No sideburns but Blogger still channels Big Mac vibe
2016 Wills Award winner Chris Humpleby surveys the digital landscape
Do you miss John McCririck? Not at all? To some degree? There are aspects of his bravado I don’t miss, including the Victorian-era facial hair and the infamous references to "the female on the machine". That was Tanya Stephenson’s cue to inform viewers of the latest price movements, directed by a man with no working knowledge of the internet or the progress of the feminist movement over the last hundred or so years.
However, I was left contemplating the post-Big Mac world when a montage of his liveliest betting ring implosions reached my twitter feed last week courtesy of this publication’s David Revers (@davereversRP). In the link, which was admittedly taken from his own VHS (yes, a video), McCririck voraciously defends his betting ring territory by fending off disruptive punters with withering put-downs such as "grow-up", "you nasty little toe-rag" and "buffoon", extolling the virtues of a Harrow education while providing amusing viewing in the same breath.
Notwithstanding his obvious faults, nobody can deny McCririck’s passion and energy for his work, his forensic knowledge of the betting jungle and the sense of fun he intentionally (and often unintentionally) injected into racing coverage on terrestrial television. He was frequently described as Marmite, but McCririck wasn’t Marmite, because Marmite doesn’t sue for discrimination if you choose a newer toast topping from the fridge. And Marmite is bland. McCririck is far from such.
This leads me neatly onto the Racing Blogger (@racingblogger). The nostalgic McCririck video was originally posted in reply to a tweet by Longshot Scott (@LongshotScott), who appeared to identify a very youthful-looking Blogger in the background of a Big Mac clip from the 1990s, under the banner ‘Hmmmmmm…Who is this?’
For anyone who has been living in a cave, the Blogger (Stephen Power) is a youthful racing enthusiast who, armed only with a selfie stick, an iPhone and discerning quantities of protein-based foodstuffs, travels around Britain interviewing trainers, jockeys and the media.
The Blogger is not everyone’s cup of tea – he’s loud, brash and no longer welcome in the home-end at the Emirates – but he’s enthusiastic, seemingly hard-working and not short of bottle when it comes to meeting racing's establishment.
I don’t think it would be fair on either party to describe the Blogger as a digital-era Big Mac, but the similarities between the two are not to be dismissed. And while the Blogger certainly needs a little polish applied around the edges, we – Generation Y – need more characters with his enthusiasm and energy to promote the sport across the spectrum of our peer group.
A thriving fan-base of young horseracing enthusiasts has pleasingly manifested itself on Twitter, as Lee Mottershead detailed in these pages earlier in the week. However, when it comes to ensuring the long-term future of the sport, perhaps we millennials could take heed from the Kennedy philosophy, asking not what racing can do for us, but what we can do for racing?
I would recommend we don’t grow sideburns, don’t use ‘female’ pejoratively and don’t overuse the word ‘lads’. But do grab your phone, do film something interesting and do show your passion to the rest of the world. Be a character – there is no harm in that.
I can often cope with the ironies of life because the ironies of life often provide us with a source of amusement. For instance, I smile when I pass a speed camera on the A14 because I know I am invariably travelling so slowly in such heavy traffic that said speed camera could perfectly capture my lamentable dental record down to the last filling.
Rarely, however, does irony induce the bellicose laughter I experienced earlier this week when Jockey Club Racecourses announced a stream of measures designed to combat anti-social and drunken behaviour on its racecourses. Following on from ‘celebrity’-nobodies-perform-moronic-actions-gate at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, racegoers in attendance at next month’s festival will, among other draconian restrictions, be prevented from buying more than four drinks (beer, wine, spirits) per person per round.
Anyone with previous experience of buying alcohol at one of the racecourse’s 26 bars will know full well the speed of service is usually turned to ‘Eider Chase’, and obtaining even a solitary beverage, let alone four of the buggers, is more painful than watching the field stream out for the 18th circuit of the Cross Country. The Cheltenham website proudly boasts "all of our staff are trained to the highest standards", although trained in what remains open to question.
Regardless, who buys five or more drinks in one round anyway? Large groups? Large groups who are enticed into attending by a large group booking discount? Ah yes, those large groups, for whom obtaining a round will now induce more bedlam than watching the field stream out for the 18th circuit of the Cross Country (I don’t like the Cross Country).
Predictably, the reaction to such a policy was muted on social media. Responses stemmed from the pragmatic: "Every member of the catering staff will see a video about responsible drinking. How about teaching them to pour a proper pint?" (@borisranting), to the financial: "How many people will turn up to Cheltenham half cut now cuz of the restricted drinking rule? Putting themselves out of pocket." (@JoshConkay), to the belligerent: "Cheltenham with their stupid new drinking rules. Just let us drink." (@KieraanTobin).
However, the final word must go to Geoff Banks (@geoffbanksbet), who helpfully pointed out the new restriction policy seemingly does not cover the sale of champagne, leaving the "toffs unaffected", despite the two women involved in the most high-profile case of debauchery last year - breastgate – being snapped drinking bubbles.
Notwithstanding the implication that somebody, somewhere has sought to purchase five bottles of champagne in one round, the idea that a bookmaker is willing to stand up for punters makes me dizzy enough to believe I have just set out on the 18th circuit of the Cross Country. Madness.