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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sporting Heroes - Please dont let me down

For as long as I can remember I have always been interested in sport whether through participation or as a frustrated spectator.

As a small child I remember my father talking to me about the famous Busby Babes and of travelling all over the country to see 'The Red Devils' of Manchester United.

Although I never played football within a few years I was an expert armchair pundit, a walking Mancunian encyclopedia dedicated to my beloved team.

Although I may have struggled with my algebra in the classroom I could recount the detail of every game since my first.

Some forty years later the investment continues and I eagerly await the Champions League Final against the mighty Barcelona tonight.

All sport fans will know that when you follow teams there are always going to be highs and lows.

Today I am high with anticipation of the game and proud of my team for reaching their third final in four years.

I will temporarily lap it up, because win or lose there will inevitably be some future fall from these lofty heights.

There will also be heroes and villains who change the course of the game, your emotions and sometimes your life as a supporter.
I remember being shocked to the core at seeing my superhero Eric Cantona perform a Bruce Lee kick on an abusive spectator at Crystal Palace.

I felt so angry at him for letting me down it felt so personal as if it was one of my children or friends.

It was many months later before I forgave him when in February 1996 he scored a wonder goal against Sunderland. After the ball had struck the back of the net he turned around slowly with that Gaelic arrogance, scanning the crowd to seek my approval high up in the East Stand.

Having any sporting Hero can be that personal and that painful.

When it involves sports you actual play the experience is even more personal.

In my younger years rugby was my true passion.

A game I played right up till 40 years when my local accident and Emergency department reserved me a parking space for Saturday afternoons.

My Hero of this Sport was Dean Richards. He was a man who rarely found himself on the losing side either as a player and subsequently as a manager. He was hugely respected around the world and acknowledged as one of the great players of his generation.

I had the good fortune to play against him twice and he was awesome.

A mountain of a man and a real gentleman.

He was also the only person in the world I have requested a signature from such was my admiration of him.

In 2009 he was banned to have no involvement in Rugby for 3 years.

This was after 'The Bloodgate affair'.

He was the manager of the Harlequins where in a close game he wanted to bring on his already substituted kicker Nick Evans to close a game down.

The only way that he could do that in those circumstances was as a blood substitute for a player who might be required to leave the field of play for treatment.

Low and behold one of the team Tom William suddenly appeared to be profusely bleeding from his mouth. Little did we now he had just bitten into a theatrical blood capsule. This enabled the switch to be made.
Unfortunately Williams was not the brightest of players as he used no subtlety when producing the effect away from any obvious contact and then winking as he came off.

The story started to trickle out weeks later which ran on and on accompanied by smoke and mirrors and an assortment of lies.

Eventually Richards was man enough to come clean.

I felt crushed. Whats the point in cheating!!!!!

I inserted my only signature collection into a shredder. Dean Richards was no longer my hero but a cheat.

When I gave up Rugby I took up road cycling and instantly became addicted to following the grand tours. With no prominent British riders to follow my search for a two wheeled hero fell easily at the feet of Lance Armstrong. Not only was he a magnificent cyclist but he was heroic in some many other ways. Battling and defeating Cancer, setting up a charity and making us all believe that anything is possible.

I became transfixed watching him tackle the mountains of Europe.

In 2001, on the famous slopes of Alpe d’Huez, I suffered as Armstrong appeared to falling off the back of a lead group containing his long-standing rival, Jan Ullrich.

All day he appeared to suffer, prompting Ullrichs German’s Telekom team to set the pace.

As they approached the base of d'Huez, Armstrong pulled to the front.

He looked round at a struggling Ullrich, fixed a stare upon him, then blew him away.

He climbed the mountain and set the fourth-fastest recorded ascent of Alpe d’Huez, thirty-eight minutes and one second.
It was a thing of legends and something I used to keep myself going when things got tough.

In 2003, descending from the Alps to a stage finish in the town of Gap, Armstrong raced downwards, neck-and-neck with the main contender for his yellow jersey, the Spaniard, Joseba Beloki. With the summer heat melting the bitumen in an old road surface, and the two diving for a hairpin bend, Beloki’s front tyre snatched from under his wheel, leaving Beloki in tears upon the tarmac with a broken pelvis, and Armstrong taking the only available option other than a crash. At breakneck speed he rode through a field, dismounted, jumped over a ditch, and regained the road to finish in a competitive time.

There are countless instances of this natural ability and steely determination that has seen Armstrong not only capture my adoration but provide goosebumps to cycling fans and neutrals around the world.

When cycling seemed to spin from one drug scandal to another I always felt sure that Armstrong was clean.

I convinced myself that in overcoming Cancer Armstrong was able to combine natural ability with a pain threshold that no other cyclist could match. It would always be a winning combination.

When the french journalists shouted cheat, I dismissed them as being jealous at having no decent French riders.

When Floyd Landis directly stated that Armstrong took drugs I laughed.

Surely Landis was just trying to justify his own misdemeanours.

Now Tyler Hamilton has emerged seemingly offering direct evidence to a federal investigation linking Armstrong with the direct use of EPO.

I now feel less reluctant to bury my head in the sand

I know that you should not read everything you see but what of the other riders?

None of them are coming forward to provide a contrary view.

I have not heard Big George Hincapie rubbish Hamiltons claims or even state that he never saw Armstrong take anything !!!!!

For now the sun has not yet set on my relationship with Lance.

He is still my Hero and will continue to inspire me, but maybe I too am living a lie and cheating myself.

Whether you use EPO or the inspiration of false gods you still have to pedal the bike.

Lance please dont let me down!!!

I am sure this sordid affair that surrounds Armstrong will run and run.

To use the words of my less tarnished Hero Eric Cantona:-

"When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea"

1 comment:

  1. I can still hear the crowds chanting "Deano, Deano" - one of my heroes too, can't believe you played with him. I hadn't heard about Bloodgate but it doesn't diminish him in my mind. As for Lance - sorry, but he's dead to me now. Tyler Hamilton was the Last Straw.


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