ITS NOT today or yesterday I first met Mark McCormack out at the World of Sport television studios — a quiet but highly articulate American who felt that golfers should be paid a lot of money for other things besides actually hitting that little white ball through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
The age of the sporting spin-off was upon us almost before we knew it. Golfer followed golfer into the golden world of Mark McCormack. Tennis players found they, too, would be rich outside court, so to speak. Footballers, racing drivers, boxers and even, in the end. the mighty Muhammad Ali.
I only wish I'd said something flip that day we first met at Teddington Studios. Something like — "I suppose you'll be handling the Pope next.'
For. of course. it's the same Mark who has now acquired exclusive rights in the commercial spin-offs that result from the visit of His Holiness to Britain next summer. Makes you curl a bit. doesn't it? And yet, can you imagine what we'd be saving about "those bumbling bishops" if they tried to handle that side themselves or, worse still, encouraged a not so free-for-all by default.
I can't explain why I should feel uncomfortable. What's the difference, in principle, between that and our dignified parish priest running a jumble sale, or even a bingo session? In some way the end result is the same. I'm sure Pope John Paul will not be called upon to do television commercials! I'm sure Westminster will protect his dignity in every way. And yet ... and yet ...
For some reason it brings to mind the miniatureshock I suffered on my first visit to St Patrick's cathedral, New York. I entered by the impressive giant Fifth Avenue doorway. I left after Mass by a side door, moved and pensive. Straight across the narrow street all I could see was a small cafe with the name HEAVENLY HAMBURGER,
MY OLD friend, Doctor Todd Andrews. probably grinds his teeth when he is referred to as the Dr Beeching of Ireland — much in the same way Dr Beeching, no doubt, does at being remembered only as the man who shut down dozens of British railway stations and closed some lovely but nonpaying railway lines.
When, as head of CIE, Todd closed down Harcourt Street Station, my boyhood link to the magic of County Wicklow, I must have been in the chorus of protest somewhere.
He told me himself. years afterwards when he moved into the gentler halls of television, that he knew what they had been saying behind his back; "If that fella had his way he'd close down everything — including the Stations of the Cross!"
Of course, Todd Andrews has a lot more going for him than transport, He probably shared the De Valera belief that a wall of Irish culture could protect the island from the worst of the outside world. He dislikes and refuses to wear what are called dress suits; he thinks wine drinking something of a cissy habit and the British press the lowest of the low.
It mast have given him great satisfaction, in defence of wCaorodlifnea:1 0 Fiaich, under attack from the press, to quote Humbert
"You cannot hope To bribe or twist, Thank God!
The British journalist.
But seeing what, The man will do, Unbribed, there's no occasion to."