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<em>Picture: Images_of_Money</em>

Picture: Images_of_Money

The UK’s first Green Investment Bank will be shared between Edinburgh and London. The main headquarters will be in Edinburgh after the city beat off competition from another 31 bids. The news was confirmed by Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who added however that the transaction team would be located in London.

He said that harnessing the strengths of the two financial centres would “support the Green Investment Bank’s ambition to become a world leader. Edinburgh has a thriving green sector and respected expertise in areas such as asset management. London, as the world’s leading financial centre, will ensure that the GIB’s transaction team can hit the ground running. This decision will allow the GIB to operate effectively and achieve its mission of mobilising the additional investment needed to accelerate the UK’s transition to a green economy.”

The news has been welcomed by the Scottish business community. The bank’s objective is to accelerate private sector investment in ‘green’ projects. It’s expected to employ 50-70 full-time staff across the two sites, with the number of staff based in Edinburgh expected to rise from 2015.

The Chief Executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise, Owen Kelly, said it was “tremendous news” for Edinburgh. “The Edinburgh Green Investment Bank Group represented a broad range of interests from public and private sectors and the bid’s success is testament to the strength of this collaborative approach,” he explained.

“The establishment of the Green Investment Bank is a real step forward in the commercialisation of low carbon technologies in the UK and I am delighted that it will be based in Edinburgh.”

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, agreed that it was “fantastic news for Edinburgh and for Scotland. The decision to headquarter the Green Investment Bank in Scotland is testament to the city’s continuing reputation for excellence in the fields of finance and energy and is recognition of the central role that Scotland has to play in the development of renewable energy technologies.”

The chairman of Scottish Enterprise, Crawford Gillies, also described it as “fantastic news for Edinburgh and for Scotland. The Green Investment Bank will be an enduring institution supporting the growth of the UK’s renewable energy and low carbon sectors.

“Being headquartered in Edinburgh will enable the bank to draw on the city’s world class financial services expertise as well as Scotland’s renowned capabilities in the development of renewable and low carbon technologies. Not only will this help ensure to ensure the long term success of the Green Investment Bank but it will also further enhance Scotland’s renewable ambitions, making it the world’s leading location for renewable energy.”

In the view of Dr Lesley Sawers, SCDI Chief Executive, “The arrival of the Green Investment Bank is great news for Edinburgh and Scotland’s renewables industry, and the culmination of a long campaign actively supported by SCDI.

“Access to sufficient and unprecedented levels of capital is the most important factor in the installation and development of renewable technologies and the Green Investment Bank must play a key role as soon as possible. The UK Government should consider whether the new Bank’s borrowing powers will be needed sooner than currently projected.

“Maximising the value of Scotland’s renewable assets is a key priority in re-building our economy. The Green Investment Bank will therefore accelerate Scotland’s economic recovery, create jobs and help to deliver a sustainable energy future.”

Jenny Dawe, Edinburgh City Council’s leader, said that “we made a compelling case based on Edinburgh’s financial strength and rapidly developing clean energy hub. As the Business Secretary said, Edinburgh’s strengths will enable the bank to become a world leader in its field, supporting investment in a greener economy.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Edinburgh business community, the Scottish Government, other Scottish councils and a range of organisations that have given their backing to the city’s bid. I’m hugely grateful for all the hard work that has gone in to securing the bank for Scotland.”

Friends of the Earth’s economics campaigner, David Powell, said: “Choosing the HQ for the Green Investment Bank has been like arguing about where to put the cherry on a half-baked cake. This is great news for Edinburgh, but George Osborne’s inadequate support means it will start life as a lame duck.

“A flourishing Green Investment Bank is vital to unlock the huge potential of clean British energy and create thousands of new jobs. The Chancellor’s Budget must free the bank from his vice-like grip by allowing it to borrow and lend from the markets from day one.”

However, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore welcomed the news, saying “I am delighted that the Green Investment Bank will be headquartered in Edinburgh. Scotland has enormous green energy potential and its capital is the UK’s second biggest financial centre.”

The bank is being set up with £3bn of public money to help firms finance early-stage renewable energy schemes. The Government explained that the first priorities would be offshore wind power generation, commercial and industrial waste processing and recycling, energy from waste generation and non-domestic energy efficiency.

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH FOOD AND DRINK FORTNIGHTThe start of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight has been marked by a couple of initiatives to help Scotland’s hospitality sector. In the first, a programme worth £1 million to improve standards and raise ambition within the industry has been launched this afternoon at an event in Glasgow. It’s called the Emerging Talent Scholarship programme and is run by the Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) Scotland.

The scheme is open to anyone working in a tourism, leisure, travel or hospitality business in Scotland. It’s estimated that there are around 180,000 people employed the sector which brings over £11 billion to the Scottish economy each year. The scholarships include working with Michelin starred chefs and award winning sommeliers, as well as courses at leading hotel schools in Lausanne in Switzerland and the Disney Institute in Florida.

The programme has now been in operation for some eight years and over 800 scholarships have been awarded. Beverly Payne, head of HIT Scotland’s scholarship committee, pointed out that the scholarships “are seen as high value opportunities and it is vital that we keep providing great experiences so people can learn from the best and bring back ideas and innovations to help move Scottish hospitality forward.”

Applications close on the 30th of November and more information can be found on the www.hitscotland.co.uk website. The experience of past winners can be seen at the YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/hitscotland.

On top of that, eleven of Scotland’s top chefs today pledged a fortnight of their time to young culinary enthusiasts who are hoping to make their mark in the Scottish catering and hospitality sector. Among the chefs already committed to the scheme include such star names as Nick Nairn, Martin Wishart, Andrew Fairlie and Albert Roux.

Launching the programme, Fergus Ewing, minister for energy, enterprise and tourism, said that “Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight is one of the premier events in the food and drink calendar, showcasing our wonderful natural larder and enhancing Scotland’s reputation as a land of food and drink.”

With chefs Roy Brett from Ondine restaurant in Edinburgh and John Paul from the Macdonald Marine Hotel in North Berwick, he added “I can’t think of a better way of launching this showcase than with some great ambassadors of Scottish food. The work experience placements these chefs will provide will not only encourage young people to think of the food and drink industry as a career of choice, equipping with them with skills which the industry needs for future growth but will also help them to think about their food choices.”

Scotland Food & Drink organised the scheme to encourage more youngsters into the trade. The work experience scheme is open to any budding chef under the age of 21. It could be a chef currently in employment looking for some experience with a top chef or perhaps a student or school leaver looking for inspiration on what to do next in their cooking career. Entrants can choose which chef they would like to work with but there is only one space available with each outlet. Scotland Food & Drink will pay £150 towards each student’s travelling expenses. Speaking at the launch, Fergus Ewing said:

Roy Brett said that “inspiring young Scots into the industry is something I am extremely passionate about. I had wonderful mentors when I was starting out in my career and I want to offer that same  chance to hungry new talent. Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight is the perfect time to launch the scheme because it highlights the fantastic array of home grown produce we have at our disposal and will hopefully encourage our young chefs to take advantage of the tastes and flavours.”

To apply entrants must write to Scotland Food & Drink stating why they think a two week placement with one of Scotland’s top chefs would enhance their career and which chef they would like to be placed with. Entries should be sent to Sophie Fraser at Scotland Food & Drink on [email protected] or write to her at Scotland Food & Drink, 3 The Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, Edinburgh, EH28 8NB.

There are 164 events taking place across the country to celebrate Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight. For further information log onto www.scottishfoodanddrinkfortnight.co.uk.

By Elizabeth McQuillan

Scotland boasts over 50 beaches that have been awarded flags recognising their safety, water quality and beach cleanliness. Another seven beaches have also been awarded the blue flag, for which the beaches must pass over 30 stringent environmental criteria.

That is a very good starting point for any beach, but for a beach to be special, it should make you draw breath when you first see it.

Wide strips of the finest white sand lapped by pale turquoise (albeit cold) sea water and framed by a rugged coastline must place Scotland’s beaches as some of the best worldwide.

Combine this beauty with a dollop of folklore, some local knowledge or an unbeatable view, and you have a beach worthy of a visit.

Often remote, and requiring a little effort to get there, the following five beaches are definitely worth the effort.

<em>Picture: Anne Burgess</em>

Picture: Anne Burgess

Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
Arguably one of Scotland’s finest beaches, here the Atlantic meets a wide stretch of golden sand, backed by dunes and surrounded by towering cliffs and a tall sea stack, Am Buachaille, Gaelic for the Herdsman.

Remote and beautiful, it requires a six-mile round trip that takes you across moorland, past a freshwater loch and the ruin of a croft reputedly haunted by a mariner who would knock on the window on stormy nights.

With the Atlantic breakers crashing into this bay, many vessels were shipwrecked here through the centuries prior to the building of the Cape Wrath lighthouse in 1828, and there have been many strange sightings in the bay.

A good many walkers and crofters claim to have seen the ghost of a uniformed mariner, thought to be from a shipwrecked Polish ship. In 1900, a local crofter and his dog were terrified when they saw a mermaid perched upon a rock in the bay – the crofter remained adamant about his encounter throughout his lifetime.

<em>Picture: Wendy Kirkwood</em>

Picture: Wendy Kirkwood

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan
This picturesque white shell sand beach sits nestled at the most westerly point in mainland Britain. Getting there involves a tortuous drive on single-track roads along the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Huge dunes and outcrops separate small bays from large sweeping bays on this stretch of coastline, and the outlook from the shoreline is spectacular.

Sitting on the beach you look out to the Ardnamurchan lighthouse as well as the islands of Rum, Muck, Eigg and Canna. The Cuillin of Skye can also be clearly seen.

On the approach to the bay there is an anomaly in the surrounding countryside worth noting. Next to the hamlet of Achnaha is a flat circular area, about two miles in diameter, that is encircled by a ring of steep and craggy hills – the crater of an extinct volcano that you drive across to reach your destination.

<em>Picture: Robert Guthrie</em>

Picture: Robert Guthrie

Traigh Ban nam Monach, Iona
Iona has a peculiar spiritual quality. Besides the peacefulness, the light and colours are somehow special: verdant greens against pink granite, and the palest white and pink sands shelving into an azure sea.

Traigh Ban nam Monach (Gaelic for “white strand of the monks”) is one of many fabulous beaches on Iona. Close to the abbey and nunnery, this stretch of white sand, with smooth flat rocks, is a place to quietly sit and contemplate. And to examine beached jellyfish.

On the west side of Iona at Camus Cuil an t-Saimh (Bay at the back of the ocean, pronounced approximately Cam-us cool un tav) is a huge expanse of white beach, with the Spouting Cave next to it. This spews foaming seawater upwards in a jet when the tide is right.

A little further on is St Columba’s Bay. Here, on the glassy smooth pebbles, St Columba landed in his coracle in 563AD.

<em>Picture: Bob Moncrieff</em>

Picture: Bob Moncrieff

Kiloran Bay, Colonsay
Kiloran Bay is an inlet on the north-west coastline of Colonsay and forms a perfect crescent of golden sand. The beach is bordered by Colonsay’s highest hill, Carnan Eoin, and on a clear day Mull can be seen in the north. Looking out to the Atlantic, the next stop would be America.

In 1882, a Viking boat burial was found at Kiloran Bay. The grave dated from between 875 and 925. The Viking man was buried in his boat with his horse, his weapons and a number of other everyday objects.

<em>Picture: John Allan</em>

Picture: John Allan

Coilleag a’ Phrionnsa, Eriskay
Better known to non-Gaelic speakers as Prince’s Bay, it was here on 23 July 1745 that the French ship Du Teillay put ashore a small boat with a famous passenger.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart – Bonnie Prince Charlie – first set foot on Scottish soil at this white sandy strip, before sailing to the mainland to raise his standard at Glenfinnan.

Rich in history and culture, this bay and the surrounding beaches would have been worked by the crofters and their ponies, collecting seaweed and shellfish in creel baskets.

Eriskay ponies, the crofter’s best friend and most ancient of Hebridean breeds (and critically endangered) still free-range and can be found grazing the machair and wandering upon the sparkling white sands.

When the SS Politician sank off the Western Isles in 1941, carrying a major cargo of whisky bound for New York, the Eriskay locals – once the crew were safely rescued – raced to retrieve the ship’s liquid cargo, hiding the bottles before the excise men could find them.

This was the inspiration for Compton Mackenzie’s comedy Whisky Galore!, which was later made into a successful film.

But as well as whisky, it is said that the Politician was carrying eight cases of currency to the West Indies and the United States. In all, there were nearly 290,000 ten-shilling notes, worth the equivalent of several million pounds at today’s prices.

Five more great Scottish beaches to consider…
Luskentyre, Harris
Mellon Udrigle, Wester Ross
Achmelvich, Assynt
Cambo Sands, Fife
Burghead Bay, Moray

The Cairn Gorm funicular. <em>Picture: keepwaddling1</em>

The Cairn Gorm funicular. Picture: keepwaddling1

By John Knox

I’ve just returned to lower-earth after a camping trip on the high Cairngorm plateau. What a wonderful upper-earth experience that is … in good weather. Mountain ranges stretch into the distance, beneath an ever-changing sky. Corries and cliffs, sharp peaks and gentle brown moorland trace the near sky-line. Beneath your feet, like paving stones, the rocks are smooth and white/grey. The air is so fresh, filled with oxygen and the scent of heather. Snow buntings sing. But who has a right to roam in this other world? All of us, or just the careful few?

On a good summer’s day, a thousand visitors will come up here on the funicular railway. Only a handful will climb the mountain all the way from the car park to the upper station at 1,097m. Those who take the railway are not allowed out of the enclosure around the top station and restaurant, for fear they will damage the rare arctic and alpine flora or that they will get lost on their way to the summit, a kilometre away and up another 148m.

This rule has been hotly debated ever since the railway opened in 2001. I debated this with myself and my companions as we walked across the plateau to Ben Macdui and then pitched our tents down by the lochans above Loch Etchachan. What a privilege to be here, I thought. And what a thrill. Should anyone, however unfit or lazy, be denied this breath-taking experience ? It’s one of the precious things life has to offer.

On the other hand, this can be a dangerous place in bad weather, a place where winds can reach 176mph, temperatures can drop into the minus 20s and snow can lie waist deep. Conditions can change from summer to winter in half an hour. It’s not a place for scantily clad tourists.

It’s also a SSSI, a site of special scientific interest, where the landscape, and its flora and fauna, are protected by law, European directives and international treaties. The tramping feet of tourists, however they are dressed, could easily damage this fragile arctic environment.

I’m reminded of the short story by HG Wells in which a man travels back in time a couple of billion years and is warned not to step off the protective walkway extending from his time machine. But he does so anyway and stands inadvertently on a rare plant. When he returns to the present day, there is nothing there! We don’t want to stamp out the tiny signs of life on the Cairngorm plateau.

So there is tension here between what is good for man’s spirit of adventure and well-being and what is good for his environment. I tend towards the spirit. And I don’t see what harm a few thousand rubber-soled boots would cause on the rocky surface of the plateau. So I would allow people who ride up on the railway to walk on to the summit unhindered. Of course, they should be advised about the weather and urged to stick to the path but otherwise they should have the same freedoms at a thousand metres as they do down at the car park.

Happily, the two sides in the argument have reached a compromise which seems to be working well. You can now buy a “Walk at the Top” ticket for £14, which includes the rail fare (£9.95) plus a guided walk to the summit. And probably such compromises are the way to handle the dilemma we increasingly find ourselves in, in a nation which is gradually rediscovering its countryside. And in a nation which urgently needs to improve its exercise rate – only a third of us take regular outdoor exercise, which is why the other two thirds are overweight.

Unfortunately we are not looking after our protected areas any better than our health. A report out last week from Scottish Natural Heritage found that only 77 per cent of the 1,881 sites (SSSIs, SACs and SPAs ) were in a favourable condition, no increase on the year before and way short of the government’s target of 95 per cent.

Some of this is not only our own fault. Climate change, for example, has meant a decline in many sea-bird sites. But we are still guilty of draining our peat lands, or allowing over-grazing by deer or permitting invasive species to spread. And, of course, we daren’t mention golf courses on the sand dunes. It’s strange that we are so precious about the rocky surface of the Cairngorm plateau and so careless about other areas of natural beauty and wonder.

One way of protecting wildlife sites is to manage the thousands of visitors who come to see them…. building paths, interpretation centres, providing car-parks, restaurants, toilets, and at times railways. These honey-pot developments allow mass tourism in some places and at the same time divert people away from wilder places where only a handful of walkers and climbers will have the time and energy to venture.

When Queen Victoria climbed Ben Macdui, on 7th October 1859, she noted in her diary that “it had a sublime and solemn effect” on her. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all benefit from such an experience ?

The Famous GrouseThe Edrington Group is one of Scotland’s success stories. The whisky company’s latest results confirmed that with turnover up by 18.2% from £468.3m last year to £553.4m now. Its profits too are up from £118.6m to £141.5m today, a rise of over 19%. The figures show that both the dividend and shareholders’ earnings have risen as well. But who actually benefits?

Edrington’s shares are not listed on the stock market. They’re owned by The Robertson Trust which ensures the firm’s independence. This private ownership has allowed the business to develop a consistent, longer-term approach to brand building and investment. It doesn’t take investment decisions based on the demands of City analysts and brokers.

When it took the strategic decision to sell Tamdhu single malt on Speyside to rival Ian MacLeod Distillers for an “eight-figure sum” (a deal completed a few days ago), it wasn’t flashed up on dealing-room screens across the country. This was the second distillery sold to the same firm with Glengoyne changing hands in 2003. Tamdhu had been mothballed since last year and the new owner plans to re-open it with the creation of ten jobs.

At the same time, Edrington’s acquired a brand – Cutty Sark. This is now mainly an export blend, popular in southern Europe and the USA. Right from the start, the new acquisition was profitable in its key markets. This means that there will be additional investment in the brand this year, targeting new markets around the world with new packaging.

Then there was the decision three years ago to take a major share of Brugal, a rum producer based in the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean firm has over 80% of its local market and is one of the largest international golden rum brands in the world. It’s also the fastest growing rum brand in Europe from its international sales and marketing base in Spain.

The significant factor about this partnership was the similarity in ownership and ethos. They have a common approach to corporate social responsibility. The Brugal Foundation and The Robertson Trust both use the companies’ profits to make substantial charitable donations in their own countries, in both cases done quietly and privately.

In Scotland, the Group is best known for a number of key brands – The Famous Grouse, The Macallan and Highland Park. In the latest results, all three have contributed to the company’s growth in key markets around the world. Highland Park in particular has the accolade of being “the best whisky in the world”, an award given by Whisky Magazine Founder and Publisher, Damian Riley-Smith and Park Avenue Liquor Shop Vice President, Jonathan Goldstein.

But the group insists that its strategy involves the long term development of all its brands. The Caledonian Mercury recently looked at the growing number of new blends under the “Grouse” banner. However, the company argues that such brand initiatives are “focussed strongly on the consumer and sustained with programmes that innovate within our categories”.

Chairman Sir Ian Good stresses that “our size and independence allow us to act in ways that other companies cannot. In every aspect of what we do, we can use innovative and different ways of solving problems – or gaining a competitive advantage.”

One of the keys to its success is control of the “route to market”. As part of this, the firm created a joint venture with Beam Global Spirits, a distribution company called Maxxium. Earlier this year, they took control of distribution in China and Hong Kong giving them control through much of South East Asia through one office in Shanghai.

This same approach has been adopted throughout Northern and Central Europe where it manages distribution operations in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria from a major office in Stockholm. The Group is also currently in the process of opening a regional office in New York to support brand growth in America.

All this reinforced the company’s reputation as an international business headquartered in Scotland. It now employs over 2,300 worldwide, with over 60 per cent located overseas.

According to Ian Curle, the Group’s chief executive, the company is continuing “…to make good progress and we have further improved Edrington’s strategic position and business performance during 2010/11. Our strong financial performance was supported by brand growth, increased earnings and improved cash flow. “

He stressed that the brand growth in particular had “been driven by increased investment and improved economic conditions in many of our markets. We have continued to invest behind our premium brands despite the difficult trading conditions in mature markets in recent years. This investment is now paying off as we see stability returning to many western markets.”

The Group expects the current trend to continue through a consistent investment strategy. It intends to invest in its premium spirits portfolio. It policy is also to invest in and develop the various routes to market, increasing the number where it has full ownership. And it fully intends to continue investing in people, pointing out that its acquisitions and marketing strategies have “increased the talent available to Edrington and provides us with an opportunity to future growth.”

<em>Picture: Renata</em>

Picture: Renata


Every bacon roll has a story to tell. Where was it bought? Why was the purchaser there? Did it taste good, or could it have been better? What sort of premises produced it? What were the serving staff like? Would you go back?

All these questions, and more, will be addressed by Stuart Crawford as he follows his tastebuds on a sporadic tour of Scotland’s cured-pigmeat-and-bread outlets. What is out there to be found, what can be recommended – and what should be avoided?

It feels like ages ago now, but just before Christmas a kindly soul reversed his 4×4 into my modest saloon car outside the Co-op in Gullane. I was just sitting there stationary, minding my own business, having picked up the kids from school early because of the snow, when he slammed into me. He was obviously in a hurry, because he had overtaken in a flurry of spray and slush only a minute before.

I won’t bore you with further details, except to say that I was left with a car with a crushed grill, bent bonnet, and internal injuries. His vehicle was unscratched as far as I could see, and he wasn’t the type to be hugely apologetic for his error. Still, nobody was hurt. It’s just that it’s never the damage that’s most annoying, it’s the palaver you have to go through to get your car fixed thereafter, even when it is not (as it was in this case) your fault.

Be that as it may, I found myself six weeks later taking my bent but still driveable (just) motor to the coachworks to get fixed. Because of my age and status – well, that’s what I put it down to – I was able to temporarily swap my bent car for a shiny, new courtesy car which calmed my general irritation somewhat. It’s always fun to drive a new-ish car, so off I went in reasonably good spirits.

<em>Picture: Avlxyz</em>

Picture: Avlxyz

I decided to take the low road back to Gullane, the one that goes from Musselburgh along the coast via all sorts of wee ex-fishing and ex-mining villages. So much more interesting that the dreary A1 if you’ve got the time. It was mid-morning by now, and I was starving, having had but a meagre bowl of porridge for breakfast – with salt and sour milk of course, as all true Scotsmen do.

Driving through the village of Port Seton I spotted a bacon roll type of establishment opposite the Co-op. The Howff, it was called. The name conjures up all sorts of images of smoky dark corners and shadowy characters within. Indeed, the outward appearance of the premises is unprepossessing. But on entering, all doubts were dispelled.

The inside appeared to be spotlessly clean, and fully equipped with sofas, newspapers, tables and even a library for customers waiting for their orders. I was greeted most pleasantly by the lady behind the counter, and was impressed when my bacon was cooked while I waited rather than going dry in one of those heated-tray things much beloved of the bigger chains. There was plenty of it, as well: three rashers, I reckoned, which is generous. If I was being hypercritical, I would say that I prefer mine a bit crisper – but, hey, I could always have asked. The roll was fresh and generously buttered.

I could find little to fault in the Howff, and left well satisfied. I shall certainly visit again.

Marks out of ten
Accessibility (parking, shop entrance): 8

Premises (layout, busyness, time to be served, etc): 8

Staff (friendliness, efficiency): 8

The roll (freshness, taste): 8

The all-important bacon: (quantity, taste): 8

Price (£1.45, good value for money): 8

Overall average score: 8

In summary, well worth popping in if you’re peckish. Clean and spacious premises, pleasant staff and a well-above-average bacon roll.

Scoring guide: 10–8, worth making a detour; 7–5, good enough, but no great shakes; 4–2, only if you’re desperate; 1 phone the doctor.

<em>Picture: Peter</em>

Picture: Peter

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
In sport, there are those who win, and then there are those who win with a style, a bit of panache, and plenty of passions.

It’s the difference between being predictably good, and unpredictably brilliant.

You had it in snooker with Steve Davis and Alex Higgins, between Prost and Senna in F1, and in tennis, with Lendl and McEnroe.

It’s the same now. Many admire the ability of Federer, but many others love the way Nadal goes about his business. So it was the same in golf.

It was why, when others were winning more often, Arnold Palmer charmed a generation, and why Lee Trevino’s lack of conformity was so appealing. And definitely why even non-golf lovers would watch Seve Ballesteros, who sadly succumbed to his long battle with cancer on Saturday.

Others had won The Open by bigger margins, or with better scores. But when Seve did it in 1979 at Royal Lytham, probably no one before – or since – has taken such an unorthodox path to victory, playing from bunkers and rough, and even from walkways.

He even played out of a public car park. And yes, while I concede others have also done that, not many did it while holing for birdie at the 16th on their way to collecting the Claret Jug.

Five years on, and his fist-pumping salute to his own brilliance, on the final green at St Andrews will forever live with those who watched golf because of him.

Of another 70s superstar, it was said that while others played tennis, Bjorn Borg played something else. That could just have easily read for golf and Seve.

So the sporting world lost a hero, and Spain lost arguably their all-time greatest sportsman. The players of La Liga honoured his passing, as did Spain’s current sporting “matador” Rafael Nadal, who called him “irreplaceable” and “a pioneer”.

And other less-well known sportsmen also paid their respects. In the World Rally Championship, Mini driver Dani Sordo wore a black armband to acknowledge the passing of his countryman. It was a sad day for Spain and for sport worldwide.

So did the correspondent interviewing Sordo on Saturday morning really have to ask why he was wearing it. Or was his first thought that it was an aerodynamic modification or a go-faster stripe?

Sunday
Even after all the crisis, dramas, twists, turns and machinations, and still Sky Sports and the English Premier League manage to get a title decider game between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Well, the destination of the big prize was in little doubt after the flying start Javier Hernandez gave United. He is of course, nicknamed and known as “Chicharito” – Spanish for “Little Pea”. Of course, our own domestic game has been blessed with some Little Ps as well …

But a 2-1 win mean United need only one more point to secure the English league championship for a 19th time, so surpassing arch-rivals Liverpool.

Great manager that he is, on occasions you forget the magnitude of Sir Alex Ferguson’s achievement at Old Trafford.

But former Liverpool and Partick Thistle legend Alan Hansen went some way to summing it up, when he pointed out that when Liverpool reached the 18 mark, United were on just seven.

A measure of Fergie’s greatness, and just how far Liverpool’s standards have slipped.

Monday
How could I forget?

As promised several times, Rangers finally changed hands for the small matter of £52.5 million when Craig Whyte became the new owner, taking over from Sir David Murray. And just in the nick of time.

How many would have renewed their season tickets on the back of not knowing what kind of team Rangers might put out under Ally McCoist next term, especially given that Thursday was the deadline for renewal applications, while the new first team kit would also go on sale this week.

Those are big money earners for Rangers. So they could ill-afford the indecision to go on much longer.

And it could be quite a coup for Whyte. But the club one week, championship delivered the next. If that is the scenario, someone should maybe tell him it won’t always be that good.

Tuesday
It was an evening packed with emotion in Govan as Rangers beat Dundee United 2-0 to keep their charge for a 54th championship title on track.

Of course, it might have been different had United actually tried and made things more difficult for Rangers instead of just rolling over and laying down to the champions at Ibrox.

Please, that’s not an accusation, just an observation, albeit it one which is completely skewed given that in the closing minutes only a great save from Allan McGregor and the width of a post preserved Rangers’ lead and points haul. But you know how things must look on paper…

That aside, the final whistle brought the curtain down, or at least on that particular sporting window, for Walter Smith, in charge of his team for the last time on home soil.

In two instalments, Smith’s record with Rangers is enviable. And of course, it could become more so depending on what happens come “Helicopter Sunday”.’

It was fitting then that he took the applause and the acclaim from those who have supported him through thick and thin (or is it broad and narrow?) especially over the last few years, where his ability to make and mend have taken Rangers to the verge of a third-successive league title.

Afterwards, the masters apprentice Ally McCoist went out of his way to leave everyone in no doubt that Smith and co’s walk around the pitch was not a victory celebration or lap of honour, but all parties showing their appreciation of what was Walter’s Last Stand (even if the real one comes at Rugby Park on Sunday).

I can understand why it was done. During his first tenure as Rangers boss, Smith’s last day was disappointing and the ultimate anticlimax given everything that had gone before.

Even so, I am a great advocate of such gestures being left to the very, very end. Maybe it is because of some deep-seated scarring I suffered many years ago. I mean, I was one of those who turned up at Hampden in 1978 to cheer Scotland before they went to the World Cup finals…

Wednesday
And Motherwell will appeal owner John Boyle’s £2,500 fine imposed by the SFA after his fracas with Aberdeen boss and former employee Craig Brown in April.

Brown was censured for his part in the after-match scuffle after the game at Fir Park, while Boyle was fined and severely censured.

Obviously the difference between being censured and severely censured is in the wording. Something akin to being a bad boy, and being a very, very, very bad boy, who is also now £2,500 poorer.

As I said a few weeks ago, if you let club chairman away with such behaviour on the pitch (and what was he doing there in the first place?) you give any Tom, Dick or Hearts fan an excuse to do the same …

Thursday
The attack on Celtic manager Neil Lennon gave the SPL and Scotland the kind of exposure it doesn’t need. Only an idiot would condone such actions. Unfortunately, there are plenty out there, if you haven’t noticed.

What I did notice in an instant on Wednesday was the kind of coincidence that is a conspiracy theorist’s dream.

For just as the Jambo hooligan was entering the technical area (and the SFA will have something to say about that given what happened to a Mr Boyle of Motherwell), the video advertising boards were flashing up various plugs for BBC Radio Scotland’s output.

And as the cowardly thug tackled Lennon, what flashed up in the background but Your Call with Jim Traynor.

People pay top dollar for that kind of brand awareness. So well done to whoever bought up those hoardings for a live Sky game. What exposure and what impeccable timing!

Today questions aplenty are being asked about what this assault says about security, safety of individuals and Scottish society in general.

The biggest question for quite a few taking heads was: “Why Neil Lennon?”

Former Celtic striker Andy Walker said that he had “never known any figure to be so loathed, so demonised, so hated,” and that “we have to ask ourselves why that is”.

I’ve asked myself that one, although perhaps not with the same incredulity as some. Because I can see why some found Lennon’s actions, after the last (and I say that with some relief) Old Firm game when he cupped his hands behind his ears as if he couldn’t hear the jeering Ibrox hoards, as being antagonistic. Level-headed individuals – including many within the media – called those actions ill-advised. But they would have done so regardless of what individual had been involved.

Lennon saw differently. “It’s called humour, all right?” he said afterwards. (So he won’t be upset then at the “joke” doing the rounds that Wednesday’s events were the first ever example of the fan hitting the shit. That for some is also called humour.)

Similarly, I can see why calling into question the efforts of those playing Rangers – like Motherwell and Hearts – who lost 5–0 and 4–0 respectively might be enough to spark a reaction from management and supporters of those clubs.

Lennon said: “What we are looking for is somebody to compete and give Rangers a game. There has not been much evidence of that in their previous two games.”

He attempted to qualify that by stating; “I made an observation on the basis of results. I said there was little evidence in the 5–0 and 4–0 defeat, but that’s not an accusation, that’s more of an observation.”

So why Neil Lennon?

Because in many eyes he appears to have gone out of his way to wind up either the management or fans of other clubs, through words or actions. And I don’t think another boss in Scotland has done that. But that’s not an accusation, that’s more of an observation.

Of course, that doesn’t make it right to threaten or attack someone. That is abhorrently wrong. But some headbanging scumbags need little, if any excuse, to justify their actions.

Friday
Just 24 hours to go to the showcase game of the season in England. But unlike previous years, the FA Cup final has to share the billing with league fixtures, all because everything this year is geared to getting Wembley right for the Champions League final.

OK, Manchester United’s potential coronation at Blackburn, and the games at Blackpool, Sunderland and West Brom, will all conclude before the three o’clock start at Wembley. But the FA Cup final once had centre stage all to itself. Further proof, if it were needed, that the famous old tournament is now an afterthought behind the Premier League and Champions League.

Still, at least it is still live on terrestrial television, on ITV – except for viewers in Scotland who can see Thirteen Days, a tense political thriller starring Kevin Costner and Bruce Greenwood from 2000, a tale set during the 1962 missile crisis when the US discovered that the USSR was building Cuban missile bases.

1962 eh? Probably where someone’s thinking was when scheduling the SPL kick-offs for the same time.

Still, Sky viewers can always his Channel 993 for ITV in London, or if you don’t access English networks, retune using these instructions.

Or you could always watch St Mirren v St Johnstone in the “Battle of The Saints” which you won’t find on any of the religion channels – 580 to 598.

Alex McFarlane, IA <em>Picture: Lara Barnes</em>

Alex McFarlane, IA Picture: Lara Barnes

At first glance, there is a distinct lack of Scottish or even British involvement in the world chess championship candidates tournament, which starts today and runs until 27 May in the city of Kazan, in the Russian federal republic of Tatarstan. The eight “super-grandmasters” taking part comprise two Russians, two Azerbaijanis, one Armenian, one Bulgarian, one Belarus-born Israeli and one Russia-born American.

Pretty much what might be expected in a field that could be seen as including eight of the ten leading chess players on the planet – the two absentees being the Indian Viswanathan Anand (current world champion and the man against whom the Kazan winner will play in 2012) and the Norwegian rising star Magnus Carlsen, who despite being the current world number two has opted not to take part.

So, a massively strong tournament made up entirely of players with connections to, and roots in, the old east-European and former-Soviet chess powerbase. Nothing new there. Except that a key figure in all that happens over the next three weeks will be a retired teacher from Uddingston with connections to Paisley chess club.

Alex McFarlane, aged 57, is an IA, or International Arbiter – the chess equivalent of a football referee or a tennis umpire, but requiring additional diplomatic and psychological skills. He has been active on the UK arbiting scene for a couple of decades, and is well liked and highly regarded – but his being asked to be part of the team overseeing the candidates tournament was an unexpected honour both for the man himself and for Scottish chess generally. It is, by some distance, the biggest accolade and most important role yet awarded to any Scot in this most cerebral of games.

McFarlane has overseen – “controlled”, in the jargon of the chess world – numerous large and complex tournaments, be they Scottish and British championships, elite events such as the annual London Classic, or smaller weekend congresses. He has, however, never previously controlled an event outwith the British Isles, despite a CV that he describes as stretching “from Stornoway to Torquay and from Douglas to Norwich”.

So Kazan constitutes a big jump. “The invitation to go to the candidates matches came totally out of the blue,” McFarlane said before leaving. “I received an email from the FIDE [world governing body of chess] office. Initially I was delighted, but then began to wonder if it was some sort of hoax. No one was able to throw any light on the matter.

“My invitation was even more surprising as I had not been selected to be an arbiter at the Olympiad [the biennial world team championship, most recently also held in Russia, in Khanty-Mansiysk] where I had actually volunteered and the number of arbiters required was significantly higher. It took a few emails from FIDE and Russia before I totally believed that the invitation was genuine.”

For all its status and importance, the tournament format in Kazan is relatively simple. It’s a knockout, with four quarter-final matches, two semis (all played over the best of four games), then the final, which will be the best of six games. In each match, a tied score will lead to further games being played at a faster rate – a fraught and occasionally fun format disapproved of by those who favour the older, slower, more magisterial form of the game.

Questions about pace of play and number of games are not McFarlane’s worry, however – beyond his overseeing the games themselves. “I will be there for the duration of the candidate matches,” he says, “and expect to be used in some capacity throughout.”

For all the meticulous pre-tournament organisation, there were surprises for McFarlane when he arrived in Kazan on Tuesday. “There are only three arbiters,” he said in an email from Russia. “Ignatius Leong (Singapore), Franca Dapiran (Italy) and myself. Surprisingly, there are no local Russian arbiters involved.” The expectation had been that the number of arbiters would be higher, so suddenly the workload – and the responsibility – has increased.

Another surprise came courtesy of the layout of the tournament hall. “Because of the location of the toilets and a smoking room,” McFarlane said yesterday, “I won’t have to follow the players when they leave the hall as there is nowhere for them to go. They will be scanned for mobile phones etc when entering. Also the playing hall and spectating area have jammers to stop people broadcasting/texting.”

If this level of monitoring sounds curious, it is. But ever since the rise of phenomenally strong chess computer programs – which can be accessed by mobile phones and other hand-held devices – there have been rumours and allegations concerning players being fed moves and ideas by outside agencies, all of which is completely against both the law and the spirit of the game.

Only last year, at the Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad, there was an extraordinary dispute concerning French players being fed moves by a combination of text messages and their team manager standing behind the chessboards in a certain way, in order to convey coded messages to players. The dispute is at the appeal stage, but as things stand several of the people involved face lengthy bans from the game.

With this in mind, McFarlane notes that, at Kazan, “only the principals (FIDE officials and arbiters) and the players will be allowed in the playing area – so this should prevent allegations of cheating along the lines of those of the French team manager at the Olympiad. Other than draw offers and the like, the players are not allowed to converse during their games.”

There is another potential source of dispute, however – one which could prove extremely tricky for McFarlane and his colleagues to handle. This will be if the Russian Vladimir Kramnik and the Bulgarian Veselin Topalov meet over the board – something which, given the way the tournament has been structured, appears only possible in the most high-tension round of all, the final.

Kramnik and Topalov are both immensely strong players – Kramnik was world champion before Anand (having deposed the now-retired Garry Kasparov), while Topalov lost to Anand in the most recent world championship match. There has been no love lost between the two men ever since a particularly fractious world championship match in 2006, when Topalov and his support team accused Kramnik of using computer assistance during what they regarded as a suspiciously high number of absences from the board.

Predictably, this became known as Toiletgate, with jokes about WC meaning not just world champion. Nothing was ever proven, Kramnik was exonerated, and the FIDE ethics committee issued “a severe reprimand” to Topalov the following year – but the dispute looks destined to be forever unresolved, at least in the eyes of the Bulgarian contingent.

Kramnik and Topalov have met over the board a number of times since 2006, but the traditional pre-game handshake has been noticeably absent. A further complication is that Topalov’s manager, Silvio Danailov, said last summer his man would refuse to play a match against a Russian player on Russian soil – which in terms of Kazan could mean either Kramnik or his compatriot Alexander Grischuk.

Although Topalov will face the American Gata Kamsky in the quarter-final, problems could arise in the later rounds. Both Kramnik and Topalov are reckoned to be among the three favourites (the other being the Armenian Levon Aronian, who faces Grischuk in the first round), so there is a high chance that the organisational and arbitorial team – including McFarlane – will have their people skills, and their patience, tested at some stage.

McFarlane, as one would expect, is diplomatic on the subject: “I hope that I will be able to deal with any situation that arises,” he says. “I’ve certainly dealt with a significant number of incidents in my previous events.”

On the more mundane – but again potentially difficult – question of language problems, he is also quietly confident: “Most of the players are fluent in English and all are able to speak enough to communicate draw offers or to raise any problems or concerns that they may have.”

Given all this complexity, the good news is that Kazan will make a pleasant change in terms of payment. Domestic chess has traditionally been short of cash, but at the higher levels matters are very different, and McFarlane will be well looked after during his sojourn in the east. “Accommodation and meals are being provided by the hosts,” he says. “Unlike most events in Britain, the arbiters will receive remuneration – €3,000 in my case. This will be quite a novelty, as many of the events I officiate at leave me out of pocket.

“There are also chauffeur-driven cars available for the arbiters in their leisure periods, so I hope to be able to see some of the surrounding area as well. I am looking forward to it immensely.”

Part of the reason McFarlane is both liked and respected is his modesty allied to an eagerness to see chess progress and develop. “Whilst from a personal point of view the lack of general publicity given to my selection is not unwelcome,” he said before leaving for Russia, “I fully appreciate that wider publicity could have had a positive effect on encouraging both players and arbiters to come forward. And any publicity can only help in the search for sponsors.”

Asked whether he could see a Scottish player reaching the heights of the candidates tournament within the next 20 years, he takes a typically pragmatic approach. “There are a number of promising juniors coming through,” he says, “who have the potential to become strong grandmasters and possibly compete at this level. However, for players in the next 20 years to have realistic chances of attaining this level, sponsors will need to come forward to both support the tournaments which will provide the chances to progress and to eventually finance a player to take part in events all over the world.

“£100,000 a year would allow five grandmaster events to be held in Scotland of a suitable status. Such events on a regular basis should generate enough publicity to encourage our top players to realise the potential for a career in chess.” One of McFarlane’s hopes, in the medium term, is that Scotland could put in “a realistic bid” to stage the Commonwealth chess championships in 2014.

Such matters will be at best peripheral in his mind over the next three weeks, however. His full concentration will be on technical issues such as overseeing time controls and assessing rival claims in drawn positions, along with dampening down any disputes between players which might escalate into high-profile bickering that could damage both the tournament itself and the game in general.

Whatever happens, it certainly looks like being a more exotic experience than controlling the Prestwick chess congress, which is where McFarlane would have spent the middle weekend of May had he not been called to Kazan.

Live, free, online relay of the Kazan games will be available from a variety of sources – with an inbuilt time delay as part of the anti-cheating effort. Chess followers should shop around, but could do worse than trying either the official site or ChessBomb.

Craig Thomson's running style? <em>Picture: Teenytoon</em>

Craig Thomson's running style? Picture: Teenytoon

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
One thing about American sport is its ability to throw up the unexpected, which more often than not revolves around unbelievable amounts of money.

Currently the 32 NFL teams are involved in a dispute between team-owners and players over a new pay deal.

NFL players negotiate collectively via their union. But having failed to reach agreement, they were “locked out” by the owners, although that would be overturned by a federal judge later in the week.

The problem is a simple one. Over $9 billion comes in to the NFL in revenue, of which the owners take just a billion and players split about 60 per cent under the current agreement. Not surprisingly, the players want more.

Put into perspective, the English Premier League has an income in excess of £2 billion. So you can see why people are willing to hold out for what they believe they are worth.

That also applies in baseball, where the Major League is taking over the day-to-day running of the Los Angeles Dodgers because of “deep concerns” over the famous club’s finances.

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Owner Frank McCourt is another locked in a bitter legal battle. In October 2009, the Dodgers fired their CEO, who didn’t like it one bit.

But unlike others who might have gone for unfair dismissal, Jamie McCourt – Frank’s wife – mounted an alternative challenge, and filed for divorce.

Well, it is America…

Sunday
Old Firm day in Glasgow. Ready to roll with Nuremberg Trial VT, NATO forces at the ready, the UN building in New York booked in advance. Nine arrests, none for sectarianism.

I can only assume therefore that the punter huckled into Ibrox before the game, held by two cops wearing “anti-sectarian unit” fluorescent vests, was arrested by fashion polis in disguise.

The game to was event-free, discounting the shove on David Weir by Georgios Samaras, the Greek escaping with a yellow card having been mistaken for Jesus by referee, Craig Thomson – a man whose running style has been shaped by someone into schooling dressage horses.

What was evident is that Allan McGregor is the best Scottish goalkeeper around by a mile, typified by his stops from Daniel Majstorović and Samaras from the spot.

But just when you think the day has passed, out pops Celtic manager Neil Lennon to pay homage to the supporters who have supported him, and then have a bit of a jape with the Gers fans, pretending he couldn’t hear them by cupping his hands behind his ears.

Oh how everyone laughed, or was at least supposed to.

“Don’t ask me about that,” said Lennon. “It’s called humour, all right?

“Don’t distract away from my team’s performance,” he said after becoming the distraction. “Don’t even write about it. You have the photographs I’m sure, but it is just a bit of fun.”

And I’m sure he saw it that way. But, given this is the man who earlier in the week was being sent letter bombs, it was at best a slightly misconceived gesture in the eyes of most neutrals.

Of course, neutrals don’t cause mayhem and grief. In some people’s opinion, Lennon’s actions would have fringed on incitement, while others would happily use it as another excuse to buy a stamp.

Remember, in all of this, there are those who would find a humorous angle in death. And they are not all playful jokers or comedians.

Monday
There wasn’t a Sheffield stonemason employed to knock out “Entered 22 April 1986, exited 18 April 2011″ into a suitably sizeable piece of Scottish granite, because no one was quite sure whether he had gone or not.

Stephen Hendry lost his second-round tie against Mark Selby 13–4, the kind of scoreline he once inflicted on others. That performance, or the result in itself, would not have sparked the great Scot into a decision on his future. Selby would have beaten just about anyone in that form.

It wasn’t until later in the day, when Ding Junhui managed to squeeze past Stuart Bingham, that the seven-times world champion had an idea of what next season would hold, as a player.

Ding’s win meant Hendry kept his top-16 berth, although he isn’t exactly enamoured by the constraints of qualifying in the modern era.

Having spoken to him at length recently, it’s obvious he has a very clear plan of what his future will hold, and how he will hold it.

Commercially, Hendry’s name alone is an earner – and, being more astute than some gave him credit for, he’ll do just fine taking and making his own decisions, although he will still have one or two trusted advisors to turn to.

Of course, the unknown and the unknowing led to many writing obituary-like epitaphs and tributes to his time on the table, some reading as if he’d been potted beneath the green stuff rather than played his last shot on the green baize. Much of this the man himself would have found rather embarrassing – and definitely amusing given that, by Thursday, he had announced he’d be coming back for some more.

One box that does await Hendry is the BBC commentary booth, where he can impart his knowledge to those who can find the once-prominent wallpaper with balls live behind the red button.

Something he would have said after his Selby beating (because he’s said it before) was that the trophy doesn’t get handed out on the first or second Monday. As Selby found, when he lost to Ding.

Moving on to the other table, and it is apparent that some of the players are peeved to say the least that there is no maximum break prize on offer in Sheffield.

When Cliff Thorburn made the first maximum in 1983, he pocketed a £10,000 bonus. More recently, in keeping with the numerical configuration of the achievement, £147,000 has been the norm – more often than not swollen by another top-up from the high-break prize on offer.

So when Ronnie O’Sullivan made £165,000 from his max in 1997 – in just five minutes 20 secs – he basically made more profit per minute than BT.

Not so now. Mark Williams was the most vocal in bemoaning the lack of a prize, while Graeme Dott, having sunk nine blacks, apologised to the audience when he went for a blue to win a frame rather than what should have been another black to win a fortune.

Times are hard in every sport. Earlier this season, we had O’Sullivan having a running conversation with referee Jan Verhaas when on a maximum at the SECC, and only potted the black under protest when he found out just four grand was on offer for the perfect frame.

A few years ago, O’Sullivan shared his Crucible cash with Ali Carter who made his own maximum. I doubt if anyone has been remotely interested in playing the perfect frame in the last fortnight – other than O’Sullivan, who would have wanted (until his demise) to go one better than Hendry on that score – although we’ll need to wait another three or four years at least, or even longer, to see if anyone comes close to Hendry’s benchmark of world titles.

Tuesday
Word is out that more than a dozen MPs are to sign a Commons motion calling for Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish to be knighted.

The motion was tabled by Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram because of what he said was Dalglish’s “outstanding contribution” to British football, and because it would be a “fitting tribute” to the families of the 96 fans who were killed at Hillsborough in 1989.

Dalglish was manager then, and earned gratitude and respect for the way he represented the city and club in the aftermath of the tragedy when he made sure the club was represented at all of the fans’ funerals and attended many of them in person.

I have no problem with Dalglish being put forward for such an award. Many of his achievements as a player and manager are unsurpassed. And in bringing solace and comfort to dozens of berieved families, he is also deserving of a suitable tribute.

But, as I’ve said before, where I have problems with the honours system in this country is how these things are decided. More often than not, it’s by canvassing more support, albeit from well-minded individuals, than someone else who might be more deserving.

Why did Matt Busby become ‘Sir’ and Jock Stein didn’t?

Why did Jackie Stewart, a three-times world champion, collect his knighthood after four-times runner-up Stirling Moss?

Or why is Stephen Hendry – seven-times champion of the world – able only to put MBE after his name while six-times winner Steve Davis is an OBE?

And what, if anything, did Rangers management or players receive in terms of commendation for carrying out the same painful duties as Dalglish when 66 died at Ibrox 40 years ago?

Or were there fewer political points to score then?

Wednesday
Horse racing mourns the passing of Sadler’s Wells, who died at the age of 30 at his home in Coolmore, where he had lived since being retired in 1984.

So what had he done since giving up his race days?

Well, as son of Northern Dancer, his offspring included champion racehorses Galileo, Montjeu, High Chaparral and Yeats, with grandsons Hurricane Run and Rip Van Winkle maintaining the great legacy.

That earned him the title champion sire 14 times in Britain, champion sire in France three times plus once in North America, producing over 293 stakes winners and 74 individual Group One winners before retiring from breeding in 2008.

A spokesman said he died of natural causes. Boredom, I’d say…

Thursday
Organisers of London 2012 have revealed that they received applications for more than 20 million tickets from 1.8 million people for the Olympic Games.

Organisers have also said more than 50 per cent of the 645 sessions will go to a random ballot and that 95 per cent of the applications are from the UK.

There has been strict and stringent policing of the entire ticketing process to prevent touts and corporate organisations getting their hands on the cherished briefs.

I am sure they have checked and counter-checked every application rigorously. Which means no doubt that three months after the games, we’ll find someone had a few more than should have – probably 300,000 more.

Friday
Bad enough that Craig Whyte’s intended takeover of Rangers is delayed by yet another shifting of the goalposts, but the Ibrox club find themselves €40,000 poorer and with their fans banned from their next away tie in Europe after sanctions placed by UEFA for sectarian singing in a match at PSV Eindhoven.

No one can condone such behaviour, and it is not as if Rangers’ travelling support haven’t had sufficient warnings over their behaviour.

Fined £13,300 for chants and £9,000 for attacking the Villarreal team bus in 2006, then £8,280 for their behaviour during a match against Osasuna in May 2007, a year before the notorious away-day to Manchester which was followed a year later by a fine of £18,000 being imposed for violence when the club played Unirea Urziceni in Romania.

Or do they think these fines and penalties are like parking tickets?

UEFA also gave Rangers a suspended ban on its fans for a second away game for a probationary period of three years. However, they steered shy of closing Ibrox to supporters, which would seem the next logical step if this illogical flouting of public decency continues.

But – and there will always be a but when it comes to UEFA – I for one am always sceptical about the governing body when it comes to even-handedness in punishing clubs.

Just how observant are these UEFA delegates who observe from the stands? Obviously, not observant enough to ask why PSV supporters saw fit to wave Irish tricolours at Ibrox. Of course, they might have been Indian flags and they were joining in a chorus of Delhi’s Walls.

Going back to 1998, were the monkey chants aimed at Henrik Larsson and Regi Blinker not audible enough for the UEFA delegate ahead of the tie with Croatia Zagreb?

I await with interest to see the wrist-slapping Real Madrid get for the racist behaviour of their fans – which most observers have said is persistent – against Barcelona, and how Europe’s football judges see the fracas between both sets of players after this ill-tempered encounter.

We don’t get much European football compared to some nations. But when you tot up how many times our clubs have fallen foul of UEFA wigs over the years – Rangers more times than they care to remember, Hearts over breaching broadcasting rights and Celtic’s infamous replayed game with Rapid Vienna – we seem to come under the spotlight more than some repeat offenders across the rest of Europe.

Still, things might be brighter around Ibrox should Mr Whyte’s takeover take place next Tuesday. Or not, as will probably be the case, again…

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Jobs dominated the political communications yesterday, as first minister Alex Salmond outlined the SNP’s vision for reindustrialising Scotland by meeting the party’s target of 130,000 jobs in the low-carbon sector by 2020.

A word cloud showing the most common words across all of yesterday's press releases. The larger the word, the more it was used.

A word cloud showing the most common words across all of yesterday's press releases. The larger the word, the more it was used.

Speaking on a campaign visit to Steel Engineering Ltd in Renfrew, Mr Salmond said:

“By 2020, our target is to have 130,000 jobs in the low carbon sector. That is a goal which will see the reindustrialisation of Scotland on a huge scale – and just as our shipyards were the workshop of the world in the 19th century, the green energy revolution gives us the chance to become the hi-tech workshop of the world in the 21st century.

Also raising jobs profile, SNP candidate for Aberdeen Central, Kevin Stewart, said Ed Balls had blundered by exposing Labour dishonesty on the issue of changes to offshore oil taxation.

Mr Balls is quoted in the Press & Journal saying the oil tax changes were a mistake but when a vote to oppose those tax changes was held in the UK parliament on 29 March 2011 he failed to vote against them despite voting in two other divisions.

Commenting Mr Stewart said:

“Ed Balls came north to lecture Scots about their country but has now been caught out being dishonest about Labour’s position on oil tax. It is hypocrisy for him to say he now opposes a tax on oil jobs when he failed to try and stop it in a key vote.

“It yet again shows why no-one can trust a word Labour says – that the rhetoric doesn’t meet the reality.”

Labour accused the SNP of the same, however, as it emerged that a flagship SNP council has been forced to admit that compulsory redundancies have not only been made in the last year, but the option cannot be entirely ruled out.

The SNP manifesto states that the party is “committed to a policy of no compulsory redundancies”.

However, documents released by Fife council reveal that the SNP-led administration in Fife made 191 compulsory redundancies last year alone.

As part of plans to axe around 500 staff in a bid to save £16 million over the next year, SNP council leader Peter Grant has admitted that “there will be occasions when compulsory redundancies can’t be avoided” and Sharon McKenzie, Fife council’s human resources manager, has said that “redundancies can’t always be confined to the volunteer pool.”

Scottish Labour’s candidate in Mid Fife and Glenrothes, Claire Baker, said:

“This latest revelation comes as a humiliating blow to one of the SNP’s key election pledges. It speaks volumes that one of the SNP’s flagship councils has already made almost 200 compulsory redundancies and is now admitting that more are on the table.”

Next on the word cloud are the two largest parties’ leaders with Alex, Salmond, Iain and Gray placing unusually highly. The appearance of both leaders’ names is linked to the rather odd appearance of asda, and supermarket – both of which appear on the right of our cloud – as the supermarket’s Ardrossan branch was the site of a clash between the two parties.

Both men were campaigning in Ardrossan last night, when Iain Gray and his campaign team stopped at an Asda supermarket to pick up some provisions on the way to a public meeting in Ardrossan Civic Centre.

Unbeknown to them, Alex Salmond was campaigning in the same supermarket – but Labour claim that he was ushered up the aisles and kept shielded from Mr Gray.

Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray said:

“If I’d have known Alex Salmond was there, I’d have gone up and asked him why he is hiding his date for an independence referendum. Sadly he was kept well hidden until I’d left.”

The SNP tell it differently, claiming that it was Iain Gray, not Mr Salmond who fled the store after being approached by the local newspaper.

SNP campaign manager Angus Robertson commented on footage taken by Kevin Paterson, reporting for the Ardrossan Herald, which shows Iain Gray leaving the store, turning to avoid an SNP activist and ignoring a question from someone in the shop asking “are you not hanging about?”

Mr Roberston said:

“This footage makes an absolute mockery of the claims in a Labour press release issued this morning and raises serious questions about the negativity, dirty tricks and misinformation at the heart of Labour’s “re-launched” campaign.”

Mr Gray’s comment referred to Labour’s call for the SNP to name the date of their proposed referendum on independence. The Scottish Labour leader called for the SNP to reveal their date saying:

“Don’t hide your plan for independence. Tell Scotland the date you want to hold the referendum and tell us today.

“Don’t hide behind the pathetic excuse that it would be a ‘mistake’ to reveal the date you already know. If Labour forms the next government, we will not be distracted by a constant campaign to break up the UK. It will be jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs again.”

Services, local and communities appear as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott joined Alison Hay, Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute and Alan Reid, Liberal Democrat MP for Argyll and Bute at Connel post office in Oban to campaign on the party’s plan to continue the Post Office Diversification Fund.

Commenting, Tavish Scott said:

“The Connel post office is a local store, cafe, paper shop and a post office. We want to see more post offices growing their businesses and cementing their place at their heart of their local community.

“They are a genuine lifeline for many vulnerable and older people in particular. We need to protect these services.”

Scottish Greens dismissed this claim, however, pointing to the privatisation of Royal Mail being championed by Vince Cable.

Legislation to enable Royal Mail to be privatised is just weeks away from completing its passage through Westminster. Greens argue that the Royal Mail is a vital public service that should stay in public hands.

Patrick Harvie, the Greens’ top candidate in Glasgow, said:

“It’s bare-faced cheek for Liberal Democrats to be posing outside post offices pretending to care about them while Uncle Vince in Westminster is getting ready to sell off the Royal Mail for a short-term profit. It’s time for the Lib Dems to understand that we are talking about a genuine public service, not just some indistinguishable commercial operation, and that if they had any principles whatsoever they’d be opposing these daft plans.”

Also campaigning for better local services, Scottish Conservatives unveiled plans for another round of town centre regeneration funding, totalling £140m over the course of the next Scottish parliament.

In the last parliament, Scottish Conservatives delivered a £60m Town Centre Regeneration Fund, which benefited communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

Speaking from Peterhead Harbour in Banffshire & Buchan Coast, where she was joined by local candidate Michael Watt, Annabel Goldie, Scottish Conservative leader, said:

“Scottish Conservatives pledged a Town Centre Regeneration Fund in our last manifesto and we delivered. We delivered £60m of help to town centres and high streets across Scotland, despite Labour and the Lib Dems trying to vote it down.

“That is real help in these tough times and, because we have taken difficult decisions, we can do more to boost local economies and give people more pride in their community.”