Rob Houwing

Sofa, so good...

2010-07-02 08:37
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Rob Houwing’s TV sport column

The temptation was just too good to resist: would I manage to get within an arm’s length of Gary Lineker, legendary England striker and BBC television front-man at the 2010 World Cup?

It might not sound too much of a big deal, but keep in mind that the Beeb have controversially spared very little expense in making their extended broadcast team in South Africa “comfortable”.

For instance, on Mr Lineker’s security alone, it has been widely reported, the organisation is spending around R12 000 a day in our crime-ravaged (etc, etc, etc) country. Imagine Hugh Bladen, Matthew Pearce or Robin Jackman having that spent on their SuperSport safety abroad!

Well, a few days ago, a visiting Sun soccer writer, who I know well and who stayed with my family during England’s slightly curtailed appearance at the tournament, thanked us for the hospitality by treating us to a restaurant in a Cape Town sea-front suburb known to be popular with well-heeled British visitors.

We duly spotted Lineker at a nearby table on the fairly quiet, sun-soaked afternoon, amidst a group of around eight.

Now just how many of them may have been his low-key security detachment I am not too sure, but the atmosphere was extremely relaxed and the famous predator in the box, now 49, spent a fair amount of time pacing gently behind his seat on his cell-phone (or “mobile” as they prefer to call them in Blighty).

My eight-year-old son is too young, of course, to recall Lineker’s England heyday, although he was puzzled and heartbroken by Wayne Rooney’s innocuous showing at the latest World Cup so we regaled him instead with tales of Lineker’s exploits (48 goals in 80 internationals).

We also explained how Lineker is a Freeman of Leicester (meaning he can graze his sheep on the town hall square if he fancies) and that they renamed some crisps “Salt ‘n Lineker” in England.

Suddenly my son was rapidly shifting allegiance to a hero past rather than present, and so came the inevitable request: “Can you ask for his autograph?”

Ouch, might this be deemed a security breach if I try? (I am not normally in the habit of disturbing off-duty celebs anyway.)

But I took a Dutch-courage sip of beer and set off for the table with a scrappy piece of paper and pen, half-expecting to rapidly find myself in an unwanted headlock.

To his eternal credit, Lineker was friendly and instantly obliging, even writing: “To Leo, best wishes, Gary Lineker.”

Who knows, perhaps the Beeb have even decided to ditch the security “suits” as the tournament nears a pleasantly chilled and trouble-free climax - surprise, surprise - and cough up R12 000 a day on more pressing things?

Like leisurely Atlantic-side lunches?

Rob’s awesome foursome:

1. Brazil v Holland, World Cup quarter-final soccer
Port Elizabeth, Friday 16:00, SABC1, SS3, SS HD & Maximo

The Dutch haven’t been beaten in an international – either friendly or more competitive – for what seems donkey’s years, but now comes the acid test: Brazil at the business end of the World Cup! If they don’t fill the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium to capacity for this one then they never will again. This is tough to call, and could well go all the way through 120 minutes to a shootout. Holland traditionally don’t do penalties very well, so I’ll be swinging towards the likelihood of a samba party if we reach that situation. As for the later encounter at Soccer City (20:30), let’s unashamedly show our African bias, shall we? Gun to my head and I have to mildly fancy Uruguay, but c’mon you Black Stars …

2. Argentina v Germany, World Cup quarter-final soccer
Cape Town, Saturday 16:00, SABC1, SS3, HD & Maximo

The last World Cup meeting between these known (and both currently in-form to an enticing degree) superpowers of soccer came at the identical stage in 2006. The Germans sneaked it in Berlin, a little against the odds, on penalties after a 1-1 deadlock in normal play. Typically, the host nation didn’t fail with any of their four pot-shots, while Messrs Roberto Ayala and Esteban Cambiasso were responsible for the Argentine grief. I tip Argentina for revenge here after a compelling battle. The night game? Spain to canter past Uruguay. I need that for my office pool glory hopes, you see.

3. Wimbledon women’s and men’s tennis finals
London, Saturday & Sunday 15:00, SS2 & CSN

Fed Ex! It’s doubtless been used somewhere before, but if I’d been a sub-editor on a UK tabloid trying to cram a headline into a tight space after Roger Federer’s shock quarter-final elimination from Wimbledon 2010 at the hands of Tomas Berdych (breaking a seven-year staple presence of the veteran Swiss star in the final) that might have been my pick. It could have had symbolic value, after all, considering that he turns 29 in August and some punters will be tempted to suggest it’s the end of his presence now in the traditional Sunday showpiece. I didn’t know either finals line-up as this was written, but don’t miss the women’s one either … same time, same channel options on Saturday.

4. Tour de France cycling
Rotterdam, Saturday 18:00, SS7 (and 19:00 CSN)

It’s the 8km prologue of the 97th Tour de France in the Dutch city, followed on Sunday (coverage from 11:30 on SS5, note) by the first stage from Rotterdam to Brussels. There are 20 stages in all, with two rest days factored in, until the traditional Parisian climax on Sunday, July 25. Spaniard Alberto Contador is being heavily tipped in Europe, but of course the presence of a 38-year-old Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner, is hardly going to go unnoticed, is it?

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