21 MARCH 1992, Page 55


Rooting for Major

Frank Keating

JUDGING by the threadbare and woebe- gone list of sporting celebrities the Conser- vatives have publicly rallied to their cause, they look to have already declared their innings closed in panic. They should have taken Mr Major's genuine affection for ball games and left it at that. But Fred Trueman and Brian Close to open the batting? Well, really. Grand troupers in their day, mind, but anyone who has eavesdropped on their denture-clacking mutterings after close of play at Headingley in recent times could only consider them plausible vote-catchers if Mr Ghengis Khan was standing for the loony left tendency in Bradford. The two toothless ancients are so far out on the extreme right wing as to be sitting in the back row of the grandstand.

To follow them in the batting order, Cen- tral Office send to the crease two who share a batting average of a paltry 14 in nine Tests between them. Roland Butcher and Chris Cowdrey will not exactly have the youth of the nation clamouring to pin a blue rosette in their window. In their last Test, back in the mists, each of them mooched off glumly with that cartoon duck following them into the pay.

In the real election, friends are none too confident about Sebastian Coe coming in first down in Cornwall. It is a slim majority for an outsider to nurse, especially for one perceived in the Duchy as a Mrs Thatcher toyboy when he won the nomination. Apart from that, apparently the worst his oppo- nents can say about him is that Seb pulls on rubber gloves just to chuck a lump of coal on the fire. I wonder how he will take it if he comes in an unfamiliar second? The last time he was presented with a silver medal, at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the win- ner Steve Ovett leaned down on the podi- um to shake Seb's hand and, in the memo- rable observation of Clive James, 'Coe's expression suggested Ovett was handing him a steaming turd'.

Running seems to be what Tories are best at. They had Chris thataway, of course. And Jeffrey Archer claims to have sprinted for Britain at the White City in 1966, a dozen years after Cecil Parkinson had, as the late Ron Pickering used to have it, 'opened his legs to show his class' on the same track in the annual match between the combined universities of England and America. This time the spikiest speedster is again fielded by the Lib-Dems — Menzies Camp- bell once held the British 100m record. (In the Ashdown corner, fighting Sunderland North, is the former footballer Vic Halom, who helped win the FA Cup for Sunderland in 1973.) The trouble with publishing lists of sup- porters who are part of sports teams is that it inspires the thought that those not men- tioned will presumably be voting for the other side. The Tories name Rob Andrew as 'theirs' for instance — but that only begs the question, and so presumably the real stars of England's Grand Slam rugby side (Carling, Webb, Guscott, and Underwood) will be plumping for Labour.

Likewise, while the Liverpool footballer John Barnes is presumably keen as a coup for the Tory lists (and one would expect nothing less from the son of a top-ranking Jamaican army officer), the trumpeted announcement that ageing veteran Lawrie McMenemy, the England soccer team's assistant manager (and chief pencil-sharp- ener and tea-brewer at press conferences), is also rooting for Mr Major can only be taken to suggest that the sprightly, youthful manager himself, Graham Taylor, will be selecting somebody else when 'all said and done, it comes to the big one at the end of the day, Brian', on April the ninth.

Next week: Left-wingers on the ball.