A day of sporting shocks this Sunday past. As if the news of Tracey Horrobin’s bewitching performance with the ball to give Ambridge victory in their grudge match against Darrington wasn’t enough, then out of a clear blue sky, one of the best broadcasters in the country announced that he’d be standing down. For anyone interested in sport, Garry Richardson’s Sportsweek was unmissable. In a dignified little farewell at the end of his last show, Richardson said how much he had enjoyed it and paid generous tribute to everyone who had made it possible.
Why should this matter? In an age where sport is expanding like a barrage balloon on steroids, Richardson could cut through the chaff to shine a light on what mattered. He provided vital insight as to how the power structures of sport worked, and asked awkward questions. His approach was that of a fan: he treated sport with gravity but never too much solemnity.
There is more money in sport than ever before; it is more professional and sports people are fitter than ever, but there are also, to put it bluntly, more untruths than ever, and the PR industry has its tentacles all over sport. You could rely on Garry to see to the heart of the story. He had an awesome contacts book and could call Seb Coe or Rafa Benítez or Pelé on the phone when it mattered. He was the poet laureate of sport, with a pleasingly unplaceable accent (he comes from Reading). He is also, like all the best people, a fan of Oxford United. He is not confrontational but he could always press the ejector question on evasive bigwigs. He even tracked down Bill Clinton in the royal box during a rain break at Wimbledon. The ex-pres said he liked tennis but wasn’t much good.
The question is: what will the BBC put in its place? I don’t think the Beeb has covered itself in glory in serious sports journalism, though its live coverage and podcasts are excellent. All we can pray is that Garry’s peerless show isn’t taken over by a bunch of would-be rappers yakking incomprehensibly about Arsenal.
In a summer of quite extraordinary cricket performances, you might have missed a display at Canterbury that could just about top the lot. Darren Stevens is one of those players for whom the words journeyman county pro could have been invented, a right-arm trundler who is never likely to get near 80 mph. But last week, at the age of 43, coming in at number seven for Kent against Yorkshire, he helped to take them from 39 for five to a jaw-dropping 482 for eight. Stevens’s share was 237, making him the oldest man ever to hit a double century. Now maybe Kent will renew his contract, having told him he wasn’t wanted next year. Awkward.
The great Vincent Kompany had his testimonial match the other day. There was a time when the money from testimonials was a way for the community to provide needy professionals with nest eggs for long retirements. Now, in a neat about-turn, well-off professionals use them to give money to the needy in the community. Kompany gave all the proceeds of last week’s game to Tackle4MC, a foundation he set up with Andy Burnham to fight homelessness in Manchester.
This being the eve of the Rugby World Cup, the papers are full of pictures of scowling giants in rugby kit glaring menacingly at the camera. The South Africans have gone down a different route and went shirtless in the gym for a topless group photo. And pretty scary it is too. They’re in a pool with the All Blacks, which should be an epic encounter. The other members of the pool are Namibia, Canada and Italy. Judging by the SA beef , there could be carnage.