Brian Viner: Sex and drugs and playing away... why should politics have the best scandals?

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The Independent Online

Here is a tale of two Americans, one of them a septuagenarian man, the other a sexagenarian woman. With the emphasis very much on sexagenarian's first syllable.

Let me start with her. Her name is Sandy Sullivan and she is running for Secretary of State in Wisconsin, a mundane political race except for the fact that Mrs Sullivan, a Republican, has written a book chronicling her sexual exploits with several of the Green Bay Packers football team during the team's glory years in the 1960s.

It is as if a 65-year-old Englishwoman, standing for Parliament as a Conservative, had unveiled intimate details of bed-hopping with Manchester United players around the time they won the European Cup in 1968, with half the electorate wanting to know whether she thinks that serial killers should be bloody well hung, and the other half wanting to know whether George Best was.

Mrs Sullivan has given plenty of people a good laugh, but there are those in Wisconsin who feel that she has debased the political process with her revelations of sex with the legendary Green Bay running back Paul Hornung, among others. Obviously, this is ridiculous. For one thing, how can any Republican debase the political process more than George W Bush, who claimed the White House six years ago despite getting fewer votes than his opponent, Al Gore? For another, there are quite enough sex scandals polluting American politics right now for anyone to get remotely steamed up about something that happened 40 years ago. And had nothing to do with politics anyway.

When you think about it, though, it's rather a shame that politics has all the best sex scandals and sport all the best drugs scandals. It's about time that a Cabinet Minister tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (although heaven knows, most of them could do with a dose) and about time that we had a dominatrix or a rent boy blowing the whistle on a top footballer.

The sexual side of sport has interested me ever since Ian St John told me that Bill Shankly used to instruct his players to wear boxing gloves in bed on a Friday night. And four years ago I was agog at the statistic that the organisers of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester had stockpiled 30,000 condoms for the competitors to use. It had simply never occurred to me before, and yet it made perfect sense with so much youthful virility around, that athletes would be chasing personal bests with their kit off as well as on.

To return to Mrs Sullivan, she recalls in her book that she got a ticket-selling position with the Packers in 1961, when she was 19. More interesting positions soon followed. She quickly learnt, she wrote, that "there are two things football players think about all the time ... football and sex ... and seldom in that order." She also fell for Dan Currie, a Packers linebacker. "One would have to be in a coma not to want him," she recorded in her book, Green Bay Love Stories and Other Affairs.

It's marvellous stuff, and it brings me to another ardent Republican, 77-year-old Arnold Palmer, in the news because he has finally decided to quit playing competitive golf. Palmer was in Texas playing a Champions' Tour event, the Administaff Small Business Classic, when he squirted two consecutive shots into the water on the fourth hole and decided that enough was enough.

Coincidentally, it was also in Texas that a good 'ol boy threatened to do him some serious damage decades ago. I've related the story before, but it bears repeating here, that Palmer in his 1960s heyday had a roving eye almost as famous on the tour as his Popeye arms. Before he was the squillionaire he is now, he often used to split the cost of motel accommodation with fellow player Bob Rosburg, and it was Rosburg who told me that he once answered the phone at 2am to be asked by a seemingly disgruntled redneck whether Palmer was there.

Rosburg looked across the room. Palmer's bed was unmade. "No, Arnie's still out," he said. It confirmed the redneck's worst suspicions. "Then you tell him when he gets back that ah'm coming down there with mah three brothers to teach him what happens to a guy who meddles with mah wahf." Rosburg said that he would indeed pass the message on. "But just one thing before you go," he said. "What's that?" snapped the redneck. "I'm in the bed by the window," Rosburg said.

As for Palmer's decision to stop competing, it will be welcomed by anyone who watched, in pain, as he topped and sliced his way around Augusta on his last few outings in the Masters.

I remember interviewing Bobby Charlton once, and he told me that he had stopped kicking a ball around with the Manchester United team on the day he realised that he could no longer propel it from the corner flag to the goalmouth.

There is something incredibly poignant about a man who was once the very definition of power and prowess realising that the game, at last, is up. Perhaps Mrs Sullivan would concur.

Who I Like This Week...

The Chelsea goalkeeper Hilario, partly because he played with such assurance in Wednesday's defeat of Barcelona. Amid the lingering controversy over the injuries to Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini it was easy to forget that this was the biggest challenge of his career. But mostly I like him because of his name. To me, Hilario sounds like a character from Up Pompeii, which for the benefit of younger readers was a BBC sitcom set 2,000 years ago with jokes even older than that. Frankie Howerd played Lucio, slave to a senator called Ludicrus. Other characters included Lecherus, Bumshus, Nefarius, Odius, and Ambi Dextrus. I'm sure room could have been found for a comedian called Hilarius, and his younger brother Hilario, a kind of Roman version of Mike and Bernie Winters, who, for the benefit of younger readers ... oh, never mind.

And Who I Don't

Me. I don't normally go in for self-flagellation, but I am prepared to do so this week in penance for an inexplicable mistake in last Saturday's column, when I wrote, in relation to the menu signed by the Busby Babes and put up for sale at auction, that the Munich air crash happened in January 1958. I've always known that the date was 6 February, so I can't explain why I got it wrong. Scores of you wrote in to put me right and I hope that I have replied to everyone, even to those Manchester United supporters with such a persecution complex that they thought I was somehow trying to diminish the tragedy with an error that one person referred to as "grotesque". I think careless or stupid rather than grotesque, but either way, my apologies.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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