Mike Rowbottom: An agent away from his phone? Now that is hard to believe

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The Independent Football

Perhaps the Minister for Sport could have avoided appearing disingenuous in his video message from Down Under earlier this week. But it's hard to see how.

There was only the faintest suggestion of regret as Richard Caborn apologised for his absence from the Sport England announcement on future funding because he was out in Australia watching the rugby union World Cup.

"I shall be unable to attend, owing to a subsequent engagement..." He might have said that. Instead, his face etched with glee, Caborn maintained that the new funding strategy would be excellent for sport, and would stimulate participation rates as well as promoting international success. And then - like the Cheshire Cat - he was gone.

Even as his message, and face, were beaming into the new Bloomsbury Square headquarters of the Government quango, however, the man himself was already making a hasty return to Britain to play his part in the crucial House of Commons vote on foundation hospitals, an ordeal in which the Blair government only just squeezed through by a new low of 17 votes. Presumably the disgruntled Minister remembered which lobby he had to go through.

Video announcements in absentia are rarely successful. However they are dressed up they speak only of one essential thing: this person had better things to do.

It would have been preferable, I believe, if Caborn had not sent his virtual self, although at least he stopped short of uttering the dreaded phrase: "I only wish I could have been with you today." That would have been asking for too great a suspension of disbelief.

When my children were at high-chair age, I always knew when they were about not to eat the meals I put in front of them. On those occasions, and on no others as far as I recall, they would use the word "lovely". This enthusiastic endorsement would guarantee that the pasta and tuna, or pasta and cheese, or pasta and cheese and tuna, or whatever enterprising combination they were offered, would be energetically reorganised with a plastic spoon and then abandoned.

It is in the nature of things that journalists get accustomed to lying.

Let me rephrase that before you run away with completely the wrong idea. It is in the nature of things that journalists get accustomed to being lied to. Often there is a buzzword or a turn of phrase which will activate the mental alarm bell which indicates the presence of what our transatlantic friends like to call "BS".

Take this example; it wasn't a big lie, but for some reason it stays with me. In an odd sort of way, I treasure it.

I needed to speak to an athletics agent, but when I got through I was told that the agent in question was "away from his phone". An agent? Away from his phone? It's like hearing that an elephant is away from his trunk.

I ventured to ask about contacting the agent on his mobile phone. No good, apparently. But I was assured that if I left my number he would "definitely" call me back within 20 minutes.

Not "probably". Not "hopefully". "Definitely". Once I heard that word, I knew the call would not come. And do you know? I was right.

There are some lies, however, that journalists always like to hear. They are the ones that start "I am not going to comment..." or "I can't talk about that...".

Years ago, after another slight or supposed slight in the press, Linford Christie arrived at a press conference with the intention of restricting his contribution to reading from a written statement.

He said his piece, of course, but then someone said something that made him smile and his intentions went awry. By the end he was in full spate.

Another outstanding "no comment" was forthcoming after Wednesday night's FA Cup first-round replay at Canvey Island as the caretaker manager of the victorious Southend United team, David Webb, was asked about the club's plans to name his permanent successor.

"I'm not going to get into any speculation," said the former Chelsea defender, who is almost as anxious as his bank manager to return to his property business. "Even if I knew what was going on I wouldn't talk to you about it."

It took about 10 seconds, and one question about the touted prospects of the former Southend player Stan Collymore returning to Roots Hall for his first managerial job, to elicit from Webb the following: "You may be the best player in the world but this is a very, very different job to take on and it's going to take someone with experience. Someone without experience would have a lot of burdens to shoulder. The club have got to be very careful." Now that's the kind of non-speculation you could listen to all day...