All of us who have been on England cricket tours with too much time on our hands in the evening sit picking certain teams to while away the boredom.
There?s the Cheats Eleven, the Miserable Sods Eleven, the Good Talkers team and the Nice Guys Eleven. In that latter side, Trevor Penney always got my vote.
It?s hard to believe that Trevor (pictured) has finished with Warwickshire, that this Peter Pan figure is 37 years of age.
He?s spent half his life at Edgbaston, where his cheerfulness and lovely manners endeared him to everyone. Trevor, eternally boyish and enthusiastic in the field, should never have submitted himself to the compromises of a cricketing middle age.
A fieldsman of his spring-heeled agility and eternal optimism always appeared in the prime of his life. Cricketers like Trevor Penney always looked about 18.
He never wanted it to rain, he just wanted to get out there on the field and communicate his pleasure at being fit and outstanding at his job.
I was first aware of Trevor?s prowess in 1989, three years before he qualified to play county cricket for Warwickshire.
I knew about this promising young batsman from Harare, who had gone to the same school as Graeme Hick, and he was deemed to be a promising batsman. And a more than useful fieldsman.
During the interval of the NatWest Trophy semi-final at Edgbaston between Warwickshire and Worcestershire, I?d grabbed a quick word with the Bears captain, Andy Lloyd. He agreed that Warwickshire would do well to defend a total of 220 but he had a card up his sleeve.
The veteran batsman, Alvin Kallicharran, had been struck in the face while batting and Lloyd smiled when he told me: ?We?ll just have to put this lad Penney in as sub fielder for Alvin. Watch him ? he?s a bit tasty.?
Lloyd and I knew that, at this advanced stage of his career, fielding was a chore for Alvin. It certainly wasn?t so for young Penney.
He was sensational in the field and Worcestershire, the best side in England at the time, were overwhelmed, losing by 100 runs.
When Trevor qualified in 1992 he quickly established himself as the best fieldsman in the English game, particularly at point and backward point, where he was astonishingly swift and sure-handed.
Unlike the more spectacular Jonty Rhodes, Trevor used to hit the stumps more times than not.
Rhodes had the more glamorous profile but I believe Penney was the more reliable fieldsman. And yet they never learned.
Another semi-final in the Nat-West Trophy, this time in 1995, at Cardiff against Glamorgan. All the pre-match talk among the home players was ?Don?t run to Penney, don?t take him on?.
Well, Matt Maynard and David Hemp did ? both run out by yards. Penney and the brilliant wicketkeeper Keith Piper were truly inspirational for Warwickshire during those years of plenty in the mid-nineties.
Trevor always used to expect the ball to come to him off every delivery. He couldn?t get over how perfect the outfields were in English county cricket and for him fielding on the immaculate green swards was such a pleasure compared to the bumpy surfaces in Zimbabwe.
So now he?s off to assist Tom Moody with the Sri Lankan national side. I suppose even Penney has to retire some time. But we?ll all be able to have a cheery word with him next summer when Sri Lanka tour.
It was never a problem to Trevor to have a cheery word with anyone. He always found the time. An enviable characteristic.
Ethical Pearce cut from the same cloth as noble Clough
In the week of the first anniversary of Brian Clough?s death, it was appropriate that the most sensible comments in football should come from a man who spent eight years at his side.
Stuart Pearce was no pussycat as a player but, now that he is learning his trade as a manager, he has shown that he is in touch with the more sophisticated instincts that can still make football a great game, with enough nobility attached to keep the agnostics interested.
Cloughie was a tough pragmatist who used to joke, ?I?d shoot me granny for three points?. He was unsentimental about shipping players in and out if the team would benefit but he was a genuine idealist about how the game should be played. That included showing respect for referees.
They used to look forward to matches that involved a Clough team because they would be treated with respect. No dissent, no cheating, no recriminations in public about a wrong decision. A quiet word afterwards, yes ? but in private.
Pearce is cut from the same cloth as his former manager. Pearce has just endured a dreadful week with Manchester City ? two defeats in the Premiership and getting tumbled out of the Carling Cup on penalties to lowly Doncaster Rovers. But City were dreadfully unlucky against Rovers.
Leading 1- 0 easily enough, they had a man unfairly sent off, then conceded a late penalty through another poor decision.
Other Premiership managers, smarting from such an embarrassment, would have blurred the issue and distracted attention with a rant against the referee. Not Pearce.
His players were admirably restrained as key decisions went against them while the manager struck exactly the right note in the post-mortem.
He said: ?As soon as a manager of a Premiership side who have just been knocked out of the Carling Cup turns round and says ?bad decisions, bad decisions?, he hasn?t got a leg to stand on?.?
Then he recalled what he?d learned from that most exacting of taskmasters. ?He had a strict code of conduct and I can?t see the point of chasing the referee around the pitch.
?They never change their minds anyway. I said to the referee at Doncaster that I thought he?d made a howler on the sending-off and he promised to have a look at it. I think that approach is the right, ethical thing to do and I just don?t see how shouting helps.?
Ethical. When did that word last rear its head in the football world and yet not appear hypocritical? Pearce had the same attitude to referees as a player. Having come into professional football late ? he?d been an electrician ? he was grateful for whatever came his way.
He was lucky to play for a great manager for most of his career but always gave everything, never shirked a challenge or bleated when retribution came his way.
Referees found him the easiest player to deal with because he was honest and took responsibility ? even when one clog too many meant a red card.
Late in his career, at West Ham, he broke his leg, for the second time that season. Yet he had to be prevented from getting back on the pitch after prolonged treatment.
Only after he?d fallen over in pain, trying to run off the injury, did he concede that there was something wrong.
That sort of indomitable will should make Pearce an outstanding manager. He?s already an outstanding man, his players recognise that. City will make encouraging progress this season, despite that lapse at Doncaster.
When Sven- Goran Eriksson finally fades away, who would you rather see in charge of England? Someone like Sam Allardyce, railing at the referee, chewing gum to the fore, or an England legend as a player who can use the word ?ethical? without everyone falling about laughing?
McBride's ageless charisma
Some sportsmen, like Trevor Penney, just defy the ravages of age. The great rugby player, Willie John McBride, is another.
I had the pleasure of hearing Willie John speak at a charity lunch last week and you could see why he had been such an outstanding captain. At 65, with a full head of grey hair, still an imposing presence, he radiated charisma.
Some of these lunches can become boozy, raucous affairs so that when the speaker finally stands up, some of the audience are either out of it or convinced they are wittier.
There was none of that with McBride. He barely spoke above a conversational tone for nearly three-quarters of an hour and the audience hung on his every word. And when you?ve played 63 times for Ireland, 17 times for the British Lions and been hugely influential on historic Lions? tours to New Zealand in 1971 and South Africa in 1974, then you listen intently, even if you know little about rugby union.
Whimsical anecdotes flowed. My favourite concerned Willie Duggan, a grand Irish forward and a genuine character who had his own way of preparing for an international.
When McBride announced that this time, the Irish would prepare more professionally by having a warm-up, Duggan looked at his captain balefully, stubbed his cigarette out on the dressing-room floor and said, ? Ach, Willie-John, I?ve had the car heater on while driving here. That?s my warm-up?.
Fans' disaffection starts to bite
Middlesborough will play their first home Premiership match at 3pm on a Saturday this season on New Year?s eve. This Sunday, Manchester City?s home game against Everton will kick off at 11.15am.
We can all remember similar daft examples from the history of the Premiership, dating back to 1992. There are other factors ? clubs involved in Europe on the previous Thursday, police advice ? but football fans have been taken for granted since television started calling the tune. Now, suddenly, the Premiership clubs have thousands of disaffected supporters. They?re staying away, preferring other entertainment.
The product on offer is manifestly boring, with fear of relegation stultifying the ambitions of too many teams and no amount of specious pleading from managers will alter that perception.
A period of humility will be welcome from the Premiership and the Football Association as they come to terms with a widespread disaffection. The rulers of the English game have paid scant attention to fans? complaints as the money sloshed around. It?ll take more than a meeting of the Premier League Attendance Group to rectify matters.
Football has lost its hold on the public?s affection. Perhaps managers and players may be less arrogant in their dealings with the media, taking a leaf out of the England cricket team?s book by being accessible, humble and likeable.
Is it too late for media training among England?s elite players? It was fine by Michael Vaughan?s players last May, just before that dynamic, memorable summer.
When did you last ring a professional football club and get straight through, without pressing endless buttons and enduring tedious piped music? I lost 30 minutes of my life doing just that last week. Little things like that add up. A period of introspection and then collaboration from the football industry is long overdue.