x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Bridging a world with his swing

Seve Ballesteros' impact on me was such that one saw the great golfer in every Spaniard that I met.

Even in black and white, Seve Ballesteros was a vivid image who transcended mere drives and putts. AP Photo
Even in black and white, Seve Ballesteros was a vivid image who transcended mere drives and putts. AP Photo

As a young boy, I spent several summers knocking balls around my back garden with Seve Ballesteros.

Actually, that is not quite true. They were, in fact, random young Spaniards who came to the UK to improve their English while staying with host families.

To a six-year-old me, however, they were all Ballesteros.

Please forgive the innate racism in that statement, but they were. They looked like Ballesteros, spoke like Ballesteros, wore cologne like Ballesteros probably did, and expensive sweaters like he certainly did.

This latter fact did not escape the attention of the local toughs.

I recall my father warning one not to wear his yellow Lacoste jumper into town, lest it suffer the same fate as the knitwear of a compatriot and be torn from his body because, in 1982, even muggers wanted to look like Ballesteros.

I make this point to illustrate how ingrained into our culture Ballesteros was. He was a household name, even to a young child in a non-golfing household.

How did I know he was special? How did he seep into my consciousness, long before pop singers and movie stars, and remain planted there?

Perhaps it was his good looks, his rapport with the crowds, his appearance in my Beano annual.

It was certainly not his golf.

It would be years before I understood the glorious insanity of his game plan, which appeared to be: "Smash ball into the nearest foliage/bunker/car park, play an amazing recovery shot, sink birdie putt."

Our football, tennis, Formula One and golfing landscapes today are packed with smouldering Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians and South Americans - but a Latin hero back then was something of a curio. Ballesteros was a taste of a different world, a flash of lemon into our drab suburban palates.

Even his first name was a novelty which lives on. For years we all assumed it was spelt "Sebby", so unfamiliar were we with the Spanish pronunciation of "v". And, years later, my first golf lesson involved chanting his full name to induce a slower and more controlled tee shot: "Severiano" on the upswing, "Ballesteros" on the down.

"Say his name during the swing and you'll soon be playing like him," said my teacher. He was right. I still hit the nearest foliage/bunker/car park every time. I just need to work on my recovery shot.

Do the modern equivalents of Ballesteros sear themselves into the national consciousness in the same way?

Rafa Nadal, who wept when paying tribute to Ballesteros on Saturday, displays many of the same qualities: a brave and buccaneering winner with movie star looks but a boy next door's charm.

But you could say the same about Fernando Torres, Sergio Garcia, Fernando Alonso (OK, he maybe lacks the charm)

What about Lionel Messi, Frankie Dettori, Luis Figo? In such a crowded field, one man can never dominate a cultural landscape like Ballesteros did.

We will love many more "exotic" sportsmen, but not with the intensity of that first love for Ballesteros. Our infatuation, like his swing, was all about the timing.

Rest in peace, Seve.

Dithering FA spoils the part for QPR fans

One of the few joys of supporting an unfashionable football team is the ecstasy of promotion.

My favourite memory as a Birmingham City fan – easily eclipsing this year’s League Cup victory – was our promotion in 2002 to the English Premiership (as it was then called), via a penalty shoot-out victory over Norwich City.

One single kick, the winning penalty by local boy Darren Carter, triggered a surge of euphoria which I have never felt before or since.

For long-suffering fans, these are the once in a generation moments which make it all worthwhile. Queens Park Rangers fans deserved a similar rush at the final whistle of last Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Watford. This was the match which won them the Championship and, in normal circumstances, automatic promotion to the Premier League.

Instead, they were left waiting for a full week while the English Football Association (FA) dithered over an issue it had already had months to sort out: whether to dock points from QPR for breaches of rules concerning the signing of Alejandro Faurlin.

In the end, it was a positive decision for the Hoops: a whopping fine and no points deducted. Loftus Road was a happy place, of course, but the release of a statement by the FA cannot trigger euphoria like the sight of a bulging net, or the sweet relief of the final whistle.

By its dithering, the FA punished the blameless, loyal fans while those responsible for any wrongdoing still get to feast at the Premier League table.

Rangers fans are probably too relieved to care, but next season, they may find themselves yearning for a glowing memory to keep them warm.

Believe me.