Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cliche, Hubris and Bigotry

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cliche, Hubris and Bigotry

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

IF you want to know the real age of an acquaintance who's spent the past decade claiming to be 39, there's no need to check the Register of Births. Just say the word "Keynsham" to them without warning and, if they reply "that's KEY-NS-HAM," you'll know that they're well over 50, perhaps even 60. Why? Because the Infodraw Football Pools Forecasting System (developed by Horace Bachelor of Keynsham, "that's K-E-Y-NS-HAM") was the Claims Direct ad of its day, and its hypnotic repetition left an indelible mark on the minds of millions of teenagers during the 1950s, as they listened to the latest "hit parade" on Radio Luxembourg. Of course, some jaded sceptics wondered aloud why a man who'd allegedly devised a guaranteed method of scooping Vernon's jackpot week after week would willingly sell the formula to others, thus diminishing his own potential winnings, but the success of his system can be judged from the fact that he spent his last years living in a shed and died penniless.

Brian Clough is of a suitable age for the Keynsham test, but I doubt if you could try it out on him, because he'd never stop talking for long enough to hear you. Some have called him boorish and truculent, and even his admirers refer to him as "Old Big 'Ead," but last night's Football Stories (C4) showed him to be a far more complex and extraordinary man than had hitherto been generally appreciated. Using rarely seen footage, this fascinating documentary revealed that, prior to his career in football, the young Brian had worked the Northern music-hall circuit under the name of Dicky Bowels, performing a novelty musical act on the balaclava (part Russian folk instrument, part Greek pastry), before being stolen away by gipsy folk at the outbreak of World War Two and imprisoned in a Korean forced-labour camp (where he disguised himself as a "Comfort Geisha" and offered "hand relief" to Japanese troops), until he finally agreed to join a Kamikaze squadron in Kobe. The ear infection he contracted during this period was to haunt him in later life, and the resulting deafness (combined with his fanatical devotion to the Emperor Hirohito) has been held responsible for his disastrous attempt, on 7 December 1941, to bomb Poole Harbour.

OK. I lied. But you should be glad that I did, because what we actually saw was an hour of cliche, hubris, and bigotry, loosely glued together by a succession of talking heads whose "so I said to him and he said to me " reminiscences evinced not one iota of introspection or self-awareness. To a sporting pacifist like me, football is just war without the shooting, and I needed to invent a poetic fantasy life for one of its stroppiest generals, simply to counteract the prosaic nature of his real one. Like Geoffrey Boycott and Alex Higgins, his single-minded desire for success may have won him the adoration of some fans, but possibly not the respect of colleagues, and the picture that emerged was of a man who nurtured as many grudges as footballers, and suffered from a chronic dose of Roseanne syndrome (unspeakably arrogant when successful, pathetically whimpering in defeat). …

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