A SHEEP IN SPORTS CLOTHING

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by Harry Jackson

 

After three seasons in goal for the mighty Eagles, my daughter has decided that she’s not playing football this season. It’s been replaced with fishing. One sport for another. But is fishing a sport, and who decides?

 

According to some, sport is something that requires physical exertion and a skill set. There should be a competitive element, individually or collectively as a team. And it should be entertaining. Well, If entertainment is a primary consideration you can cross cricket off the list. Along with Formula 1, golf, lawn bowls, polo (both kinds,) athletics and a host of other mind numbing sports. I’m sure you’ve a few ideas of your own.

 

Thirty plus years ago myself and some friends wanted to get fit. We’d decided that spending significant amounts of time and money in London’s pubs, greasy spoons, rapidly expanding fast food joints, Indian restaurants and kebab shops was not a healthy lifestyle choice. But what sport did we collectively choose?

 

Given we’d only been out of school for few years we could recall a number of sports we’d tried, liked and hated. Football was a possibility until our memories were flooded with hideousness. We all remembered the unbearable cold and we’d all had a frozen leather ball toe punted into our punk faces at point blank range, which was very much like being punched by a heavyweight boxer, who has a frozen haggis strapped to his fist.

 

To this day I remain perplexed as to how I felt anything, given my head had already been cryogenically frozen by suburban London’s sub zero temperatures. Yet I can still taste the post ‘ball in face’ snot running down my top lip and onto my tongue. I still recall the fire engine bells ringing in my ears. I also remember thinking that my nose must have disappeared into my face.

 

Pole vault, high jump, cross country running, baseball (rounders) and gymnastics were also considered. But they were deemed uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. So after much soul searching we decided snooker was the sport for us.

 

The sports we gravitate toward are relative to the sports we were exposed to in our formative years and our preferences are also influenced by our geographical location.”

 

There were detractors amongst our ranks. Some claimed that snooker wasn’t a sport and the laziest in our group argued that the table in the farthest corner of the hall was miles from the bar. Plus there were a dozen or so full sized snooker tables to navigate en route, making it impossible to walk in a straight line. A return journey was inevitable and included a tray full of lager (or ‘weights’ as we liked to call them). The kind of balance required to make it back with beer intact was not dissimilar to Olga Korbut on the beam.

 

Often we’d also have to complete ‘most of a lap’ of the hall before heading inland to the bar. This was a necessary tactic to avoid conflict with local ‘hard’ men. By ‘hard’ I mean violent, unpredictable, not erect. Then there were the arcade machines, donkey kong and outrun-calories (and coins) could potentially be burnt playing those. I vaguely remember an athletics game too, so technically one could compete in a decathlon whilst waiting for the drinks. In reality those of us that advocated for snooker did so to avoid being cold, wet and out of breath.

 

All our arguing and bickering was a waste of energy. Because the truth is that sport, as in beauty, remains in the eye of the beholder. One woman’s fencing is another’s tiddly winks. The sports we gravitate toward are relative to the sports we were exposed to in our formative years and our preferences are also influenced by our geographical location. My friends in Melbourne think AFL is the greatest sport of all time, but in London, they don’t know what AFL is. However, large swathes of the UK populous think proper football is brilliant.

 

By this geographical logic only people born within twenty kilometers of the Crucible in Sheffield would love snooker. And only people who come from places that end with ‘on the Thames,’ ‘by the Yarra’ or ‘on the River’ would dig rowing. Gentlemen who often frequent ‘saunas’ would only be interested in sports that require ‘new balls’ every fifteen minutes. I was going to throw a Kiwi perspective into the equation but bungee jumping truly isn’t a sport. Though the Kiwis are rather good at Rugby Union, which incidentally is one of the few sports I can bear to watch.

 

So when it comes to sport (and most other lifestyle choices) we’re all sheep. I played football and watched Queens Park Rangers because I was instructed to do so. My friend loves the Hawks because he was equally indoctrinated in the ways of his culture. When I was young, only posh kids played rugby and cricket, simply because Harrow and Eton told them to play rugby and cricket. If an over zealous school master told them to slam their fingers in a desk they’d have probably complied. There’s little free will in any of this.

 

So there you have it, sport is whatever you want it to be (within reason obviously). Dogging is never going to be an Olympic event. Nor is snorkeling or pétanque. Well not in my lifetime I hope.

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