The problem with a printed account of what someone has said is that the tongue in the cheek can't be seen, the ironic tone not heard. I hope this was the case with a report earlier this week of an encounter with Tony Jacklin, the former Ryder Cup captain, who for a few weeks in the summer of 1970 held both the Open Championship and US Open titles simultaneously.
Jacklin was lamenting the way in which golfers tend to be overlooked in the coronation of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, and he certainly has a point in relation to himself, for in 1970, having become the first Brit in 45 years to win the US Open, he was pipped to the main award by Henry Cooper. A year earlier, when he ended 18 years of British failure to win our own Open, he was runner-up to Ann Jones. Moreover, his towering achievement in winning the US Open was utterly eclipsed by the media coverage of the 1970 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy, which happened to fall on the same day. Like C S Lewis, who made the mistake of shuffling off his mortal coil on the same day as President John F Kennedy, or Farrah Fawcett, who drew her last breath in synchrony with Michael Jackson, Jacklin never got the column inches he deserved.
So he can be forgiven a little sourness, but you'd think it might have dissipated after 40 years. Not so, if last week's interview is anything to go by, but then he was surely being ironic when, in considering those who might win this year's BBC award ahead of Graeme McDowell, the likeable young fellow from Northern Ireland who last month became the first Brit since Jacklin to win the US Open, he rejected the claims of a Tony like himself, and indeed an Ulsterman like McDowell. "Tony McCoy? I can't say I've ever heard of him," said Jacklin. "Won the Grand National, did he? Surely it was the horse that did that. Of course I'd like Graeme McDowell to win, but it seems we're a minority sport. That's just how it is."
As a resident of Florida, Jacklin perhaps wasn't to know that in dismissing the right of McCoy to be anointed the 2010 Sports Personality of the Year, he had misdirected his shot more woefully than any Sunday morning hacker, for if anyone embodies the absurdity of the BBC's annual award-fest it is the man known as AP, who last year, the year in which he rode his 3,000th winner and became champion jump jockey for the 15th successive time, didn't even make the BBC's 10-person shortlist. Third place in 2002 remains the nearest he has got to the famous trophy shaped like a television camera. But everyone in sport (with the exception, obviously, of Jacklin) knows that the Sports Personality award can't be considered the real McCoy until the real McCoy's name is on it.
How a curve ball turned things around for Davey the giant-killer
On Tuesday, at the Rankin social club in Leominster, our nearest town, I chaired an evening of questions for the engaging new chairman of Hereford United, David Keyte, and the manager he recently appointed, Simon Davey. It was as Barnsley manager that Davey masterminded the two greatest FA Cup upsets of recent years, beating Liverpool away and Chelsea at home to reach a Wembley semi-final in 2008, so it is apt that he should find himself installed at Edgar Street, which witnessed the greatest FA Cup upset of yesteryear, non-league Hereford's famous 2-1 defeat of Newcastle United, in 1972.
On stage at the Rankin club, I asked Davey about Barnsley's thrilling FA Cup run, and he said that at Anfield, Rafa Benitez had been the least gracious of losers, while at Oakwell, Avram Grant could hardly have been more gracious. Nor, apparently, could John Terry. The erstwhile England captain has received consistently (and not exactly undeserved) bad press these last few months, so I'm pleased to report that at the end of that crushing defeat to Barnsley, he made his way to the home dressing room and offered the exultant players his congratulations, telling them they had thoroughly deserved their great victory and that he hoped they would go on to lift the Cup.
The new Hereford manager also told a lovely story about an even more celebrated England player, albeit before most of us had heard of him. In 1995, Davey made his home debut for Preston North End in the same game, against Doncaster Rovers, as a youngster by the name of Beckham on a month's loan from Manchester United. Davey had come from Carlisle United, where he had taken all the corners and free-kicks, so both he and Paul Raynor, the dead-ball specialist at Preston, were miffed to be told by manager Gary Peters that shy, young David was to be given all corners and free-kicks. They were both still sulking when the lad made his way over to take the first corner, which he promptly bent directly into the goal. In the next game, when a free-kick was awarded just outside the box, Davey eventually stood down after a little tussle with Beckham for the ball, then watched it fly into the top right-hand corner. "I have often wondered," said Davey, with a comedian's timing, "what would have happened to my career if I'd taken that free-kick."