Friday, 17 August 2012

An Epic Final

I think I must have got caught up in all the sporting euphoria. Here's another tale of fighting spirit from my rapidly fading memory. This was from my younger days when I was still interested in football. I think I was studying for my A Levels at the time.

The 1970 Cup Final was between Chelsea and Leeds United. These two teams were about as different in style as you can imagine. It would be like comparing ballerinas to clog-dancers. The florid South Londoners against the gritty Yorkshiremen.

The game took place on a Wembley pitch that had been shredded to pieces by an equestrian event the week before and was in no fit state to host a showpiece final. With no hope of putting on a display of flowing football on such a surface, both sides resorted to basic tactics. This suited the tough Northerners who dominated the game from start to finish. Such domination was epitomised by the battle on the touchline. Dave Webb, the Chelsea right-back, was turned inside out by his counterpart. Given the task of marking the Leeds wizard Eddie Gray, Webb was completely baffled by the winger's dazzling footwork. So mesmerised was he that I remember one critic claiming that he had spent more time stumbling backwards and sitting on his rear-end than on his feet. Despite their overwhelming superiority and twice going in front, Leeds were hauled back by two Chelsea equalisers and taken to extra time. With no further goals the game was scheduled to go to a replay at Old Trafford nearly three weeks later.

Chelsea must have been punch-drunk from that first encounter. It would have been equivalent to me going twelve rounds with Muhammed Ali and then being asked to do the same thing a few days later. Yet this game was a more bruising battle than the first. Some would call it brutal. Chelsea played better but once again were put under pressure by the Leeds terriers. In the first half Leeds went ahead after Bonetti, the Chelsea goalie, had been half crippled by a typical Leeds challenge. The Londoners looked dead and buried.

Then, ten minutes from the end, an equaliser was conjured out of nowhere by the Chelsea striker Peter Osgood, whose diving header flew out of the reach of Leeds keeper Gary Sprake. Once more scores were level after ninety minutes.

Almost at the end of the first period of extra time a long Chelsea throw-in reached the Leeds penalty area and skimmed off the top of Leeds centre-half Jackie Charlton's head.

And who was it that leapt above the Leeds defence to knock in the winning goal? Forgetting his previous humiliation and with less mud on his backside than in that first game it was Dave Webb who got his head to the ball and sent it rocketing into the Leeds net. This was the first time Chelsea had been in front in three and a half hours of play. They held on until the full-time whistle to celebrate a tremendous and unlikely victory.

The ethos of never giving up until the bitter end proved a winning strategy. This must have been one of the last football matches I ever watched. After that they all seemed a bit dull.

Sometimes I feel like Dave Webb. Floundering around in a literary quagmire while editors and agents humiliate me with their rejection letters. But I'll rise above them all and score a fabulous goal before the final whistle.

Blimey! I've gone all metaphorical.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A True Golden Girl

While newspaper headlines are still shouting Gold Rush! and the BBC continues to play Spandau Ballet's Gold I thought I would mention one of my sporting heroes.

Lillian Board (1948 – 1970) was a British middle-distance runner and a sporting icon when I was a young man. She won an Olympic silver medal and held several track world records. She was also one of my early inspirational role models.

In the 1968 Mexico Olympics she was narrowly beaten into second place in the final of the 400m by Colette Besson of France.

At the 1969 European Championships, having won gold in the 800m, Lillian ran the anchor leg for the British 400m relay team. Once more she was pitted against Besson and found herself well behind the French girl coming out of the final bend. Nevertheless she didn't give up and crossed the line a whisker ahead of her rival. I have watched the closing stages of that race over and over again on YouTube  and every time I see the two girls coming into the final straight I still think there's no way that Lillian can win. If you have time take a look for yourself.

Sadly, just over a year later, Lillian succumbed to a virulent form of cancer and died on Boxing Day 1970, just two weeks after her twenty second birthday.

Every time my goals seem unreachable and I need motivating I think of that black and white footage. I remember watching it over forty years ago and can recall the feeling of amazement as the gap between the two runners closed in dramatic fashion.

Thank you, Lillian.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Winning And Losing

If you had tuned in to any of the news channels this past fortnight you could be forgiven for thinking that the Syrians had stopped shooting at each other, the recession was over and the ice caps had stopped melting. I must admit, it's nice to hear mostly good news for a change.

I'm sure that most people couldn't fail to be moved by the efforts of all the Olympic competitors, whether they are winners or also-rans, British or foreign. A lot has been written in the press and talked about on TV about how the games will inspire the youth of this country. Inspire them to do what, they don't make clear. But I suppose they mean, first and foremost, to take up sport. Secondly I imagine they expect people to be inspired in their everyday lives. Nice sentiments but easier said than done.

It's good to see our British athletes doing well in so many events. A lot of the time they make it seem so easy. Which, in my opinion, could be the problem. Before they can reach Olympic standards these people have to work hard for years. Going to the swimming pool for a couple of hours before school, getting out on the bike on a freezing Sunday morning, going on a ten mile run after work etc. How many aspiring young athletes will lose interest after attending a few sessions at their local track? Especially if the weather is bad.

David Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling and General Manager of Tour de France winners Team Sky, gave an interview on BBC this morning where he emphasised the importance of commitment. He also claimed that, in the course of attaining your goals, you will lose more than you win. Which just confirms what I've always thought. You learn more from losing than from winning.

So it is in writing. Which is why I don't throw away my rejection letters. They are there to remind me how much hard work I've put in when that acceptance e-mail suddenly appears in my Inbox. When I hear of some new author that has their very first manuscript accepted by a publisher, I imagine all the other would-be novelists thinking they can emulate this feat, only to give up after one knock-back. Which brings us to Dave's point about commitment. Talent is no good without it.

Happy writing, everybody. Keep at it.