I have to confess my mind’s not entirely devoted to this week’s blog, not least because I’m multitasking (or attempting to), trying to apply for tickets for the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023 and getting nowhere very, very slowly. At this rate there’ll be no reason whatsoever to harbour hopes of improving my French – or at least the rugby-related bits, quel essai, allez les verts, that sort of thing – and dredging up the words of the Marseillaise from French class half a century ago. Gulp. That long ago? No, much, much, longer…
Oh well, it’ll all be on the telly and there’s plenty of time to get the beers and some decent wine and food in (not much different from normal then). I’m currently up from 28% to 40% through the queuing process, not even halfway to the posts, which wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t got up to 65%, well on my way to reaching the website, several hours ago, only to be told I wasn’t connected to the internet and had to start again and go to the end of the queue. There’s not much of a chance of tickets now. It took no time at all for the first tranche to sell out, to the holders of Mastercards and I was far too slow off the mark then.
There was a time when I wasn’t quite so slow – surely I’ve bored you with my part in Coleraine High School’s magnificent victory in the final of the 4 x 100 senior relay at the (All-Ireland) Irish Schools Athletic Association finals? I’d bore you even more with the leap of my life – 16 feet 11 1/2 inches in the currency of the day – to become the Ulster Schools’ intermediate long jump champion but all the details are on the iPad and that’s the machine inching its way towards the RWC France 2023 website.It’s always intrigued me that I jumped two feet further than I’d ever jumped before (and never matched again in an admittedly short long jump ‘career’) mainly because one of the other competitors got so far up my nose that it concentrated the mind wonderfully. She swanned around asking everyone what their longest jump was, establishing that she was far and away the best of us, the overwhelming favourite. Then the least of her worries took flight and all bets were off, the contest was over. I don’t know if my inspiration ever trained on as an athlete but I certainly didn’t. No Olympics for me – except on the telly.
Pause here because, lo and behold, I’ve reached the head of the queue and even managed to get into the website within the allotted two minutes. No team packs are currently available and when I checked on the only cities that allowed me in – Lille and Lyon – there was nothing available there either. Quelle surprise.
Tokyo in 1964 was the first Olympics I remember being aware of and all being well, pandemic permitting, the Games will be back there later this year. A year late and a little compromised (fewer spectators, bubbles, that sort of thing) but back (fingers crossed). Golf will be there, for the second time in a row but the world No 1 Dustin Johnson has already said he won’t be going, the gig’s not for him. He’s not the only one – Webb Simpson has also put himself on the no-show list but with all due respect to Webb, who is currently ranked No 10 in the world, there are quite a few of his fellow countrymen ahead of him in this particular pecking order. The top 15 in the world will be eligible but there’s a limit of four players from one country in that category. You could be No 5 in the world but if the four players ahead of you are the same nationality – and deign to go – you’re out.
I confess I’ve changed my mind about golf in the Olympics. I wasn’t a fan but having seen the delight of Inbee Park and Justin Rose, the gold medallists in Rio, Lydia Ko and Henrik Stenson, who won silver and Shanshan Feng and Matt Kuchar, who battled like crazy to finish third and win bronze, I’m a convert. Add in the kudos that come from being an Olympic sport in countries that have no great tradition in golf and the joy – not too strong an emotion – that comes from being part of the biggest sporting get-together in the world and you have something that golf would do well not to lose through an indifference bordering on arrogance.
It’s a pity that there will undoubtedly be a restriction on the number of spectators in Tokyo because the attendance at the golf in Japan would have been off the charts, with the women and the men playing in front of full houses, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and vocal. The format is still 72-hole strokeplay with no team or mixed component but the aim now must be to keep golf in the Games until the powers-that-be can come up with something more imaginative and appealing. Rugby 7s are in. What about Golf 6s?
I’d love to hear Martin Johnson’s take on that – not the towering World Cup-winning England rugby captain – but a Welshman with a Leicester connection (he was once cricket and rugby correspondent at the Leicester Mercury). A lovely, funny man, the best of company, Martin died last week, aged 71. He was The Independent’s first cricket correspondent, appointed by Charlie Burgess, the sports editor. In his obituary, Charlie wrote: “Readers were astonished and amused – some bemused – by a hilarious, wise-cracking correspondent with a unique style….Some readers were not amused by this fun. One sent the editor a cutting of one of Martin’s pieces with all the jokes highlighted. There remained just 20 or so words unmarked……”Martin couldn’t help himself, he was witty, smart, sharp and a delight to be with. Dai and I were lucky enough to spend many a happy hour in his company, sometimes in one of Melbourne’s many marvellous restaurants, consuming copious amounts of excellent red wine. The details are a little hazy but there’s a warm, fuzzy glow about the memories.
Martin once said that his ambition was “never to have to write another word” and in his obit Charlie wrote that Martin had told him, “I don’t think anyone realised that all I really wanted to do was play golf.”
Thanks for the laughs, lovely man and condolences to your family and friends. I’ll root out something special from the Margaret River or the Barossa in your memory. Slainte.