The Longshot: Matt's message washes up on Geordie shore

The Longshot: Matt's message washes up on Geordie shore

Newcastle fans in Trafalgar Square. A long wait for silverware goes on and they meet Manchester opposition again this weekend.

THERE are few moments more cringe-worthy than a politician trying to curry favour with the hoi polloi by referencing their fondness for a certain sport or particular sporting team.

We have often seen sporting figures lean the other way, most successfully here when Shandon man and six-in-a-row All-Ireland winner Jack Lynch was elevated to the highest seat in the land.

In fairness to the only other Cork Taoiseach, he wears his sporting allegiances lightly. Although his father was a prominent boxer on the international stage, who also shared a GAA pitch with Lynch and Christy Ring, and his son is an inter-county goalie, you’d never expect Micheál Martin to make much of such proximity to sporting prowess.

Although it would be great if he did make a bit more of it: who wouldn’t like to see smartphone footage of him crying “lock the gates; don’t let the f***ers out” as Kerry fans streamed out of Páirc Uí Chaoimh late on in a Munster final. Unlikely to happen.

But there is a certain class of politician that likes nothing more than to attempt to ingratiate themselves with voters by wrapping a scarf around their necks and cheering on their boys or girls.

Charlie Haughey materialising by Stephen Roche’s side on the Champs Elysée just in time to see Ireland’s only Tour de France winner pull on the yellow jersey was probably our most brazen example. CJ wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to pull on the green jersey (and have a nice lunch in Paris) so he flew out that July morning in 1987.

He hopped up on to the podium for the ceremony and waved to everyone, with Roche tucked in behind in his slipstream. And as then French PM Jacques Chirac pumped our hero’s hand, there’s Charlie holding a large cuddly stuffed lion. Then CJ lifted Roche’s fist high like a boxing ref proclaiming the new champ.

But we have to take the ferry across the Irish Sea to untangle themost bare-faced examples of sports piggybacking, usually involving more well-to-do chaps or chapettes proclaiming their undying grá for football, the game of the masses, and attempting to ground themselves in the grassroots.

The most recent example is from a politician who rarely fails to disappoint with his public utterances, the former health minister who helped guide the UK through its covid labyrinth, Matt Hancock.

While I’m not going to tune into a “celebrity”, “reality” TV show to watch this most awkward of public figures, I always find it worthwhile to click on the short monologues he launches into cyberspace.

They rarely disappoint. Shows like Veep and The Thick of It may offer delicious comic vignettes of politics on either side of the Atlantic, but nothing beats the real stuff. And while the dark undercurrent to the likes of Trump’s mostly hilarious utterances can mean laughing at them will make you feel a bit queasy, there is something guiltless about chuckling at the hapless Hancock.

His biographer leaked his WhatsApp messages this week, but it was his love of the Toon Army that was the highlight. Prior to Newcastle’s Carabao Cup clash with Man United he donned a signed Magpie jersey and released a short video saying he hadn’t been this excited since Kevin Keegan was in charge.

Not that Matt was reared on Tyneside or anything like that. He grew up in Chester and is MP for Suffolk (280 miles from St James’ Park). No, Matt became a fan when his Geordie uncle brought him to Man U v Newcastle games every Christmas (a festive fixture as set in stone as Munster v Leinster in Matt’s memories).

“That was in the era of Keegan, Shearer, and the heady days when we almost got to the top of the table.” They famously did get to the summit of course, Matt, staying there was the problem.

It all bangs a bit of Tony Blair’s lifelong Newcastle support. At least Blair grew up in nearby Durham, although what tripped him up was he claimed to have been a fan since watching club legend Jackie Milburn from the stands, even though Milburn retired when Blair was four and living with his family in Australia.

In his good luck message to his team, Hancock was noticed wearing a signed jersey he had supposedly auctioned for charity to raise money for medical scrubs in the middle of the pandemic. He explained this later by saying the person who bid and bought it then gave it back to him

Alas, his passionate missive didn’t inspire the Saudi-owned club to their first silverware since 1955. He must have been devastated when “Daniel” (as he is fond of calling him, despite being so a huge footie fan) Rashford scored the United’s second.

Drive straight to survive

IN the wake of all the moony golfers being portrayed in Netflix’s Full Swing, the best social media interaction this week must come from one of the journeymen golfers portrayed, Joel Dahmen (“somebody has to be the 70th best golfer in the world, why not me?”). Responding to this tweet: “F1 Driver, and the hottest Italian guy you’ve ever seen:’ I don’t think about crashing at all. Just doesn’t cross my mind’. Golfer who looks like he has foetal alcohol syndrome: ‘It’s life or death out there. Every day I live in fear that the game will eat me alive’,” the ever game Dahmen replied: “Is this directed at me?” Fast cars will always be more glamorous than fast putts and it is unlikely that Full Swing will garner a worldwide following akin to the hugely successful streamer that inspired it, Drive to Survive.

Golf is at least more competitive than F1, with it looking like Max Verstappen will continue to dominate this season as the action gets underway in Bahrain, the tiny gulf island which held the first Middle Eastern Grand Prix back in 2004, even though it is barely large enough to fit a racing track within its coastline.

There is of course a need for speed when it comes to driving among top golf pros too, evidenced by the bet lost by Shane Lowry when Padraig Harrington smashed one on the range this week (in another short video released on social media) and the ball reached a speed of 192mph (us amateurs are lucky to get it touching 120mph; F1 cars hit about 220mph in comparison).

Not that you need to generate such velocity off the tee. Along with being a pioneer for black golfers on the PGA Tour, Calvin Peete was the most accurate golfer in history.

As Golf Digest reminded us this week, for 10 consecutive years on tour he hit fairways more often than anyone else, nearly reaching 85% one season. And this was with a wooden driver rather than the metal behemoths with large sweet spots that golfers are armed with today, and also with cruder ball designs.

Peete, who died in 2015, only took golf up at 23 and put his accuracy down to not being able to straighten his left arm after falling out of a tree as a child. His family (he was one of 18 kids) couldn’t afford a doctor so it never healed properly. His approach play with irons was nearly as accurate as he led the way for greens in regulation five times in the 1980s too. The most amazing stat? During 1,200 rounds of golf as a PGA professional, he hit only one ball out of bounds. Remember fellow hackers, it’s often better to be a Peete than a Padraig.

Ferguson ‘lives to score’

EVAN Ferguson scored the winner for Brighton in the FA Cup midweek and his boss Roberto De Zerbi said of the young Meath man, not that he likes to score or loves to score, but that he “lives to score”.

Ireland football fans have been waiting to hear something like this about a striker for a long timeand many will have wondered would we ever again find someone with a nose for the net.

Robbie Keane was often maligned by supporters but 68 international goals will always answer critics (yes, mostly penalties, tap-ins against minnows and also in 148 games), but if Ferguson hits half that total we could be in for a good few years.

The Tallaght man is still hitting the target too, as shown in a social media post this week that shows him kicking a basketball around 30 yards and looping it straight through a backyard hoop.

Rumours it is somehow staged almost certainly over-rate Keane’s acting ability.

Anyway, Brighton are now just 6/1 to lift the FA Cup and Ferguson is 66/1 to be named PFA Young Player of the Year.

Strike break

A STRIKER who may not be adding to his tally this season is Brentford’s Ivan Toney, who we mentioned before Christmas would probably be facing a lengthy ban on the foot of betting allegations.

He is the third-highest scorer in the Premier League this season with 14, four behind Harry Kane and 14 behind Erling Haaland and the Londoners will hope losing him won’t derail their good form (they are currently in ninth) this season.

Thomas Frank’s side at least look guaranteed to stay in the Premier League even without Toney as they have accumulated 35 points thus far. Toney has pled guilty to multiple charges of breaching FA gambling rules by betting on football games and is expected to start a ban before the end of the season.

In 2017, midfielder Joey Barton was banned for 18 months after admitting placing 1,260 bets between 2006 and 2013, although the suspension was reduced to five months following an appeal and he retired

Just on target

STICKING to the subject of strikers, the heaviest scorer at a single World Cup passed away on Wednesday. Just Fontaine bagged 13 goals during France’s run to the semi-finals at the 1958 World Cup, before running into Brazil and Pele and being beaten at the penultimate stage.

Fontaine netted an equaliser in that game and it remained 1-1 until the 36th minute, when the French captain had his leg broken in a tackle and as there were no subs allowed then, Robert Jonquet spent the rest of the game limping up and down the wing as Brazil and Pele powered on against 10 fit men to win 5-2.

In a far from competitive third-place play-off against West Germany Fontaine hit four in a 6-3 win, thus eking out a few handy goals to blast past the 11-goal record of Sandor Kocsis set four years earlier when leading the Mighty Magyars of Hungary in attack.

There was no Golden Boot handed out in those days. Fontaine’s prize for the achievement that seems unlikely to be bettered (unless Haaland makes it to a World Cup with a crack Norwegian outfit)?

A local newspaper presented him with an air rifle.

The Bet

THERE were some rumblings that Newcastle might be in the title race as recently as January but an away trip to play Man City in the early kick-off tomorrow could see a continuation in their poor run of late. They remain tough to break down so we’ll opt for 8/1 for City to win 1-0.

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