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This Sporting Life 27 PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Walsh   
Friday, 10 February 2017

Humble Duty.jpgIF things had worked out differently I might have been training race-horses – and not racing pigeons!

Well not exactly! But many moons ago, just before I was given a start by Cumbrian Newspapers I did write for advice to a top racehorse trainer.

Walter Nightingall responded, too, with a four page missive – centred on the trials, tribulations and pitfalls of training racehorses.

My complete lack of experience in the sport also got a hefty mention and in a nutshell it was ‘don’t waste your time’ although put very kindly.

I’ve always been fascinated by horse racing, without necessarily the need for a bet.

My mother was a keen Methodist, so gambling was out but she always watched the Royal Ascot meeting each year.

An uncle and aunt from Aldoth always seemed to be staying with us around the time of the Royal meeting and they would be absorbed in taking in the fashions.

Obviously my interest was in the racing, although the tv coverage we have become used to, was a bit more basic back in those days.

Duncan Keith (seen winning above on Humble Duty) was my first favourite jockey, which is why I wrote that letter to his main trainer Nightingall.

Over the years Keith has been replaced, in order, by Paul Cook, Seb Sanders, Silvestre de Sousa and currently Adam Kirby – all jockeys who know how to ride a finish.

All flat jockeys you will note, but like everyone else I have enormous respect for the National Hunt jocks.

King of them all was clearly Sir Tony McCoy, whom I met briefly at Cartmel a few years ago.

Spotting him going into the parade ring I dashed across for his autograph and was mortified when the pen I gave him to sign with didn’t work!

I had more success with one of my footballing heroes Francis Lee when he was training successfully.

Again I nabbed him by the parade ring just before the race at Haydock.

He was the last one out and with a little small-talk signed my book.

I ended by asking if his particular runner had any chance. His reply was to the point – “I think it will win.” It duly obliged at 11/2.

Franny is one successful trainer no longer in the sport and there have been numerous others who have sold-up or retired for various reasons.

Looking back I’m sure Mr Nightingall almost certainly gave me the best advice possible.


joe-root.jpgIt was not a big surprise but Alistair Cook has bitten the bullet and announced his retirement as England captain.

Now, it seems, England will go down the old Australian route and appoint their best player as skipper.

The Aussies traditionally picked their best player to lead and fitted the team round him.

England have tended to pick their team and then choose the captain.

So favourite to lead his country in the summer is Yorkshire’s Joe Root, who has been Cook’s vice-captain.

Yet Root has only led Yorkshire once, and afterwards was given a rather unflattering title by his team-mates.

In a Championship game hosts Middlesex chased down over 400 to beat the Tykes at Lord’s.

The explanation after what was generally regarded as a bizarre game was that the pitch improved as the game developed and Chris Rogers produced an outstanding performance with the bat for Middlesex.

 “I did get the nickname 'craptain’ at the end of the year from the Yorkshire dressing room – a bit of banter which I thought was quite funny, but that game isn’t something that’s going to faze me,” has admitted Joe.

He was first appointed second-in-command two years ago and has clearly been groomed for the job, although so far there’s been no official confirmation that he will lead his country later this year.

There are two home series, against South Africa and West Indies, before the eagerly awaited trip Down Under for the winter Ashes series.

With the four Tests against the Springboks, immediately followed by three with the Windies there’s going to be plenty of opportunity against good opposition for Root to hone his captaincy skills before the supreme test of his leadership skills in Australia.

For Cook it’s a different sort of adaptation as he goes back to basics, making runs at the top of the order.

He reckons that he still has four to five years left as a Test batsman, and without the added responsibility of captaincy, can improve his impressive tally of runs.

Cook has the right temperament to do that, so the bigger question mark will hang over the way Root deals with the quirks of captaincy.

There’s no other sport in which the captain can influence a game as much as cricket.

So if Root does get the call we don’t want any craptain jibes emanating from the England dressing room.


Tisdale Exeter.jpgFull marks to Exeter City, making significant progress off the field as they are on it in Division Two.

Up to fourth place in the table they have created waves as they push strongly for automatic promotion.

But it’s what they are doing behind the scenes which has really sent a strong message throughout the game in this country.

In the first team squad 11 players either have a degree or are taking an Open University course.

David Wheeler, who has scored in his last seven games,  is a graduate in sport and exercise science.

Matt Jay is taking a six-year Open University course in business management while reserve keeper Bobby Olejnik is taking a degree in physics.

Olejnik, an Austrian of Polish parents, gets up at 5-30am every day to study before training.

Manager Paul Tisdale, who actually started coaching Team Bath (a club associated with the University of Bath), has got his side on a 12-match unbeaten run.

That naturally pleases him, but so too does the environment he has helped create at the club, which encourages players to look to the future after their careers have finished.

“I have not told any player that he needs to get a degree. They have made that decision for themselves.

“The better they interpret the information given to them by the coach or the situation, the better they will play.

“So training your mind to be receptive can only help you advance and develop as a footballer,” says Tisdale.

Preparing for a future after football is not unusual. I remember when Keith Burkinshaw was going to night school while playing for the Reds.

But at Exeter it’s the number of players who are studying, filling in the idle hours that so many professionals struggle with, that is something unique.

If Tisdale’s men go all the way and clinch automatic promotion this season, will it be a recipe for success copied by others in the future?



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