Ten days ago, in a trattoria in south-west London, over a long lunch very well lubricated with Valpolicella, Peter Reid talked to me about the tribulations of managing beleaguered Plymouth Argyle.
Now, anyone who knows Reid is aware that the popular Sunderland song exhorting him to cheer up painted an altogether distorted picture of a man brimming with Scouse wit and bonhomie. He has always been hugely convivial company, especially over a bottle or two of red, yet I wondered whether even he might be overcome with Plymouth woe. A club in administration, seven defeats in eight matches, players threatening strike action over non-payment of wages, and finding himself out of pocket effectively paying to do league football's least enviable job, would surely have sapped even his substantial reserves of joie de vivre?
But no. He was in terrific form, yet candid about the problems at Home Park. "It's difficult," he said. "If you see a dog that's been whipped, it's hard to get it going. That's what it's like. Getting beat week in, week out, it gets to you. It drives me crackers, actually, because I don't even like losing a game of ludo, it's not in my nature. So I try different tactics, formations, players, but my job is to get the best out of them, and I think I'm doing that. To be fair, the players have been fantastic. But we desperately need a frontman. We need three or four players, really. At the moment we have a lot of young lads, and in administration you can only have 20 players anyway. It's hard for them. But there are extenuating circumstances."
Those circumstances, he assured me, had not tempted him to walk away even though nobody in the game would have blamed him for doing so. "You get an affinity with a place, don't you? When the administrator comes in, when you're there on a day when people are sacked, the human side comes into it. You think: 'Right, I'm going to stay here and help them stay up', and to be fair we had a right good go last season."
Had Plymouth not been docked 10 points last season, Reid would have kept them in League One. Characteristically, he preferred to find a footballing explanation. "If Bradley Wright-Phillips had stayed, we'd have done it. And the supporters would have deserved it, because they're amazing. They're so supportive, and I feel embarrassed, because I have the worst record ever as Plymouth manager. So I'm desperate to help the club to survive. We've got to get a new owner in or face liquidation, but on the field, if we can add some players, I think we can do it."
Until last summer, Reid had a steady job as Tony Pulis's assistant at Stoke City. But he wanted to be a manager again, and Pulis, himself an ex-Plymouth manager, recommended Argyle to him. He went knowing that he would have to cut wages, but with no idea that his new club was teetering on the edge of such a financial abyss. When it did become clear, he shelled out himself to meet the club's unpaid heating bills, and donated one of his old FA Cup medals for an auction to raise funds to pay the back-room staff. Maybe the acting chairman, Peter Ridsdale, will have the decency to dip into his own pocket and buy back Reid's medal, now that he has sacked him with an acknowledgement that he had a nigh-on impossible job, swiftly followed by that glibbest of platitudes, "ultimately, football is a results business". Or maybe not.
Meanwhile, Reid, for all that he is one of football's great enthusiasts, has every reason to reflect on something the promoter Mickey Duff once said about boxing: if you want loyalty, buy a dog.
Remember Ginger fondly but don't forget his flaws
The late Ginger McCain went to Farnborough Road Junior School in Southport, as I did 30 years later. And later still, when he walked Red Rum and the rest of his small string of racehorses to the beach, from the stables famously and insalubriously located behind a second-hand car dealership, they clip-clopped directly past our house.
It was therefore with some personal sadness that I read of the old trainer's passing this week, although I was also tickled by the affectionate euphemisms used to describe him: Ginger was a "character"; Ginger "spoke his mind"; Ginger had a "certain rough charm". The truth of the matter is that Ginger was an irascible bigot, and rudeness was his stock-in-trade. Once, when I went to interview his son Donald at their rather grander stables in Cheshire, the old man looked down his prodigious nose at me and loudly asserted that Donald should be effing charging me for his time.
None of which alters the fact that he worked absolute wonders with Red Rum, and should really be buried by the Aintree finishing post alongside his beloved racehorse. For sure, Ginger was really something, but let's not pretend he was something he wasn't.
Tennis, golf, archery...Dod did them all
Lottie Dod was born 140 years ago today. In 1887 she won the women's singles title at Wimbledon, aged only 15. She also played hockey for England, won the 1904 British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship at Troon, won an archery silver medal at the 1908 Olympics and rode the Cresta Run. She never married, but then where would she have found the time?