Ken Jones: Jokes lost in modern sport's chase for money and glory

Sport's apparent prejudice against a hearty laugh weighs heavily on those of us who can remember a time when the urgent business of winning and losing was lightened by an intrinsic comic quality.

It comes as a surprise today when anyone in sport passes a remark that is delightful in its originality and guaranteed to get a cackling response when repeated in bars or by speakers on the after-dinner circuit.

At sporting functions I have recently attended, the best, the funniest anecdotes were unquestionably about people who could not be placed in achievement and time by many in the audience. Because it seems from here that no aspect of sport has suffered so sorry a decline as humour, I remarked to one of the speakers that it must be increasingly difficult to freshen up his act. "Gets harder by the week," he said.

Sport is taken so seriously today that levity in players is universally frowned upon, prompting the notion that they are guilty as charged of irresponsible behaviour and not properly grateful for the good things that have happened to them.

Last week's international matches in both codes of rugby, especially England's encounter against Samoa at Twickenham in which Lewis Moody and his Leicester team-mate Alesana Tuilagi were sent off and later suspended for brawling, might have been affairs of the heart but by all accounts nobody advanced the cause of whimsical reflection.

By now we are almost inured to presumptions of a society operating on the basis that anyone who wants amusement from sport should seek alternative diversions. Looking back, most people of an older generation would, I think, agree that the decline in humour in games coincided with the advent of a money-driven age that has no time for frivolity in sport.

A personal favourite among boxing anecdotes involves the the famed American trainer Ray Arcel. One night Arcel was in the corner of a boy pacifist whose repugnance for violence was aggravated by the punches his adversary kept bouncing off his chin. Between rounds the boy expressed a devout wish to be elsewhere.

"Hang in there," Arcel said. "He's as tired as you are." Reluctantly, the young man returned to the conflict. With a most unneighbourly scowl his opponent advanced and the boy backed off warily, into his own corner.

"Ray," he said from behind a half-clenched glove, "throw in the towel will ya?" "Just keep punching," Arcel said. "You're all right."

The tiger fled backwards, buffeted and breathless. His knees were wobbly, but he managed to stay upright for a full circuit of the ring.

"Please Ray," he gasped, passing his corner, "throw in the towel now."

"Box him," Arcel called after him. "Stick him and move." The pursuit continued for another dizzying lap. "Ray," the hero begged, "please throw in the towel. I won't be around again."

Arsenal strode out for the 1950 FA Cup final without their Scottish international inside-forward Jimmy Logie, who had sneaked from the dressing-room to telephone for the result of a dog race at Hackney Wick. Arriving in time for the presentation, Logie, who would have a terrific match, called out to his compatriot Alex Forbes. "It got beat, Alex," he cried.

There are no stories like that now. Nobody with Bill Shankly's talent for amusing imagery. After signing the massive centre-half Ron Yeats: "With him in the defence I could afford to play Norman Wisdom in goal." In retirement: "A long time since I've been in London. I'm going to wait until it's completed."

When Sam Allardyce publicly rebuked his players after Bolton's loss at Fulham last Sunday - "some were not at their best physically and we were defensively inept for the first 20 minutes" - it was an echo of a time when many managers ruled by fear, among them Harry Storer of Derby County.

The morning after a match he had missed to undertake a scouting mission, Storer read that three of his players had incurred the wrath of the opposition manager, Sheffield United's Joe Mercer. Mercer was reluctant to name the culprits. "I don't want to get them into trouble," he said. Storer growled back: "It's the other eight I want to know about."

Those are the days, I am saying, that will not - dare not - come again.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice