Sport….

I love sport, of almost any kind. I appreciate that it leaves some people cold; for those this entry will doubtless be terminally boring. For the rest…well, the past month has been an exceptional one for sporting competition and the light that it shines on human nature.

For the duration of the Olympics we had two televisions permanently on the go, one on the main Broadcast channel and one on the “red button” of self-selection of events. I’d had only the most casual knowledge of some of these but excellent commentary and explanation – of rules, requirements and, inevitably, back stories – quickly led one into the grip of the narrative.

This was the first Olympics in which I felt that the Athletics, important though they were as a centrepiece, were not the be-all and end-all of the thing. In fact I was much more engaged by other sports and in particular by the reactions of the participants.

Clearly, these are world-class sportspeople. It’s not possible to reach an Olympic standard of skill without a physical and mental dedication way beyond my comprehension. Years of pain, struggle and sacrifice go into that one brief appearance on our screens and it’s rarely the case that any athlete is injury-free. There’s no reason why they should be articulate about their efforts and achievements and of course I’m on record about my abhorrence for the “How do you feel?” school of vampire broadcasting – in victory or defeat.

But even in the face of this I was struck by the self-denigration, the unassuming nature, the sheer humanity of so many of the athletes. So these people at the height of their powers, in the moments of their lives, showed a simplicity which allowed us all to share in the humanity of the moment. It’s more complicated than that, but there’s something in sport which brings us all together into shared being-alive, right now. It’s for that that I love it.

Most of it, most of it….

For some of the time the computer was on in a third room, with ball by ball commentary of the ongoing Test series against South Africa. Being a cricket nut’s the polar opposite of Olympic fandom. In the latter the Big Moment is well flagged up; with cricket you have to pay attention all the time as the story unfolds, with possibility of a game, a series hanging on a moment’s incident.

Now, cricket’s a devilish game, a team effort which relies upon spotlight-pinned individual effort; in which both over-thinking and over-relaxation spell disaster. Somehow the balance between zen calm and “once more unto the breach” has to be held. This summer that balance was tipped for the England team and, as a fan, I find there’s something piteous in that.

Kevin Pietersen is a player of mind-boggling, firework talent, of astounding and instinctive natural gifts. In self-awareness or awareness of the impact of his words and actions on others and on team ethos he has not, it seems, been similarly blessed.

OK, I’d best explain for international, sport-interested but cricket-ignorant, readers what I’m on about here. KP is/was the star act of the England team, capable of turning a game on its head by sustained brilliance. Equally capable of then losing the game by an ego-driven bravura act. An Attraction – all games have them. And the Attractions, in all games, often begin to think that they’re bigger than everything and everyone.

So with KP. In short order this summer he announced that he was going to be available only for  limited versions of the game (hey, cricket lovers, I’m doing my best to speak to anyone, anywhere here!), then publicly announced that it was “difficult being me in the dressing-room”. Then it was revealed that he’d texted a series of something-or-others to the opposition team, mid-match. That’s, er, a little bit against the spirit of a team game, whatever the content of the texts may have been (most likely Not Good in one way or another).

So he was dropped from the team for the final, crucial game. His way back to playing in the future is now in doubt and it seems may depend upon the exhibition – on his part -of an element of contrition, public or private. In my view it’d be tragic if he never played for England again…but that would be the tragedy of KP, not a tragedy for English cricket.

Meanwhile the game went on and it was a cracker. I was lucky enough to be there on the third day. England lost in the end, but in a life-enhancing way. (I know that won’t make sense in the USA….) Possibly (understandably) worn down by the KP saga Andrew Strauss, the most successful England captain of the modern era, resigned thereafter.

I add that to my collection. In a previous visit to Lords I saw the last innings of the great I.T.Botham as England captain. The extravagant, gifted character of his era he then immediately buckled down to great, great feats of play. So, rather the reverse of the KP scenario. I was also there, I’m afraid, for the Pakistani No Balls.

Well, for those who don’t know I might as well be talking Martian now, mightn’t I, while for those who do…could it be any more bleedin’ obvious?

I meant to write this in the spirit of Loving Sport. The Paralympics are under way now and I dare say I’ll be in tears at achievements, or near-achievements, there soon enough. Tomorrow the rugby season kicks off and once again I’ll be injudiciously roaring my head off at that, hoping that some romance, some skill and art can shine through in what’s now a game that’s become slightly too professional for its own good.

(Incidentally, almost all the rugby players I’ve met – quite a few – have been self-deprecating, unassuming and civilised, for all the ferocity of their on-pitch presence.)

“Too professional for its own good” – is that possible? It’s no good for me to hanker for some Corinthian ideal now. I was a child of the Fifties, though, so that idea’s still around in me in a way.

Now other spectres loom. Just as with That Music.

“I love sport, of almost any kind”, I said at the start. There’s one, though, which no longer engages me much at all.

I bet you can guess….

Who would I have at the centre of the defence in my all-time England team?

Billy Wright? Bobby Moore? or….?


22 Comments on “Sport….”

  1. Jeremy Shotts says:

    Sport Sport Masculine Sport
    Equips a young man for Society
    Yes Sport turns out a jolly good sort
    It’s an odd boy that doesn’t like Sport….

    Hated sport as a child – like the other 4 or 5 of us who were always left till the end when the captains were picking their teams – a Wednesday afternoon/ Saturday morning ordeal when the other boys said “Don’t pass to Shotts – he’s useless” and you got wet, muddy and humiliated…

    Promptly determined to set up the junior anti-Sport League in response.

    Now I view it all very differently – enjoy skiing and sailing (no team sports still mind!) and have a demanding fitness regime. Was entranced by the Olympics and the Paralympics.
    … and I wonder what I missed as a teenager!

  2. Chris Blackford says:

    Peter, the KP fiasco (the man is hugely overrated, IMO, and deserves to be jettisoned) pales into insignificance alongside the very sad saga of Lance Armstrong, who has let down the sport of cycling, let down honest sportspeople in general, let down the charities he has worked for, let down everyone who was inspired by his seemingly heroic status. I guess that’s modern life for you – heroes with feet of clay. Maybe it was like that in olden times too, but the people didn’t get to hear about it so often. So it goes…

  3. With cricket of course being not really a sport, but a cunning plan to (rather succesfully) confuse all the non-english sport fans of this world 🙂

  4. Stephen Parkin says:

    It was amazingly exciting to see you on breakfast TV this morning, you Visionary you. Is this showing a more general interest in VDGG/Hammill? I hope so (or if you don’t want it, I hope not – for me though, I hope so).

    VDGG fans have to grasp these small mentions when they come – like the writer Joanna Harris saying on the Simon Mayo programme (years ago) that she wrote while playing VDGG – your fans pop up everywhere, you know.

    Anyway, congratulations on your award.

  5. Len says:

    Peter,
    In my eyes, I think that what you do and did is rather like topsport. Take for example a tour of 3 weeks, almost every night on stage for about 2 hours, performing the best you can, the time you spend on practice(to give us the performance the best you can), the travelling. It must take quite a toll, mental al well physical. I applaud you, and if I had one, I’d gave you a golden medal for the “dance of rapture” that you started about 37 years ago with me.
    All the best for you and the others
    Len

  6. Steve says:

    Sport is huge here in the U.S. The 73,000-seat stadium of a local (ahemm, “American”) football team is normally sold out every week, despite the team’s inability to make the playoffs in 10 years and a so-called depressed economy.

    While I can appreciate the reaction of a number of friends whose fascination for sport certainly falls into the “leaves some people cold” category, for me, along the lines of Peter’s comment on how sporting competition “shines on human nature”, there’s a symbolism here to study: Ahhh, what excitement there is in hearing the announcer shout “it hit the post!”, when the goalie is out of position and the net’s open for the shooter (ice hockey, my favorite, is the sport to which I refer; in this international forum, maybe it’s football for you).

    We can relate to the frustration of that player who almost scored, whose shot missed the mark – haven’t we been close to getting something that we’ve wanted badly, only to find that, for one reason or another, it just didn’t happen? And then there’s the camaraderie: the players united in their cause to excel; and the spectators, in their fervor, also unified in an electric atmosphere, over their team, over the game itself, and over how they can relate to the players, who sometimes succeed and sometimes fall short. It’s all a common bond, really.

    Hmmm…cricket, hurling, curling, rugby, even croquet. Will have to check these out.

    Steve

    PS: Yes, sport has become too professional for its own good. The love of the game has become secondary to its big business nature. Fueled by the demands of players’ unions, it’s replete with high ticket prices, outlandish salaries and, in the case of hockey presently here in N. America, lockouts, which might mean a fatal blow to the entire upcoming season if an agreement isn’t reached (so much for the simplicity and humility of sport).

    But…I suppose it’s best to put any negativity aside and get on with the game, where possible. And where / if we can, let’s get out there and play too…

  7. VdGGfan says:

    Everything you say strikes a chord with me, Peter.
    Feel sorry for Andrew Strauss; despite what he says, I think he was prompted to step down by the KP scenario. Pietersen does not appear to realise that there is no “I” in “team”.
    How awesome was that Paralympic 200m last night? I bet everyone thought Oscar Pistorius would win, including Oscar!

  8. I found myself quite enjoying the football games in the Olympics. Then again, I’m Mexican. Thanks for the entertaining read, Peter.

  9. Keith Knight says:

    So, were you at Lord’s on the day in 1981 that Botham was out for nought and walked off to silence, a moment seared on my memory watching it on TV? As you say to come back from that, having ceded the captaincy and with his career apparently wrecked, to accomplish what he did in the next three matches was utterly extraordinary, one of the great sporting achievements of all time.

    On ‘Super Saturday’ during the Olympics, I was sofa-bound all day between that and Pietersen’s astonishing innings of 149 against S Africa which was an innings up there with Botham’s two in 81 for sheer astonishing stroke play. Who could have guessed then that his England career would fall apart a few days later? It was an extraordinary day of sport. Last week I was out with a friend who has no interest at all in sport and had watched none of the Olympics at all – didn’t even know the names of the athletes. I felt quite sorry for him. Sport can be a real stealer of time (I would have read more books for sure if I didn’t watch it) but sometimes it delivers like hardly anything else.

    So, we can’t tempt you down to watch Bath City? Top of the league (the Blue Square South ) as I write after a disastrous relegation season last year. You can still stand on the terraces which have been untouched for decades. It’s good enough for Ken Loach who is a regular attendee on the terraces and a shareholder.

  10. Much to like here, and the football-related comments will strike a chord with any glory-hunting teenager or deluded fan of one of the ‘big’ clubs. I find watching football without the commentary (the red button ocassionally has its uses) is excellent; no commentators or lame pundits telling me what I should think of the match. Instead, you can experience the thrill of supporting your team with sometimes deluded (that word again) hope that it’ll all come good in injury time. Hope.

    BTW, you should consider adding a share button to the blog so it can easily be circulated amongst the uninitiated. 🙂

  11. Odette Swann says:

    Got through at last, courtesy of a friend’s computer.
    Actually, you’re talking to a total cricket/tennis nut here, Peter; though as I don’t currently have a television, let alone a computer, my current enjoyment is limited to Test Match Special and the BBC coverage of the Grand Slam tennis tournaments on the radio – although I occasionally get to see a bit of tennis on my girlfriend’s telly. I’ve always wondered why some supremely gifted contemporary composer (hint hint!) doesn’t compose a ‘Headlingley ’81 Overture’….. could start in very sombre fashion, depicting England’s gloom after being thrashed by the West Indies, losing the first test, and Botham’s resignation as captain….we could have a ‘Mike Brearley’ theme, which I envisage as something like the ‘Friar Lawrence theme’ in the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy….. and then we could get all ‘1812’ with blazing cannons, depicting Botham and Dilley’s counter-attack, and church bells as Bob Willis then blows the Australians away, sending England to triumph!

  12. Clive Price says:

    Agree about the Olympics Peter, normally they pass me by but being closer to home I found myself drawn in and watched a lot more than headline athletics events. Football doesn’t do it for me though, prefer the Seven Nations. I believe to be an England Cricket fan you have to have strong masochistic tendencies!

  13. iain mcleish says:

    I’m a Portsmouth fan – following our club is ecstatic, rewarding and very positive – to experience how one set of fans can love their sport, their team, their club – together – is something you have to experience and share – despite all else – especially the greed, the wages, RVP/Tevez, ‘Arry…….. ask a “real” fan
    Much of what you say about sport, the Olympics, the last Test, etc, resonates very strongly with my feelings, but my greatest sporting love remains…………PUP
    thanks for the music – love Consequences -track 6 especially

  14. With all that sport, glad you have time for the music! 😉

  15. Henno Sonn says:

    Ned, ma vin ka Sulle pika teksti saata, Hammill kirjutab tnases sissekandes spordist. 😉 Nojah, ma kisin ju tna ka pikselisel kruusamaanteel jooksmas… Vga tubli ikka. Hahaa!

  16. Steve MacLeod says:

    Hi Peter . Nice article . One sport I have recently gotten passionate about is Irish Hurling . Incredibly talented and TOUGH . And from what I understand they don’t get paid ! Worth checking out .
    BTW I have been enjoying your music since 1973 . Thank you

  17. oxinabox says:

    Don’t judge all football by the actions of the overpaid few. Football at grassroots level is still the same passionate, raw game that it was back in the pre-Premier League days. Even in the Football League the lower divisions boast talented (albeit flawed) players who play the game for the love of the sport rather than the huge pay packet. By all means fall out of love with the national team or the unrepresentative top tier of the game, but football is so much more than that.

  18. Billy Wright? Bobby Moore? or…Duncan Edwards?

  19. Still a die-hard fan of you, Peter, since 1975…


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