Brian Viner: Tearful Mrs Trott shows wonder of sport

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

Of all the people who began this summer thinking that if all went well in the sporting arena their faces would by the autumn be a good deal more familiar to the British public, their number did not, it is reasonable to assume, include a middle-aged South African woman called Donna Trott.

Yet of the many indelible images from this sporting summer, that of Mrs Trott sitting in her seat at The Oval last Saturday, weeping with pride as her son Jonathan racked up a century in his inaugural Test match as an England cricketer, with which he helped to win the latest episode of a venerable contest between England and Australia that not so long ago can scarcely have registered in Mrs Trott's consciousness, remains one of the most evocative.

The on-field action produced some memorable images, too, of course. Monty Panesar somehow resisting Mitchell Johnson bowling at full throttle in Cardiff, Andrew Flintoff on one knee in messianic pose at Lord's, and so on through the series. But if the snapshot of Flintoff consoling Brett Lee at Edgbaston was the definitive poignant image of the 2005 Ashes, its counterpart this time was surely Mrs Trott blubbing her eyes out, not so much for what it told us about cricket, but for what it said about sport, and indeed, humanity.

There are other branches of the entertainment industry that move us – the endings of certain films, for instance, have made Mrs Trotts of most of us – but there is nothing like sport to tear at the heartstrings, especially on those occasions when the emotional charge between parent and child is given full vent. I'm not referring to Damir Dokic syndrome, the ugliest manifestation of the emotional investment a parent makes in a child's achievements, but to any situation where there is visceral pride and love plainly flowing across the touchline or boundary rope or asphalt track.

After all, there is no greater antidote to the cynicism in which sport is these days drenched. With so much evidence to show that football has sold its soul to the highest bidder, that cricket is in thrall to commercial opportunists, that rugby union has chewed on its own blood capsule, a proud mum or joyful dad is a sight for sore eyes. That's why, whenever I see footage of Jim Redmond jumping over barriers to help his stricken son Derek to the line in the 400 metres semi-final in the Barcelona Olympics, or of Pat Cash clambering through the crowd to embrace his father after winning the 1987 men's single title at Wimbledon, I get a terrible dose of what I will now think of as the Trotts.

Another bad year for brightest luminaries of sport's darkest art

It would surely be stretching a point to suggest that harm is more likely to befall boxers out of the ring than inside it, but this has already been a terrible year for former giants of the noble art. In July, in Atlanta, Georgia, the former WBC light-middleweight champion Vernon Forrest came a cropper at the ignoble end of a mugger's gun, just a matter of weeks after the violent deaths, reportedly self-inflicted, of two other ex-champs, the Nicaraguan Alexis Arguello and Arturo Gatti, of Canada.

Needless to add, boxing by its very nature is shrouded in violence, partly because so many of its practitioners come from the meanest of mean streets, so it's not exactly surprising that more ex-boxers meet sticky ends than, say, ex-badminton players. It is widely supposed, for example, that mobsters had a hand in the mysterious death, in Las Vegas in 1970, of mean old Sonny Liston.

But that doesn't explain the fatal accidents that befell two of the most notable heavyweight champions of all time. Jack Johnson died in a car crash in North Carolina, in 1946. And on Monday it will be 40 years since a Cessna 172 crashed in poor weather near Newton, Iowa, bringing to a premature end, on the eve of his 46th birthday, the life of the only world heavyweight champion to go through his (49-fight) professional career undefeated: the great Rocky Marciano.

A Cup final without a foul? That's worth some respect

Whatever became of the Football Association's Respect campaign? The 2009-10 Premier League season was just a few hours old when a referee's basic level of competence was questioned by a manager (Rafa Benitez) furious at having lost, and as sure as the sunrise, there will be plenty more of the same before next May. The FA might as well have instituted a chocolate teapot campaign.

Things have changed somewhat, as in fairness one would expect them to have done, since the first FA Cup final took place in 1872.

Flicking the other day through an old anthology of journalism from the now-defunct Punch magazine, I came across a fascinating article written in the 1970s by the veteran screenwriter Tibby Clarke, who recalled that in 1938, as a young newspaper reporter, he was instructed to find out whether any of the players from the inaugural Cup final were still alive. He found one, an 87-year-old retired schoolmaster called Thomas Charles Hooman, who recalled with a chuckle that there had been not a single foul in the entire match.

"Clean play or a lenient referee?" Clarke wondered. "Neither," he was told. "We didn't have a referee, only a timekeeper. The captains had to agree whether a free-kick was justified, and of course they never did."

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