Monday, 22 June 2009


“Pressure - that’s what it’s all about”, said Sir Alan. “Are you tough enough?” Sometimes I wonder whether sportsmen and women are able to get on playing without thinking about the media coverage and the fact that the whole country is getting behind them. Look at Laura Robson [right]. Yes, she had a difficult opponent in the former world number five Daniela Hantuchova, but after a flying start in the first set she crumbled. Maybe this was because she suddenly realised that everything was going well and she actually had the chance to become a legend on the next morning’s back pages. The media will argue that she’s already done her country proud by making it on a wild-card into the first round, but at the end of the day it might have been too much too soon for the youngster.

The whole situation is catch-22, because people don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on younger sportstars that will harm their progress, but good British sportspeople are so adored by the public that everyone clings their hopes to them. Look at Lewis Hamilton - a good few years older than Robson, but he almost missed the opportunity to win Formula One’s Championship last season until a last-corner overtake. But pressure is part and parcel of any game, and sport-stars must remember that as well as being good at what you do, you must have a thick skin to adverse publicity and not care what people say about you. That’s why David Beckham has done so well - he just gets on with it. How does Andy Murray cope? He doesn’t read newspapers. Now I’m not advocating that for everyone, but it’s probably a good idea in his case!

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The rise of ‘megachurches’ across the world is a relatively new phenomenon, with big conference centres and theatres being packed out in certain countries on Sundays as people come in their thousands to worship God. I’ve been going to one of these, Hillsong Church London, for a year now and it’s made me think again about church. I was brought up in a Baptist church, which had a relatively small congregation of 200, and I go to an Anglican/evangelical church in Sheffield that usually has about 500 people over two Sunday services. Hillsong crams 10,000 people every Sunday into four services at the Dominion Theatre in west London, and before visiting it I thought that it would be completely different to anything I had experienced before.

But I was wrong - it’s the same God, and if He’s the reason people go to church then they can expect to experience Him in just the same way in congregations of 100 or 10,000. But the people at Hillsong are so friendly and welcoming that I’ve loved my time there so far, and I feel that the fantastic production and AV displays are something on the side really. If a church has the right leadership and a welcoming or friendly congregation then that’s all that matters really. I’ve heard friends say that many megachurches are simply money-making exercises with hyped-up production that forgets about the true meaning of church. From my experience at Hillsong, that’s not true. As long as God is in the centre of a church it does not matter however many people attend, and that is why I spend three hours every weekend commuting to church. It’s worth it.

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I went on the Bristol to Cheltenham train route once when I went to see Bristol Rovers v Southend United last October. However, when I say “I went on it”, that does not mean I have actually walked on it. However one 38-year-old woman decided to do just that, complete with shopping bags, walking off the platform at Bristol Parkway [right] and having a stroll towards Winterbourne. She caused a 30-minute suspension of the Crosscountry service this morning, but “was not in a disturbed state” according to British Transport Police. So from what I can gather, a completely sane woman thought it would be entirely appropriate to walk along a train track in Gloucestershire during Monday morning rush-hour. I’ve heard some excuses for train delays during my daily commute before, such as “someone’s been taken ill in a carriage”, “signal failure” or the infamous “leaves on the track”. But a “woman walking on the line”? You couldn’t make it up.