Much like David Banner in The Incredible Hulk… I live my life in hiding. I cannot return home, and must let the world believe that I am dead, until I can find a way to control the raging spirit which dwells within me.
I speak of course, of that affliction which the male population of my home country are simply not open-minded enough to tolerate… I – don’t – like – football.
Once upon a time, I wanted to be a tennis player… Now that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since “Things James never wanted to be when he grew up” would be a book so thin it would struggle to maintain its existence in a world of 3 dimensions, but once upon a time I was fairly handy with a tennis racquet. I could swat a fly almost every single time, and propel small pebbles far beyond the roof of the house across the street, and almost into orbit.
Whether or not anything would have come of my “mad skills” will be consigned to the history of an alternate universe because, just like many, many other racquet-sport-loving kids of the 70s, 80s & 90s, I was forced to grow up in a school system full of PE teachers who were unshakable in their conviction that if you couldn’t play football… you couldn’t do anything at all!
For exactly one school year, I attended a school in Dronfield, England; where the Physical Education department actually cared about the different talents and abilities of their many, individual students. For the first few weeks of school, everyone was put on a rotation, where they were moved around from one sport to another, in order to determine their strengths. It turned out that, though I might have absolutely sucked at moving a ball around with my feet, I was actually quite handy at manipulating one with a racquet. After these weeks of rotation were over, we were given the option to simply join in with all the regular stuff, or concentrate on our own particular sport. It was awesome! A tennis coach was assigned to our little group, and we got to concentrate on a sport we thoroughly enjoyed!
…the following year, we moved house again, and I returned to a school which didn’t give a shit about individuals… unless they were really good football players. Any kids who couldn’t play this most British of sports, were made to feel like uncoordinated morons, who might as well have had a garden fork attached to each hand, and both feet tied together, for all the use they were going to be. So, yeah… I have a bit of grudge against football.
I write this because last week, my own favourite sport, finally got the British, male hero it has been waiting for, for over 70 years! Andy Murray, of Dunblane, Scotland lifted the Wimbledon men’s singles trophy, and at last, gave British sports journalists something to write about next June, other than how many decades it has been since Fred Perry won Wimbledon!
*Incidentally ladies… as a tennis fan, I am very well aware that Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977. I am writing about the male perspective on British sport because I am, and always have been, male. And, as such, am unqualified to speak with any authority about the female experience of British sport, or the British school system. Please accept my apologies, on behalf of my gender, for the way that British newspapers have ignored female tennis players.
So, why have we had to wait so very long for a male singles winner at Wimbledon? Well… because the scenario I described above is very typical of British attitudes toward sport. Football, Rugby and Cricket, are the three sacred pillars of male sport in Britain. Most other sports have been completely ignored for as long as I care to remember. Athletics gets a look in, because it is quite easy to see who runs fast, when all the kids get together on sports day, but, generally speaking, if you wish to pursue excellence in any other sports, you had better hope that your parents are willing and able to devote a great deal of time and money to your physical education. Because otherwise you are resigned to being picked last for the football team, and then stuck in goal so that your inevitable fuck-ups will at least be a valid excuse when your team loses against the skins, during last period on Fridays.
It has been this way for quite some time. There are over 60 million people in the UK. Why do we usually suck at the Olympics? Because our children are balancing eggs on spoons, jumping around in sacks, and being tied to their classmates for the three-legged race, while other countries are training their infants for the Decathlon!
Frankly, I’m not particularly upset about the UK standing on one of the lower podiums at the Olympics. I think children should be permitted to enjoy their childhood, rather than being “encouraged” to join a training camp for javelin throwers, simply because their last dinner-time tantrum resulted in an unusually impressive throw of the knife. I don’t go in for training small children to beat other children around the world at stuff, simply because their flag has different colours on it. I do however, think that those who wish to pursue their chosen sport should be given the resources to do so. And, if those resources are unavailable, why are footballers being paid so much? Why are there more football fields by far around the UK, than there are tennis courts, cricket nets, basketball courts, or any number of other sporting arenas you could mention? We should at least be treated equally to those who are especially good at shepherding a leather ball into a net, rather than being forced to watch from the sidelines, simply because we happen to like a sport which requires opposable thumbs!
So hooray for Andrew, I say! Three cheers for Justin Rose, Chris Froome, Jessica Ennis… and any other sporting hero who has made it to the top, despite having been born in a country which holds footballers in higher regard than almost any other form of life on Earth.
I will be posting more often than usual this week, and in the run up to my wedding ( I know that seems backwards, but you’ll have to trust me for now). In the meantime, stay happy, be alert (your country needs lerts)… and DON’T… whatever you do… bend over for the soap!
I’m going now.