SHORT BOOKS, £16.99. Order for £15.50 (free p&p) on 08700 798 897
The Meaning Of Sport, by Simon Barnes
The great all-rounder breaks all the sporting rules but plays a blinder
Tuesday 07 November 2006
Like many creatures he observes in his other life as a birdwatcher, Simon Barnes is a rare species: a sports correspondent who writes novels, a hack who packs haiku when covering the 2002 World Cup from Japan, and the Greek poet George Seferis when assigned the Athens Olympics.
A regular reader of Barnes's work would sense the literary depth of his reportage, but he has survived by judiciously underplaying these strengths. The Meaning of Sport is a collection of the despatches from the press box that he never sent. By turns, they are meditative and polemical, often gentle, sometimes caustic, self-consciously literary, occasionally overwrought. They break all the normal rules of newspaper sportswriting.
There is, therefore, something of a beleaguered tone. Barnes is an intellectual in a sporting and journalistic culture that despises them. His objections to the regularised brutality of boxing is taken as contemptible effeminacy by his peers. Yet he finds himself marooned in a literary culture that considers contempt for sport a mark of erudition.
Yet it is Barnes's distance from the mainstream of sports reporting and his rootedeness in wider debate that make him a compelling read. His respect for the feminine dimension of sport is refreshing, the account of Ellen MacArthur's global sail a eulogy to the unbreakable constitution and stamina women can summon. Barnes also demonstrates an eye and mind for the eroticism of sport. From his Suffolk base, he rails against the urban male monoculture of football in defence of rural and minority sports.
The fractured nature of the book unpicks its title. There is not one meaning of sport, but many: here are reflections of the relationship between sport and play, on sport as dramatised hunt, duel or war. But Barnes loves sport most for its narrative offerings, epic and tragic: its uncanny capacity to expose character and destiny.
I can do epic and tragedy, but I like my sport with a touch of Pynchon's incomprehensible paranoia and Vargas Llosa's bitter satire. Better still, I like it with a bit of history and politics, because they won't leave sport alone. Barnes's instinctive dismay about England's neurotic relationship with its football team can be told with the aid of literature, but only politics, economics and sociology will really nail it. Next time, I hope he packs some Hobsbawm with his haiku.
David Goldblatt's 'The Ball is Round' is published by Viking
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Snoop Dogg on why he doesn't regret displaying misogyny towards women
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, The Gift, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show’s most iconic characters just met
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland