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High life

Champion secrets

Taki lives the high life

28 November 2007

12:00 AM

28 November 2007

12:00 AM

New York

I’m not sure which of the two sights was funnier: hundreds of Brit bargain-hunters huffing and puffing and laden with enormous shopping bags while taking advantage of the shot-to-hell dollar, or the English football heroes huffing and puffing and being sliced up by the national team of a tiny country which didn’t exist 20 years ago. Crossing the ocean in order to shop used to be the privilege of the very rich. Now it’s the overweight and over-tattooed who do the overseas shopping. I have witnessed more dignified scenes in Africa while the Red Cross distributes food to the starving. And as far as football is concerned, there is an old Greek saying that one does not mention the word rope in the house of someone who has been hanged. English football stinks because English players do not understand the difference between brutal play and technical virtuosity. Running like wild men up and down the field and physically lashing out at their opponents cannot match pinpoint passing, skilled, precise, graceful and relaxed play. How do I define English sport in general and football in particular? With one word, choke. Enough said. Just don’t mention the word football in an English household for couple of years or so.


Remaining totally relaxed is the secret of champions. Sure concentration and preparation count for a hell of a lot but, once you’re in there and the bell rings or the whistle blows, it’s the more relaxed one who will win. Floyd Patterson, the youngest boxer ever to win the heavyweight title back in 1955 or so, never mastered it. When he fought Liston he literally froze and was knocked out twice in the first round by Sonny boy, who was to leave this world in Vegas with a needle up his massive arm. When Patterson fought Muhammad Ali, many sportswriters thought he had a chance. Ali’s style suited Floyd. But he froze so badly he put his back out. I watched the fight and knew exactly what the poor guy was going through. I used to put my back out when playing tennis for Greece and especially in Greece. It’s being desperate not to lose which makes one tight. Great expectations by the paying public do not help. English goalkeepers, with the exception of the great Banks, have always been shaky as hell, especially when they have time to think. The Chelsea keeper Peter Bonetti made two incredible reflex saves in the 1970 World Cup, then let in an easy one because he thought about it and froze. Tennis players today have learnt their lesson and the technology has helped. Making a once wonderfully subtle game into a slugfest has made one less likely to choke. Oversized rackets minimise mishits so all one has to do is close one’s eyes and swing for the rafters.

The sports in which one tends to choke are boxing, karate, judo, tennis, golf most of all, and things like darts, pool and other such extremely silly pursuits. I suppose there are guns who freeze at the sight of a bird or a clay pigeon, and end up having to leave the field, but I think dem guns are mostly foreigners playing country squire. In football 10 out of 11 players do not choke, but then there’s always the keeper, the loneliest position in sport. It’s not the same in ice hockey because the game’s too fast and every save is a reflex one.

I eventually conquered my nerves with the help of Nigel Armstrong, an English coach in tennis, Richard Amos, an English teacher in karate, and Teimoc One-Johnson, a half English, half Japanese coach in judo. When you think of it, two and one half Englishmen have made me the most relaxed sportsman around, yet it’s the English who are known as the greatest chokers in sport. Go figure, as they say you know where.

And speaking of the Big Bagel, thieves are swarming through midtown and 5th Avenue, muggings are back in vogue, and robberies are up 40 per cent. Gun thugs robbed two men in broad daylight in front of the Metropolitan Museum, and only one newspaper, the Sun, reported the colour of the robbers as well as that of the victims. PC rules OK, as they say, and while Mike Bloomberg is going around blowing his own horn and telling us how to be healthy, the place is starting to revert to the bad old days. Bloomberg’s popularity has me totally flummoxed. He’s a self-promoter like no other and has a ghastly way of speaking, yet the Bagelites think he’s doing a good job. He is not. He does not back up the cops the way Rudy used to — hence the rise in crime — and flies around the country promoting himself and some kind of general multiculturalism, probably the last thing the Bagel needs right this minute. And not a peep out of him when a politically incorrect murder took place last week 28 miles from the city. Three black thugs have been charged with the beating and murder of Lazaro Tista, an illegal alien from Guatemala who was the father of eight and a hard-working landscape gardener. The motive was robbery but the cops say Tista was targeted because he was Hispanic. Not a peep about it appeared in any of the newspapers or the news programmes. But just think. If three white men had done the dirty deed, there would have been marches to City Hall and Mike the Bum would have been the first to join in. I guess Guatemalans who work hard don’t count as victims even when murdered.


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