Marathon runners show decency goes full distance

NORMAN GILLER wanted to be in a better birthday mood than has been possible after a sad, bad week for sport

Here’s an intro I have never composed before in 56 years scratching a living as a writer, a rare exclusive from the Giller quill: I am 73 today.

Good luck, and a safe run, to all Sunday's London Marathon runners, as Norman Giller watches out for his grand-daughter
Good luck, and a safe run, to all London Marathon runners, as Norman Giller watches out for his grand-daughter Charlotte

Sadly, a dark shadow has fallen over my Last of the Summer Wine celebrations.

The Boston bombings and the return of the curse of football hooliganism have sent this old hack into depressed mode.

My grand-daughter, Charlotte East, will be one of the 36,000 runners in Sunday’s London Marathon, which will go ahead as a fingers-up response to the vermin who brought carnage to the streets of Boston on Monday.

Christopher Brasher, the man who dreamt up the London Marathon, was a journalistic colleague of mine and advised me on a book I wrote called The Marathon Kings. His plan was to bring a spirit of joy to the streets for people from all walks – or runs – of life.

I will watch on Sunday with anxiety but pride as my grand-daughter punishes herself along with thousands of other brave, committed runners putting their best foot forward for charity.

Every one of them is a winner, and now not only running for charity but for the cause of freedom and democracy.

BEFORE THE bombs went off, I was already in a black mood over the return of hooliganism to the headlines thanks (or no thanks) to the thugs of Millwall and Newcastle.

Excuse this old man’s ramblings, but I am entitled to wander today. When I was knee-high to a turnstile I used to walk on my own from Stepney to New Cross via the Rotherhithe Tunnel– a six-mile round-trip – to watch Millwall playing at the original Den in Coldblow Lane.

It used to cost me threepence – less than 2p in today’s coinage – to get in and a penny for a programme, and I would stand on the terraces with the dockworkers who made up the majority of the crowd. They were rough-hewn men with tongues that could cut from 10 paces, but most of what came from their mouths was banter and there was not a hooligan in sight.

This was in the 1940s and the days of one of the best club defences my young eyes ever saw: Finlayson; Jardine, Fisher; Short, Hurley, Saward. By the end of the decade Finlayson had gone to Wolves, Hurley to Sunderland, Saward to Aston Villa and I had transferred my main affection to the Push and Run Spurs.

But Millwall was my first love and I never witnessed anything like the sort of violence that scarred Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Disturbing scenes from Newcastle last weekend
Disturbing scenes from Newcastle after the Tyne-Wear football derby last weekend

I have spoken to friends who were there and they say the problem was caused by booze, with many of the hooligans fuelled by alcohol.

Millwall have worked so hard to improve their image yet all their PR polishing has been undone in an hour of mindless thuggery.

Long-time Millwall fans have suggested to me that because the club sold out its Wembley allocation, many of those involved in the fighting may not have been “regular” followers of the club. That should be taken into account, but they must track down the main culprits and ban them forever from football grounds.

There can only be zero tolerance to hooliganism or we will quickly be back to the ugly days of the 1970s and 1980s when the Beautiful Game was wrecked beyond repair.

Some of us remember when English clubs were kicked out of Europe because of the brutal behaviour of our fans. A repeat of that would have an earthquaking effect on our game.

THERE WAS A SHAFT of sunshine in the dark week, with Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera conjuring magical moments in the US Masters. Both were great ambassadors for their game and their countries.

I was willing Scott to win following his heartache at Lytham, but for me the man of the day was the veteran Cabrera, whose sportsmanship in defeat deserves some sort of reward.

The Argentine cuddling the Australian and being genuinely pleased for him is the image that will brighten my birthday.

By the way, all those of you who want to buy me a present, please purchase my Bobby Moore The Master book, with all profits going to his bowel cancer charity fund. This is bowel cancer awareness month. Full details at: Thank you, and a happy birthday to me.

This is the first time I have been this old, and so far it’s not too bad. Pass the smelling salts, Ada.

INTERESTED IN JOINING THE SJA: Benefit from a recognised press card, priority entry to key events and significant discounts and members’ offers on a range of activities – click here now