TO Gigg Lane, Bury, as romantic a location as you could wish for in the midweek drizzle. But not to watch Bury FC, Manchester United reserves or Swinton Rugby League Club, all of whom strut their stuff at the petite ground; to watch the action in the World Lacrosse Championships.
Readers from the South of England will need to be informed that we are talking men's lacrosse here, not the St Trinian's stuff. Men's lacrosse has been big in the North-west for more than a century and there were probably 2,000 keen fans at Gigg Lane for Thursday's matches, Japan v USA and England v Australia.
Men's lacrosse is an amalgam of American sports. The players wear NFL-style padding and helmets and are individually announced on to the field in true Super Bowl style; the game is played in four quarters of 25 minutes each. But the closest resemblance is to another popular US sport. The fan who explained that lacrosse was 'ice hockey without the ice' was wrong - that's hockey - but there are parallels. A sin bin, for example, and mass substitutions 'on the fly'. The speed and pattern of the games are similar. Attacking players move forward in a teasing, probing line, 'cradling' the ball in the baskets of their sticks, waiting for an opening. Then there's a flurry of passes, often to and from players in front of and behind the goal, a final lunge and the ball is whipped at invisible speed into the net.
Into Japan's net, usually. The USA have been the best team in the world for some time, and Japan only recently embraced the sport. Even so, to be five goals down before five minutes had elapsed must have been depressing. The Japanese 'lax' players, like their rugby- playing counterparts, lost out on the physical side of the game. By half-time the score was 20-0 to the USA, and there wasn't an Oriental body on the field that hadn't been thoroughly checked.
'It's always been like that,' said Peter Bailey, a veteran of the game watching with his son Nick. 'You shake hands with your opponents, have a fight on a muddy field, and shake hands again.' Ailsa, Julie and Rosalind, all 14, play lacrosse for their school teams. 'The women's game is more skilful,' Julie opined, 'because it's less violent, you don't get all these checks.' She grinned: 'But the men's game is more fun to watch.'
Japan got a couple of goals - to huge cheers - but the USA prevailed 37-2. Time for England v Australia, and a closer game was forecast. The English team has improved recently, and on Wednesday night they had performed well against the powerful Canadians before going down to a narrow defeat. They started strongly against Australia, in a match full of pace and aggression. There were frequent clashes of helmets and the players slapped each other with their sticks - quite legally - as they tussled for the ball. At the end of the first quarter England led 5-4 and the crowd were ecstatic.
That was the high point. England visibly tired as the efforts of the previous night caught up with them and they found it difficult to escape from their own half. 'Kick some arse, Oz]' yelled a small but vociferous group of fans. They did. Gordon Elder, one of the Australian referees at the tournament, did a terrfic hip-grind as 'We will rock you' blared out of the speakers. 'The boys in green are hunting in packs,' he said, eyes glinting as if he wished he could join them. 'When the English lose the ball - pow]'
Pow. Deep in the final quarter Australia led 27-6. 'Come on England,' yelled a teenaged voice, '22 goals to go.' They managed one. Australia won 28-7. 'It's an amazing rout,' said Gordon Elder. 'If I'd had 100-5 before the game on Australia winning by 15 goals or better I'd have more money than you can shake a stick at.' The spirit of Lillee and Marsh lives on.
Muddy water blues
MURKY goings-on in St Petersburg, where the Goodwill Games, brainchild of the American media tycoon Ted Turner, are attracting adverse publicity. Critics have suggested that the Games, the first major sports event to be held in post-Soviet Russia, would be an organisational disaster. They have also questioned the ethics of splurging cash on a sports event in a city beset with economic difficulties. The 1986 and 1990 Games, in Moscow and Seattle respectively, lost more than dollars 60m ( pounds 40m) between them.
Organisational glitches are indeed surfacing: the murk referred to earlier is in the tournament's swimming pool. The president of the Games, Jack Kelly, had to announce a delay to the swimming tournament after an inspection of the pool last Friday found a filtration system pumping out nasty brown water. 'There's no way they could swim in the pool the way it is now,' Charlie Snyder, spokesman for the US team, said. 'The problem is that they put charcoal directly into the filter rather than into a sack and then into the filter.
'Two days ago,' Snyder went on, 'when I went to the pool for the first time, the water was a brown-black colour. This time it was green.' Things seem to be getting worse. 'The first time you could see the black lines on the bottom, today you could not.' The event, featuring a much-anticipated 50-metre race between the world record holder Tom Jager and the Russian Olympic gold
The team with cuisine
RANGERS of Glasgow are no strangers to publicity, but their latest exposure on the news- stands is rather unusual. The club have been visited by Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, who wished to nose around the Ibrox nosh-dispensing facilities. C & H, whose bill of fare this month also includes 'Choosing The Right Cutlery' and 'Dessert Storm: Top Army Chef's Creme Sophia', were mightily impressed by what they found. It seems that Rangers are in the vanguard of a shocking trend: edible food at football grounds.
The days of the red-hot pie with an ice-cold centre are numbered. Rangers have installed Rotary Pizza Ovens - whatever they are - and high- tech kiosks designed to serve 20 people a minute, which is about as fast as fast food gets. But the club's catering manager is still not satisfied, it seems: there is another claimant for the money he needs to buy grills and griddles. 'Generally clubs don't want to get involved in catering,' he told C & H. 'Many are caught in a dilemma because of the investment - do they spend money on catering equipment or players?'
It's a tough call, and one that Tottenham Hotspur fans might bear in mind. As Ossie Ardiles trawls the transfer markets of the world in search of exotic foreign players, his catering staff are replacing pasties and Bovril with exotic foreign foods: bagels, satay, spring rolls, samosas and chicken tikka are already on the menu. Will there be enough left in the budget for Marcio Santos and Gheorghe Hagi?
A crowd of 15,000 packed Multnomah Greyhound Park in Portland, Oregon, for the Sausage Dog Summer Nationals. More than 2,700 dachshunds were entered, and a 7-pounder named Rudy scampered off with the top prize: a year's supply of dogfood.