. The "icing on the cake" for this team was, however, to be a cup final they eventually lost: the Intercontinental Cup game in Tokyo against Juventus.

Borghi’s performance during that encounter was so sublime that Silvio Berlusconi shortly afterwards decided to purchase him for Milan. Argentinos dominated most of the match and Ereros’ and Castro’s goals twice put Argentinos ahead, only for Platini and Laudrup to equalize. After a spectacular two-all draw, Juve won on penalties, but Argentinos captured everyone’s hearts. After all, this modest club had reached the zenith of international football, a feat that somewhat ironically they would probably never have achieved with Maradona.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Big Norman , thank you - byebyebadman

On June 17th it was twenty-five years to the very day. In the Estadio La Romareda in Zaragoza, Spain, Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia kicked off in the opening round of the 1982 World Cup. The game was a desperate nil-nil draw in front of a half-full stadium containing scores of local Spanish soldiers let in for free. It would be one of the best forgotten games in the history of the World Cup, but for one fact. The Northern Ireland number sixteen, at seventeen years and forty-one days old, had become the youngest player ever to play in the World Cup.

Norman Whiteside exploded into the public consciousness that summer with a string of outstanding performances to help propel Northern Ireland to within a game of the semi-finals. When he returned to Manchester United the following season records tumbled at his feet as if the words ‘youngest ever’ were destined to append his name. He became the youngest ever man to play in the League Cup Final, the youngest ever player to score (courtesy of Cruyff-turning one Alan Hansen) in the League Cup Final in a defeat to Liverpool, the youngest player to score in the FA Cup Final as United overcame Brighton and the youngest player to score for Northern Ireland.

Adulation followed along with inevitable George Best comparisons that Whiteside rightly dismissed. Modest to a fault he would not countenance comparison with anyone in the game past or present, as proved by his recent appearance at the parade of legends in he Cup Final at Wembley. In an interview he questioned his right to be on the pitch in such illustrious company, which is utterly ridiculous – asides from his efforts as a precocious teenager, he also scored the winning goal in the 1985 FA Cup Final. No star can continue to ascend at such a trajectory though, and the fall was rapid.

The legendary drinking culture at Old Trafford in which Norman was ensconced was identified by the incoming Alex Ferguson as a major factor in keeping United from the title and he set out to eradicate it. Whiteside began to fall out of favour but ultimately it was a growing list of injuries that prompted his controversial transfer to Everton in 1988. In three years at Goodison Park he managed only twenty-nine appearances and after a thirteenth knee operation in 1991 the surgeons told him his career was over at twenty-six.

Prior to the great influx of money into English football and having jettisoned education for the game this was a nightmare scenario. To his eternal credit he did not wallow in self-pity, trade off his considerable fame or drink himself into oblivion. He went back to school. His lengthy spells in the treatment room had awakened an interest in podiatry, but with no qualifications he had to start on the bottom rung of the ladder – GCSE’s, going back to study with children half his age, raising his hand in class to answer basic questions on physics and biology. He swallowed his pride and worked his way through the system. A levels followed by stints at Salford and Manchester Universities would eventually earn him a BSc Honours in Podiatry at the age of 32. Now working in association with the PFA, he has been a practising podiatrist for longer than he was a professional footballer.

According to the club’s official website, Norman Whiteside is not a Manchester United legend, which is based on either four hundred appearances or more or around one hundred goals plus. Yet there are some of us of a certain vintage for whom Norman means everything – more than the trinity of Best, Law and Charlton, more than even Edwards, Robson, Cantona or Keane. Why? Because he reminds us of a certain point in our lives, of our youth? Because he represents something the game has lost? Partly yes, but for me there is an added frisson. I feel like I owe him.

I can trace a line back through all the experiences I have had with football to a definitive moment on 18th May 1985. Incredible times for English football, just one week after the Bradford Fire and eleven days prior to Heysel. United are down to ten-men in extra-time of the FA Cup Final against a great Everton team. Whiteside picks the ball up on the right wing, cuts infield, jinks, feints and then curls a glorious shot around Van den Hauwe and Southall to secure the unlikeliest victory. Ron Atkinson is jumping around looking like an ecstatic second-hand car salesman who has just sold a troublesome Ford Escort. Big Norman, looking exhausted, is mobbed by his team, unknowingly having hit the peak of his career at barely twenty years old. With that act of simple heroism it is there, right there, that I fell in love with football forever.

The football sociologist John Williams reasons that the game is so popular because its simplicity and natural balance of skill and physical commitment allows a freedom for individual expression and moments of heroic endeavour. Football will endure because there will always be the game, there will always be players and it will always provide heroes. Every impressionable youth will have their Norman Whiteside.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Rae of Sunshine - Mimitig

I bet you were all thinking about another motorsport piece on Lewis Hamilton. After all, he's just won again in Indianapolis on the world-famous Speedway, and extended his World Championship lead at the same time as turning the screws on his team-mate Alonso. But no.

I want to celebrate the maiden victory for Jonathan Rae in his home race at Mondello Park today in the British Superbike Championship. Young Rae is only 20 years old, and has had a rather dodgy record of recklessness and crashing in his brief senior career in motor-cycle racing. To be honest, his junior record was mostly about crashing too! But Honda have shown faith, and this is now being repaid.

HM Plant are accustomed to nurturing champions - Neil Hodgson maybe the best known of these - after all he became World Superbike Champion just a few years ago. Don't you just remember the celebrations when he won? It was glorious - Who's The Daddy? on his T-shirt over the leathers as he did his celebration lap.

Well this boy from Ballyclare may be the next big thing. No British biker has made an impact on MotoGP - the highest level of racing - but next week young Rae will be guesting at Donington and after his win this weekend, who would be prepared to say that he will be out-classed?

And in a postscript, the winner of the first race was Leon Haslam - Rocket Ron's son. He's still only 22 even though he's been around forever. Wait til the MotoGP bosses come calling for him.

I have written all of this from memory and can nothing to back up my stats! All I can find is that Neil won for Ducati. So now a chance for everyone to weigh in and put me right on facts.

Tweet it, digg it