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Spectator sport

Spectator Sport: Coming of age

26 November 2011

1:00 PM

26 November 2011

1:00 PM

Bracing times for those of us who are part of the winter fuel allowance generation — FAGs, as we like to call ourselves. At Haydock Park, the courageous Kauto Star thundered back into the national conscience with a spine-tingling win in the Betfair Chase. The 11-year-old is an equine superstar in the mould of Red Rum and Desert Orchid, and the sight of him showing his Gold Cup conquerors, Long Run and Sam Waley-Cohen, a clean pair of hindquarters can’t make Boxing Day at Kempton come soon enough.

Kauto’s trainer Paul Nicholls was probably still enjoying a celebratory drink when 34-year-old Darren Lockyer, as Australian as a sweaty singlet, ended his rugby league career by captaining his country to victory over England at Elland Road. He appeared to have scripted the perfect denouement when he scored a crafty last-minute try, but then he fluffed the conversion from in front of the posts. What was that about triumph and disaster? Lockyer’s unruffled reaction to both events would have made Kipling smile. The following night in Los Angeles David Beckham, 36 and magnificent, performed his traditional curtain call by ensuring that his last match for a club helped LA Galaxy win the MLS Cup.

Though you can’t get too whiffly about the passing of days. The sight of Chelsea’s defensive grandee John Terry spreadeagled on the Stamford Bridge turf as the ball nestled in the home goal three minutes from the end of Sunday’s game against Liverpool was a sure sign that the years can condemn. From Petr Cech in goal to Didier Drogba up front, Chelsea’s once sturdy spine appears to be creaking. Terry, and even Frank Lampard, suddenly seem ponderous of thought and slow of movement, unable to adapt to the thinking of their just-out-of-nappies gaffer, Andre Villas-Boas. Squatting in his technical area looking like Teenwolf, Chelsea’s manager must wonder how long it will be before one of these players close to his own age is summoned from the pitch to take his job. Whatever the Portuguese might say to the contrary, the first signs of stress were there in his childish reaction to Sky TV’s Gary Neville’s comments about the coltish David Luiz. The Brazilian centre-half does play football as though he is controlled by a 10-year-old in the crowd armed with a Playstation console and it was right — and funny — of Neville to say so.


Neville was also right in January this year to call time on his playing days and if Sunday’s observation is any guide then he has chosen wisely in his new career, something Rob Andrew might consider. In six years at the crusty old RFU, firstly as director of elite rugby and then as director of operations, ‘Squeaky’, as Andrew is known, has appeared to have adopted an Earl Haig style of leadership. Despite rank and responsibility, sit back on a large salary and watch the casualties mount. The RFU has not adapted well to the passing of time and Andrew should ask himself why there are so many situations vacant there.

•••

Someone at the ICC has to take responsibility for drawing up the international calendar, and scheduling a two-Test series is daft. South Africa and Australia have just concluded (and drawn) such a series and it was so full of brilliance and drama that a third act is a must. The ICC is completely blind to the fact that, in terms of quality, Test cricket has never had it so good. The matches in Cape Town and Johannesburg in the past fortnight are a reminder of a game that, despite being written off as no match for younger rivals, has simply got better with age. And how about this: the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne is Australia vs India. That’s teenager Pat Cummins vs Sachin Tendulkar, nearing 40. It’s the cricketing equivalent of Kauto Star vs Long Run. Though on balance I think I’d rather be at the MCG than Kempton.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.


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