Saturday 17 February 2018

Vincent Hogan: McCririck not as important as he thought

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

For a man accustomed to striding into the Cheltenham press-room as if he'd just bought it, John McCririck bore the air of a forgotten orphan last week.

He was still dressed like a tweed Liberace, but that trademark bombast had been neutered, as if the claque of the betting ring could no longer reach his ears. Even before he became ill that Tuesday afternoon, colleagues nodded wistfully in his direction as if looking at the charred remains of some exotic, old theatre.

The loud, Big Top element to McCririck's personality always spoke of a man who might well have imagined bosses would be measuring him for a bronze bust at Channel 4 headquarters rather than suggesting he clear his desk.

He always came to Cheltenham week like an exploding firework, a big, bulldog personality, who considered himself as fundamental to the festival as anyone wearing silks.

He had his own 'territory' in the press-room, a long, narrow table to which colleagues were drawn like moths to a porch light and from which he would animatedly hold court on the looming business of the day.

On Tuesday morning last week, that table was gone. McCririck stood by the window, his back turned to the racecourse, staring into space with the expression of a man wondering if he'd maybe taken the wrong motorway exit.

Later, he would leave the racecourse in an ambulance, having complained of feeling unwell, and be detained for two nights at Cheltenham General Hospital. Reports that he would be back in situ come Gold Cup day proved unfounded and it was hard not to wonder if he'll ever pass through the Festival press-room door again.

His wife, Jenny, was quoted in a variety of newspapers last week, attributing his health worries to the stress of being so publicly dismissed.

McCririck is said to have initiated a £3m lawsuit against his former employers and their new racing production company for a decision, he claims, has exposed him to "public humiliation, stress and mental anguish." He believes they dropped him from their 'Morning Line' team essentially because of ageism (he is 72) and, if successful in his case, has vowed to donate something "to charitable organisations helping to prevent negative prejudice in the workplace."

As has been widely pointed out since, the concept of McCririck tackling prejudice isn't especially easy to reconcile. It sounds a bit like Jeremy Kyle campaigning against TV exploitation of society's misfits. Because McCririck's racing punditry tapped into a lost world of belligerent misogyny, startlingly tolerated for years as just some kind of amiable quirk. Sexism, essentially, as showbiz.

Hence a colleague could be sniffily addressed as "female" without anyone even gently suggesting that such behaviour belonged in the Ice Age.

McCririck probably felt bomb-proof, imagining that he could keep doing this job into his dotage. But Channel 4 decided it was time to try the circus without the clown and, harsh though it may sound, their coverage last week did not conspicuously suffer from his absence.

So you could feel sadness for the ghost of a man in the press-room that Tuesday morning without, necessarily, feeling sympathy. For McCririck's public persona was, whether real or contrived, objectionable.

Indeed, his flirtation with reality TV, be it in the Big Brother house or on Wife Swap, did little to suggest a more likeable man concealed behind the parody. "There's only one moron allowed on TV and that's me," he once roared to camera, while being heckled from behind.

Last week, to his palpable dismay, that arithmetic had been revised.


Midweek teamsheets belong to realm of fantasy

TODAY'S GAA Congress motion to compel the midweek naming of inter-county teams is clearly well intentioned, but, sadly, doomed to impotence if passed.

The idea of county boards being fined for any violation of a new rule surely belongs in the realm of fantasy.

Who can reasonably challenge the word of a manager if he reports a cluster of Friday night training-ground niggles that forces him to alter his team-sheet?

Central Council is, reportedly, supporting the Rules Advisory Committee's proposal and both are to be applauded for recognising the increasingly abject attitude of inter-county teams towards the promotion of their games.

But can you honestly see county chairmen laying down the law to the higher-profile managers on this matter? And, if they did, who will then challenge the veracity of late injury reports that, essentially, ridicule the process?

Sadly, the reality of modern GAA life suggests this kind of motion might as well have been thought up for people living in a gingerbread house.


English FA need to get their priorities right

THE challenge by Wigan's Callum McManaman on Massadio Haldara last weekend goes unpunished essentially because the English FA signed a pre-season document preventing them from, as they put it, "re-refereeing" incidents.

In other words, even if Haldara's career had been ended by McManaman's shocking lunge, the governing body had already decommissioned its own authority to take action.

Yet, they can fine Liverpool teenager, Suso, £10,000 for using the word "gay" in a harmlessly playful tweet about team-mate, Jose Enrique's, visit to a dental surgery for teeth-whitening.

In a politically correct world gone mad, this takes farce to an Olympian standard.

Irish Independent

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