Ingle shows us all how to pick World Cup winners

Even Facebook could not help NORMAN GILLER correctly predict the World Cup finallists. He would have been better off with Paul the Octopus. But, for different reasons, he is full of admiration for fellow football writers Sean Ingle and Patrick Barclay

The Guardian will be missing a trick if they don’t put Paul the Octopus in a head-to-head World Cup forecasting duel with their website “mystic” Sean Ingle.

What they have in common ” apart from both being inkies ” is that they each correctly predicted Sunday’s historic final between Holland and Spain, though Sean bravely did so back in June.

The entire Guardian football reporting team went on record on their free website with their forecasts before a ball had been kicked, and Sean showed he had a polished crystal ball (now there’s a novelty … sorry, can’t forget that I used to write Eric Morecambe’s Sportsmile column in the Express).

Not only did Ingle, pictured below right, call it for a Holland-Spain final, but was also spot-on by saying that England would go out in the second round (“…they will be knocked out by the first decent team they play”, he advised) and that David Villa, pictured above left, would be the leading contender for the Golden Boot. Even Dorset-born and bred Paul, the tentacled tipster now living in Germany, could not match that.

This has been the hardest World Cup of them all to call. France and Italy slinking out in the group stage, only one African nation reaching the quarter-finals, England exiting early with barely a whimper, and only Uruguay carrying the South American challenge to the semi-finals.

I am not going to poke fun at other Guardian writers Kevin McCarra (Brazil v Argentina and Rooney as the Golden Boot winner), Daniel Taylor (Torres for the Golden Boot), or Paul Wilson (Argentina v USA final), because I cannot tip rubbish.

Last month I approached 1,000 people online to give their predictions for the two finalists for the instant World Cup Day By Day book that I’m publishing. Just 14 got it right, including my son, heir and partner Michael.

How, I wonder, did The Times football writers fare with their on-line predictions? I do not have a clue because they are now hidden behind the paywall, as Rupert Murdoch tries to prove that you can milk money from the internet. I did try to go against my principles and use my credit card for an online transaction ” one, because I would like to know what’s going on behind the wall, and two, because I genuinely want the paywall experiment to work, even though all my instincts tell me that it will flop.

Three times I tried to register, and three times I failed. First there was a query because I did not want to give my personal phone number, then it rejected my credit card details. Once I had got over those hurdles, the robot informed me that my user name had already been taken. It then rang a bell that in the recent past I was given access to the online Times crossword section, because I was having a daily Times Square crossword published in the paper and placed online.

In the end, I ran out of patience and decided to visit the free-and-easy Telegraph and Guardian websites instead.

Several friends and colleagues tell me they have also had problems trying to register, most of them more out of curiosity than feeling compelled to pay to read The Times online. Two of them said they could not get the security device (Captcha) to work, when you are presented with an indistinguishable letter code to copy to beat the hackers and spammers.

I bet Roop would go mad if he knew how complicated it is to register to access his site. As we are from the same golden oldie generation, he will remember the good old days when you used to walk into a newsagents, plonk down your 4d (okay, it was a long time ago) and walk out with your paper. I don’t think too many papers would have sold if the newsagent had asked for your name, a password and then a code.

Nothing is coming out of Wapping about the take-up of their subscriptions, but one of their more famous columnists told me this week: “More people are reading the label on a jar of marmalade than my blog …”

I WORRY MORE about what is going on behind the Wapping Wall when I hear that The Times tried to hook their Chief Football Commentator Patrick Barclay back from South Africa after England’s ignominious departure from the World Cup.

Showing the conscientious and cerebral regard for his job that shines through in his writing, Paddy, pictured right, decided to ignore the “come home” call and stayed put in South Africa, paying his own way and accommodation expenses. He knows that you cannot purport to be a Chief Football Commentator for one of the world’s great newspapers if you are not at the matches and occasions that matter. And they don’t come bigger than the World Cup finals.

Pulling him out would be like asking The Times music critic to leave the opera before the fat lady sings.

If Patrick is to be taken seriously in the role The Times created for him after poaching him from the Sunday Telegraph, then he has to be at the main matches, and he is digging into his own pocket to make that point.

Mind you (perhaps with his Scottish tongue in cheek) Paddy did write in The Times before it disappeared behind the wall that England could win the World Cup.

The trouble with today’s tipsters is they have no sense of fun. I remember Des “The Man in the Brown Bowler” Hackett writing in the Daily Express in 1970: “If Chelsea beat Leeds in the FA Cup Final, I will walk barefoot down the King’s Road.”

Chelsea did beat Leeds by way of a dramatic replay at Old Trafford (after galloping equestrian horses had ruined the Wembley pitch). And Des did walk barefoot down the King’s Road, accompanied by cheering Chelsea players.

Des paused in his walk to wave a dustcart by, not realising that the rascally Peter Osgood had put his brown brogues on board.
Even Paul the Psychic Octopus could not have predicted that. Happy days.

Oh, and in case you were worrying, Holland 1, Spain 1, with Holland to win on penalties. Det er et morsomt gammelt spil. Yes, it’s a funny old game.

Read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.

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