Don't expect the world to be much changed in 2011

Big Andy Murray, who ought to have swept Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer into the Dead Sea by now, will not sit comfortably at the top of the world rankings a year hence.

There is no such thing as New Soccer. Believe me they are happy, the ignorant people who run the game, to see it continue in its age-old way. By Ted Corbett.

The longer I live in the tumultuous world of sport the more I appreciate the genius of the French guy who claimed the more life changes the more it stays the same.

Take 2010 just as an example. If you choose this drastic form of action you'll not be pursued down the street by me shouting Stop Thief!; it has, to be polite, been a toxically awful year. The English, who as I have told you before do not have a lot to shout about, have been in their usual state somewhere between the depths of despair and the bottom of Everest.

Talk about Ricky Ponting not being able to buy a run even when his men gain a victory. An English sports fan can't even buy a round of applause.

Of course they don't have great choices and the prospects are not great.

Big Andy Murray, who ought to have swept Rafel Nadel and Roger Federer into the Dead Sea by now, will not sit comfortably at the top of the world rankings a year hence. England will not come home from the cricket World Cup grinning all over their faces. (As I write they may not even have the Ashes after those dreadful days in Perth.)

FIFA will not apologise for failing to see England as the hosts for the 2018 World Cup; a university eight will win the Boat Race; a horse will win the Grand National.

Sport is — a bit like politics, a bit more like life — not built for change and when change comes it is so slow you have given up on running, jumping, swimming and cycling and gone off to needlework.

Those who want to impose new rules or traditions are ignored as “trouble makers.” I was very friendly with one for nearly ten years and, I am sorry to say, he died this year. His name was Alex Higgins and he was for a while in the 1970s the greatest snooker player the world had ever seen.

How they wanted to see him too. When he won the world title for the first time there were 1,000 spectators in a club room that had a licence for 500. He rewarded that audience with shot-making of daring and skill and steel-plated nerves.

Remember at the time John Spencer, his opponent, was known as Young Johnny, dressed the part, gave wonderful interviews and had a wife just as young and glamorous. He never got a look in against the 22-year-old Higgins who dazzled everyone, man, woman, pet dog and child who came near.

Unfortunately Higgins had the same diplomatic skills as a bull in a china shop. He reckoned the high officials sneered at his Belfast accent and his rough Irish ways and he said what he thought without any thought for tomorrow.

Trouble followed him around. The shrewdest man in the game said that if Higgins died and went to heaven — and some thought it might happen at any time — he would still find the nastiest person on the other side of the Pearly Gates and begin to cause trouble there too.

He got into scrapes, I reported the scrapes, the snooker committee men cold-shouldered both of us and, instead of embracing the talent that made him the most talked about player on the globe, they barred him and ignored what ought to have been a firestorm.

The game would have been an example to the rest of sport if they had encouraged Higgins. The “evening dress is compulsory for matches played at night” and “politeness comes before potting” brigades won the day; more's the pity.

Gradually Higgins was forced out and I decided cricket was a better future for me. I was right but Higgins finished on the scrapheap and died in 2010 in a lonely Belfast apartment.

Yes, I know; it happens to those who will not toe the line and yes, I know, it is not going to change. Most of the things Higgins wanted — more casual clothing, better organisation, bigger prizes from more committed sponsors — have come to pass. It is a shame that it all did not happen early enough for him to gain credit and a shilling or two from what I will call New Snooker with shorter matches, quicker tournaments and a new world desperate to be conquered.

There is no such thing as New Soccer. Believe me they are happy, the ignorant people who run the game, to see it continue in its age-old way.

Football is the simplest game; your grandma understands and enjoys it at first sight. Well, apart from offside that is and even the referees don't understand offside.

That simplicity may explain why businessmen who have made billions of pounds, dollars, rupees and euros think they can improve it without so much as a question to those who have been in the game for a lifetime. Thus in the week before 2011 first became a glint in an inner brain two perfectly decent, experienced managers have been sacked.

Blackburn, managed by Sam Allardyce — good enough to be interviewed for the England job a couple of years ago — were in mid-table just like Newcastle United, brought out of the Championship and guided, without more than a token amount spent on the transfer market by Chris Hughton.

Two facts stand out. Even the strongest teams have bad days, lose matches they should win, require skill and patience and a deep, deep understanding of the way the game works.

A long time ago I worked alongside a horse racing tipster who was so successful that a TV magazine programme invited him to join them.

“All I want from you,” said the producer, “is one tip a week — but it must be a winner.” My pal Tim said: “No chance. If I could produce winners to order I would own a Caribbean island of my own by now and I would not be wasting my time talking to you.”

Needless to say they split too. As you would expect.

Happy New Year, everyone, and don't expect the world to be much changed when we meet in 2011.