Sport on TV: Creatures of concrete jungle pave the way for bright future
Sunday 21 August 2011
When the five young street sports fanatics get together on Concrete Circus (Channel 4, Monday) after making their latest viral videos for the web, we're told "they meet in an anonymous urban space in London. No one notices them". Maybe in more innocent times, but now a huddle of hoodies on skateboards and BMX bikes is more likely to be something you watch on CCTV. The narrator is Dominic West, who played the cop McNulty in The Wire, and you expect someone to sidle up and try to score smack off them. For such superficial appraisals, we all deserve a smack.
There is an argument that today's disaffected youngsters could do with playing sport to engage their interest, if not run off some of that pent-up energy. While most traditional games might not appeal, this quintet are geniuses in their concrete fields: free-running (parcours), skateboarding, trail riding and flatland BMX.
Mike Vallely, one of those goateed gurus of American mall rats, sums it up: "It's very easy to go 'what a bunch of hooligans' but they're expressing themselves and it's beautiful. When we started, we weren't athletes. We were misfits, we were outcasts." Now they have tens of millions following them online.
"The relationship between all these sports is that it's not strict, there are no rules," adds Vallely. "They're free, these sports, and that's what attracts people to them." As opposed to, say, a free pair of trainers. Mind you, put these chaps in jail and they would have escaped before you could throw away the key.
But these boys are not to be stereotyped. Trail rider Danny MacAskill is the biggest name in street sports but he comes from the Isle of Skye, from a village which only has one street. No urban deprivation or family dysfunction: his parents, Anne and Peter, are a sweet old couple, if a little old before their time. "There's far too many children who are mollycoddled," says Anne.
Danny's fame has not gone to his head; he was invited on The David Letterman Show in the States – and, perhaps less appealingly, a Korean circus offered him a job – but he preferred to stay at home and make a stunt film dressed as Jimmy Savile. Now then, the king of bling and shell suits seems a suitable hero for street culture, as it happens.
The only problem is that each new film has to be more extreme than the last. Paul "Blue" Joseph, the parcours legend who leaps from building to building, has his trousers set on fire for his latest venture on a run-down industrial estate in Oxfordshire – watch out, David Cameron. For all the world he looks like a looter running from the cops, but it is beautiful.
It's tough on Blue because his house burnt down when he was a child and he had to help evacuate his family from the flames. When we watch these performances, it's hard to believe our eyes. But we should also think twice about what we believe the protagonists to be like.
Cameron was on Test Match Special (BBC Radio Four, Friday) as the England batsmen ran riot at The Oval, and said the riots were caused by "appallingly bad behaviour". He then revealed that his sporting hero was John McEnroe, "although he behaved appallingly". You mean a foul-mouthed lack of respect for officialdom? The only difference is that when Supermac appeared in court, they let him go afterwards.
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