Friday, August 29, 2008


AN UNCERTAIN OUTLOOK

After exactly a year, it looks as if Mrs. Snopper, Henry the Retriever and I will finally get away tomorrow for a week`s `holiday` in Cornwall. The picture above shows our exact destination - Portmellon on the Cornish coast just a mile from Mevagissey. Apart from the summer weather, the picture also shows the cottage we will be staying in; it`s the little white bungalow shown on the extreme left of the picture. So it`s `close to the sea,` as promised in the brochure.

After months of non-stop treatment by ace vet, Dave Cocker, Henry has been passed fit to travel. His heart condition has thankfully got no worse....but also no better, so we will have to nurse him through next week and keep a watchful eye on how he is.

It`s a part of Cornwall I don`t know too well, so if we are able to get out and about then I`ll look forward to visiting places such as Portloe, Veryan, Portscatho, the wonderful Roseland peninsula and, of course, Mevagissey itself, location of `Johnny Frenchman,` one of my listed films, in which Mevagissey is renamed `Trevarrick` - a small hamlet just a couple of miles away. Not a lot of people know that.
I`ve just seen the weather forecast for the south-west of England for the next few days and although tomorrow looks ok, we`ll be travelling the 280 miles, so we won`t get to enjoy much of it. After that, the outlook is increasingly uncertain, with showers predicted for Sunday and much of Monday and more persistent rain from Tuesday onwards. Winds south westerly, becoming variable force 5-6, increasing to strong force 7 at times; state of the sea rough; visibility fair, becoming poor in showers.......and so on.
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Portmellon looks nice when the weather is nice and the little white bungalow on the left of the picture looks even more inviting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Our Golf Correspondent reflects

Golf is supposed to be a simple game. You stand on the tee, hit the ball as far as you can, get it on the green then putt it into a small hole. What could be simpler?

Today, Snopper`s return visit to Hever Castle Golf Club, deep in the sylvan lanes of West Kent, saw the simple game transformed into a complex, confused, erratic encounter between player and course. A couple of weeks ago, Snopper recorded a consistent set of three 9s on each of the holes around the Amen Corner of the course. Last time out, he managed to bring this level of consistency down to three 7s, which might have been considered as progress were it not for the application of a degree of creative accounting rarely seen on golf courses these days.

Today, determined to improve even further, Snopper managed 7, 6 and 5 for the same three holes, so one would imagine that real improvements are beginning to appear in his hitherto eccentric game. However, it will be noted that any semblence of consistency has now vanished as he resorted to his old habit of just hitting and hoping.

Being the curmudgeonly soul he is, however, Snopper finds it hard to blame himself too much for his golfing problems. Instead, he launched into a post match tirade against the course designers, querying their mental state in taking a perfectly reasonable area of land and creating lakes, bunkers, trees, rough and other assorted hazards with the express intention of making the simple game more difficult. He suspects the course designers are in cahoots with the ball manufacturers, as his lost ball count in recent weeks has probably exceeded the number of balls allowed for each round, a skill which he proudly displays on his tee-shirt.

He is off now for a short break to try to settle his mind before reappearing at Hever in two weeks time. I have suggested that he might take the chance to have some refresher lessons from a golf professional, but I left feeling we were both wasting our breath in the face of his constant skirmishes with the simple game. Some people may be simply beyond help.

Monday, August 25, 2008

NICE WHILE IT LASTED.....
In less than an hour`s time, Team GB will arrive at Heathrow Airport with their 47 Olympic medals to a very warm welcome from those there and the millions watching the live tv coverage.

Their achievements in forming the most successful Olympic team we`ve had for 100 years are quite magnificent and the nation is rightly proud that we finished in 4th place in the medal table behind China, the USA and Russia. And especially in front of Australia and Germany....and France. Following the formal handover of the Olympic flag to London Mayor Boris Johnson in Beijing last evening, we now look forward to the Games taking place in London in 2012.

All well and good. And things were going along nicely until.....yes, you`ve guessed it - until the politicians got involved. The picture above shows Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe limbering up in the gym ready for another hectic day of parliamentary duty. I wonder how happy he was to hear the news that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is determined that there will be a GB National football team competing in the London Games. If he`s anything like me, I shudder at the prospect. Looks like a hopeless task for poor Gerry.

First, he has to get the four seperate Football Associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all to agree. An unlikely prospect, I suspect, for each one of them may fear for the future of their independance; FIFA may claim - not unreasonably - that if you can get together for the Olympics, then surely you can compete on the world football stage as Great Britain. Then there will be the problems of who to have as manager of the GB team and, of course, who the players will be. The choice of the politicians for the manager`s job appears to be between those two fine, upstanding representatives of fair play and eloquence, `Arry Redknapp and `Sir` Alex Ferguson. Redknapp is keen, Ferguson is being coy, presumably being aware that his style of management by hairdryer, teacup and incoherent Caledonian mumbling may not quite be in keeping with the Olympic ideal.

I suggest more `acceptable` candidates might be found from Northern Ireland and Wales in the form of Martin O`Neill and Mark Hughes respectively, but the argument may well be academic anyway, since the whole notion of a unified GB football team is frankly laughable.


As to the players, I think their reaction to a GB Olympic Team managed by either Redknapp or Ferguson is best summed up by current England captain, John Terry, pictured above when hearing Gordon Brown`s statement. Gerry Sutcliffe has yet to make any public comment. I can`t say I blame him, although, like his boss, no doubt his mind has already turned to how much reflected glory he can glean from our returning conquering heroes.


Sunday, August 24, 2008


ONE SWALLOW?
This is last evening`s edition of the Football Pink, lovingly produced by the Southern Daily Echo for the good folk who follow the (mis)fortunes of Southampton Football Club. These days, the chosen hue is not so much pink as a kind of blushing, embarrassed red. No matter. As you can see, the Pink was proudly proclaiming Saints` first victory of the new season, which has been received with as much jubilation on the south coast as any of our recent Olympic successes.
And it`s not just the local paper that has seemingly gone overboard at yesterday`s 1-0 victory away at Derby County. Saints-related websites and especially the internet message boards have suddenly been transformed from agencies for the Samaritans into homes for the easily pleased and the terminally optimistic.
Now, I have hesitated to post anything about my beloved Saints for some time, such has been my disillusionment with the state of the club, the chancers inhabiting the boardroom and the continuing employment of two malcontents, one of whose case comes before the Portsmouth Crown Court in the near future following alleged thefts from the staff room of a Southsea nightspot. And I`m not really going to start posting much now, which would be unfair since I have yet to see Jan Poortvliet`s team in action.
However, by all accounts, Saints have been playing very well. They suffered a last minute defeat away at Cardiff in the first game of the season and last week apparently outplayed recently relegated Birmingham City for much of the game until the young Saints team, eight of whom are under 22, ran out of legs towards the end and went down 2-1 at St. Mary`s.
Yesterday, the narrow win at Derby came as just reward for an encouraging display and hauled Saints away from their spiritual home in the Championship relegation zone. So far, so good. But hang on a second. Derby County have not won a league game in their last 35 attempts and even ardent Rams fans are admitting that their team is `pants` - which might be unkind to the reputation of underwear.
Derby defend a high ball

So, the three points are most welcome, but it`s hardly enough to unleash the wild assertion currently clogging up the message boards that `we will walk this league.` I may yet be proved to have been wrong in my suspicion that the dubious talents of Chairman Rupert Lowe would only bring yet more gloom to lifelong supporters like myself - indeed, I hope I was wrong - but I just advise caution that the one swallow at Pride Park yesterday will herald a long hot summer. Besides which, you never win anything with kids, do you?



Friday, August 22, 2008


MUST TRY HARDER
I`ve just got the local paper - the `Kent Messenger` - and it`s full of pictures like the one above showing gaggles of squealing girls after they have found out about their exam results. Nothing unusual for the Kent Messenger, which seems to run almost weekly `features` like this one. Last month it was the school `proms.` Next week, the Kent Messenger is holding out the prospect of another bonny baby competition (how can you possibly judge things as beautiful as babies?) and before long we will have pages devoted to the cuddliest pet contest.
I really don`t know why I buy it each week. On the other hand, it`s handy to keep tabs on the obituary column - if my name isn`t there, then it means I can keep going for another week at least. Maybe I should be grateful that there is so little hard news here in deepest Kent that the local paper has to resort to filling its pages with predictable, repetitive dross.
Anyway, back to the squealing girls. Now, I`m seriously blessed with two grandaughters. One is sixteen and the other 14. They are both bright, attractive, good fun and a credit to themselves and their parents - I`m very proud of them and I like nothing more than to be in their refreshing company. The`re doing well at school and have already collected an impressive array of exam results. However, I have yet to see their photos in the local paper, which concerns me. It indicates that they might not `do` squealing, so they have a lot of work to do on their squealing techniques between now and this time next year when they will be opening yet more exam results. Like the Kent Messenger, they really must try harder.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


NEW STUFF ON THE BLOG
You may already have noticed the introduction of yet more new features on this blog. They all appear on the right hand side of the page.
The first is the new calendar which is useful to me as I quite often don`t know what day it is. There`s also a clock if you scroll down on the right of the calendar. It`s not a very good clock but there`s a nice big crystal clock further down which flashes a bit.
The biggest new feature is the inclusion of regular news updates from the BBC. Months of negotiation and system testing have made it possible for me to introduce this new feature which will give constant updates about events in the world beyond Snopperland - news, politics, science, business....it`s all there.
There`s also a daily quotation from Doctor Samuel Johnson and a thought for every half hour to inspire and amuse. Lastly, if you just want to sit back, relax and think of England, the rocky reef is there to offer a tranquil alternative to the other hurly-burley, fast paced, groundbreaking features which clog up the rest of this blog.




Monday, August 18, 2008


STONES AND GLASSHOUSES.

Former England cricketer Mike Selvey isn`t happy. Not only has he been dropped from the BBC Test Match Special Team after 24 years but he is also unimpressed with those who have been chosen to take his place. You see, Selvey believes that cricket commentary and summarising can only really be done by those who have played the game at the highest level .

Now, I have some sympathy with Selvey about his unwelcome departure, for he was always worth listening to. He knew his stuff and I enjoyed his punditry, which was delivered with a pleasant sounding kind of suburban semi-drone. The recent recruits to the TMS team which have attracted his bouncer include Arlo White and Mark Pougatch, both of whom are career BBC radio journalists. Selvey`s complaint is that neither have any experience of playing first class cricket and so their introduction amounts to a dumbing down of a unique institution. Yesterday he launched a waspish attack on the programme saying many of those now on air had "little knowledge of the game". Ouch!

I have a lot of time for Jonathan Agnew and Vic Marks, both ex-professional cricketers turned commentators which would make them immune to Selvey`s criticism. As to others in the TMS team, both past and present, I confess to a serious dislike of the patronising Henry Blofeld (`No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!`) and I`m not too sure about the patrician Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Neither of these two TMS stalwarts has ever played first class cricket but then neither did two others from days gone by who were arguably the most knowledgeable, accurate and entertaining of all.

Brian (`Johners`) Johnston was a broadcaster of huge experience and sharp wit, who seemed able to combine his deep love of cricket with a delivery which made you think you were listening to a much loved uncle telling you a story to while away the summer afternoons.

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And then there was the incomparable John Arlott, he of Basingstoke and Alresford, whose poetic background made him `the voice of summer` for so many years. He painted verbal pictures, such as describing the Pakistan fast bowler, Asif Masood`s awkward, gangling run-up as `Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress.` Not the kind of insightful gem I can ever imagine coming from Mike Selvey, however well he may have played the game.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Of course, I`m concerned about events in Georgia - who wouldn`t be? But there are a couple of things about this whole affair that stand out beyond the threatening posturing between Putin and Bush. I hesitate to get into the politics here, but President Bush has always bothered me. In this case, his `hard line` rhetoric may just be the first of the last gasp croaks of a lame duck President, intent on leaving a legacy as he passes through the exit door; but that would simply be to suggest that he doesn`t already have a legacy. For here he is bemoaning the fact that Russia have seen fit to come to the aid of their Russian passport holding comrades in South Ossetia following Georgia`s military incursion, when Bush himself, of course, is responsible for the biggest and arguably least legitimate military incursion since the Third Reich.

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That said, I`m struck by the counterpoint between events in Georgia and events in Beijing. I think we kid ourselves if we believe that the Olympics is any kind of pure sporting occasion. It may look like it on the surface, but in recent times the Olympic Games have become little more than a stage on which to play out the twin tragedies of global politics and global commercialism which sullies the Olympic ideal. A good friend of mine got it right recently when he suggested that the Olympics should in future be internationally funded and permanently be held in Greece - guaranteed good weather, birthplace of the games, facilities already there and the marathon could be run from Marathon.

I`m also struck by the position of `Great Britain` in all this Georgia rumpus. I suppose I`m really struck by our non-position, for Prime Minister Gordon Bennett has hardly said a word about the whole thing apart from spouting the traditional condemnation - although I`m not convinced that he was sure who he was condemning. And then there`s our Foreign Secretary, the upstart David Milliband, who has squeaked a few platitudes but must find the going tough as he still awaits his SATs results. You see, no-one is listening to what either of these two have to say; not just on the international stage but also domestically.
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And so it`s left to Rebecca Adlington, the cyclists, the sailors, the horse riders, the rowers and maybe Phillips Idowu to leave us with any sense that Britain might still be great at anything any more, for when it comes to things that really matter, we seem to be merely bystanders in a wider world that these days not only just passes us by, but increasingly ignores what we might have to say. No-one`s listening any more.....but maybe in 2012 we might have something special to shout about?

Thursday, August 14, 2008



I thought it was time I updated my links to other sites. Under `SNOPPER`S LINKS` on the right hand side and down the bottom, I have now included direct links to `North Devon beaches` and `Sennen Cove,` two of my favourite places.
The North Devon link will bring up a webpage containing click-on pictures showing live webcams at Woolacombe, Croyde Bay, Saunton Sands, Putsborough and Westward Ho! All places I know from years of holidays there and always worth a look to see what`s going on in that surfing paradise (weather permitting, of course.)
The Sennen Cove link will also show up daily digital photos of the beach, the view from the lifeboat station and the cove itself, along with a host of information about the most westerly village in Cornwall (I nearly said England.).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


CHADDLEWORTH REVISITED...

In September, 2006, I posted my first ever entry on this blog - almost two years and almost 300 entries ago. That first, stumbling entry in Bloggerworld recounted the journey I had made with my eldest son, David, to Chaddleworth - a remote, close-knit, almost secret village deep in the border country between Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The picture above is typical of the place - please click on the picture for a larger image.`

We had gone there on the trail of our ancestors. At the time, David was researching our family history and came across the fact that some of our forebears lived in Chaddleworth at the turn of the 19th century. And, sure enough, we came across the headstones in the churchyard which confirmed that Chaddleworth was indeed somewhere that featured in our family history. David and I grew very fond of the village; the peace, quiet, away from it all atmosphere, the excellent pub - `The Ibex` - and we made a return journey some while afterwards just simply to enjoy being there once more. No wonder the late Chris Brasher, Olympic athlete and founder of the London Marathon, made it his home and small wonder that a part of the village is named Nodmore.

I haven`t been back since, much as I might like to, but I have kept a distant interest in things concerning that fascinating village. And I have just come across an interesting piece of information which sums up Chaddleworth and its way of life and, in the process, confirms my fascination with its olde worlde charm. It seems that Chaddleworth has historically adhered to an unusual legal practice in that the rights of a widow to inherit copyhold land from a husband were forfeited if his widow remarried. However, the steward of the manor was obliged to reinstate the rights if she rode into the manor court, backwards on a black ram, whilst at the same time reciting a particular set of bizarre lines ending in a request for their restoration. I imagine that this is a practice which is only very quietly observed in that unchanging corner of our sceptred isle.

Monday, August 11, 2008


BAKERY DAYS....
The picture above (click to enlarge) is of Padworth Common, a small hamlet on the Hampshire/Berkshire border. You are looking into the Berkshire bit, but the picture was taken right on the boundary between the two counties. At the far end of the road, just visible on the left, is the house where my grandparents had the village bakery and where one of my aunts ran the village shop. The house on the left just past the big conifer is where the Post Office was once housed and towards the end of their working lives, my parents had the village pub - the Round Oak - just out of shot on the left. So even a tiny hamlet like Padworth Common had all the necessities of life.....and what you see of the village is pretty much all you get.

Now, when I was a boy, I always looked forward to the school summer holidays. I know things look rosier in hindsight but the long summer holidays always seemed blessed with sunshine. Although we never went anywhere on holiday, much of my days were filled along the shoreline of Southampton Water doing what boys do and some were spent staying at Padworth in the Bakery. Those were working days for me - going out on the bread delivery vans either with my uncle or my other aunt - and it seemed the natural thing to do in a working family who always welcomed any sort of helping hand, however young or inexperienced.




I was kitted up with my own jacket, money bag and bread basket which was filled with loaves of different kinds - sandwich loaves, split tins, coburgs, along with lard cakes, dough cakes and anything else that might tempt housewives on their doorsteps. I got to know the various rounds we did in the old Ford van - Mortimer, Burghfield, Ufton, Padworth itself and Silchester, which is where the week ended at about 8.00pm each Saturday evening at the Crown Inn. I got to know the customers, they got to know me and although I didn`t get paid for my endeavours (it never occurred to me) it did help with my mental arithmetic as, at the end of each week, the bills were settled in cash on the doorstep.

I think what reminded me of all this was hearing today about the price of bread these days. Although it seems the price might come down a notch, a large loaf still costs something like 95p (19/- in old money) and it brought to mind the prices that I remember from all those years ago. Then, a large loaf was sevenpence ha`penny - about 3p - so two loaves were 1/3d and four would be 2/6d (12 1/2p.)


I`m sure I was fortunate to be able to spend my school summer holidays gaining that kind of experience and confidence in that kind of environment. The only sadness being that, when I revisit Padworth Common these days, the Post Office has gone, the Bakery and the village shop have gone and been been replaced by an angling centre and, although the Round Oak is still there, my parents and the rest of my forebears are long gone too.
The hamlet itself has hardly changed - just the people, who don`t know what they`re missing with the demise of the old wood oven, like the one pictured above, which produced that wonderful bread. And as for lard cakes and dough cakes, well, there`s probably an EEC Directive banning them. If not, then perhaps there ought to be given their obesity-inducing qualities. The Round Oak is still in business - see http://www.theroundoak.co.uk/ - and I can recommend it..... even though I may be biased.



Thursday, August 07, 2008


SNOPPER FINDS CONSISTENCY AT LAST
From our Golf Correspondent

I suppose it had to happen sometime. For years, Snopper has trudged the fairways of life with one vital element in his game always proving elusive. That vital ingredient is, of course, consistency; the ability to play hole after hole at the same score; that magic touch which singles out players from the merely ordinary.

Now, before Wednesday`s return visit to Hever Castle Golf Club (childhood home of Anne Boleyn - possibly) Snopper splashed out and purchased a brand new virginal white glove along with a packet of white tees - you know, those with fixed heads so that each time you put them in the ground, they always stick out the same height. Maybe this set the tone for a round of golf which would enable Snopper to achieve the consistency he has been seeking for so long.

And he did not disappoint. Playing the three holes around the Amen Corner of the course - the 6th, 7th and 8th - Snopper managed to card 9, 9, 9 for each of the three holes. The first time in a completely forgettable career that he has managed to perform so consistently badly; perhaps `appallingly` would be a more accurate description. Until then, things had not been too bad - indeed, he managed to par the tricky par 3 third, thanks to being allowed to tee off again after claiming that he wasn`t really ready first time round when his wayward tee shot found the water. But after that, things went rapidly downhill with the virginal glove being blamed for much of his troubles.
"Fore!!"

However, having achieved this landmark consistency, Snopper was heard to darkly mutter that perhaps he might go and have some lessons after all. And about time too, for he is one of those golfers who stands out from the merely ordinary - quite extraordinary, in fact - whilst the balance of his mind remains clearly disturbed.


A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW

There was a ripple of pride among the cricketing folk of Hampshire with the announcement that Kevin Pietersen had been appointed as England`s captain. The absence of a roar of approval was partly due to the fact that those in charge of the national game seemed not to have had the courtesy to even consult Hampshire County Cricket Club in advance of their announcement. Also, as Kevin has only appeared in one Championship game and a handful of one-dayers for the county this season, his doubtless full-time occupation as England captain is likely to keep him away from the Rose Bowl for even longer.

No matter, I wish Kevin well as he starts his first day at the Oval office this very morning against his `native` South Africa - such sweet irony. Kevin has an English mum and he spent four years becoming qualified to play for England, so he is a legitimate choice even if he still retains the South African accent which, with great respect, has to be the most grating one in the world outside Birmingham.

Kevin`s appointment as the second Hampshire player to captain his country gave rise to the question as to who might have been the first. Painstaking research has revealed that the only other Hampshire cricketer to captain England was......CB Fry. And what a character he was.

A right-handed batsman, and in his early years a good, albeit controversial, fast-bowler, Fry captained the Gentlemen, Sussex, Hampshire and England scoring over 30,000 first-class runs averaging over 50: as captain Fry never lost a single Test Match. His 94 centuries included an unprecedented six in succession in first-class matches in 1901. After his retirement from the game he was once again invited to captain England, but declined, pointing out that making a 49-year-old captain would not provide a long-term solution to the team`s problems.
Fry also played football for Southampton, appearing in the 1901 FA Cup Final against Sheffield United, played football for England, gained no less than 12 blues at Oxford, held the world long jump record, played rugby for the Barbarians and would have played for England had it not been for an injury. With echoes of Norman Wisdom, Fry was offered the throne of Albania, but didn`t have sufficient `funds` to accept it. I could go on with his equally startling career outside of sport but one thing is clear. Kevin Pietersen has much to live up to, for Charles Burgess Fry (1872 - 1956) is indeed a hard act to follow. For much, much more on CB Fry, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._B._Fry



Wednesday, August 06, 2008



HENRY`S PROGRESS
Well, it seems that last week`s decision to adjust Henry`s medication to give him a happier time is paying off.
Today`s visit to ace vet Dave Cocker revealed that Henry is coping very well with his ongoing failing heart condition. He seems more alert, more active and he`s enjoying life more than he was even a couple of weeks ago. We don`t know how long he will be with us, but he`s having a good time whilst he`s here.
So, the message from Dave is to keep on with the same medication and routine and go back next week to monitor progress once more. Who knows, if Henry keeps on like this, we might - just might - be able to have the holiday in deepest Cornwall we have been looking forward to for so long. We`ll just have to see how Henry is, so chickens are not being counted just yet.

Sunday, August 03, 2008



TRUE GRIT
A story has emerged which has gone some small way to ease my disenchantment with Southampton Football Club. I have still not renewed my season ticket, those two `offending articles,` Bradley Wright-Phillips and Nathan Dyer, are still in the Club`s employ and the duck shooting bufoon that is Rupert Lowe is still Chairman of the PLC, of which I am a shareholder.

So why has my foot been eased from the pedal of despair? Well, my picture shows Michael Svensson, who arrived at Southampton in June 2002 from French club Troyes for £2million. As a Swedish international centre back, he slotted in well alongside recently retired Norwegian Claus Lundekvam and together they made a formidable partnership at the heart of Saints` defence during our final Premiership years.

I have fond memories of Svensson`s early years with Saints; the towering header at Anfield to secure the double over Liverpool; his goal against Spurs which sent us on our way to a 4-0 win in the early rounds of the 2003 Cup run which ended with a narrow defeat by Arsenal in the final; and Michael having the distinction of scoring the very last competitive goal at Maine Road, where Saints` 1-0 win over Manchester City propelled us to finishing in eighth place in the Premiership.

And then tragedy struck. Due to a serious knee injury sustained at the end of the 2003-04 season, he missed the entire 2004-05 season. He returned to action in October 2005 but, after only seven games, he broke down again and remained out of action for the remainder of the 2005-06 season. Michael failed to return to full fitness in time for the start of the 2006-07 Championship season due to a kick in the knee during a reserves game at Aldershot in the 2006 pre-season.

After that, he flew to Germany to continue treatment with Bayern Munich doctor Hans-Muller Wolfhart and in May, 2007, it was announced that Svensson would undergo further surgery in an attempt to save his career. That procedure put him out of action for almost another year, throwing a major question mark over his future. By then it was the best part of four years since he had played at all regularly. His contract with the Saints expired at the end of June 2007, and was not renewed as Southampton faced up to the financial realities of a third season outside the Premiership.

Southampton hoped that Svensson would return in the Summer of 2008 - Michael himself stating that he wouldn't want to play for any other club. He further underwent what was described as `last resort' surgery on his knee at his own expense and, following a visit to a specialist rehabilitation centre in Italy earlier this summer, Svensson was again in training with Southampton. He completed a pre-season friendly against Winchester City on 13th July and followed this up with other appearances against Celtic and Cheltenham. Last Friday evening, he captained the Southampton side which drew 2-2 with West Ham United in another pre-season friendly and shows every sign of maintaining a remarkable come-back from his long term injuries.
His seemingly endless patience, his dogged determination and his loyalty to the Saints cause have earned him not only enormous respect but also a contract on a pay as you play basis, which seems fair enough. But already he seems to be recapturing something of his old form and huge presence at the heart of the defence which bodes well for his own future as well as that of Southampton FC. There are loads of reasons for me to stay away from St. Mary`s Stadium with all that has happened at the club in recent times, but the chance to see Michael Svensson playing once more will be worth the admission money alone. I hope for his sake that he makes it this time.


THE LONG LONELY WALK...
The news has just broken that Michael Vaughan has stepped down as England`s cricket captain. Although I, for one, am very sorry to hear it, I can`t say I`m surprised.
Captaining any cricket team is not easy. Years ago, when I was just a slip of a lad of eighteen, I was seriously staggered to be appointed captain of the village cricket team. I was just about the youngest player and had no special talents and I felt a bit awkward captaining a side which had people much older and wiser than me. But I took it on and enjoyed it immensely not just for the game itself but also, more importantly, for the lessons it taught me about how to handle people and situations and how to represent the club to others.
At the highest level in the game, the captaincy must be a 24/7 job and I have long admired a succession of England captains who have taken on what must be an all consuming task but one which, in the end, gets to even the very best - Botham, Hussain, Atherton to name but a few. Of late, you could detect that things weren`t quite right with Michael Vaughan. His batting has been a bit wonky and one or two of his decisions have been `interesting,` such as bringing Kevin Pietersen on to bowl in yesterday`s defeat by South Africa, rather than Paul Collingwood. But I doubt it was yesterday`s result which persuaded Vaughan to relinquish the post. There are other factors, some personal, some cricketing and some outside his control.
I`m guessing, but I can`t believe Vaughan has been enamoured with the current structure and process of getting a team together to represent England on the field of play. It seems we have a national selector, Geoff Miller, who along with Peter Moores, the England coach, picks the team which is then presented to the captain to play under him. Recent examples have shown the folly of such a system along with the confusion which is caused by having one captain for the Test team and a different one for one-day internationals. No way to run a railroad.
So Vaughan has gone. Probably the best captain England have had since Mike Brearley and still one of the most elegant and talented batsmen in world cricket. I hope he regains his form and his place as a player in the England team, for there are few better sights than Michael Vaughan in full flow.
It`s a long, lonely job being captain of your country - just ask Kim Hughes - but an even longer, lonelier step to walk away from it. For something that`s supposed to be a game, cricket seems to have more than its fair share of melancholy and Vaughan looked that way today. But we know two things. First, we know that cricket is more than just a game; it`s an experience, almost a way of life and something of such value that it`s hard to let go. And second, of course, Michael Vaughan can take the long, lonely walk knowing that he leaves the captaincy with his enviable reputation intact and with the thanks of a cricket loving nation. Well played, Michael. Don`t leave it too long.