Q & A: Prime Ministers' passions . . . and the cost of taking part

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Why are steroids, where performance enhancement is marginal, banned, and pain-killers, where enhancement is significant, permitted?

Steroids are declared officially as drugs, and all drugs are banned in all sports. Pain-killers are not drugs; they are a type of medicine and as such are permissible. - Edward de Lacy, East Peckham, Kent.

The fact that pain-killers are not regarded with the same opprobrium as steroids, stimulants and other drugs which are used illicitly is partly due to sport's governing bodies having little regard for the physical welfare of the athletes. At the Seoul Olympics four years ago, Peter Elliott needed a pain- killing injection in his groin injury before each race and was ultimately rewarded for his bravery with a silver medal in the 1500 metres. But each time he ran he risked injuring himself permanently, and he had no formal protection against his own enthusiasm. Surely this is as much the responsibility of officialdom as clamping down on drug takers. - Christopher Mostyn, London SW11.

Looked at simply as pieces of metal, how much are gold, silver and bronze medals worth?

My research reveals that the 'precious metal' value of Olympic medals is negligible, although one would always fetch a tidy sum should it ever come under the hammer at one of our prominent auction houses, particularly if once won by a sporting legend.

At the first modern Olympics since the games were revived a century ago, the winners in fact received silver medals with the only consolation prizes being bronzes for the runners-up. Shortly after gold medals were introduced, it was revealed at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm that they only contained six grams each of fine gold over silver gilt. Presumably the silver medals were similarly gilded without the fine gold covering while the bronzes would have little intrinsic value.

It seems that event winners at the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece were much more splendidly rewarded. Apart from the crowns of vines and palm branches which tended to accompany such achievements, a 'BC' gold medallist could also look forward to being exempted from taxation and allowed free use of the public halls which were at the disposal of distinguished citizens and visitors. - P Albert, London N3.

Which was the first football ground to have floodlights?

Andrew Erskine gave a very full answer to the above question in your issue last Sunday. However, a combination of local pride and a passion for accuracy compel me to point out that the first FA Cup tie played under lights between league clubs took place on 22 November 1955 at Brunton Park, Carlisle. This was a first-round replay. The game at Newcastle six days later was the second replay and also the second cup tie under floodlight. Incidentally, Darlington won 3-1 - David Steele, Carlisle.

The first football ground in Britain to have a set of permanent floodlights was in fact Holly Park, Garston, Liverpool. This was the home of South Liverpool FC, who decided to install lights after observing them whilst on a tour of the Netherlands in 1948.

The first match under the Holly Park floodlights took place on 28 September 1949 when the 'South' played out a 2-2 draw with a Nigerian XI before an all- time attendance record of 13,000. Alas, the club were forced to leave Holly Park in 1990 following a succession of attacks by vandals, and the site was subsequently cleared, leaving little or no trace of this historic venue. - Tim Adams, Liverpool.

How much time does a 100 metres freestyle swimmer save by shaving off all his body hair?

It depends if he is first in the queue at the barber's] - Harry Brussalis, Newport, Gwent.

Which is the cheapest sport to take up? And which is the most expensive?

The cheapest must be hare hunting - 30 shillings per afternoon, and a use for those old clothes - and the most expensive would be fox hunting - hundreds of pounds in membership plus the cost of the horse, the box, the kit, the livery, the feed - horrendous. - TFNJ, Market Harborough, Leics.

Arm wrestling must be amongst the contenders for the cheapest sport, and jogging is also well known as a minimal- investment sport / pastime. For those who wish to compete in the Olympics, I would suggest swimming - a costume and a season ticket for the corporation baths and you're all set.

At the other end of the scale, penny- watchers should avoid Formula One motor racing (as participants). I am also advised that polo can set you back a bob or two, as the Heir Apparent (or his dad) will no doubt confirm. - Nick Somers, Vienna, Austria.

Juggling must be the cheapest sport to take up as all you require are three balls, oranges or whatever else is readily available. However, any costing of the time needed to learn how to juggle five, six or even seven balls would indicate that juggling at that level is also a most expensive pursuit. - Ian Foster, Luton.

I am not sure if the first part of the question can ever be answered. Much depends on one's age and dedication as well as ambition and intention. Many sports that may become expensive can be started cheaply.

Even equestrian events fall into this category because dedicated youngsters can be taken on in apprenticeships. With golf and snooker, equipment can be hired and 'time' can be purchased.

Ten-pin bowling is another example where pounds 3 or pounds 4 could 'buy a trial game' and hire shoes, balls, etc. Runners require nothing other than trainers and shorts to get started while an education in boxing and wrestling is cheaply available at boys and youth clubs.

The cheapest, however, is probably darts although, in fairness, one may spend much money at the pub where the learning process would take place. Tiddly-winks (if this is a sport) could be even cheaper. - Stephen Williamson, Dartford, Kent.

What is the origin of the expression, 'It's not cricket'?

The remark has been attributed to W G Grace upon being mistakenly taken in a Hansom cab to Highbury instead of Lord's. It wasn't 'footy' then either. - D H Frisby-Dyke, Ormskirk, Lancs.

Other than John Major, have any British Prime Ministers been noted for their interest in sport?

Clement Attlee's interest in cricket was legendary. One of the legends was that his media adviser Francis Williams could only persuade Atlee to install a news agency machine in No 10 on the grounds the Prime Minister would have access to an update on cricket scores.

Harold Wilson made great play of his ability to quote the famous Huddersfield Town sides of the 1930s. Edward Heath captained his yacht, Morning Cloud, to victory in the Admiral's Cup.

The Earl of Rosebery owned a Derby winner. And, isn't it true that Sir Alec Douglas-Home is the only Prime Minister to have appeared in Wisden (for the Eton - Harrow game)? - Gavin Brown, Linlithgow, Scotland.

The PM most interested in sport was probably Attlee. He was known as a 'walking Wisden'. Alec Douglas- Home was president of the MCC, for whom he had played, and Lord John Russell was a keen racing man. The Duke of Wellington hunted regularly and Balfour was an excellent tennis- player. - Wing Commander T F H Hudson, Hungerford, Berks.

Who scored the first four-point try in first-class rugby in the British Isles?

There is no answer to the question as there is no such game as rugby. Two vaguely similar games, Rugby League and Rugby Union, both score four points for a try (although Union is shortly to increase it to five). Scoring tries seems to be the avowed intent of the teams in the Rugby League games I have seen, as borne out by the exploits of Messrs Offiah, Newlove and Meninga. Lack of firm evidence prevents me from vouching for the other game. - Chris Westwood, Leeds.

What is the longest recorded hole-in- one?

The longest recorded hole-in-one was at the 480-yard fifth hole at Hope County Club, Arkansas in the United States by L Bruce in 1962. In Britain, Peter Richard Parkinson had a 393- yard hole-in-one on the seventh at the West Lancashire course in 1972. - Rob Helps, Wellington, Somerset.

A golfer from the Midlands, visiting the Brampton club near Carlisle, scored a hole-in-one on the 18th green after mishitting his drive off the nearby first tee. It was reported that he then left without giving his name. Surely this was not only the longest hole-in-one, but the quickest recorded 18 holes] - Simon Owens, Hitchin, Herts.


Why do the Olympic athletics events progress by the power of two from 100m to 800m, but then rise to 1500m and not the obvious four-lap 1600m? - Ian Ferguson, Dunfermline.

Why do groundsmen continue to mark the bowling crease, even though it has no part in the game of cricket under today's laws? - John Harris, London W11.

What do swimming commentators mean when they refer to 'a fast pool'? - Phyllis Lane, Boldon, Shropshire.

Why does cricket seem to inspire so much more literature than any other sport? - Sam Davidson, Rackheath, Norfolk.

Who invented tic-tac, the bookies' own semaphore? And is there anywhere I can learn it? - Craig Collins, Swindon.

What is the origin of cycling's yellow jersey? And all the other coloured jerseys? - M Trent, Chelmsford.

How did the ball used in both rugby codes and American football get its shape? -Leslie Jones, London W14.

What is the most popular combination of football team colours? - Richard Forsyth, Clifton, Bristol.

Is there, or has there ever been, an award given to the country which tops the final medals' table at the Olympic Games? - Bernadette Maugham, Winchester.

Is cricket or football the country's national sport? Or is it another one altogether? - Derek Moon, Whitby.

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