Brian Viner: Merseybeat strikes urban chords to accompany Open action on greens

It's nice to see this great city playing a supporting role at the Open
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The Independent Online

It is said that even the local scallies are getting enthusiastic as Liverpool's reign as European Capital of Culture 2008 draws closer, and that a guy came out of a pub in Toxteth recently to find his car, all four wheels having been nicked, propped up on four encyclopedias. If the excitement with which Liverpool has welcomed the Open Championship to its doorstep is anything to go by, the gag contains a ring of truth. This week, the scallies would be leaving the car propped up on four golf trolleys.

And if Liverpool is enjoying having the Open on its threshold for the first time since 1967, the thousands of visitors from all over the world are enjoying the proximity of Liverpool. That's with the exception of the reporter from the Washington Times, whose "Postcard from Liverpool" rudely referring to a "stunningly dirty port town that should be renamed Cesspool" was published yesterday in our Open diary, and reminded a couple of venerable golf writers of a diplomatic incident some years ago when one of their brethren, Peter Dobereiner of The Observer, offended the good people of Boston, Massachusetts.

In a preview of the US Open, which was taking place in Boston that year, Dobereiner had written about a guy in the city who kept looking out of his window and calling "green side up". When his friend asked what he was doing, he said that some Irish labourers were laying turf for him. Which is not the sort of joke that most respectable newspapers would countenance printing these days, but times were different then, and Dobereiner can hardly have expected the fuss that ensued.

The Irish-dominated construction unions in Boston were apoplectic, and when Dobereiner arrived at the city's Logan Airport he was at first refused admission to the United States altogether, before eventually being escorted to the office of the mayor - a Mr O'Flynn - where he duly apologised.

I don't suppose the man from the Washington Times need worry about being dragged in front of the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, although there might be a knock on his door from the manager of the Adelphi Hotel, which seemed to be the main object of his ire. But it's quite true that the Adelphi is not the handsome establishment it used to be.

The Independent's scribblers are luckier; we are staying at a hotel near Lime Street station which suits our needs perfectly and even has a lavish room service menu offering "an array of fresh fruits captured in a delicate brandy snap basket" and "a rich chocolate and orange ganashe encompassed with a vanilla cream". So much for this being the city of plain speaking.

But if the room service menu seems incongruous, so, in a way, does the presence between the Mersey and Dee estuaries of golf's blue riband event.

It seems strange to see Liverpool's Dock Road, one of the most characterful thoroughfares in the world but also one of the least salubrious, generously garnished, as my hotel might have it, with AA signs for The Open. Big cities don't usually get to muscle in on the Open. Of all the other venues, only Muirfield has a metropolis nearby, and Edinburgh's not like Liverpool.

For example, I don't suppose Edinburgh has a retail outlet quite like International Leather Store, in a dilapidated row of shops close to our hotel. One of my colleagues, needing something to wear at the Golf Writers' Association dinner on Tuesday evening, emerged with a £10 suit for which, after some protracted haggling, he had paid £9.50. The label says Jermyn Street, too, although it doesn't specify which Jermyn Street. It's more likely to be the one in Bootle, or possibly Karachi, than the one in the West End of London, although he claims that he was overwhelmed with people at the dinner telling him how smart he looked. That might say more about him than the suit, but in fairness it didn't look like a cheap piece of cloth.

Not that cheap, anyway.

Whatever, it's nice to see this great city playing a supporting role at the Open, indeed, on the very evening that my colleague was being praised for his sartorial elegance, John Daly was giving his guitar some hammer on stage at the famous Cavern Club. I don't suppose he thinks of the place as "Cesspool".

There's no doubt, however, that there have been some bemused Americans knocking around this week, none more so than the chap in my hotel who at reception on Thursday morning was trying to get a sense of how much it had rained during the night. "Quirra lo, mate," said the doorman. The American looked at him blankly. At home he would have been given the precise duration of the rainfall, the exact cubic measurements, and had the degree of humidity thrown in as well. In Liverpool, by contrast, rain comes as a bit, a lot, and bloody lashing down.

Maybe, he'd have been better off talking to the food and beverages manager, or whoever wrote the room service menu. Then he'd have been informed of a nocturnal sprinkling of Merseyside rainwater settling impudently on a bed of melting tarmac.

Who I like this week...

Jack Nicklaus, now retired from championship golf but back again at Hoylake, where he finished second to Roberto de Vicenzo in the 1967 Open. Yesterday, Nicklaus gave an interview to the BBC's Gary Lineker, who doesn't often look nervous on telly these days, but was plainly in awe of the great man. Nicklaus told him that he doesn't miss playing in golf tournaments any more because he can't do it, and that if he could, he'd still be out there. He is perfectly at ease with this, he added, and not melancholic about the fading of his talent. He's hardly picked up a club for the past 12 months. Not for Nicklaus the ceremonial outings of some old champions. If he can't compete, he won't play.

And who I don't

Doug Ellis, the octogenarian Aston Villa chairman, who is looking for the 14th manager of his tenure, following David O'Leary's "amicable" departure. Normally I'm not keen on sticking the boot into football club chairmen, who all too often get less credit than they deserve and too much blame. But I'm firmly behind those Villa fans who consider Ellis to be an anachronism, and if the old boy truly wanted to help the club, he would now stand down. I don't suppose Villa fans enjoyed reading that he was "monitoring events from his annual Majorcan cruise", either.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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