Q & A: Of thrashing tortoises . . . . . . and league versus union

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What are the favoured teams of Messrs Motson, Tyldsley, Gubba etc? And has there been an event they have commentated upon in which their team was involved?

I can recall several instances of the likes of Motson and his ilk if not exactly admitting, then at least giving clues as to who they reserve a special cheer for, such as the following:

Alan Parry's slavish devotion to all things Liverpool became apparent when he was interviewed by Bob Wilson, no less, as he ran the London Marathon some years ago.

Parry was obviously feeling the worse for wear as Wilson approached him by the Cutty Sark. He was given a few words of encouragement before Bob asked him what the Liverpool score was the previous day. Parry raised his eyebrows and gave the score.

Wilson asked for the scorer: 'Ian Rush]' exclaimed Parry, and suddenly he was transformed, sprinting away with renewed vigour. Obviously he holds Liverpool so dear to his heart that it makes him run faster at the very mention of their name. I rest my case.

Others are not so obvious, with the legendary Motson very much an enigma (I fancy). I can remember a letter in the Evening Standard some years ago from a Spurs fan complaining about Motson's supposed bias towards Arsenal in his commentaries. Motson denied this, but said that in covering north London derbies, 'It's very hard not to get excited when your team is involved,' or words to that effect. Curious, as is the fact that Motson served his journalistic apprenticeship with the Barnet Times, so maybe Motson is hopelessly devoted to Fat Stan and the Underhill gang?

I think the simplest way to work out who a commentator supports is to see how agitated they get with particular teams. Tony Gubba is transformed into a raving nutter every time he commentates on Manchester United, and Clive Tyldesley is similarly enraptured by the Red Devils. I have a sneaking suspicion that Brian Moore is a closet Spurs fan despite his associations with Gillingham, witness old Dome Head's paroxysms of delight when Tottenham won the UEFA Cup in 1984; particularly with Graham Roberts' equaliser: 'What a sight] What a sound] And - ROBERTS] . . . I can hardly hear myself think]' PS I don't like Arsenal very much. - Adam Powley, London N4.

Which football club has had the most managers?

The team with the largest number of managers is Walsall with a total of 39. The team with the least is West Ham with only seven. As neither team has dominated English football at any point the theory of continuity breeding success goes out of the window. I suggest the current incumbent at Walsall, Kenny Ribbett, should keep a closer eye on the situations vacant columns than a certain Mr Bonds. - Steve Tombs, London SE9.

Why do rugby league players, after being tackled, lie on their backs and thrash their legs like a tortoise trying to right itself?

Rugby league players, after being tackled, 'lie on their backs and thrash their legs like a tortoise trying to right itself' in an attempt to gain a penalty for not releasing the tackled player. When they are hit by a brick wall travelling at 20mph, however, they leap to their feet in an attempt to display their fearlessness and strength. Football players, after being tackled, lie on their backs and thrash their legs like a tortoise. - Sam Charlemagne, London W9.

Why do the results given in newspapers for top-class rugby union games never seem to list the crowd? Football matches do, as well as rugby league. Is it something to do with the fact that rugby union remains amateur?

I would suggest that the reason rugby union results never list the crowd is that the figures would be of some embarrassment to the sport.

Football, as we know, is Britain's biggest spectator sport but the public and the media have for a long time laboured under the misconception that rugby union is more popular than rugby league, hence the disproportionate amount of coverage it receives.

This peculiar misconception was touched upon by J B Brownlow in last week's Q & A and it can be further disproved by studying any crowd figures for a random weekend of first-class rugby league matches as opposed to figures for first-class union matches (statistics courtesy of the Yorkshire Post, 15 October).

During the weekend of 9, 10, 11 October last year, attendances for six English rugby union Courage First Division matches, six Welsh Heineken First Division matches and five Scottish First Division matches totalled 48,191 (average 2,835). The seven rugby league Stones Bitter Championship matches attracted 49,683 spectators (average 7,098). - Michael O'Hare, Harrow-on- the-Hill.

Can anyone confirm the story of a Scottish goalkeeper being booked during a league match for smoking?

I feel I must write to defend the memory of one of Britain's finest goalkeepers and sporting gentlemen. I must have seen Jack keep goal at the Arsenal about 150 times and never once did I see him on the field (either before the game or during it) smoking. Arsenal were a poor side then - he was probably the best player and also the busiest. - Paddy Carlin, Welwyn Garden City.

Willie Whigham, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper of the early Seventies (whose photograph, incidentally, was reputed to be placed on the mantelpiece by Teesside mothers to keep their children away from the fire) regularly incited the crowd to throw him lighted cigarettes so he could enjoy a drag during periods of sustained Boro pressure on the opponents' goal. As far as I know he was not booked for doing this. - John Severs, Durham City.

Both codes of rugby have instances of outstanding players smoking during a game. The great Welsh scrum-half Dickie Owen, who played for Wales before the Great War and was the Gareth Edwards of his day, used to smoke at half-time. While the rest of his team were eating their oranges on the half- way line, he used to sit under the posts on his own having a quiet 'gasper'.

Of a more convivial nature was the French rugby league full-back Puig Aubert who represented his country until 1957. In his book 100 Great Rugby League Players, the BBC commentator Ray French recalls 'the small, round, tubby shape of French full-back Puig Aubert leaning against the fencing, chatting to the spectators while his team launched a furious attack at the other end of the field. Such was his apparent nonchalance towards the activities of his team-mates, that he even smoked a cigarette, kindly offered by a spectator.' His liking for an on-field smoke gave rise to his French nickname, Pipette.

Despite his claims to have been a lifelong teetotaller, the Welsh rugby idol of the Twenties Albert Jenkins a docker from Llanelli, was reckoned to drink four or five pints of strong ale before a match. He often had to feign injury in order to answer the call of nature. Rather than detract from his reputation, these stories simply added to his legendary status in west Wales. - Glyn Davies, Mid-Glamorgan.

Which goal has been shown most often on British network television?

FURTHER to John Capstaff's reply: as I remember, and I was there, Ron (not Steve) Radford's goal was not lucky. He played a one-two with, I think Brian Owen, and scored from 35 yards. What made the goal even more memorable was that it was crafted out of the muddy quagmire in the centre of the pitch. - Graham Lee, Gloucester.

ANSWERS PLEASE

How much do football referees get paid? And, considering the abuse and criticism they get, is it enough? - Gary Johnson, Doncaster.

If Manchester United win the Premier League this year then Eric Cantona will have won championship honours in successive years with two different clubs. Has anyone else achieved this? - Michael Foster, Maidenhead.

Ten years ago England semed to have an alliterative trio of great and contrasting batsmen to rival Weekes, Worrell and Walcott, but a mixture of suspensions and selectorial folly has meant that they have hardly ever played together. How many times have Gooch, Gower and Gatting played together for England? And what were the results? - John Campbell, London W11.

Why is it acceptable in certain sports for male competitors to clear their throats by spitting on the field? Are there any sports where it is acceptable for women? - Brian Gum, Northwich.

From a free-kick, say, 30 yards from goal, a footballer hits a thunderous shot into the top corner. At what point in the ball's journey is it travelling the fastest? As it leaves the player's boot? As it hits the net? Or at some point in between? - Duncan Moore, Norwich.

I heard once that when Spurs were in the Second Division (in the early days of Ardiles and Villa), they visited Bolton Wanderers and the visiting Spurs supporters were forced by the local police to watch the game from the terraces shoe- and boot-less. A unique form of hooligan control. Is it true - and did it work? - Paddy Carlin, Welwyn Garden City.

Has any footballer ever been injured doing somersaults etc after scoring a goal? - Nicholas Paykel, Cambridge.

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