The roar of the Premier League is beginning to drown out everything else in sport (there’s even Friday night football now: another blissful resting place occupied. Shouldn’t we ring-fence some time — greenbelt-style — that football can’t colonise, say 2 a.m. on a Monday, that’s preserved from football’s endless development?)
But while there’s a chance, let’s not lose sight of a great Englishman and a great English achievement. This Ashes series has not been a good contest; they often aren’t. But with his modesty, determination and resilience, it has been a personal triumph for the captain Alastair Cook. Not long ago, a chorus of self-appointed cricket ‘legends’ in the media was calling for his head: ‘Bring back KP — Cook out.’ Barely a week went by without the message being rammed home. You don’t hear it so much now, do you?
Cook is a fundamentally decent man who proves that good guys can come first. He is also extremely tough, even if he looks like he’s popped in from choir practice and has to show his ID to get a drink. After the 5-0 thrashing in the 2013-14 Ashes down under, he returned not with his head down but more determined than ever to build a team for whom playing for England was the ultimate honour. He now seems to have done just that.
Cook is a model of leadership: at the end of the Trent Bridge Test, he was quick to pay tribute to Peter Moores, the former and oft-sacked coach who, along with Paul Downton, had put the Pietersen issue to bed and persuaded Cook to stay on. After the last Australian wicket fell, it was telling that Cook rushed to pull out a couple of stumps, which he gave to his young stars Mark Wood and Ben Stokes. Cook has also given the impression that he is listening to the former England captains, and inviting ‘legends’ into the dressing room. I don’t know whether he believes it, but it is terrific politics.
Even now, football has some treasures. When it comes to newspaper kiss’n’tells the bar is not set high, but a new standard of tawdriness was reached at the weekend when an unsavoury young creep called Rupert Patterson–Ward, who is hardly a household name, revealed to the Sun that Chelsea’s much–photographed doctor, Eva Carneiro, had ‘ruined his life’. Eh? Well, it turns out she was a bit feisty. You don’t say, Rupe! But it’s a story that won’t go away: oh bliss.
Ah, José and Eva: like Tristan and Isolde or Sonny and Cher, these intense relationships can end badly. The Chelsea manager’s issue with Britain’s best-known doc is clearly that she’s too good-looking. José is used to being the most attractive human on the bench at any time: contrast all those Portuguese bruisers with broken noses that he surrounds himself with. Mourinho has managed to turn the entire football world against Chelsea in a week. Well, it saves time.
Couldn’t the Rugby World Cup sign up Dr Eva? Is there a transfer market in doctors? There is clearly a massive feelgood factor around the minxy medic. Who wouldn’t want to see her treating Sam Burgess, though you wouldn’t see him pretending to be injured. Burgess would have winked at Dr Eva and all would have been well.
The athletics World Championships start next week in Beijing. Never can I recall athletics having a lower profile. I grew up in an era of great middle-distance runners and legendary sprinters. Now ask anyone in your street to name six athletes. I bet they will struggle. Who is the fastest woman in the world? No one will know. Partly this is because of drug scandals and the vague sense that everyone seems to be bent, partly because the global calendar is a mess and partly because very little is being done to involve young people. Sebastian Coe, the new head of world athletics, certainly has a big pile in his in-tray.