Into traditional country pastimes? Enjoy a bit of a flutter? Like watching horses die? Then come along to the Grand National! The race all the family can learn to gamble on!
Avert your eyes as voluptuous lassies totter by like uncertain T.Rex’s. Revel in the atmosphere at the start as three numpties tug at a tape that was first used in 175(frigging)4. Laugh as this nation’s favourite jump-jockey hitches a lift to fetch his runaway steed. Roar as jockey after horse after jockey rolls around on the turf as thudding hooves threaten to separate their bones from one another!
Is that Ashley Young in the red there?
Look perplexed as black curtains appear from nowhere to shoot another equine victim through the bonce. Look even more puzzled when you remember that if a jockey breaks his ribs they take him off in an ambulance. Wonder aloud that if the jockey faced the same fate as the horse he might jump over them big fences with a lot more care.
Put that to the back of your mind as two horses power their way up the home straight in a finish so thrilling it took your breath away almost as quickly as the bloke with the shotgun pointed at the head of Synchronised.
Isn’t it Grand, the National? Well yes. And no.
There’s no doubt that this event is not the kindest way to treat an animal. You only have to look at the unburdened bliss of the galloping horses who have unseated their riders and avoided the menacing black curtains to see how much more pleasant life could be for these mighty beasts.
If it was down to common sense – or even horse sense – the Grand National would no more exist than a boxing match. But I enjoy it, despite myself. At least I do up until the point where the bones snap and the desperadoes employed to put an animal out of his misery emerge from their deathly hollows. Much as I love a good boxing match until some instantaneously unconscious fellow falls backwards and his battered head smashes against the canvas.
So, along with anyone with a pulse and a conscience, I’m finding it hard to write a blog while simultaneously wringing my hands. Country folk, a breed apart (and in some corners of this fair land of ours, an inbreed apart) will tell you that this sort of horse racing is part of a long tradition that goes back yonks. You know... like otter-hunting, badger-baiting and incest. But we’ve banned them.
Theirs is not the stoutest of arguments. But even the RSPCA aren’t talking about banning the whole thing. There are many things that would improve safety: fewer runners, shorter course, lower fences - OK, no fences; actually, you know what call it a flat race and put them Irish pixies and Frankie Dettori on their backs and it’ll all be fine. So long as the little sadists don’t whip the nags to death before they cross the finishing line.
I suppose the point is that the Grand National is dangerous to horse and rider. (Maybe if a jockey dies there’ll be a rethink.) And surely the peril is the point. If it was six furlongs with a broomstick to hop over no one would give a shit. And no animal would die in the making of the race. Yawn.
Either we embrace it as it is, deaths and all, or we say no pony gets to die in my name. In the UK, it's a tragedy. In France, it's lunch. Let's not speak of this again. Til next year.
More cruelty was inflicted – or in Everton’s case self-inflicted – in the FA Cup semi-finals. For a team that thrives on an Up'n'At'Em attitude, Moyesy’s boys seemed Down'N'Off'Em after they scored. They let Liverpool blunder into their second Cup Final. The Reds deserved it cos the Blues didn't.
Meanwhile Chelsea benefitted from the ghost goal syndrome. (Mourinho must be spitting feathers).
There’s no point banging on about this any longer except to say that the only person who looked like an utter chump was Martin Atkinson, and the poor sod should not be left in that position.
I mean for fuck’s sake this country has CC-Bastard-TV on every street corner of every town in the hope that transgressions of the law might be witnessed and the perpetrators prosecuted. However that’s nowt compared to the number of lenses pointing at the action in a high-profile football match. It’s positively intrusive. I’m surprised Sky doesn’t stick a pen-cam up a penalty-taker’s arse during a shoot-out.
And yet when it comes to a SIMPLE case of ‘was it in or not?’ the ref can not resort to its use. It’s bonkers. Utterly bonkers. It’s so stupid that I’m sure George Osborne would hesitate before not using it.
Atkinson is clearly a decent human being and he apologised to Redknapp afterwards. Be nice to think that’s the last time. Be even nicer to think that Ashley Young might have a ready apology for going down more easily than a Friday lunchtime ale.
Even Ferguson had to concede that the lad hit the deck like a soft pat of butter. We had the usual ‘there was contact’ apologia, as if a passing moth could take out a fit and fleet winger.
The thing is, while you could say that neither the penalty kick at Old Trafford nor the non-existent goal at Wembley (presumably scored by Juan Anti-Mata) were conclusive, they did affect the matches. Because they were goals.
Ashley Young's Plummet to the Summit
If there was a villain this weekend, it wasn’t Atkinson, it wasn’t even the dopy Aintree arse-wipe who thought they could hold up a race while someone retrieved their horse (imagine Usain Bolt turning up 10 minutes late and still getting a start), it was Ashley Young for taking United on a plummet to the summit. And once again proving that personal morality means nowt so long as you're winning – even if thirty-eight cameras are watching.