The blindingly obvious brings refreshing vision
Saturday 08 December 2001
It was, I felt, an exceptionally fine cup of tea. Clearly the white china cup and saucer helped, as did the ambience of a refreshment room set within the splendour of Hever Castle.
It was, I felt, an exceptionally fine cup of tea. Clearly the white china cup and saucer helped, as did the ambience of a refreshment room set within the splendour of Hever Castle. But, even as my family made for the door, I decided I needed to know more about it. I planned to recreate this magnificent experience in my own home.
So I got the girl behind the counter to tell me what kind of tea they used. "Oh. Thank you," I said, thinking: "What did she say? Peechee? Pekee?" My family were waiting. But I needed to be sure. "Sorry, what was that again?"
A woman at the nearest table looked round.
"PG" said the girl. "PG Tips."
It was not a long conversation, but for some reason it has stayed with me. I find it a useful reminder that things are often simpler than we think.
It's a principle that is constantly applicable within the realm of sport. Take, for instance, Ipswich Town's Uefa Cup second leg in Milan on Thursday night. In the first leg, the Blues – I'm not going to call them the Tractor Boys, even though The Sun might want everyone to, because they aren't tractor boys. One or two of the local lads in Alf Ramsey's 1962 League-winning side might once have helped out on the farm, but the method of conveyance for today's internationally assembled Ipswich squad is either Mercedes or Audi. So why not call them the Audi Boys?
Sorry, where was I? Yes – in the first leg, the Blues managed an admirable 1-0 win against an Inter side minus half a teamful of first-choice players. No Christian Vieri. Definitely no Ronaldo.
When they ran out in the San Siro this week, although the 10,000 Ipswich supporters who had travelled to the game were hoping they could win their third successive away leg in Europe, the travelling team were without a prayer. Vieri was on the pitch this time, and helped himself to a hat-trick. Meanwhile £61m-worth of talent – £61m! – resided on the home team's bench.
You can play any formation you want – 3-5-2, 5-4-1, 10-0-0 – but you are unlikely to win in such a situation. Even by half-time, the match resembled the boxing match conceived by the men from Monty Python many moons ago between the heavyweight boxer whose favourite diet consisted of housebricks and gravel and a plucky Birmingham schoolgirl.
Six years ago I witnessed a similarly blatant mismatch – the rugby union meeting between England and New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup.
The witnessing, admittedly, was televisual, but the setting – Bishop's Stortford RFC clubroom – made the experience particularly acute. Before the game got under way, the mood was one of rising excitement as players and staff looked forward to watching their old team-mate Ben Clarke – club president Bev Clarke's boy – make his mark at No 8.
Thankfully, Clarke was one of the outstanding England performers on the day. But once the fearsome figure of Jonah Lomu began to take England's defence apart in the opening phase of the match, the clubhouse banter petered out, and the beer quaffing gave way to reflective sipping.
Again and again Lomu ploughed through England's resistance, scattering opponents like something out of a comic book. Afterwards the England captain, Will Carling, called him a freak. If that means being higher, faster and stronger than one's opponents, in the best Olympic tradition, then it was fair comment. Lomu was merely illustrating that old boxing tenet – a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un.
As media coverage of sport becomes increasingly analytical, with experts lurking everywhere ready to explain the real story behind whatever we have just watched, it is refreshing to witness the blindingly obvious.
The off-court musings of Goran Ivanisevic during this year's Wimbledon tournament were hugely diverting, particularly his perceptions about his own fractured personality, with its Jekyll and Hyde characteristics.
Many words were spoken and written about the complexities of the Croat's pysche in the course of the Wimbledon fortnight as he edged nearer and nearer to the title which had so cruelly evaded him over the years.
We recalled his agonised interview after Pete Sampras had delivered his third defeat in a Wimbledon final in 1998. We saw him teeter on the brink against the perennial home hope Mr Henman before the divinely convenient onset of rain altered the course of the match.
We watched him exhibit only the extremes of emotion. There was no despondency, only despair. There was no satisfaction, only joy. Ivanisevic, as he maintained from the first moment of competition, believed that this time, finally, irrevocably, God was on his side. Why did he win? Simply, because no other result was possible.
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