Michael McCarthy: A nice day out, but the wrong kind of weather
You don't play cricket in rain, hail, snow, fog, frost or even bad light
Tuesday 29 September 2009
Is there a game for autumn, as cricket is the game for summer? I ask this because at the weekend I saw football played on the most exquisite autumn day, which was a great pleasure, and yet I felt the two experiences (the seasonal weather and the football) were somehow separate, whereas in cricket they would be conjoined.
Cricket proclaims summer (as butterflies do) because it needs sunshine (as butterflies do). Consider: you don't play cricket in rain, hail, snow, fog, frost or even bad light. Basically, the orb has to shine; it is high summer's game.
But you play football in all of the above, you play it even in ankle-deep mud. So in watching a terrific match, Fulham versus Arsenal, at Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames on Saturday, the fact that the river was bathed in soft golden light and the blue air held a perfect warm stillness with just a hint of a tang on its edge was somehow irrelevant, in football terms. It didn't mean a thing.
In fact, I know someone who would have considered it a positive distraction. A few years ago I was, for a season, deputy manager of my then 10-year-old son's weekend football team, and one of the other parents, "Terry The Scouser", would shake his head and grumble in irritation if we turned up for training on a Saturday morning and the weather was like it was this Saturday just gone – that is to say, autumn-perfect. It was the "wrong" weather for football, he said. It was not till mid-November arrived and the rain was coming at you like horizontal stair rods that he beamingly approved. "That's more like it," he said. "Tests your commitment."
So I'm left with a strangely dislocated feeling about Saturday afternoon, having hugely enjoyed the limpid beauty of the day itself at Craven Cottage with its unparalleled location, and also having hugely enjoyed the match – the records will show only that Arsenal won 1-0, not how hard Fulham fought them – yet somehow wishing the game might be remembered for the weather as well. Maybe I should take up lacrosse.
I wrote here a year ago about how, uniquely among Premiership football grounds, you can birdwatch from Craven Cottage (from the riverside terrace) and that my Fulham list of species stood at 11. (For the record, mallard, tufted duck, coot, black-headed gull, herring gull, Canada goose, cormorant, heron, mute swan, pied wagtail and great-crested grebe).
I added two more species on Saturday: a carrion crow flying over the river, and following it, a ring-necked parakeet, right, with its unmistakable elongated tail. South-west London is parakeet country; they're all along the river from Barnes to Hampton Court.
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