Poor old Roy Hodgson, why did he take on Crystal Palace? He was having lunch at a Côte in a salubrious suburb of south-west London the other day, indistinguishable in his blazer and slacks from all the other old boys there enjoying a leisurely retirement and looking forward to a postprandial nap. Roy is a charming man, and one of a vanishing number of football managers to have hinted at a non-footballing cultural hinterland, entirely suited to a life of leisure.
Yet now he is willingly going once more unto the god-awful breach that is Premier League management. Imagine: wet afternoons at Selhurst Park trying to lift a struggling team out of the mire, surrounded by disgruntled south Londoners who already want you out, rather than a sun-dappled square near the villa in Portugal, enjoying a succulent pastel de nata and a few chapters of the latest Sebastian Faulks in the company of a chilled rosé poured by the effervescent Mrs H. Must be mad, but then I guess most of them are.
It is now a sweat-inducingly short time before Alastair Cook and A.N. Other walk out at the Gabba in Brisbane to take on the fire and fury of Australia’s pace attack in the first Ashes Test. Joe Root is being pretty bullish about the series — and you wouldn’t expect him to be anything else — but I can’t see it myself unless he gets superhuman performances out of himself and Ben Stokes, and Mason Crane proves to be a leg spinner in the Shane Warne class.
We have too many weak links in our batting and our bowlers are predominantly set up for English conditions. Jimmy Anderson is the smartest seam bowler most of us have ever seen, but he has never taken more than four wickets in a Test in Australia, and in 13 Tests averages fewer than four wickets a match. If England can get Mark Wood fit, he at least has the pace to unsettle batsmen on Australian pitches. But the Aussies haven’t lost in Brisbane for nearly 30 years: no wonder it’s known as the Gabbatoir.
For those of us nutty enough to enjoy the isolation of being a spectator at county cricket games, consider this: the three counties who had the title within their grasp on the last day of last year’s race — Middlesex, who won it, Yorkshire and Somerset — are all now in the bottom half of the table, and could be in a relegation dogfight were it not for Warwickshire’s woeful form. And Essex, in Division 2 a year ago, are poised to win the whole County Championship, possibly this week. Still a few thrills and spills, so to speak, left in the long-form game yet.
Chris Froome is one of the most extraordinary British sportsmen in history, with four Tours de France and now the Tour of Spain as well. But why does nobody seem to love him? Some of it is obvious: being resident in Monaco doesn’t make you a folk hero. His goading of Wiggins when he won the tour in 2012 and Froome was just one of the team didn’t help either. If only he’d get off his bike and thump someone, or run off with Miss World — but we might have to wait a long time.
Bibiana Steinhaus is a 38-year-old Hanover cop who last weekend became the first woman to referee a German Bundesliga match. She did it very well too. Glass ceilings are being smashed all over the place and it would be nice to think that can happen here. I have my doubts though: it wasn’t that long ago, I am reminded by an excellent new website, sport500, that this conversation took place between Andy Gray and Richard Keys on Sky Sports after the appointment of a woman assistant referee. Gray: ‘Can you believe that? Women don’t know the offside rule.’ Keys: ‘Course they don’t.’ They were sacked.
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