Saturday 11 December 2010
Brian Viner: Snow gets the better of O'Sullevan but nothing must block AP's path to BBC glory
The Last Word
There aren't many people who can recall getting a tip on the two o'clock at Ludlow one day in 1941.
Indeed, it could be that there is only one, Sir Peter O'Sullevan, whose memory for these things is entirely unimpaired by his 92 years.
Niersteiner, ridden by Nobby Sawers, was an outsider with a decent chance of winning, information that O'Sullevan had received not quite from the horse's mouth, but from his pal Sawers. So O'Sullevan drove from London to a garage he knew on the road to Cheltenham and there sold his car, a Flying Standard, for £60, which gave him lots of readies for betting but no means of transport.
He then hitchhiked into Cheltenham, and took a bus to Gloucester. He was told not to try hitching in central Gloucester, because in wartime nobody would pick up a man not in uniform. So he walked for an hour in the general direction of Ludlow, then got a lift from a farmer with six pigs in his truck. After three more rides he had only reached Hereford, and more significantly the race at Ludlow had been run. So, unaware of the result, he turned round and hitched back to London, arriving the following morning to read in his newspaper that, sure enough, the two o'clock at Ludlow had been won by 20-1 shot Niersteiner, trained by Percy Arm, ridden by N Sawers.
On Thursday, at the Rankin Social Club a few miles south of Ludlow in Leominster, I was due to host an evening of conversation with Sir Peter O'Sullevan and looked forward to prompting another rendition of that marvellous story. But this time the weather, rather than the vicissitudes of hitchhiking, put paid to his plans to get to the Welsh Marches. He phoned me on Wednesday to say that "for this old geezer", and in these freezing conditions, the drive seemed like an expedition too far. That he had still been contemplating it seemed miraculous enough.
Nevertheless, there was still a capacity crowd due at the Rankin, and so another notable man of the turf, Brough Scott, took O'Sullevan's ride. We made racing legends the theme of the evening, and Scott talked beguilingly about Lester Piggott, Vincent O'Brien and, of course, O'Sullevan, and also about a younger man whose legendary status is very much sealed whether or not the British public do the right thing a week tomorrow, and make AP McCoy the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
We all know that the BBC contest is essentially daft, that to measure a jockey against a golfer against a heptathlete is a preposterous business, and yet it is venerable enough to be genuinely significant, and so I would urge readers of "The Last Word" to do what Brough Scott urged a full house at the Rankin Club to do, which was not simply to support McCoy but, in the words of an Irish politician, "to vote early, and vote often".
Passionate Newcastle need a passionate man in charge
Some football clubs have big personalities, and there are few with a bigger personality than Newcastle United, which might be why the most successful Newcastle managers of recent years have been hugely charismatic characters themselves, embodiments of all that black-and-white passion.
Certainly, to talk football with Sir Bobby Robson, as I had the pleasure of doing on four memorable occasions, was practically to be plugged into an electricity socket. Kevin Keegan is high-voltage too. So when I went up to interview the extremely genial but decidedly uncharismatic Chris Hughton shortly before the start of this season, I wondered whether he had enough magnetism to manage Newcastle, successfully, in the Premier League. That one of his first acts had been to hang a lifesize picture of Robson in his office seemed to suggest that he was too much in thrall to history to be entirely his own man. And yet soon afterwards he oversaw a 6-0 destruction of Aston Villa, followed in October by the 5-1 thrashing of Sunderland, which surely won him an eternal place in the heart of every Magpies fan, although as a former Spurs loyalist, taking home three points from the Emirates last month doubtless gave him even greater satisfaction.
Whatever, under Hughton, Newcastle have scored more goals this season than all but four of the 11 teams above them, including oil-fired Manchester City. Yet he has been replaced not by a man of Robson-like, Keegan-like charisma, with Martin O'Neill the obvious candidate in that respect, but by Alan Pardew.
I have nothing against Pardew, and I don't suppose the bookies do either, despite making him 6/1 to be the next managerial sacking almost before the ink was dry on his contract. Business is business. As for whether the contract is worth the cost of the ink, that remains to be seen. Maybe Pardew for Hughton will turn out to be one of the great footballing masterstrokes. For now, though, one conclusion seems vividly clear. Football fans shouldn't reserve their contempt for foreign plutocrats who buy English football clubs as playthings, and then like hyperactive toddlers start pulling them apart. Mike Ashley comes from Buckinghamshire.
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The Premier League has plans for a new rule to compel all managers to speak to the media after every match. I bet Sir Alex Ferguson is quaking in his boots.
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