Brian Viner: Best weekend of the year? It's a good bet

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

It's faintly dispiriting to think that the greatest sporting weekend of the year might already be behind us, but it surely is.

Even if England's footballers win a thrilling World Cup match on the same weekend that Andy Murray clinches a nailbiting five-setter at Wimbledon, even if England's cricketers nick one of the first four Tests down under within a day of Manchester United beating Chelsea 5-4, will any 48 hours produce stories to match last weekend's extraordinary triple-header of AP McCoy at long last winning the Grand National, relegated Portsmouth beating high-flying Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final, and Phil Mickelson striking one of the finest shots ever seen in major tournament golf on his way to one of the most emotionally-charged of victories in the US Masters?

And before all that, I listened to the radio coverage of humble Ross County overcoming mighty Celtic at Hampden Park to reach the Scottish Cup final, the perfect amuse-bouche, tickling the taste buds in readiness for the sumptuous banquet to come. For this observer at any rate, it's hard to remember another weekend like it, and if the astuteness of my modest betting had matched the richness of the spectacle, I'd have had to rewrite my own personal annals. As it was, I backed the hapless King John's Castle to win the National, plumbing uncharted depths even by my own feeble standards in the world's greatest steeplechase as Paul Carberry did his impression of trying to get a rocking-horse off the mark.

Afterwards, it all seemed so obvious. Of course McCoy was going to win on Don't Push It; of course Pompey were going to win a redemptive semi-final; of course Mickelson was going to win the Masters, hugging his cancer-stricken wife Amy for what seemed like five minutes while somewhere in the background his least-favourite rival, Tiger Woods, headed home alone following, it has to be said, a pretty remarkable performance of his own.

As for that shot, the six-iron off pine straw on the par-five 13th, that lasered through a four-foot gap in the pines and carried 187 yards over water, dropping to earth less than four feet from the hole, I don't mind admitting that, sitting in front of my telly, I cheered. My bet on Lee Westwood, my one sensible wager of a nigh-on unmatchable sporting weekend, had suddenly ceased to matter.

Never let the facts spoil a good story

This might seem like sucking up, but it's true: I love readers of The Independent. A few days after Sir Alec Bedser was dismissed by the celestial umpire, I related, elsewhere in these pages, the cherishable story of his arrival at a Leeds hotel prior to a Test match against Australia in the summer of 1948. He had driven there with his England team-mate Jack Crapp, against whom he'd been playing in a county match, and the receptionist did not recognise them as England cricketers; she thought they were just regular customers. "Bed sir?" she enquired of one of them. "No, Crapp," he replied. The receptionist understood. "Through them doors and first on t' left," she said.

It was not long before an email pinged into my inbox, from a regular reader, Bill Finch. He had loved the story, he said, but it had also brought out the pedant in him, and he'd been straight onto to check its credentials, discovering that immediately before the fourth Test at Headingley on 22 July, Bedser's Surrey were playing Kent rather than Crapp's Gloucestershire. So the version I told could not have been true.

Further research, however, yielded gold. Before the third Test at Old Trafford which began on 8 July, Bedser had played for Surrey at Gloucester, with Crapp in the home XI. The Test match started the day after the county game had ended – as Mr Finch pointed out, there was no rest and rehabilitation, and certainly no central contracts, in those days – so Bedser and Crapp would almost certainly have travelled up north together. "Thrillingly, it is possible that the story is true," Mr Finch concluded, "but it would have taken place in Manchester rather than Leeds."

Accordingly, I should modify the hotel receptionist's accent next time I tell the Bedser/Crapp story in public. The only problem with that is that whenever I try to talk Mancunian I sound like Bernard Manning. Maybe I will leave her as a Yorkshire girl, and assume that she crossed the Pennines in search of work.

At last, Lionels of the world can rejoice

Sport can be a source of great encouragement to those of us saddled with unfashionable names. Well, sport and music. The embarrassment of sharing a name with the resident snail on "The Magic Roundabout", which was rubbed in well and truly in the playground, was slightly alleviated by Brian Clough, Brian Jones, Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry, only for all my psychological progress to be undone by "Monty Python's Life of Brian".

But then came Brian Lara, Brian O'Driscoll and Bryan Habana, and now it's practically cool to be a Brian, which is why I feel happy for all the nation's Lionels, who now find that they share a name with the best footballer on the planet, where previously as namesakes they had only Lionel Richie, and in desperation Lionels Bart and Jeffries, to counter Lionel Blair.