There are some people I could listen to all day, even though I might not agree with everything — or even anything — they say.
The list includes politicians Jim Allister and George Galloway, broadcasters James O’Brien and James Whale, musician Nile Rodgers, social critics Noam Chomsky and Frances Lebowitz and financial journalist Lionel Barber.
It’s the self-righteousness that makes them so compelling; the unshakeable belief in everything they say, no matter how contentious it may be.
And then there are personal, all-time sporting heroes such as Roy Keane and John McEnroe. It’s more of a challenge to quibble with them; oh, I don’t know, it would feel disloyal or something.
But McEnroe certainly put that premise to the test last week.
His ‘crime’ — for which he was lacerated on social media and elsewhere — was to suggest that young British tennis sensation Emma Raducanu had found the demands of Wimbledon “a little too much” after retiring from her last-16 match on medical grounds.
As we know, the 18-year-old appeared to be hyperventilating before withdrawing during the second set.
Suggesting that what had happened was “understandable”, McEnroe — who, let’s not forget, was a teenage Wimbledon sensation himself, reaching the semi-finals in 1977 while still an amateur — added that, for Emma, it was “a lot to take on, especially when you’ve never been there before.”
The reaction to the seven-times Grand Slam winner’s comments was overwhelmingly negative, with Raducanu’s opponent Ajla Tomljanovic and the ubiquitous Gary Lineker leading the online barrage.
Rather inconveniently for ‘Doctor’ McEnroe’s critics, however, Raducanu — who has absolutely nothing to reproach herself for — agreed with him in an impressive, mature and courageous interview the following day: “I think it was a combination of everything that’s gone on behind the scenes over the past week, and an accumulation of the excitement, the buzz… next time, going forward, I’ll be better prepared.”
The phrase ‘panic attack’ wasn’t specifically used but, if it walks like a duck…
There’s no shame in this and I say this as someone who has been there.
The most terrifying and catastrophic of these incidents will always be the first one, because you simply have no idea what is happening to you.
I was 23 years old back then, on Sunday, June 29, 1986.
There’s no problem recalling the exact date; after all, it was the same day as the World Cup final between Argentina and West Germany in Mexico, although — and unlike another episode we’ll get to later — the two issues are not connected.
Down the years since, I’ve heard other people say that they ‘might have’, or ‘think they may have’ suffered a panic attack; if those are the phrases uttered, they almost certainly haven’t.
Trust me, when one of those bad boys gets hold of you, you’ll know all about it.
In many cases, the afflicted person’s misplaced presumption is that they’re having a lethal heart attack, which makes the ‘panic’ even worse because, and possibly for the first time in your adult life, you simultaneously — and claustrophobically — lose control of both mind and body.
Medical journals describe the phenomenon as “an exaggeration of your body’s normal response to danger, stress or excitement… you might feel very afraid that you are losing control, going to faint, having a cardiac arrest or going to die…”
One thing is certain: there’s no way you’d be capable of immediately resuming what you’d been doing before this psychological terrorist came calling.
In Raducanu’s case, and going by what she said afterwards on TV (I suspect the England football shirt she wore was a cynical PR stunt dreamt by her ‘new people’ but we’ll let that slide), the youthful excitement had rapidly morphed into the crippling weight of expectation.
Seemingly overnight, she’d gone from a virtual unknown to Britain’s Great Hope, and from an A Level student to the Nike and Wilson-sponsored, fresh-faced new ‘client’ of tennis super-agent Max Eisenbud.
The public loved this beautiful young Canadian-born daughter of a Romanian father and a Chinese mother — and so did the cameras — while the tabloids speculated about how soon “our Emma” would become another mega-rich sportsperson/model like Eisenbud’s previous protégé, Maria Sharapova.
A month ago, she hadn’t even played a match on the main women’s tour. Now she was “the youngest British woman to reach the fourth round in the Open era” — and, suddenly, it wasn’t fun anymore.
Especially when you’re a set down and love-three down, in a raucous, heaving Court No 1, in the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, on prime-time evening television.
The distressing scenes at SW19 reminded me of walking into the Stade de France press centre on the twelfh of July, 1998, and being handed an official Fifa team-sheet that didn’t have Ronaldo’s name on it.
This was the World Cup final, and the Brazilian striker was the world’s number one player.
There’d been no hint of any injury problem, and yet he wasn’t even named among the substitutes for the showpiece decider against tournament hosts France.
It was utter bedlam in that room — and then, some 40 minutes later and about half an hour before kick-off, another team-sheet came in, with ‘Il Phenomeno’ restored to the starting line-up. What on earth was going on here?
As we all know now, the 21-year-old Ballon d’Or holder had suffered the first panic attack of his life, later conceding that the weight of expectation, allied to the persistent demands of Brazil’s national team sponsors — Nike — had built up his anxiety levels and ultimately overwhelmed him.
He was an empty shell of a human being during that match, which will be remembered as much for the ‘Ronaldo Incident’ as the two-goal display from Zinedine Zidane which yielded the glittering prize.
As far as I know, it never happened to Ronaldo again and I suspect there won’t be a repeat with the seemingly well-grounded Raducanu either.
The next time — if indeed there is a next time — the sufferer will be well aware of what’s coming, and should be able to control themselves through proper breathing exercises.
One thing is certain: you’ll never forget the first time it happens, nor the shocked, concerned looks on the faces of anyone else who was there to witness it.