Memories of Wild Bill… and when Harvey made his way into the Oxford Dictionary!

Our man Frank is all nostalgic for some great sporting characters of the past; Pride in his daughter Tara’s showjumping success; Musings on how much the Eurovision Song Contest has changed… 

Outside of what are in my book the big four sports – Gaelic football and hurling, rugby, and I’ll reluctantly include soccer – some of the so-called minority sports have given us stars whose names will be forever remembered. However, for some reason there were more of those famous sportspeople and characters back in days gone by.

Snooker had the hugely unpredictable genius that was Alex Higgins, along with household names (at the time) like Jimmy White, Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, and the Canadian Bill Werbeniuk… the latter was maybe more famous for his drinking bouts than for his snooker.

It is said that the late Bill successfully claimed tax relief on the price of six pints of lager, which he (allegedly) needed to drink before every game in order to settle his nerves. Medical grounds! (On one occasion, it is said that Bill downed 43 pints of lager during a game with Scotsman Eddie Sinclair; the game ended when Sinclair passed out after his 42nd pint).

Darts threw up (another terrible pun) Eric Bristow, Jocky Wilson, John Lowe and Bobby George, and in the world of showjumping, here in Ireland we had superstars like Granard’s Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh, Tommy Wade, James Kernan and Captain Con Power. Over in England, there were big stars like David Broome, Nick Skelton and the Whitaker brothers.

But the individual who did most to popularise the sport was a man of the people, Harvey Smith. Back in 1971, Harvey arrived back to the massive showjumping event that is Hickstead, where he had won the previous year, but without bringing back the cup that was meant to be presented to the next winner. He was suitably ticked off by the owner of Hickstead (and a judge of the competition), one Douglas Bunn, but Harvey told him it didn’t matter as he was going to win it again anyway. Bunn responded that this wouldn’t be possible, but the remarkable thing was that Harvey was as good as his word! When he won second time around, he turned and gave Mr Bunn the two fingers – a gesture that the showjumper freely admitted was of an offensive nature.

As a result, the Hickstead Committee decided to keep Smith’s prize-money of £2,000… that is until Harvey brought in photos of Sir Winston Churchill with his ‘V for Victory’ signs, now claiming his own two-finger gesture was also meant to signify ‘V for Victory’. Harvey got his prize-money in the end, which he was well entitled to.

His gesture became so famous that the Oxford Dictionary included it as ‘doing a Harvey Smith’ – and Harvey himself made a nice few bob for advertising Victory V lozenges.

Since that memorable era, showjumping seemed to lose its huge appeal for the sporting public for a number of years. Even the one-time must-watch television event – The Aga Khan Trophy/Cup – became a little less popular.

However, nowadays we once again have world class jumpers like Bertram Allen, Cian O’Connor, Denis Lynch, Shane Breen and Denis Sweetnam, who are hugely successful all over the world. As a result, the Dublin Horse Show and Aga Khan trophy are back up at the top of the showjumping tree.

Creggs’ Tara an All-Ireland champion

All of the above leads me to mention that out here in Creggs we have an All-Ireland Amateur Showjumping Champion of our own – and of course the fact that she is our daughter, Tara, makes it that bit more special for us.

Last Friday night, at a big ‘do’ in The McWilliam Park Hotel in Claremorris, Tara was presented with two major trophies (see photo) – the Champion Amateur Rider in Connacht, and the All-Ireland Amateur Rider Champion – this recognition coming a number of years after her mother, Carol, also claimed a couple of national titles in the RDS with her pony, Ard Riogh.

I always say that it is awful hard to win any trophy, be it a local county football title or a pub darts competition, but to win a national title – which in this instance comprises of competing at shows all around the country for a full season – takes a lot of dedication, effort and skill, so we are very proud of Tara. All we can say is heartiest congratulations. It’s nice to have an All-Ireland winner in the house!

Bambie Thug… and memories of Eurovision Song Contests of the past

Talking of ‘must-watch’ television, I told you before how as a young boarder in Cistercian College in Roscrea way back in the 1960s, one of the special treats I and my friends had was being allowed to watch the Eurovision Song Contest.

We were all ‘herded’ into the recreation hall, where a couple of hundred of us watched the action unfold on a black and white television. In 1965, Butch Moore, the lead singer with the Capitol Showband, represented Ireland with a beautiful ballad – ‘Walking the Streets in the Rain’ – finishing in a very creditable sixth place.

For many years I couldn’t miss the Eurovision, and wonderful timeless songs like ‘All Kinds of Everything’ and ‘What’s Another Year’ (among many others) put Ireland on top of the very prestigious Eurovision pile.

Then politics took over. Voting became totally politicised and the song was no longer particularly relevant; countries voted for their neighbours even if their entry sounded like a donkey braying (apologies to donkeys) and the whole thing also increasingly depended on often outrageous visual effects. So I stopped watching it a good few years ago.

Then last Friday night I happened to be watching the Late Late Show and found myself tuned into a very odd selection contest for our entry into this year’s Eurovision.

Bambie Thug’s ‘Doomsday Blue’ song will now be our representative in the contest in Sweden later this year, and while I can’t make head or tail of the song or its content, everyone seems to think it’s the ideal one to do well in the Eurovision. Time will tell, but as popular as it appears to be, it’s certainly not my cup of tea and I will not be tuning in in May to see this year’s contest from Malmo.

How I long for the days of a small black and white telly about a half a mile away (with a couple of hundred heads blocking my view) and the soothing tones of Butch Moore and ‘Walking the Streets in the Rain’ filling the entire recreation hall!

I wish Bambie Thug well, but – showing my age – I wish it was Johnny Logan or Dana!

And finally…

You may recall that in last week’s edition I told you about a Ladies Night that was coming up in Gannon’s in Creggs on Saturday night last. Well, what a night it turned out to be!

All the ladies of the parish, young and not-so-young, turned up ‘togged’ out in their Sunday best, and Gannon’s was packed to capacity.

The music and karaoke was provided by Noel Doyle, and the singers were falling over themselves (not literally) to perform. The good news is that the Karaoke Queen herself, Dympna Collins, was back in action and singing better than ever.

There was great interest in the make-up demonstration (even by a few of the lads), and the raffle was a tremendous success, with the big €250 voucher for Brown Thomas being won by my own sister-in-law, Fiona.

The Parents’ Association wish to thank everybody for their fantastic support, all the businesses and individuals who were so generous with their donations of raffle prizes, everyone who gave up their time to help out, the hard-working staff in Gannon’s, the music man Noel, and especially all who turned up and made Ladies Night such a success.

Last week I wondered if people were ready to come back out after the terrible effects of Covid – Saturday night represented an emphatic ‘Yes, they are!’ in response!