Written by Sports Blog’s guest columnist Brian Mair.
I am writing this on the day that Dean Richards has been uncovered as the
lynchpin of the whole ‘Bloodgate’ debacle and as various incidents unfurl
themselves from this deliciously sticky web of deceit and subterfuge, a wry
smile creeps on to my face and a wave of relief comes over me.
Why? Because there was a very real danger that the world of sport was just
getting a little bit, well serious.
The irony that the whole Vaudevillian caper masterminded by Richards and
carried out (by coercion, if that is to be believed) by Tom Williams took place
at a club that was named after a jester that was famed for his stupidity and
greed cannot be overstated.
And I for one loved it. Not for my appreciation for rugby union and the way
it was investigated by the IRB as I have little to no interest in the sport, it
was because it proves that there are still characters in sport who are willing
to risk literally everything for personal glory or gain. Pride comes before a
fall as they say.
Similarly, the irony of the fact that Sven Goran Eriksson has left yet another
highly paid job as a national coach, lured by a consortium of Middle East
Businessmen…hang on, haven’t we heard this before?
I wonder how long it took to persuade Sven that this group of Arabian tycoons
WERE actually genuine and not undercover reporters from a Sunday Tabloid?
Even sportsmen who were thought to be incorruptible have come forward as
saying that they have bent the rules slightly in their favour. Matthew Le
Tissier, Southampton’s greatest servant on the football pitch, in his
autobiography, has said that at the dawn of the spread betting era he once
stood to win £10k if he could force a throw before a minute’s play; however a
deftly lofted punt was chased and headed back into play by Neil Shipperley.
Perhaps a bad habit picked up from Bruce Grobbelaar’s time at the club?
But this article isn’t going to be a rant about cheating which is endemic in
many sports today as it is a subject that will already have taken up the
majority of the back pages of your newspapers.
It is more about remembering the times that make you smile, laugh even,
possibly at the antics of your own club, the events which come into the
consciousness amidst the stories of multi million pound transfer deals,
‘abducted’ French teenage sensations and the growing list of clubs waiting to
be saved from administration.
One such story comes from the 1996-1997 season, where Ali Dia, a guy who
couldn’t even get a game at Senegalese amateur level, got his ‘agent’ to ring
up Graeme Souness pretending to be George Weah and recommending his ‘cousin’
Ali as a rough diamond. Now I don’t know how close Souness was to Weah to take
his word as gospel over the phone but Dia proved to be no rough diamond.
In fact, a Premier League career that stretched a whole fourteen minutes
against Leeds United illustrated that Dia wasn’t even close to Cubic
Zirconia’s. Dia did actually make his mark in English football however, scoring
on his debut for…….Gateshead (although he was transfer listed after eight
The 1990’s were of course great for these stories as the sudden influx of
Murdoch’s millions gave rise to huge wages and inflated egos. George Graham’s
backhanders ensured the inexplicable premier league careers of players such as
Pal Lyderson and John Jensen and the image of Graham walking down the steps of
Soho Square in a long coat was reminiscent of a scene from the Untouchables.
The nineties were also the era that other vices amongst professionals became
prominent. Not many spectators of the modern game can forget watching permed
Paul Merson downing imaginary pints after a well earned win for Arsenal?
The reality of course being that the pints weren’t imaginary neither was the
horses or the cocaine…
Admittedly this story is only light hearted due to the fact Merson has
pulled himself round and is now a success in his chosen field of punditry.
Tony Adams, also of the Arsenal drinking school has reached the brink of
emotional collapse culminating in a short stretch in prison has reformed his life
and has started up the Sporting Chance charity for sportsmen who suffer from
I could go on for pages bout the individual events and characters who made
the game so interesting for me growing up and you may disagree that those
individuals who constantly rocked the boat should be held in higher esteem than
those who kept it afloat and on a straight course I shall conclude with one