Q & A: Playing happy families . . . and high times in Oldham

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In the last Calcutta Cup match there was a pair of brothers playing for either side, ie Hastings and Underwood. Has this ever happened before, and what is the largest number of people from the same family to have played in a national rugby union team?

In the England v Scotland match on 8 March 1875 the brothers James, Ninian and Alex Finlay played for Scotland. This was in the days of 20-a-side so I don't know if it qualifies. Ninian was still a schoolboy and went on to become 'one of the greatest half-backs to play for Scotland'.

In the Edinburgh Academicals v Merchistonians match of 1873-74 the brothers W and J R Blackwood, A and T A Bell as well as R W and T R Irvine as well as 'the entire Finlay brotherhood - James, Tom, Alexander, Gardyne and Ninian' turned out for the Academicals. (From The Story of Scottish Rugby by R J Phillips.) - James Finlay, Hatfield, Herts.

Of the Taffs Wells Williams family, Bleddyn, Lloyd, Elwyn, Cenydd and Tony all played for Cardiff in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, and the first two for Wales. I remember seeing four of them play together against Newport. - Martyn Sloman, London N10.

Have there ever been scientific tests to estimate the degree of the effect of differences in weight carried by the horses on the result of a race?

The question recalled to me a book I found in the 1950s written, I believe, by a Merchant Navy officer. He proposed that one could more easily forecast the winner of handicap races by calculating the gravitational force exerted by the moon on the racecourse in question at the time of the race. To do this one used an Ephemeris and the highest and lowest weight in the race handicaps. The calculation resulted in two weights which would have the greatest advantage and both horses had to be backed to win. The book contained statistics intended to prove the success of the system, but I have not heard of any punter making a fortune. - P G Richardson, Uppingham, Rutland.

In football, cricket and rugby union and rugby league, which ground is the highest above sea level and lowest at ground level? Are performances affected by these locations?

I believe that Oldham Athletic's ground at Boundary Park is the highest football ground in the country and yes, performances are affected by this altitude. The pull of the earth's gravity is weaker as you get further from the earth's centre so there is less of a downward pull at Boundary Park than on other grounds. For 30 years I stood on the terraces and watched the Oldham forwards blaze the ball over the bar when, playing anywhere else, they would have scored because gravity would have kept the ball down.

But there is more to this: there is a considerable slope on the Boundary Park pitch, the home supporters' end being about nine feet lower than the other. The pull of gravity is therefore stronger at this end and it is for this reason that Oldham score most of their goals at the 'low' end; it has nothing to do with the encouragement of their supporters behind the goal.

Oldham's rugby league ground at Watersheddings is even more elevated than Boundary Park, and here the even weaker pull of gravity helped Bernard Ganley to become the top goal-kicker of the 1950s. - Neil Howarth, Redruth, Cornwall.

Why do no jockeys wear beards or moustaches?

It is not unknown for amateur jockeys to sport moustaches or beards, but I can never remember seeing a professional jockey in Britain or Europe who was other than clean-shaven. The only explanation that I can offer for this phenomenon is that it is a self-perpetuating fashion, perhaps influenced by the disciplinarian regimes of training stables under which no sensible apprentice or novice rider would dare to adopt any fashion that does not conform with that of his senior colleagues.

Among bearded amateur riders I recall Victor Morley-Lawson and Clement Freud. In National Hunt racing (in which amateurs regularly race against professionals) Col Piers Bengough was a successful rider who sported a moustache. I also remember seeing a luxuriantly moustachioed amateur jockey, George Jones, making much of the running against a field of top professionals in a three-mile hurdle race at Cheltenham. Shortly afterwards, Jones turned professional, and (probably significantly) the moustache was removed. - David Iliff, Cheltenham.

In 1899 A E J Collins scored 628 not out in a match at Clifton College. I believe the rest of the team managed little more than 200 runs between them. Are the circumstances of this innings recorded? Was Collins' batting career in any way remarkable before the innings? What was his record for the season, and subsequently?

In 1976, a West Indian named Don Weekes (I don't think he was related to Everton Weekes) arrived in Perth, Western Australia, to play for the WA Cricket Association club, Melville. He went on record in the local press to say that he had made personal scores of over 800 in organised university competitions in California. He said that 'after reaching 500 I just got better and

better'.

He played one season in the first-grade team (one level below the interstate Sheffield Shield competition), but unfortunately didn't reach 500 in an innings, or even on aggregate. He never played for Melville again after that season. - Michael Trefry, Cambridge.

Has a passing bird ever been hit by a conversion or drop-goal attempt in rugby union, preventing the ball passing between the posts and depriving the kicker of his score? Have any other creatures had a bearing on the results of any important sporting occasion?

Regarding Adam Browne's memory (18 April) of the bird-strike at the Adelaide Oval in 1984: the batsman was Clive Lloyd, in a one-day international versus Australia. I can't remember the bowler, but the shot was an off-drive through mid-off. The bird was a seagull, and it was picked up by Dennis Lillee and carried to the fence near the sightscreen and deposited, unconscious, on the ground. Then, as described by Adam Browne, it recovered and flew off. - Michael Trefry, Cambridge.

Has an Oxbridge football Blue ever played professionally?

Ceri Evans, of Oxford United, is a Blue. - Ed Horton, Oxford.

ANSWERS PLEASE

I come from Southport, whose team has just won the HFS Loans League. How much do players earn at this level? And how much could they expect to earn in the GM Vauxhall Conference? - Richard Goldstein, Nantwich.

If doing the pools is a game of skill, has any forecaster made a living from the winnings? - Michael Sargent, Sale, Cheshire.

Who were the first black players to appear in the Football League (particularly the First Division)? - Lee Pattison, Barcelona, Spain.

When and why was the offside rule introduced in football? How would the game be affected if it was withdrawn? - Steven Aquilina, London W4.

Is there any person who is regarded as the leading authority on sport in the UK? - Kevin Maguire, Batley, West Yorkshire.

On the subject of recent queries about Scottish football club names that make no obvious reference to their location, what are the origins of Morton (Greenock), Queen of the South (Dumfries) and Albion Rovers (Coatbridge)? - Daniel J Smith, Dollar, Clacks., Scotland.

Not so long ago a try in rugby union was worth three points. It was changed to four, and this season to five. Has any other sport changed its scoring system so frequently? - Brian Shearing, Reading, Berkshire.

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