Snooker: Life has nasty habit or ruining our sport
Saturday 01 May 2004
Rupert Murdoch's announcement in 1986 that he was relocating
The Times and
The Sun to Wapping with immediate effect shocked the majority of employees - that is, all those who had not been secretly involved in preparing the alternative venue.
Rupert Murdoch's announcement in 1986 that he was relocating The Times and The Sun to Wapping with immediate effect shocked the majority of employees - that is, all those who had not been secretly involved in preparing the alternative venue.
For journalists, the Murdoch imperative was simple: Get inside the barbed wire gates by Sunday. Or be sacked. For the printers, and most of the related production staff, the position was equally clear: Stay outside the barbed wire gates. Be sacked.
The brutal endgame to Murdoch's extended struggle with the print unions scarred many lives. It also, by the by, ruined a football team.
On the day the papers' owner brought his plans to fruition The Times were due to play a Fleet Street League match on the artificial pitch in Islington, north London, and as we gathered outside the changing room several players were still trying to take in the fact that the job they had woken up to that morning had gone.
In their shock, they had still turned up to fulfil a fixture for a team they no longer officially represented. At least one of them played in tears.
A newly-received offer from another newspaper afforded me the luxury of not having to go near "Fortress Wapping". After that miserable afternoon I never saw many of my team-mates again, but I still remember the unreal quality of their last game. Life, in all its harshness, had erupted into our little sporting world and the whole thing had ceased to make sense.
Sport operates in a parallel world to that of the everyday, but events can sometimes force the parallels to meet.
At the end of a week when the International Olympic Committee has pointed up the possibilities of such a conjunction by taking out a $170m [£95.8m] insurance policy against the forthcoming Games in Athens being cancelled because of war, terrorism or acts of God - the first time they have seen fit to take such a precaution - the attention of many British sports followers will be taken up by the televised climax to the World Snooker Championship.
Almost quarter of a century ago, as Canada's Cliff Thorburn was en route to becoming the first non-Briton to take the title in his final against Alex Higgins, the BBC interrupted their live coverage to go over to the Iranian Embassy siege.
As the screen filled with enigmatic camera shots of the building's facade, and commentators eagerly discussed what role the SAS might play in the situation, there was a clear breach in the membrane separating the worlds of sport and life with a capital L.
Yet many viewers rang the BBC switchboard, angrily demanding that coverage from The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield be resumed immediately. Some of them were apparently under the impression that the snooker had been replaced by a film.
Nasty, dangerous things are happening all the time, all over the world. There is no lull - suffering is like white noise, and in an era of ever-expanding media coverage, the noise boils in from all directions.
In that sense, it is always ridiculous for sentient beings to concern themselves with the roll of a ball or the precedence of a horse or an athlete. And yet we want to. And yet we do.
The reaction of the British hostage Gary Teeley when he was released last month in Iraq said much about the curious but profoundly important role sport can play in people's lives.
After telephoning his parents at home in Wellingborough to reassure them he was OK, the first thing he wanted to know was how West Ham United had got on that weekend.
At such times, the fortunes of your favourite football team represent everything that is constant and comforting. Although, naturally, being a West Ham supporter, Teeley would have known that such terms were only relative.
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