Sporting excellence is in short supply in this part of the blog but you don’t need to be good at something to know quite a lot about it, especially if you’ve been around for a long time and have been paying attention. You know those people who say that you can’t understand the pressure/tension/whatever that top golfers, top footballers, top players of whatever are under unless you’ve competed at the highest level? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, I’ve always thought that that’s arrogant bollocks.
It’s a matter of degree of course but any of us who’ve played a match at however lowly a level, especially for a team, knows about nerves, tension, shortage of breath, trembling hands, knocking knees, siren voices of doom and disaster. We’ve succumbed or found ways to counteract the doubts and the nerves – just like the Ryder Cuppers, the Champions’ League or Wimbledon finalists, the players who are much, much, much – ad infinitum – better than us. At the most basic level, we understand, we can empathise.
Last Sunday, we, the middle-ranking Whittington Heathens, the 12-24 handicappers, won a first-round match for the first time for quite a few years (it’s inter-club, 5-a-side, straight knockout, full handicap, no second chances). My opponent and I were well matched – I had to give four shots – and after all these years I can recognise a competitor when I see one. Fortunately, thanks to growing up in a hard school playing against Dad and his friends – they’d concede nothing and if you chipped in and waited expectantly for a congratulatory grunt, you’d be chastised for holding up play – not much fazes me. I still lose, of course – hardly surprising when you have to ask where the practice ground is – but this time I managed to win on the 18th. It could’ve gone either way and it was mostly luck and home advantage that got me over the line.
The next morning I woke up with a foot so sore that I could hardly hobble to the bathroom. How had that happened? I had to cry off golf on the Tuesday and hirpled into the club feeling very sorry for myself. A bad foot, no matter how minor, is bad news because it limits you immediately. Aaaagh. Woe is me. Then you look around at people who’ve coped with much worse and feel like a wimp.
Up at Hillside, where Tommy Fleetwood is hosting the British Masters this week, EDGA (the European Disabled Golf Association) launched a book called “Mulligan” that put my aching foot in perspective. Inspirational isn’t the word for it.
After the events in Liverpool and Amsterdam earlier in the week, it’s been hard to calm down and concentrate on anything else. I must admit I didn’t doubt that Liverpool could score at Anfield but I didn’t think they’d stop Barcelona/Messi scoring. I was playing bridge that evening, with a Liverpool supporter who’d got her dates confused – in her defence she’s a peripatetic person and had been doing a lot of travelling, just back from one trip, preparing for another – and was blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding further north.
I met her in the pub the next night and she couldn’t believe her blunder, her face as red as her team’s kit. “Good luck,” she said as she left me to cheer on the team Mum always called Totspurs. Why do I support Spurs? Well, it’s Pat Jennings’s fault. Chelsea are playing Spurs in the 1967 FA Cup final and you’re in Portstewart. Who do you support? Ah, Pat Jennings, the pride of Newry and Northern Ireland, is in goal for Spurs. Spurs win 2-1 – Jimmy Robertson and Frank Saul I think (I checked and I was right!) – and I’ve been lumbered as a Lillywhite ever since. Hooray.
Apparently I used to cry when Spurs lost (I learned!) and Mum would come home from the newsagent’s laden down with Shoot, Goal and Football Monthly, regarded as odd when everybody knew she had two girls. I learned about Arthur Rowe, Alf Ramsey, push and run, Jimmy Greaves, Danny Blanchflower, John White, Bill Nicholson, the legendary Double team, all of that. When Mum and Dad moved to England and Mum refused to accommodate my collection of Charlie Buchan Football Monthlys and Spurs scrapbooks any longer, I wanted them to go to a good home and gave them to Mike Ingham, who became BBC Radio’s chief football commentator, in exchange for a few bottles of wine.
I had a long period as a bit of a Spurs tragic. I won a bet (think it was about Spurs’s chances of avoiding relegation or winning promotion; it wasn’t one of our glory periods) with a friend at RPGC (Portrush for short) and used the £15 to become a life member of the Spurs’ supporters’ club – now defunct I fear but I’ve still got the badge and the wee booklet. I tried to buy a seat in the new stadium but the internet connection was so slow and the demand so great that the £800 seat I’d targeted had disappeared and the remaining ones started at £2000. Ah! Sense – and the bank balance – prevailed.
Barring something exceptional I won’t be in Madrid for the final – though, come to think of it, I know someone who once worked for Joe Lewis; wonder if he’s still got Joe’s number……Joe is one of those billionaires, based in the Bahamas these days I believe, who started off modestly enough and is now often described as “mysterious” simply because he’s not a flash git with a penchant for publicity but essentially he owns Spurs or as near as dammit.
We few Spurs stalwarts who frequent the Horse and Jockey in Sandford Street in Lichfield will be outnumbered by the Liverpool fans come the final but I won’t care as long as we win. They’ll be super-confident, quite rightly but we’re no pushovers and if we can keep our nerve and 11 players on the pitch (lucky to finish with as many as 9 against Bournemouth) – what’s that saying: heart on fire, head in the freezer?…….Who knows? Anything could happen.
Didn’t someone famous once say, “Football, bloody hell.”…………..