Anyone still vaguely tempted to subscribe to that lazy and stupid cliché about footballers just being overpaid idiots should have been at the Savoy the other night when the Football Writers’ Association paid tribute to Vincent Kompany, Manchester City’s legendary former captain. The term ‘role model’ is hackneyed, but if ever it was applicable it would be to Kompany, a true giant among men. Literally too: he is physically immense and would have been a very troubling sight for any marauding centre-forward. He speaks six or seven languages, and was a natural leader on and off the pitch.
In his spare time, he set up the charity Tackle4MCR with the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, and it has so far helped more than 2,000 homeless people find somewhere to live. He spoke effortlessly and with great charm and dignity about his love for the city and the team, as well as the work of his charity. Sport, all sport, needs more men like Vincent. Much chat at our table about whether he was the best centre half of the century. It’s pretty close between him and Liverpool’s utterly imperious Virgil van Dijk.
It’s beginning to look like the most powerful man in English cricket is Surrey’s Alec Stewart, known to all and sundry as ‘the Gaffer’. The lord of the Oval was, I understand, a shoo-in as head coach of England after what was said to be a first-class piece of power-pointing — as slick and masterful as his performances behind the stumps for England — but had to turn it down for ‘personal reasons’. ‘Chris Silverwood’s your man,’ he told the ECB, and so it came to pass.
In the current England set-up, he’s steered the Curran brothers, Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Ollie Pope and Ben Foakes, in many people’s estimation the best keeper in the country. Anyone Stewart rates tends to become a big name, so keep an eye out for top order bat Will Jacks, and Amar Virdi, a handy off-spinner, who have both done their stuff with the England Lions. And any young cricketer with his eye on the top table could do worse than head for south London and knock on the Alec Stewart Gates. There’s little that the Gaffer doesn’t have a hand in, and now he has upped his visibility, taking over from the late great R.G.D. Willis on Sky’s unmissable The Verdict.
Sadly, though, one aspect of English cricket’s current frenzy that the Gaffer can’t fix is Lord’s ticket pricing. Most seats for the one-dayer against Australia in July cost at least £150, in places more, with no reduction for juniors. The corporates will snap them up without thinking, but £300 is a lot of money if you want to take your kid to the match. For a sport with a professed desire to attract youngsters, this is bizarrely self-defeating. Or greedy.
As if Nigel Owens could be any more admired, the world’s greatest rugby referee reveals himself to be a playful master of irony on Scott Mills and Chris Stark’s new Saturday morning show on Radio 5. ‘Sir’ Nigel is the star of an item called ‘Real-Life TMO’ in which he has to arbitrate on supremely footling domestic disputes: in fact, the more trivial the better.
So far he has been asked to decide if you should rinse plates before putting them in the dishwasher; rugs on floorboards — yes or no?; and whether a man should get away with deliberately wearing odd socks (his wife wishes he wouldn’t). Owens keeps a straight face throughout and it’s one of the best bits of sport on radio. When the socks man tried to intervene after the ruling against him, Owens said: ‘I’d keep quiet, son, if I were you — get out while you’re ahead.’ Words which must have been said to many a prop forward over the years. Do try to catch it.