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October

21st

Football’s Lennon and McCartney see England through to Brazil

Some things change, some things stay the same. Paul McCartney has a spanking new album out – and England are off to the World Cup.

In 1962 The Beatles were just about to be introduced to a waiting world and England were being put to the sword by that ‘other’ great Brazilian of the ‘60’s, Garrincha in a World Cup quarter-final in Chile.

Four years later the Fab Four were in their absolute pomp.. . Paperback Writer, Eleanor Rigby, and Sgt.Pepper’s was just around the corner. Oh, and England were being crowned the World Champions after a three week adventure that kept the country on the edge of their seats and then reaching for a crate of Higsons when the job was finally done, courtesy of Geoff Hurst, ‘Sir Roger’ and that ‘Russian linesman’.

‘It’s 12 inches high, its solid gold and it means England are the world champions!’ Those were another set of memorable words chimed by iconic BBC commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme that day.

When England left these shores to compete in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico they went with their own no.1 hit under their belt and a realistic chance of defending the title they had so famously won at Wembley four years earlier.

For those of us of a certain age the TV images of the England squad dressed up in dinner jackets and bow- ties belting out Back Home on Top of the Pops is a warm memory. By the time they returned from Mexico we were basking ‘In the Summer-Time’ both literally and metaphorically, Mungo Jerry claimed the big hit of the year – seven weeks at the top of the pile with that catchy seasonal anthem.

This was the England of Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks, Martin Peters, Alan Mullery, Colin Bell, Brian Labone and Geoff Hurst. Some the Boys of ‘66, others the new breed. The combination of the old and new some suggested meant England were actually stronger than four years before.

It was the first World Cup covered in colour on TV – although the new technology and the distance the pictures were travelling meant they often arrived in the corner of your living room with the look of a slightly soggy mural – the shirts were green, and the pitch was red, sort of Strawberry Fields.

But despite sharing a classic encounter with Pele and Brazil, their quarter-final with West Germany was a heart- breaker and we all just had to let it be. Watching the Brazil side of this tournament was pleasure enough.

The Beatles were breaking up and we were no longer World Champions at the sport we invented. McCartney went to on to create his new band Wings and Sir Alf Ramsey was to depart as his wingless wonders failed to get the 1974 World Cup in Germany.

Poland were in the way back in 1973 but the story was a bit different on Tuesday as England, captained by Steven Gerrard, put that particular bad memory to bed and sent us on the road to Brazil.

Indeed it was a pair of Scousers, football’s Lennon and McCartney that struck the vital goals – Rooney man of the match, Gerrard the qualification clincher.

We don’t travel to tournaments these days as either reigning champions or favourites to lift the trophy, the most exciting league in the world doesn’t produce the most technically gifted players in the world – either in quality or quantity any more.

But England in a World Cup is part of what being a sports fan, a football fan, is all about. And a World Cup tournament in Brazil has that special ring to it. Being part of it all is what this trip will be about.

The long and winding road that the new FA chairman, Greg Dyke and his commission are about to embark on is both well-meaning and necessary. Its results will be aimed at providing plenty of options for us in the future – to find talented boys banding together to make future great England teams.

There is no instant cure to our problem of getting enough good English players through the system but sitting our hands and doing nothing is not an option. We all love our club sides but a successful England team adds another level of satisfaction. Tuesday was further proof of that.

In the meantime let’s just enjoy the moment for what it is – Paul McCartney heading for the top of the charts and England back on football’s biggest stage. Some things change, some things stay the same.

Discovering the thrill of Touring Cars on a rainy Sunday

SPENT the day indoors on Sunday as the rain went at it hammer and tongs outside – an old fashioned sort of a day, all Sunday newspapers, cups of tea and a leisurely spin through the TV channels rarely staying on one long enough to see the end of a movie I’d watched the start of some two hours before.

But one bit of TV motorsport caught my eye.

No, not the Japanese Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel chalking up his latest win in a race for the Championship that has been little more than a procession this year.

No, I got caught up in the shennigans at the final event in the British Touring Car Championships at Brands Hatch.

On ITV4 for the best part of six hours, the three final races of the season were run off in atrocious weather which all added to the drama.

Motorsport is not my first love but there is something about the Touring Cars that make it top-class telly.

Firstly, they look like the type of cars you and I drive – but quite obviously aren’t. Secondly the splendidly named Jason Plato, a sort of benign Dick Dastardly figure, always seems to be in the thick of the action and finally there are cars spinning off the circuit left, right and centre.

And with the rain coming down like stair-rods on the famous Kent circuit the action was even more extraordinary than normal and the programme, presented by the cool if rather damp Steve Rider, finally became the resting home for my remote control. So sorry I didn’t see the end of Yentl, the start of The Greatest Story Ever Told, the re-run of X Factor, all of Columbo’s 70’s crime caper, the Eastenders omnibus or indeed the Japanese Grand Prix but I did see some stunning cars singing and dancing in the rain at Brands Hatch – great stuff!

Now where’s that remote control?

I shared Townsend’s dad’s pride in Wandsworth

I WAS at Wembley last Friday night and witnessed Tottenham Hotspur’s Andros Townsend’s spectacular goal by way of him introducing himself as England latest international.

It was a goal to get you out of your seat – well, it did me.

And his debut made it all the more baffling that he has been a player who has seemingly been permanently on loan from his parent club over the past four years.

I loved the reaction of his father who rightfully spilled over with pride when discussing the Wembley exploits of his son.

All those ‘touch-line dad’ moments converted into a goal to grace any game at one of world football’s greatest stadiums.

But Townsend’s goal wasn’t my favourite football moment of the weekend that came in a local grass-roots cup-tie played down in London between Wandsworth Borough and Old Hamptonians. My boy Joe,22, has just started playing up front for Wandsworth Borough and I have dutifully resumed my role as a touch-line dad.

Old Hamptonians arrived a couple of leagues above Wandsworth and expecting an easy afternoon.

But, this was a cup-tie and despite trailing to an early goal, Wandsworth upset the odds running out 3-1 winners.

Small beer stuff (although, no doubt, a few large ones were taken later!) but Joe’s equalising goal which brought his team back in the game was my sporting moment of the week and although it wasn’t Wembley with an 80,000 crowd, it might as well have been for the joy it gave me.

And I’m sure mums and dads were replicating that emotion up and down the country, and do so week in, week out come rain or hail.

But that’s why we love the game and always will.

Darts legend Phil Taylor is the best ever at what he does

ONE of sport’s greatest phenomenon’s, Phil Taylor, was at it again last weekend when he won the World Grand Prix in Dublin by hammering St Helens’ Dave Chisnall in an embarrassingly one-sided final.

Taylor ‘white-washed’ Chisnall 6-0. It got tough to watch as Chisnall in his first big PDC final simply couldn’t live with veteran, Taylor.

Whatever your view on darts, Whether it is a sport or not in your eyes. There is no doubt that when you watch Taylor you are witnessing somebody who is simply the best there has ever been in his chosen profession.

His unrivalled ability is matched by a hunger and determination that hasn’t been dulled by years of winning, winning and winning time and again. His eyes narrow and he sets his own targets. His opponents are often beaten on the walk-up to the stage.

Even his musical entrance is simply the best.

When he eventually retires he will be missed. But not by his fellow darters who’ve been on the end of one of his whirlwind nights. Young Chisnall was just the latest and he has plenty of time and good days ahead of him.

Taylor is a genuine one-off, and for me, a sportsman through and through. And in a sport that has hugely benefited from Barry Hearns’ magic touch as a sporting impresario and the chunks of time Sky Sports devotes to it. Roll on the world championships.

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