Sam Torrance revels in the magic of the Ryder Cup

Just as Wimbledon has the capacity to make temporary tennis fans from spectators and television viewers who at most other times have no interest in the sport, so the Ryder Cup can stir the normally golf-averse to acquire at least a fleeting fascination with foursomes and fourballs, birdies and bogeys. 

It has a special appeal for some players, too, enabling them to escape from the insular, isolated pursuit of glory as an individual to work with familiar rivals towards a common goal, develop camaraderie and experience the singularly uplifting joy of shared success.

One who falls into that camp is Sam Torrance, who won 21 tournaments on the European Tour between 1976 and 1998 but will recall two moments in the Ryder Cup as the high points of his career.

The first came at The Belfry in 1985 when his 15ft birdie putt at the 18th clinched Europe’s first victory over the United States, ending a run of 13 consecutive wins by the Americans (one shared) since the last outright success by Great Britain in 1957.

The second came 17 years later, also at The Belfry, when he lifted the trophy as non-playing captain as Europe in a victory that helped heal the bitter wounds inflicted at Brookline two years earlier, when a hostile crowd and the ungentlemanly behaviour of some in the American camp left a unpleasant taste.

He shares only with Seve Ballesteros among European players the distinction of holing the winning putt and captaining a successful team at different Ryder Cups.

“Being captain is the thrill of a lifetime and the greatest job I’ve ever had,” Torrance said recently.

“There’s no other golf event like it for atmosphere -- every hole is like coming down the final fairway leading a major.”

Maybe it is because it took him until 1981 to make the team that the Ryder Cup assumed such importance for him as an individual.  Given that Torrance never won a major -- his fifth place at The Open in the same year as his Ryder Cup debut was to remain his highest finish -- it is fair to say that his role in the team event defined his career.

To coincide with this week’s 38th Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, Mainstream has released An Enduring Passion, in which Torrance recalls every great moment in the two decades he spent pursuing glory in the competition and looks at how it has changed since he was trying to qualify as a player in the late 1970s.

He examines the tactics and techniques of the captains he played under and against, and tells how his experience as a player, and his vice-captaincy to Mark James at Brookline, shaped the way he led the team at The Belfry in 2002.

The 57-year-old Scot has one of the best-known voices in golf as a commentator for the BBC and his craggy features make him an instantly recognisable face and he acknowledges that it is the Ryder Cup above all else to which he owes his position in the game.

Follow this link to buy An Enduring Passion: My Ryder Cup Years

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Promised Land author to share his sports writing skills

As Promised Land, Anthony Clavane’s superlative history of Leeds United, continues to attract acclaim, the author has been engaged to pass on some of the skills of his profession at a sports writing course in Shropshire in November.

Clavane, who writes about a range of sports for the Sunday Mirror, will share the tutor’s platform with fellow author Richard Beard at a week-long residential course in the splendid surroundings of The Hurst, the estate that was once the home of the playwright, John Osborne.

From back-page reports to full-length books, the course will examine techniques for transforming a passion for sport into writing that engages and entertains a wide range of readers.

In a series of workshops and tutorials, Clavane and Beard will explain how to bring people and events to life, find the connections between personal experience and the wider sporting world and turn the compelling narratives of sport into equally gripping stories.

The course, which costs £595.00 (£545.00 if sharing a room), is run by the Arvon Foundation, which was established in 1968 to promote creative writing and which now owns The Hurst, a collection of 18th century buildings set in 30 acres of woodland at Clunton in Shropshire’s picturesque Clun Valley.

In common with Arvon’s three other ‘writing houses’ -- in West Yorkshire, Devon and Inverness-shire -- The Hurst offers the chance to work and study in tranquil surroundings, yet there are rail connections to London, Wales, North and South West England from Craven Arms station, just eight miles away.

Richard Beard, who has written four novels, is the author of Muddied Oafs, a journey to the heart of rugby, and of How to Beat the Australians.

Clavane’s Promised Land -- described in one review as ‘Andrew Marr for the football fan’ -- is a strong contender for sports book of the year prizes.

If you are interested in signing up for the course, which runs from Monday, November 15th to Saturday, November 20th, email thehurst@arvonfoundation.org.

Alternatively, telephone 01588 640658, or write to
The Hurst - The John Osborne Arvon Centre,
Craven Arms,
SY7 0JA.

Visit the Arvon Foundation website for more details of this course many others covering a wide range of writing genres.

Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United by Anthony Clavane, Muddied Oafs and How to Beat the Australians (both by Richard Beard) are all published by Yellow Jersey Press.

For more information on these titles or to buy, follow the links.



Settle back for cricket in the raw as summer bids farewell

At last it’s over.  After 177 days, the longest English cricket season on record ended on Thursday, somewhat jarringly with a one-day international.

There is a six-week pause now before the first pre-Ashes warm-up match.  For the players named for the tour this afternoon, the chance to cast aside the boots and consider a world beyond runs and wickets can seldom have felt more timely.

Cricket is a well paid profession now, as it should be.  And with greater rewards come greater demands.  For the majority of England players, the schedule is tough but not unreasonable.  Yet there must be a small part of each of them that hankers after the more leisurely world of club cricket, the game that in  our imaginations is played in dappled sunlight on pretty village greens flanked by trestle tables draped in chequered cloths, heaving under the weight of sumptuous teas.

Does that world really exist?  Here and there, perhaps.  But not in the picture that Harry Pearson paints in an entertaining romp around the northern club circuit that promises a generous slice of fun for cricket fans who cannot wait for it all to start again next spring.

Slipless in Settle: A Slow Turn Around Northern Cricket (Little, Brown) explores club cricket as experienced in former pit villages and mill towns, where its original purpose was to keep working men out of the pubs and engage them in outdoor pursuits more wholesome that brawling in the street.

Pearson, who made his name writing tales from north-eastern football and now pens a regular column for the Guardian, reveals what he already knew as a lad from Middlesbrough, namely that northern club cricket is as far away from the idyll as is possible to imagine.

Inspired by such intriguing works of record as One Hundred Years of the Ribblesdale Cricket League and particularly by Roy Genders’ portrait of League Cricket in England, Pearson set out to watch a match in each of the major northern leagues over the course of a season.

Genders -- whose other passion, somewhat incongruously, was gardening -- picked out the Bradford League to illustrate his view of the northern game, describing it as “cricket in the raw, not the spit and polish county stuff, but the real ‘blood and guts’ warlike cricket which delighted these tough Yorkshiremen reared on the windswept moors and who wanted some action for their money.”

Travelling, by rail, on an itinerary that took him through places -- Bacup, Ramsbottom, Ashington -- with names alone that are evocatively northern, and nourishing himself with pie and peas and Eccles cakes, Pearson sought to discover how much of that description still holds good.

The end result, garnished with the observational humour that readers of The Far Corner and Hound Dog Days will recognise readily, is an absorbing and amusing diversion that is recommended sustenance for cricket fans over the winter months, or at least until England face off against Western Australia in Perth on November 5th.

Slipless in Settle is available from The Sports Bookshelf Shop along with more titles by Harry Pearson and more on cricket.



Programmed to entertain

The market in self-centred memoirs penned by obsessive football fans has veered close to saturation point more than once since Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch unleashed the genre’s potential in 1992.

Naturally, it takes a special writer to stand out from the crowd and for that reason a new work from Dave Roberts, author of The Bromley Boys, is worth noting.

Roberts, a former advertising copywriter, won wide acclaim for managing to capture how it feels to support a less-than-successful non-League club in his account of Bromley FC’s desperate times in the Isthmian League of 1969-70.

Remembering in admirable detail how football (plus life, the universe and everything, of course…) looked through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy, Roberts revealed a talent for self-deprecating humour that impressed reviewers for The Guardian, The Independent and When Saturday Comes among others and saw Roberts proudly cover-to-cover with such luminary fan-writers as Tim Parks and Harry Pearson on book shop shelves.

He is following up now with 32 Programmes, the title of which is unashamedly inspired by Hornby’s similarly-autobiographical 31 Songs.

Due out in August next year, 32 Programmes, in the author’s own words, describes how a collection of 1,134 football programmes had to be whittled down to “whatever would fit inside a Tupperware container the size of a Dan Brown hardback” when Roberts and his wife, Liz, moved from New Zealand to Connecticut in the United States.

The book tells a story behind each of the 32 chosen, which range from an FA Cup qualifying round game between Bromley and the Civil Service to Argentina meeting Peru in a World Cup quarter-final.

As with The Bromley Boys, Roberts takes the platform of 32 Programmes to indulge in a nostalgic look back towards the simplicity of his youth in the 1960s and 70s, when he was obsessed with football, meandered through a succession of menial jobs and was generally unlucky in love.

32 Programmes is to be published by Transworld after sports editor Giles Elliott bought world English language rights from agent Kate Hordern.

Elliott said publishing the work would be “an absolute honour and pleasure.”

He added: “Dave is the fan’s fan, as obsessive as they come, and a wonderful writer. It’s a brilliant concept for a book, and beautifully delivered.”

Click here to buy The Bromley Boys: The True Story of Supporting the Worst Football Team in Britain, published by Portico or read reviews from The Guardian and When Saturday Comes.

For more on football, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.



Bryant's marathon task to chart life of Chris Brasher

Chris Brasher

Chris Brasher’s influence on athletics was extraordinary.

He was a pacesetter when Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile, unexpectedly won an Olympic Gold in the 3,000-metres steeplechase in Melbourne in 1958 and was later instrumental in setting up the London Marathon.  Also a distinguished sports journalist and broadcaster, he was a complex and controversial character yet a man whose life story has never been properly told.

Now that task has been taken on by John Bryant, former editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, who was a friend of Brasher and has a passionate interest in the history of running.  Bryant has plenty of his own memories to draw upon, but is appealing for help from others who may have known the former Observer sports editor, who died in 2003.

Writing on the Sports Journalists Association website, Bryant says:

I’d known Brasher from the 1960s, was a friend of his, and am now trying to make sense of his life, for which I’ll need a lot of help.
Brasher won the gold medal in Melbourne in what would become his trademark style – an unexpectedly combative run, followed by a major row.  Never a man to accept the initial ruling of the judges who’d disqualified him, he fought back and was reinstated as the gold medal-winner.
He celebrated with a “liquid lunch” with the British press and collected his medal “blind drunk, breathing gin fumes over the French member of the International Olympic Committee”.
His gold medal was the triumph of bloody-minded determination over more obviously talented athletes – and pointed up the dichotomy of the man.
Chris Brasher was a complex character, full of contradictions. He made friends as easily as he made enemies. To many he was an heroic figure – a record-breaker, charity worker, a pioneer of fell-running and orienteering, the inventor of the Brasher Boot, President of the Sports Journalists’ Association for a spell before his death in 2003, and above all, the  founding-father of the London Marathon.
But to others he was a ruthless go-getter, charmless bully, a fully-paid-up member of the awkward squad with the skin of a rhino, who many people couldn’t stand.
In that one race in Melbourne, Brasher shrugged off the giant, golden shadow of two men, apparently  more glamorous and gifted  – Roger Bannister and Chris Chataway.
Brasher was (perhaps to everyone’s surprise except himself) an Olympic champion at the age of 28. Donald Trelford, when editor of The Observer, once yelled angrily at Brasher, “Are you so big-headed because you won an Olympic gold medal, or did you win a gold medal because you are so big-headed?”
But, big-headed or not, that one win convinced Brasher of what he had long suspected – that anything is possible when you have enough self-belief.
I suspect that fellow journalists and broadcasters, those worked alongside him (some even for him) knew his character, his faults and his triumphs better than most. Everyone who met him has a Brasher story to tell.
His personality and approach to life and its obstacles spawned plenty of anecdotes. I’d be really delighted if you can recall any of these, particularly those where his abrasive attitude led to problems. He was clearly a man who made many friends, but his aggressive, even “bullying” go-getting attitude could also make a few enemies.
Where did you first meet Chris? What were the circumstances? What impression did he make on you – and you on him? All would help and really assist me in giving a rounded picture of the man. Do get in
touch, I’d really value your input. Long or short, anecdotes or opinions, whether he enthused you or trod on your toes with those Brasher boots, I’d love to know.

John Bryant can be contacted by email at john.bryanted@gmail.com or by telephone on 0208 949 2904.