I got into an argument on a train this week. This isn't that unusual for me, as it happens. What was unusual was that it wasn't with a drunk man in a stained football shirt attempting to urinate on my seat. Neither was it with the train conductor who, having completed five minutes of the most mind-numbingly obvious and pointless announcements (how you could buy a sandwich off the woman who would come by selling... sandwiches and that we should report any bomb we saw to him) then wandered down the train asking for the most extraordinary amounts of money.
No, this argument was with that rare thing, a man who actually reads and professed to enjoy this very column. He wanted to know what I thought was the most violent sport in the world. He wasn't talking about specifically violent ones like martial arts or boxing. He was interested in the supposedly non-violent options.
Strangely, I'd just been having a conversation with an Australian PR guy who'd asked me whether I'd ever seen "State Of Origin" when I was in Australia. I assumed he was talking about a Russell Crowe movie (another violence theme) but he wasn't. "State Of Origin" is a best-of-three series of rugby league games played between the "Maroons" of Queensland and the "Blues" of New South Wales.
The very best professional players come back from wherever they are to represent their state of birth and play in the tournament. According to many Aussie sources, the level of aggression and violence in these games is unrivalled by anything else in the sporting world.
"I've seen people being dragged eight metres off the pitch by the scruff of their necks..." he gasped admiringly. "Sometimes the whole game stops and everyone just lays into each other in a sort of last man standing type of thing." Clearly, my Aussie friend was not watching the tournament for the beauty of rugby league...
Aussie Rules is also not averse to a bit of fisticuffs and the choice of uniform hints heavily at this. The cut-off shirt with matching mullet always makes me think of some late Eighties bar fight. If you see a group of Aussie Rules supporters in a bar it's almost invariably a sign that you've wandered into the wrong part of town. So I went with this as a hypothesis to my new friend.
State of Origin is the most violent, but Australian sport in general is never averse to a little fisticuffs. He nodded at my point but seemed unconvinced. He plumped for ice hockey. Now, I have a tiny bit of experience here, what with my wife being Canadian. He claimed never to have seen such unrestrained aggression and violence on a sporting "field" as he did in a game between two Canadian teams in Vancouver.
I always find it difficult to equate Canadians with violence as they are such a polite people but it is true that, when roused on the ice, they can become a tad excitable. There seems to be an unwritten agreement that, when a dispute occurs, two players can repeatedly punch each other in the face as hard as possible for what seems to be about 30 seconds before either the referee intervenes or both teams jump on each other for a mass brawl.
This, coupled with sharp blades on your feet and big sticks, does make the thing dangerous. My problem, however, is that they are all wearing a vast amount of protection, from helmets and gloves to chest and arm pads. In my view, if you're having this odd discussion then that has to be points against the ice hockey thugs. The man on the train accepted my point and we started to try to think of something we could agree on.
My trump card in these sorts of discussions is lacrosse. Having played against the girls' team back at school one and ended up with a black eye and two broken fingers I have never been under the impression that this is a soft game. It's generally played by women over here – in North America, however, it's a man's game and an incredibly violent one at that.
I offered this up as a compromise but my new friend seemed unconvinced. As we pondered on, the train pulled into Swindon just as two football fans were smacking each other hard in the face right on the other side of our window. As the fight trundled on and we trundled off we looked at each other quizzically? No, fan fights didn't count...
An awful racket
The single worst musical thing ever to come out of sport is the Bryan Brothers rap, "Autograph", about how they... give autographs... Guest rapper is Andy Murray. You actually do have to listen to it... it's that bad.Reuse content