We are well into March, the nights are drawing out, mornings are getting lighter, the weather should appear to be warmer and attention starts to turn the end of the football season. It also brings with it some ingrained sporting occasions, none more so than Cheltenham Festival – a fantastic sporting occasion like the Grand National – it plays a significant part of the football fabric in all my years.
It grabs the imagination of the public as well as attracting many people from both television and the music industry, football being no different. It attracts the football public like no other sporting occasion, both the pro game and the national game love to attend this occasion and can prove to be massive for team spirit.
However, the further you go up in the Premier League, the way you develop team spirit is altered. The old methods were very simple – bonding sessions, getting the lads to go out for a drink or have a day at the races.
Everybody laughs, falls about, gets into a few scrapes. A typical jolly boys’ outing. However, that wasn’t the case for Harry Redknapp when he was Tottenham manager and he took the lads to Cheltenham races.
He thought we’d have some fun, relax together, come back a tighter unit – you would have thought he had taken them on a prison visit. They got on a coach at the training ground – a lovely coach with nice food available – and booked a hospitality box along the home straight.
The moment he arrived, he knew he had made a mistake with the foreign players as about eight of them were looking at their watches after half an hour. “What are we doing here? Why have you bought us here?” They just sat there waiting for the time to get on the coach.
All of the atmosphere of Cheltenham, all of the spectacle and they weren’t interested. Thankfully, for the majority, it still has its draw and affinity with football. Like the Grand National does, the Saturday of this race brings it memories at this time of year.
Horse racing is traditionally associated with football, with some big personalities in the game and the love of the sport with many ex and current footballing personalities who are trainers or owners.
The Grand National plays a significant part of the fabric of football the players will traditionally run a sweepstake that brings its own bit of fun and banter epitomising the good team spirit within the dressing room the crowd at the games up and down the country will have the own interest also most people along with the rest of the country will have backed horses in the race and probably only on this annual horse race.
The result of the big race traditionally filters across the grounds usually around the end of the first half or at the start of the second. I have managed to have backed the winner only a couple of times, I might add, one being Party Politics in 1992 – which was a year of a general election – and Ambeleigh House in 2004; always failing miserably in the dressing room sweepstake.
Then, there was the shock news in 1993 that filtered through when the race was void due to a couple of false starts and, of course, not forgetting racing legend Red Rum in the seventies. For everyone involved in football, the event sits traditionally on the football calendar and leaves significant and poignant memories of a great sporting tradition.
This time of year also brings to other sporting events; the World Snooker Tournament and the FA Cup semi-finals, none of us will ever forget the breaking news the day of the Hillsborough disaster and my thoughts go out to everyone who lost loved ones at what should have been a great occasion turned to sadness.