Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Second Meaning of Sport - Greengrass

Studying at the London School of Economics in the mid-1960’s was a fantastic experience for a simple lad from a Lancashire mill town.

This was Swinging London, and for me it really swung. I realised that southern ale was not, as I had been taught, ”witches’ piss” - Young’s was a grand brewery!

Carnaby Street, blues groups by the score, folk clubs every night of the week, Bert Jansch on tap, all-night poker schools and an unlimited supply of Southern Crumpet. Since I had a Beatles haircut and a northern accent, they all thought I had grown up with the Fab Four - and who was I to spoil their fun?

There was, admittedly, that regrettable Jagger business. That poor bloke, after two years of hard studying at the L.S.E., apparently got wind of the fact that I was on my way there, realised that there wasn’t room for both of us, pouted, and did the decent thing. Last I heard of him, he was singing with some half-arsed band out Kingston way - not Kingston, Jamaica, but Kingston upon Thames.

There was a lass from the Wirral at the L.S.E. The Wirral is just a ferry cross the Mersey from Liverpool. Wirral people like to believe they talk posh, but they talk Scouse - well, a sort of veggie Scouse. She was what today’s Swedes might term a ”puma”: heads turned in the library when she went to look for a book; she must have caused any number of stiff necks.

Miss Wirral had a boyfriend back home, and I had a girlfriend back home. We really enjoyed having a coffee, ”studying” together, agreeing that Herman’s Hermits were crap, humming ”Wild Thing” and taking turns to sigh about our long-distance relationships.

After a while, we stopped sighing about our long-distance relationships and went for a short-distance relationship: we were, after all, at a school of economics, and saving on travel made sense.

She stayed with her aunt in Ealing, which in my mind’s eye was the stop before Plymouth. I went out there once, to watch The Who with her, and noted that the ads for rooms to rent stated ”No Irish”. Well, you can’t expect Ealing landladies to speak the Erse, now can you?

I stayed in Brixton, which appeared to be a suburb of Kingston - not Kingston upon Thames, but Kingston, Jamaica. Coming home half-cut in the early hours of Sunday morning and hearing the ska pouring out of all-night parties was one of the joys of living there.

I was sharing a room in a Brixton student flat, which meant that my meetings with Miss Wirral involved me bribing my room-mate, Paul, to go out and get drunk every time we needed a bit of peace and quiet. We just couldn’t properly appreciate Buddy Guy singing ”First Time I Met the Blues” on my reel-to-reel Grundig with Paul in the room.

After a few months of that, I got a room near Euston station - I couldn’t stand the thought of my love of music turning that poor lad into an alcoholic.

Come the Christmas break, it was time to nip over to the Wirral and meet her parents. I sung ”I Hear You Knockin’” to my knees and sunk into their smug suburban sofa, ready for the trial to begin. But it wasn’t all bad - the next day, they went to work and we didn’t, which of course gave us loads of time to visit the library in Liverpool and the jam butty mines of Knotty Ash.

Then came THE BIG ONE: Liverpool v. Manchester United at Anfield. Liverpool was her team, Manchester United mine. We rolled up to the ground at the last minute and headed for the cheapest entrance in sight. It turned out to be the Kop, and it was packed.

Since I was shouting things like ”Keep on runnin’!” every time a Red Devil looked like breaking clear, the Liverpool fans quickly sussed out the fact
that I supported United.

After about 40 minutes of heart-warming homely abuse I noticed that people who had passed out were being passed over the crowd and onto the pitch, just behind the goal. I whispered to Miss Wirral, ”We gotta get outa this place. Pretend to faint!”

She suddenly said, ”Oooh!” and collapsed into my arms. She was passed over the heads of the crowd, and I swam after her. When we arrived on the pitch, she was given a whiff of smelling salts to ”bring her round”. The man from the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade then asked me if I was OK, and I told him I was fine. He said that I might need a drop of brandy ”to be on the safe side”, and I understood him to be a very wise man, so I took a swig.

As we were led away to the halfway line, she mumbled that she’d never forgive me the fact that she got those awful smelling salts for her brilliant acting - and I got a shot of brandy.

We arrived just in time to see the players come out of the tunnel for the second half - you could almost touch them! We spent the second half in seats, and later heard that Miss Wirral and I had appeared on the telly as we walked along the touchline.

She later got back with her Wirral boyfriend, and I continued my valiant quest for the Meaning of Sport.

NFL roundp - the Velvet Bear

One of the great things about this game is that it’s never predictable. Looking down the fixtures for Week Two, I thought I would struggle to find an introduction without resorting to the slightly tired ruse of explaining the game by reference to rugby. And then the Patriots got caught spying.

I alluded to this last week, but really didn’t think anything much would come of it, what with the Kevin Everett injury and it being the start of the season. How wrong I was.

Bizarre though it may seem, the NFL actually does have rules on spying on your opponents - unlike most other sports, where it is fair game if you can get away with it. Even for a game so highly tactical, this is slightly surprising, because it has always been a sport which depends as much upon second guessing what your opponent will do as what you do yourself. You would think that any little advantage would be allowed to be taken. Clearly not. From the reaction in the States, you would think that Pat’s coach Bill Belichick hadn’t so much found the Holy Grail as taken a dump in it.

To understand why people are getting so upset, you need to understand about the playbook. This is - to carry the Biblical analogy a little further - the bible of any team. In it is every play the team could conceivably run that season. Some teams have very simple playbooks, some have ones which make War and Peace look like a slimline paperback. Basically, if you want to know how to beat a team, get a hold of their playbook. It is so valuable that some sides don’t allow them to be taken home, even by players like quarterbacks, who need to know everything in there.

This explains why, when you see them during a match, the coaches all talk with their mouths covered. They don’t want anyone lipreading them, because most of the time they are talking to the quarterback, calling the next play. Similarly, quarterbacks almost never talk to their players on the pitch, other than when they are in a tight huddle. Instead they use hand signals. When you see Peyton Manning waving his arms around like an epileptic seagull, he’s actually ‘talking’ to his team members. It was these signals that the Patriots were recording and trying to decipher.

In my book, all of this would be fair game, were it not for the fact that the NFL has specifically outlawed it. Which has given Roger Goodall another excuse to flex his muscles, which he has done in quite a creative way. The Patriots were fined $750,000, of which $500,000 has to be paid by Belichick (don’t cry for him, he gets paid in excess of $4m per annum) and has docked them a pick in next season’s draft, precisely which one depending upon how well they do this season. As he himself said, this is far more of a long term punishment than simply suspending Belichick, because it affects the Pats’ plans for the future - and they are a side notorious for planning their draft picks very carefully.

It wasn’t all bad news for the Patriots, though. On the field they humbled the Chargers 38-14, notching up a 24-0 half time lead along the way. Tom Brady threw for almost 300 yards, Randy Moss ran in two more touchdowns and new boy Adalius Thomas returned a fumble for another score.

In other news:

· Eli Manning surprises everybody by playing for the Giants against the Packers, but is horribly upstaged by Grandad Brett, who not leads the Packers to a 35-13 win but wins his 149th match, an NFL record;

· The Colts regress horribly from their opening day spanking of the Saints and only just hold on to beat a fairly average Titans side 22-20;

· The Saints, however, are still over someone’s knee with their pants down and this time it is the Buccaneers wielding the paddle as they go down 31-14. The Saints look threatening on offense but seem to have forgotten to pack a defense;

· The Bills wore ‘Everett 85’ t-shirts under their game shirts and will auction them for charity, but were outclassed by the Steelers and lost 26-3. Everett himself is making good progress, is breathing unaided and has some slight movement in all limbs. There is talk of him being transferred to a specialist rehab unit very soon;

· The Bears continued their one team campaign to rid me of hair, performing smoothly and efficiently in the first half and woefully in the second to end up with a less than comfortable 20-10 win over the Chiefs. Their two scores came from reserve left tackle John St Clair and a punt return from Devin Hester. The only consolation was that St Clair’s score was a copy of a play the Bears used to run with William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry twenty years ago. Which might be an omen;

· Over in Cleveland, it was hard to tell whether it was a game of two brilliant offenses or two woeful defenses. Bengals QB Carson Palmer contrived to throw six, yes six, touchdowns and still end up on the losing side as Derek Anderson showed that the Browns were right to trade Charlie Frye after Week One and led the Browns to a 51-45 victory;

· The Browns were not the only team to bounce back from shocking starts to the season. Oakland almost stole the game from under the Broncos’ noses, losing to an overtime field goal;

· Detroit QB Jon Kitna has hailed his recovery from concussion during Sunday’s game as ‘a miracle’ - and judging from his subsequent blatherings about God he either really means it or hasn’t recovered at all;

· The Bills’ resident orthopaedic surgeon - and the man credited with saving Kevin Everett’s life - is called Andrew Cappuccino. Wonder how he likes his coffee?

· Atlanta have signed Byron Leftwich and Morten Andersen in an effort to get their season started. That’s right, the solution to the problems left by Michael Vick is a banged up QB with more dodgy parts than a Trabant and a kicker who, at 47, makes Brett Favre look positively juvenile;

· The Eagles are comprehensively outplayed by the Redskins and lose 20-12. Afterwards, Donovan McNabb excuses his own performance by complaining that black quarterbacks are criticised more than white ones - which would work as an excuse, except that Rex Grossman isn’t black;

· Tank Johnson signs a two year deal with the Cowboys, despite the fact that he’s suspended until after Week Eight. Will they still want him when they find out his real name is Terrence?

Fast Lady in Pearls -- Zephirine

When Mildred Mary Petre was 15, her elder brother went away for a few months, telling her to look after his new motorbike. Naturally she tried riding it, and was soon charging round the country lanes at ever-increasing speeds with her collie dog in the side-car. She then discovered she could go faster by taking the baffles out of the exhaust, and as a result found herself in court for noise nuisance and speeding. When asked if she had a licence for the bike, she said: no, but she did have a licence for the dog. The year was 1911.

By the time the First World War ended, she had grown up, saved up enough to buy her first car and was determined to become a racing driver. A woman driver was no longer a novelty, but there were very few women in the cutting-edge world of motor racing, where Mary quickly became outstanding for her skill, daring and endurance.

In 1926 she married Victor Bruce, an excellent racing driver himself who in the same year became the first Briton to win the Monte Carlo Rally. Keeping to the nineteenth-century tradition of adopting the husband’s entire name, she became known as Mrs Victor Bruce, and this is the name she goes by in the record books - though very few people now have even heard of her. In 1927 she won the Coupe des Dames at the Monte Carlo Rally, and together the couple embarked on a series of racing and record-breaking adventures.

(If you’re about to flip over to Google to see if this is a true story or I’ve made it all up, let me save you the trouble: it’s all true.)

It was a time when many wealthy amateurs paid their own way in their chosen sports, but neither of the Bruces was rich. They were seriously good drivers, though, and they funded their driving careers by forming relationships with car and tyre manufacturers who sponsored them in order to test and improve new products. So that when they took a car up into the Arctic Circle, it wasn’t purely for fun, they were able to prove that the vehicle could function well in those conditions; though along the way Mary also found a wonderful hairdresser in northern Finland.

Perhaps their most astonishing achievement was a ten-days-and-ten-nights endurance drive round the Montlhéry circuit in France. They did this in December 1927, in an open AC sports car, covering more than 15,000 miles, at first driving for three hours each but later having to extend it to six hours each as the lack of sleep was too punishing; the six-hour stints, however, presented a serious risk of frostbite in the below-zero conditions. The few other women racing drivers of the day wore trousers or overalls for driving, but Mary Bruce always drove dressed in a jacket and skirt and, invariably, her pearls. For the Montlhéry drive she added a fur rug from her hotel bedroom. She said later that the ten-day record left her with a lasting dislike of sandwiches, as all they ate while driving were ham sandwiches, kept in the glove compartment and tasting of petrol.

Now backed by the AC company, Mary Bruce spent much of 1928 racing at the famous Brooklands circuit, and in June 1929 she returned to Montlhéry to attempt a 24-hour solo drive, in a borrowed 4.5 litre Bentley as AC didn’t have a suitable car . At least this time it was summer, but the weather was still terrible. (The photo shows the Bentley being refuelled at Montlhéry.) She covered 2,164 miles in 24 hours, at an average speed of 89.57 mph - a record which was unbeaten by any solo driver for over fifty years, and has never been surpassed by another woman.

And then, after a brief flirtation with speedboats, Mary Bruce discovered aeroplanes.

She saw a plane for sale in a shop in London. According to her own account: “I thought, ‘What are we coming to now, when we can buy aeroplanes out of shop windows? Soon I shall be so old-fashioned nobody will want to talk to me unless I learn to fly.’” It was a small light aircraft with wings which could be folded back, intended to be transported around and used for short pleasure flights. Mary Bruce decided to buy it and take it round the world.

And so she did, in 1930, having rapidly learned how to fly and navigate. She went on her own: the aircraft was a two-seater, but she couldn’t take a co-pilot as the spare seat had to accommodate a petrol tank. Planes tended to fall apart quite easily in those days, so such things as a spare propeller were essential, and the spares threatened to overload the little plane. She wanted to take a dictaphone to record her impressions of the flight, and refused to leave it behind when the mechanic said it was too heavy. Her husband said: ‘Don’t stop her taking the dictaphone, she’ll never be happy unless she’s talking,’ and in order to lighten the load she threw out the parachute.

She didn’t actually fly the plane all round the world, it couldn’t carry enough fuel to cross the oceans, so she put it on ships for the sea crossings and flew it across the land masses - it would be another two years before Amelia Earhart flew non-stop across the Atlantic. Going round the world with her little plane took Mary Bruce five months and numerous adventures, some frightening, some farcical, before she arrived safely back at Croydon Aerodrome. Her small son Anthony was clearly a chip off the old block, as all he said when his mother got back was, ‘ Mummy, you’re an hour late.’

She continued flying until the Second World War, taking part in early experiments in mid-air refuelling as well as stunt flying for public entertainment, and gradually becoming more of an entrepreneur (though she diversified by going back to riding horses and doing a little competitive show-jumping). She built up a small fleet of aircraft doing passenger and cargo runs out of Croydon, and during the war her company provided aircraft maintenance and repairs. The Bruces were divorced in 1941 and Mary continued on her own in the post-war years as a successful businesswoman in aviation. It was during this period that her fame died away, associated as it was with another and very different world.

This probably didn’t bother her - she doesn’t seem ever to have courted publicity. There’s no doubt she was thrilled each time she won a race or broke a record, but she was motivated by the love of speed and competition, rather than the desire to be famous.

During the 1970s, when she was 78, she had a go at test-driving the new Ford Ghia Capri and took it up to 110 mph, though she objected to wearing a crash helmet, having never worn one before, and initially put it on back to front. At 81, she went up in a Chipmunk and looped the loop for the last time. And although by this time she was pretty much a forgotten name, she did appear on the Russell Harty TV show (sharing the bill with Oliver Reed), before she died in 1990 at the age of 94.

She wrote: ”Speed has always fascinated me since my first pony bolted. Going slowly always made me tired.” Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson, Jean Batten, and other early women aviators achieved great things and had their own personal glamour and mystique, but none of them also broke records in racing cars and powerboats. And surely none matches Mildred Mary Bruce for sheer panache.

[more photos, and film clips, at ]

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jose Mourinho at Pseuds' Pscenes

In a real scoop for Pseuds’ Pscenes we’ve uncovered a behind-the-scenes tape giving you the lowdown on what really happened at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho’s Chelsea history, the goals from his last game against Rosenborg and a video montage of some of the special one's special moments are all here.

Post your own YouTube clips or video/picture pieces by sending YT addresses, pics with, of course, your words of wisdom, to

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Digging in the dirt - premcorrespondent

Sorry about the late post. I've been digging up the potatoes on the allotment and if some snotty nosed kid sagging off school hadn't tried to pinch the whole sack, forcing me to stick the spuds in the boot of the Cortina and drive home with Radio Five, for all I knew the Premier League weekend might still be rumbling on. I've heard that there are countries where the populace will venerate a vegetable on which there is the vague shadow of the Madonna, so I'm thinking of flogging these spuds in the Manchester United Megastore, because every last one of them is etched with the face of Wayne Rooney or Paul Scholes.

To the matches. Spud-faced Wayne couldn't get a game at Goodison, as his team-mates ground out their usual 0-1 win to squeeze out a pre-Wenger Arsenalesque 11 points out of this season's four goals. Spud-faced Scholes was lucky to stay on the pitch - so no change there. At Fratton Park, Liverpool's Premier League squad drew a blank to draw the game with Pompey's plodders after 55 year-old Kanu summoned enough energy to kick the ball, only for Reina to save the penalty. Kings Road entertainers Chelsea nil-nilled against Happy-go-Lucky Mark Hughes' Blackburn Rovers. Rounding off the Big Four, Arsenal gave Martin Jol just enough hope with an early goal for it to hurt like mad when they roared back with three of their own to push the Dutchman closer to his P45. Little Cesc continued to make up for the absent Henry (as well as even more absent Vieira) with another goal, the scamp.

Amongst the lost and confused, Little Sam's Bolton continued their nose-dive with a defeat at Birmingham, while Sunderland beat Reading with an eye-catching display from Kenwyne Jones, whose mirror must be worn out. Wigan drew 1-1 with Fulham in a match that must have pleased the Premier League's branding consultants no end and West Ham jumped into a European slot with an easy 3-0 win over middling Middlesborough.

Come Sunday, and the fixtures still weren't finished, with Manchester City's single goal win over Aston Villa taking Sven's men to second place and leaving Martin O'Neill in a seemingly pre-ordained 11th. Sven's stock continues to rise, while O'Neill's is as stationary as a Northern Rock queue. Monday's match must have brought waves of nostalgia flooding over Newcastle fans, as they blew a chance to go top six losing at doomed Derby.

There's plenty of star players in the Premier League, but of the galacticoes, only Little Cesc was on target - funny that, the weekend before the first round of CL matches.

I'm off to peel the skin off Wayne Rooney's faces, then deep fry them in high cholesterol lard and hang the consequences.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Tribute to Colin McRae – mimitig

Sunday 16th September.

I was really looking forward to a day of exceptional sporting choice and hopefully quality. Three international Twenty20 cricket matches to enjoy – including one involving England. A Formula One race at Spa – one of the very great racing circuits. MotoGP at Estoril – with a real chance of a fine race after all the testing Michelin had just done, and one more treat on the telly – a two hour review of the Tour of Britain, in which British road cyclists (especially the Manx Express – Mark Cavendish) had done extremely well.

Sadly, although all these events went ahead according to their broadcast paths, I found it hard to muster any enthusiasm for these, my favourite of sports.

I had woken in the small hours to hear a report on the news that a helicopter had crashed in Lanarkshire and it was confirmed that one of the dead was Colin McRae. It was one of those times when you don’t quite know if you’re really listening to a news report on the radio or if you’re having some deeply unpleasant nightmare.

I went back to sleep. When I resurfaced, there was no mention of a helicopter crash on the news – it was several hours before I heard that what I had suspected was indeed true and former World Rally Champion Colin McRae had indeed been killed, along with his young son Johnny, and the two other people on board. It was a horridly bizarre echo of Stevie Hislop’s death in the skies above Hawick on 30th July 2003.

While the deepest sympathy goes to Colin’s surviving family, his wife Alison, father Jimmy, fellow rally driving brother Alister, and close friends, all Colin’s fans are reeling with shock and grieving. His close friend, motor-cycle ace Valentino Rossi dedicated his win at Estoril today to Colin. I saw how moved Vale was before the race as he spoke of his friendship with the Scotsman, and I believe that he fought so hard for the win to honour Colin’s own fighting spirit. Rossi – normally the most ebullient of spirits was in tears on the podium.

Colin had droves of fans outside his own specialised world of rallying – in which he became Britain’s first World Rally Champion in 1995 after a thrilling final event decider with Subaru team mate Carlos Sainz on Rally GB. Although not to win another World Title, Colin held the record of 25 WRC wins until recently overtaken by Sebastian Loeb. He moved from Subaru to Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport (Ford) team and after wins at the Safari Rally (oft considered the toughest test of man and machine) and Portugal, only just missed out on a second World Title in 2001.

His next move to Citroen did not bring great rewards. Colin never really gelled with the French team – despite having spent the time and energy to become comfortable with the language. At the end of 2003, Colin effectively retired from the World Rally stage, though he took part in the Paris-Dakar rally. He then moved to sportscars and drove, with great credit at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

He made further occasional appearances at the WRC - and some strong performances with Skoda had led to his name being linked to a full return to the discipline for 2008.

But Colin was more than just a great of World Rallying. He was a keen and talented motor-cycle rider, a sports and saloon car driver, and had his go in single-seaters. With fellow Scot David Coulthard, he competed in the 2006 Race of Champions at the Stade de France, and was due to do so again at Wembley this winter. He also pioneered motor-sport in the world of computer games. The ground-breaking Colin McRae Rally was released by Codemasters in 1998 and has been updated and made available to all the latest platforms on a regular basis.

However, despite his global status and following, Colin always remained close to his Scottish rallying roots, and the last few years have seen him either as a competitive or supportive presence at even the smallest of rallies. I had the pleasure of meeting him, though very very briefly, in Cooper Park in Elgin as he walked around, signing autographs, chatting with the kids, and smiling a lot.

He was, and it is with pain that I write that word, a truly great ambassador for his sport, his country and a terrific example of how to conduct yourself in both victory and defeat. Tributes have poured in from his friends and colleagues. David Richards (who in an ironic postscript to this tribute, today walked away unhurt from a helicopter accident as he returned to Britain from the F1 race at Spa), Nicky Grist, Max Mosley, Jackie Stewart, Malcolm Wilson have all had warm and genuine things to say, but I leave you with the words of Colin’s mate David Coulthard:

“Why is it always the good guys it happens to?”

Colin McRae: 1968-2007

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