How the history of sport is distorted in the re-telling

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In the hard and meaningful world of sport as we know it today, the line "Nice Guys Finish Last" is supposed to represent a creed that all aspirants ignore at their peril.

In the hard and meaningful world of sport as we know it today, the line "Nice Guys Finish Last" is supposed to represent a creed that all aspirants ignore at their peril.

It is attributed to a baseball manager, Leo Durocher, who was on record as saying that unless you would kick your grandmother in the teeth to score a run, you didn't belong in the game. He was right on that count. You belonged in gaol.

Another version of this traces the quote to a debate in the jockey's room at a racetrack one afternoon when the boys were trying to set up a race to please everybody. But since the going was on the damp side of soft, several said they didn't want to finish last because they got sick and tired of getting mud on their goggles. Finally, the ringleader got exasperated and asked: "Isn't there anybody here nice enough to finish last?" And one guy stood up with a sigh and said, "Well, if no one else will, I will."

Trouble with the sports history of this century, which is more, or less the history of sport anyway, is that it gets distorted in the re-telling. Officially, the Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov merely nodded when the referee Gottfried Dienst asked whether Geoff Hurst's shot had crossed West Germany's goal-line in the 1966 World Cup final. In fact Bakhramov was heard to mutter "Stalingrad".

It wasn't Cornish-born Bob Fitzsimmons, the only other British fighter other than Lennox Lewis to become undisputed heavyweight champion, who first said: "The bigger they come, the harder they fall," before unsuccessfully challenging the giant James J Jeffries in 1901. It was David at a press conference shortly before he took on Goliath.

"I zigged when I should have zagged," was what Jack Dempsey was supposed have said to his film star wife, Estelle Taylor, when he came home all beat up from the first fight against Gene Tunney. Actually, though, it's a direct quote from George Best the night he didn't show up for a game and one of Manchester United's coaches went looking for him and found him in the company of a former Miss World.

Well, you can see how it goes, all down the line. You may even think "I'll moider da bum" was first used by Two Ton Tony Galento before he fought Joe Louis for the heavyweight title, but in fact it was what Sitting Bull said before taking General Custer on at Little Big Horn.

"He can run but he can't hide" is what Louis had to say about Billy Conn before their second fight but the truth is, the remark was first passed by a representative of the Metropolitan Police when setting off in pursuit of the murderer Dr Crippen.

"Say it isn't so, Joe." Now this was supposed to have been uttered by a heartbroken urchin as Shoeless Joe Jackson emerged from the courtroom after being accused of conspiring to throw a World Series. Actually, it was said by the doorman to Joe DiMaggio's apartment house the night the newspapers announced that the retired baseball great and Marilyn Monroe were splitting up.

When the founder of the modern Olympic movement, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, said: "The most important thing is not winning but taking part" he was only repeating what Napoleon said after a loss to Wellington at Waterloo.

"Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that." You all know this, an avowal of Bill Shankly's passion for the game and Liverpool football club. Truth is that it goes back to Shankly's playing days when things were not going well for the team and he was behind with the rent.

Story goes that as Geoff Hurst broke away on a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final and people stood up in excited anticipation, Alf Ramsey ordered the England trainer, Harold Shepherdson, to sit down. What he said, in fact, was: "I'll lay 7-2 Geoffrey misses."

Of, course, you'll never find any of this in the history books.