Q & A: Hard luck, Hampshire .. and Grimsby's visitors

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It's often said that the nearer your county plays to Lord's the better your chance of being selected for England. But do the statistics bear this out?

The selection of Ian Botham for two Tests last season, particularly when he looked well past his sell-by date in the first, would seem to belie this contention. The adopted county of David Gower, though much nearer Lord's than Ian Botham's Durham, has rarely caught the selectors' eyes, as the following statistics illustrate:

a) In 1973 Hampshire became the only county ever to win the county championship without a single past, present or future England Test player in their team. Ironically, one of their key players, C G Greenidge, was at the time England-qualified. This was incidentally the last unbeaten championship side.

b) For a period of over 60 years between 1928 and 1989, no Hampshire player played Test cricket for England against Australia.

c) No Hampshire player has ever been picked for England as a spin bowler.

d) No Hampshire player has ever been picked for an England tour of Australia as a bowler of any kind.

An overseas birthplace would seem to mitigate this apparent bias, since of Hampshire's four post-war England Test batsmen, Gower alone was born in this country. But while Gower can only envy Hick and other current England players their foreign birthplace, a change of county could improve his chances of future England selection. - Hugh Faulkner, London N20.

I know nothing about horse racing, so perhaps it's not surprising that bookies' odds seem curious. They give 11-2, 9-2, 7-2, 5-2, then 6-4. What happened to 3-2? And haven't I seen 100-30 somewhere?

To some extent the system of bookmakers' odds is conventional and traditional but it is important to realise that it was developed at a time when Britain did not have decimal coinage (I write as an erstwhile betting-shop owner).

Pre-decimal British currency was divisible in ways which our present currency is not. The prices in the range 5-4 to 15-8 owe their existence to the fact that the old pound was divisible by eight and that a coin existed - the half- crown - which represented one eighth of a pound. Thus you would have staked four half-crowns to win five if you horse was showing 5-4, eight half- crowns to win eleven at 11-8 and four half-crowns to win six at 6-4, and so on. 3-2 would just not fit into this system.

The decimal coinage we have now makes the settlement of bets in this range much harder than it was. 100-30 (31 3 -1) reflects the fact that the old money, the old pound, was exactly divisible by three. With small stakes of pounds 1 or pounds 2 exact settlement in decimal currency is impossible and either the punter or the bookie (usually the latter]) gets a little more than he should.

If we were starting from scratch today no doubt the odds would be drawn up in 1 10 th intervals, and presumably the race courses measured in metres rather than furlongs. However, without its tradition and continuity, racing would lose quite a bit of its charm. - Mr S N Hickin, Cambridge.

I once read that whenever Grimsby Town FC played at home, they would present the opposing side with a crate of fresh fish - win, lose or draw. Is this still the case?

As a lifelong Grimsby Town supporter, I am happy to confirm the pre- war practice of the club giving a 'kit' of fish (local parlance) to the opposing team, a disinterested courtesy which was extended to the match officials.

Upon the resumption of league football in 1945, when Town were in the First Division, it was decided by some interfering bureaucrat that such a custom could be construed as bribery and the practice was discontinued. By 1952 the club was playing its fixtures in the Third Division (North).

It is believed locally that Arthur Koestler was investigating possible connections between these apparently unrelated phenomena at the time of his death. - John R Poucher, London N2.

Why is the name of that famous football team from Glasgow pronounced 'Sell-tic' and not 'Kell-tic' (as in the race of Welsh, Irish and Scots)?

Brother Walfrid, the Marist priest and the main man in forming Celtic Football and Athletic Club, advocated the name 'Celtic', the name being consistent with the fact that he had organised previous teams under the name 'Columba', which evoked the common religious inheritance of Scotland and Ireland. But being unfamiliar with the name 'Celtic', the Glasgow Irish community mispronounced it with a soft c. And so it has stuck. Brother Walfrid always maintained the proper pronunciation. - Ian Devine, London W14.

The word Celtic most probably derives from the Irish word Ceilteach (Kell-tock). The mis-pronunciation 'Sell-tic' is probably due to the fact that in English the letter c has a soft pronunciation when followed by the letter e - as in cell, cement etc. The OED gives both pronunciations.

Some people would argue that 'that famous football team from Glasgow' is pronounced 'Rangers'. - Deaglan O' Ceallaigh, Dublin.

Has an umpire ever considered a batsman to be plumb leg before, but no one appealed? Could the batsman be given out without an appeal?

In the deciding Oval Test of the 1926 Ashes series, the umpire Frank Chester considered that Jack Hobbs was leg before to a googly from Arthur Manley before he had scored, at the start of England's second innings on a rain-affected wicket. Hobbs (100) went on to add 172 in an opening stand with Sutcliffe to set up victory. In his autobiography, How's That, Chester wrote that at the end of the over the Australian wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield said, 'That one from Arthur to Jack pitched just outside off-stump, didn't it?' (By the pre-1930s lbw law this would not have been out.) Chester did not reply]

In answer to the second part of the question, Law 27, i states: 'The Umpire shall not give the batsman out unless appealed to by the other side. . . ' - Edward Liddle, Wolverhampton.

Many years ago I played in a tense, low-scoring game between two teams in the Dewsbury League of West Yorkshire. We were fielding and our fast bowler rapped the batsman on the pads. There was a loud appeal - from the umpire, followed by an embarrassed apology] No one on the fielding side appealed; I think we were all too surprised by the episode and anyway the ball was considered to be missing the stumps. The batsman continued his innings. - Simon Cochrane, Leeds.

How did the ball used in American golf come to be bigger than the one in British golf?

Golf was played with the 'feathery' (a leather case stuffed with feathers) for about 400 years; then the 'gutty' (a moulded ball) from about 1850; and finally the modern core-wound ball invented in 1898 by the American Coburn Haskill. Throughout all this time any size of ball could be used, measurements not being agreed until 1922. Then the British ball was standardised at 1.62in, the American at 1.68, and the larger ball is now used in all competitions. There was no official reason for the difference, but it is generally held that the smaller British ball was slightly easier to control in the strong winds which frequently occur on our traditional links. - Rick Wheaton, Stover Golf Club, Buckfastleigh, Devon.

A soaking wet leather football is said to have been very painful, indeed dangerous, to head. But were injuries ever suffered in this way?

Yes, it could be very painful to head and although I seem to remember the odd case of concussion, I don't have the impression that there were a great number of injuries suffered in this way.

Unlike today, when it doesn't really matter if a footballer misjudges the path of the ball and makes contact with the top of his head, in the days of the leather 'Casey' - which also had the added hazard of a lace - every player knew that the ball had to be headed properly; ie with the forehead.

Players generally appeared to be very successful in doing this probably because complete concentration was given to making contact with the ball, whereas today's players seem to be mainly concerned with jumping into their opponents.

Without doubt, heading the old laced 18-panel football or 'T' ball was a noticeably different experience from heading the modern floating balloon. - Alan F Ansley, Salford.

ANSWERS PLEASE

What is the life span of goal posts? How often do football clubs change them? - David Cowan, London W5.

Has there ever been an instance in the Football League where a club's second choice goalkeeper played regularly, or occasionally, in another position? - Brian Shearing, Reading.

Has a rugby league player who was not formerly a rugby union player ever appeared on the BBC's A Question of Sport? - Mr I Rowland, London W1.

I am an Arsenal supporter, so naturally I think my team are the best. Why does the rest of the country have no sympathy for my team, and when did this start? Or, why does everyone hate Arsenal? - Peter Kyle, Sunbury-on- Thames.

My home team, Norwich City, have been top of the Premier League on points, but with a negative goal difference (34-35 as of earlier this month). Has any other team ever been top of the table with an adverse goal difference, or even more remarkably gone on to win a division with this statistic? - Andrew Wenley, Norwich.

In their last three League and Cup games Manchester United have had nine different goalscorers. Is this a record? - Stephen Garner, Stockport.

Why is amateur wrestling, compared with boxing - if not all other sports - so unpopular? - Neil Macleod, London SW3.

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