Driven to distraction by the sideshows and slideshows that beat the real thing

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The Independent Online
Apparently I've seen Stirling Moss. At Brands Hatch, so my parents always maintained. And when I think hard about it, I do faintly recall a sporting echo from that far-off Sixties Saturday.

Two towers of white paper cups were constructed somewhere behind the backs of the spectating adults, and if my memory serves me well my tower grew bigger than that of my cousin David's before it crashed to the ground.

I believe there was some discussion among the adults about a more public crash that occurred on the other side of the fence, but that was none of our concern. We were not interested in the main attraction.

Alternative attractions are everywhere in the sporting realm - they need only to be not quite looked for. And an aside is always more interesting than the speech it punctuates.

I was once involved, along with a roomful of other journalists, in a live satellite link-up to interview Nigel Mansell, who was on the other side of the Atlantic preparing to challenge for the Indianapolis 500 title.

We linked before he realised, and our wide screen suddenly transmitted his image as he chatted with his team aides about getting the sponsors' names into every interview he was about to undertake. "Got to keep them happy," he said. Most entertaining.

The light snow of publicity which has already fallen on us concerning next month's Winter Olympics in Nagano reminds me of a moment of quiet bliss I enjoyed at the last Games-on-ice.

Once skaters finish scribbling on a rink, and the noise of clapping dies away, there is an interlude which features the quiet but insistent attraction of a tractor-like vehicle which resurfaces the ice.

How to describe the soporific compulsion of this activity?

When you next turn off the ignition in your car, instead of bundling out towards whatever pressing business awaits you outside its suddenly quiet interior, stop. Just say: Can't be bothered. Sit back. Do nothing. Forget your busy life...

That is how it feels watching the slow, orderly progress of the Zambada, or the Zemboda, or whatever silly name the machinery bears, as it sweeps rhythmically over the distressed ice, smoothing and restoring, smoothing and restoring... until the fixed-smile scribbling starts up again.

One of the great blessings of actually attending a football match rather than watching it on television is that you don't have to follow the progress of the ball.

That, as we all know, can be a tiresome business. Really being somewhere grants access to more interesting sideways viewing: policemen seeking out offenders who have disappeared into the rolling maul of their fellow troublemakers. Idiots climbing on the stand roofs to get a better view. More safety-conscious spectators set up in overlooking tower blocks, their windows cramful of neighbours.

Unemployed goalkeepers scuffing about in their areas like bored schoolboys. Stewards in dayglo waistcoats tumbling over the backs of intent photographers. Spectators sloping out of the director's box ridiculously far ahead of the half-time whistle.

At times, of course, football crowds will turn themselves into an alternative attraction in the form of the Mexican Wave - and woe betide the section of spectators who fail to carry the impulse around the ground.

When you witness the fascist jollity of the Mexican Wave, it gives you a clear message about the quality of the main attraction. It is like when children exclaim about what a delicious, lovely, beautiful yummy meal you have served up rather than taking their knives and forks and tucking in.

The thought of food reminds me of an occasion when I witnessed the ultimate triumph of the alternative attraction. The sylvan setting for this revolutionary act was the Hurlingham Club in London SW6.

The first ATP Seniors tournament to be held in Britain had gathered a cluster of beloved names from tennis's recent history. Ilie Nastase, Rod Laver, Roger Taylor, Peter McNamara, uncle Tom Okker and all were on hand to entertain a hand-picked crowd of 600 corporate guests.

But the golden oldies were obliged to kick their heels and fiddle with their racket strings as a traditionally subordinate activity took on an inordinate importance.

Laver and Co were kept waiting nearly an hour while a menu comprising Soupe de Tomates a la Provencale, Saumon a l'Aneth au Beurre Blanc, Truffes au Chocolat, Cafe and Truffalines et Muscadines was consumed by the chosen not-so-few. Then again, the lunch had been prepared by Albert Roux.

But perhaps my favourite recollection of an alternative attraction concerns the colleague whose concentration at the LA Olympic Games of 1984 was completely wrecked when the binoculars with which he was attempting to watch the 1500 metres semi-final randomly alighted on a young woman of such heartbreaking beauty that he could not rest until he had made some form of contact with her.

A minion was directed towards the unsuspecting spectator. A liaison was arranged. Two lives were changed. A case of the alternative attraction being the main attraction all along...