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The Gaffer Tapes

BY DESMOND HACK-SHANKS

Sharron (Sue) Sherlock

The combative mother of two from Stevenage announced herself to the overwhelming masculine world of championship darts by choosing Johnny Cash’s classic A Boy Named Sue for her Alexandra Palace debut walk-on theme music. Who can forget the rhythmic fist pumps as the country legend sang: ‘My name is Sue. How do you do?’ Sharron was Princess of the Palace even before she stepped on to the oche: the first woman to compete against men in what became known as The Battle of Arras. Forget the mixed results that followed, she was already an icon to thousands of young girls anxious to follow her. Here, she tells how she’s dedicating her life to coaching, training and inspiring a new generation of female darts aspirants.

OK, me breaking down all-male barriers has helped a lot of girls. It was tough, mind. Peeing standing up, learning the ritual off-putting fart as an opponent goes for a nine-darter, the obligatory pints of lager. So, my match stats weren’t brill but I was there in my own right: equal with the ponces who think you’ve got to have a dick to be anyone!

I could have gone on competing but WTF? Forever touching up my trademark hair colour (Garnier’s Copper Passion 740, girls). Sharpening me tungstens when I should be ironing. A different Premier Inn every week. I’d rather be at home sharing Hobnobs with my hubby in front of Love Island. Covid gave me the chance to get into online coaching: dart selection, hand-eye arm arcs, super-fast subtraction to maintain the flow. So that’s the future. Do I think a woman will ever be world champ? One day, for sure but it’s just not going to be me…


Julie Mitchell

The ubiquitous tennis mom became a fixture in the Wimbledon VIP box, fist pumping and gurning at the Beeb’s ever present sycophantic camera crew as her youngest son ground out another turgid point on the greensward below. It seemed to be all about her… until the ghastly Arnie faded as a player and capricious little Sue Barker started to suck up to someone else. But you can’t keep a game girl down and Julie reinvented herself on Celebrity One For the Pot with Steve Davis and Strictly Come Darning. Now, in between takes for her new ITV8 show, Famous Mums of Sulky Sons, she talks (sometimes parenthetically) to the Drone.

Look, I haven’t got long so hush your whisst and get on with it. No, forget Arnie, I was the real star … until he got a wife. Typically, he couldn’t marry the girl next door. Oh no, not him. She’s an absolute fucking stunna (as my mates on the Star say). So where do the cameras focus now? Not on McMuggins, you may be sure. Still, I’ve got over all that now. I’ve got my own life to lead. £4,500 non-surgical facelift to banish ‘turkey neck’; the full zygomatic teeth implant experience (with complimentary [and complementary] whitening): I’m ready for my close-up, buster. The Sky TV’s the limit!

Dame Tilly Truedyke

Dame Tilly, now in her seventies, has a distinguished and exemplary record in women’s sport, both as a competitor, coach and administrator. In her youth she was that rare beast, a double international in cricket and rugger, as she calls it. An acrobatic wicket keeper, she was also an aggressive No.7 bat and a combative prop forward who packed down with the legendary Alicia Fortescue-Pirbright for Hampton Ladies and England (or the Red Roses, as she hates that they are now called). Naturally, she was captain of both and effortlessly slipped into coaching and, later, administration when her playing days were over. Dame Tilly is currently an adviser to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and, in a rare interview, shares her thoughts with the Drone.

Bind up your boobies and beef up your thighs! That’s what I advise any gel considering a career in sport. Of course, there are mental challenges but you’ve got to be physically as fit as a flea to compete at the highest level. I remember Fanny Furtwangler, the iconic coach of the East German women’s gymnastics team, insisting that anyone who wanted to play around with her had to jump the horse naked first. What a girl! They don’t make disciplinarians like Fanny any more. Myself, I aim to catch ‘em young when they’re keen and willing and haven’t been seduced by boys, pop music and crochet. To be honest, these days I’m not too sure about my contribution to the DCM&S. It’s a strange beast. Between you and me, I don’t think that little Ollie Dowden actually knows anything about Digital, Culture or Media let alone Sport. Dim bulb, don’t you know? Dim bulb.

Travail and Bishop

Who can forget Britain’s beautiful golden, golden-haired couple at the Zackonstadt Winter Games? Jenny and Jeremy, ice dancing their way to immortality and iconhood. A nation beguiled and seduced. 

More than 51 million huddled around Bakelite TVs as the strains of  the Johnny Cash classic A Boy Named Sue filled the cheap, tatty Soviet state auditorium. For precisely four magical minutes and eight scintillating seconds Travail and Bishop held the world in their hands. 

The rest is history: perfect sixes, gold medals, awards from the Queen, international adoration and acclaim. Today, though, nearly 40 years later, things are markedly different. As they take a break from coaching children aspiring to emulate them in a draughty skating rink on a wet Wednesday in Wednesbury, they reflect on what was then … and what is now.

‘It’s so sad, really,’ breathes Jenny, her aging doll-like features creased in concern. ‘That it’s come to this really pisses me off, you know? I mean this lot. Look at them. OK, they try hard (believe me, they’re very trying) but they couldn’t tell a triple toe loop from John Currie’s rancid jock strap. Frankly, I couldn’t give a flying fuck (Isn’t that a notorious Fleet Street rubadub? — Ed) if someone cut a hole in the ice and they all fell though.’

‘Steady, girl’, says Jeremy, taking her elbow. ‘I know it’s hard but bitterness isn’t going to help. When you’ve scaled the heights we did, the perfect multi-rotational twizzles we pulled off, there was always going to be a fall. I’m just glad that no one any longer asks if we are having it off. Hardly likely, eh, duckie?’

Gervase

Until a ‘suit’ in the Long Room raised a gnarled, valedictory finger, Gervase was a familiar sight, languidly leaning over the balcony at Lord’s or Trent Bridge. The surname of England’s Test selector, who has just lost his job, was rarely used when he haunted cricket grounds sniffing out new talent. He’s so well known that it’s not strictly necessary. G, as he’s also sometimes called, is always immaculately dressed in a bespoke dark suit and white shirt but rarely a tie, although Eton, MCC and the Mayfair Strollers hang in his Notting Hill wardrobe. An Oxford double blue (who also took a first, by the way), he has just been told his selectorial role has been ‘abolished’. Bad form, really as he and fellow selector, Gavin, were an intimidating sight wearing dark glasses and whispering conspiratorially before, Mafia-like, making uncapped players an offer they couldn’t refuse. Now Gervase shrugs, and, before he moves on, spares a few thoughts for the Drone:

Sapiens qui prospicit as my old beak used to say. I think we had quite a good run: the results speak for themselves. I like to see a fellow play his natural game. They’ve got to be honest, hearty and hardworking to catch my eye. Obviously, I would never consider them if they hadn’t got bundles of talent. I was happy to leave it to Silverwood and his coaching chaps to bring the best out of them: the technical stuff such as head movement, foot positioning and whatnot. The bowlers? Between you and me, they’re the grunts. The quicks we worked like drayhorses, until they tired and keeled over between the shafts (not literally, of course). Spinners? A work in progress, I confess. Ideally, I like my skippers to have been to a good cricketing school but, if not, I concede we often had to iron out their vowels before allowing them on the telly. Obviously, the new regime will have their own ideas. Play up and play the game, I say.  Shall I see you down at Hove, dear boy? Jolly place - and they do the most marvellous tea.

Fergus O’Flaherty

The Irish footballing legend has been the hot tip to be new boss of Celtic, still reeling (as we say in Sport) after being denied a 10th consecutive title by their resurgent Glasgow rivals, Rangers. However, it has to be admitted, an invitation to meet the board has yet to come even though its nine weeks after Neil Lennon’s dismissal. No one doubts O’Flaherty’s pedigree or his hunger for glory but at his former clubs clashes with fellow players, coaches, directors and fans (plus the bus driver on a bad day) were not unknown. Has he the man management skills to emulate the silky insouciance (Eh? — Ed) of his Ibrox rival, Stevie Gerrard? Here he shares a few thoughts on his interview technique (should the interview ever come):

Look, you lot! There’s two things I hate: the fucking press and directors  So if any of you wankers gives me a hard time I’ll have you behind the Jimmy McGrory stand and hand out such a clogging that it will make Riverdance seem like a Viennese Waltz. And as for the team and the fucking supporters...

Hang on. What’s that? Eddie Howe’s got the job.  Ahem, I back Eddie all the way. I’m all for reaching out to the directors, players and the fans so that they may unite in making Celtic once again the envy of Scotland, Europe and the world. And if Mr Howe would consider me in some sort of back room role I’d shed a tear to affirm I’d be humbled by both the enormity of the task and the inspiration that leads us on. As my old granny down in Meath used to say: Faugh a Ballagh! Excuse me now...I’ve got to put the cones out.

Vinnie Samuels

Like his father before him, Vinnie presides over an international sports promotion empire from a blue-washed mansion/office overlooking the M25 in Essex. 

Fast-talking, quick-thinking Vinnie is known as a smart operator, equally at home at the Crucible, Sheffield or Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Not much happens in the world of prize snooker or international boxing without him knowing. He also keeps a canny eye on darts and poker. 

Here he talks to Drone Sport:

I love my boys, I do, knowwhamean? Whether they’re in a fancy wescoat or a championship belt they’re mine somehow. I feels responsible for ‘em. Like their dad, I suppose, although I’m only 39. 

Sometimes I have to keep em in line, swelp me. Steve Davis. Grannies love him but, although he’s made 33 million quid from the game he can still kick off, you know. One word from me, though, knowhamean? 

And that Lenny Livid. When he’s outa line I looks him straight in the belly button (only havin a giraffe: I’m not that short-arsed) and gives him a free character reading. 

But although I love the bantz with the boys, it’s the deals which really ring my old dingdong. Emails at 3am, tough talking on Zoom, tying up a contract on one of my iPhone 14s while taking the kids to school. Squillions! Magic!

Giancarlo Esposito 

Esposito left a Serie B club in Italy last summer to manage a team in the lower reaches of the Premier League. Things haven’t been going too well and have, perhaps, been exacerbated by his lack of English. Now, though, after months of intensive instruction by the chairman’s daughter, he is ready to address the media, including Drone Sport, for the first time in his adopted language. 

‘Ciao, senores. Well, no es facile being boss in the Prem especially when Jurgen and team come over you klopping. See. I make-a the joke in ze English. Never walk alone, no?

But no joke Saturday. I call extra training. I tell lads need to tighten the back up, make set pieces happen for us, kicka the pens. I warn clear mass out in next window. 

No, don’t do good so far but chairman he tell me he vote confident. Daughter very lively to me. Teaches happy English. One on one. Papa he no so pleased. 

Scusi, senores. Telephon e mobile. Text it say come special teatime with directors. Change new direction. Basics go back. Who Big Sam? Andiamo!

Willie Wombat

Wombat is a taciturn, tell-it-as-it-is, take-no-prisoners rugby coach who taciturnly tells it as it is, takes no prisoners and coaches rugby. He has had varied and inconsistent results in charge of the England rugby team which regularly under-achieves on the world stage. Here, he reflects on a disappointing Six Nations, his hopes for the future and his ethos for winning rugby.

Playing fields of Eton? Fuck that! More like Savai’i Savisito College, Samoa. Now we’re drinking from the same billabong, mate. A coupla brick shithouses up front, maybe another at 13. Unlucky for some, eh? Specially those fancy damn frogs. Pain? We don’t feel it (but they do!) Aggression? That’s what it’s all about: in the scrum, at the breakdown and in the bar afterwards. Rugby on the fucking edge is what I call it. Penalty try? No worries. We’ll risk it to gain an advantage. My skipper needs to be in the ref’s ear with a bit of kidology trying to get decisions our way. Spin the ball wide, if you like; let the fairies dance down the wing. Me? I prefer a rolling maul crashing over between the posts with the opposition front row in tears. And if the blazers at HQ don’t like it, do you know what: they can do the other thing. Now pick the fucking bones out of that! G’day.

Tommy Thistlethwacker

T’Thistle, as he’s universally known, is a squat, shaven-headed enforcer in a sport where such an intimidating breed is writ large: Rugby League. He may be coming to the end of his time as player-manager of Wakefield Wassocks, but it would be a mistake to think the young academy ingenues don’t still regard him with brown-trousered fear and awe. He has an off-off relationship with the media but, here, he gives a rare insight into life as a legend.

I mind fust time I played for t’Wassocks. I’d just come off earlies at pit. Covered in coal dust and, because of gas build-up in Coupar’s Crevice, canary had just died. Still, I turned out and scored winner and it just went from there really. Gradely times, gradely games, gradely mates. Reet gradely. 

Meeting Sandra at Locarno put tin hat on it: she and t’young uns ‘ave kept feet on ground. I’ve spent last 15 years like a pig in. There’s nowt like pickin’ oop Challenge Cup at Wembley when mates ‘ave given their everything. 

Oh, aye I were offered to switch codes. ’Arlequins, it were. I played one season but couldn’t wait to come ‘ome. They weren’t bad lads for southern shirtlifters but they all wore ties in t’bar after match. Eckie thump! Only thing I’d use them for is tying up runners in th’allotment. 

I were glad to get back to Yorkshire and carry on kicking two shades of sh1t out of pansies on t’other side of Pennines I tell ya. Grrr!


© 2005-2021 Alastair McIntyre