[Having a weakness for lists, I compiled the following in response to an invitation from Haaretz sports writer Jerrold Kessel, in his weekend On the Couch column, for readers' "Dream Teams." Mine was published in Friday's paper . . . replete, needless to say, with piss-poor editing – how dare those clowns edit melchett mike! – and typos. The following, with a few additions (essentially photographs and video links), is what I actually sent Mr. Kessel.]
An eleven (plus manager), in more or less chronological order, of sporting characters, events and memories which left their mark on this sports nut . . .
1. Peter Jones The late BBC Radio football commentator, who always painted the scene so vividly and with such a wonderful turn of phrase, is responsible for my love of the medium (my first career). As a boy, I relished nothing more than listening to Jones’s Welsh brogue, snuggled under the duvet with my ridiculously large first radio. (Listen here to Jones’s report in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, from which it is said he never recovered – he collapsed and died, less than a year later, while commentating on the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race.)
2. Derek Randall The clown prince of English cricket, and the greatest fielder I ever saw. He will be remembered for his brilliant 174 in the 1977 Centenary Test, featuring his defiant cap-doffing to Dennis Lillee (right) following yet another bouncer. I spotted “Arkle” a few years ago, walking around the perimeter of Lords, and just had to go up and say “thanks.” (View Randall in action here.)
3. World Cup Finals 1978 My ‘first’ World Cup. From the wonderful BBC theme tune, to Peru’s opening game dismantling of the Jocks (whose manager Ally MacLeod had been bigging-up their chances), to Archie Gemmill’s wonder goal against the Dutch . . . everything about the tournament, in Argentina, was pure magic to a 10-year old. And England weren’t even there!
4. Bjorn Borg The masterful, ice-cool Swede, who would simply glide across the court, was the nearest I ever came to attraction to a male! And his 1980 Wimbledon final victory over John McEnroe – with its incredible 18-16 tiebreak, lasting 20 minutes, won by the American after he had saved 5 match points – was pure theatre.
5. Miruts Yifter The Ethiopian, nicknamed “the Shifter,” who won 5,000 and 10,000 metre Golds at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, would sit at the back of the field and only “kick” in the final 300 metres, reducing BBC commentator David Coleman to near-hysteria (listen to final laps in links) and me and my father to tears of joy. Yifter would not reveal his age – guessed to be anywhere between 33 and 42 – telling reporters, “Men may steal my chickens, men may steal my sheep, but no man can steal my age.”
6. Botham’s Ashes, 1981 Dismissed for a “pair” in, and as England captain following, the 2nd Test at Lords (with England one-nil down in the series), his heroics thereafter – including the series-changing 149 not out in the 3rd Test at Headingley, 5 for 1 in the 4th at Edgbaston, and 118 in the 5th at Old Trafford – were the stuff of fairytale.
7. Rugby League Challenge Cup Final 1985: Wigan 28 Hull 24 If there has been a better match in any sport (never mind either rugby code), I haven’t seen it. Enjoy the highlights, featuring Ray French’s exhilarating commentary (“As they say in the north, he could sidestep a thrupenny bit, this lad!”)
8. Paul Gascoigne A genius of a footballer (for memorable instance), whose off-field antics – for example (and there are many), telling his new employer, the president of Lazio, that he looked like Russ Abbot – are the stuff of legend. And, of course, he cried in Italy.
9. Sid Waddell The wonderfully entertaining Geordie-born, Cambridge-educated darts commentator. During a match at Frimley Green: “There couldn’t be more excitement in here if Jesus Christ walked in and ordered a cheese sandwich!” Brilliant.
10. Geoffrey Boycott Like French and Waddell, a northerner “worth the entrance money on his own” . . . not for his scientific approach to batting, but his refreshingly outspoken, no-nonsense views (here on Steve Harmison) and “corridor of uncertainty” insight from the commentary box.
11. FA Cup 3rd Round (3.1.2010): Manchester Utd 0 Leeds United 1 Upsetting the Great Satan, then two divisions above, at Old Trafford was a reminder of the special type of joy that only sport can bring . . . and I never tire of watching this.
Manager: Ian Holloway The Blackpool boss may be considered a strange choice of Sporting Great, but he is a rare beacon of humour and sanity in a sport – now dominated by money – with precious little of either.
I invite readers of melchett mike to add their own Sporting Greats XI – of anyone and/or anything sporting – by comment below.