Brian Viner: Not too big for his very big boots

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The Independent Online

Here is an extract from an interview I conducted in September 2007.

"As for the idea of him coaching England, or Leicester, or anyone else, the great man makes the pertinent point that he might be rubbish. 'You can be good at captaincy but coaching is different, frustrating. You can't go out there and play. People think I'd be good, but you've got to have huge passion to do it. I finished in May '05 and if I'd wanted to coach I'd have started the next day. I didn't want to do that'.

"Is there, somewhere at the back of his mind, the niggling worry that if he were to flop as a coach it might cloud his legacy as a player? After all, he cited soccer, and it is the lot of several 1966 World Cup winners to be remembered as great players but miserably unsuccessful managers, including his counterpart as captain, Bobby Moore. 'Yeah, but when people say that I got out at the right time as a player, they're missing the point. I wasn't afraid to play in an unsuccessful team, and I'm not afraid of coaching one'."

Prescient words indeed, from Martin Osborne Johnson CBE, who might not be afraid of coaching an unsuccessful team, yet seems to be doing precisely that. Of course, England might confound this notion by clipping the wings of the French cockerel in Paris today and I fervently hope they do, but the prospects of an upset look at least as bleak as Messrs Ladbroke and Hill estimate.

At the time of writing, the odds on England winning in the Stade de France this evening, stand at 5-1, which seem attractive enough in a two-horse race, but I suspect even Johnson himself might advise anyone chasing their Cheltenham losses to look elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the odds on him ending his England stewardship with his mighty reputation enhanced rather than diminished are currently as long as he is tall which might genuinely not bother him but to me seems like a terrible shame.

Tiger may find a jungle where his fans once built a shrine

It is getting on for 12 months since I stood among a large group of people on a famous golf course in the American South, craning my neck for a sight of the greatest golfer in the world, who was preparing to play his second shot on the par-five second hole. Seconds later a cry of warning from the great golfer's distant caddie – "fore right!" – reached our ears. We ducked, and then a ball came clattering into us, hitting a middle-aged woman on the arm.

The ball, carrying the Nike swoosh and golf's most evocative five-letter word, TIGER, came to rest on a patch of the manicured lawn that passes for rough at the Augusta National, and we shuffled into a reverential circle, gazing at it as a group of medieval pilgrims might have gazed upon the bones of John the Baptist. Moments later, Tiger Woods strode into our midst, with his charmless Kiwi caddie, Steve Williams, a few paces behind.

"Who did it hit?" Tiger asked. The woman, unhurt, gave a shy smile and said she had been the blessed one. Not that she put it quite like that, but that was how the rest of us felt. "I'll give you the ball when I finish the hole," said the Tiger. We all looked from him to the woman. She wore the intent expression of a person trying to keep hysteria at bay. Williams then commanded us to make the reverential circle wider, and Tiger turned back to his pursuit of another Green Jacket, caressing a chip to within six inches of the hole. After completing his birdie four, and waiting for his playing partner Phil Mickelson to hole out, Tiger handed the ball to Williams, who, barely breaking stride on his way to the third tee, gave it to the woman. A man with his shorts hitched just a little too high asked if he could touch it. "Sure," she said, rather anxiously, and not letting go.

I thought of that episode when I heard that Woods is to resume his golfing career – so rudely interrupted by the revelation that he suffers from marital fidelity's equivalent of the yips – at next month's Masters. What will happen when he carves a shot into the gallery? Will the circle be quite as reverential? Will he think better of saying, "I'll give you the ball when I finish the hole", in case some wag says "and what else will you give her?"

It is not just Tiger for whom the rules of engagement have changed for ever, but his previously awestruck public too. And that just might be something he finds so hard to handle that he forgets how to win.

A team with only one foot in the grave

Enthralling as it has been to read about David Beckham and Jose Mourinho this week, there are much better, more human stories at the bottom of football's food chain. Never mind the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, take a look sometime at the Scots-Ads Highland League table, and imagine the heartache at Fort William, Strathspey Thistle and Rothes, with just seven, six and five points respectively, and well adrift from the 15 teams above them, which include Clachnacuddin, and Forres Mechanics, and Inverurie Loco Works.

Poor old Rothes are the division's whipping boys, with a goal difference of minus 63 after 22 games. But you have only to look at their website to understand the spirit that still grips the club, constantly seeking ways of using the clubhouse for commercial gain. "Charges for funeral teas," says the website, "are very competitive." If only the team could follow suit.

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