Apologies for those in Britain, this isn’t an online edition of ‘that’ newspaper. Sadly. It’s just that I’ve noted, a little glumly, that the tv channels are swamped with sport presently.
I don’t have cable or satellite, either, so it makes it all the more irritating. I do love my sport but not the overkill going on. My quiet, inoffensive Sunday afternoon viewing has been cancelled in favour of rugby.
When I switched through the channels, some sort of motor racing was on. And tennis. With the promise of F1 racing soon. Admittedly, seeing the beautiful Suzi Perry present it is a guilty pleasure, but they spoil it by showing cars going round a track, which is when I turn off by and large.
As I say, though, I do love sport, participating especially. In my younger day cross country running was my thing and these days I still enjoy a game of tennis. I also love going to see a sporting event, it’s so, so much more that watching it at home or in a pub.
I guess it’s going to be unavoidable this summer, with the World Cup almost upon us. So here, again in no particular order, are my favourite sports events.
Some of them will probably mean very little to you, but for me it encapsulated the pure essence of sport at its’ thrilling, despairing, sad, glorious best. I’ve also purposely chosen events I either saw live on tv, or I was present at, so obvious things like Brazil 1970 or the Rumble In The Jungle are not included.
This was the year Scotland were “going to the Argentine” and bring the World Cup home. We were all convinced 1978 was our year. Scotland had a world class team, acknowledged by everyone else, were in great form, and had a charismatic and funny man, Ally McLeod, as manager. The shock when we lost 3-1 to Peru was nothing compared to the moment tiny, unconsidered, no-hopers Iran equalised in the next match. It felt like part of me died and I still haven’t got over seeing a dream die right in front of me like that.
With my father having been a rugby union internationalist it was inevitable that his sport would rub off on me. By this time, in 1999, all British interest in the World Cup had long since gone, and we had tickets for what was clearly a Sunday afternoon stroll in London for the All Blacks. This wasn’t so much a semi-final as a training session for the final. New Zealand were awesome, with Jonah Lomu at his mesmerising best. France up until then were in disarray and fluked a semi final place. Yet …. wow, sport somehow pops up with tales of the unbelievable. It still sends a shiver through my spine watching those marauding French chasing down shell shocked Kiwis. Epic.
In those days, the Womens Singles at Wimbledon was played on a Friday afternoon so almost everyone in England missed out. In Scotland, the school holidays had started, and watching this had such an effect on me. It was 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and Britain had no Wimbledon winner since before the Second World War. Not only that, I was just learning about the world around me, and Britain’s Virginia Wade was openly lesbian at that time, which was such a big thing. I shouted and screamed in delight when Ginny came from behind to win gloriously. She made me feel proud to be British.
It was a very lucky coincidence. I’d booked up a holiday in Nevada and California with a friend. A week after it’d had all been arranged and paid for, British / Canadian world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis announced he was fighting in Las Vegas the same weekend we were there. I had to go. It was absolutely electric, especially as the supporters of his opponent, David Tua, had travelled from New Zealand in their thousands and were utterly convinced their man would win. The atmosphere was frenzied before the fight. It changed, though, the moment it started. Now, I just thought boxing was two men thumping each other. Lennox Lewis showed me different. He was beautiful to watch close-up. He was agile, athletic, and clearly had a razor sharp mind, evading all of Tua’s desperate lunges and a rat-a-tat-a-tat of punches hitting his opponent in reply. It was almost art at times. Not only that, we cleaned up at the bookmakers and booked a flight to San Diego and short stay there on the winnings!
From a sleepy market town forgotten by Scotland, Dingwall, their side, Ross County, unheralded, unfancied, went to Hampden Park in April 2010 to take on mighty Celtic for a place in the Scottish Cup Final. The First Division no-hopers were there to just enjoy the day out. Dingwall was deserted as 7,000 County fans – 2,000 more than the town’s entire population – went to Glasgow for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We sang, clapped, were on our feet and felt so proud when half time came at 0-0. Whatever happened afterwards, we did ourselves proud. What did happen afterwards, though, I still don’t quite truly believe over four years on. I don’t cry at sporting events but there was a lump in my throat behind the goal when it became clear that arguably the biggest ever shock in Scottish football was about to happen. Ross County are why we love sport.
No matter that the Americans were boycotting over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the Olympics are the Olympics, and we had our very own Allan Wells, an everyday guy unfettered by fame and achievement, going for gold, coached by his demanding, tough, loud, and clearly deeply loving wife Margot. It felt like we were all on those blocks with him in Moscow, trying to push him over the line way back in 1980 with our heart and souls. We needn’t have worried. Cool as a cucumber, Allan made us proud. Politicians come and go. Pure sport endures. Magical.
Of course, how could I dare end by demonstrating it’s not the losing in sport that kills us, it’s the hope. Back to that cold Argentinian winter of 1978. We all wanted Scotland to come home and spare us further embarrassment against the hotly tipped Netherlands. And yet … and yet. The task was simple but almost impossible. Scotland had to beat the Dutch by 3 clear goals and were soon 1-0 down. Somehow, we turned it round to 2-1, then halfway through the second half, Archie Gemmell puts us on the brink of redemption and, as the wonderful David Colman shouts, Dreamland. It, of course, never happened. A Netherlands goal straight after put paid to that. But for one shining moment, we truly believed again. And it felt magical.
So there you are, that’s how sport has touched my heart strings. And, happily, will do until my last breath. Just don’t expect to sit down all day and watch it non-stop. Sport, like life, doesn’t work like that, and if you think it does, you’re really missing out.
As ever, have a lovely Sunday xxx