1 JULY 1995, Page 63


A fond farewell

Frank Keating

THAT GRANDEST of sportswriters from my ripe green salad days, John Macadam, said always to tip the long-shots with an absolute certainty. If, in the event, they fell at the first, no one would remember; if they got lucky and won, then your paper could splash the exclusive boast in 60-point • Bodoni Bold and you'd find an extra quince or two from the editor in your Friday enve- lope. As Macadam would genially advise from his bar stool at Chelsea's Queen's Elm: When asked to state whether you think Arse- nal will beat Chorlton-cum-Hardy in the first round proper of the Cup, you must stifle the natural inclination to say 'Yes, by a hatful.' You will write: 'Because of the particularly clayey texture of the C-c-H turf in January, I opine with certitude that the fashionable 314- inch studs worn by Arsenal will be inadequate and prove the Londoners' undoing . .

So with the genuine sadness with which I doff the brown trilby in the fondest of farewells to this column, at least I can brag that such fun and philosophy held good to the end, and that this corner was the only one in the whole press-bar last week to nap South Africa's win over New Zealand in the World Cup rugger final: Whether Lomu and his All Blacks can strike with such voluptuous vigour two weeks run- ning is anybody's guess. I somehow doubt it. South Africa have been primed for this

moment for two long decades in isolation, being fed the while on neat four-star super- plus adrenalin.

And so it came to pass. And the result transcended mere sport. President Man- dela's serenity and joyous innocence at the opening and closing ceremonies were uniquely uplifting. Saturday's tensely thrilling extra-time might even have cut down his country's hideous crime rate.

One or two matches were more than OK, but it was not a good tournament to report. Stuck with the England team, I saw only four games in three weeks. With cricket tours, or tennis, or golf, or the soccer World Cup, something active is happening every day. Here, hamstring strains were headline news. For all the reams of tripe sent back, quote of the month was from a fellow hack who joined me wearily for breakfast. Wait- er: 'What can I get you, sir?' Pal: 'A single ticket to Barnet, Hertfordshire, please!' Dead right, too. Dammit, an English mid- summer was in full bloom, and a com- pellingly crucial and wondrous Test match was about to begin at Lord's; not to men- tion Herefordshire's first serious game against a first-class county, or all that high- falutin' fortay-thirtayr palaver on the strawberry fields.

It was from southern Africa over 30 years ago that I returned to be a minor subbing sprog on the foreign desk of my still beloved Guardian. I leave this space to enjoy new challenges with that good rag. But for nearly half a dozen years it has been a privilege to wander round this very different constituency — which certainly has a better class of hate mail. I like to think that cricket nut John Redwood might even have glanced at this page; apparently in Who's Who he lists his hobby as 'Not reading the Guardian'.

Having opened Spectator sport's innings and seen off the shine, it is time to bring in a genuine strokeplayer with Harlequin cap and glittering shots all round the wicket. Simon Barnes takes guard here next week. He's a wicket-keeper as well; and then at close of play he goes out and rides horses. Simon will make a more dashing mate for dear Mary. As Macadam might have told me (but in fact it was Simon himself who did), 'If sports-writing is always trivial, then so is humanity; for that is our subject.' Not only Mary is in good hands. You all are.