Sunday, 29 March 2009

Australian Grand Prix

The first Grand Prix of the new season took place this morning. Moved to the early evening in Melbourne to allow the mother country to get up and watch over breakfast, you’d be forgiven for forgetting there was an actual race happening, so self-satisfied was the BBC coverage.

Having wrestled back the rights to “the world’s biggest car chase” from ITV, the BBC set about rubbing it in, with constant reminders that their coverage would be “uninterrupted,” and pre-race graphics that were so blatant, I expected Gandalf and Frodo to be on the back row of the grid.

The coverage is fronted by Jake Humphrey, a former kids’ TV presenter who has done the rounds of the BBC backwaters sport coverage. Graveyard shifts at the Olympics, and substitute appearances for Manish on Football Focus have paid off and the big lad – he appears to be nine feet tall – has now got his big break.

As his paddock side-kicks, the BBC has gone high-profile, it’s stars selected for their name-recognition and access to former colleagues, rather than any kind of broadcasting experience or talent. David Coulthard, who appears to insist on being called DC, is bringing his massive jaw line to bear on the pit lane, along with former team boss Eddie Jordan who can be described, at best, as a gobshite.

Incidentally, Jake started off called him David, deliberately not playing the game. But someone must have had a word during the race because he Was DCing with the rest of them after the race. I wonder if Coulthard had his people ring the head of BBC Sport during a pit stop, it might be in his contract that everyone has to refer to him on air exclusively as DC. I believe John Terry has a similar clause in his Chelsea contract.

Going for quality in the actual commentary box, the BBC got it right with Jonathan Legard, transferred in after years of experience at Five Live, and Martin Brundle, forgiven for defecting to ITV and brought back into the fold.

Even with all their experience, though, Legard and Brundle failed – in the same way as everyone else involved – to satisfactorily explain the new regulation changes. This is what makes F1 so bizarre, they introduce new rules so arcane and impenetrable, that even the teams themselves don’t figure them out till June, and so the first few races end up being decided either in the research and development areas of the garages, or in the courtroom.

Having watched an hour of build up and a two hour race, I will now summarise what I have learned about the regulations for the 2009 season:
1. The cars have a new diffuser on the back, which is designed to reduce the total load by 50%.
2. This looks a bit like a George Foreman grill.
3. Some teams have got one particular design of diffuser, others have a different design. More like a Breville Sandwich Maker.
4. The former claim the latter’s design is illegal and are appealing to the proper authorities.
5. The appeal will be heard in two weeks so the results of the first two races may change. I would like a cheese and bacon toastie.
6. The front wing now has to be the same width as the car itself. This, we are told, makes the cars look ugly. They look the same as they did last year.
7. Launch control is now banned. This appears to mean that, at the start, the car has to be started by the driver and not by a computer. You might be amazed that this has to be in the rules. It’s like saying, “a driver must not gain an unfair advantage by invoking the powers of dark magick and cursing the tyres of his rivals.”
8. Some of the cars are using the KERS system. This is some sort of button the driver can press in order to gain extra horse power for six seconds per lap.
9. I don’t know how it works or even what KERS stands for.
10. Neither, apparently, does Martin Brundle.
11. Some of the cars have not bothered with KERS, so it can’t be that great.
12. Tyres with green stripes are “super-soft.” They are crap.

So there you go. All pretty simple, isn’t it.

Incidentally, the race emphasised the importance of having a good car. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello came first and second in the Brawn GP cars – Ross Brawn is recognised as the pre-eminent genius of F1, and so it’s no surprise that he should be the one to figure out the new rules before anyone else.

I got the impression that Brawn could have taken a Shetland Pony, strapped its little hooves to the wheel, and made him BBC Sport Personality of the Year before Christmas comes around.

Lewis Hamilton is suddenly driving a Ford Focus and is exposed as being rubbish. Of course, he is no worse a driver than he was in winning the World Championship last year, but he qualified very poorly and, despite racing brilliantly, only managed fourth place. Maybe the car will get better as McLaren figure out the rules, but it does make you realise that the championship is decided in the lab and the pit lane, as much as out on the track.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Six Nations

I took Thomas for a walk yesterday and, after teaching him about canals and locks (“like a lift for boats”), we walked across towards Stanley and came across a couple of teams of kids playing rugby. We hung around and watched until Thomas got bored, and I must confess to a nostalgic lump in my throat.

I would guess these lads were no more than nine or ten, and their efforts were scrappy at best, but it was great to see them running around with abandon, and throwing themselves into tackles with harmless gusto. There was even the one freakish boy, a foot taller and four stones heavier than the rest – the whole objective of his team being to pass to him. Enjoy it while it lasts, big lad, in three years time, these boys will be growth spurting their way through puberty and you’ll just be a fat kid.

Most of the forwards were wearing skull caps though – I’m not sure whether this is mandatory these days, or they are just copying what they see on television. It seemed a bit excessive for the level of skill on display, but I suppose a fractured skull doesn’t take much talent to sustain.

I had forgotten all about this mild diversion until I watched the England – Scotland game on the BBC in the afternoon. It’s the last round of the Six Nations and the title was being decided later in Cardiff, both England and Scotland being out of the running.

I was struck, as I watched England’s forwards constantly turnover Scotland’s ball, that the Scottish pack, when up against the England boys, looked like a bunch of kids. I don’t mean this to sound insulting – the fact that the game finished only 26-12 is testament to how well they played, and particularly defended) against a gang of men who, to the casual observer, looked an average of 20% bigger than their opposite numbers.

Chris Paterson, Scotland’s kicking full-back, is a tiny fella – only twelve and a half stones with wet hair and a pocketful of loose change. He was tackled at one point by Mike Tindall. Tindall may be about to marry into the royal family, and I’m sure he’s a lovely bloke, but he has all the physical characteristics of the big red one out of the Fantastic Four. It just looked like the big kid on the team bullying one of the others.

Just like the kids on the field in Stanley, the Scottish lads had gallons of enthusiasm but made lots of mistakes and, despite having all the right kit, they looked like they weren’t exactly sure of what they were doing. The question is how England’s expensively assembled brutes made them look so good.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Greatest Living Yorkshiremen – 1. Michael Vaughan

A momentous day today in English cricket. Michael Vaughan scored his first century for Yorkshire in over five years. Okay, it was just a hit and giggle match against Surrey in Abu Dhabi, but the fact is that one of our greatest sons is back in the saddle and scoring runs.

The England selectors have never closed the door to a return to the fold. All they have stipulated is that he needs to be scoring runs, and now he is. Although there is a part of me that would like to see him bat all season for Yorkshire, I know he deserves to be back in the England team.

When it comes to a comprehensive list of Greatest Living Yorkshiremen, you simply have to have a cricketer in there. There are those who quote Boycott as the quintessential Yorkshireman, but, although I have a grudging respect for him, he is held in scant affection by anyone inside or outside the county. Spending twenty years in a slow, remorseless pursuit of runs, followed by thirty years of telling everyone why they are not as good as you at doing it, does not a hero make.

For about fifteen years, Darren Gough held sway in my affections as favourite cricketer and a true great man of Yorkshire. His casual indifference to authority or reputation, and his pinpoint Yorkers made him a legend. But a series of events started to tarnish my affection for him. First he moved to Essex, recklessly abandoning the county of his birth simply for the convenience of being close to his two sons. Next, he decided not to tour Pakistan with the England side, preferring instead to remain in Britain and go on that dreadful dancing programme.

This had the effect of introducing him to a wider audience, broadening his appeal and moving him onto a career path that would culminate in a spandex body-suit, pushing Vanessa Feltz through a hole in a polystyrene wall whilst Dale Winton shrieked from the sidelines. It is fair to say that, by the time of this humiliation, my affections had moved on.

So Vaughan it is who fills the cricketing berth in my pantheon of greats. Captain of county and country, dignified and majestic, if a little over-fond of the odd bit of management-speak bullshit. What a guy.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Introducing Tyson Fury

While Amir Khan was announcing himself to the world on Saturday night by beating up Marco Antonio Barrera, I was sitting sulkily at home refusing to pay £15 to fall asleep in front of Sky’s pay-per-view evening.

By way of consolation, ITV4 had an interesting evening of domestic boxing, the bill-topper of which was the British Middleweight Title. The highlight for me though, was this young heavyweight who is making waves and, I reckon, is going to be the next big star of British Boxing.

His name is Tyson Fury – and truly there was never a better name for a boxer. This is his real name, by the way – he comes from a from a family of Irish travellers with boxing in the blood. Grandfather “Gypsy John” Fury was a heavyweight contender in the eighties, and his uncle Hughie is his trainer. With that heritage, small wonder he was named after Mike Tyson – the self-styled “baddest man on the planet.”

Tyson is now four fights into his professional career and, having knocked over a couple of nobodies, this weekend, he took apart Lee Swaby. Swaby is by no means the greatest boxer in the world, but he’s a tough cookie who has been in with the best, stopped Enzo Maccarinelli, and fought for British Titles at Cruiserweight. Fury fought him to a standstill. At the end of the fourth, the fight was knocked out of Swaby, and he retired on his stool.

The striking thing about Fury is that, despite his fearsome stature – 6’8” in his socks – despite his terrific speed and heavy-handedness, despite the ominous career path he is already describing to the world, he comes across as just a lovely lad.

Despite his size, and the stubbly growth on his chin, he still looks like the dopey tall kid in class who didn’t know his own strength. He mouths off about David Price (recent Olympian, former amateur opponent and, like Fury, new to the professional ranks) having no chin, but he does it with such a boyish grin, that you just want to ruffle his hair (if you could reach it).

He is fighting again on the undercard of Carl Froch’s showdown with Jermain Taylor next month and, with ITV heavily trailing him as the next big star, I think you will be hearing more about him soon.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


I went to see a customer today who looked and sounded EXACTLY like Jonathan Agnew. It was so uncanny that I started doing a Geoffrey Boycott impression to fit in. He wanted to know about extending his overdraft and I told him that he didn't need that as, "me granny could run this business within t'existing facilitee." Fortunately, I happen to know that the real Agnew is in Trinidad at the moment, and not running a shop in Ilkley.

Obviously, I was on duty so didn't mention the fact that he was quite clearly the evil twin of the BBC's cricket correspondent. But I was dying to ask him if it was a cross he constantly bears. At least Agnew is not a celebrity in the modern sense of the word - I suspect that he is not assailed constantly by octogenarian autograph hunters as he swans around Ilkley. Imagine if you were the living double of Cheryl Cole - you wouldn't get out of the house before people started hassling you, requesting photos, proffering autograph books, and tactfully not mentioning the whole "assault occasioning actual bodily harm" thing.

I think it would make an interesting feature - people who have to live their lives constantly being mistaken for someone else. I am not talking about people who make a living out of being lookalikes - that's boring. I mean people who are just, by the random wave of nature's fickle hand, cursed to be mistaken for someone more famous.

So do you know anyone who falls into this category - I'll interview them and make them famous. Oh hang on, they might not like that. Okay I'll interview them and put their story on here and seven people will read it.

Names to me by the end of Michaelmas term, please.

Liverpool End Real's Season

How thrilling and irrepressible Liverpool looked last night as they annihilated Real Madrid. A 4-0 victory is quite a result, but the nature of it was incredible.

They looked dangerous every time they had the ball. There were moments in the first half where the Real Madrid players were running around like frightened fourth years playing the first XI. Every time Liverpool moved the ball forward, it looked like they could score. And they did.

Gerrard was at his irrepressible best, Albiola had a great game rushing down the right flank. Even Dirk Kuyt wasn’t rubbish. But, as always, I only had eyes for one man. The beautiful Fernando Torres, with his deft flicks, his dead eye for goal, and his sculpted porcelain cheekbones.

I have such a crush on Nando.

The whole Real back four will be not so keen on him though. He made Pepe look a complete fool for the first goal, he hounded Cannavaro and Sergio Ramos throughout the game, but watching him wind up Gabriel Heinze alone made it worth listening to Jim Beglin for two hours. Three of them were booked, Heinze conceded a dubious penalty and, at one point, looked like his head was going to burst with the sheer, unmitigated unfairness of it all.

Throughout, Nando floated on like a swan on the Serpentine. Graceful, determined, and pure as the driven snow.

The best moment was early on when his first touch for once let him down. Pepe came away with the ball and crossed the half-way line. Pausing to look up and pick a pass, he was stunned as Torres surged around him and dispossessed him. Considering this was his first game back from injury, that was a hell of a run. You can’t imagine Robinho or Berbatov doing that. The crowd appreciated it and it summed up Liverpool’s outlook for the night.

Rafa Benitez says it is not as easy as people think to do well in Europe. Unfortunately last night, his team made it look very easy.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

ITV’s Woeful Presentation of Sport (Again)

Got up this morning, as I do every Sunday morning, planning to watch Match of The Day. I tend to record it on the Saturday night and watch that version rather than the Sunday am version that the BBC broadcast. This enables me to watch it a time convenient to me, and also saves me the bother of fast-forwarding through the nonsense “community feature” that they insist on dropping in. I am not paying my licence fee to watch Mikkel Arteta struggling to read kids stories to scouse schoolchildren.

This was of course, all for nothing, because it is FA Cup weekend. This means that Gary and the Alans get a week off and we all decamp to ITV to watch how football would be covered if the production rights were given to a bunch of young offenders doing community service because they had been deemed to retarded for conventional custody.

That dreadful title sequence rolls, which attempts to compare the history of the FA Cup with the glorious proletarian thread of industry which makes Britain great. It actually ends up making the trophy resemble some piece of horrendous “public art,” like the monstrous white horse they are going to put up on the South Downs.

In the studio, we have the omnipresent Jim Rosenthal – surely it’s just a matter of time before he gets a crack at the Countdown job – and Robbie Earle, looking beautiful in a powder blue cardigan. Standards have been allowed to slip everywhere, but surely this is a dress-down too far – my wife has a cardigan identical to this. Earle used to play for Wimbledon, for Christ’s sake. You wouldn’t see Vinny Jones in a pink shirt or Lawrie Sanchez wearing a pair of Italian loafers.

On to the action and they managed to mount their cameras in the right place this time, unlike a previous round where footage from Fratton Park (a Premiership ground, mind you), appeared to have been shot from the lower tier of the West Stand.

First, to Craven Cottage, and an altercation between Clint Dempsey and Wayne Rooney was greeted with a chuckling political metaphor from Clive Tyldesley. “So much for the special relationship,” he drawled. “It nearly broke down there, despite the best efforts of Brown and Obama…”

At best that is a vapid and patronising reference to the fact that we have one of those American chappies over here playing football. Even Jim Beglin kept a tactful silence.

But when it comes to lazy pre-scripted commentary, Tyldesley has nothing on Peter Drury. Commentating from The Ricoh Arena, he deliciously told us that, “they have had 40,000 fans in here to see the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and today there are 31,500 to see Coventry take on Chelsea.” This meaningless stat was dropped in like a depth charge among the action and neither justified nor qualified. I was left shouting, “SO WHAT?” at the screen.

Sir Alex Ferguson won’t speak to the BBC due to some perceived slight they perpetrated on his son years ago. If I were him, I would boycott ITV simply because they are incompetent.