Archive for April, 2015

A Brief Return to the Masters

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Congratulations to 21 year old Jordan Speith for winning the Master equaling the lowest aggregate score of Tiger Woods in 1997, and achieving more birdies in four rounds than any of his predecessors. I just hope he is aware that the American media has been looking for a poster child since the gradual decline of Tiger Woods. Believe me Jordan, those media whores will build you up, invading your privacy layer by layer, and then attempt to  destroy you for a cheap headline or two.

I trust his high school sweetheart is prepared for a roller coaster ride because she will be ideal bait for some of the disingenuous  media hacks scraping the bottom of the barrel for a hint of scandal or skeletons lurking in the cupboard.

I wish we could arrange a firing squad for the pompous Chairman, Billy Payne, whispering sycophant Jim Nantz, and Sir Nick Faldo, current owner of the biggest ego in the golf world. Didn’t anyone ever tell him there’s no “I” in “team?”

Can we stop treating the Masters other than a golf tournament. I was about to put my remote through my TV screen if I heard another moron referring to Augusta as this “special place.” Why do the American commentators need to whisper as if their commentary booth was overlookin a shrine?

Sixty three year old and two time Masters Champion Ben Crenshaw was playing in his last Masters before hanging up his clubs. I guess old champions like to say goodbye to the “patrons” and milk the applause and adoration before riding off into the sunset, but it was embarrassing. The man had completed two rounds 29 shots over par for goodness sake, but he walked down the 18th fairway with the air of a golfer whose name was on the top of the leaderboard. I was hoping the ground would swallow him up and he would disappear with an iota of dignity.


Apart from the grinder, Nick Faldo, why do Englishmen love to finish second? Justin Rose was in contention at four shots behind Speith at the end of the 3rd round, and managed to reduce the arrears to two shots early in the final round. Unfortunately he dropped shots when Jordan Speith occasionally faltered, and he appeared  content to finish joint runner up with Phil Mickelson. Mickelson would probably have put more pressure on Speith if he had been paired with him  in the final group.

Spare a thought for Tiger Woods. He hadn’t played competitive golf since February, and like many other cynics, I didn’t believe he could make the cut after two rounds. He finished the tournament at a credible 5 under par despite having to pop a ligament back into his wrist during the final round. I didn’t realize ligaments were so flexible, but then Tiger is capable of regaling a tall story or two.

What do the following golfers have in common: Ricky Fowler, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, and Steve Stricker? Jordan Speith has one more major than these guys have put together.

CBS Network has covered the Masters for many years, but one of its regular golf commentators is conspicuous by his absence. During the network’s coverage 21 years ago in 1994, Gary McCord remarked that the 17th green was so fast that it appeared to be “bikini-waxed,” and that “body bags” were located behind that green for players who missed their approach shots.

Mr. Payne climb down off that high horse of yours for once, and allow CBS to reinstate the old blow hard in its commentary team for next year’s Masters. After all, it’s only a game and Augusta is just another golf course, isn’t it?



Duncan Edwards: The Greatest of Them All

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

Earlier this week, the Guardian newspaper published an article by Daniel Taylor to commemorate the late Duncan Edwards’s debut for England sixty years ago. As a young boy at the time, Duncan Edwards’ death due to the Munich air crash left a lasting impression on me, and as a tribute I decided to post the article on my blog:

Sixty years on from his England debut, the Manchester United star cut down in his prime by the Munich air disaster left so many unanswerable questions.The difficult truth is that they will always be questions that don’t have answers. Would Duncan Edwards really have been remembered as football royalty? Would people point and wave in the way they did when Pelé came to the front row of the directors’ box at Anfield last Sunday and held aloft his arms? Would people genuinely think of Edwards as the greatest?

Duncan Edwards

None of us can be sure, just like we will never know whether it might have been Edwards lifting the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 rather than Bobby Moore but for the horrors of Munich eight years earlier. There are only brief snippets, in black-and-white footage, of Edwards with the ball at his feet, and the vast majority of us will always have to rely on the testimony of the people who saw this force of nature close-up. Sir Bobby Charlton, for one, cannot conceal the awe in his voice in his own reminiscences and when he says Edwards is the best footballer he ever saw, he is not an isolated witness. The list is considerable and the tributes feel especially powerful this week. On Thursday it will be 60 years since Edwards made his England debut, aged 18 years and 183 days, filling out his shirt with those broad, powerful shoulders and playing with the authority of a young man holding the keys to the football universe.

Edwards had accumulated another 17 England caps before his life was cut tragically short in Rechts der Isar hospital, 15 days after Manchester United’s plane had crashed off the runway, and Charlton, a survivor from flight 609 rehabilitating among his own people in the north-east, heard the four words he had dreaded the most: his mother, Cissie, placing her hand on his shoulder and whispering: “Big Duncan has gone.”

busby babes

Again, we can only guess about how many international appearances he might have accrued. Charlton never speaks more evocatively, or adoringly, than when the subject is of his old team-mate. “Duncan had everything,” one eulogy began, around the 50th anniversary of Munich. “He had strength and character that just spilled out of him on the field. I’m absolutely sure that if his career had had a decent span he would have proved himself the greatest player we had ever seen. Yes, I know the great players – Pelé, Maradona, Best, Law, Greaves and my great favourite Alfredodi Stéfano – but my point was that he was better in every phase of the game. If you asked such players as Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney about Duncan their answers were always the same: they had seen nothing like him.”

He was also the original Boy Wonder, the first player to create the kind of unfettered excitement that George Best, Paul Gascoigne, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney brought later. One of the old newspaper reports I found researching this piece – from 1 April 1953 – is a few days before Edwards makes his first-team debut for United. The impression I had was that sportswriters of that generation were less prone to extravagant predictions than the modern-day journalist. Yet George Follows, writing for the News Chronicle, seems to be ahead of his?time.

“Like the father of the first atom bomb, Manchester United are waiting for something tremendous to happen. This tremendous football force they have discovered is Duncan Edwards, who is exactly sixteen and a half this morning. What can you expect to see in Edwards? Well, the first important thing is that this boy Edwards is a man of 12st and 5ft 10ins in height. This gives him his first great asset of power. When he heads the ball, it is not a flabby flirtation with fortune, it is bold and decisive. When he tackles, it is with a man-trap bite, and when he shoots with either foot, not even Jack Rowley – the pride of Old Trafford – is shooting harder. Though nobody can tell exactly what will happen when Edwards explodes into First Division football, one thing is certain: it will be?spectacular.”

They would dismiss it as hype now, pull down the shutters and stress the need for caution, in the way Roy Hodgson has just done on behalf of Harry Kane. Back then, they quickly established there was nothing sensationalised about those breathless missives from Fleet Street. Edwards was soon establishing himself as the complete footballer, capable of excellence in any position on the pitch, though primarily as a midfielder.

His first appearance for his country came in a 7-2 defeat of Scotland, when Dennis Wilshaw became the first England player to score four goals in a match but was still run close as the game’s outstanding performer. Nat Lofthouse scored two of his own but Edwards featured prominently in all the headlines. The story goes that the Scottish forward Lawrie Reilly turned to his team-mate Tommy Docherty during the first half and exclaimed: “Where the hell did they find him? They’ve built battleships on the Clyde that are smaller and less formidable.”

Edwards was England’s youngest post-war international, a record that stood until Michael Owen’s debut in 1998. His aura was immense and when he returned to Manchester it was not long before United’s opponents started to complain about the way Matt Busby was using an established first-teamer, and now a fully fledged international, in youth-team fixtures.

Edwards had not become a great footballer simply because of bulldozing tactics but he had matured ahead of his years and was shaped so magnificently (his height was more often given at 6ft, meaning Follows might have missed off a couple of inches) that opponents of the same age might as well have tried to barge over an oak tree than knock him off the ball.

“We played matches where he won them on his own,” Charlton recalls in Colin Malam’s The Boy Wonders. “I remember, particularly, two matches against Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Youth Cup. We beat them 2-1 at Chelsea, 2-1 up here at Old Trafford, and he scored all four. And I tell you, they were hard games because Chelsea did have some good players. I remember taking a corner kick and thinking: ‘I’ll just hang it up’ because I knew he’d get there. Sure enough, he scored the winning goal by blasting through about 10 people – bang. He was massive. If Duncan was playing against today’s massed defences, he would simply knock them down.” As Busby said: “Duncan was never a boy, he was a man even when we signed him at 16.”

Busby’s eyes would twinkle apparently – initially with paternal affection, later with great sorrow – when the conversation was of the boy from Dudley. He would also say that “the bigger the occasion, the better he liked it” and Edwards certainly lived up to that reputation when England travelled to Berlin to face West Germany, the world champions, at the Olympic Stadium in 1956. His goal was a masterpiece, slaloming through a blockade of defenders before smashing the ball in from 25 yards and setting up a 3-1 win.

This time the eulogy came from the captain, Billy Wright: “The name of Duncan Edwards was on the lips of everyone who saw this match; he was phenomenal. There have been few individual performances to match what he produced that day. Duncan tackled like a lion, attacked at every opportunity and topped it off with that cracker of a goal. He was still only 19, but already a world-class player.”

In Munich, with seven of his teammates already among the dead, the doctors treating Edwards reckoned it was a miracle he survived as long as he did. They were devastating injuries: damaged kidneys, a collapsed lung, a broken pelvis, multiple fractures of his right thigh, crushed ribs and a litany of internal injuries.

Famously, he asked the assistant manager, Jimmy Murphy, during one period of semi-consciousness what time the kick-off would be for the game against Wolves the following Saturday. What does not get reported so much is that he also told Murphy he was desperate not to miss it. The initial casualty list had described him as “mortally injured” but his final breath came 15 days later. “It was as though a young Colossus had been taken from our midst,” Frank Taylor wrote in The Day a Team Died.

It has left so many unanswered questions. How might England have done in the 1958 World Cup if Edwards had been rampaging through the middle? Where would he be in the pantheon of football greats? But the testimonies form a lasting tribute. “When I used to hear Muhammad Ali proclaim to the world that he was the greatest I used to smile,” Murphy once said. “The greatest of them all was a footballer named Duncan Edwards.”