Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

You'll never walk alone... in Augusta

Just in case anyone ever doubted it, we have the good men of the Augusta National Golf Club to thank for confirming this week one unanswerable, completely undeniable fact. Soccer rules the world, OK!

Forget the famous green jacket, and the renowned azaleas and flowering dogwood trees that litter this beautiful piece of real estate in Georgia. When it came to it, even the mighty men of the United States Golf Association bowed to superior forces, doffed the cap in acknowledgement of an altogether mightier being.



Midway through Tuesday afternoon, American EST, a strange, extraordinary sight was to be seen in the media centre at Augusta National. Champions a'plenty were drifting in and out of the conference centre, to the apparent disinterest of many members of the fourth estate.



At one stage, the lady on the microphone introduced a note of desperation into her voice. 'Phil Mickelson is in the 'innerview' room, Phil Mickelson is in the 'innerview' room' she said. And then, very soon afterwards, she repeated the same phrase twice more. But it was as though no-one was listening.



Now big Phil can wield a mighty club and he's no slouch. The Masters Champion in these 'ere parts just two years ago, you'd have thought the Fourth Estate would have been scrambling to hear his considered views on this year's tournament.



Trouble was, there was live action being shown on the giant screens that dominate the media centre for working journalists. And loads of them had settled down, as you do, on a Tuesday afternoon in Masters week to watch, er, Liverpool v Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League.



At the top of the stairs overlooking the rows of working (or giant TV screen watching) journalists, is a sizeable restaurant. It offers enough free fare even to satisfy the most disastrous waistline.



We, us hard working layabouts (sorry, I meant lads), were well organised. Vast quantities of packets of crisps were munched absent-mindedly as Arsenal went ahead at Liverpool, found themselves pegged back, equalised late on and then were destroyed by Liverpool's final riposte. In the midst of this veritable feasting and chomping, the only silence came from the deserted lap-top computers. They looked like they'd been abandoned.



For the men of Augusta to ensure the Liverpool-Arsenal match was shown live, was to concede that European and especially English football has an appeal that crosses oceans, transcends continents. Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson might reckon they're known in a few circles, but try Fernando Torres and Stevie Gerrard: now they're really big hitters in world sport.



If Tiger Woods strolls to victory around this picturesque but lethal course on Sunday afternoon, he is unlikely to receive the spontaneous cries of acclaim that greeted Liverpool's goals (and Arsenal's) in the Champions League match. Attila the Hun or President George W. Bush (or is that the same person?) could have been in the 'innerview' room and no-one would have moved a muscle. We were all too focused on how the battle between Emmanuel Adebayor and Sami Hyypia was going, to be interested in talking about golf.



You have to say it's a strange old world when a Gilberto takes precedent over a Goosen, a Clichy over a Campbell, at Augusta. But that's the way of the new sporting world. Augusta this week just joined the ranks of the soccer obsessed. So where next to conquer for the maestros of the English and European game? The All Blacks' dressing room before a Tri-Nations international ?

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