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Spectator Sport

Old Soldiers

23 April 2008

12:00 AM

23 April 2008

12:00 AM

Being a sports fan is, as Max Mosley knows too well, a painful and often expensive business. I knew my cavalier investment in Bernard Hopkins to beat Joe Calzaghe on Saturday night, despite Hopkins at 43 being almost as old as I am, was heading where the sun don’t shine as soon as Tom Jones popped up in the ring to sing the Welsh national anthem. Crikey, he’s good. It made my hairs, what’s left, stand on end so God knows what it did for Calzaghe let alone the flag-loads of Welsh fans ringside in Vegas.

In truth it was a nasty, tight, uninspiring fight. Now Calzaghe has said he’s going to fight Roy Jones, 39, and the official ‘Fighter of the Decade’ — though that decade was the 1990s. I don’t want to moan, but shouldn’t these guys be fighting each other when they are at their physical peak, not just their bankable peak?

I suppose Calzaghe is just putting off the point at which he becomes an ex-boxer. Not the easiest career, I must say. Poor Frank Bruno hasn’t managed it well though the great Barry McGuigan seems to have pulled it off. His easy charm and laid-back erudition certainly helped me through the small hours on Sunday morning as Setanta’s studio pundit.

What happens to ex-rugby players is a bit murkier. After one of the most badly handled pieces of management since the assassination of Julius Caesar, the former England coach Brian Ashton was duly shafted last week and the monobrowed superman and 2003 World Cup winner Martin Johnson took over as England team manager. Behind it all seems to be the figure of Rob Andrew, a man unlikely to win many popularity contests. If you were at Twickers, you might be asking what exactly is he supposed to be doing. He never inspired much love as a stand-off.

So when the chartered accountant Andrew introduced his new colleague, deputy bank manager Jonno, at Twickenham last week, it was a pretty downbeat occasion that seemed to echo their early career paths. And you couldn’t help but wonder, as Carrie Bradshaw would say, whether there was something slightly peculiar about Johnson’s decision to miss England’s first two Tests under his stewardship, against the All Blacks — yes the All Blacks — because his wife was pregnant. More the deputy bank manager than the titan of the second row there.

But at the same time we shouldn’t get too maudlin over Ashton, however nice and honourable he is. The England performances in the Six Nations this year were pretty shoddy: a suicidal second half against Wales, a very poor showing against Italy, and defeat to Scotland in what was one of the worst games in history. The miraculous recovery in the World Cup was just that: a kind of gravity-defying miracle. There had to be change: but you just hope the new man’s results on the field don’t reflect the shabby way he got the job.

Still on former sport stars, the most cheering news of the week came with the news, to me, that Andrea Jaeger, sulky tennis wonderkid who was World No. 2 at just 16 before losing a Wimbledon final to Martina Navratilova, has become a nun. Good luck to her, and she seems thoroughly happy after a miserable childhood. But it’s not a career option that seems to be open to, say, Chris Evert.

Ignore this twaddle about English football having the best premier league in the world. What’s far more interesting right now is the race to get out of the Championship. And the best story is the progress of Hull City under Phil Brown. If they do go up, no one can ever again ask, ‘Where’s Hull?’

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