Party-poopers leave celebrations feeling flat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 January, 2000, 12:00am

The parties were organised and the invitations posted but two VIP guests did not make it and the third had to be sneaked in through the tradesman's entrance.

While hundreds of their spectators were walking the streets of Rio feeling like spare fans at a samba party, favourites Manchester United were flying back to England before the final of the new World Club Championship (whatever else happens to the tournament, it must be given a snappier name.) While less famous but better funded challengers were preparing to sail off for the right to compete in the final of the America's Cup, the great grand-daddy of yacht racing, its most colourful character, Dennis Conner, was pulling down the Stars & Stripes from his temporary Auckland home and heading into the proverbial sunset.

While British MPs were ranting and raving, Mike Tyson was given the news that he would be allowed to enter England to knock Julius Francis senseless and make a quick getaway with US$12 million.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the Tyson case, it was ludicrous for the British Government to originally suggest that a sole (should that be poor soul?) immigration officer be given responsibility to decide whether to allow the convicted felon into the country.

The dialogue would have gone something like this: Immigration officer: 'Mr Tyson, is it?' Tyson: 'Mike Tyson, yeah.' Immigration officer: 'Why do you want to enter England, Mr Tyson.' Tyson: 'To beat up some Julius dude and pick up 12 million big ones, see.' Immigration officer: 'Yes, I see. According to my records you have done time for rape. Any compassionate reasons why you should be allowed into England?' Tyson: 'Loads, man, loads. Hey I need the money, is that compassionate enough? And I'll go visit this Julius dude in hospital - that's compassionate, eh?' Immigration officer: 'Okay, you can proceed Mr Tyson. But first could you sign this - make it out to Cyril. He's my son, you understand - big fan.' If there is serious concern that Tyson might stray from the straight and narrow when not in training, and God knows he has before, why don't the British Government attach an electronic tag to the fighter's ankle when he is in the country? That would give him and his cronies the message that he is not only a guest but an unwanted one.

Manchester United were cast as unwanted guests by the Brazilian public during the World Club Championship because of appalling public relations by the side. Brazilian footballers like Ronaldo and Romario may be icons but there is nothing impersonal about their superstardom.

They remain accessible to their fans - both have bars where they are regularly seen - and are treated like friends. So when Manchester United came to the party but locked themselves in the kitchen, there was considerable resentment.

It's being said in some quarters in England that Manchester United's participation, and the way things panned out, has produced pluses galore. The team were given the chance to train away from freezing England; the FA Cup is a more thrilling, open affair without them; England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup has been well and truly scuppered so home fans can look forward to those wonderful middle-of-the-night viewing sessions from exotic, far off stadia; and the World Club Championship looks like being a winner.

Dennis Conner knows everything about being a winner, and for that matter, an unwanted guest.

The four-time victor of the America's Cup has bad-mouthed New Zealand yachtsmen and race organisers in his day but his personality and obvious love for the event has won over the host nation.

He opened the Stars & Stripes bar on Auckland seafront, purchased a house to headquarter his campaign and ploughed in upwards of US$12 million for a one-boat challenge.

But, for once, Conner was a latecomer to the campaign and lost out to better funded and more technologically advanced challenges.

'I am having a hard time feeling sorry for myself,' he said after his semi-final loss. 'We were not ready to leave yet.' Like Manchester United, he was away before the party had really begun.