Tom Watson has played at the Augusta Masters for last time and if you read my blog on a regular basis you will be well aware that the frozen northerner likes his sports stars to be modest and unassuming. During the week of the Masters whilst watching the great Watson I caught Tiger Woods giving an interview stating how he is ready to return to the golfing fray with yet another comeback, in an effort to get past Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors. Do I want Woods to return to the golfing arena in an attempt to surpass Nicklaus’s record, hell no, when Phil Mickelson openly criticised Watson during the 2014 Ryder Cup he crossed the line, dishonouring his captain in manner that should not be seen in golf or any other sport for that matter. Men like Watson and Nicklaus are from a bygone era where the most important thing about the game of golf was its integrity, now like the majority of top class sports it is about the money. I mourn the loss of Watson, not only for his ethical and moral standards but also where for him the game of golf was always about the prize never about the money. Woods and Mickelson may have a lot more cash than Watson but they will never have his class. What I loved about Watson was that he always brought a kind of quiet authority to the game he adored, where he can rightly be regarded as one of the best players that ever played the sport. When the boy from Kansas City was at his peak he was as good as anyone and no one since the war has ever quite mastered links golf the way he did. His eight majors put him in sixth place overall in the all-time list of major champion winners, with the only downside to his career being his inability to capture the US PGA which would have given him the set of grand slam tournaments. But this not a blog about his achievements, this is a blog that plays homage to a man who ferociously clung to playing golf with an all-consuming honesty, by playing the game with the honour and respect that golf has always demanded. Watson might have left the stage where he once strode as a colossus but he leaves behind some great memories of player who always played by the rules, in an attempt to do justice to the game that he so loved.
Easter has come and gone and people are starting to think which polo shirts should be added to their wardrobe for the forthcoming hopefully warmer months, this summer classic which was once the sole domain of Lacoste, is now imitated by everyone from Ralph Lauren to Berluti. Every major retailer has jumped on the polo shirt bandwagon, with most of the major fashion houses seeing polo shirts as a good way to make easy money without having to put too much imagination into their product. The frozen northerner should therefore warn you of the perils that can lie ahead for the ill-advised, if you only buy only one polo shirt in your entire lifetime then it has to have been made by Lacoste, their simple little cotton pique number is without equal and has been worn for years by men with plenty of panache sailing up and down Nantucket sound, strolling on the promenades of the Italian Riviera or in the case of yours truly enjoying a beer on a Sunday afternoon in Tynemouth ,the Lacoste polo is quite rightly the only polo shirt that you should ever be seen in, or at least I thought so. Last year saw the start of an interesting collaboration between Fred Perry and an adopted son of the north east Nigel Cabourn. For his first offering in 2015 Cabourn constructed a polo shirt that is probably the best I have come across for many a long year, Cabourn who has always held a passion for updating vintage clothing, has used his relationship with Fred Perry to produce an absolute peach of a shirt, Cabourn has cleverly reworked the style of a classic 1950,s tennis shirt showing just how good a polo shirt can be in the hands of the right man. This model has quite a loose fit, has no tipping which is traditionally associated with the Fred Perry polo and has a wider placket with a more of a cut away collar than you would normally find on a polo shirt, all of which enhances the beauty of the product. Cabourn in his first collection used only three colours giving you a piece of highly understated merchandise, which will become a much sought after collector’s item. Now in his third partnership with company I have say that his current offerings does not match his previous two efforts, although having said that, this collection does include a range of high crew neck pullovers that remind me of why the sixties were so great, but to pull off wearing this stylish little piece you are going to have be serious classy, something like this would probably have worn by the likes of Bobby Moore whilst holidaying abroad with Tina. Nigel Cabourn has really touched a nerve with the frozen northerner, I don’t whether or not these products have sold well in the shops and to be honest I don’t really care, all I can say is that Perry/Cabourn partnership has to be applauded for the products they have produced over the last two years. Deep down I still treasure my Lacoste polo shirts but I could argue that Cabourn’s Fred Perry are better, so if I were Lacoste’s head boy I would be heading straight for the archives or to Nigel Cabourn because that is where you are going to find your great polo shirts.
Easter is normally the first holiday of the year for the frozen northerner, January, February and March are probably the months that I like the least so, Easter brings an opportunity for me to relax away from the drudgery of everyday life and that normally means a trip abroad to replenish the batteries. The frozen northerner is self-confessed Italophile which requires him to attempt a minimum of three pilgrimages a year to her shores. Italy has everything for me, great cities, wonderful architecture, breath-taking scenery, fantastic beaches, the list is pretty much endless, and since I first visited it about ten years ago, I have never went anywhere else on holiday. Fairly often you will see that most tourist guides will tell you blend in and act like a local, so when in Italy this should be a fairly simple task for the frozen northerner who is rather dark skinned and tans very easily, are you kidding me, despite tanning to an extremely dark shade of brown the frozen northerner has never once been mistakenly identified as an Italian and here is the reason why. Last week I had the good fortune to spend the week in Palermo, Sicily, for a little bit of sightseeing, the weather was good with the temperature ranging from around 70 to 75 so, that meant that the frozen northerner was going to wander the city in nothing more than a polo shirt (be very careful here) a pair of chinos (even more care required) and inevitably sunglasses (no mistakes here please) in attempt to look and stay cool at all times. The Sicilians tended to take a different approach to yours truly and were frequently observed wearing scarfs, full length raincoats (notably Burberry) quilted jackets (also Burberry) and all sorts of attire that I tend to regard as winter clothing. By the end of each day the game was very much up, me looking dishevelled with the heat, and the Sicilians still looking cool and stylish in spite of the humidity, admitting defeat the frozen northerner retired each afternoon to Spinnato’s Caffe to relax with an aperitif and gaze up the fast talking, gesticulating Sicilians, as they wandered up and down their crumbling streets. Palermo is certainly not as flashy as say Milan or Florence, but that’s not the point, Palermo like most places in the south is poor and is in need of restoration but that does mean you should not visit, it has some breath-taking building such as the fantastic Quattro Canti, the stunning Theatro Massimo and the splendid fountain in Piazza Pretoria. If sightseeing is not for you there is enough shops to keep any woman happy, or you could do what I tend to do and just sit in small café and people watch. The frozen northerner and his wife, the Contessa di Proctoro will, I suspect never tire of Italy, the Italian economy may be in a perilous state, which could see them ending up in the same situation as Greece, knowing the Italian mentality this is not something that they will take too lightly, but rest assured if they are going go down they are going to do with a style that you and I can only dream of.
Forgotten Heroes: Tommie Smith
The picture above shows a black athlete wearing a black running vest, white shorts black socks and a pairs of red puma spikes (believe me they are red) his name is Tommie Smith and this how I remember him. In 1967 the BBC‘s flagship sports programme Grandstand, featured an athletics meeting from the White City stadium in London, if I am honest I cannot remember anything about the meeting apart from one event which I think was the 440 yards. The race’s two main protagonists were the 1964 400 metres Trinidadian silver medallist, Wendell Mottley and the American Tommie Smith. I had never heard of Smith, but I had seen Mottley run on several occasions and was fairly confident that he would win. How naive was I back then, Smith breezed through race winning fairly comfortably from Mottley who finishing second, thus revealing that I knew little or nothing about athletics. Smith has unwittingly captured my imagination and being a highly impressionable 12 year I was eager to follow his career which was ridiculous because, unlike today, worldwide sports coverage at that time was extremely limited. I kept my eyes open just in case anything turned up in the press (by press I mean The Daily Mirror) or on TV, but nothing appeared of any note and he quickly disappeared from my mind. That was it till the following year when, the BBC decided to show the US Olympic trials from Lake Tahoe in Nevada, where Tommie Smith would compete in the 200 metres trials. Now aged 13 and based now on my unrivalled knowledge of athletics I was of the opinion that Smith could not be beaten. The shock of him being defeated (who was John Carlos anyway) hit me like a thunderbolt and with the Mexico Olympics coming up in the October of that year I was left me doubting whether or not Smith could win that gold medal. What I didn’t know at the time was what was going on in the background with Smith at that time. As a child living in a pit village in Northumberland in the 60’s I was totally unaware of what was actually going in the world and truth be told I didn’t care. The frozen northerner knew nothing about politics, who does at 13 years of age, so I was completely unware of the pressure that Smith was under as a black political activist. Smith was heavily involved in the civil rights movement which, that time which was sweeping across America, but all I saw was a 6’ 3” 185 pound athlete who held several world records that moved around the track like a gazelle. By the time Smith arrived in Mexico City with the rest of the American Olympic team he was poised and ready to produce one of the defining moments in Olympic history. Smith look great in the three rounds leading up to the final, but so did John Carlos, who would also look comfortable in winning all his heats and would join Smith in the final. My confidence in Smith was not encouraged by the fact he had picked up a hamstring in his semi-final, fortunately my fears were unfounded with Smith producing a blistering performance to win the gold medal in 19. 83 a new world record that would stand for over a decade, Carlos finished third taking the bronze medal. For me as child of 13 it was probably one of the greatest moments in track history that I have ever seen. The events that occurred that the medal ceremony afterwards have been covered thousands of times and I will only say that you have to admire Smith and Carlos for their act of defiance on the podium. They showed how it felt to be black Americans, first class athletes but second class citizens in their own country. For me personally never having the opportunity to see Smith run at that level again was an absolute tragedy, on his day Smith was as good as Bolt or Johnson and had raced he in a another time he probably would have been regarded as the greatest sprinter of all time, but that’s beside the point, what makes Smith so great that he prepared to sacrifice everything for beliefs and you don’t find many of those types of qualities in athletes involved in sport nowadays.