Hostilities resume after European union

Click to follow
The Independent Online
EUROPE'S success in the Ryder Cup has encouraged the Europhiles among us to hope that here, at last, is a sign that we can be as one with our brothers across the many divides of our beloved continent. The sight of Spaniard embracing Italian and both getting hugged in turn by a German, a Swede and assorted English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish brought tears to their eyes. This was Euro-bonding of the purest kind.

Can sport be the key, they ask, to bringing accord and to forging a true partnership? Can sport succeed where the ecu, the EMU, the Common Agricultural Policy, the defence policy, the butter mountain, the wine lake and laws governing the proper constituents of the sausage have failed lamentably?

Of course it can't. If anything, sport is capable of causing more rows, rifts and punch-ups than any other communal activity. There would be no quicker way to kick off another Hundred Years War than attempting to achieve contented co-existence on the fields of what we laughingly call play. The entente cordiale may span the channel but, as Eric Cantona will tell you, it doesn't stretch far across a touchline.

You have only to recall what happens whenever we try to select a side to represent one country in these little islands of ours. When we attempt to pick a team to play on behalf of all four, discontent can rumble on for weeks. The British Lions rugby team, sadly threatened by the new order, has yet to be chosen without some kind of rumpus.

I have frequently campaigned for a United Kingdom football team to compete in the World Cup, thereby increasing our miserable chances of being represented in the later stages. The suggestion is invariably greeted with indignation from all corners, each country convinced that their players would get a raw deal. I couldn't envisage them agreeing on a manager let alone a team.

Across Europe, the distrust factor would be multiplied dozens of times, especially now the place is crawling with new countries. How, then, does the Ryder Cup offer such effective harmony? The answer is that it has nothing to do with democracy. The European Ryder Cup is very much in the hands of the British-based and largely British-run European Tour.

This does not mean that team selection is less than scrupulously fair. Ten of the team are chosen automatically on the basis of prize- money earned over a certain period and the other two are chosen by the captain. Records show that more continental Europeans than Brits have got into the side this way. The team gets its undoubted team spirit from the fact that, although golf is a thoroughly individual game, the players see each other practically every day of every week.

As to the attitude of supporters, we still regard it as very much a British team being helped by some foreign friends. It was totally a Great Britain and Ireland team from the Ryder Cup's inception in 1927 until 1977. But after a series of wallopings it was tactfully suggested that the event would die of boredom unless we stiffened up our ranks from elsewhere in Europe. In 1979, the Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido were drafted in and Europe were beaten by a bigger margin than in the previous match.

The influx of continentals eventually brought success in 1985, since when the matches have acquired a thrilling dramatic closeness. The British and Irish continue to outnumber the others - 8-4 this time and 7-5 in the previous match - but no one ever counts or thinks of anyone as an outsider. They are there because they are good golfers, not because of their nationality. What tends to puzzle the players from other parts of Europe is that we don't carry through this excellent idea into the amateur ranks.

Great Britain and Ireland prefaced the Ryder Cup by winning its amateur equivalent, the Walker Cup, at Royal Porthcawl. Bernhard Langer was reported last week to be questioning why the Walker Cup does not have the same European mix as the professionals. He has a point. The Walker Cup is an ideal preparation for the Ryder Cup, so why not choose from all European amateurs? I asked the same question the other week and the answer was that it is much more difficult to run a selection system for amateurs throughout Europe because they don't play in the same tournaments often enough.

Since we invented the game, perhaps we should be allowed to play it the way we see it. But we invented football, rugby and tennis, too, and we would hardly be allowed to recruit a few Europeans to bolster our boys in those games. Besides, why should we want to mingle with them? Apart from the fact that few, if any, of our players would get into the European football team to play Africa in some future Intercontinental Cup, do we want to get chummy? Aren't our traditional hostilities enough to keep us happy?

Imagine a European Grand Prix team with Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher trying to ram total strangers. It would be similarly impossible for us to feel any affinity with a European tennis team. That really would be a foreign body.

Look not to sport for evidence that the European dream can come true. Our victory in the Ryder Cup was a tribute to the game of golf, not to our continent.

BOOKMAKERS have been upsetting punters again. One hates taking sides, but there wasn't a bookie made who didn't deserve bashing every now and then. This particular conflict concerns the sad departure of Manchester United from the Uefa Cup last Tuesday.

As is usual on these occasions, people were looking to have a little bet on who would be scoring the goals. Naturally, it was towards United that they looked and not Rotor Volgograd. They were betting on who would score the first and who would score the last United goals.

Paul Scholes scored the first goal and Peter Schmeichel scored the second and last. Who? That's right, the United goalkeeper came trundling up for a corner and headed a goal. Since Schmeichel was not on the quoted list of potential scorers, punters felt that his goal would be void for betting purposes and they would collect from Scholes.

Not so. Bookmakers say that odds were available about Schmeichel "if requested". What were the odds? At least two bookies say they had him at 100-1 to score the first goal and 33-1 to score the last. Apart from the fact that all players regarded as potential goalscorers should be quoted, those are not very generous odds for a goalkeeper. In the past 50 years, league goalkeepers have scored only 28 goals between them - and eight of those were penalties! This is a touch on the stingy side, gentlemen.

Y OU would have thought the English rugby team loved all their years of success. But behind the glory, their dressing- room was a seething cauldron of dislike. Jeremy Guscott's recent book slated Rob Andrew and now the hooker Brian Moore unbottles his hostility to his captain, Will Carling. As bad as they've been, you don't get the Welsh team slagging off each other. Or is it because no one asks them to write books?

Comments