Hamilton’s wins take heat off Murray

June 12, 2007

Lewis Hamilton’s first Grand Prix wins make world-wide sporting news. Adulation reigns. In England, Hamilton’s triumphs have taken the publicity spotlight off injured Tennis star Andy Murray. Even David Beckham has been pushed into second place. But Wimbledon looms. If Murray wins, can the Great British public find the emotional wellsprings to embrace more than one super-hero at the same time?

England has another sporting idol. Front and back pages of the papers had been widely covered by the story of Lewis Hamilton and his astonishing first months as a Formula one driver.

His Grand Prix wins at Montreal and Indianapolis means that all bets are off for that indicator of popular sporting affectio , Sporting Personality of the Year. In December, Lewis will be up on yet another podium. Then he will in all probability be flanked by two other favorites for what used to be called the housewives’ votes.

In years of limited sporting triumphs on the international stage, voting tends to be a reflection of national affection. But gallant national near-misses will from time to time be thwarted by an international success. So, this year Lewis Hamilton will collect another first place. Frankie Dettori may not end the season as champion jockey, but memories of a great series of classic wins this summer may be enough to get him to second place.

There’s still time for a British golfer to beat Frankie into third place, but this will take a win in a major, maybe at Oakmont, starting this week (I’m hoping, but not betting on that one).

Andy’s still a possible winner

Or maybe Andy Murray will somehow sneak in ahead of Roger F. and Rafael N. at The American Open later this year. Injured at present, he promises a last-minute decision on playing the big one, Wimbledon, in a few weeks time.

Then there’s Monty

In years without significant international success, the continued progress of cricketer Monty Panasar, who is consolidating himself in the public’s affections, would have been enough. But not this year. Anyway, his iconic status may also just have wobbled a bit. That engaging enthusiasm may have been seen as bordering on the unsporting through excessive appeals to the Umpires, in this week’s the victory over the West Indies at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Yes, Monty, Great British sporting idols have to be like Caesar’s wife in that one respect. You have to be above suspicion of taint or of falling short of the highest standards of sportsmanship.

The poppy’s already too tall

Which is why Lewis Hamilton will be under the most intense scrutiny for several glittering years. The image of perfection will be tested unto destruction. And do you know what? A young man for whom fame and fortune is guaranteed, will one day show he is human. He will drift a few inches too far and too fast, maybe on the race track. Maybe in a dark place suddenly illuminated by the flash of light from a Paparazzi’s camera. The former will be more physically dangerous. The latter is likely to be temporary. Then the public will be on the emotional roller-coaster ride manufactured for us by those who help create the stories of our sporting heroes.

In a week of sporting dramas

Lewis Hamilton wins a second Grand Prix. Local acclaim becomes even higher. Memories of Frankie’s triumphs decline. Monty is not so much of a hero in the final Cricket test against The West Indies.

David Beckham manages the threat to his pole position in sporting celebrity as courageously as you would expect. He is helped by a football result. In an emotional night, playing in his last game for Real Midrid, Read win a thrilling game to grab their thirtieth Liga title, and twart rivals Barcelona. But even Beckham’s publicity machine can’t match Lewis in his flying machine. Would Andy, even with a dramatic final win over Reger Federer in a Winbledon final, be enough to surge to a top podium position?


Leaders we deserve: Stevie Mac brings Beckham back

June 5, 2007


First, Steve McClaren dumps superstar David Beckham out of the England soccer set-up. Then, following a run of disastrous results McClaren brings back Beckham. Weak or strong leadership?

The story so far. New English coach Steve McClaren steps up from the number two job, and is seen to put down a marker of his intention to make a fresh start. David Beckham had offered his resignation as team captain after an unconvincing display in England’s disappointing World Cup performances . McClaren drops him from the entire squad.

The new-look squad perform poorly. Beckham signs the largest contract of all time for a footballer, and agrees to leave Real Madrid and play in America for the Los Angeles Galaxy club later in the year. In the interim, Beckham suffers injuries and loss of form, and is dropped from the Real Madrid team, with clear indications that his career is finished.

A long time in football politics

As the season progressed, England without Beckham are far from revitalized. There is every chance that the team will not make the finals of the European championships. By coincidence, (?) Real Madrid also continues on a poor run of form.

And so it comes about that David Beckham returns to the Real Madrid team, and performs with distinction. Real makes a late challenge for the championship. Pressure mounts on Steve McClaren to bring Beckham back to the England squad.

An opportunity arises in a friendly match scheduled as the first international for the new Wembley stadium. The occasion is to be graced by an international team from Brazil, still widely regarded as the most gifted of all soccer-playing nations. The friendly is to be followed by a must-win European match the following week against minnows Estonia (No pushover, says wife, kibbutzing on this post, no such thing as an easy match …).

McClaren brings back Beckham. Much heated debate. Is it a desperate attempt by the coach to salvage something from the failing European campaign? Is this the action of a weak leader, or one strong enough to admit he had made a mistake dropping David Beckham in the first place?

What happened next?

I’m not a serious commentator on football. The indisputable facts are that England took the lead after a courageous header from new captain John Terry. The cross was provided by David Beckham – one skill in which he is widely regarded as being exceptionally talented. The other precious talent is that of taking lengthy dead-ball free kicks from what had became known in a favorite phrase of commentators as David Beckham territory.

Wha’ever. DB is widely considered to have had an outstanding game. Terry won the man of the match award. Beckham marginally eclipsed Terry in one of those dubious polls on a BBC website. Oh, yes, and Brazil in second gear nonchalantly scored an equalizer late into the game.

So England set off for the crucial game with Estonia, with Beckham undoubtedly in the line-up.

McClaren, tall poppies and leadership actions

Whatever happens in Estonia, the debate continues.

A popular saying in Australia is that the culture operates on the tall poppy syndrome. The original story is a tyrant myth, suggesting that a powerful leader will rather destroy potential rivals rather than risk them weakening his power. Today, the story is taken to illustrate our old friend the notion of leaders we deserve. It is typically taken to illustrate the fate of celebrities, indicating that adulation and fame arise because of popular acclaim. That acclaim can be withdrawn as rapidly as it arose.

Did McClaren act according to old tally poppy principle in ending Beckham’s international footballing career? Did he then bow to another swing in public opinion in reversing his decision? Or was he strong enough to admit a mistake?

The debate continues. I can see no conclusive evidence for arguing one way or the other. In other words, we have a nice example of the ambiguities surrounding a social science narrative. I’m inclined to the view that at the time of McClaren’s appointment the king-makers at the English Football Association initially wanted a tall poppy (the charismatic Brazilian super-coach Scolari). Failing in this, they settled for the not-at-all tall poppy Steve. He may be an average-height poppy, but this will not protect him from the grim reaper at harvest-time, in the fullness of the footballing year.