“I’m gutted” to dip into my football lexicon. I’ve been pre-empted to borrow from the bridge equivalent. For a while I’ve been thinking about another blog and earmarked this one specifically for today for one good reason. Then in yesterday’s Observer Kenan Malik nicks my thunder with an excellent article on a similar theme – corona and sport. Apart from trundling around on my bike my sporting base is largely block W1G at The Amex aka Brighton and Hove Albion, the boundary at Hove or an armchair. In the flesh is so much more atmospheric – my brother could watch England rugby on terrestrial telly but will happily travel from Cornwall to Twickers as a day out with adrenaline flowing, euphoria or dismay both mitigated by a pint or two ….of champers or beer depending on the outcome.
As a season ticket holder I’m sure that our first response as the fixture list comes out is to look for the zingers, the not-to-be-missed and for some at Brighton that would be arch rivals Crystal Palace but for me it’s Liverpool as a club that’s had a cachet for as long as I can remember. Bill Shankly was not only a great manager but had the odd pithy comment in his broad Scottish brogue perhaps most famously declaring football more important than life or death. His current counterpart Jurgen Klopp was perhaps closer to the truth as the coronavirus took a hold “football is the most important of the least important things but today football isn’t important at all”. Great teams over the years but has there been one better than the present – World club champions, European champions and now 25 points clear at the top of The Premiership?
To borrow a much used word of late, that’s unprecedented. Why specifically today for the blog as alluded to above? Well as Rod Stewart sang “Tonight’s the Night” …or at least it should have been. I should have been at The Amex for an 8pm kick off to watch first hand the brilliant team and their charismatic manager, no rain and perfect conditions – today it doesn’t feel like it’s not important but of course it is in reality.
And there’s something even bigger about Liverpool and a key feature of sport that we are missing. The crowd, the social side, it’s like a family – we celebrate the highs together and commiserate as we drift towards the dreaded “bottom three”. Congratulations to Michael Ball and Captain Tom on reaching the top with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but I’m afraid it will never top the Kop’s version in full voice. The Anfield anthem sends a shiver down the spine. I wish we had a song …so I started to write one:
Beware, before the season’s throu’
The mighty Seagulls will shit on you.
But they won’t – we lose more games than we win. And the BBC would probably ban us. So I gave up.
It’s not just a social event. Sport is an escape whereby for a few hours the mundane and the stress moves to the back-burner. A couple of hours watching Sussex cricket is so much more peaceful and genteel but has a remarkable calming effect lacking , at least for me, the passion that accompanies football. Willow on leather and some gentle applause is almost Ye Olde England. And it’s a chance to witness the thoroughbreds playing at a high level – those who achieved what we might have aspired to but quickly realised was never to be. The Open golf comes South once every five to ten years and for the first time ever I have a ticket for Day 1 at Sandwich but I’ve no doubt it’ll be cancelled. Surely watching the very best golfers in the World will clarify why they make the game look ridiculously easy whilst us hackers tack from rough to rough and three putt to boot.
And then sport offers the chance to express a bit of national pride. For years we waited for a British winner at Wimbledon only to meet a debate as to whether strictly speaking Andy wasn’t one of us – he’s Scottish so keep your hands off him you Sassenachs. Will it happen again in my lifetime I wonder, certainly not this year thanks to corona? And of course The Olympics, arguably the pinnacle of international sport, has been postponed for a year.
So there it is the buzz, the highs and lows, the social contacts of sport knocked out (boxing is one sport I eschew) not by a hunky muscleman or a nifty sprinter but by a spiky little ball (that’s as near as it gets to sport) of genetic material coated in lipid and a mere 80-billionth of a metre diameter. As Kipling said :
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
For many of us the obliteration of sport feels like a disaster and we can but hope that a vaccine will kick the virus into touch and the good days and evenings resume before too long but I’m not optimistic.