An unprecedented year of sporting achievement rolled into one night of awed reflection. The Olympic Games in London represented a high watermark in British athletic endeavour and audience participation. There is something truly magnificent about the way sport at its best expresses the good in humankind, and how the organisation of it harnesses the spirit of community. It was hard, even for the treacle monitor at the BBC, to lay it on too thick at the ExCel Arena last night.
Anyone else out there wonder what the football family made of the Sports Personality of the Year parade? Did they connect with any part of it? Did they recognise the sentiment, the values celebrated? Did the Olympic spectacle suffer for the grace shown in victory and magnanimity in defeat? And what about passion, that great fallback of the football apologist, who defends excess in the name of it? Did Wiggo lack passion? Jessica Ennis? David Weir? Mo Farah?
Football is supposed to be the sport of the man in the street. Its under-representation at last night's party ought to trouble its conscience. It was good to see some leadership taken by the boss of the players' union, Gordon Taylor, who expressed in a letter to president Platini his deep unease at Uefa's inadequate response to the racist violence perpetrated in Serbia against England Under-21s. Now let's see Taylor fire off another missive in the direction of his own members, rebuking them for the moronic deportment that continues to eat away at the soul of the beautiful game.
Standard of behaviour on the field of play is the single most important issue in British football today, yet each week we witness the roll-call of dishonour paraded before us in a festering dungheap of disrespect and cant and barely a peep from Mr Taylor. When the police are called to investigate this abuse or that, Taylor can be seen making a grave pronouncement about football needing to address the problem. Lip service.
Last week Lord Ouseley quit the FA Council over the game's failure to tackle racism resolutely. Racism is a function of a fundamental lack of respect for others. There are myriad manifestations of that. Even on a quiet weekend, Mark Halsey was left with no option but to book Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic after he charged out of his box to remonstrate.
A N Other bawls foul, defiant, expletive-ridden dissent at a decision that didn't go his way. Boo-hoo, did the official rule in favour of your opponent? String him up. Too little recoiling in the dugout, either. Indeed, the revolt is often led by an overheating manager berating the fourth official over the "injustice" perpetrated by the inadequate arbiter out in the middle.
Alastair Cook was sawn off 28 balls into his innings at Nagpur on Thursday for the return of one run. The lbw decision was marginal at best. But up went the finger and off he went. Whatever private misgivings he may have had, he accepted the decision. When the TV replays returned him to his torment, an ironic smile and a shake of the head were sufficient to register his disposition. But disbelief at being given out to a ball missing leg stump did not for one second threaten acceptance of the umpire's call.
I can hear the defenders of the football faith raking over cricket's crimesheet, the betting scandals, the convictions for throwing games, to suggest football is no worse than any other sport. The rugby blood-capsule disgrace is another used to support the same argument. This misses the point. The episodic bad stuff serves to illustrate how routine the good stuff is. Football is so awash with the bad stuff its prevalence is viewed as part of the game.
The crass disregard for decency is endemic. Of course players engage in charity and community work, but all that is undone as soon as the whistle blows. Football deserves our sympathy in some respects, particularly in regard to the policing of vile, sociopathic banter, racist or otherwise, coin-throwing and similar affronts to humanity. But it is wholly responsible for the tolerance it affords on the pitch to offenders who habitually abuse officials and each other, which in turn feeds the mood in the stands. When their work is done, their bile spent, off the players pop into the moneyed abyss of their disconnected lives, ignorant of the power they have and the damage they do. A cursory glance across the playing fields of England reveals sundry youngsters engaging in the same behaviour, coaches and players throwing obscenities, insults and sometimes punches at opponents and officials in a grim reprise of Match of the Day.
Every expletive screamed in the face of a referee, each show of blowsy defiance, is all the justification required for the dolts in the stands to follow suit. Hey presto, the abuse and the coins rain down and football continues its slide into the midden. The clean-up starts on the park. If not, how long before decent folk say good riddance and walk?