Brian Viner: Words can soothe Chelsea's window pain

The Last Word

Saturday 22 October 2011 22:23
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Defenestration has been one of my favourite words ever since, as a history undergraduate 25 years ago, I studied the Defenestration of Prague, an episode in May 1618 which helped to kindle the Thirty Years War.

Regrettably, opportunities to drop the word, particularly into sports columns, are all too rare these days. It means the act of throwing someone out of a window, and back in 1618 referred to a bunch of rebellious protestants dealing unceremoniously with two acolytes of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Splendidly, defenestration today makes its inaugural appearance on this page, and perfectly in context too, with the ejection of Chelsea FC from the next two transfer windows. Whether the Defenestration of Chelsea will spark a Thirty Years War between Fifa and Stamford Bridge is unlikely, I suppose, but hats off to Fifa for breathing new life into a grand old word.

As for whether the decision is fair, we at The Last Word leave that for others to debate. However, it does seem a little devious of Sepp Blatter and Co to have waited until the window was closed before chucking Chelsea out. Even the angry protestants in Prague Castle spared their victims – who landed safely in a pile of dung – that fate. Moreover, if only the blazers at Fifa had reached their decision on Monday, what fun we would have had on Tuesday, with Chelsea trying to do 18 months' worth of buying in a single day.

As it was, the last day of the transfer window was a bit of a damp squib, without the expected bid from Mark Hughes for the entire Manchester United first-team squad, the Koh-i-noor Diamond, and Marks & Spencer. And yet some of us watched it unfold with almost manic zeal, positively hypnotised by the extraordinary flow of rumours and sightings faithfully reported by the BBC Sport website, Sky Sports News, and TalkSport radio. At one point, David Trezeguet and his agent were spotted by somebody's uncle at John Lennon Airport, getting into a cab bound for Anfield. Later, Gennaro Gattuso was unequivocally sighted arriving at Old Trafford, Mark Viduka outside Elland Road, and Carlton Cole in a Little Chef near Villa Park.

Whether it was mischief, myopia or madness that prompted these so-called tip-offs, we'll never know. But really, a contrivance as vulnerable to sheer nonsense as the transfer window is badly in need of reassessment. Chelsea, if they'll pardon the defenestration pun, might actually be better off out of it.

Dodgy winger turns up as our man in Kabul

Three cheers for Great Northern Books, a small Yorkshire-based publisher who have just reissued a marvellous anthology of essays by JB Priestley, first published in 1949, entitled Delight. One of the most poignant is called "The Sound of a Football", in which Priestley recalled the evocative "thud-thud-thud of the ball, a sound unlike any other", as he went clattering in his football boots to join the game on the local recreation ground.

That was before the First World War, and practically all the lads he played with in those games later perished on the Western Front. Happily, my own memory of youthful games of football, just as vivid as Priestley's if less elegantly expressed, is untarnished by the catastrophe of war. But there was a chap who years ago played in the same Sunday League team as me, a fellow called Mark Sedwill, who we stuck out on the wing because he could run like the wind, his only deficiency being that sometimes he forgot to take the ball with him.

When I last heard of him, in about 1990, he'd joined the Foreign Office. And blow me down if he wasn't interviewed on News at Ten the other night as Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan. I hope he's more reliably on the ball now than then.

Because Shvedova's worth it

A powerful female television executive once told me that she refused to hire women with perfectly painted fingernails, reckoning that anyone with so much time for fiddly little brushes and bottles of varnish was unlikely to have the kind of dynamism she sought.

I wondered about this rule of thumb, not to mention the fingers, while I sat engrossed, in front of the telly late on Thursday night, watching a thrilling second-round tennis match at the US Open between the fifth seed Jelena Jankovic, and 21-year-old Yaroslava Shvedova, of Kazakhstan. After two hours and 40 minutes, the unseeded Shvedova prevailed, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6. That her points tally was 116 against Jankovic's 113, shows more plainly even than the game count what a remarkably close contest it was.

And quite apart from the wonderful quality of Shvedova's tennis, her incredible athleticism and perseverance, I was struck by how perfectly groomed she was, right down to the manicured hands and immaculately painted nails. I can practically guarantee that it won't just be tennis fans who sit up and take notice of this striking young woman: it will be cosmetics companies too.

Going easy on Aussies is pie in the sky

The London-based fast-food outlet Square Pie, belatedly celebrating England's Ashes win, yesterday for one day only produced a limited-edition Australian Humble Pie which came with a free helping of mashed potato for any Aussie who asked for it. Such a combination of arrant puerility and crass commercialism shouldn't raise a smile, yet I find it does.

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