Sport on TV: All hail ‘Mike the Bike’ but mum’s the word off the track


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The Independent Online

The impressive documentary An Ordinary Hero – The Mike Hailwood Story (BT Sport 1, Wednesday) paid due tribute to one of the greatest of all British sportsmen, a nine-times motorcycle world champion, but fittingly for Mothering Sunday it was also a tale of two mothers. Hailwood was not only a sporting genius but a charismatic party animal and, as the title suggests, an extremely modest one with it. How he came to be like that is perhaps the most intriguing part of this story. What happened afterwards put it all into perspective very quickly. The messing-about-on-bikes part was just a bit of fun in between.

Hailwood’s mother walked out of the family home when he and his sister Christine were still very young. No one says why, although their hugely wealthy and flamboyant father Stan (aka “The Wallet”) is described as someone who always got what he wanted, which probably didn’t help. When Stan was once refused entry into a nightclub he went back the next day and bought the place. And he was the same with his children – Mike was given every piece of kit in order to become the best, but he had to show the commitment too.

Despite the pressure, however, Murray Walker maintains that father and son were “like brothers” and used to “chat about the birds they pulled”. That lifestyle fitted in with the world of competitive bikes – they played as hard as they worked because, as Walker says, “they were living very dangerous lives”.

The eight-time world champion Phil Read recalls the glory days of “riding bikes backwards and getting really, really pissed”. As another colleague said, one moment you would be firing up the barbecue, the next you would be gathering up your husband’s possessions and putting them in the van.

Not the place for a mother, then, and it was terribly tough on the wives for another reason – there were a lot of groupies knocking around. Pauline Hailwood was as long-suffering as they come, fuelled simply by her adoration for this remarkable man. Even his son Dave says: “That’s a guy I would have liked to party with.”

His peers adored him too, if not quite in the same way as the ladies did. “We all had the same opinion, that Mike was God,” said Paul Smart. “Nothing would ever happen to him.” Then it did. In 1981, three years into his retirement, he was going to pick up some fish and chips with the kids when he was involved in a collision with an errant lorry, resulting in his death and that of his nine-year-old daughter Michelle. “All our happiness went, it just went,” lamented Pauline. She was left to bring up young Dave, who survived the crash.

For both, the pain has persisted. Dave left behind drug issues to become a father to Mike Jnr, who likes to race go-karts. Pauline remarried but her heart wasn’t in it. The riders’ devil-may-care attitude to their own mortality is not a tendency shared by the ones they leave behind.

It may seem churlish to say so but will Paul Scholes please shut up? The widely revered former Manchester United midfielder was renowned for never giving interviews and generally shunning the limelight but when he popped up in the studio for the Manchester derby (Sky Sports 1, Tuesday) anyone would have thought Moses had come down from the mountain again. His every last syllable was disseminated across the media. It’s not like we need any more of Fergie’s boys droning about how bad United are these days. As a player he had an unerring ability to get into the box at the right time. Now it’s time get back in his box again.