The epic appeal of great confrontations

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The Independent Online
FEUDS - we love 'em. They are the vital fluids of sport. Take motor racing, which is even less fun to be at than carriageway repairs on the M1. Nothing between its followers and brain death except Benetton and Michael Schumacher, having all those exciting run-ins with the FIA. Look at rugby - two codes for the price of one, thanks to that moment back in the mists of time when one lot decided they didn't like the other lot, took their ball away and started up another game with marginally different rules. And let us not forget David Gower v the TCCB - that spawned months of absorbing committee meetings for the Restore Gower Campaign, giving spice to the lives of men who would otherwise have been slumped in chairs at the Garrick Club, pondering the pointlessness of it all.

The eyeballing between Alan Sugar and Terry Venables has now reached new peaks. Last week Sugar was reportedly adamant that while he was 'suing the arse off our club' the England coach was still persona non grata at White Hart Lane despite the fact that Ossie Ardiles, the Spurs manager, had piped conciliatory noises of welcome.

Venables is now muttering darkly about libel and provocation. Some might argue that this kind of thing does the game no good at all - the national coach exchanging legal half-Nelsons with a Premiership club chairman. How undignified. You must be joking. Come mid-season when your team is stuck halfway down the table and their Cup run has just ended on a bitter night at Barnsley, what better to keep your interest alive than that epic narrative of banishment and betrayal unfolding at White Hart Lane and Lancaster Gate?

Feuds have always warmed the cold feet of the game. Remember last season; Alec Ferguson v Jimmy Hill (Is Jimmy Hill A Prat? Sun Readers Give Their Verdict). Peter Taylor took his bust-up with Brian Clough to the grave. Sir Alf Ramsey appeared to enjoy a grudge against, among others, the whole of the Scottish nation.

Feuds between manager and player, on the other hand, tend to be kept quiet at the time on the principle that if it were widely known that your top marksman got legless every night / had his own special chair at the betting shop / couldn't keep his trousers on in the presence of other players' wives, it would have an adverse effect on his rating in the transfer market. Anyway, it makes far better business sense to save them for the ghosted autobiography, when the juicy bits can be serialised in the tabloids for a fat fee.

One of sport's most memorable feuds was that between the boxing promoter Frank Warren and his one-time protege Terry Marsh, the fighting fireman and chess talent. Once they made beautful music together; later, there was the acrimonious parting of the ways which ended with Marsh being tried and acquitted of Warren's attempted murder. It is said that some time after this, Mr Warren was at a sporting dinner where he happened to be placed next to a lady journalist who fell into the chasm of having some knowledge of the subject matter but not nearly enough. When polite conversation over the victuals turned to interesting characters in the fight game, she was inspired to say: 'That clever one who was a fireman, whatever happened to him?'

The events at Tottenham have been compared with soap opera, but surely they would fit better in a Western - Unforgiven, perhaps, with Alan Sugar in the Clint Eastwood part. Or what about an A-level set book - Venables wandering eternally round the bleaker reaches of Stoke Newington, nose pressed to the gates of White Hart Lane, like Cathy's ghost in Wuthering Heights.

I suppose you could argue that it's no laughing matter, that Venables might be tempted, on the grounds that he can't get to see them, to leave Spurs players out of consideration for his squad in future, thus blighting Tottenham's chances of signing or hanging on to any talent with ambitions towards an England career. But that really is the stuff of fiction. Venables, like the rest of us, may have his flaws, but vengefulness has never seemed to be one of them.

I WAS roped into a radio pro gramme last week to discuss the topic: 'How to get into sportswriting'. Umpired by Frances Edmonds, it was a brisk and informative discussion, though I really can't think what advice I could give that could not be bettered by a careers adviser. It would certainly be more up to date as I entered sports journalism in 1973 when they still had hot metal, printers' strikes, and league tables that contained Aldershot. Nevertheless, hardly a week goes by without a letter dropping on to the mat which reads: 'I am a second- year media studies student hoping to make a career in the sports media. Can you please write and tell me anything you think might be relevant.' Sometimes these letters are pro forma, and almost without exception they come without a reply-paid envelope. Especially entertaining are the ones which begin: 'I am a regular reader of your articles in the Observer.'

The simplest way into the sports media these days to have played cricket, tennis, rugby or football, preferably at international level. It might be argued that athletic ability is not enough when it comes to the white heat of drumming up 700 words at stumps at Edgbaston but ex-players are proving so good at it that mere hacks might as well go home.

For instance, Trevor Brooking's Football Night (Wednesdays on Radio Five) is revealing itself as the hit footie programme of the season, essential listening on a rainy night like last week's when it was a fine thing to be nuzzling up to the radio with a warming cup of Beaujolais, picturing all those poor sods sitting in the downpour at West Ham, Manchester United and Arsenal.

On the box, Trev is far too kindly and decent a person ever to say anything critical about anybody, with the result that as a TV pundit his contributions tend to be on the dull side of non-

threatening. As a link man, though, he is proving himself the Des Lynam of the wireless. His style recalls the leisurely, unhurried skill of his playing days at Upton Park. 'And I'll just bring you up to date with the other scores . . . Raith Rovers 2, Kilmarnock 1. Just before the news headlines, we'll go back to Old Trafford.' Handled like a master. And, what's more, I bet he can still land a 20-yard cross from the left on to the head of matchstick.

Peter Corrigan is on holiday

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