Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sporting partnerships

The 1980s were littered with double acts, some great, others less so; the Two Ronnies, Little and Large, Cannon and Ball, Chas and Dave, Kylie and Jason, Crockett and Tubbs, the list goes on. This week I am going to take a look at some sporting partnerships of the decade, including tales of success and failure, arguments, romance, and record breakers.

Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes

Where better to start than with arguably the finest opening partnership to have ever graced cricket. Greenidge and Haynes were the bedrock of the West Indian batting line-up for 13 years, including the whole of the 1980s, as international bowlers tried manfully to break through at the top of the innings, in order to have the joy of bowling at the likes of Richards and Lloyd. Although the decade would start with the West Indies' only series defeat in New Zealand, the duo still found time to put on 225 in the drawn second Test at Auckland. It was a sign of things to come.

Of course their partnership didn't always succeed, opening the innings in a Test is fraught with dangers, but throughout the era of West Indian dominance, Greenidge and Haynes regularly delivered. A West Indian record 296-run partnership for the opening wicket against India in St John's (beaten by the same pair in 1990 versus England); three century partnerships in the Caribbean during the 1984 Australian tour, including an unbroken 250 at Georgetown; century stands in the tone-setting opening Test of a series on four occasions.

I could continue to list their achievements, but numbers alone do not do justice to the axis formed between the Barbadians. Oh okay, I will: in the 1980s alone they shared 13 century plus partnerships, 20 half-century stands, scoring 5097 runs in the process, and when they were finally parted after Greenidge's retirement in 1991, a major part of the West Indian machine had been removed. In truth, they have never truly been replaced, but as England found with Botham, and Australia with Warne and McGrath, how do you cope with the loss of greatness?

Steve Davis and Tony Meo

On the face of it, snooker is a fairly individual sport, yet during the popularity boom of the 1980s, a new concept was introduced that would change this outlook. In 1982, a World Doubles Championship was inaugurated, the very first winners being the English pair of Steve Davis and Tony Meo. For Davis, winning was second nature, but for his partner, it was anything but.

In a way, it must have been hard for Meo to partner such an illustrious man in Davis. Win, and people would probably dismiss Meo's role in achieving the success, lose and the suspicion would be that Meo was dragging his partner down. Either way, it didn't really matter. Meo was in fact a fine doubles player, his role in the 1982 win in particular helping to boost Davis, who had been experiencing a relative lack of confidence due to an unusual lack of form.

In all, Davis and Meo would win the Hofmeister World Doubles four times (1982, 1983, 1985 and 1986), and despite an early exit in the last ever tournament in 1987, the duo would forever hold their record of being the dominant force in this format of the game. And regardless of who was the better player, you can't really argue with that.

Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver

Without doubt, the finest women's doubles partnership of the eighties, and maybe all-time. The Navratilova-Shriver partnership was obviously helped by the fact that half of the team was one of the greatest women to have ever played the sport, but that should detract nothing from Shriver, who was a six-time grand slam semi-finalist, a US Open runner-up, and a top four player in her own right.

Their roll of honour during the 1980s is remarkable and if you are unlucky enough to be involved in a debate about the best tennis doubles team of all-time (unlikely I know), then you could simply rattle of the following list of achievements, and end it with a David Brent style "Next".

Seven Australian Opens, five Wimbledons, four US Opens, four French Opens, the 1984 grand slam, a 109 match unbeaten run between 1983-85, nine WTA Championships in the decade, and being named the WTA Doubles Team of the Year from 1981-88. Next.

David Bryant and Tony Allcock

This may surprise you, but this is my first foray into the sport of bowls in the 1980s. The iconic figure for me during this period was the pipe-smoking David Bryant CBE. In the decade, Bryant won two outdoors world titles, two indoors, and the glory of the Pipe Smoker of the Year in 1986, and in all had dominated the sport since the mid-sixties.

Naturally challengers came along, and one such rival was Tony Allcock. The young pretender to Bryant's throne would have many battles with the elder statesman, and although the pair were different in so many ways, there was a mutual respect as Allcock admitted in 2003: "David was a god but we were actually very close friends despite our different images and close rivalry".

Indeed the two would put their rivalry aside and combine their might to successfully win six world indoor pairs champions (three times each in the eighties and nineties respectively). Not all partnerships involving two greats click - yes Tiger and Phil, I am looking at you - but in the case of Allcock and Bryant, it was very much a case of the whole and sum of the parts being generally greater than anything else that the world of bowls had to offer at the time.

Torvill and Dean

A couple that could well feature in a blog of their own one day, Torvill and Dean are synonymous with the 1980s, their performances on the ice rink thrilling a nation. Golds at four world and three European championships were enough on their own, but their performance in the 1984 Olympics to Ravel's Bolero in Sarajevo seemed perfection, nine sixes for artistic impression reflecting this.

A reported 24 million people watched the gold medal performance, the vast majority probably wondering whether the couple were an item off the rink too, which played a tiny part in their appeal to the general public. They may not have formed a romantic union, but they were always viewed as a single entity; in 1984 they won the Sports Personality of the Year, and it didn't seem possible for either of the pair to function without the other.

I'll share this with the class: I am not the biggest fan of ice skating as a sport. I much prefer things to be decided through goals, runs, penalties, points, seconds, metres, and tries, than to leave the outcome in the hands of judges (my disgust at the marks given to Torvill and Dean at the 1994 Olympics still remains to this day).

But there are times when you simply have to appreciate something for what it is, admit that you were perhaps wrong in your judgement, and stand up and applaud like that Russian President at the end of Rocky IV. I still watch that display in Sarajevo and admire the pure genius before my eyes (voted number eight in Channel 4's Top 100 Sporting Moments in 2002). In fact, I think I'll go and watch it now.

Barry McGuigan and Barney Eastwood

Not all of these sporting marriages have a happy ending. After turning professional in 1981, McGuigan teamed up with the Belfast bookmaker Eastwood, even living with his manager for a year during the early days of his pro career. Through all the highs and lows, McGuigan would always thank Mr Eastwood in any interview, to such an extent that future Father Ted star Dermot Morgan released a comedy single mocking McGuigan's catchphrase, which was so popular that it was the Christmas Number One in Ireland in 1985.

The pair enjoyed an enormous amount of success together, culminating in the unforgettable night at Loftus Road in 1985, when McGuigan defeated Eusebio Pedroza to win the WBA World featherweight championship. After two successful defences, McGuigan travelled to Las Vegas to take on a supposed no-hoper in Steve Cruz. If the story of McGuigan's time at the top ended in the searing heat of a car park in Caesars Palace, then unfortunately it was the beginning of a whole new saga in the father-son relationship between boxer and manager.

McGuigan's fifteenth round defeat was demoralising enough, but what was to follow was a sad deterioration in the friendship between the pair. Within a year they had split, and as time progressed things got even worse. Eastwood would accuse McGuigan of libel after allegations made with regards to the Cruz fight in a video produced on McGuigan's career in 1988, and received a reported £450,000 in 1992 (plus costs) after a court case. As messy divorces go, this was right up there.

Steve Bull and Andy Mutch

In football, the cool partnerships always seem to be up front, although as an Arsenal fan, I do recall fondly the poetry in motion of a Bould and Adams offside trap. A quick analysis of some of the league champions during the decade stresses the importance of a fine strike duo: Withe and Shaw, Dalglish and Rush, Gray and Sharp, Aldridge and Beardsley, Merson and Smith. But I have chosen a pair who helped to rejuvenate a dead giant, one in desperate need of the kiss of life in the mid-eighties.

Wolves were in a pitiful state come 1986. Three relegations in succession, massively in debt, and with parts of Molineux closed down, the club entered the 1986/87 season tentatively, in what was to be their first season in the bottom flight of English football. Yet as one dreaded partnership vanished (the Bhatti brothers), another was about to form; on November 20 1986, Steve Bull was signed from local rivals West Brom for a paltry £64,000, to team up with Andy Mutch, a player who up until the previous February had been plying his trade with non-league Southport. And the rest is history.

Wolves were ninth in the table before the arrival of Bull, having scored just 18 goals in their 16 matches. Come the end of the season, the club had climbed to fourth, narrowly missing out on automatic promotion and then losing in the play-offs, with Bull notching 19 goals along the way. It was a teaser of what was to follow. In 1987/88 Wolves won the Fourth Division, Bull and Mutch scoring 53 of Wolves' 82 league goals (Bull 34 goals, 52 in all competitions, Mutch 19), and Mutch would score a goal in the club's Sherpa Van Trophy final win over Burnley (watched by 80,841 spectators).

They were not finished there; in 1988/89, Wolves cantered to the Division Three title, the duo netting 58 of Wolves' 96 league goals (Bull 37/Mutch 21), and the pair were both rewarded with call-ups to the England B and U21 squads, Bull going even further by scoring on his full international debut against Scotland.

Bull would often receive the greater recognition, justifiably so giving his goal scoring records, but speaking in 1997, he was quick to praise Mutch for the role he played in the partnership: "We had a bond, an instinctive thing. I never felt Andy got enough credit. He scored over 100 goals here but could have had more if he hadn't been so unselfish."

Wolves fans can certainly be thankful that the pair hit it off from the start, the Bull and Mutch partnership arriving in the right place at the right time, helping to drag the team from rock bottom to happier days.

1 comment:

  1. Senna and Prost in 1988. 15 out of 16 races won between them. Unbeatable combination of speed and racecraft. And they hated each other! Proves that a good combination can be forged through intense rivalry not just through friendly cooperation.