Anton's Ideas

Anton Wills-Eve on world news & random ideas

Category: sport


<a href=””>Snap</a&gt;

thanks for this prompt!


I was once told that blogging was the equivalent of keeping a diary. It was, one should say is, the digital diarist’s  method of recording for posterity the events of everyday life. I have not used it as such  yet because I have never been sufficiently bothered about daily events in my life in the past two or three years. It’s all been hospital visits, funerals and similarly forgettable reminders of my mortality. But this week has been different.

As many of my readers know I live on a diet of music, prayer and sport. Well, music and prayer are lovely but not quite the stuff of diaries. I am fortunate, though, in that I live with a lady who some forty years ago did me the great honour of becoming my second wife. Both of us  were widowed but, despite each fighting dreadful illnesses ever since we met in a London hospital, we have had two great things going for us. Firstly we fell in love on sight, Romeo and Juliet really does happen in real life, even to people with histories of terrible personal sadness like us. Secondly, she happened to be equally passionate about motor racing, cricket and her beloved home soccer club Liverpool. Geographically we had some slight problems as I supported the London team  Tottenham HotSpurs. She was also a red rose Lancastrian so supported Lancashire at cricket and  I support Surrey. A real North-South divide. But our love was strong enough for us always to be overjoyed when the other had success to celebrate. Just imagine this week.

I am recovering from my fifth stroke, the long term effects of a double spinal fracture when being the only survivor of a helicopter crash in Cambodia, suffering from osteoarthritis, am being treated for my third ulcer, have had cancer for sixteen years now, surviving three terminal prognoses,  and have been a martyr to agoraphobia since I was five and a half years old. My wife was dreadfully ill with claustrophobia -how we met – at university in London but still persisted in studying aeronautical engineering. She was the only woman on the team that designed the two main helicopters in use by the British military today. She retired young after contracting very bad pernicious anaemia and then had an acute heart problem, which resulted in major surgery last year. It is still not properly fixed. So would you expect to see us sitting up for two late nights this week in a state of frankly uncontrollable excitement, a condition extremely dangerous for both of us? No you wouldn’t, but listen to this.

Major sports events do something to us. We can’t explain it. But on Sunday night, it’s six hours later over here, my my wife said she’d watch some of the last round of the Masters golf from Augusta to keep my son and me company. His wife was  on an overnight shift, she’s a senior staff nurse at a Merseyside hospital’s acute blood cancer ward. But it was just to be sociable, after all we had no thoughts of an English victory. But Danny Willett had. As the leader, and certain winner, Jordan Spieth faltered  Danny compiled one of the most immaculate rounds in golfing history. Starting at level par he did not drop a shot on that round and when told he was leading proceeded to birdie the most notorious hole on the course and went on to win by three strokes having shot a five under par 67. 

It was past midnight, my wife was still on the sofa, fists pumping the air and all of us in a state of disbelief. It was great too because Danny nearly did not play as his wife had their first baby just two days before he flew out to the US and he was the last player to sign in for the championship. He also had with him a snap shot of his new son. Can you beat that? I can, listen.

Last night, in the key European UEFA cup, Liverpool were playing the second leg of their quarter final against cup favourites Dortmund. In Germany they had tied the first match 1-1 the week before. Naturally my wife was watching this game. But what a game! The Germans were 2-0 up after nine minutes and this meant Liverpool had to score three as away goals count double in the event of a draw on aggregate. I commiserated with her as this was still the score at half time. All she did was remind me that Liverpool came back from 0-3 down to win the European Cup final against Milan eleven years ago. I smiled in sympathy.

Three minutes into the second half Liverpool got one back, hope was bubbling up on the sofa, but the Germans made it 3-1 ten minutes later. It was all over. My wife looked at me in surprise, “There’s still enough time.” I felt sorry for her. Well that was until 12 minutes from the end when Liverpool made it 3-2. And it turned into disbelief when they got an equaliser to make it 3-3 on the night with two minutes to go. But the Germans would still go through on more away goals in a 4-4 aggregate.

Time was up, but there were four minutes extra time to be added on for stoppages and with just one minute and 53 seconds to go Liverpool somehow scored again with a snap header to take a 4-3 lead  (5-4 overall). And that was how it ended. Did my wife leap up in euphoric delight? No, she just looked a little surprised that my son and I had doubted the support of the home fans; and then she took a pill to control her pulse which was dangerously high.

The end? No, something else happened to warrant putting this story in any sports report ever written. A chap tweeted in, the TV commentators told us, who was also a Liverpool fan but had been forced to watch the game on his mobile phone while holding his wife’s hand as she gave birth to their first child. Their son entered this world just as Liverpool were scoring the winner.  Now babies don’t really have that much effect on sport, but twice in five days? That’s more than a coincidence and worthy of an entry in any diary.





<a href=””>Take That, Rosetta!</a>

a language I don’t know yet.


                    HOW ROSE ATE HER OWN WORDS.


Without any doubt I would want to be fluent in American. I already understand a lot of it and can write and read and talk it, well 23 of its dialects, but completely fluently? No, Mr Webster saw to that. I am not actually 100% fluent in any language but probably I could claim 99.8761% in English. Where I fall down is the limit of my vocabulary. There are still quite a lot of words I don’t know, probably never will, so although I’m nearly there what I have will have to suffice.

But why would I choose American? Well it would involve the smallest amount of learning, writing, reading and speaking. It is the one language I could actually see myself getting over 99% fluent in and that would be a wonderful feeling of achievement. At present I am about 98.14% fluent in most American versions of itself but perhaps I exaggerate. I may have a bit of trouble in inland North Eastern Alaska when it comes to coloquialisms and I know that the I have not yet mastered Hispanic Arizonian verbs. My youngest son’s American sister-in-law comes from New Mexico and I can talk back to her perfectly, but she assures me there is a difference over the state border. I must get over there and see if I can detect it.

In literature the greatest challenge for me with American is the spelling of words with which I am familiar in English. I remember tearing Henry James to pieces in my last year’s exams at school because he used the ‘Oxford’ Z, for those of you who know what that is, and I thought it a tragedy that a man who had mastered our language as well as he had should fall at the last fence – alphabetically literally – and pretend he thought Oxford spelling meant spelling as people did in Oxford, England. It doesn’t. It means in the style of academics at the University of Oxford. Not the same thing at all.

But many people flatter me and say how incredibly well I speak those languages which I have made a lot of headway in during my life. This is due largely to two things which on reflection I am sure are good tips on how to master a foreign tongue. I lived more than 28 years altogether outside the English speaking world so learned to speak like the people I was with. And I was blessed with a natural ability to mimic both vocally and in my gestures. But the other main help was greatly due to my passion for sports and classical music. You learn the words of arias in foreign tongues because you love them and they soon come naturally. And with sports you listen to the commentator and, as you can see what he is saying, you also can learn what his sounds, and thus his words, mean. Well I have strayed a little from the prompt if not the topic but I wish I had been asked which of my six fluent languages I found most difficult to overcome. You see the answer is I couldn’t possibly know. If I had known then, of course, the natural side of picking up the language would have made me worry about whether I was doing it right and that would almost certainly have made me do it wrong!




<a href=””>A House Divided</a>




“Have you heard, Dad, Lewis Hamilton has just won the Australian formula one Grand Prix. What a way to start the new motor racing season, eh? The best driver in the best car getting off to the best start. And he’s British! What more could you ask?” My father looked at me and replied,

“You may have forgotten, but I am an Australian and that was my home Grand Prix. No Australian has ever won it and I really thought that Daniel Ricciardo was going to do it for us. But his Red Bull car is not up to it this year. In fact the whole sport could really take a turn for the worse unless somebody designs an engine to challenge the Mercedes. Otherwise it will be a procession like it was last year.”

Actually, I agreed with him. The Ferrari and Williams teams were looking very good but were a full second a lap slower than the Mercedes and the great hopes everyone had for the British MaClaren team were lost as their new Japanese Honda engine was hopeless. Also their top driver, Alonso was injured and did not race in Australia and their other former world champion, England’s Jenson Button, could only drag his MaClaren home eleventh which also happened to be last.

Now you would expect father and son being very keen on a sport was enough for one family but at this point my mother broke in on the conversation and said ” It’s all money, money, money! Four of the best drivers in the world can’t get a race because they don’t have rich personal sponsors prepared to buy them a place on the grid. It’s all that eighty five year old ‘cash mad’ Bernie Ecclestone’s fault for selling our beloved motor sport down the drain.” Then, turning to my father she added wistfully,”Oh Fred do you remember our teenage days when we scraped up all we could save to watch your hero Sir Jack Brabham, winning his third world championship in 1966? One of the greatest Australian sportsmen of all time.” Dad nodded and added,

“Yes my love and I remember cheering on your native Scottish heroes Jackie Stewart and Jim Clarke at their greatest. Oh no, they raced for fun and to get the adrenalin moving, not like the modern computer simulated robots they stick in cars nowadays.” But our family being what it is my sister was not having this. She was quick to point out, “Okay, when Jenson won the world title in 2009 he had by far the best car, so that supports your argument, but I remember sitting on this very sofa watching the Canadian Grand Prix in 2011 and watching him come from last, after three pit stops, to carve through the field in the last ten laps and take  Vettel on the very last bend of the last lap to win the greatest GP I’ve ever seen. And don’t say your ’60s and ’70s heroes could have bettered that, I don’t believe it.” Dad smiled,

“My main memory of that race was you leaping five foot in the air as your heart throb Jenson took the lead and punching the the air and exchanging high fives with your brother as he crossed the line and won the race. But you can’t delete sports fanatics’ memories, and I’m prepared to concede that you will recount every minute of that race to your great grandchildren when you’re eighty five.”

This lively chat went on for another quarter of an hour or so before we gradually broke up to do those important things that members of families do. You know, like washing up and going to the pub. But the whole episode did do something to me which I hope I will never forget, especially with kids of my own. Family bonding is not just about being lovey-dovey and being nice to each other. No, above all it is sharing those things we are really passionate about, and invariably they are matters which evoke discussions which in turn lead to exchanging dissenting and agreement in equal measure. I’m so glad our family has several things about which they feel so strongly.


Anton Wills-Eve




<a href=””>Set It To Rights</a>


The last time I  did something which, at the time, I really wish I had done differently was when I was at university in Geneva in 1965. It was late January and I was working as a journalist at the United Nations while also trying to get my masters in Italian Mediaeval history. It was an eighteen month follow up to the LesL in French history which I had just spent four years studying in Paris. What I should not have done was try to work in one language (English), write academically in a second (French), while sharpening up my third (Italian) as I studied to a pretty complicated level. Let me tell you why.

I had been invited to cover the first ever international conference on doping in sport which was being held just up the road in Grenoble in the French Alps. Apart from writing about it I was also one of the delegates as I had written a lot on European sports while studying in Paris and I was selected to be one of  the three public relations members of the newly formed commission. Well as cruel kismet would have it I had to be in three places on the same day, each one in a different language and showing my in-depth ignorance in three tongues. I had to tell the world what the conference was doing in English, my two counter parts were  deputed to carry out the same task in French and Spanish. This after I had an Italian lecture on thirteenth century  Tuscan politics in the afternoon. It was being given by a very distinguished Italian Professor, but unfortunately in very distinguished Italian. Then to top it all I was spending the morning covering a world cup ski-ing slalom race just over the border in Italy and had only a hour to get from the ski-ing to the lecture and then drive from Geneva to Grenoble in  an hour and a half in  snow and ice for the conference which started at 6.30 pm. Well the pre-serious bit, drinks for us all to say hello to each other, came first.  So what do you think I did?

I got to the ski-ing at 8.00am with a hangover for reasons I cannot even remember, only to find I had left all my sports notes in Switzerland and had to trust to my memory and knowledge of the sport to get the results and times filed and the wrap up story sent without too many howlers. It was too much to hope for. I had Machiavelli  coming third in the men’s race and was really lucky that the telecommunications manager at the ski-ing spotted this and thought I was being funny. This hardly set me up for the day. I managed to write an in depth piece on why doping was not yet an issue in ski-ing, even though it was, and just got away with it because nobody else knew whether I was right or wrong.

The lovely lecture theatre was about to close its doors as I squeezed in, out of breath, to hear a talk about the life of Castruccio Castracani, my favourite condottieri. Oh no! Yes, I had squeezed into the wrong amphitheatrical lecture hall and sat, bored and none the wiser, through an hour and a half’s talk on quantum physics in a very difficult Sicilian dialect and only just kept awake.

You can imagine the state I was in when I got to Grenoble. The English language press, many of whom I knew, made straight for me as the only person they understood. I was expected to know every topic that was going to be raised, what was going to be said, and how furious half the sports world was going to be before the meeting even started! I sought solace in the pre-conference drinks, lots of them, and made up reams of rubbish when everything was finished and the world’s press retired for the night bored and uninformed about anything that had been discussed. Not my greatest hour. So what do you think I could do to correct my errors? Seriously, go on, guess”

I did absolutely nothing. For the rest of the weekend I read my favourite Italian poets and gave my colleagues more garbage for their papers and finally made my way back to Geneva to sleep off Monday, unconcerned at anything my sports editor or conference colleagues may think of my weekend. I got it spot on! The editor thought my ski-ing piece was really original, I’ll say it was, the conference organisers gave me a full time job for two years (one day a month) but my Italian tutor could not make out how I had proved that astro physics played an integral part in the overthrow of the leading political party in Pisa in 1299. It was a connection he had long spotted, he told me, and thought me a genius for picking it up!




<a href=””>Three Perfect Shots</a>


                                       A HOLE LOT OF LOVIN’


The top players all agree, golf is a game you play in your head. It’s all psychological.I’m so lucky. My study window just overlooks, if you lean out and use a pair of binoculars, the tenth hole at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club at the Wirral seaside town of Hoylake in North West England. It has staged the British Open golf championship twelve times, one of the world’s four ‘majors’, and so also more often than any other course in England. We had it again this year. The whole place was packed for a week with foreigners and it was all great fun.

But try playing Hoylake in mid winter. Gary Player, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus all rate it the most difficult course in England and it probably also holds the world record for the most number of swear words uttered within a radius of 500 metres of any one spot in a year. I have probably contributed a high per centage.

But oh the short 13th (depending on how the course is set up) is a golf maniac’s dream. The only way you can do it in par three is to hit all three shots incorrectly. Play it as advised by the professionals and you will end up in a bird sanctuary, on a sandy shore with ten foot waves at the wrong time of day, or simply in a bunker in which you cannot even see your feet let alone the rest of the course.

Well if I MUST tell a ‘golfie’, let me take you back 28 years to that wonderful April day when I hooked my drive so badly it struck the pin on a neighbouring green and ricocheted  back onto the fairway, missing the dreaded bunker. This left me a delicate pitch into the wind, only 30 yards from the pin. I smacked it so hard it finished up 30 yards the other side of the green. My playing partner put his bag of clubs on the ground, we carried our own bags in those days. It was to the right of the flag, off the green of course, but towards my ball. He played a decent chip to within 15 feet from the hole and looked happy at the thought of a four. I decided to cut under the ball and try running it across the green and hope it went towards the flag. It didn’t. I tweaked it so badly it shot like a bullet into the the side of my friend’s bag, shot back onto the green and sped like lightening towards the hole. 

Oh wonder of wonders! I’d cracked it so hard it wedged between the flag stick and the side of the hole. I Knew I was allowed to remove the flag stick as long as I did not move my ball. I very carefully lifted the fluttering number 13 high into air and stood in stupor as my ball dropped into the cup for an unprecedented three. I really was on cloud nine.

Now if you wonder how I remember the details of that exploit so well imagine trying to perfect something and succeeding only once in 46 years. Anything at all, believe me you don’t forget a second of it. And every time you recount the feat the exaggerations get just that little bit more unbelievably brilliant. Ah  yes, the only way to play the greatest game really is in your head!


Anton Wills-Eve

The Two Longest 30 Seconds in History.

On Saturday I settled down to watch England play New Zealand in the semi-final of the world rugby league cup. Most of the crowd at Wembley stadium in London, and in front of their television sets, expected England to lose. But no one expected the feast of superb rugby league football that both teams served up for the whole match. England eight points to nil up and everyone wondering if the miracle was possible. A New Zealand converted try and a penalty goal before half time saw the teams take a 15 minute break level at eight all. The the second half got even better. The New Zealanders gradually got stronger and with some twelve minutes to go were ahead, but incredibly England pulled it back and going into the last ten minutes were 18-14 in front. Could they hold on? Both sides literally battered each other from one end of the field to the other until, with 31 seconds to go on the clock, England gave away a stupid penalty. The Kiwis threw everything into a final attack, the clock passed 80 minutes and the hooter went for full time, but the ball was still live and the play had to be finished. And how . A try for New Zealand in the last move of the game and it was 18-18. But the conversion kick still had to be taken. As English hearts sank miles below the Wembley turf the ball rose high and true between the posts and New Zealand had won the greatest contest between the countries anybody present could remember. A game like that would never be seen again. Or would it? If you had tuned in to your television on Sunday afternoon to watch Ireland take on New Zealand in the rugby union international in Dublin, you would presumably have done so because you liked your rugby and wanted to see how many points the All blacks were going to score in thrashing the Irish. Well Ireland had never beaten New Zealand at rugby union, ever, and nobody was expecting it yesterday. But sport is not the opiate of the people for nothing. It is because it is the only thing in life which produces miracles so often. After only 20 minutes of the game the Irish were leading by 19-0. No team had ever led New Zealand by that margin in the history of the sport. And at half time Ireland were 22-7 ahead. But, for those of you who don’t know what happened in the second half I shall put you out of your misery. The All Blacks slowly ground the Irish down, but the green army was not going to surrender. They gave away a couple of silly penalties and were still hanging on by 22-17 as the last five minutes were reached. Every Irishman was on his feet as the clock ticked away. Yes you’ve guessed it. Just 29 second to play when the New Zealanders made one last push. They kept the ball in alive and in play well past the full time 80 minute mark and referee Nigel Owens of Wales needed eyes in both sides off his head as well as the front and back to make sure no infringements occurred which would have signalled the end of the game. That 30 seconds lasted three and a half minutes before the All Blacks somehow managed to cross the try line for a five point score and tie the match. BUT, and this really must be a unique coincidence in sporting history, because the conversion kick was yet to come. The New Zealand kicker seemed to take an age lining up the ball and finally ran up and smacked it high  and handsome but wide. The game was a draw! Or was it? Not for hawk-eyed Nigel it wasn’t. He noticed that several Irish players had started to charge down the ball fractionally before the kicker started his run up to kick it and so signalled to both captains that the kick had to be taken again. This time, of course, the ball went straight between the posts and New Zealand had turned a defeat into a draw and then a win all in the longest 30 seconds of rugby I have ever seen. But isn’t it nice to be able to enjoy drama of the level of these two games and, even in your disappointment, still be able to enjoy such soul stirring competition. I am often asked which code of rugby I prefer, the 13-a-side league version of Saturday or the 15-a-side union version of Sunday and I have to say that after this weekend there is absolutely nothing to choose between them when played at their very best. My only regret is the certainty that I shall never see two such games, played within the space of twenty four hours, again. Or will I?