SPORT AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

Yogi Berra was an accomplished baseball catcher for the famed New York Yankees in the 1950s. He lived across the Hudson River in New Jersey, but he pronounced it “Nu Joisey”, and is famous for his many memorable quotes and malapropisms, such as,” the future ain’t what it used to be, when you come to a fork in the road, take it, it’s like déjà vu all over again, and, baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical”. Yogi’s life reminds us of a bygone era in sport, when the players were real characters, and had time to see the funny side of situations, whereas today’s professionals, as good as they are, mouth little more than dull platitudes. Given that we can all do with something to smile, and perhaps even chuckle, about, here are a few sporting chestnuts.

When legendary footballer drinker and womaniser, George Best, was asked what happened to all the money he earned, his reply was” I spent a lot on wine women and song, the rest I squandered”. After the Boks defeated Scotland 44-0 at Murrayfield, the Scots commentator summed it up thus: “Scotland were lucky to get nought”. Viv Richards, the great West Indian batsman, was for once struggling to put bat to ball against a fast bowler. Richards played at and missed two successive deliveries, and the cocky bowler showed the ball, saying: “it’s this red thing you are looking for”. Richards promptly hit the next ball for six and out the ground, and said to the bowler”you know what it looks like so go and find it”.
Cricket commentators, and players, often have at times utted some pearls. I recall listening to the Bedser brothers batting to save a test against South Africa. Commentator John Arlott was running out of words to describe the lack of action, as the Bedsers shouldered arms, padded up and blocked ball after ball. They were intent on survival with no thought of scoring runs. It was frustrating in the extreme because we could not get a wicket, and Arllott’s comments were interspersed by increasing periods of silence. As if to reassure that he hadn’t fallen asleep, Arlott broke the silence ”I’ll tell when there’s a run”. But Arlott’s finest was when Michael Holding was bowling to Peter Willie: “the bowler’s holding the batsmen’s willie”. Geoff Boycott was bluntly outspoken: “Paul Harris is a buffet bowler – just help yourself”. Another classic from the Yorkshire man was “my muther could have hit that, with a stick of rhubarb”.

The Australian cricketers led the way with sledgeing opposing batsmen. Initially it was disparaging but comical, but has degenerated into coarse vulgarity. A classic was the mental grip Shane Warne cast over Daryll Cullinan. After Warne had bamboozled the young prodigy, Cullinan sought psychiatric help, but Warne heard about it. As Cullinan took guard Warne asked him ”what colour was the couch?”, and when a clearly flustered Cullinan didn’t answer “did you pay by the hour?”. Needless to say Warne got his man.
Boxing weigh-ins have long been an occasion for verbal bravado. When Tony “Two Ton” Galento was asked how he would fare against Joe Louis, he answered ”I’ll moider da bum”. When he was asked to elaborate, he simply repeated “I’ll moider da bum”. A sharp reporter asked how about William Shakespeare, to which Galento replied “I’ll moider dat bun too”. At the weigh-in for his title defence against the young Gerrie Coetzee, Mike “The Tank” Schutte’s only answer to every question was ” I’ll knock him out”. Eventually a reporter asked, Mike why do you keep saying that? “Because Alan told me too” was Schutte’s forthright reply. He was referring to his trainer Alan Toweel, who after the announced scorecards revealed that all three judges had scored all fifteen rounds in favour of Bob Foster in his title defence against his boxer Pierre Fourie, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said “we wuz robbed”. I am sure that even Damon Runyan laughed at that one, but Alan’s best was yet to come.

In the return bout in Johannesburg, Fourie was again up against it, with the taller Foster simply outboxing him round after round. So much so that even Alan ran out of words. In between one of the later rounds, when Fourie had no chance of winning, Alan used the sixty seconds to instruct the hapless Fourie as follows: “Pierre, Pierre listen to me” followed by a pause. “Pierre, Pierre breathe”. Another pause, and as the seconds out was announced “Pierre, Pierre hit him, hit him”, pause, “hit him with a whatchamacallit”. Fourie lost, and not even Alan could complain about a home town decision.
Of course the ultimate sledger was Muhammad Ali, who passed away this year, but space does not allow me to recall his many rhyming predictions, rapping and capping with his opponents. What the heck just one. You all know his famous “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, the hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see”, which he used to perplex Sonny “The Big Ugly Bear” Liston, well when Mike Schutte was floored by Coetzee, a wag shouted out “that’s it Mike float like a brick”.

Then there was the time when rugby players, especially short little scrumhalves, could chirp referees. Andre Watson once told Kevin Putt to “get off my back you are like a parrot”. Craig “The Cabbage Patch Kid” Jamieson was no slouch either, and regularly told refs what they had missed. Eventually, during a one of those hotly contested games between Maritzburg Collegians and Maritzburg Varsity — for the York and Lancaster Cup –, the ref, had had enough, and blew a loud screech. “Who the hell is reffing this game?” he asked. “Definitely not you” was Craig’s swift reply, and both teams laughed.
With best wishes for the season of goodwill to all people, and a hope for some peace on earth.

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