Brian Viner: Put your pink shirt on United and Murray

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

The merry month of May a century ago in 1909 was a significant one for sport. In Milan on the afternoon of 13 May, 127 cyclists wobbled over the starting line in the first Giro d'Italia, organised by the editor of La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper to boost sales.

Almost a month and 2,448 kilometres later, one Luigi Ganna became the first of 49 finishers, the inaugural winner of what remains one of the world's great cycling races. And to this day the leader wears a pink jersey, the maglia rosa, chosen 100 years ago to match the colour of the pages of the Gazzetta.

Also in May 1909, Minoru, a horse owned by King Edward VII, won the Derby, having a few weeks earlier won the centenary 2,000 Guineas. Minoru went on to have a notable stud career: he sired Serenissima, whose foals included Selene, dam of the Derby and St Leger winner Hyperion, who in turn, and I hope you're still with me, sired winners of 752 races, including Pensive, who won the 1944 Kentucky Derby. Happily, Minoru had already sown as many wild oats as he had eaten when in 1913 he was sold to a breeding operation in Russia. Four years later he disappeared without trace during the Russian Revolution. Maybe the Bolsheviks ate him.

Neither the inaugural Giro d'Italia, though, nor the marvellous deeds of the ill-fated Minoru, are what give that particular month in 1909 its sporting resonance 100 years later. Not in Britain anyway, where two baby boys born just over a week apart, one in a pit village near Glasgow, the other in Stockport, would in due course enter the pantheon of sporting heroes.

But even leaving aside their sporting accomplishments, their lives kind of encapsulate the story of Britain, at least in the first half of the 20th century. The father of one died at the Somme; the father of the other became a Labour Member of Parliament.

It is for their contributions to sport, however, that in their centenary month we remember the men those two babies, Alexander Matthew Busby and Frederick John Perry, became. Sir Matt Busby and Fred Perry died close in age, too, at 84 and 85, and how they will applaud from the celestial grandstand if, in the summer of their centenaries, Manchester United (13-8 favourites) become champions of Europe again and Andy Murray (7-2 third favourite, left) becomes the first Brit since Perry to win the men's singles at Wimbledon. Never bet sentimentally, my old dad used to say, but it's got to be worth a romantic tenner on the double.

Daly must get on the right side of Faldo's Law

They both won an Open Championship at St Andrews, and they both have a decidedly chequered marital background, with seven ex-wives between them, but otherwise John Daly and Nick Faldo have little in common. Yet Daly, who arrived in comparatively slimline form in Europe this week to take part in the Spanish Open, having shed 55lb with the help of a silicone band inserted in his stomach, is an excellent example of what we at The Last Word know as Faldo's Law.

This is the equation whereby leading sportsmen are venerated for their exploits in the sporting arena but excoriated for their personality traits, even though those same traits are responsible for their achievements. It was Faldo's monumental self-absorption that yielded six major championships, just as Daly's recklessly gargantuan appetites are manifest in the way he plays golf, even in the idiosyncratic swing itself. George Best and Paul Gascoigne are further examples: without the demons, they would not have been the footballers they were. But even those two addictive personalities are out-addicted by Daly, who has reportedly gambled away $40m, to say nothing of his problems with binge-eating and booze.

The reason he's playing in Europe is that he was suspended for six months by the PGA Tour in the US, after spending a night in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct. It's time he rediscovered the flip side of Faldo's Law.

Two points for the 'Voice of Snooker'

There is an unwritten version of the Hippocratic oath in journalism, which decrees that you should never dump on a fellow hack. So I will studiously avoid the use of names in paying tribute to a rumbustious sports writer whose newspaper a few years ago proclaimed him "The Voice of Snooker". This used to tickle other snooker correspondents, who looked around during World Championship at the Crucible and never saw him, while every day his column trumpeted forceful opinions about the players. But at the start of the final one year, to collective surprise in the press seats, The Voice of Snooker made an unprecedented entrance. And was heard to mutter to a neighbour, as play got under way, "How much is the yellow worth?"

It's never easy being a messiah

One of the greatest goalscorers of his generation, whose natural striking instincts illuminated the Premier League, he went back as manager to the club where he had been revered as a player. Then it all went pear-shaped. I refer of course to Jürgen Klinsmann , sacked earlier this week by Bayern Munich. Who did you think I was on about?