- Lifestyle & Sports
- 20 Sep 02
Let us call them the Birmingham Four. It is a collective description with many overtones of the Irish abroad, battling with the British system. The Birmingham Four are, of course, Paul McGrath, Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton, and now Andy Townsend, who has joined in solidarity with his Republic of Ireland colleagues at Aston villa.
Let us call them the Birmingham Four. It is a collective description with many overtones of the Irish abroad, battling with the British system.
The Birmingham Four are, of course, Paul McGrath, Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton, and now Andy Townsend, who has joined in solidarity with his Republic of Ireland colleagues at Aston villa.
It is to be devoutly wished that the Four will manage to avoid picking up the kind of knocks and bruises sustained by the Birmingham Six on their way to an important appointment on this island.
The recruitment of Townsend to the Villa cause bodes well for their success in the forthcoming English League campaign.
Townsend has for long appeared to me as a striking example of Lyndon B. Johnson's maxim that "it is better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in". His virtues of strength and resilience, as well as a fair enough ability to actually play football while he's at it, are timeless qualities which every team should desire if they wish to make a mark on the honours' table.
Villa, and just about everyone else in the Premier League, will be needing all the quality players they can lay their paws on, now that Manchester United are looking like settling in for a prolonged period of dominance.
The signing of Roy Keane, as highly recommended by the ever-influential Foul Play, gives them a formidable aspect which must send tremors through the ranks of all other title aspirants. Keane, Giggs, Ince, Cantona, Hughes . . . yes, this is shaping into a powerful outfit by any standards.
So much so, that a player of the magnificence of Paul McGrath is clearly resting up in the close-season in order to preserve all of his resources for the long haul ahead.
Paul's recent executive decision to forego Villa's friendly encounter in Japan, is revealing of a man with his sights set on more harrowing prospects in the real world.
Cynics will point to the incidence of Paul resting up during the actual season as well, citing water on the knee, or water on the brain, or other such mood-altering occurrences in support of his actions. But Foul Play and other authoritative observers believe that he is a step ahead of popular thinking on these matters, harvesting his resources for the important battles, rather than wasting his time on irrelevant skirmishes.
Ian "Beefy" Botham is another man who managed to combine a busy social programme with monumental performances on the field of play.
One day he is reported to be consuming heroic quantities of beer through a funnel, to the sound of a brass band playing, the next day he is burning up the opposition at Lords. Or again, he would be reported as breaking the bed in the course of a horizontal jogging episode with Miss Barbados, prior to breaking wickets left, right, and centre when normal play resumed.
Sporting giants are rather thin on the ground in Britain at the moment, so the eulogies which followed "Beefy's" retirement were understandably lavish and misty-eyed. Whether batting, bowling, bevvying or bonking, the beefy one did not deal in half-measures.
Rather pathetically, his main rival as Britain's most popular sporting hero is probably Frank Bruno, though the only obvious similarities are an imposing physique, and the fact that they are much in demand as pantomime artistes.
The difference is that Bruno is almost exclusively devoted to pantomime, both in and out of the ring, whereas "Beefy" had a more measured perspective of the role which Dick Whittington or the Widow Twankey played in the overall scheme.
"Beefy" was also a serious iconoclast, while Bruno would no more back the system than he would step into the ring with an able-bodied opponent, as distinct from the barely-breathing stiffs who are placed at his disposal to soak a few more ill-gotten shillings out of the gullible public. His one serious fight against Mike Tyson was a notably brief encounter.
I will have to take the word of those who know better about such things, that "Beefy" was indeed a cricketer of the first order.
He certainly looked pretty impressive, but my knowledge of the intricacies of cricket is only marginally greater than my insight into modern developments in marine biology. It's that old borderline between nil and bugger all. All the efforts of aficionados such as Bill Graham to introduce me to the higher delicacies of the game have failed to make much of an impact.
But "Beefy" certainly livened up the proceedings for the layman who automatically felt suspect about a sport whose legendary characters include men with discouraging names like Grace, Boycott, Dickie Bird, and Sobers.
The conditions at the recent Ulster final between Donegal and Derry in Clones, might well have led to the venue being re-named the Polo Grounds.
An amusing offshoot of this water-logged fiasco was the anger of many commentators that such an important game should be allowed to proceed in such a quagmire.
It was said in many quarters that "the safety of the players must always be the first priority."
Are these people living in the same world in which mentors will routinely instruct their charges that the first priority is anything but the safety of other players, but is in fact the endangerment of other players at every possible opportunity?
Gaelic football in which the safety of the players is the first priority is not a game which has ever been played on this planet, either on dry land, or under water.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jan 18