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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Rapid response required from racecourses after sickening Goodwood fracas

The Thursday column

Goodwood, a stunningly beautiful sporting location, was marred by ugly scenes
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It is the most shocking thing I have seen on a racecourse. The fight that marred Saturday’s fixture at Goodwood has been captured on a couple of smartphone cameras and shared on social media.

If you’ve seen it you’ll share my view, unless you live somewhere extremely violent. If you haven’t, you’ll feel a lot better for giving it a miss but brace yourself if you do press play.

The sight of a man being punched to the ground and seemingly being spark out even before, a second later, he is kicked hard in the side of the head, is truly sickening, as are the flurry of punches and kicks that are landed on various other people in the aftermath.

This was a dark moment for racing as such extreme violence took place on a day of glorious sunshine that should have created a blissful afternoon at one of the world’s most stunningly beautiful sporting locations.

Instead, a ten-minute fracas involving around 50 people caused pandemonium and created the images that have stained Goodwood and the sport in the days that followed.

Forget a horse being disqualified because its rider weighed in too light, or a runner who has bolted on the way to the start shortening in the betting to squeeze the Rule 4 deduction. This is genuinely harmful to the sport’s image and threatens to turn off existing and potential new racegoers.

So what do we do? Who is to blame? How can a repeat of this mayhem be avoided?

Let’s start with blame. This falls almost entirely on the people who go to the races to fight. This reprehensible inability to behave in a civilised manner is utterly disgusting and one could ask why a racecourse should have to take measures to quell such disturbances.

But sadly humans have form in the book for this sort of thing. Some of us cannot handle the drink or the drugs or whatever it is that causes people to attack one another.

So, if courses want to fill their tills by selling alcohol in large quantities (and perhaps in future we will see an end to those press releases that boast about how many pints and how many bottles of fizz will be sold during big meetings), they are obliged to spend sufficient money on security staff to deal with those pathetic people who are prone to clenching their fists when they have drunk a certain amount.

I have sympathy for the Goodwood executive because the sheer levels of violence that were filmed on Saturday cannot realistically have been foreseen.

But ten minutes is a long time for a fight to go without being suppressed – Hearns versus Hagler lasted only eight minutes – and the intense and comprehensive review that will have taken place this week will surely conclude that having security staff wearing plain clothes rather than being dressed as a visible deterrent was a mistake.

Every racecourse hosting a summer fixture that draws a decent crowd will now have to take a look at their security and they might consider how to deal with the seemingly increasing problem of drugs, notably cocaine.

The Racecourse Association recently launched a campaign aimed at reducing drug abuse with the slogan ‘End your day on the right high’, but they need to get tough with this issue.

More than one Racing Post reporter has noticed a recent phenomenon of snaking queues to enter the men’s toilets before and during racing and, without being too graphic, this is highly unlikely to be due to a changing trend in the timing of male bowel movements.

Let’s hope lessons are learned and this is a one-off because racing can ill afford a summer of headlines and video footage such as those generated on Saturday.

A day at the races is a superb sporting and social experience when there are no intoxicated idiots running amok but courses need to make the safety of racegoers their highest priority – however much it costs.

Snooker-loopy fans can do without the rabbit

TV sports commentators generally say too much. They should work on the basis that, given when people go to watch sports live they neither need nor get a commentary, television viewers can make do with far less information than they currently receive.

The main purpose of a commentator these days is to alert us that it is worth looking up from our phone or tablet. These are referred to as second screens but I cannot be alone in believing the second screen is actually the television in a lot of cases.

Think of a sport and then ask yourself whether the commentator needs to talk as much as he or she does. More often than not I’ll wager the answer is no.

The obvious exception is racing, where the viewing experience would be far less enjoyable without the current crop of superb callers expertly keeping us up to date with which horse is which without us needing to spend ages memorising the colours.

Otherwise, though, we would benefit from hearing less from the guys in the gantry. The soundtrack to football and both versions of rugby mainly consists of the name of the person in possession being uttered, while tennis, golf and darts are all largely self-explanatory as long as the on-screen scoreboard is functioning properly.

It is in snooker, though, that more silence really would be golden. The game develops slowly, giving viewers ample time to grasp what is happening, so there really isn’t any benefit to the commentators speaking much, except perhaps to add some insight into various shot dilemmas the players may be facing.

It is not a crime to keep quiet. Nobody will be calling for wages to be docked due to a reduction in output.

The crime is to feel obliged to rabbit on even though we can all see the bloke at the table is potting balls in the required order, thus building a break he hopes will result in the winning of a frame.

And during the recent Betfred World Championship it became extremely tedious when commentators resorted to speculating how the match situation would change depending on which player won each frame.

What might be termed the Mike Hallett school of commentating would see one of the commentators inform us that the current frame was either huge or massive because of the significance of the difference between Player A leading, say, 6-4 or drawing 5-5.

This pointless chatter would take place virtually every frame even though the slowest viewer was perfectly capable of working out what the score would be depending on which player was victorious.

It was a tremendous tournament with a heartwarming climax as Mark Williams showed nerves of steel to land his first world title for 15 years having, as he said afterwards, watched last year’s competition contemplating retirement in a caravan because he had failed to qualify.

But one of snooker’s virtues is its mesmerically slow tempo, and it would be warmly appreciated if more commentators took the same view of the chronically underused Neal Foulds and realised that most of us are quite happy to watch frames unfold in peace.

Outlook finally looking brighter for Sky Blues

The best stats are usually the ones you come across with a feeling of excitement in the belief that they might help you land a decent punt, but the stat of last weekend provoked a feeling of sadness for a group of football fans who have suffered more than the vast majority of clubs' supporters.

Coventry, it was revealed by a particularly thorough Observer researcher, achieved something on Saturday that they not managed since 1970 – a top-six finish in any division.

That’s 48 consecutive seasons without making the top six, an incredible period of misery and disappointment that would surely have sapped Sky Blues fans of all hope had it not been for the joyful punctuation of the FA Cup triumph in 1987.

This column has churned out some risible nonsense down the years but nothing compares to the comment I made 17 years ago when Coventry’s admirable 34-year stint in the top division finally ended.

Don’t worry, I tried to comfort their supporters. It’ll be fine. You’ll have a season or two in the Championship but you’ll enjoy the feeling of winning more games and you’ll be back in the highest tier in no time.

Since then they have gradually sunk to the fourth division and had managed only two top-ten finishes before this season’s comparative revival, which has seen them reach the playoffs.

It is truly staggering that since that sixth-placed finish in 1970 the club have finished in the top ten only eight times. Compare that to Liverpool, who in the same period have finished outside the top six of the top division only six times.

Coventry meet Notts Country in the playoff semi-finals and their beleaguered fans, who – let's not forget – have also had to suffer a period of homelessness during which their matches were played at Northampton, deserve a trip to Wembley more than most.


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This is genuinely harmful to the sport’s image and threatens to turn off existing and potential new racegoers
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