Sic semper tyrannis

God, I’m glad I don’t have a telly. It’s bad enough, having to inhale all the passive smoke of the world cup: the endless newspaper and radio coverage, the special offers and linked-in events, the awful songs, the trashy, injection-moulded mascots and all that “official brewer to the national team” nonsense, not to mention the nightly drive-by hootings, the Italian girls’ bums hanging out of windows (how I hate those), the silly little pennants on their plastic lollipop sticks and the enormous, “look, Jeff, I shrink-wrapped a cyclist”, menace-to-visibility, all engulfing flags, without which some people seem incapable of taking a drive downtown for a takeaway curry and a six-pack … let alone actually watching the dreadful thing.

I admit this is probably a class issue and doesn’t carry much weight with “the beautiful fraternity”, but the only ball-games I can get even slightly excited about are rugby and cricket. And neither one-day cricket, which lacks poetry (even if Sachin Tendulkar scores a million runs), nor seven-a-side rugby, which lacks the big-beef glory of 15s, can rouse me from my sports torpor. Only the real deal does it for me, though I freely admit the interest and popularity of anything that can be more easily fitted into a modern working week. I’m not that much of a snob, just this much of one.

A slam for all seasons

It’s the tyranny of sports in general and the world cup in particular that gets my goat: the ubiquitous “this-is-what-real-men-do” attitude, the forced chumminess, the pointless jingoism of enjoying at least one thing the Americans are not going to win in a hundred years, the way everything else – intelligent conversation, good food, culture with a capital K, music, probably even sex in most households – has to move aside for it (“no Fiona, we can’t possibly switch the macramé marathon to the seventeenth, Germany will be hammering Slovenia, darling”), the pretence to expertise by those who have kicked nothing firmer than the cat around for decades, the stupid idea that women will only be interested if the guys are all hunks, the “let’s-make-listiness” of it all – favourite goals, fouls, blind refs and weird fan get-ups etc. – and, above all, above bloody all, the way it makes me write lines and lines of stuff separated only by commas.

Of course it’s not only the fault of the World Cup. It’s the whole grand-slamminess of everything sporty these days. Sports fatigue used only to affect athletes in mid-career. Now it affects all but the most knee-jerk sofa jockeys among us. Football once had a “season”, so did cricket and tennis. Sports haven’t had seasons since the 1970s. And football has become a non-stop carousel of excess, an all-the-year-round nightmare of stunningly intelligent interview quips: “well, of course we’ll go out there to win, Bob, but I reckon they’ll be doing the same”, or “it doesn’t matter how well you play, Bob, if you’re not scoring the goals it isn’t well enough in my book”, or “we had a lock on it in the first half, Bob, but they seemed to get away from us in the second”,… prima-donna pirouettes and theatricals, seven figure salaries and distressed bimbo brides – “I hardly ever see him, Bob. Nooky? No chance! Once they’re training, wives don’t get a look in, innit? Small wonder we all hit the shops, know-wot-I-mean?” Meanwhile the sports section gradually began to eat our once proud newspapers alive, page by inexorable page. Now it’s sports corruption or drugs scandals on one and two, football floozy bares all on three and the rest is Man U not really getting the lead out on Wednesday, Saturday or whenever else they didn’t really get the lead out.

The miracle of Merthyr

And the simple fact is, all the big sporting events happen far too often, far too close to one another, and hog too much of the already limited limelight. It’s time we gave each new generation just one shot at glory and that’s it, folks! So here’s the Edwin Drood “sporting chance” solution. I would like to suggest a football season strictly from November to March, regardless of how hot it is in Ghana, Wimbledon once a decade, the football World Cup once a decade, the Olympics once a decade and the winter Olympics once a century, or only when snow happens to fall in sufficient quantities to make it worthwhile in some unlikely place like Bournemouth or Harpenden. OK, I’m not really that much of a grouch, if it must have slopes then somewhere with a few hills like Merthyr Tydfil.  Don’t laugh, I’m serious. Give developing nations a chance. And what’s wrong with Merthyr Tydfil? It’s just as hard to pronounce as Gstaad or Pyeongchang, and those slag heaps certainly keep your skis burnished.

And the rest of the time we can all relax and enjoy meaningful dialogue about things that really matter: life, love, the metaphysical poets, how to make a really good zabaglione, how Sibelius does it, why The Kinks were more quintessentially British than The Who or vice versa … and for those who really hanker after sport, there will be at least one TV channel showing endless replays of “Bend it like Beckham”, “Fever Pitch”, “The Miracle of Bern”, “Mean Machine” and, of course, “Wimbledon”, a.k.a. “Bend it like Becker”: a sporting romance with smaller balls.

Edwin Drood

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