People who don't like sport are wrong

It has one unique quality over every other branch of culture: no one knows the result beforehand
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The Independent Football

If you're not at all interested in the World Cup you are objectively mathematically scientifically wrong. For years I've justified my interest in sport defensively. The low point came during a tense finish to a Test match between England and Zimbabwe, while I was at my partner's family Christmas dinner. Unable to concentrate I apologised and went outside to sit in the car and listen to the radio commentary. Later I came back in and gasped that off the very last ball it had ended in a draw, and a forlorn-looking aunty said: "Oh no, does that mean they've got to play the whole thing again."

If you're not at all interested in the World Cup you are objectively mathematically scientifically wrong. For years I've justified my interest in sport defensively. The low point came during a tense finish to a Test match between England and Zimbabwe, while I was at my partner's family Christmas dinner. Unable to concentrate I apologised and went outside to sit in the car and listen to the radio commentary. Later I came back in and gasped that off the very last ball it had ended in a draw, and a forlorn-looking aunty said: "Oh no, does that mean they've got to play the whole thing again."

And that's how it often is for sports fans, apologising and regretting and acknowledging it's ridiculous but "do you mind if I just catch the score on the teletext", in the same humble manner that you might say: "I know this isn't right but would it be alright if I nipped into your kitchen to warm up some crack?"

But now I've decided people who don't like sport are wrong. Like these people who, during the World Cup write letters to newspapers such as: "Dear Sir: I note you gave two pages of coverage to the matter of 22 men kicking a ball across a field, but not a mention of the general election in Ecuador. If only the Ecuadorians had chosen their government with a penalty shoot-out you might have bothered to tell us the result!!!!"

These types dismiss sport as "spoilt millionaires chasing a ball", but anything becomes meaningless once reduced to its component parts. If they went to a classical concert you could say: "What on earth do you see in a crowd of privileged people with nothing better to do than vibrate air by rubbing a stick against some string".

If someone said they had no interest in any music, it would be your duty to suggest they were missing out on a whole area of passion, excitement and culture. It's the same with sport, which has one unique quality over every other branch of culture: no one knows the result beforehand. Theatre has its qualities but you know with King Lear that eventually Gloucester's eyes are going to be put out. Maybe it would add some excitement if on some nights the torturer just put the scalpel wide, and a commentator yelled: "Oh my goodness, and it was easier to score than to miss."

What the anti-sport people don't see is that the drama of sport flows from the compelling sub-plots that surround the game. One of the defining moments of history was when Ali knocked over Foreman, not for the quality of the punch but for the triumph of artistry, wit and rebellion. When Viv Richards scored 291 at the Oval it mattered because the white South African England captain had said he would make the West Indies "grovel". When Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis on the last black it was a rare 1980s defeat for someone who not only was a Conservative but played like a Conservative, without even the pretence that some of his points would trickle down to the poorer players. And today's match is all about the sub-plots, the Hand of God, Beckham's sending-off and the busted foot. You can no more appreciate the game without being aware of all this than you could make sense of Casablanca by watching only the last 10 minutes.

Similarly, just as any recent history of the Irish would have to include the Pogues and Roddy Doyle, it would be incomplete without an account of their football team. Which is why my local pub was packed yesterday lunchtime with blokes in green shirts clapping and yelling at a 9ft-wide screen. Few things can match the tension of the last 10 minutes of a close World Cup match. ITV tries its best to wreck it by getting the commentator to say something like "And don't forget on Sunday at 6.45 you can enjoy highlights from the Hungarian Grand Prix – only on ITV", as the ball bobbles across the face of the goal.

But every free kick or substitution takes on increasing importance, until the despair of the last few seconds when the goal doesn't come and the ref grabs his whistle. It was about then that Robbie Keane scored and the 70-year-old who'd been sat behind me grabbed my neck and yelled what I think was "awaaa ya wee bollix aah ya man Keane or wozit Quinn awaaayaaa raaa hweee..."

Like any great speech this was a statement about history. The older people in the pub had left Ireland when it was content to be quirky and plucky, and were delighted to be equal with Germany for a moment. The younger ones, brought up with the Celtic tiger were slightly more determined in their grunts of " come on Ireland we can beat these now".

And overall it was so joyous and passionate and devoid of all bitterness that even if you were German you'd have had to join in. Anyone who can dismiss such scenes as accounting for nothing are surely missing out, just as I was when I had to tell the whole crowd that I couldn't stay with them to get pissed as I had to go home and write this article.

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