Q & A: The Mexican wave mystery . . . and the tale of 144 Pauls

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The only unfulfilled fixture in Football League history was the Scunthorpe United-Exeter City match in the 1973- 74 season. Can anyone shed any light on the circumstances surrounding this unique non-event?

Exeter were experiencing severe financial problems coupled with a spate of injuries to the small squad of players they could afford to retain. They complained to the Football League about their refusal to postpone the game against Scunthorpe scheduled for 2 April, citing the fact that they had only eight fit, registered players and would have to field unregistered players. They didn't turn up for the game for those reasons and were fined pounds 5,000 by the Legue plus a further pounds 1,334 to compensate Scunthorpe and to pay for the match officals' expenses. Scunthorpe were awarded the two points. Apparently, the League's reason for refusing Exeter's request was their impatience with uneconomic clubs and their acceptance that some would fall by the wayside and go bankrupt. - Richard Morgate, Edgware, Middlesex.

Our thanks to everyone who wrote to answer this query.

Why do Mexican waves go anti-clockwise?

I believe this is due to most people being right-handed. This arm takes the lead and the neighbour to the right reacts first, and so on, until the momentum takes over. The areas of hesitation may be enclaves of left-handed people. - D J Evans, Rochford, Essex.

They do not necessarily go anti-clockwise. At The Oval in 1991 and 1992 (and for that matter at Queen's Wembley Stadium concert in 1986) they went clockwise. - Simon Fyffe, Ilford.

It is because Mexico lies north of the Equator. The much older Kalahari wave, and others of southern origin, though rarely practised nowadays, always go clockwise. Science tells us that the difference comes about because of irregularities in the spinning of the Erath which, it is alleged, is much rougher on one side than the other. - L W Blott, Romsey, Hampshire.

Why do we still have to have Fred Trueman commentating on cricket?

Simple: to remind us of how superb a fast bowler he was and how poor all modern-day bowlers are. - John Scallam, Birmingham B23.

I think it would be more pertinent to ask why Geoff Boycott is still on the television. Fred Trueman must remain because his glitzy show-business connections add an air of Hollywood-type glamour to an otherwise stoically English occasion. There must be hundreds of people attracted to Test Match Special hoping to catch snippets of gossip about Mr Trueman's friends and relations. R J Baldry, St Ives, Huntingdon.

Which is the most common first name among professional footballers?

Paul is the winner, with 144. Steve challenges at 111 and collectively makes 127, with seven Stephens and nine Stevens. There are also 106 Marks, 94 Johns (including 12 Jons), 72 Garys and 65 versions of Michael (20 in full, 31 Mikes and 14 Micks. And for the chap who wrote the letter, there are 24 Martins. - Peter Wroe, Egham, Surrey.

In 1989 I saw both Tottenham Hotspur and Crewe Alexandra play with five Pauls. For Spurs they were Gascoigne, Stewart, Moran, Walsh and Allen. For Crewe they were Edwards, Edwards, Clayton, Fishenden and Dyson. Can this be beaten? - Paul Williamson, London N4.

At Chesterfield last Saturday, Darlington had five Steves: Ball, Gaughan, O'Shaughnessy, Mardenborough and Tupling. They may also be the team to be relegated most times - it often seems like it] - Jeremy Robertson, Trowbridge, Wiltshire.

In old newsreels of football, the commentator often talked about Arsenal or whoever 'is' this or that, whereas nowadays we would always say Arsenal 'are'. Why and when the change?

Arsenal, like Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers, is the name of one football team (singular), so 'is' is correct. However, commentators, thinking of it as 11 men (plural), fall into the trap of using 'are'. Years ago only educated folk were used to commentate, so were rarely wrong. Nowadays illiterate chumminess is more popular, so mistakes are rife. The change has been gradual since the Second World War. - Arthur Wren, Guildford.

By analogy with foreign languages, it was long held that collective nouns in English should have a singular verb; hence: Arsenal, or the Government, or the Committee is celebrating . . .

Prescriptive grammarians were so adamant on this point that, even though Fowler in The King's English (Oxford University Press, 1906) felt that such nouns 'may be freely used with either a singular or a plural verb', it was not until the late Fifties or Sixties that the BBC and film newsreels accepted the plural. Nowadays both are readily accepted, with probably the plural being more common, as collective nouns such as 'Arsenal' are viewed more often as a collection of individuals rather than as a single body. - J E Webb, Fareham, Hants.

Which Football League team has been relegated the most times?

Notts County, League founder-members, have been relegated 12 times. If failing to be re-elected is counted as relegation then Grimsby Town also total 12 (11 relegations and one failure to be re-elected, in 1910). Only Wigan Athletic and Scarborough of the current League membership have never been relegated, and contrary to popular myth Arsenal were relegated, in 1913. - Steve Tombs, London SE19.

Can polo be played left-handed? If so, why don't the horses gallop into each other when approaching the ball from opposite directions?

The American governing body of polo does not allow left-handers as members, for precisely the reasons anticipated by your questioner. R J Baldry, St Ives, Huntingdon.

What do goalkeepers put into the small bags they take on to the pitch and leave in the back of the net during the game?

I was chatting to the greatest goalkeeper of them all, Pat Jennings, and he told me what he carried in his bag: a pair of gloves, extra ties (for socks), chewing gum, a cap and a religious medal. In the days before the goalie's bag, incidentally, items were carried inside the cap. - Marie McStay, Newry, Co Down.

Who was the last white man to play cricket for the West Indies?

In his reply last week, Richard Vivian thought that neither Australia or South Africa had ever included a non-white. In fact, Sam Morris played one Test for Australia, the second Test of the 1884- 85 series against England, scoring 4 and 10 not out and taking 2 wickets for 73 runs. A fluent if inconsistent batsman, Morris was black, born in Hobart, Tasmania of West Indian parents.

A more substantial player to play for Australia was Graeme Thomas, who was part Aborigine. A stroke player, he played eight Tests in the 1960s. He toured South Africa with Australia in 1966-67, but did not play in a Test.

There has always been some controversy as to whether C B (Charlie) Llewellyn was a non-white. Llewellyn was a superb all-rounder, an aggresive batsman with a good range of strokes and a slow to slow-medium left-arm bowler. He represented South Africa in fifteen Test matches between 1895-96 and 1912 and played for Hampshire between 1895 and 1910. He was ostracised by some team members on the 1910-11 tour to Australia, apparently, because of his colour. His daughter, however, has always denied that he was anything but white.

It is quite clear, however, that many non-white players in both Australia and South Africa were denied Test status simply bcause of their colour - one thinks of the great Malay South African bowler of the 1890s, Hendrick, and of course D'Oliveira. Marsh and Gilbert were just two superb Aborigine fast bowlers (of different eras) who would have been picked for Australia today, though apparently their actions were 'suspect' - perhaps they would have played for Australia in the late 1950s] - R Wilton, London N3.


Is it true that in sports such as snooker and darts the consumption of a limited amount of alcohol will help to steady the arm? Are there any sporting circumstances in which a drink might be beneficial? - Tom Byard, Cherbourg.

What is the origin of the term 'to nutmeg' an opponent in football? - Michael Bruce, Glasgow G14.

During the Olympics I saw a Chinese gymnast jump at least 15 feet in the air when performing a triple somersault in his floor exercise. Is there anything in the rules to prevent him doing this in the high jump, destroying the world record in the process? - Nicholas Proud, Gloucester.

Why do Ferrari's cars always bear the numbers 27 and 28 in grands prix? - Charles Miller, London NW1.

If the Chairman and Secretary of the International Cricket Council (Colin Cowdrey and Lt-Col John Stephenson respectively) were to resign, to what alternative employment would they be best suited? - Joe Fuller, Prescot, Mereyside.

Why in cricket do we refer to a left- or right-handed batsman, but to a left- or right-arm bowler? - Derek Ward, Linden Village, Bucks.

Why are snooker balls the colours they are? - S Jones, London W1.

Why do football pitches have corner flags? - Keith Brown, Ramsgate.

Why do we 'sit' in 'stands'? - Alice Potter, Ormskirk.

What is the derivation of the term 'deuce' in tennis? - Noel Morden, Thames Ditton.

If you know the answers to any of these questions, or have a sporting question of your own you would like answered, write to:

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