Horses and football have a long mutual tradition stretching back to time immemorial. Billie, the famous grey who marshalled the crowd at the first FA Cup final at Wembley. And probably some others. To that extensive, some say exhaustive list we can now add Kariba.
First, some background. Kariba, 16, is a troubled sort. The stallion was sold off by his owners after his temper caused him to regularly unseat his riders, and was bought for one Emma Massingale by her father. Massingale was fascinated by the spurned steed, and became a practitioner of the noble profession of horse psychology. And how did she tame Kariba? Since it is in this column, probably not through modern dance or jazzoetry. "I'm not interested in football myself," Massingale said. "But I looked at the players and thought, 'My horse could do that'. We started by leading him to the ball with a rope and I rewarded him with a pat if he touched or kicked it. If you leave him in the pen with a football he is happy there for hours kicking and heading it about on his own." Sure enough, the thoroughbred Irish Draft Cross went on to master passing, dribbling and shooting, and Kariba is now the star pupil in Massingale's training school Natural Equine in Bradworthy, south-west England. With typically deft wordplay, Kariba was dubbed 'Mane Rooney' by the Sun. And the Daily Mail. And the Daily Express. And Off the Ball (see above).
The first thing we were taught at fire safety lessons was: if you have just unloaded a tumble dryer full of football strips, for goodness sake don't leave them overnight in a sealed container in a car. Obviously Scottish side Gretna FC skipped classes that day to have a kickaround with the local delinquent gee-gees, and consarnit if they didn't burn their pristine kit to a crisp by doing exactly that. Chief executive Graeme Muir considered the €750 worth of damage and rued: "It was an interesting lesson to learn in how quickly a fire can happen. You just don't think about putting clothes that came out of a tumble dryer into a container and the potential that static could do the damage it has done. Thankfully it was noticed at the time and we stopped it causing further problems for us."
Off the Ball prefers to keep what we do outside work time a secret, so as to better preserve our mysterious countenance. But we admit that every Sunday we sit down to enjoy Aló Presidente (Hello President), in which low-profile Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez breaks his media silence to present a weekly show which starts at 11am and runs for as long as he likes, usually six hours plus. Although, oddly, politics feature quite heavily he does look on the lighter side of life and a recent guest was none other than former Textil Mandiyú coach Diego Maradona. Topics covered were US imperialism, the health of Fidel Castro and the implementation of socialism in a post-industrial society falling outside the basic Marxist-Leninist model. But mostly his handball goal against England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup. Maradona, dealing with the issue for the very first time (probably, we haven't checked), explained it was because England goalkeeper Peter Shilton "was very tall", so a header was out of the question. "The goalkeeper had the advantage of grabbing with his hands," Maradona said. "It was too high for me and I stuck out my fist." He then added that he encouraged his team-mates to celebrate the goal so the referee would not disallow it. Next week, UK premier Gordon Brown gets Michael Owen to explain how he won England's penalty that beat Argentina in 2002.
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