Brian Viner: A golden age? Try the one we are living in

The Last Word

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The Independent Online

Woody Allen has never popped up in this column before, and I don't suppose he was thinking about sport when he wrote Midnight in Paris, a charming and gently philosophical film about perspectives on golden ages.

I saw it last week, and I hope I'm not giving too much away by revealing that the Allen-esque hero, Gil, steps from modern-day Paris into the 1920s when, to his mind, the city was at its most gloriously romantic and artistic, only to fall for Picasso's sexy mistress, for whom there was nothing romantic about the 1920s; it was simply the prosaic here and now. So while Gil revels in the company of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, she wishes that she had instead lived during the Belle Epoque era of Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec.

It doesn't take a Bob Beamon leap of the imagination to apply this notion, that golden ages are hard to recognise when you're living through them, to sport. Of course, different sports have different golden ages. But generally they are all to be found in life's rear-view mirror. As cricket-lovers we live in the era of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Shane Warne, and yet we constantly hark back to the time of Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Dennis Lillee, just as 20 years ago the golden age of cricket was the 1950s, and in the 1950s it was the 1930s. Lillee and Thomson are all very well, my boy, but you should have seen Miller and Lindwall. Yes, my young friend, it's thrilling to see Miller bowling at Compton, but imagine what it was like to watch Larwood racing in towards Bradman. It is every generation's unwanted gift to the one that follows, the assurance that it was born slightly too late. To me it seems a shame that my children got to know Gary Lineker mainly as a crisps salesman, but then I got to know Fred Trueman mainly as the face of arm-wrestling, on Indoor League of blessed memory.

Sometimes, it takes a really old and wise man to resist the lure of the rose-tinted bifocals. I have spent enough time in the effervescent company of Sir Peter O'Sullevan to know that he talks as glowingly about Kauto Star as he does about Arkle. And all credit to the ancient football sages who concede that not even Puskas, Di Stefano and Gento were as pleasing on the eye as Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Unsurprisingly, there are very few of them. After all, what's the point of having 50, 60, 70 years of memories if you can't use them as passports to a long-gone golden age? I can see that it's helpful, when you're getting a bit creaky, to view the past as a seductive foreign country to which younger folk are unable to travel.

Anyway, all this wistfulness for bygone times takes particularly elegiac form in an unusual but rather delightful new book by Chris Arnot called Britain's Lost Cricket Grounds (Aurum, £25).It celebrates 38 cricket grounds no longer with us, and of one of them I have affectionate personal memories, for it was at the School Lane home of Skelmersdale CC, twice a season in the late 1970s, that I proudly represented Southport Trinity in the south-west Lancashire League. In truth I don't recall playing there in anything other than light drizzle, and it was also while fielding at School Lane that my team-mate Roly Kimmage, after too many lunchtime pints of bitter, habitually emptied his bladder. For Roly, a slash outside off-stump meant a pee at second slip, which is not a cricketing memory of which Richie Benaud would approve, and even Woody Allen might struggle to weave it into a romantic comedy. But at least old Woody understands that ages are golden to different people for different reasons.

Judy's new job completes Caledonian takeover

So mighty were the gales across Scotland this week that they destroyed even wind turbines, which goes to show that power can undermine the very thing it is meant to propel. Some people have reached the same conclusion about Judy Murray these last few years, suggesting that her fierce maternal instincts might be blowing her younger son Andy off course as he bids, and bids, and bids, for his first Grand Slam title.

I'm not sure about that, but I am pleased to see Mrs Murray's enormous strength of character harnessed for the greater good of British tennis, with her appointment this week as captain of the Fed Cup team. What this also means is that Braveheart is due a remake, with a new ending and rackets instead of cudgels, because the Caledonian takeover of British tennis is now complete. The Davis Cup captain and the man in overall charge of the sport at elite level is Leon Smith, a Scotsman. The men's No 1 is Andy Murray. Our top female player is Elena Baltacha. Our best men's doubles players are Colin Fleming and Jamie Murray. With the elevation of Andy and Jamie's mum, no one can any longer accuse British tennis of being flavoured with Pimm's and strawberries. It now tastes wholly of Irn Bru and haggis.

Careful what you wish for, Monty

It's nice to see Monty Panesar back in England's Test cricket squad, and I'm amused to learn that his attempts "to become more extroverted" have included an audience with Sir Ian Botham and Sir Viv Richards. I've also had audiences with those two, and came out 60 per cent more introverted than I went in.

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