In sport, history certainly gets distorted in the re-telling. Often what we have come to regard as fact turns out to be pure fiction

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A familiar grievance among people in sport is that they are frequently victims of slovenly attribution. They fear that today's remark will have been twisted around before it appears in print on the morrow.

If sporting heroes now tend to hunch frowningly over imagined perils in communication, becoming ever more paranoid, it has to be admitted that their complaints are sometimes justified.

For example, while Oliver McCall will not have much of a case when he appears before the British Boxing Board on Monday to answer a charge of bringing the sport into disrepute with threats directed at Frank Bruno, who is challenging him for the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship at Wembley next month, a plea of gross misrepresentation would be in order.

McCall's outrageous promise to exact revenge for the awful fate that befell his friend, Gerald McClellan, whose senses remain seriously impaired following a violent contest against Nigel Benn earlier this year, was disgracefully interpreted in some quarters as the desire to see Bruno carried off in a pitiful condition.

In fact, McCall - who gained the WBC title violently from Lennox Lewis last year - did not say it was his intention to turn Bruno into a vegetable, as the popular prints implied. I know this to be true because he was sitting just a few feet away. Unfortunately, however, the remark has now been filed for posterity. Doubtless, historians in the future will dwell on it as proof of moral disintegration.

History, as someone once said, is humbug. In sport, certainly, it gets distorted in the re-telling. Often what we have come to regard as fact turns out to be pure fiction.

On his way to becoming a greatly esteemed sportswriter, Ian Wooldridge of the Daily Mail ghosted a syndicated column for the golfer, Max Faulkner, who stood alone at that time as the only post-war British winner of the Open Championship.

With the event coming around again Wooldridge sought an appropriate anecdote, preferably one that related to Faulkner's triumph. Finding the cupboard bare he invented for him a scene shortly before teeing off in the final round. Accordingly, in the lore of golf, Faulkner scrawled "Open Champion 1949" on the ball he handed to a young autograph hunter.

Many years later Wooldridge was approached in a New York restaurant by the American writer, George Plimpton, who had come across the story in an anthology of golf-writing. "Great tale," he said. "Total nonsense," Wooldridge smiled.

A personal experience concerns Keith Burkinshaw, who became so disenchanted with the growth of commercialism in football that in 1985 he stood by a decision to resign as manager of Tottenham Hotspur taken before winning the Uefa Cup.

Seeing Burkinshaw glance back at White Hart Lane I thought of Frank Sinatra singing poignantly about the void left in New York when corporate influences drove the Brooklyn Dodgers west to California and a wrecking ball thudded into Ebbets Field - "There used to be a ball club over there." There used to be a football club over there. A man of high principles and unswerving objectivity, Burkinshaw deserved the attribution.

When Shoeless Joe Jackson came out of a courtroom after copping out of admitting to throwing the 1919 World Series, an urchin is supposed to have said: "Say it ain't so, Joe." Fact or fiction? Who knows? Nobody claimed the kid for an interview.

Utterly flummoxed by Sugar Ray Leonard's showboating when they fought a second time for the welterweight championship, Roberto Duran is supposed to have said "No Mas" when refusing to further endure the torment. What the primitive Panamanian actually said was "No peleo mas" ("I fight no more") which carries quite a different connotation. Metaphorically speaking, Duran did not surrender to Leonard, he simply plunged a knife into the ball.

The first thing Alf Ramsey said to England's footballers before extra time in the 1966 World Cup final was not the inspiring "You've won it once, now go and win it again", which came later, but, more or less, "Get up off your arses, otherwise this lot will think you are knackered."

The line, "Nice Guys Finish Last" is pinned on a famed baseball coach, Leo Durocher, who actually said that unless you were prepared to kick your grandmother's teeth out to score a run, you did not belong in the game. He was right on that count. You belonged in jail.