Brian Viner: No cheers for hypocrisy or red-rose-tinted spectacles

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

Amanda Epps from Charlbury had a letter published in The Independent this week, suggesting that I owe Welsh rugby an apology, for erroneously claiming that the All Blacks won the 1905 fixture in Cardiff, when in fact it was Wales who triumphed, 3-0. Ms Epps is quite right, and I am duly contrite. May I dance the haka of shame; may I choke on the bread of heaven. And let me try to make further amends by condemning the BBC’s skewed coverage of the match between Wales and England at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday.

The Welsh won 23-15, you will recall, yet Brian Moore, the (English) co-commentator, gave the man-of-the-match award without the slightest equivocation to England’s Joe Worsley. Not only that, but the main thrust of the post-match debate chaired by John Inverdale was all to do with how well England had played in the circumstances; the circumstances, of course, being that they are not nearly as good as Wales. It took a disbelieving laughing fit from pundit Jonathan Davies to remind Inverdale and the other two pundits, Jeremy Guscott and Austin Healey, that the continuing Welsh ascendancy was the story of the day, not heroic English failure.

Now, I have on occasion in this space lamented the occasional tendency of Scottish sports fans in particular, but also the Welsh, to declare their support for anyone but England. This, I asserted, was born of a chippiness that was all the more reprehensible to those of us who shout for England against Scotland and Wales, but always shout for Scotland and Wales against overseas opposition. For example, few passages of play on the football field have lifted me from my chair like Archie Gemmill’s wonderful goal for Scotland against the Netherlands in the 1978 World Cup.

Rare are the names that make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck like J P R Williams, Phil Bennett and Gareth Edwards. For me and I imagine many other English people the equation is simple: if England aren’t involved, then yeehah Scotland, Wales or one of the Irish teams.

So why did some Scots, and Welsh, and Irish, cheer South Africa against England in the last rugby World Cup final? Why did sales of Argentina shirts go through the roof in Edinburgh and Glasgow before England’s footballers met the South Americans in the 2002 World Cup? Such behaviour has always riled me. But last Saturday, Messrs Moore, Inverdale, Guscott and Healey provided a measure of vindication.

‘Slumdog’ hits rivals for six as Stanford leaves game stumped

While the great game of cricket continues to rue its association with a scumbag billionaire, it has at least been positively invoked, ahead of tomorrow’s Academy Awards, by Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor. Asked whether he realised during filming that the movie would be a hit, he compared the feeling he had with playing cricket on one of those days when every ball seems to find the middle of the bat. “[The film] is either a four or a six, that’s what I told my wife,” he said. “But I think the ball has gone out of the stadium. I can’t find the ball.”

Or to quote Richie Benaud, who went and announced his retirement on Wednesday just when it looked, the Stanford imbroglio intensifying with every news bulletin, as though the week couldn’t get much worse for international cricket, “It’s gone into the confectionery stall and out again.”

Time for Tiger to roar again

Some heart-warming photographs were published this week of an all-American family – that’s all-American in so far as it is half-Swedish and a quarter Thai. The family to which I refer, of course, is that of Tiger Woods, cheerfully posing with his wife Elin, daughter Sam and newborn son Charlie. It’s always nice to see that dazzling Tiger smile, but next week in the WGC Match Play Championship I hope we also see the odd petulant scowl cross those handsome features. Big tournament golf needs Woods back, if only so that we can see how good Padraig Harrington, Anthony Kim, Rory McIlroy and the other pretenders to his throne really are.

Scouting for Moyes keeps boys true blue

As an Evertonian I was delighted to read my colleague James Lawton’s article in praise of David Moyes this week. I would write something similarly effusive except that accusations of bias would rain down on me, like the deranged rant I received recently from a Manchester City fan (anonymous, as all such batty letters are).

Still, the irreproachably non-partisan Lawton can always be relied upon to hit the nail squarely on the head, and my friends on Merseyside confirm that the arrival of so many talented local youngsters in and on the fringes of the Everton first-team squad – as represented by the hugely gifted 17-year-old Jack Rodwell, newly contracted to the club until 2014 – is much to do with the astuteness of the manager, who has overseen the development of a formidable scouting system in the area. Liverpool scouts, by all accounts, are all but invisible by comparison.

So maybe, just maybe, the next few years will yield some payback for the intolerable state of affairs (and excellent Liverpool youth policy, now much diminished) that made Anfield heroes of devoted boyhood Evertonians Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher.