4 July 2009

Never hurry a Murray



Arrogance, moodiness, self-belief, an almost wanton disregard for others. These are all qualities I don't like in people. They are also qualities possessed by Andy Murray which I do like.

Yes, the debate has begun. Should *we* (ie, the British public with a stunning and typical sense of their own importance) be supporting Murray in his quest to win Wimbledon when he comes across as such a monotone, slightly spoilt, unsunny character?

None of Murray's alleged personality flaws were the reason why he was beaten in the semi-finals by Andy Roddick. He merely came up against a player whose serve was unreturnable and who simply was on top of his game. That happens. It's the predominant reason why Tim Henman never got to the final, only you substitute Roddick's name for that of Pete Sampras (twice) and Lleyton Hewitt.

But the fact that he lost solely because of his opponent and not because of himself seems to be lost on the usual brand of hateful, whingeing, courage-free moaners who anonymously go on forums or on nickname terms to radio stations to claim Murray deserved to lose for other reasons.

Such as? Well, he's anti-English. He's unpleasant. He's over-indulged. He lacks bottle. He doesn't smile enough. He crumbles under pressure. He is sponsored by a discredited financial company (the RBS). He is the wrong star sign. Etc.

None of these irrelevant things remotely apply. And even if they did, why should the views of some fat tosspot with an eight pack of special brew on his unpolished coffee table be awarded any credence whatsoever? It's one of the many reasons I like John McEnroe's annual involvement in the BBC coverage of the event - he is quick to not only rebuff the extreme claims of know-nowt cretins on the Five Live phone-in, but throw in a couple of insults of his own prior to dumping them. If McEnroe says Murray lost purely because his opponent was unplayable, I'd be inclined to accept his opinion. He is mildly more qualified than Bulldog from Clitheroe who believes Murray lost because he wouldn't support England in the forthcoming Ashes and the crowd turned on him as a result.

Some idiot journalist - a news journalist, not a sports journalist - asked Murray that very question during a press conference earlier in the tournament. What on earth is he supposed to say? You may as well ask him the "when did you stop beating your girlfriend up?" question as you incriminate yourself irrespective of your reply. Murray says he is supporting the Australians and he is anti-English. Murray says he is supporting England and he is accused of pandering, and will probably feel the wrath of his fellow Scots, the ones who publicly and proudly despise all things English. The nature of the question says more about the hack's views on Scots and a reliance on arcane stereotype than it ever would about Murray's stance on matters English. And I doubt a Scotsman, especially one embroiled in the biggest tennis tournament in existence, gives two figs about cricket as a whole, let alone its participants. Look back through the archives of Tim Henman's press conferences and see if there was ever a question aimed his way about Scotland v Italy in the Six Nations. There isn't? You do surprise me. I rather hope that the news hack in question has been severely bollocked by his colleagues on the sports desk.

I'm disappointed that Murray has gone out in the semi-final but it's simply never an excuse to pour vitriol on a chap who has achieved far more in his 22 meagre years than any single one of his detractors, especially when those airing the criticism are not even a third of the way to being sufficiently clued up about the issues. Murray lost a place in the final because Roddick was exceptional. Had Roddick played in the way recent encounters with Murray had gone, it would have been the Brit in the final and not the American. Simple as.

And all this guff about "the first finalist from Britain since 1938" irks me. First, it discounts the female players - Jones, Wade - who have reached their finals since that pre-war year of Bunny Austin. Wimbledon is dual-gender but it seems to be just the men that matter when the stats fly out. Secondly, Murray isn't aiming to be the "next" Brit, just the first Andy Murray, to get to the final. It's unhelpful and misguided, and basically wrong, to use historical stats to heap the pressure further on to his shoulders.

Thirdly, and most tellingly, Henman used to get the Fred Perry stat - the last British male to win Wimbledon. Murray has been on the end of the Austin stat - the last British male to reach the final. The reason for this is obvious - everyone knows that even if Murray had defeated Roddick in the semi, a certain chap from Switzerland would have done him, and probably in straight sets, in the final.

2 July 2009

We wuz robbed



It's very simple, Biggs family. Maybe Ron isn't a danger any more, but he chose to spend 30 years on the run in Brazil, laughing his union jack Y-fronts off at British justice, rather than serving his sentence (for a horrific crime) with a modicum of dignity and decency.

The British public - and the family of the driver whom he helped kick the crap from - deserve to see justice being done, and if that means keeping him incarcerated for as long as it takes to make up the time lost while he swanned around Rio, then so be it. Sorry, but that's how the system works.

1 July 2009

Oh, he can be serious


John McEnroe has an amazing effect on me when I hear him communicating on his specialist subject - that is, despite having limited interest in tennis, I'm transfixed.

To be able to entrance a listener by your very charisma or passion is an exceptional gift to possess. In this Wimbledon fortnight, McEnroe is, as usual, more enthralling than a good measure of the tennis he is commentating upon. Replicating his demeanour as a player, he gets into the listener's ear by sheer force of personality, helped further by his own immense reputation as a player and his naturally brash Americanism.

I like tennis and I try to keep up with what is going on with the sport through most of the year, but I can't say I'm obsessed by it. However, listening to this once fantastic player now aiming his competitive belligerence from within the commentary box is brilliant. Communication is a rare and appreciable gift, and as someone who purports to communicate for a living but knows his limits, I am nothing but admiring.

Hearing McEnroe on BBC Radio 5 Live's tennis version of 6-0-6 is also brilliant, just for the way he quickly gets tired of dim callers suggesting that Andy Murray is incapable of being loved by the public because he is moody and Scottish, or when folk ring up to ask him - yet again - about his tie-break against Borg in 1980. He has Tim Henman alongside him, trying valiantly to get a word in but being all English gentleman about it, like McEnroe apeing his playing demeanour within his new broadcasting career. Henman is evidently overawed but he is trying harder to get his point stamped down, something he failed to manage last year due to his raw nerves and being so obviously awestruck by having McEnroe with him.

There are ex-cricketers - David Gower and Nasser Hussain especially - who now have the gravitas as commentators that they possessed as players, but in other sports (especially football, which is overflowing with charmless ex-pros who have nothing to say in case they offend their mates), they seem to be very scarce. Given that McEnroe is also working for American networks while in London, the BBC - and we - should feel fortunate to have him.

There are people who are barely bothered by tennis but watch Wimbledon, and equally there are people who like tennis but dislike much of what Wimbledon represents. McEnroe has that rare ability to appeal to even the most fierce doubters of sport or event and even the most tedious of encounters is rendered watchable by his presence.

29 June 2009

You know that you came and you changed my world, erm...

Not for the first time, the words of F-C have prompted me into action. I was going to ignore Michael Jackson entirely due to a) being all Jacksoned out after playing lots of his records on the radio on Friday morning; and b) never being more than a casual admirer of the man's work.

However, F-C has done a rather spiffing list of personalised or less obvious Jackson memories, so my deep-rooted unoriginality means I'm going to do likewise. Here goes...

1 - Jeff Astle on Fantasy Football League singing Earth Song. As ever, Astle quickly lost the rhythm and forgot the words as he ploughed through the opening verse over a muzak background, but Baddiel and Skinner doing the "how about us?" routine in the background was a killer.

2 - We Are The World, and the fact that Jackson was still the biggest star on show on a day when his mate Quincy, in charge of production and arrangement, insisted that there were no stars at all. You could tell this because a) he got two separate lines in the song, which nobody else got; and b) he blatantly wasn't at the recording but did his turn prior to the Grammy awards of 1985, after which the rest of the cast decamped to the studios.

3 - Paul Merton's "is it 'bugger toddlers'?" headline-filler on Have I Got News For You in 1994, which is probably the single most amazing thing ever to be passed through by the show's lawyer in its 19 year history.

4 - The 12 year old lad given a phenomenal amount of That's Life airtime in 1988 to show us his moonwalk, complete with expensive costume, even though he was exceptionally shit at it.

5 - Eat It by Weird Al Yankovic.



6 - Refusing to do Live Aid because it was a "Jehovah's Witness Rest Day" which was about as convincing as Tears For Fears dropping out over a row with their sax player.

7 - Steve Wright, whose opinion on anything generally wouldn't interest me one bit, casually saying "what the hell is he on about?" while playing In The Closet, and being right.

8 - The terrific pisstake of the flies-open-and-shut routine by Phil Collins on Genesis' I Can't Dance video.

9 - "And they look as though they all support Aston Villa!"

10 - Chris Evans brilliantly exposing the Jackson entourage as a fraud by showing the suppressed footage of what Jarvis Cocker really did that night, and the Jackson statement which began "Michael Jackson respects Pulp as artists, but ...".

28 June 2009

Callum and Anna



Congratulations to my old mucker Callum, who often signs this blog, and his bride Anna, who got married yesterday. I was privileged to be there for the occasion.

Callum is from Brighton ("Er, Hove actually") and that was precisely where the wedding took place. Never afraid of long journeys, the NB and I set off at 1pm on Friday, hoping with the sort of misplaced optimism reserved for a runner-up on Fame Academy, to be there for roughly 6pm, accounting for comfort stops and the odd jam.

We arrived at just short of 9pm, and this was without a single comfort stop. This was remarkable as the last thing either of us felt as we crawled along the M25 for two solid hours was comfortable. Callum, bless him, felt the need to apologise on behalf of all the south of England when I texted him to let him know the situation.

Nonetheless, we checked into our hotel and had a decent meal and, after a week of breakfast shifts, I was more than ready to fall asleep. The next day was the important one, and what an excellent day it was too.

The one thing you can't organise on your wedding day is, of course, the weather. But by having a summer wedding in Brighton you can at least increase your chances of getting a bit of sunshine so that your make-up doesn't smudge and the photos don't have watermarks on the lenses, and the gathering of guests for post-ceremony champagne isn't done beneath some hastily discovered Alliance & Leicester golf umbrellas. Fortunately, the sun was in a mood to put in double time on the Sussex coast and the day was glorious.

It was a wedding where everyone - bride, groom, bridesmaids - looked radiant and not the slightest bit nervous. Yours truly wore a black suit and shirt and, in order to avoid to Oswald Mosley barbs, rounded it off with a pink tie. I looked okay I think, if on reflection slightly like a waiter in a bar in, well, Brighton. As Callum himself said, Brighton is the easiest place in the world for a Catholic to get married as most of its younger population "isn't the marrying kind", as it were.

The priest was a wannabe comedian, flitting from the serious address and readings to the odd semi-amusing comment about acoustics and, rather deadpanly, ending the ceremony with a chuckaway "Best of luck then." There was one lighter moment - and I do hope Callum and Anna aren't embarrassed by this - when a minor error on the Order of Service sheets meant that half a verse was missing from a hymn, meaning we all felt obliged to hum the melody instead. It sounded, for a few seconds, like Boney M had been hired as the choristers for the day. I wonder if such an occurrence inspired the Crash Test Dummies' writer to pen their most famous hit?

Callum has relatives all over the world and friends all over the country, so a mere trip from Hull (albeit via a long-haul car journey spent shouting at Ford Kas) to Brighton was not even close to representing the longest journey anyone had made to help them celebrate their big day. Callum, in his speech, thanked the people whose trips had been lengthy, adding that people had come from "Belfast, Morecambe, Middlesbrough and Hull - although in the case of the latter, it really should be you who's thanking us." We took the joke well. No, really.

The reception was in a former church and, rather brilliantly, the main meal was cod and chips, served in chippy trays and with champagne buckets containing bottles of vinegar and ketchup brought to each table. Knowing the importance of branded condiments, the vinegar was gratifyingly Sarsons and the ketchup was obviously Heinz, and even came in glass bottles. All this was served with a faux front page of the Brighton Argus as reading matter, detailing Callum and Anna's nuptials under the headline FOR BATTER FOR WORSE.

Their wedding song was Richard Hawley's Tonight The Streets Are Ours, and this was followed by Chas and Dave's Ain't No Pleasing You. Now that is how to start a wedding disco. The dancefloor filled quickly, although when Usher and Rihanna came on, emptied with equal rapidity. It was notable that there was nobody of school age at the wedding at all, and therefore no knee-sliding on the parquet, as is traditional at such events. What the groom and his mates did at midnight after a few extra tequilas I don't know, as we retired to our hotel at about 10.30pm and arrived back in Hull at 3pm today.

Brighton, for what little I saw of it, looks a fantastic place and I'd like to have a holiday there at some point. I'd only ever been once before, and that was for a football match to which I travelled by bus on a dark winter's night. I saw almost entirely nothing of Brighton itself, and even saw Hull City defeated 2-1 in a game made more notable for the self-deprecating Brighton fans who spent the final twenty minutes singing "2-1 to the shirtlifters".

Callum is a BBC journalist and a brilliant one at that, and he and I go back a good few years to when he was an undergraduate hack, training in Preston and doing newsroom shifts in Stockport, among other places. He signs this blog a lot though I suspect that honest modesty may prevent him from doing so this time.

I would like to think, however, that in addition to any other comment you may choose to make, you will wish Callum and Anna well. Knowing him, he is possibly reading this from his iPhone on a Mauritius beach right now when, frankly, a honeymoon should provide many more obvious attractions.

Remarkably, I've now got an evening do for another wedding at Pontefract to get ready for, so best get going. No pink tie this time, I think.

PS - Callum's middle name, as we discovered during the service, is Faramond. It isn't an old maiden name in the family, so his parents really should do some explaining...