One of the joys of living near Cheltenham is simply being part of such a massive sporting event. Obviously, the traffic is terrible and it often becomes difficult to get into anywhere ... but this is a small price to pay. It's part of the town's heritage and I, for one, would not miss it for the world. Where else would a grown man want to be on St Patrick's Day than in Cheltenham ... at a local prep school ... watching my daughter's netball tournament?
I couldn't believe it. I pleaded and pleaded with Stacey but she wasn't having it. Why, she asked, would I want to go horseracing when I could go and watch my little girl in a five-a-side netball tournament? Why indeed? Maybe because all my friends were going and I could get drunk and lose all my money on ridiculous bets. Maybe I just wanted some me time ... me and thousands of other very drunk men downing vats of Guinness. She wasn't having any of it. I sulked all the way into town as we passed taxi after taxi of happy, drunken revellers off for a great day out with the gee-gees.
Obviously, I'm not a monster dad. I do like watching my children play sport. As it happens they are not too bad at it, and so it's not as embarrassing as it could be if your child was the wheezy, asthmatic "mathlete". My real problem is netball itself. Actually, scratch that, it's girls' sports in general. They're just so... dull. Boys have rugby and cricket and, if they really must, football. All these involve thwacking and running and hitting, and there's always a touch of excitement one way or another. The closest girls' games come to this is rounders – a deeply dull and uninspiring game that seems to have been designed for a time when women were only supposed to perspire rather than sweat, and played everything in full chiffon ball gowns.
Hockey is no better. As well as being biased against left-handers, it's a clumsy, inelegant game. Netball, however, takes the biscuit – it's the very worst. It's like a really rubbish version of basketball and I loathe basketball. The five-a-side version that my daughter was playing in this tournament was supposed to be a speeded-up, "sexier" version of the game. Despite this, it still clunked along like an old broken-down steam train with seemingly no idea of where it was going. To make things worse, the rules stated that players had to change position every five minutes. This meant changing over their bibs and then forgetting what their roles were. The "rules" are weird enough anyway – as far as I can make out there are only two players on each team who are allowed in the "D" around the net to shoot. There is also another mysterious line in the middle of the court that other players cannot cross. Everyone got more and more stressed, especially the angry parents, furious at not being at the races, who screamed at their progeny (actually, that was probably me).
Within five minutes I had decided that it was obvious what the basic problems with my daughter's team were. Within 10 minutes I had announced to Stacey that I was going to give up some of my ample free time to coach them. She didn't seem to think that this would be welcome but I am not to be stopped. I'm going to set up a "young ladies' sports camp" this summer and really get things going. I shall open the long-awaited Dom Joly Academy for Teaching Young Ladies to Throw, as well as impressing on the girls the importance of psychology in victory. The body language before the tournament was very downbeat. A lot of the girls were shuffling about, almost appearing uninterested.
To me, what was needed was some kind of haka. Imagine the scene – the next netball tournament, my team turn up with faces painted black, their hair shaved off and they start to do a really threatening war dance. Admittedly, with the girls only being nine years old, there might be some complaints from parents. That would only serve to blow out the chaff. Once these flaky whiners were gone we'd be left with the most powerful netball team in Gloucestershire. Nobody would want to face them. Schools would cancel or claim that everybody was sick. There would be an outcry about their aggressive behaviour in the local papers. Eventually, they would be banned from playing at all... and I could go to the races – result.
Stalemate in Baku
I came back from Azerbaijan last week. I was going to give you another in-depth analysis of the sporting activities of a country you know little about. The big sport, however, turned out to be chess... and I'm not sure that's a sport... I'm confused...