Motor Racing: Goodbye to the king of dullness

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SO FAREWELL then, Nigel Mansell. Millions will mourn your loss from Formula One. Despite a lack of charm that verges on the psychotic, few sportsmen have ever inspired such blind devotion from their followers. Even now, thousands of Mansell fans are staging a sit-in outside Frank Williams' home, all wearing false droopy moustaches and droning on in flat Black Country monotones about the sheer joy of living on the Isle of Man. These people are disgusted at the treatment of their hero. They can't envisage a future without Nigel trying hard, but never quite hard enough, to appear modest in post-race interviews. They want him back. Is pounds 867.3m really too much to pay for his services?

And yet, for those of us who don't give a monkey's whether or not he races next season, his departure to the Indycar circuit is still a source of considerable sadness. Even people who detest motor racing would have to admit that there was something special about the way he won his races. His victories may have been glorious, magnificent, British, etc, but they were also deathly dull to a degree that the likes of Alain Prost could only watch and admire. No thrills and spills were necessary as far as Mansell was concerned. His tactics were simple but ingenius: (a) get the best car; (b) drive it faster than anyone else; (c) win. He wasn't dull by accident. He set out to be dull, and he succeeded, magnificently.

What some might forget, though, is that it takes many long hard years of dullness to get to be Nigel Mansell, and his disappearance from these shores will leave a gap that won't easily be filled. Who will take over as Britain's dullest sportsman? It's a prestigious position. Following in the footsteps of Geoffrey Boycott and Steve Davis, Mansell has made the role his own in recent years. No one could touch him. The haircut alone deterred any potential challenger. But now he's gone, a whole slew of candidates are emerging, many of them wearing Pringle jumpers and telling the nearest TV interviewer that the lads done terrific. All of them could bore for England, and some already have.

In football, for instance, we have the charisma-free zone that is David Platt. After only a couple of years at the top, 'Platty', as I'm sure he's called, is well on his way to fulfilling his potential as one of the sport's most considerable dullards. 'People are saying that David Platt is the new Bryan Robson,' he once said. 'But I can't be Bryan Robson. I can only be David Platt.' Dreariness like that can't be taught - it's bred in the bone.

Football's dullards, though, are as amateurs compared to those strange souls who play professional golf. Success in golf comes only when you have stripped away all unnecessary vestiges of personality, to leave only a living, breathing golf machine, a creature that can smile a mirthless golf smile and wave a cheerless golf wave under even the most stressful conditions. Remember anything Nick Faldo has ever said in an interview? Neither does anyone else. That's the measure of his achievement.

In tennis, too, personality is a bit of a disadvantage. If you've done nothing since the age of five but smash balls over nets and talk to your coach about your backhand, you're unlikely to have much else to offer by the time you reach maturity. No wonder Gerald Williams has ears like that - decades of inteviewing tennis players drivelling on about topspin have caused them to mutate. Sadly, Britain has no tennis dullards of its own who can compete at international level, but let's not forget Stefan Edberg, who has lived in London for many years and is virtually an honorary Briton anyway. While Boris Becker is world famous, Stefan can travel anywhere in crushing anonymity. What's more, he has come up with the single dullest reason ever for enjoying Wimbledon. It's the only Grand Slam tournament, he says, that he can get to by tube.

My bet, though, is that despite all these worthy challengers, Mansell will somehow manage to hold on to his crown, even given his departure to the United States. True, it would be the dull thing to do, but then Mansell is the master of his craft. Whatever, you can be sure that the world will be waiting with bated boredom.