GIVE A DOG A BAD NAME

We were once famed for our sense of fair play, but if the reaction against Ched Evans is anything to go by, that sense of fair play is dead and buried.  For those of you who don’t follow football, Ched Evans was a journeyman professional footballer with Sheffield United when he was charged and convicted of rape.  His defence that it was consensual sex was not believed by the jury, and he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.  Upon his release last year, he had expected to take up his professional career where he had left off with Sheffield, but it was not to be.

As far as the law is concerned, the time to appeal the conviction on the basis that it was against the weight of the evidence was within three weeks of the conviction and sentence, so he is well out of time.  I don’t know if he did actually appeal within the time limit, but the fact that he served his sentence indicates that any appeal at that stage must have fallen on deaf ears.  The Court of Appeal does not hear the evidence anew, nor do their lordships form their own view, they simply ask themselves if Ched received a fair trial, and if he did, and the jury convicted, tough!  As I understand it, his case is with the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is the only other route back to an appeal hearing, but two and a half years after the conviction, they are obviously taking their time, or else they’ve lost the file.

Ched’s problem, for want of a better word, is that he has always maintained his innocence.  He pleaded not guilty at his trial, and he has maintained his innocence throughout.  I find it quite extraordinary and exceedingly unfair that an innocent man wrongly convicted can be penalised within the prison system for not admitting his guilt, but that’s the way the system works.  I remember when I did parole cases, trying to get prisoners released well past their tariff date, but if Social Services didn’t support the application, almost without exception it was doomed.  The prison social worker, strapped into blinkers and clutching her checklist, would tell the Parole Board that the applicant had shown no remorse for his crime, and was therefore a risk to the community if released.  This was their way of saying that as the prisoner maintained his innocence, he was untreatable.

This narrow minded and blinkered approach continues to blight Ched now that he’s released.  He has refused to apologise to the victim of his ‘crime’, so he is condemned all over again when it comes to resuming his career.  Sheffield United had honoured a local lass who had won gold at the Olympics, and had even named a stand after her, although her association with the football club was tenuous in the extreme. She kicked oop a fuss, and the club directors, with backbones like limp lettuce, gave in, went back on their offer to re-employ Chet and slammed the door in his face.

And so it has been with other clubs.  The latest club to consider signing Ched and then reneging has been Oldham, presumably one of those dark satanic mill towns oop north, in the third division, and who boast an average home attendance of four thousand, so hardly at the cutting edge.

So I say, leave the man alone, give him a job, don’t judge him all over again, he has paid his debt to society.  He will be on the sex offenders’ register for years to come, so if he misbehaves, the full majesty of the criminal law will come crashing around his ears.

Above all, let’s show him some compassion and a sense of fair play.

OWN GOAL

History relates that back in 1823, William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby Public School, was clearly bored with the game of football, and in a fit of madness, picked up the ball and ran with it.  History does not relate where he ran with it, but presumably back to his house for an early bath. A somewhat preposterous claim, but he is credited with inventing the game of Rugby football. 

Since then, association football has been called a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and Rugby football as a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen. How times have changed.  Neither game can lay claim to the sobriquet ‘gentlemen’, and both games are clearly played by hooligans.

The advent of television and the Premier League has thrust football into every living room, and hardly a day goes by without a match being played by overpaid hooligans snotting and gobbing and diving for at least ninety minutes, and often longer.

It was once said by Karl Marx, the author of Das Kapital, that religion is the opium of the masses.  No longer, as football is now the opium of the masses. Week after week, thousands congregate on the terraces, dressed in identical kit to their team, shouting, screaming and singing obscene songs.

All this brings me seamlessly to John Terry, the former captain of England and still the captain of Chelsea, who has recently been found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute by calling an opponent a fucking black cunt, even though he was acquitted of racial abuse in a criminal court. To add spice to this farrago, Ashley Cole, Terry’s team mate and character witness at the criminal trial, has called the FA disciplinary committee a bunch of twats.  As they say, it takes one to know one, and Cole now faces disciplinary proceedings of his own.  As a footnote, it should be added that Cole is also a regular player for the England team.

This three ring circus would not be complete without Roy Hodgson, the manager of the England team, an unassuming man with no obvious credentials for the job, but he is English and regarded by the FA as a safe pair of hands. To quote Churchill, he is a modest man with much to be modest about.

At a time when discretion and sensitivity should have been uppermost in his mind, Hodgson revealed in casual conversation with a complete stranger on the London Underground that Rio Ferdinand’s career with England is almost certainly over, despite the loss of Terry, a sad loss indeed.  For those of you who follow football, you will know that Rio is the brother of Anton, the “fucking black cunt”.

Hodgson’s contribution to this increasingly ugly state of affairs is to bemoan the foul mouthed Terry’s decision to retire from international football and to confirm to “Twat” Cole that his international place is secure.  As for Rio Ferdinand, it is well known not just to the complete stranger on the Underground but to the footballing fraternity at large that he will no longer be a part of his plans. Some plans!

The only people emerging with their dignity intact seem to be the Ferdinand brothers. Since 1966, our finest hour and a half, English international football has been in the doldrums. It has been poorly led, both on and off the field, and the only players in the Premier League worth spit, and there’s plenty of that, are foreign imports.

I’ve had enough! I’ve cancelled my Sky subscription and rediscovered books, reading and writing them in equal measure and feeling better for it.

THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT

The London Olympics are over, the flame has been extinguished, and the torch passed to Rio de Janeiro, who have a very hard act to follow.

On any view, the Olympics have been a triumph from beginning to end, from the moment Her Majesty the Queen parachuted into the stadium with James Bond, to the splendidly cacophonous closing ceremony, with golden oldies appearing Lazarus like for one final fling.

Team GB exceeded our wildest expectations, with medals galore and above all, the Olympic spirit alive and well, with the obvious exception of the South Korean and Chinese badminton players, who were rightly disqualified and sent home for ‘re-education’.

In amongst all this euphoria, and buried in the back pages of the papers, was a football match, and I was reminded with a jolt that ten months of unremitting football are upon us.  The football match in question was called the Community Shield, quite why I don’t know.  It used to be called the Charity Shield, until some bright spark realised there was no such thing as charity between professional footballers, and renamed it. It had all the usual ingredients: a career threatening tackle followed by a red card, several yellow cards, and a degree of tedium even the most avid fans would struggle to overcome.

On the same day, exciting news reached me that a horse owned by Wayne Rooney, the gifted but moronic footballer, had finally won a race, and had netted (forgive the pun) the equivalent of five minutes play for Wayne on the pitch. Wayne bought the nag from a fellow footballer, and was initially attracted by its name Snotalot. Every time the horse ran, it would snot and gob just like its owner.  Its winning chances were hampered by the fact that whenever another horse came near, it would fall over and cry foul whilst winking cheekily at the camera.  But the icing on the cake for Wayne was on those rare occasions when the horse won. It would gallop into the winner’s enclosure, do several laps of honour and then fall over, waiting for all the other horses to jump on top  and give it big wet kisses.

It’s more than a man, or horse, can bear.

WHAT A HAGGIS

The Scots are a strange race. I suspect it may have something to do with their menfolk parading around in gaily coloured skirts with nae knickers, stuffing a sheep’s bladder with mince meat and guzzling enormous quantities of porridge oats. By way of recreation, when they are not complaining about this, that and the other, this being a national pastime, they throw telegraph poles three feet and look as pleased as punch.

Scotland is on the agenda because a vocal minority want independence and the abolition of the Act of Union. South of the border, this is greeted with a enormous yawn!

Besides their strange ways, the Scots had a stab at ruling a united kingdom in the seventeenth century, and a very sorry stab it was.  Guy Fawkes tried to blow up James I, Charles I had the unenviable distinction of being the only monarch to be beheaded, Charles II hid up an oak tree to evade capture, and James II fled the country for France.  All this in the space of eighty eight years, which was the full extent of the Stuart dynasty.  That must have set some kind of a record! Their ‘loyal’ subjects were so exasperated they turned to a Dutch king to sort out their mess! That’s called adding insult to injury!

Fast forward three hundred years. Apparently bent on self destruction, the Scottish Football League has demoted Rangers to the Third Division as a punishment for financial irregularities. So by this time next month, football fans will be treated to the delights of Elgin City playing Annan Athletic, I suppose their fans are known as Athletic supporters, and not forgetting Montrose and Stirling Albion.  The crowd capacity of these four clubs combined is 14,527, as against Rangers with a capacity of 51,084.  Wow!  What a spectacle!

Even we Sassenachs know that there are only two football clubs in Scotland worth spit, and one of them will be playing in the third division.  This effectively makes the Scottish Premiership a one horse race, with Celtic scooping the pot year on year.

I wonder what BSkyB will make of all this, and the millions they have thrown at Scottish football so long as the ‘old firm’ derby fixtures were a regular event.  I also wonder what viewing pleasure will be derived from watching a Scottish third division match.  

Has the SFL though this one through? If they have, it’s a very sorry thought process indeed!  Something about ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ perhaps, and all on a point of principle.  Pointless more like!

ANYONE FOR TENNIS?

Wimbledon is upon us, giving the BBC a rare chance to shine at the expense of Sky TV.  They may have lost the sports coverage of almost everything else, but Wimbledon and the British Golf Open remain the only jewels in their crown, to be milked for all they’re worth.

I love the whole atmosphere, and above all, the whites only policy, rigidly enforced.  What a joy to see the players properly attired, all in white, instead of the ‘dress as you like’ policy of other lesser tournaments.  I remember the good old days when gentlemen players wore long white trousers, fetchingly secured with the old school tie, and the ladies, never women, wore Alice bands and dresses below their knees.

But times change, particularly in the women’s game, and who am I to complain when I feast my eyes on the likes of Maria Sharapova?  and what’s more, she plays a mean game of tennis!  The men, mercifully, have graduated to more comfortable shorts, and less eye watering for them and the rest of us.  Remember Bjorn Borg and those ball hugging shorts? Still, they didn’t stop him winning everything.

It is also that time of the year when Andy Murray, the Scottish great white hope for fame and glory, is paraded out and given maximum exposure.  He has, however, several hurdles to surmount before fame and glory are his.  The first three are Nadal, Federer and that Serbian whose name nobody can pronounce.  The fact that Murray is incoherent and is married to his mother can’t help either.  Best to leave him alone and if he exceeds all expectations, that’s a bonus.

I like my sports heroes to be clean cut, which is why I don’t like all that grunting on court.  Maria is the worst offender, and frankly, very off putting.  I’m surprised she’s allowed to get away with it.  If I were her opponent, unlikely in the extreme, I’d make a complaint.

Talking of clean cut, I have dipped in and out of the Euro 2012 football competition, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Footballers to a man, with the obvious exception of Ronaldo, are a depressing breed, and offensive to the eye.  And all that gobbing on the pitch, and the histrionics when somebody is tackled!  As somebody once said, football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and he wasn’t far off the mark.

And what about goals, the whole purpose of the exercise?  Two of the best teams in Europe spent two hours kicking the ball this way and that, and no goals to show for their efforts.  If I were to part with £30 or more to watch a football match, I would insist on goals to maximise my enjoyment, so how about abolishing the offside rule?  It spoils the fun!  Better still, why not do what the lad at Rugby School did all those years ago?  Simply pick up the ball, run with it and throw it into the goal!

Besides tennis, I suppose the only remaining sport with a clean cut image is golf.  The golfers and the spectators are well disciplined and polite, except for that moron who appears at every major championship and bellows “In the hole” after every shot.  The players are courteous to each other, hats off and handshakes on the eighteenth green, but I have never understood why they wear baseball caps.

But if I were the golf supremo, I’d rigorously enforce time penalties for those golfers who spend an eternity lining up their putts, padding around the green like a caged animal, and then missing the hole!  Jason Day from Australia is known as All Day for the time it takes him to hit the ball, and we spectators deserve better.

If you want a flutter, my money is on Federer to win Wimbledon, and Luke Donald to win the British Open.  You read it here first!