Sport: Call it old-fashioned, call it cruel - sport and crying don't mix

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The Independent Online
A FEAT in sports journalism this week, in any form of journalism, has been to avoid remarking on the life and times of Paul Gascoigne after his omission from England's World Cup squad.

From attempted profundity and the high moral ground to gibberish, many thousands of words have been tapped out about a footballer with dodgy knee ligaments, childish habits and friendship with people nobody in their right mind would want to be seen with.

All because Gascoigne was found lacking in the fitness level that ought to come as a standard obligation when you are being paid more than people get for conducting affairs of state and more annually than the majority of citizens in advanced societies take home in a lifetime.

With clear memories of the iniquitous working conditions that existed in English football until an upheaval in the 1960s I have no problem with the vast salaries now available to leading players (bundles of money for limited ability is a different matter) but do they have to shed tears whenever anything displeases them?

Growing up in a family of professional players, and later scratching a living from the game myself I was introduced firmly to the principle that disappointment in sport was nothing much to weep over.

Rudyard Kipling penned valuable advice on how to deal with success and failure, but I responded more readily to the blunt philosophy of a gnarled former England international who, significantly, had begun his working life in the Yorkshire coalfield.

"If it had been your misfortune to work underground I wouldn't have to stand here telling you that there's a lot worse things in life than being left out of a football team. Cry in front of me and I'll kick thee straight up the arse," he once said to an emotionally disturbed aspirant.

I can imagine the air turning blue if he had lived to get the news that Gascoigne and some others discarded by Hoddle were tearful when told of their rejection.

Not so long ago I wept in a Las Vegas hotel room when the awful events at Dunblane came on television, and again when reading about them in a newspaper. It would have taken a very hard man indeed not to do so.

Of course, you can't generalise about this; different people, different temperaments. I once discussed this with one of England's greatest footballers Bobby Charlton, who fell on his knees and wept tears of joy when England defeated West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final. "None of us is the same," he said. "But I hate it when I see sportsmen crying when they have lost no matter what the circumstances. It makes me suspicious of their temperament and experience has taught me not to rely on them. But crying when you win! Now, that's a different matter. Nobody can complain about it."

An important point to make is that Charlton survived the air disaster in 1958 that took the lives of some outstanding young Manchester United footballers. Charlton, like the great Australian cricketer Keith Miller, who flew night-fighters over London in the Second World War, has never since found difficulty with perspective. It was Miller's disturbing experience to play with a compatriot who went down the next day in a blazing bomber. "After that, although I always tried my hardest to win, cricket never seemed very important," he said.

At the Masters a plaque recording Jack Nicklaus's great feats at Augusta National was unveiled in front of him. When Nicklaus stood up you could see that his eyes were moist and he spoke with difficulty.

On the golf course Nicklaus has never given a hint of emotional upheaval. After hearing that one of his sons had been hurt in a car crash he shot plus 80 on the first day of the 1985 Open Championship at Sandwich. Prepared to withdraw until assured that his son was not in danger, Nicklaus went out the next day to improve his score by 16 shots.

You may think this a cruel call but a personal point of view is that nothing good can come from making tears of disappointment fashionable. If I never see another it will be soon enough.