Friday, 29 August 2008


I'm in the Isle of Man to commentate on the Manx Grand Prix motorbike races. It's been a frustrating time because bad weather has delayed the races all week. Today, the last scheduled day, there is no racing at all because low cloud has taken up residence over the island and, like an ageing tax exile, shows no sign of moving on. Not that that prevented us from delivering a modicum of entertainment. I presented a 30-minute programme, live and unscripted, from the commentary box in the Grandstand. The highlight was a contribution from Roy Moore, our commentator at the famous Ramsey Hairpin, up to the north of the island. Having discussed the prospects of racing being rescheduled for tomorrow, Roy inadvertently handed back "from Randy Hairpin"!! Well, I guess after all the delays for the team locked down in the box at Ramsey, that could well have been accurate!
Do you remember Radio Caroline North? If you're a certain age, you do. Radio Caroline was a ship which anchored off Ramsey in 1964 and broadcast pop music to the UK and Ireland at a time when all the BBC offered was an hour of pop with Alan Freeman on a Sunday afternoon. It was fantastic and kept all of us kids in the North West of England locked onto 199 metres in the medium wave. Then the Government clamped down on this non-licenced broadcasting and the pirates went off the air in 1968. There's an exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary in Peel on the island at the moment and it brings back so many memories. A video shows all the ups and downs of the saga, including priceless footage of Freddie and the Dreamers visiting the ship. If you can't get to Peel there's a book about the Radio Caroline years which has just been published - "Manx Giant, from the Wonderful Isle of Man" by Andy Wint (ex Manx Radio). All that and some wonderful classic motorbikes on the roads: we've been reliving the Sounds of the Sixties in more ways than one!
An update on the two battered-but-not-beaten riders: Alan Jackson completed one lap of the race on Wednesday and retired in the pits; Steve Ferguson went the full distance.

Monday, 25 August 2008


Twiddling thumbs time in the Isle of Man. I ought to be commentating on the first races of the Manx Grand Prix right now. Instead, I am hanging around waiting for bad weather to improve in the hope that we can get some action later in the day. Fingers crossed. That's if it is possible to cross your fingers while twiddling your thumbs.
The other day I met a man with no ankle. Alan Jackson is a very fast motorbike rider who holds the lap record for the Manx at over 122mph. Two years ago he crashed at high speed and smashed his legs up pretty badly. He hasn't fully recovered yet but he was passed fit to race in May, despite having his left foot bolted to the end of his leg without the usual convenience of an ankle joint. The left leg is an inch shorter than the right, and the right leg is due to be operated on soon. In the meantime he is scheduled to race around this dangerous course yet again on Wednesday and Friday, in the Junior and Senior events. He can't wait. Neither can another competitor, Steve Ferguson, who crashed last year, broke his back in 10 places, broke his ribs, and went home with his collar bone at a funny angle. He was riding again before Christmas and he's back here, ready to race again. Brave or mad? I'm not sure if the dividing line between the two is visible.

Monday, 18 August 2008


I wonder if Liverpool FC's chief executive Rick Parry has time to reflect on his own contribution to GB's sensational achievements in the cycling events in Beijing?

There's no doubt that Lottery funding has played a huge part, but equally significant is the mere presence of the Manchester velodrome, which Parry did much to create. In the late 1980s Parry was chief executive of a very small operation trying to win the Olympics for Manchester. Two bids failed before success was achieved in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, by which time Parry had moved on to become chief executive of the Premier League before moving again to Anfield. It was those early planners - Parry, Sir Bob Scott, and the then leader of Manchester City Council, now MP, Graham Stringer, who started the process which saw the velodrome built. It was Manchester's statement of intent, a symbol of their ability to deliver a world class facility. Now that same facility is delivering world class competitors, among them bronze medalist Steven Burke who was brought up in Lancashire and would never have taken up cycling if it hadn't been for the presence of this sensational track on his doorstep.


My 38th season as a football reporter began with one of the most dramatic matches on the Premier League card: Everton 2 Blackburn 3. It was also an assignment which threw up several of the occupational hazards which make the reporter's task that little bit more interesting!
The ISDN port assigned for my use didn't work, the seat allocated to me in the press box was in the wrong place, and - once those practical problems had been resolved - goals were scored deep into added time at the end of each half, necessitating a rapid re-write both times.
As a way of blowing away the cobwebs, it couldn't have been better!


National newspapers in the UK are facing their own challenge during the Olympic Games - how to make their coverage relevant when the seven-hour time difference means that there is little their readers don't already know. With one week completed, they are doing a very good job.

Simply relying on reports of the various events to fill their pages is, of course, inadequate. The formula for success comprises follow-ups, off-beat stories, comment and analysis.

The serious papers were gifted Page One winners on the very first day. The Russian invasion of Georgia on the day that animated doves were propounding their peace message in Beijing gave editors a wonderful chance to juxtapose headlines and pictures, one which the Guardian seized particularly well. At this stage the tabloids seemed unconvinced about the value of the Games as a sales-driver. Even after a spectacular opening ceremony, the red-tops found activity in the Big Brother house more interesting, with no Olympic presence on the front pages. But the row between young diver Tom Daley and his partner Blake Aldridge catapulted the Games onto page one even among the tabloids: "Belly Strop" was the Mirror's headline.

That sorry little episode also produced examples of informative, thoughtful writing by the columnists. Jim Lawton in the Independent filed a compelling piece in which he blamed not Aldridge - the fall guy in the eyes of most phone-in callers - but "a huge fault line in the culture of our sport." He defined it as our eagerness to make 14-year-old Daley a "ready-made little hero" long before his time. Meanwhile, to prove that the tabloids are not simply the home of snappy headlines, the Mirror's Oliver Holt wrote an incisive piece about the same incident, taking a much harder line against the 26-year-old Aldridge.

There's been so much going on in Beijing that the feature writers and photographers are spoiled for choice. Among the best images so far are a shot of Russian boxer Islam Timurziev having his nose flattened by Britain's David Price, by Phil Noble of Reuters, and Tom Jenkins' picture of cyclist Rebecca Romero whose visor reflects the track and the crowd at the velodrome. That pic was used on page one of the Guardian, while inside the sports section Marina Hyde revealed that 100,000 condoms have been supplied to the Olympic Village - and are all expected to be used. Which paper will reveal who are the medalists in that particular event?