Those of you who read about my recent encounter with the Leeds United chairman, Ken Bates, will know that there were a few moments of friction between us. These seemed to trouble his charming wife Susannah, who sought to make sense of them by asking when my birthday falls. When I told her that I was born on 25 October, everything seemed to fall into place. For Susannah it wasn't so much that Ken resented some of my questions, or that I was dissatisfied with some of his answers, more that he is Sagittarius and I am Scorpio.
Like many otherwise sensible people, Susannah Bates swears by astrology, whereas some of us prefer to swear at it. Its near neighbour in the dictionary, astronomy, is an estimable science, but then sometimes a single letter makes all the difference in life, as also exemplified by Mr P Gascoigne (Paul) and Mr B Gascoigne (Bamber). Anyway, the idea that the compatibility of two people might be explained by their star signs is, of course, utter bilge (albeit highly lucrative bilge, if you look at how much money is generated by the horoscope industry).
If anything makes a mockery of the notion that two people born under the same sign of the zodiac must perforce share innate characteristics, it is those lists in daily newspapers of famous people's birthdays, although I confess to being briefly flummoxed on Monday this week, which was the birthday of Shane Warne, Michael Johnson and Goran Ivanisevic, three men of intelligence, charisma and sporting excellence. Imagine how reassured I was to see that it was also Bobby Davro's big day.
My cynicism got a further boost from Marcus Berkmann's marvellous book Ashes to Ashes: 35 Years of Agony (and About 20 Minutes of Ecstasy) Watching England v Australia, which I've been reading ahead of our gig with Angus Fraser at The Independent Woodstock Literary Festival today. Marcus, it seems, is as entertained as I am by the business of shared birthdays, and lists a number of cricket-showbiz pairings twinned by actual birth dates. If Mike Denness and Richard Pryor, Geoffrey Boycott and Manfred Mann, Eddie Hemmings and Ivana Trump don't deliver the perfect inswinging yorker to the credibility of astrology, then how about Dickie Bird and Jayne Mansfield?
Blood, sweat, tears and cheers run in sporting families
The sporting record books have no place for the relatives of the leading protagonists, yet in the sporting history books they loom large. Without the influence of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, or sometimes grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, some of the great sporting careers would never have happened, or would have happened very differently. Which is not to say that the influence of family members is always benign. The pathologically pushy parent is a feature of modern tennis scarcely less than the Nike swoosh. And how many boxing careers have been undermined, if not entirely wrecked, by dads or brothers insisting on a piece of the action? Nor have the frères Anelka been an overwhelmingly positive force in the career of Nicolas, and there are further examples too numerous to mention.
On the other hand, sport is rarely more poignant than when the mums and dads get involved. Even those hard-hearts who weren't at all moved by Frank Lampard pointing to heaven when he scored a goal after the death of his mother, surely got a little moist-eyed when Pat Cash clambered through the Centre Court crowd to hug his old dad on winning the men's singles title at Wimbledon. Or blubbed a bit when Jim Redmond left his seat to help his distraught, injured son Derek across the line in the 1992 Olympic 400-metre semi-final, still the ultimate example of a father taking a walk-on role in his son's sporting career.
For sustained positivity, though, it's hard to think of anyone to match Rafa Nadal's Uncle Toni, who this week reaped the greatest of rewards, a career Grand Slam, for keeping his remarkable nephew focused yet grounded. Bravo!
Freddie leaves the crease unbeaten for generosity
It is a small personal boast that I watched Freddie Flintoff's final knock as a professional cricketer not from beyond the boundary, but from just inside it, as a long-on stricken with anxiety lest the great man should hoist the ball heavenwards with me underneath it as it plummeted back to earth.
The occasion, a couple of months ago, was a charity cricket match in aid of Help For Heroes. The actor John Challis, "Boycie" from Only Fools and Horses, skippered my team, and Flintoff the other, though with his crocked knees he was expected to be non-playing captain. He knew, however, how much everyone would love to see him out in the middle, and his marvellous cameo (with a runner) was the only respite he got from signing autographs, which otherwise he did for hours on end, sitting at a trestle table in front of a queue that never seemed to diminish, and not once looking anything other than delighted to be there.
It has been customary these past couple of days to invoke his famous words of consolation to Brett Lee as proof that he is a class act as a bloke, not merely as a cricketer, but let me just add to the evidence his generosity of spirit on a blustery July afternoon in Shropshire.Reuse content