Get Her Off the Pitch!, By Lynne Truss

How comma queen Lynne Truss met her match
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The Independent Culture

Lynne Truss is best known as the nation's punctuation tsar thanks to Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but before she set out in search of crackpot commas, she spent four years writing about sport for The Times, starting with Euro '96. That's football, by the way, for those who, like Truss before she began her stint, hear the word "Gascoigne" and think only of University Challenge; later, when the fever had her truly in its grip, she saw the peace-process headline "Adams in talks" and assumed it referred to Tony, the Arsenal captain.

From her conversion to football in an airship above Wembley during Euro '96 to her last hurrah, the final game at the old stadium, when Germany won and Kevin Keegan resigned as England manager, she seems to have been treated with bemusement rather than hostility by her fellow sportswriters.

Like a travel writer, she negotiated a foreign country and brought to bear the outsider's clear eye. She vowed that she would never write anything a proper sportswriter would approve of, but I suspect she had a few grudging admirers of her relaxed, immensely readable style on the circuit.

She's very funny on the travails of the job, of which there were clearly many, though she's dead right – I speak as a former sports-desk wallah – that the gripes of writers in exotic climes elicit little but heavy sarcasm back home. As for the exigencies of topping and tailing a 900-word match report on the whistle, when there might have been two goals and a sending-off in injury time, she knows she can do something that would blow the gaskets of most non-journalistic writers.

But if sport ruled her life for four years, now she is, she says, "neither one thing, nor the other", stuck between sports fanatics and sports agnostics. She relates the experience of watching a matinée of Electra on Broadway, on one hour's sleep, the day after seeing Evander Holyfield box Lennox Lewis at Madison Square Garden. In the midst of all that slaughter, why wasn't the audience baying for blood? Besides, "there were no half-naked showgirls coming in between scenes in stilettos, holding up bits of card – which wouldn't add much to the cost of the production, surely, and would really brighten things up. Blimey, was I in a strange perceptual state."

As a woman, she'd always railed against reverse discrimination: "Woman's Hour", women's pages in newspaper, the Orange Prize – but realised to her horror that, as a woman writing about sport, her gender was her USP. "Had I woken up one morning with a smart new pair of testicles, it would have been curtains for me as a sportswriter." She won't want to hear this, but her book reinforces that view: its strength lies in that outsider's eye; the passage where she talks about golf just like any other golf writer is the book's weakest part.

Now she restricts herself to one sports gig a year – golf's Open Championship. Which is a shame: during Euro 2000, she observed Jan Koller of the Czech Republic, "the biggest man in the world, roaming the field as if looking for someone to eat". It is lines like that that make Truss a sad loss to sportswriting.

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