James Lawton: People's Monday happens when real fans penetrate corporate wall
The worry is that football has grown too rich, with its captive TV market and foreign sugar daddies, to understand the value of the mood that came to Lord's this week
English cricket in general and especially the MCC – so often the easiest of hits for the most derisive of class warriors – deserve the highest praise for the uplifting brilliance of People's Monday at Lord's.
There is another certainty. The applause will surely be led by anyone who happened to witness a scene at the East Gate which was surely as unforgettable as any of the great deeds performed by the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
It was the sight of a joyful, unaccompanied young man suffering an affliction which plainly made the struggle to walk a few strides a challenge that would probably leave most of us thoroughly daunted. He clutched the ticket for which he had just exchanged a £20 note, flourished it as though it was the greatest trophy in the world. He strode into the old place as though he owned it, which for a day of course he did.
Soon enough, you imagined, his assessment was confirmed. You could have sold his happiness to a grateful nation.
It was not the least triumph of a superb summer of sport – and an ultimate advertisement for the rewards of enlightened sports administration, a touch of humanity amid all the torrents of hype which we know will batter us until the moment of ignition for the Olympic flame in east London this time next year.
The meaning of People's Monday should not be lightly mislaid. It has shown what can happen when the people who love sport for its own sake are allowed to penetrate, economically and in their hordes, the great wall of corporate preferment.
Accessibility at less than ruinous cost enabled ordinary people to make a proper salute to a national sports team which had, over a considerable period and never more so than in their performance over the previous four days, proved worth all the acclamation.
There are lessons here for everyone in sport – and who more so than the plutocrats of Premier League football?
While summer sport has carried us from one high point to another, a sensational Wimbledon, an Open tournament graced by Tom Watson, won by Darren Clarke and presenting the wunderkind of golf, Rory McIlroy, with a whole set of challenges, and the extraordinary passion of Tour de France star Mark Cavendish, football has gone about its old business, which is to say, well, business – impure and generally as unedifying as a convention of pickpockets. How many games in the vaunted "best league in the world" came within a light year of the quality produced by Barcelona at Wembley last spring?
When did the superstars of the England team give more than a passing hint of a commitment to the cause of national well-being that even vaguely matched the one shown by Andrew Strauss's men as they overwhelmed the Australians on their own soil and now challenge so hard for the No 1 ranking in the world?
For one Monday in July, the administrators of cricket put aside the imperatives of profit. They slashed ticket prices, let the kids in free, and what we had was part sports event, of a most superior kind, and part fiesta. Some die-hards may have tightened their "egg and bacon" MCC ties and wondered what their world was coming to – especially with the arrival of the Mexican Wave – but behind the bluster you had to suspect a satisfaction that the place had rarely been so alive.
The worry is that football, the sport of most easily cultivated compelling interest, has grown too rich, with its captive television market and foreign sugar daddies, and too easily so, to understand the value of the mood that came to Lord's this week.
Instead it gives grotesque rewards to mediocre performers; it tolerates disloyalty waged on an industrial scale and it expects its audience to reappear on cue in a few weeks' time.
This includes the supporters of Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, who still do not know which of their colours will house the beguiling skills of Luka Modric, one of the few Premier League players who last season guaranteed certain levels of craft and invention. Manchester City fans are similarly unsure about Carlos Tevez, in whom they have invested huge support in return for considerable talent but also immeasurable indifference and even calculated insult.
Manchester United supporters, contemplating a threadbare midfield with the departure of Paul Scholes, wonder if their American dynasty can scratch together a living wage for Wesley Sneijder. Wherever you turn, pretty much the same dynamics are at work.
Meanwhile, we can at least warm ourselves on the day they threw open the gates of Lord's, the celebration of unqualified triumph. We can also be sure that for one young man at least it made a flame in his mind and in his heart that will never run low.
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