The Peter Corrigan Column: If the rabble are roused, blame the rousers

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The Independent Online

We came into the 35th Ryder Cup now being played at Oakland Hills Country Club, Michigan, fearful that we may see a repeat of the disgraceful scenes at Brookline in 1999 and yet seemingly determined to create the atmosphere that caused the shameful behaviour from the US players and fans in the first place.

We came into the 35th Ryder Cup now being played at Oakland Hills Country Club, Michigan, fearful that we may see a repeat of the disgraceful scenes at Brookline in 1999 and yet seemingly determined to create the atmosphere that caused the shameful behaviour from the US players and fans in the first place.

When I say "we" I include the media, whose approach to this wonderful event was laced with gloomy portents, but I refer mainly to those who should know better. So, I was inclined to agree with the American captain, Hal Sutton, when he said a couple of days before the tournament that we should put the nasty memories behind us.

Unfortunately, it wasn't a suggestion couched in the friendliest way. If I may paraphrase his southern terminology, he said it was like having a nagging wife, and that America had been apologising for five years and it was about time we all forgot about it.

Fair enough, but he then proceeded to demonstrate the rabble-rousing demean-our of a man not about to play down the patriotic nature of his role. This was finally emphasised when he turned up to witness the first tee-shots on Friday morning wearing a huge black stetson and looking every inch the baddie from a B-Western movie. Only the six-shooters were missing.

Nor was I impressed when Europe's captain, Bernhard Langer, appearing dressed like an ageing rocker, with sinister shades and gaudy shoes in the colours of the EU flag. Call me old-fashioned, but those who preach decorum ought to dress decorously.

Neither did the opening ceremony the previous evening neglect to stir the juices. One of the star names on show was the actor Samuel L Jackson, who gave a powerful monologue which included the words: "Golf stirs the passion of a man's soul." The last time I saw Jackson he was playing a character in Pulp Fiction, in which he would declaim similar words before emptying the contents of his machine-gun into anyone handy.

Conflict hung in the air. Even the captains' buggies bear the years of the team's victories, in the same manner that wartime fighter planes used to carry a tally of their kills.

I wasn't party to Sutton's pep-talk, but I doubt if the expression "kick ass" was underused, and the flourish with which he announced his opening pair was akin to naming the two marines who would have the honour to hit the shore first.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were an ill-matched partnership for many reasons, and he did for them both. It was as if he had put their names high on the war memorial before we'd had the war.

Although Sutton wants us to forget it, the infamous goings-on at Brookline featured inexcusably excessive behaviour by both fans and players. However, we have to accept that golf at all levels has been invaded by triumphalism. There are more high fives and hand-slaps being enacted on the sedate greens of Britain than there have ever been.

It is difficult to break with tradition in golf, and I am usually one of the old farts modernisers have to get past, but a celebratory gesture or two after a victory, even if it is only for 20p, is not the end of the world. Defeat, however, must always be accepted with as much philosophical dignity as you can muster.

Generally, golf galleries are the most put-upon and under-pampered of all sports supporters, and their knowledge of the game enhances a tournament, but the Ryder Cup has grown to the extent that it is impossible not to be partisan.

Anyone who has thronged the ropes at The Belfry will know that the Americans did not invent bias. Cheering a good shot for your team carries an attendant urge to be happy at an opponent's mistake. It is a natural reaction, although most golf people manage to keep the chortle level down.

I had the pleasure of being in the crowd on the hill behind the notorious 17th at Valderrama during the 1997 Ryder Cup, and we were unashamedly partisan. We nearly wet ourselves when Tiger's putt rolled past the flag into the water.

At the time of writing, I cannot predict what the crowd's demeanour will be today, but they are entitled to get behind any US comeback. Yet there is something that sets golf fans apart. In other sports, trouble usually stems from the irate supporters of the vanquished. In golf, there's nothing more docile than a loser.

High time for honest John

If there was any fairness in this world, Sven Goran Eriksson would immediately take a club job in order to create equality with his Welsh counterpart, Mark Hughes, in advance of their World Cup qualifying game at Old Trafford on 9 October.

Hughes was appointed manager of Blackburn Rovers last week, thereby loosening his grip on the reins that have been guiding Wales for the past five years. He will pick them up again just before the England and Poland games, and then devote his life entirely to Blackburn.

It would even matters up if Eriksson were also to spend the next two weeks on club duty - Southampton have a temporary job going spare, as it happens - but I doubt if his sense of fair play stretches that far.

Not that it would be a bad idea if the Football Association were to lend the national team boss out to clubs who need a helping hand in between managers. Since he is getting £4 million a year, he might not even charge overtime.

But no; the man looking after England will sit studying playing patterns on his office wallpaper while the Welsh manager will be up to his neck shovelling furiously to dig Blackburn out of the mire.

Gone are the days when we used to argue whether managing a country was a full-time job for one man, let alone the two or three common these days, so it is unlikely that the Welsh FA will think of a part-timer when they come to appoint a successor to Hughes.

It would be ironic, therefore, if John Toshack's brief spell as a job-sharer was to be held against him. Toshack has by far the best credentials for the job, and would have been available immediately to take over and spare Hughes the pressure of two heavy responsibilities that are in grave danger of turning sour.

The Welsh may appoint Toshack eventually but, like many football associations, they are wary of strong and independent minds, which is partly the reason why they ousted Terry Yorath after he failed so narrowly to take them to the 1994 World Cup. It was during the hiatus following Yorath's departure that Toshack answered the call of his country to take the job in addition to managing Real Sociedad in Spain. Foolhardy patriotism led him to accept, and it was a mistake from the start. Wales were beaten at home by Norway in his first game and he was regaled with cries of "Get back to Spain". When he returned to his club a few days later, Real Sociedad were beaten and he was regaled with the Spanish equivalent of "Get back to Wales".

He realised it was a suicide mission, and relinquished the Welsh job. But the situation now is entirely different and Toshack, who has been a harsh media critic of Wales's recent performances, would start with unrivalled knowledge and experience to make an impact.

The trouble is that after England and Poland there are five months to go before Wales's next game, and they may already be beyond help in the qualifying group.