Monday, 6 January 2014

Apologies to Andy Murray: I was wrong about you...

By Bryan Cooney

MY sons claim I’m one of the inaugural members of the Grumpy Old Git Society. They may have a point.
Take Andy Murray. Some years ago, he began to find his way up my nose faster than any decongestant. I looked beyond that extraordinary promise and found too much Kevin the Teenager, to much foul-mouthed rebellion and, occasionally, too much exhibitionism.
I’ll never forget the night he brought unscheduled and unnecessary drama to the US Open. He was obviously feeling unwell but, instead of demanding a toilet break, he ran around New York’s Flushing Meadows, stopping only to spray the court with projectile vomit. He seemed almost satisfied with the perversity of it all.
There again, the mean streak that he often demonstrated in competition was also evident off court. Once, when he was lying on a treatment table in Paris, it’s alleged that he intercepted a text from a reporter on his physiotherapist’s mobile.
A man from The Times was inquiring about the player’s fitness ahead of Wimbledon. It’s claimed Murray took over texting duties, insisting that the injury might be enough to make him miss his date with the All England Club. Cue back-page disaster.
You suspect the mischievous streak remains, but the fact is Murray seems to have left much of the other nonsense behind him. And now that extraordinary promise, under the tutelage of Ivan Lendl (aka the Black Eyed Bully Boy) has developed into an awesome talent.
People, such as Murray’s boxer friend, Alex Arthur, used to tell me he had many fine qualities and that a great guy was bubbling under all that subversion. I was less sure. It looks as if I was comprehensively wrong.
I should have made allowances for his age, for the fact that he had negotiated the earlier horrors of the Dunblane school massacre, for the fact that he left home at a tender age to hone his ability in Spain, for the fact that his parents had separated. He had every credential to be a troublesome teenager.
This grumpy old git should have known far better. He has proved me comprehensively wrong. Today, Andy Murray stands out as not only a brilliant athlete but also as a thoroughly decent young man.
I trust his back problems are over and that 2014 becomes another inordinately good year for him.

HOW many people are required to decently report a football match? If you’re an executive of BT Sport or BBC Radio Scotland, the answer seems to be: as many as it takes.
The recent Scottish Premiership match between Inverness CT and Celtic became a master class in excess for the former organisation. No indications of prohibition here, lads. Not in the land of the burgeoning budgets.
Now, let’s see - there was a presenter, a commentator, a co-commentator, four analysts, who were strung out across the pitch like a distended midfield, and, of course, the obligatory young lady poised to interrogate the managers. That’s eight, without taking the camera crew into consideration.
BT Sport are not alone in this variety of indulgence, however. On New Year’s Day, Radio Scotland fielded a Tannadice team that could have doubled as a respectable five-a-side. Exempting again the technical guys, there was the indefatigable Richard Gordon, Billy Dodds, Willie Miller, Jim Spence and a commentator whose name invariably escapes me. It shouldn’t because he is the most convincing of the bunch.
They should be commended on their punctuality, however: the media gantry was posting “house full” notices at 1.45pm - 75 minutes before kick-off.
Mind you, maybe I’m guilty of unalloyed envy. There were times in my journalistic career when I could have done with assistance.. None more so, in fact, than in 1990 when the Daily Star asked me to cover the World Cup opener in Milan between the holders, Argentina, and Cameroon, otherwise known as the Indomitable Lions.
My sole mission was to compose a colour piece. The match report was designated to be written by a colleague, with a third man deputed to pen a quotes story at the end of the game.
Can you imagine the dismay in me when, nearing kick-off, the two seats beside me at the San Siro lay disturbingly empty ? Can you imagine the horror when they remained empty for the duration of a match that was wildly dramatic by any standards (The Lions roared, savaged the champions 1-0 and had two men sent off in the unlikely process)?
The office had neglected to inform me that my colleagues were still in Sardinia experiencing something of a drama themselves. One of them was locked in his hotel room, having succumbed to what is known as stage fright. The other claimed to be fully occupied trying vainly to woo him out.
I must admit to experiencing the odd ripple of fear myself that Friday night. I had to write three pieces and still meet preposterous deadlines. Come to think of it, that was an occasion when the budgets of BT Sport and Radio Scotland would have been an absolute blessing!

MY wife and I recently deserted the storm-battered coastline of Scotland and relocated to a fairly sheltered pocket of Glasgow. This has had a dramatic effect on our lives. Well, my life, anyway.
With the satellite dish no longer vulnerable to the worst excesses of the Atlantic, intermittent picture pixilation is no more and thus the appeal of the old flat screen has never been greater. Consequently, I’m watching far more football and enjoying it, too.
Then I discovered Michael Owen (sorry, folks, we’re back at BT Sport). Now I have met Owen before. No, that’s an exaggeration. I stood beside him in a queue for the bookies when I attended my first Cheltenham Festival in (I think) 1998.
It seemed as if. prior to the World Cup, he’d been given the responsibility of placing his Liverpool colleagues’ bets: his teenage hands were packed with £20 notes. But an unmistakeable glint in his eye informed you that he was coping rather well.
Now, there is such a thing as horses for courses. People should stick to things they do well. The first impression was that Owen is not a natural communicator. Unfortunately, he delivers his views in a rather flat and boring Mersey monotone.
But I must admit that the Owen schtick is beginning to grow on me. Forget the voice that rarely extends of hysteria, or any great excitement. Just listen to the valuable insights he gives on the game and the minds of the players.
Hey, this grumpy old git has become a fan.

IT appears football clubs in England, even those of a fairly humble denomination, have enough resources to rise above these recessionary times.
Take the case of Lyle Taylor’s recent arrival at Firhill from Sheffield United. Apparently, Taylor was on £2,750 a week. Thistle were keen, but when they were told about his wages, their ardour began to wane.
United were undismayed. They asked Thistle how much they could afford. The answer was £750. It’s claimed United agreed to underwrite the difference.
So, if money is almost an irrelevance in the third tier of English football, what about the Barclays Premier League? Those faithful to football will remember Sone Aluko, the erstwhile winger of Rangers and Aberdeen now pursuing a career at Premier Divison Hull City.
Aluko was recently offered a contract extension by Hull City. The Humberside club put £35,000 a week on the negotiating table. The response was negative. A couple of days later, the offer was increased to £40,000 a week. A two-and-a-half-year deal was signed immediately.