Fishing Lines: When lunacy ruled

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I DON'T know why I'm bothering to go to Portugal this week. The World Angling Championships have become very dull ever since Richard Clegg took over as England manager.

From the early 1970s, I went to every world match, not particularly for the fishing but to marvel at what new lunacies were perpetrated by the English team, the organisers or both.

In 1970 Stan Smith of Coventry was appointed manager. He was an irascible, dogmatic introvert - ideal material for a team manager - who had to deal with international travelling arrangements and negotiating with other countries. But he was given the freedom to pick his own teams.

This should have resulted in a huge improvement but it didn't. The team were terrified of losing their places and so didn't dare to tell Smith that he was wrong. The consequence was that England became suckers for every ruse, wile and jape. To compound matters, it was a time of fishless venues, mad officials, bumbling administration and banquets that started at 1am.

The highlight was the 1979 championships in Zaragoza. The Spanish had chosen a canal 40 miles from town which had been stocked with thousands of fish, penned into the competition length by electric barriers. However, there was an argument about who should switch the barriers on.

Should it be the chairman of the water authority? The mayor? The chairman of the Confederation Internationale de Peche Sportive, the organising body? The electricity boss felt it should be him. All the while, the fish were spreading their way along the canal, away from the barriers.

When eventually the power struggle was settled, a couple of the barriers did not work. In the strange ways of electricity, this drove most of the remaining fish through the gaps, rather than penning them in. When the contest started, there were thousands of fish outside the competition length which were ridiculously easy to catch, but few inside.

There were many other delights in those days: the Europhobic Smith shouting at officials and finding himself stranded in Germany because he had refused to hand over passports; the great corn swindle, where Italians kindly tipped off England that sweetcorn was the secret bait (it wasn't anything of the kind); and perhaps best of all, the 1981 match on the river Avon near Stratford.

Smith had said: 'We want to show foreigners how the organisation should be done. We have picked a river that will show England at its best.' The event was most memorable for car parks in the next county, the Angling Times balloon that escaped its moorings and blacked out half of Warwickshire, and a river flooded by days of rain. Believe me, even the Stratford riverside is less than lovely when the Avon is 3ft above normal level, there's a foot of mud to wade through and it's still hailing.

Next year, the contest returns to England. But the National Federation of Anglers is not trying to do things on the cheap any more. It reckons that staging the two- day event will cost about pounds 140,000, which must be about pounds 135,000 more than its previous attempt.

Under Clegg, who has been appointed MBE for making England the best in the world, the team will probably win, as they have done on almost every occasion since he took over in 1984. They are slick, highly professional and every eventuality is calculated. They will probably win this weekend too. I'm only going in the hope of another hurricane, as we had in Portugal in 1987.

But that's another story . . .