Brian Viner: Poulter's mouth joins his trousers in being a bit loud
Saturday 02 February 2008
The last refuge of a sporting scoundrel – when something he said on the record to a journalist has landed him in hot water – is the claim that he was "misquoted", or his words "taken out of context".
Michael Vaughan, who admittedly is nobody's idea of a scoundrel, took this exit route when trying to wriggle away from the small brouhaha that erupted when he referred to Freddie Flintoff's alcohol-fuelled antics in St Lucia as the "Fredalo" affair. Glenn Hoddle tried the same tactic when he ventured that disabled people are perhaps being punished for misdemeanours in a former life. In both cases, the journalists involved were able to verify the quotes, and while Vaughan copped only embarrassment, Hoddle copped his P45.
There are many dimensions to the arrogance that goes with being a leading figure in sport, and by no means all of it is negative. If it is arrogance that allows Vaughan to drive a ball of decent line and length to the extra-cover boundary, if it was arrogance that allowed Hoddle as a player to nutmeg the same defender twice in a matter of seconds, then let arrogance thrive. But it is not so pretty when it fosters the sportsman's assumption that he is inherently more likely to be trusted than any journalist, and that, when it suits him, he can trash some poor hack's reputation to save his own.
The latest to deploy this reprehensible tactic is Ian Poulter, whose boast in the current edition of Golf World that as soon as he reaches his potential it will just be him and Tiger out there contending for major championships. He now claims to have been "taken out of context". Of course, there is the possibility that it was: not all journalists, as even readers of this newspaper might be aware, are paragons of integrity and accuracy. But Golf World is a reputable magazine staffed by solid professionals; Poulter, a black belt, or in his case perhaps a green, yellow and red snakeskin belt, in the art of self-promotion, has long sought toattract attention that his golf game on its own doesn't quite merit.
Sartorial flamboyance is his usual way of getting noticed, although he takes the opposite route on the cover of Golf World, posing naked, with a golf bag covering his Titleists. Some of us, it has to be said, would be more inclined to take our kit off for a magazine shoot than to wear some of the stuff in Poulter's wardrobe: he's one of the few people I can think of outside the porn industry who shows more daring by climbing into his clothes than out of them. But what he said to Golf World, or is said to have said, matches his outré dress sense. He made himself a hostage to fortune by wearing a pair of trousers bearing an image of the Claret Jug during the Open Championship a few years ago; Seve Ballesteros, commentating for the BBC, remarked that it was the closest Poulter was ever likely to get to the trophy.
In fairness to Poulter, he was fussy about his clothes long before he began to excel as a golfer. When he was a boy, his mother was the manageress of the Letchworth branch of Dorothy Perkins, and it was her interest in colour co-ordination that rubbed off on him. She told me that herself, giving me a lift following an interview I conducted with him before last year's Open, an interview in which he was more modest, conceding only that he was one of a bunch of British players "knocking on the door" of winning a major.
I thought then, and still think now, that there is something rather appealing about a sportsman whose earliest inspiration was Dorothy Perkins; at least Poulter, in a world in which most sporting stars are content to toss a few platitudes to the press and then get back to the important business of investing their millions, adds something to the gaiety of the nation.
Moreover, for all his attention-seeking he's a fundamentally likeable guy, and it must be significant that he counts one of the nicest people in any sport, Justin Rose, as one of his closest friends. That said, and mindful of what he has told the press in Dubai this week – that he doesn't want to be called "a prat" in the newspapers ever again – he's been a plonker. Instead of having the Claret Jug stitched into his next pair of trousers, he might consider a motto: "Pride comes before a fall". For as well as joining the band of sportsmen who seek to blame journalists for their own injudicious remarks, he is now in the club – life president Tony Greig, who planned to make the West Indies grovel – for those who tempt fate and then get savagely mugged by it.
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