Brian Viner: New England Sox it to the old country with all-round show of sporting talent

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The Independent Online

It is just a week since, like the hapless children of Hamelin, English sports lovers danced merrily behind the Pied Piper of hope. And if it was hard to see as a latter-day Pied Piper an enormous bruiser from Cornwall with an organic cauliflower and half a Savoy cabbage instead of ears, then a sleek, attractive, polite young fellow from Stevenage at least seemed to fit the image. If Phil Vickery couldn't lead us to the Promised Land – I'm getting my metaphors slightly in a twist here, but bear with me – then Lewis Hamilton surely would.

It gives me no pleasure to crow that this column a week ago picked the Springboks as the winners of the rugby union World Cup final, which in any case fell somewhat short of Nostradamus-like prophesying. I'm quite proud to have got the scoreline right within a couple of points, but I didn't expect the near-superhuman Hamilton not to secure the Formula One World Championship at Interlagos, at least not as a result of decidedly human miscalculation.

Anyway, with the rugby and the motor racing putting the tin lid on a week of disappointment for England, the footballers having already cocked up so comprehensively, let me instead focus on the sporting goings-on in New England, rather than old England. The Miami Dolphins play the New York Giants at Wembley tomorrow in the first competitive NFL match ever staged outside the Americas, so it seems appropriate to give this column a star-spangled flavour. Moreover, we are Boston Red Sox fans in our house, and it looks as if the Red Sox are about to win their second World Series in three years, which would be a classic case of London bus syndrome if anyone in Boston had ever heard of it. They waited for 86 years; now two have seemingly come along at once.

Before the 2004 World Series, successive generations of Red Sox fans had endured since 1918 the so-called curse of the Bambino – the reason cited by all but the most avowedly non-superstitious for the persistent failure to win the World Series, brought about by the short-sighted sale, in January 1920, of the great Babe Ruth, nicknamed the "Bambino", to the New York Yankees. The famous curse made it all the sweeter to beat the Yankees in the play-offs in 2004, the Red Sox reaching the World Series after overcoming a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series, an unprecedented achievement in major league baseball. The so-called world championship itself was then rather anti-climactic; Boston beat the St Louis Cardinals with ease.

Incidentally, there are those who claim that the application of the word "world" to an exclusively North American institution is not as arrogant as it seems, in fact originating in the sponsorship of the competition, early last century, by a newspaper called The World. It's a neat theory, and I've endorsed it myself in the past, but it's wrong. Which leaves us with old-fashioned American delusions of grandeur as the best explanation.

Whatever, the 2004 experience appears to be unfolding again this week, the Red Sox storming to a commanding lead against the Colorado Rockies after doing all the hard work in the play-offs; this time the deficit was 1-3 against Cleveland. Not that seasoned Red Sox watchers are counting their chickens. The team have a venerable tradition of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory; indeed, one of the most celebrated moments in American sporting history, a home run by Boston's Carlton Fisk in the 1975 World Series, merely prefaced a defeat by the powerful Cincinnati Reds.

To readers of this newspaper, the name Fisk means something else entirely, but to baseball fans in New England it evokes a famous homer at the team's atmospheric Fenway Park, which was heading into foul territory until Fisk, jumping and waving his arms on his way to first base, seemingly willed it back in. The NBC cameraman memorably kept his camera trained on Fisk (only admitting years later that it was the presence of a nearby rat that distracted him from following the ball) and the spectacle duly passed into sporting legend, rather like the footage of Nobby Stiles dancing over the Wembley turf in 1966.

In a phone-call late on Thursday night, I chewed all this over with my Bostonian friend Tim, who told me that the city is jumping, not only because the Red Sox are doing so well, but because the New England Patriots are undefeated in the NFL, and look to be steamrollering their way towards the Super Bowl. Last Sunday they annihilated Miami, who then had to haul their sorry whupped asses (I apologise, I must have been talking to Tim for too long) across the Atlantic.

And as if all this wasn't enough, the Boston Celtics, in recent years the doormats of the National Basketball Association, are widely considered to be championship contenders this season, having riskily but excitingly traded no fewer than five players for Minnesota's Kevin Garnett, the 6ft 11in power forward considered one of the brightest stars of the NBA. All of which makes Boston America's pre-eminent sporting city at the moment. If only old England were such a success story.

Who I like this week...

Martin Jol, who didn't deserve the treatment he has received from the Tottenham board these past few months, and whose exit removes from the Premier League fray one of the more personable of managers, not to mention the only manager with an enthusiasm for Kafka and Hemingway, and the only manager with brothers called Cock (short for Cornelius) and Dick (Richard). More significantly, if it is true that, having guided Spurs to fifth in successive seasons and almost into the Champions League, the Dutchman had lost the confidence of senior players, surely at least as many questions should have been asked of them as of him. Even those Spurs fans I know who can scarcely believe their club's parlous league position feel that Jol has done more good than harm during his tenure, and would have turned things round, given the board's unequivocal backing.

And who I don't

Rafa Benitez, who did himself no favours by claiming that Joleon Lescott had dived when plainly manhandled to the ground in front of the Liverpool goal by Jamie Carragher in the dying seconds of the Merseyside derby last weekend. Benitez, having benefited in many ways from a singularly inept display of refereeing by Mark Clattenburg, should at least have been man enough to admit that Carragher was lucky to get away without conceding a last-minute penalty. Not that the Spaniard needs to worry about gaining the respect of Everton fans. But right-thinking Liverpool fans know that Bob Paisley, for example, would never have behaved so shabbily.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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