NORMAN GILLER can’t believe his eyes (and ears) when the laconic new Liverpool manager is on TV, is enjoying what he is seeing of one of the BBC’s younger talents, and wishes someone offers hope to a notorious sports journalist
I have to rub my eyes and ears every time I see Kenny Dalglish appearing in front of the television cameras in his role as born-again saviour of Liverpool. He smiles, he speaks, he jokes, he laughs.
Come with me back to February 1972. England under-23s had just been held to a 2-2 draw by Scotland at Derby’s Baseball Ground, and the fast-rising Celtic striker Kenny Dalglish had scored both Scottish goals on a disgraceful mudheap of a pitch.
I was there as a Daily Express reporter, and as Dalglish emerged from the dressing-room after his superb solo performance, I asked: “Have you ever played on a muddier pitch?”
“Nae comment,” he said, pushing me to one side as if I was an England defender trying to block his way to goal.
Ian Archer, brilliant Scottish-based reporter, told me: “Well done. You got two words out of him, which is a record.”
A great raconteur, Ian – sadly taken from us when he was just 59 – had a favourite Dalglish anecdote: “I was strolling through a crowded street in Glasgow when suddenly a familiar figure darted in front of me. It was Kenny Dalglish, who muttered one word: ‘Wisnae.’
“Then he raced off as quickly as he had appeared, with me mouthing after him, ‘Wisnae whit?’ I puzzled over this for hours and then recalled that in a match report the previous month I had suggested one of his goals for Celtic had been off-side.
“It was the most informative, piercing and lengthy interview that Kenny ever gave me.”
Now, the all-talking, all-joking 2011 model of Dalglish is in danger of becoming almost Shankly-like with quotes and quips.
I wonder if he would now tell me whether he had ever played on a muddier field than the notorious pigsty of a pitch at the old Baseball Ground. Wisnae?
SADDEST STORY of the week for any sports hack with a heart was the jailing of former People sports editor Lee Horton for fiddling on a Richter scale. He has been sent down for 15 months for siphoning £370,406 into a dozen invented accounts over a period of eight years.
You can read the facts of the case here, but I am more interested in the fantasy. It stretches incredulity to new lengths that he was able to concoct 1,609 claims by bogus contributors without ringing any alarm bells in the Trinity Mirror accounts department.
If it was not for the fact that Horton has been dishonest, dumb, deceitful and a cheat of the first order, you could almost make out a case for him being worthy of a medal for imagination.
But all he has gained is notoriety. He is having to pay back every penny, he has lost his job, his house, his self-respect and his wife is divorcing him. Now, as he sits in his cell, he has also lost his freedom.
Yet here is one old hack who will admit to feeling sorry for him. Yes, he has been bloody stupid and incredibly greedy, but there comes a time when the kicking has to stop.
I was moved by the summing up of his defence barrister, Tara McCarthy: “He has lost everything. His home, his pension and he is probably going to lose his wife. And he is never going to be able to work in the industry which he absolutely adores, as a newspaperman and journalist, because I would be very surprised if anybody will want to employ him.”
Has my old profession really sunk that low that nobody will have the compassion to offer Lee Horton work in the future when he starts trying to put his life back together? He was always a first-rate journalist, with a feel for striking headlines and powerful stories.
I hope somebody somewhere is going to get in touch with him with the promise of at least the prospect of down-table subbing when he has done his time. Give him something to cling on to, a raft of hope.
Meantime, my advice to Lee is that he should get himself a blank pad and start pencilling the outline for a film script about his extraordinary experiences.
I would look to make it a comedy drama, with the working title: Scamming The People.
You couldn’t make it up. I can almost hear Lee responding: “Oh yes you could …”
THE ridiculously young, tall as a tree and impossibly relaxed Jake Humphrey must surely be a shoo-in for the SJA Sports Broadcaster of the Year award. Well he’s got my vote (which is probably not good news for him).
Any doubts about where to put my “X” – I was torn between Jake and Mike Atherton – were literally put to bed when I tuned into the BBC’s filtered coverage of the dramatic SuperBowl between Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I watched the riveting match live on my MacBook from under my duvet, and found Jake’s anchor work both authoritative and entertaining. He has the gift of being able to turn presentation into conversation, not easy as a procession of sports show hosts have found over the years while becoming prisoners of the Autocue.
Jake is working with increasing confidence in the hard-to-follow footsteps as such masters as David Coleman, Frank Bough and Des Lynam. They all had the knack of talking to camera as if it was a friend, making each viewer feel like a companion rather than an eavesdropper.
Still in his early 30s, I get the feeling Jake has been on my screen forever. Then I realise it is because I watched him cutting his teeth on the CBBC channel while I was babysitting my grandchildren.
All that apprenticeship work is now paying off, and he has become a class act while anchoring the BBC’s excellent Formula 1 coverage with a knowledge and an aplomb out of the Des Lynam school of presenting. There can be no higher praise.
Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here