I think it was about the mid-seventies when I went on my first Jimmy Saville walk. Sir Jim was a BBC disc jockey, who gained his knighthood for his charitable deeds. Each year he raised money for the Stoke Mandeville Hospital by organizing a sponsored walk to the disused Baldoyle racecourse in County Dublin. The participants were entertained at the course by various bands who gave up their time for the cause also. So there he was, my buddy Gerry, the laziest teenager on the planet, all dressed up in his tartan attire prepared to trek 10 miles to see his heroes "The Bay City Rollers" and I hadn’t the heart to tell him that the bill-toppers were, in fact, not the Scottish teen-idols but four lads who shook Wicklow, "The Bray City Rollers."
Never before had I seen shock, dismay, disappointment and exhaustion combined in a facial expression. Gerry was a sorry sight when he realized the pilgrimage was a wasted exercise, as far as his objectives were concerned that is. He felt cheated, but it was his own fault; he had read the posters wrong and would pay the price in corns and blisters.
I was reminded of that Sunday last week as I read the report on the Manchester United-Aston Villa Worthington Cup game. United, probably the most glamorous club in football, attract world-wide support. Of the 34,000 people who traveled to Villa Park to see the game, probably more than 50 percent were there to see the European champs. There to see Yorke, Cole, Giggs and Beckham they were, but instead they were given O’Shea, Wallwork, Sellens and Roche. They were cheated. The punters that chose to place their faith in United to win the two domestic trophies they were entered in were cheated also and if the game was ever brought into disrepute it was by Sir Alex Ferguson last Wednesday.
In fairness though, most of United’s stars were probably feeling a little drained on the night. You see they had all played a game on the Monday night previous. The opposition — a World XI, the competition, well it wasn’t a competition, it was Sir Alex’s testimonial. It is reckoned that the United boss will glean upward of two million tax free in this his testimonial year, that he won’t have to endure poverty in his retirement.
United have already decided to give the FA Cup a miss, deciding to contest the FIFA World club championship instead. The FA Cup has always been, for me, one of the most exciting and certainly the most romantic competitions in the game. United have chosen to thumb the nose at it this year and Alex will bring his circus to Rio instead to play Necaxa, South Melbourne and Vasco Da Gama and they don’t come much better than that, do they? If United fail to qualify for European competition next year, it would be just desserts as far as I’m concerned, the scenario is unlikely, but it is a possibility.
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Ferguson’s autobiography, sure to be another nice little earner, is on the shelves at the moment. "Managing my Life" is the title, and in it, some of the people that have gotten him where he is today, get a pasting. One of them, Paul McGrath, says in a Hot Press interview, that he’s "disappointed, but not particularly surprised" by Ferguson’s attack on him.
Ferguson thinks that he should have sought psychiatric help for McGrath and reckons he could have done with some himself as he struggled to cope with the aftermath of the latest drinking marathon. I vaguely recall a story about Alex Ferguson coping with being told he hadn’t got it as a player by ranting and raving in his pajamas in a hotel lobby, and I bet he had a few beers on him too.
"Surely Alex must have piles of cash without having to slate people in print," McGrath goes on, and although he accepted the criticism on himself, he couldn’t understand Ferguson having a go at Brian Kidd for deciding to take over at Blackburn. Paul reckons that the decision was no reason to demean all the hard work Kidd had done as his right hand man and before that as a player with United. McGrath later praises PFA boss Gordon Taylor for helping him decide to play on, after being advised to quit the game at 29, by none other than Mr. Ferguson and United Chairman, Martin Edwards. United would have collected on the insurance had Paul given up the game, he didn’t, thanks to Taylor, and thereafter got to play in two World Cups and was voted footballer of the year by his fellow pros, while at Aston Villa.
Oh-ah, where’s McGrath
And so we find ourselves in another playoff situation and how we could do with a 29-year-old Paul McGrath now. The situation hasn’t been too kind to us in the past, and the draw given us does little to suggest that things are about to change. Turkey, who campaigned admirably in Germany’s group are to be our opposition. We will need our strongest squad to achieve victory over the two legs, the first of which will be played on Saturday, Nov. 13 at Lansdowne Road. A couple of goals cushion is the requisite for the away game in Istanbul on the following Wednesday. If we can hang on to a say a two goal aggregate advantage until ninety-two minutes have elapsed in Turkey, I think we can hold on, but it’s going to be tough.
Kevin Keegan hoped that the play-off draw would be seeded. I presume that he expected his England team would be given a top seed and a handy draw as a result. England, you see, won the World Cup in 1966. Well why else would Kevin think that England should be seeded then? Because they, along with Denmark and Isr’l were the only nations that had to rely on goal difference to make the play-offs, or was it because they finished on joint lowest points with Isr’l among the second best finishers? Keegan attended the draw in Aachen. Why do coaches go to these draws? Can they make some sort of decision that might sway the drawers hand away from an unsavory ball? Apparently not, England drew the Scots, and the only seeding will be to the Wembley surface after the game. The Scottish supporters usually take a sod souvenir and the odd goalpost home with them after a visit to the hallowed stadium.
Speaking of Scotland, Celtic romped to a 7-0 victory over Aberdeen at the weekend. Hat-tricks for Mark Viduka and Henrik Larsson, followed the opener from Eyal Berkovic. The hero on the day though, was, once again, Lubo Moravcik. The now 34-year-old bargain-buy, had a hand in five of the goals and Kilmarnock’s draw with Rangers means that a potential one point is all that separates the big two.