Fishing Lines: England are favourites to catch small fish in a cesspit

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The Independent Online
ROY MASON, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is so far not among the hundreds of English fans who have booked flights or ferries for the World Angling Championships in Ulster next weekend. This may not be totally unconnected to a highly entertaining incident featuring Mason when the event was last held in Northern Ireland.

The scene was the unlovely Newry Canal. Unlike most world championships, where the spectators are roped off behind the fishermen, the 1982 event stationed competitors on an island and spectators were forced to use binoculars from the opposite bank. Team captains, the press and a few select officials were allowed on the island, and an RUC official guarded the bridge, like Horatius, to repel those without privileged documentation.

Mason was then minister for the province. A keen angler, he decided to make a guest appearance and expected that his unique status would be sufficient to allow him on to the island. However, he hadn't reckoned upon Cerberus. As the minister started to cross the bridge, the guardian, like the big bad troll, stepped out and asked for his pass.

'But I'm Roy Mason,' said the minister. 'I don't care if you're Father Christmas, you're not coming across this bridge without a pass,' he was told. The chap who issued the passes was nowhere to be found. And so Roy Mason never got to meet Kevin Ashurst, a maggot-breeder, who won the event that year.

The world championships used to be renowned for their mad officials, bumbling administration, fishless venues and banquets that started at 1am. It was once so bad that the press worked out the results, and officials asked us for them so they could announce the winners. It's changed now and all the fun has gone out of the competition. Even The Sun no longer sends a reporter.

This is partly the fault of the England team manager Dick Clegg, who has moulded such a professional side that England have won on almost every occasion since he took over in 1984. In his first year, he boldly announced that England would win. But they only came second. Clegg has never forgotten this.

When asked what sort of margin he thought England would win by, he said this week: 'People are saying we're certainties. It's not like that. We may have done well in practice but this is a very difficult water. There are going to be people who don't catch anything.' This translates as: 'We are certainties. We caught a lot in practice but the Irish have again picked a cesspit. Some anglers aren't going to catch anything - but we're far too good for that to happen to us.'

It's certainly mystifying how, with some of the best fishing in Europe on hand, Northern Ireland officials managed to discover a water that promises to be only marginally better than the Newry Canal, where the highest weight was under one kilo.

The only competition to come anywhere matching this for awfulness was on the flooded river Avon at Luddington, near Stafford, in 1981. Still there should be enough to keep the enthusiasts happy on the river Erne at Belleek. England's Bob Nudd will be trying to win his third title in a row (as his official biographer, this would suit me fine).

There are rumours that the first 60ft pole will be used this year, and even whispers that the Americans, fed up with being constantly humiliated in this competition, will use an 'infallible' fish attractor developed at Louisiana University and based on amino acids. But otherwise it will be a lot of men with very expensive equipment trying to catch very small fish.

No wonder Roy Mason's staying away.