Tuesday, 4 August 2015

1980s: Sporting objects

This week I am taking a look back at some of the objects that featured in sporting events of the 1980s, including a certain confectionery stall that has gone down in Ashes folklore, an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction, a lucky mascot, an unwanted golfing obstacle, and a much maligned football trophy.

The confectionery stall

The video footage is still imprinted into my retinas. Terry Alderman running in from the Football Stand End, with the threatening figure of Ian Botham waiting eagerly, hoping to inflict further damage on the ball using the bat he had borrowed from Graham Gooch. Alderman releases the ball, Botham swings gloriously, and unsurprisingly the cameraman struggles to follow the path of Beefy's missile.

Fortunately Richie Benaud was at hand to keep us informed as to what was happening. "Don't bother looking for that, let alone chasing it," Benaud commented, as the Headingley crowd produced the sort of cheer that immediately tells you that something special has occurred. And then Benaud, with his usual impeccable timing, added an unforgettable line. "It's gone straight into the confectionery stall and out again."

I've never really given much thought to this statement before, after all it's hard to be too analytical during such a goosebumps-inducing moment. But as time has passed I have started to become more and more curious about the now infamous stall. Was it really a confectionery stall? What goods were being sold over the counter? Where was it located? If it did go into the stall and out again, was anyone injured?

There are more questions than answers, but maybe I should stop being so inquisitive. After all it is such a perfect combination of sport and commentary, and a moment that probably should be enjoyed without further complications. Yet I am curious as to whether there is there anyone who was at Headingley at any point of that marvellous Test who could shed some light on something that will forever be linked with Richie Benaud during a memorable summer for Ian Botham and English cricket.

Brian Whittle's sock

The crowning glory of an unforgettable 1986 European Athletics Championships for Great Britain would arrive in the men's 4x400 metres relay, but not in entirely normal circumstances. Just an hour before the start, Brian Whittle was called up to join Derek Redmond, Kriss Akabusi and Roger Black, after Phil Brown had joined Todd Bennett on the sidelines. It was merely the beginning of a very interesting day for the 22-year-old Scot.

Redmond ran a storming first leg, and when Whittle took the baton from Akabusi, the team were in second place and hopeful that a strong third leg could put 400-metre individual champion Black into a position from which he could attack. A lot of pressure on the shoulders of the reserve then, but unbeknown to us at the time there was just as much being applied on his trainer by Akabusi. On the handover Akabusi and Whittle got a little too close for comfort, with the man in possession of the baton treading on Whittle's trainer. As Whittle set off, his trainer flew across the track; he would have to run the crucial 400 metres with just one shoe on.

"And a shoe came flying off there, and I think it was possibly Brian Whittle's," declared the brilliant David Coleman as the third lap commenced. At first it was hard to tell who was the unlucky athlete, yet on the home straight it was evident that Whittle's sock was flapping about. But the incident appeared to have had little impact on Whittle's performance, his third leg PB of 45.09 setting up Black for a final lap assault on the West German and Soviet competitors, handing Britain an eighth gold medal.

"That was a nightmare," stated Britain's new hero. "I don't know how Zola Budd runs barefoot all the time." True, but then as far as I know, Budd had never tried to run in one shoe. An instant hero, Whittle was quickly given the title of the "quickest sock in history", and would forever be remembered for his unique role in Britain's golden championships. "I thought I was coming here for a holiday, but when those injuries cropped up I thought 'hang on a minute, this is getting serious'". Not bad for someone who was going to Stuttgart to apparently make up the numbers.

Lauren Higgins' dummy

Alex Higgins had promised his daughter that he would win the 1982 World Snooker Championships. But at 15-14 down in his semi-final against Jimmy White, and with his great friend 59-0 up and just one frame from victory, it appeared as if Higgins might have some explaining to do to a disappointed child. Cue one of the greatest breaks ever seen in the game.

Higgins' stunning 69 kept the dream alive, and as the deciding frame was about to commence, the Irishman reached for his waistcoat pocket and placed his daughter's dummy into his mouth. "It made me feel closer to my daughter," Higgins explained in From the Eye of the Hurricane. "I felt that if I had it with me at the table, then I also had Lauren there." Higgins won the decider, and was now one match away from keeping his promise.

The Hurricane had kept his lucky mascot with him throughout the championships, and after he had defeated Ray Reardon in the final, The People's Champion would be involved in a memorable emotional embrace with his daughter. There were times when he may have been accused of spitting his dummy during his career, but for those two weeks in Sheffield in 1982, the great character of snooker used his daughter (and her dummy) as motivation to drive him towards an overdue second title.

Bernhard Langer's tree

August 22, 1981: West Germany's Bernhard Langer is well in contention for the Benson and Hedges International Open at Fulford as he is playing the 17th hole of his third round. But as he plays a nine-iron to the green, Langer finds trouble, pulling his approach left and clattering into an ash tree. "I heard the ball hit two or three times but did not see it come down," Langer reveals in his 2003 autobiography, as amazingly his ball had come to rest in a ridge within the tree. Langer was facing a conundrum.

"Everyone laughed when my ball stayed up in the tree, but I did not think it was the least bit funny," Langer said at the time, his sense of humour bypass excusable in the circumstances due to the threat it posed to his title winning chances. So what to do? "The worst option was to go back and take a 'stroke and distance' penalty. Dropping a ball at the green side was a better option, but still with a penalty". Langer then considered the third choice: to play the ball from the tree.

"I stood on my golf bag, but couldn't reach my branch to haul myself up, so my caddie and some spectators had to give me help," Langer indicated after his round of 67 had put him just two behind leader Eamonn Darcy. Somehow he managed to get himself into a position to play the shot, clipping the ball out on to the green to a rapturous reception. He may have missed the par putt, but his bogey must have felt like a lucky escape.

Eventually Langer would finish just one shot behind winner Tom Weiskopf but sometimes people do remember the runner-up more than the champion. The German would win the 1981 Order of Merit, make his Ryder Cup debut, and was well on his way to becoming one of Europe's finest golfers, yet he would also be remembered by many for his tree climbing exploits in Yorkshire.

The Canon League trophy

Keep your eyes on the prize. But what if the prize itself is hideous and ugly, tacky and naff? Admittedly the winners of the various Football League divisions in 1984, 1985 and 1986 will probably not lose much sleep over the fact the trophy they received was not the traditional Football League effort. Yet the trophy they received come the end of the gruelling campaigns left a lot to be desired.

Sometimes opinion can be divided on sporting issues, but the Canon League trophy does not seem to be an example of this. Various searches highlight how derided the replacement trophy was. Writing in When Saturday Comes, Alex Anderson described the trophy as "a pawnbroker's ball atop some brass steak knives impaled in a tree trunk," and he is not alone in his criticism. The Telegraph called it a "tacky effort, which screams 'regional snooker tournament'", with Andy Gray, who picked up the First Division trophy in 1985, expressing that it was horrendous.

Want more? Everton website Bluekipper: "The original Football League trophy really looked the part until it was replaced in the late 1980s by the abortion that was the Canon League trophy." Other scans find it called "naff looking", "a bit rubbish, a bit puny looking", and plain "awful".

There is something lovably eighties about it, though, isn't there?

1 comment:

  1. One of the famous (or infamous) objects that featured in Australian sport in the 1980's was the rock that Dick Johnson's car hit when he had built up a commanding lead in the 1980 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 touring car race at Mt Panorama, Bathurst.