Could the King land his first Royal Ascot winner?

You don’t need to be a genius to know that if you are training for HM The King and HM The Queen, then it would be a shrewd career move to land a Royal Ascot winner for them later this month. This is, of course, the first time that the King and Queen will be having runners at the famous meeting under their new titles. Their trainers know that if they can engineer a winner for the royal duo at Ascot’s five-day event, it will generate hugely positive headlines all over the news and sports pages. I think the King and Queen have at least two first-rate chances of a

The joy of cheese rolling

It’s unnerving being surrounded by a crowd in the woods. You can hear people but only glimpse their limbs or faces through the leaves. It triggers something primordial, similar to the feeling of being watched. Ideally, someone with a big strimmer would have given Cooper’s Hill a good going over before the cheese rolling. But cheese rollers don’t concern themselves with ideals.  My friends were shocked by the brutal pitch of the hill. Could someone really hurl themselves down that? On the last Monday of May, and for reasons lost to time, a wheel of Double Gloucester is thrown down the hill and a group of runners throw themselves after

Is Uefa just useless – or is it worse than that?

It’s not clear how many readers of this journal will be affected, but anyone planning a stag weekend in Prague ought to steer clear of the first week of June. That’s when the city hosts the Uefa Conference League final at the 20,000-capacity Eden Arena, home to Slavia Prague. The finalists are West Ham – average home gate a 60,000 sellout – and Fiorentina, average gate 25-30,000. Which raises the question: is Uefa just utterly useless or is it worse than that? This game could have filled Wembley twice over; now it’s like holding the coronation in a parish church Both finalists have been allocated 5,000-odd tickets, with the remainder

TV dramas like Welcome to Wrexham are spoiling sport

Wrexham had never seen anything like it: thousands of fans cheering their team as an open-top bus made its way through the city’s streets. On board, Wrexham’s footballers celebrated their side’s promotion back to the English football league. The club’s star owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, were there too – and with them, as usual, came the cameras. The rise of Wrexham has become the subject of a hit Disney+ documentary, Welcome to Wrexham. It’s a feel-good story about Ryan and Rob, two rich and handsome actors from the other side of the Atlantic, taking over a down-and-out club in a depressed industrial heartland and giving it hope. Wrexham

How padel courts became hot property

Peloton has peaked and troughed, wild swimming has made its splash – and now, it seems, it’s padel’s turn for the prime spot. Said to be the world’s fastest-growing racket sport, the game – a hybrid of tennis and squash, with a dash of ping pong – is fun and sociable (it’s played in doubles) and has been adopted by around 25 million people worldwide. Easy to get good at quite quickly, it’s also apparently the ‘new golf’ among retired footballers – David Beckham is a fan.  ‘Padel has become an obsession in the shires… a padel court is the latest must-have in country houses’ Across the UK, any sports

The joy of slow sport

Fans of long-form sport, rejoice. April is here, and it is our month. Not only does it see the first four-day matches of the county cricket season, it’s also when snooker stages its world championship. Long-form sport is always the best. A four-day cricket match (five for Tests) has way more scope for drama than a T20. And the snooker at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, where even the shortest match is the best of 19 frames, gives space for the twists and turns that characterise true sporting excitement. Both games have sought to recruit new fans in recent years by offering shortened versions. Cricket has gone from 50-over games

The fast and furious world of reindeer racing

Don’t ever ask a Sámi person how many reindeer he owns. It’s about as polite as asking someone in Britain how much cash he’s got in the bank. But enquire after the health of his reindeer, or which are the ‘stand-out’ specimens in his herd of between 300 and 1,000, and you will be fine. In fact, get ready for a detailed response from someone whose Arctic community often still lives symbiotically with its animals.  Racing reindeer has been popular among Sámi people for hundreds of years, but began receiving wider attention in 2005, when the Midnight Sun Marathon organisers and the Sámi Valáštallan Lihttu sporting body arranged the first championships to be run in Tromsø in Norway.

The joy of non-league football

On a cold Tuesday night, as the wind whipped in from the North Sea, I joined 220 hardy souls to watch a game of football. Less than a mile away from the Sizewell nuclear plant on the Suffolk coast but light years away from the lurid lights of the Premiership, Leiston FC were playing Ilkeston Town in the Pitching In Southern League – Premier Division Central. As the old joke goes, the attendance was so small it would have been easier to name the crowd changes than the team changes. Welcome to non-league football – in this case the seventh tier of the game’s pyramid system of promotion and relegation.

How cricket came to Corfu

If you are ever at one of those dinner parties where the company is competing to slag off the iniquities of the British Empire, counter with the two words: ‘Corfu’ and ‘cricket’. Although never an actual colony (but rather a British protectorate), Corfu and the Corfiots are that rare thing – unashamedly Anglophile. There are several good reasons for this, not least including the British creation of the island’s celebrated university and Corfu town’s water and sewerage system. But for some, the protectorate’s greatest gift was cricket. This year Corfu will be celebrating the bicentenary of the coming of the game to the jewel of the Ionian Sea – making

Rugby union needs its own Richard Thompson

Dear oh dear, as exasperated kings are known to murmur – just look at the state of rugby union. But if our monarch had to pass judgment on the catastrophe enveloping the game in England, you imagine his language would be stronger than that. Mind you, a decent king is just what rugby needs: heads have to be seriously knocked together – off the field – if the game is to survive in anything like its current form. This column feels no shame in returning to this theme; after all, it’s not often that a major sport finds itself looking down the barrel. It’s clear that the current organisational structures

English rugby is in crisis

Make no mistake: the game of rugby, which many of us love so much, is in serious trouble: it will have to change or die. The game’s scarily existential issue on the field – especially the brain health of those who play it – is one thing. But what is going on inside the heads of those who run the sport? The financial clouds hovering over English rugby are as menacing as Billy Vunipola coming on to the ball at full speed from the back of the scrum. Worcester Warriors are just the start: Wasps are in trouble, and Bristol could be next. There will be more. Only Leicester, Northampton

Why football needs a regulator

Plans by the government to introduce a regulator to the football industry – endorsed by all Westminster parties just a year ago – have, to use jargon oddly appropriate in this case, been ‘kicked into the long grass’. Truss is instinctively against regulating almost anything. When I asked her about the ‘fan-led’ Crouch Report on the campaign trail a few weeks back, she replied, not very cryptically, that she would apply a ‘very high bar’ to any new types of regulation. So, the news that the legislation has been paused is no great surprise to me. The Premier League has, in effect, largely become a closed shop of the 20

Drama at Lord’s: Stumped is a treat for cricket fans

So farewell to cricket’s The Hundred tournament, or what seemed by the end to be beefy South Africans in ‘Butterkist’ shirts belting sixes over cow corner off some fairly inoffensive county seamers. Does anyone remember a single result? Or really have any loyalty? Fine, have it as a marketing exercise to raise a few quid for the game, but there aren’t enough great players. It felt a bit like some upgraded pub cricket – and it’s going to be with us for years. What could be massively more significant for the game in the long term is over the Atlantic, where the former England star Liam Plunkett is one of

What Richard Thompson can do for English cricket

Well alleluia, English cricket doesn’t seem able to put a foot wrong these days. After hitting three cherries with Rob Key, Brendon McCullum and Ben ‘Bazball’ Stokes, they may well have struck the jackpot with the appointment of Richard Thompson, the Surrey chairman, to take over as head of the English Cricket Board, something this column has long advocated. Thompson has plenty going for him: uniquely perhaps among the game’s administrators he is both traditional and forward thinking. Traditional enough to have realised the Texan conman ‘Sir’ Allen Stanford, with his million-quid pile of money on the Lord’s outfield, was a wrong-un. And forward thinking enough to have championed the

Toby Young

The (occasional) joy of being a QPR fan

I made my way to Loftus Road on Saturday for QPR’s first home fixture of the season. We’ve got a new gaffer in the form of Michael Beale, a 41-year-old Englishman who’s never managed a football club before but has worked as an assistant coach at San Paulo in Brazil and as Steven Gerrard’s right-hand at Rangers and Aston Villa. Can he make the transition from a bibs-and-cones man to a full-blown manager? I worry that QPR have brought him in because (a) he’s cheap and (b) won’t make a fuss about the club’s efforts to cut costs. Since the end of the last season, we’ve let go of 13

Why now is the time to be spontaneous

I am not naturally a spontaneous person. I relish neatly laying out projects and plans in my Moleskine diary. It was out of character, then, when on the second Monday of the Wimbledon fortnight I decided on the spur of the moment to head to the All England Club and join the queue for a day ticket. If I didn’t get in, I reasoned, I could always have a nice meal in a nearby restaurant and watch the action on a big screen, content in the knowledge that I was at least sharing the air of the SW19 postcode. My back-up plan wasn’t needed. When I joined the ‘queue’, I

Why Falklanders are the ones to watch at the Commonwealth Games

Stanley, Falkland Islands I’m not saying the Falklands is a tiny place, but last month, over the course of just a few hours, I had my hair cut by one international athlete and then my passport processed by another. Soon-to-be international athletes, anyway. They’re both part of the Islands’ team for this year’s Commonwealth Games, which is taking place in Birmingham this week. The Falklands has despatched 16 competitors across four sports: badminton, table tennis, cycling and bowls. For many participants, this is their first Commonwealth Games. For some, thanks largely to Covid, it will be their debut international appearance. The youngest, 15-year-old Ben Chater, has not only never competed internationally

Runaway inflation is proving costly for Turkey’s oil-wrestlers

Edirne, Turkey There is a distinctive sound that an oiled-up palm makes as it slaps against an oiled-up pair of leather shorts. Both squelchy and sharp, this noise rings around the Thracian town of Edirne each July as it hosts Turkey’s biggest oil-wrestling championship. As the name suggests, contenders are greased up with either olive, corn or sunflower oil before they start to fight. The competition begins with a languid ritual in which the wrestlers stomp around each other, touching the ground and themselves before commencing their tussle. The winner must then flip his opponent on to his back, often by reaching into his shorts and grabbing hold of a

The glorious return of the England cricket team

Let civilisation fall apart if it must. I no longer care. The England men’s cricket team is suddenly playing with such swaggering magnificence that everything else – endless culture wars, inflation, even the threat of hypersonically delivered nuclear annihilation from Russia – pales into insignificance. I just want to watch my heroes – Ben Stokes, Joe Root and the rest – play the game I love like deities. If Putin is going to press the big red button then so be it. As the temperature rises to a million degrees celsius here in Putney, I will console myself that at least I witnessed Jonny Bairstow’s transcendentally perfect innings at Trent

Is any sporting event more brutal than the Tour de France?

That great Frenchman the Marquis de Sade would have been justly proud of the Tour de France had he lived to see the day. Should we deduce that sado-masochism is a French trait? No question. Has there ever been a more brutal event in world sport? This year’s race kicks off in Denmark (yes, really) at the weekend on its way to more than 3,500km of lung-busting effort. The question is: can anyone stop Tadej Pogacar, the 23-year-old Slovenian prodigy and winner of the last two Tours? He is in staggering form this year, having minced his home Tour and a series of other races. A brilliant climber and time