It’s not cricket . . .
…and this is why I don’t dislike tennis – but it’s football that really grabs me.
As Dame Verity will testify, we have history with tennis. At school we used to practice (I think, she’ll correct me if I’m wrong) at Queen’s. Maybe practice is too strong a word. One of us used to serve and, if very lucky, get a ball over the net. The other would attempt to lob it back and fail miserably. And in between we would have a jolly good gossip.
Fast forward a few years and I can honestly say my tennis is no better. I can’t hit a moving ball, was never any good at cricket but can hold my own at billiards, pool or crazy golf (just don’t let me loose on a real course or I will destroy it).
By the time you read this, Wimbledon will be over for another year. Will I miss it? Hell, no. The sight of two – or four – people hitting a ball at one another for hours, with precious little time between sets to dash to the loo, tends to induce narcolepsy. But what I find really bothersome year after year is the lack of diversity. It’s as though the sport panders to an elite: just look around those seated and count the faces that don’t appear to be a delicate shade of red from the sun. As for players, it’s a tough haul to make it from an underprivileged family and those who do stand out.
Football, however, has a visceral appeal. I end up kicking the ball with the players, whether watching at home or on the box. It’s a workout in itself and absolutely exhausting! I can participate in that great British sport, “I’m a better manager than the manager” – although he never takes my advice.
The roots of many clubs often lie in a factory’s sporting team. They come from poorer areas and have a community feel. Yes, times have changed and money talks, yet some of the bigger clubs learnt this year the perils of not paying attention to their fans – even if the European Superleague hasn’t quite gone away.
Team sports have the edge over individual combat. You never know who’s going to be the loose link in the chain, and if you do you hope you’re mistaken. True, certain clubs have a reputation for attracting fans who are foul mouthed and racist but you learn to avoid them or give as good as you get (without swearing, of course).
And if we’re talking bad behaviour, I can honestly say that the worst I’ve come across in sport was at a cricket match at the Oval where someone emptied his pint of lager over me through the slats of the stairs as I was entering the ground. Indeed, I have been guilty of some like when, at an old firm match in Glasgow, a pie repeated on me and nearby fans decided to vacate their seats, blaming the drains.
I love the roar of the crowds, the unpredictable and colourful mascots (who occasionally tussle with one another), the unquenchable optimism of some fans and the constant pessimism of others. I’m married to a West Ham fan, and he will tell you that if his team is in the top half of the table at Christmas they will get scared of heights and tumble down in the New Year. I’m a QPR supporter, but we won’t go there.
So as the Euros finish, I comfort myself that it won’t be long before the start of the friendlies, and then the season proper in August. And, of course, with fingers and other portions of the anatomy crossed that it won’t be derailed, it’s the World Cup next year. Onward to the Olympics.