Mike Rowbottom: On close reflection, silence is golden

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The Independent Online

Some stories require chasing. Some stories jump up, roll over and invite you to rub their tummies.

Some stories require chasing. Some stories jump up, roll over and invite you to rub their tummies.

There was no doubting the nature of the beast on Tuesday night when Norwich City's manager, Nigel Worthington, addressed the press after his side's nervy victory - it bounded unerringly into our collective lap.

Yet even as the former Northern Irish international was castigating the home crowd's edginess before their team scored the goals that kept them on top of the First Division, insisting that their behaviour was "not acceptable", a cautionary note was sounded by a reporter who regularly covered the club's games.

"Are you sure you want to say that, Nigel?" he asked.

Journalists are not supposed to do this. They are expected to salivate at the very whiff of a controversial line and pursue it with a hound's vigour.

The man who spoke up at Carrow Road did so, I feel sure, for the best of reasons. But he was confusing his role - such protectiveness should emanate not from the press, but from press advisors.

Having said that, I could understand the impulse. There are times when you see someone open their mouth and you can't help but wince.

After Worthington had departed, another member of the press room recalled interviewing a leading coach who launched a tirade against the former Arsenal and England forward Ian Wright. It was incendiary stuff, and the man rolling the tape decided to check that his subject really wanted to have the broadside broadcast. Upon reflection, he didn't.

More often, though, the little voice which cries out "Urgent! Engage brain with mouth!" remains, as it should, no more than an internal memo. But the memos can pile up at times, particularly where predictions are concerned.

Of course, false dawns are not restricted to the sporting domain. Who will forget Colin Welland's triumphal prophecy after the Oscar success of Chariots Of Fire - "The British are coming" - or that other trumpeted claim of the mid-Eighties: "Poetry is the new rock and roll." And lo, these things did not come to pass.

That said, sport is replete with unwise speculation. Back in the early Nineties, Frank Dick, then Britain's head coach, championed the emerging middle-distance talent of Matthew Yates. The boy from Basildon had "the right stuff", Dick asserted, adding that he could carry on in the tradition of Coe, Ovett, Cram, and Elliott. And lo, it did not come to pass.

One of the most carefree hostages to fortune arrived via the lips of the now banned sprinter Dwain Chambers, who announced before last year's indoor season that he would equal or break the world 60 metres record and go on to run 9.65sec - 0.13sec inside the world 100m record - in the summer. "You heard it from the horse's mouth," Chambers asserted as the press advisor in my soul screamed one word, over and over - "No!"

And lo, these things did not come to pass.

Only Muhammad Ali has been able to get away with this sort of thing, and only because he could deliver.

On other occasions, that familiar shudder of discomfort is induced by more basic means.

My most cherished item in this category was provided by Canada's Olympic 100m champion, Donovan Bailey, after his hollow victory in a $1.5m (£817,000) 150m Challenge in Toronto the year after the Atlanta Games. After his opponent, the Olympic 200 and 400m champion, Michael Johnson, had pulled up at the halfway point, Bailey informed the world's press that the revered American was "a faker and a chicken".

Invited to reconsider his stance later that day, Bailey paused for a moment before announcing that Johnson was "a faker and a chicken". Glorious, in its way...

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