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100 years of the TT

Published January 1, 2011 by tootingtrumpet

From March 2007

7.00am Midsummer’s Day 2006 – the sun is already high in the bluest of skies and I am pointing my motorcycle between the dry stone walls to my left and right. The overnight storm has lent a sheen to the tarmac, vision isn’t good and I’m struggling to keep the wheels in line. The speedo tells me I’m on the legal limit. I let loose an involuntary cheer – immediately lost in the hurtling wind blast – for the sheer craziness of this legal pleasure: the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

That rush lasted for 10 miles or so at 60mph. What must it be like to feel that for 37 miles at 125mph averagespeed, lap after lap, day after day, on The Island.

This year marks the centenary of the Isle of Man TT, the annual week of motorcycle racing through the streets of its small towns and over its brooding mountain, where speeds can reach 200mph. It is a week that exists in a bubble, separated geographically from mainland Britain, separated from the mainstream motorcycle championships and separated from the sanity of self-preservation.

Well over 200 riders have lost their lives at the TT and unlike other areas of motorsport, it’s not getting any safer. The open-roads course claims all-time Greats like Big Dave Jefferies, along with scores of weekend racers. 25 years on, I can still recall the shock in a race commentator’s voice as he described a rider’s fatal collision with a horse that had wandered on to the road. On-board cameras capture the seductive danger of the event, but also show how it exacts its random culling of those willing to face down the monster. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IebbX9-YZ4E gives us a rider’s eye view and that’s close enough for me!

The TT can’t attract the sport’s superstars any longer – Agostini led the charge away from the Island in the early seventies, and no MotoGP team would ever risk its investment by allowing its riders to dance with this green and grey devil. The compensation is a pleasing lack of corporatism. You can still get close to the competitors – even with 26 TT wins under his helmet, Joey Dunlop was there in the pits, a woodbine wedged under his lip, getting his hands dirty.

Soon the boats from Belfast and Liverpool will be laden with bikes as they have been every May for 100 years excepting war, and it’s a fair bet that not all of them will come back. Should the TT’s death toll be allowed to build still higher? Probably. Everyone swinging a leg over the saddle, gunning the engine and hearing it scream, stares down Bray Hill knowing what awaits, knowing that the course’s bite is so much worse than its bark, knowing that more skilled riders than them have failed to return to the pits. But they also know that as the shadow of death draws closer, they will never feel as alive again



In Good Time

Published January 1, 2011 by tootingtrumpet

From March 2007

I’d always get to the match early.

Ninety minutes before an FA Cup replay, I’d be walking towards the floodlights as the programme sellers were setting up, the onions sizzling on the griddles of the burger vans and the police-horse dung still steaming on the street. Once through the turnstiles, I’d race up the steps and there it was, that great swathe of technicolour green with its sharp white lines, all there in front of me, just me. I’d stare and stare amazed that such a place was possible, then settle for the wait, slightly bored, but very happy. Slowly the ground would fill with small groups of men (it was almost always men in those days) who would stand peering myopically at their programmes. Occasionally, a man would break from a small group to shake hands with a man whom he has greeted in this way at every home game for 25 years, but never met in any other setting. 

Two whole hours before a Test Match, my father, my brothers and I were in situ on the hard benches of Old Trafford unpacking the first of many, many spam sandwiches and unscrewing the flasks. Before us was the enormous field, like a gigantic distorted snooker table. Grass was being mown and assailed our city noses with the folk-memory of harvest aromas. People would arrive and speak in hushed voices, so quiet was the Ground. Later, less timid arrivals would lever the ring off the first of many lagers to be consumed over the day, and behind us, the first of the relays to the bar would return carrying four pints of bitter on a cardboard tray being ribbed by his mates for spilling a drop or two on a journey that would have been rejected by Gennaro and Guido for the Fil Rouge as too tricky. Half an hour before the start, the players would shamble out of the Pavilion for a few desultory catches and then disappear again, before coming out marginally more enthusiastically for the start of play. In those seasons long ago, swamped with seven days a week cricket, nobody seemed to bother with stretches and warm-ups, nor did anyone ever seem to be injured.

Half an hour before the start of a speedway meeting, wiry men in garish leathers would limp towards the pits. A thrum of excitement would rustle through the handful of people in the “crowd”. Bang, an open exhaust engine is fired; and Bang, there’s another. Wrists twist, engines scream, and then would waft the glorious tang of the methanol fuel to your nostrils. Suddenly, you’re a kid again, rushing out to the ice-cream van for a 99 as the smell catapults you back through 30 years.

In the hospitality suites, they spend the run up to an event picking away at their prawn cocktails and supping warm white wine. In the crowd though, nothing and everything is happening.


Personal note – This is my favourite piece of all the stuff I have tapped out over the years. It was originally published at Pseudscorner, an extraordinary archive of varied sports writing, where much of the stuff now on this site first saw light of day. Please dip in and enjoy Pseuds’ wonderful prose.

Zimbo or Zimno?

Published January 1, 2011 by tootingtrumpet

From March 2007

Viewing the Pet Shop Boys breakthrough hit “West End Girls” recently (professional obligation – don’t ask), I spotted amidst the sea of shoulder pads and glare of Neil Tennant’s lip gloss a strange gathering filmed from the back seat of a taxi as it sped through Trafalgar Square. To a bunch of twenty-something students, it meant nothing, but I was catapulted back to the 80s and those long waits for night buses. The noise and the colour was always there of course – the 24 hour Anti-Apartheid protest went on outside the South African Embassy 365 days per year. A faint glow of pride surfaced in my heart as I recalled my steadfast refusal to bank with Barclays or buy the evil “Cape” oranges, and I thought about telling the class about those far-off days… but didn’t.

Few would deny that the sporting boycott played its part in bringing an end to apartheid and that a heavy price was paid by cricketers who were very good (Clive Rice, Vincent van der Bijl, Garth le Roux, Ken McEwan amongst many, many others) and cricketers who were great (Eddie Barlow, Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Proctor). Even the staunchest opponent of that hideous SA regime winces at the denial of seeing the 1970 team reach its potential. How good were they? They beat the Australians by margins of 170 runs, an innings and 129 runs, 307 runs and 323 runs – handy, I suggest.

Fast forward 37 years and another team from Africa are playing cricket “representing” a hideous regime, but this time the country is Zimbabwe and nobody is seriously advocating a worldwide sporting boycott. But no cricket fan is at ease knowing the state of that nation and the impact politics has made on the very fine cricketers denied their right to play for their country. The issues were covered in Andy Bull’s article and blog athttp://blogs.guardian.co.uk/sport/2007/03/15/dont_look_now_theres_cricket_t.html – as fine a piece of journalism, never mind “citizen journalism”, as I have read in a long time.

So should we play with Mugabe’s representatives on the sporting field? I, not without hesitation, say yes. I don’t know what the future holds for Zimbabwe, but I know that sooner or later, it’ll look a bit like this cricket team – black and white working together for the common good of Zimbabwe, under a young leader doing his or her best in adversity. I’m seeking advice on a destination for a small charitable donation to support (directly) grassroots cricket in Zimbabwe – I’ll post the advice in the comments here. After all, what’s worth knowing that cricket doesn’t teach?

One day I look forward to the feeling I had on June 24 1995. I sat amongst my fellow Putney Cricket Club 3rd XI players half-watching the preliminaries for the Rugby World Cup Final on TV, wondering whether it was worth starting our match and missing the big game. Suddenly there was a whisper, “Is Mandela wearing Pienaar’s shirt? “. People stood up, someone may have clapped, I had the beginnings of a tear in my eye. I thought of those cricketers and wondered whether they considered their sacrifice worth it – I hoped they did. It’s a different route this time, but the destination is the same. I want to help Zimbo to get there. Who’s with me?


Inverting the Pyramid – Jonathan Wilson

Published January 1, 2011 by tootingtrumpet

From August 2008

“Riquelme has become less a player than a cipher for an ideology”. This elegant biography in a sentence turns up on page 326 of “Inverting the Pyramid – a history of football tactics“. If you’re even mildly engaged by those twelve words, the 351 pages that surround them will reward you with an extraordinarily rich rollercoaster ride through what is less a history of football tactics, more a history of men thinking about football.

Fortunately our guide, Jonathan Wilson, presents his history in an orthodox chronological structure as we flit from continent to continent, looking on, as the pyramid (the formation in which a team is set up) is not so much inverted as perverted from 2-3-5 to 3-2-2-3 (the classic WM) to 4-1-4-1 and all points in between. Tantalisingly, a possible future of 4-6-0 is mooted – indeed Sir Alex Ferguson’s Champions League winners may well have played this formation without us realising.

But it would be a huge disservice to the writer to give the impression that this is a technical theoretical treatise – like the best popular history, the writer wears his learning lightly without ever talking down to his readers. And, also characteristic of the genre, the narrative is packed with unforgettable portraits of extraordinary men. Wanderers likeJimmy Hogan embedded football thinking in central Europe and Bela Guttmann proselytised his 4-2-4 gospel from continent to continent. Great teams, as well known as Hungary’s 1953 vanquishers of England and as forgotten as Austria’s inter-war Wunderteam, are brought to life as if they were playing last week. Influential players, like the tragic Matthias Sindelar and coaching innovators like Arrigo Sacchi are placed within the wider ebb and flow of football thinking and given due credit for their willingness to theorise, then practise new ways of playing football.

One puts the book down with two overwhelming feelings. Firstly, that the game is so very much richer than is generally perceived in Britain – never mind 6-0-6 callers pleading for a “bit of passion” as the panacea for all English footballers’ shortcomings, how about the sheer blinkeredness of those paid to explain the game, from TV pundits to writers in the Press Box? Secondly, that the game is evolving more rapidly than ever before and that British managers and coaches (one florid-featured Manchester-based pensioner excepted) are as emotionally and psychologically distant they have ever been from such developments. If I live thirty more years, I am more convinced than ever that I will not see England win a World Cup.

Oh, just one last thing. On page 284, Watford didn’t beat Everton 5-4, they lost 4-5. I know – I was there and nothing quite beats that, even if Wilson’s book comes mighty close


Guardian’s Blogger Idol competition

Published January 1, 2011 by tootingtrumpet

From February 2007.

The results are in for the first week of the Guardian’s invitation to bloggers. The three “winners” are excellent – read them athttp://blogs.guardian.co.uk/sport/2007/02/16/big_blogger_week_one.html.

I entered two pieces, and got an honourable mention, as well as an outing as MouthoftheMersey. I reprint them below, but please bear in mind that these were written for a particular purpose and outlet with a rawer discourse than I use when acting as a member of staff! Please enter yourselves – it’s fun and good practice.

Entry 1.

Ten things I never want to see again

Sport is a cruel mistress – just when you’re ready to chuck it (say after another half-time summary from Shearer and Wright), along comes Roger Federer, like a lover with a Agent Provocateur bag in hand a funny look in their eye, and you’re right back where you started, trying to keep your heart inside your rib cage. But though we love sport warts n’all, how might a little corrective surgery improve its fading looks?

Here’s ten things to be nipped and tucked away from sight.

Formula One grids with cars lined up in team order. It’s the drivers we want to see competing, not techies with telemetry print-outs and team anoraks.

Grabbing a flag from the crowd and waving it on a lap of honour. Poignant at first, now clichéd and occasionally jingoistic. The Olympics ought to celebrate the Family of Man not a country’s sports budget.

Any pundit with more than three year’s service should be pensioned off – we can only hear so much, then the teeth grate. Hansen and Lawro tell us nothing that they haven’t bored on about ad nauseum for years. Charlton can’t defend – who would have thought it?

Commentators treating sport as a moral debate. Barry Davies and Alan Greene can turn a commentary into a Daily Mail editorial – they are not all good boys: get over it! And while you’re at it, what’s going on down there on the pitch?

Yet more praising of Rugby players’ attitudes towards the referee. Yes they don’t do the dissent thing and yes Rooney and co should shut up, but I don’t call fisticuffs and worse with a referee trying unsuccessfully to separate the thugs, a fine example to our nation’s youth.

WAGS. Let’s leave these cohabitees undermining national teams’ skills out of the sports pages – it’s not as if they are short of exposure elsewhere, even in the Guardian for heavens sake

Big production adverts during international tournaments. I don’t want to see Beckham as a cowboy, nor Zidane playing football in a banlieu, nor Roberto Carlos doing anything except taking free kicks. They are bad actors in poorly scripted, overblown, 60 second melodramas which are destined to be forgotten the moment the real stuff starts again after half-time.

Those beards Sir Alex Ferguson, Harry Redknapp and Big Sam send out to do the BBC interviews while they sulk in the corner about some slight or other three years ago. Grow up and speak to the people who support your team and pay your wages.

Perimeter advertising hoardings that play a short animated film whilst we try to concentrate on the match. Who thinks those are a good idea, except for the Peter Kenyons of this world? Get rid of them now.

Opening Ceremonies. They have as much in common with sport as the Eurovision Song Contest has in common with Slipknot. Say No! to singing kids. Say No! to traditional dancing in national costumes. Say No! to the poor sap reading the commentators’ guide as the BBC devote 25% of its annual live sports coverage to this tosh.

MouthoftheMersey February 13 2007

And number 2

Sport – It’s just entertainment you know

Real fans know that sport is much closer to the arms industry than the entertainment industry, but us poor saps are endlessly told that we have to accept lunchtime kick-offs, Martin Brundle mincing down the grid trying to get a word with Jensen, Russell bloody Brand in the Guardian, all because “sport is part of the entertainment industry”.

What if it was then eh? How about reviving a few entertainment classics (and not-so-classics) and seeing how sports top performers would get on.

The Roker Roar would be but a whisper compared to the cheer around the country if Fawlty Towers were revived in its full glory. Basil would be played by Jose in one of his more exasperated moods, “What do you mean, we have no centre-halves? The Chair of the Rotary Club is having dinner here tonight! Tonight!” Rafa was born to play Manuel, with his tenuous command of English, “Everton is small club, no?” Arsene would don the drag we are all waiting to see and take on Sybil, “Pretentious? Moi?” Ellen McArthur as Polly would rescue them all in the end.

Harry Redknapp is almost too obvious a choice as Norman Stanley Fletcher, as is Sir Alex as Mr MacKay (hairdryer included). Clean cut Chris Coleman must possess a geography O level, so he gets Godber, with Joey Barton typecast as ‘Orrible Ives and Stuart Pearce all bug-eyed naiviety as Bunny Warren. Mr Barraclough is earmarked for Gerard Houillier after his touching trust in Robbie Fowler’s explanation of the touchline snorting incident, with Gordon Taylor as Governor Venables nicely leading into Terry Venables as genial Harry Grout. The Guardian’s very own Russell Brand can get a bit of much needed exposure as Lukewarm.

Preposterous blusterer Peter Kenyon nicely steps into the Captain Mainwaring role, supported by Second–Choice Steve as Sergeant Wilson. On parade, we find dodgy Cockney Private Walker played by dodgy Cockney Dennis Wise, miserable Private Frazer played by Alan Hansen, Stupid Boy Pike played by Stupid Boy Lampard and Bobby Charlton in the role of aging, decent, but confused Private Godfrey. “Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic! It’s just like when we faced those Italians at Istanbul in 05” – Corporal Jones is a role made for Stevie G, with Glenn Hoddle as the Verger.

On other channels, we might view the much-missed gentle romantic comedy of The Love Boat, with Cristiano as the scampish steward pursuing, not entirely whole-heartedly, a haughty Russian Princess love interest played by La Sharapova, whilst kind, but firm, Purser Gary Lineker is tracking down stowaway Theo Walcott. The ship itself is captained with a paternalistic twinkle in his eye by Bobby Robson. With Ricky Tomlinson signing books and Ralf Little flogging a dead horse in celebrity football, Big Sam takes on Jim Royle, supported by Kevin Nolan as Anthony and Mick Quinn as Twiggy. Venus, Serena and our very own Paula Radcliffe line up as Charlie’s Angels (Hmm… might need a name change) and Batman and Robin reunite as Roger Federer and Andy Roddick don the silly costumes.

Beats Super League live from the JJB though doesn’t it?

MouthoftheMersey February 14 2007


Remembering The Scala

Published July 30, 2010 by tootingtrumpet

Nobody fortunate enough to be a student in London in the 80s should have missed out on The Scala experience. Having paid a couple of pounds or so and loaded up with organic carrot cake and a fruit juice, you would peer through the darkness to locate a seat in the auditorium and hope the House cat would let you settle before introducing itself. Without any further ado (especially without the insistent fanfare of Pearl and Dean with their ads for the local curry house), you would embark on a five hour Tarkovsky or Godard double bill squinting to read the off-white on white subtitles. What a joy, and we thought it would last forever…

Just what the world needs – another blog!

Published July 28, 2010 by tootingtrumpet

Yes – I know.

In addition to writing at 99.94Broadwayworld.com, Cricket on Five and Pseudscorner (as Mouth of the Mersey) and commentating at Test Match Sofa, I’m going to gather up various posts from some forgotten corners of the interweb and add a few new ones here. Comment – of course – is welcome and will be answered whenever possible.

I’ll be digging out old stuff from http://tootingtrumpet.blogspot.com/ and http://fdasjists.blogspot.com/2006_06_01_archive.html and even http://www.thegoogly.com/. But only the stuff that’s vaguely relevant – and that might be very vague indeed!

Hope to meet you soon below the line.