The meaning of sporting baubles

“Is this important?” is a question I am sometimes asked as I sit down to watch a game of football. It fills me with dread, not simply because it could be interpreted as a coded challenge to my commandeering of the television. It is actually a deeply philosophical question, which induces a kind of agony as I flounder in search of a response. Sometimes the question will come with a qualification. “I meant, is this for something?”, or “Is there something being handed out at the end of this?”. There is a need to know whether this game I want to watch isn’t just part of the same endless football cycle. The answer to whether a match could ever be important is obviously no, however much people approvingly quote Bill Shankly in these matters. The answer to the supposedly more benign version of the question is also no, and sometimes no less of a squirm-inducing experience.Read More »


The incomparable distinction of The Greatest

It has frequently been remarked that 2016 is a year of living dangerously for celebrities. One had expected that to be invoked again following the death of Muhammad Ali last weekend, but this writer hasn’t encountered any such talk. It’s as if Ali is in a category of his own, or hors catégorie, as the mightiest mountain passes in the Tour de France are nowadays defined. It’s perhaps apt to describe such a transcendent figure thus. Yesterday he was laid to rest in Louisville, and, given how much he suffered throughout his mental and physical decline after retirement – or perhaps it would be more apt to trace his degeneration to that brutal contest with Joe Frazier in Manila in 1975 – one is tempted to regard his passing as a mercy or release. But any questioning of the extent to which one should feel sorrow is mitigated by knowledge of the absence of regret from Ali himself throughout his struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Of course it’s a time to be sad for this 20th century titan.Read More »

Jostling on the parliament floor

The glamorous Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, recently lost some of his dreamy glow after a recent altercation in parliament during a contentious vote. This incident occurred during a vote on doctor-assisted suicide legislation on May 18, and this writer has been reflecting since on the ways in which politics mirrors other aspects of life. It is no longer remarkable to invoke Joan Didion’s famous observation that politics is a subset or even lesser branch of show business, certainly when America has allowed itself to sink into dumb fascination with the appalling Donald Trump during this election cycle, to the benefit of no one other than Mr Tangerine Man himself. There is, however, another area of contemporary show business that “Elbowgate” reminded me of, and that is soap opera side of football.Read More »

Leicester City: Searching for cognates in other domains

This blog has somehow avoided commenting on the magnificence of Leicester City’s Premier League title victory. In a world where the big guys seemingly always win, and have the game rigged so that things stay that way, watching an insurgent win in a sport where the decks are stacked more than most others is genuinely breathtaking and life-affirming, and all such other things that are good. This blog has previously written about the neoliberal hyper-capitalist system that pertains in European football, unlike the socialist regimes of the US major leagues. The Leicester Citys of this world have no right to win in the circumstances they must compete in, but Leicester’s title has only been a surprise only to those who have been casually observing the Premier League table and not actually watching what’s been happening week after week. Rationalisation is quite easy if you ignore preconceptions and appreciate that they’re actually just a good side. That hasn’t stopped people from accompanying their encomiums to Leicester with attempts to locate some reference point, to conjure some persuasive analogy, as if such an exercise is necessary to make sense of what they’ve done. And it’s been quite common to invoke other walks of life or to utilise their tools in order to do so.Read More »

What sporting legacies are made of

This writer is not above certain conceits. Affectations, shall we say. I play in a 5-a-side football match with work colleagues once a week, and a year ago we ordered jerseys for ourselves. We were also asked if we wanted numbers on the back. On hearing which numbers had already been taken, I opted without hesitation for having Number 14 on my back. I’m slightly disappointed that nobody has yet picked up on that being the number Johan Cruyff always wore after returning from a groin injury in 1970, but let’s see if that changes. Tonight’s friendly between the Netherlands and France was halted after 14 minutes for a minute-long silence, which must go down as one of the more innovative tributes you’ll see in a sporting arena.Read More »

Give us our Roman numerals back

Watching a game of rugby in High Wycombe between Wasps and Northampton a few years back, my cousin leaned over to me at one point and said, “One day they’re going to ban this sport”. Rugby’s definitely getting a bit rougher, and maybe it’s foreseeable that one day it will be widely considered to be too attritional on the human body, especially the head. But there’s another sport that’s closer to that threshold; one that is, as I write, presenting its showpiece event to a global audience. American football has in recent years been subject to highly wrought essays, compensation payouts, and now the Hollywood treatment.Read More »

The eternal rugby player

Any gentleman of any game deserves mourning when he passes, but a singular figure such as Jonah Lomu merits a unique response. His death doesn’t quite have the sharp edge of tragedy that it usually would for somebody taken at an early age. There is the same depth of loss, but it’s a more nebulous sense of melancholy, informed by awareness of the disease that was a presence for half his life, and which nearly claimed him earlier than this.Read More »

The greatest egg chase

As a glittering tournament approaches its end, it would be a dereliction of this website’s duty not to pass comment on the Rugby World Cup as it approaches its climax this afternoon. After last weekend’s two absorbing, pulsating semi-finals, left standing are the world’s two best teams. It is perhaps curious that world cups in any sport don’t always produce such an outcome, in fact they regularly don’t. That is perhaps more a reflection of the vicissitudes of sport’s unscripted nature, and therefore something to celebrate on one level. But it is also satisfactory when a tournament’s send off features the two sides that have soared highest in the preludes to the decider.Read More »

The uncertain future for athletics

“He’s saved his title, he’s saved his reputation – he may have even saved his sport,” gushed Steve Cram following Usain Bolt’s successful defence of his 100m World crown at the weekend. An even more impressive performance by Bolt in today’s 200m final will have elicited more cries of jubilation and sighs of relief from those who viewed the possibility of the hated Justin Gatlin dethroning Bolt with dread. For his part, Gatlin’s apparent refusal to display contrition for previous doping offences and uncooperative attitude with the media meant that the Fourth Estate wasn’t inclined to offer any help with his rehabilitation. What they were motivated to do was to hail Bolt as athletics’ saviour, a role he is well entitled to feel uncomfortable about adopting. But Gatlin turned out not to be the most convincing cold-blooded villain. A 100m World title was his for the taking until the presence of Bolt caused him to lose his concentration and his nerve. If one was being especially cynical, it could be noted that 9.80 was a reasonably quick time given the horror show of the last 15 metres, as Gatlin lost his form and then flailed his arms desperately, a technique that has not yet been observed to bring the finish line closer.Read More »

Lessons to be learned from an old school broadcasting legend

News of the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s recent passing carried with it a particular melancholy. It wasn’t simply another case of a voice of my youth being silenced. Some of the details of O’Sullevan’s life marked him out as an irreplaceable figure, and that partly derived simply from his longevity. He was one of the last living connections to certain particular places in time. That he was the son of a resident magistrate in Ireland elicits thoughts of the stories of Somerville and Ross. The japes in those books typically involved horses, too. His giant commentary binoculars were recovered from a German U-Boat. And, given he was a keen and successful punter, one is charmed by his pre-season tours of French stables where he got the inside track on many a later triumphant raider in English races, research made far less burdensome by the fluent French he learned at his Swiss boarding school.Read More »