I started doing cartoons for the Observer in the autumn of 1993. My drawings were part of Kevin Mitchell’s Inside Edge column. Kevin was probably the most incisive and thoughtful of the younger sportswriters around at that time and his stuff covered a range of topics, giving me pretty much a free hand. I loved the small format and, using a Rotring pen at my kitchen table, produced slightly wang-eyed, scribbly caricatures. I’d go through that day’s papers and do four or five finished drawings. This was (just) the pre-email age so then I would run round to a local print shop and fax over my ideas and the Observer Sports Editor would choose one. A bike would be sent round to pick up the (tiny) artwork – I drew them the size they appeared in the paper, about 8cm x 5cm.
Because of my work in the Observer, in 1995 I was nominated in the Sports Cartoonist of the Year category in the Cartoon Arts Trust annual awards. This should have been the start of a long career on the paper but my stuff for the Observer Sport stopped a few months later at the start of 1996, after a change of Editor.
October 1993 - Jeff Probyn was one of the all time great non-athletic rugby players. He won front row battles against much bigger opponents because: a) His back was made out of rubber and, b) He could make himself invisible every time he pulled down the scrum in front of the referee.
October 1993 - Neil Back had seemed to be on the verge of the international big time for years and, like Jeff Probyn, he didn't fit with the current rugby stereotype, which was for huge, slightly immobile, flankers. Back had probably cut his hair prior to the All Blacks game - it was now just a shoulder length bob - but the selectors weren't impressed, preferring the short back and sides of Richards, Clarke and Rodber. Would Back ever play for England?...
November 1993 - Well done those clever selectors, everyone shouted, as England beat the All Blacks at Twickenham and Will Carling was deemed to be the best captain, ever, at anything. It wasn't a fantastic game but all around the ground was an electric excitement. In those days Southern Hemisphere sides only toured every few years so these matches felt like important tests, as big as Lions games, a rare chance to see how good we really were against the best. Many people felt that Will should be knighted - or at least be on first name terms with one of the royal family. Plus he had an amazing bum chin.
November 1993 - A very good All Black team, but not a great one - that's what everyone decided. The tour to the UK and Ireland was marred by the odd dirty incident, culminating in Jamie Joseph's blatant stamp on new England scrum half Kyran Bracken. The New Zealand captain, the urbane Sean Fitzpatrick, always had a smile for the cameras, but his teeth stayed close together - he obviously didn't want us to see what he'd bitten off during the game.
November 1994 - A lively Springbok team made its way ruthlessly through Wales and against Neath there was the odd flouting of the rules - The Queensbury Rules, that is. Like the All Blacks the year before a talented, creative Southern hemisphere team was spoiling their image by trying too hard to prove that they weren't all fleet-footed, fancy dan pretty boys. To anyone flicking through the match programme at the time, this fact was obvious.
In the mid 90s athletics drugs scandals were supposed to happen to other countries. So when rumours broke that British athletes had been taking banned substances, all hell broke loose.
May 1994 - Hooray, England were World Rugby Champions! The media were pretty sympathetic towards the England women's team' achievement, with very little patronising comment on their win. The cartoon obviously referenced one of the notorious foul play techniques prevalent in rugby at that time. The team asked to buy the original so I donated to their cause.
n 1995 Graham Gooch announced his retirement from international cricket. This cartoon, borrowing from a joke in a Goodies annual about Charles Bronson's acting prowess, appeared soon after. The cartoon later appeared in Graham Gooch's autobiography (co-written with Frank Keating) as well as that year's Wisden cricket annual. According to then Wisden editor Matthew Engel, Frank Keating had the cartoon on his toilet wall. It's great when one of your drawings forges a new life for itself.
March 1995 - Nigel Mansell had returned to McLaren for one last drive but either he wasn't at his prime fighting weight or they'd got their measurements wrong. Whatever the reason, the new McLaren car was too small for Mansell and Mark Blundell had to be brought in for a few races while they sorted out the problem (ie. got Nige onto a treadmill).
April 1995 - Rupert Murdoch had decided that enough was enough. If Rugby League was going to survive it had to have an injection of cash support. Naturally Murdoch's plan to 'rescue' the sport involved just a tiny bit of tinkering about with the clubs (ie. forcing some arch rivals to merge) and giving them rubbish new names. Sport needs more far-sighted philanthropists like this!
June 1995 - This somewhat prescient cartoon appeared on the morning of England's Rugby World Cup semi final against New Zealand. Of course, no-one really expected Tony Underwood to get splatted by Jonah Lomu. When it came to the actual game, England's experienced and nimble right winger would probably destroy the hulking 19 stone Kiwi who was, as everybody knew, rather suspect defensively...
August 1995 - Jonathan Edwards had such strong Christian beliefs that he only started competing on a Sunday in 1993. in 1995 Edwards showed the form that would go on to make him probably the greatest ever British athlete, with two World record jumps at the World Championships in Gothenburg. The triple jumper's faith seemed at odds with the prevalent trend, in which many athletes were relying on illegal performance enhancers.