The perils of a sporting split.
I write for fun. And do not have a map. Sometimes I do think about getting a sat-nav, but…squirrel! Do not expect signposts.
I also use imagery, because i can’t find a way to attach a soundtrack. Yet.
Let me walk you through the strapline.
A caveat though. This is only likely to register with Brits. Sport is universal; the UK unique in that it’s rarely the sum of its parts. Most of the time, it is not played out that way. Except for the Olympics. Team GB. Oh yeah! How was London 2012? Perfect, thanks for asking!
Spike Milligan once said (he used it in a Goon show script); “I come from mixed parentage. One male and one female and that’s the way it should be”. Not withstanding the progression of parenthood to the point where the number of and gender are moot; I shall adapt his statement for my own use regardless.
I come from mixed parentage. One from either side of the wall. And that is my cross to bear. My father was from Sussex. West Sussex as it is now. My mother was born and raised in Perth. That’s the Tayside city, not the Aussie variant.
This creates significant issues. There’s a significant geographical distance involved, for starters, not to mention a Presbyterian upbringing vs intense worship of The Racing Post and Guinness to be reconciled. But these issues are most prominent and most keenly felt across the world of sport. Boy do I suffer for my blood! Blood and DNA.
This all needs background. I need help.
My dad left the UK just a couple of times during his life. Belgium and the Isle of Man (I think that counts). Family holidays abroad were simply not the done thing. He hated the French - for no specific reason as far as i could tell, but, with his having been born in 1935 it was the done thing to mistrust chunks of Europe when he was young. By today’s reckonings then, he would have been labelled a racist bigot. This would have been a significant misrepresentation. He was passionate about his home. Sussex was the centre of his universe and anyone who was not native to his home county was not to be put out using any naturally available resources, if on fire!
Herein lies an element of my passion too. For when it comes to cricket, he and I are in accord. Good old Sussex by the sea. The county of my birth too after all, and cricket is a glorious way to lose a few days during the summer. The pearl in the oyster that is Sussex, is Arundel. A natural bowl nestling at one end of the castle grounds. The sort of castle at which one imagines knights and nobles enjoying a Sunday joust. Look. I’ll show you…
A castle. A cricket ground. Landscape-on-a-stick. It’s a beautifully inspiring place, at which, thanks to tradition; and cricket is reallly big on tradition, I have watched many of the worlds greatest players do their thang with leather or willow down the years. A most beautiful place, in the most beautiful county in England. The image here, incidentally, was borrowed from the Pakistan Passion cricket forum. A veritable mine of right and knowledge, frequented by some clearly sound people of the highest order.
Note that I said England; not the UK.
Obviously, the jousting does not take place on the cricket square; that would just not be the done thing. I once got the cane at school for actually playing cricket on the 1st11 cricket square. Ok, I wasn’t on the team, but I know just how fussy some people can be! The jousting happens and it happens elsewhere.
The delight of there being a pretty intense rivalry with the neighbouring Hampshire Hogs simply added to the mix, cricket wise. Here, though, things get knotty. Mum had moved south to, well, Southampton when young. Southampton is in Hampshire. To be more accurate, her mother moved south — she was widowed in 1944 and moved, i think, to be nearer family.
Despite the well established Sussex roots, my father was a footballing Gooner. No idea how this came about, but he was. Arsenal. The Gunners. Up the Ars! (insert winky smiley here) mum was, and is still, a follower of Saints. Southampton. One as cultured as a shagpile carpet vs the other; as refined as clogger vinyl flooring. I mention all this to try and cover my internal conflicts. Sport is a bastard. Many sports, all sporting bastardising tendencies is a truly unbearable cross.
My father loathed Southampton FC too of course. Not quite with the intensity he reserved for the French, I don’t think he had the energy for that, but seriously enough. He did, however, do one spectacularly good thing for his son and heir once. I took a while to settle upon a team of my own to follow, you see. I flirted with Chelsea and Everton briefly. Why? No idea. Blue shirts? But — and this is the spectacular bit. During my Chelsea phase (Peter Osgood, Ron “Chopper” Harris, et al.) he took me to a game. At The Dell. The home of Southampton FC. 18 september 1972, I was just 10 years old. He took me to Southampton, stood with me on the terrace, surrounded by Saints fans, me shouting in blissful ignorance, for the opposition you understand. This was not wise in the era of generally unfettered fooball hooliganism; I suspect that my age saved us. We stood and watched as the home team won 3–1. In terms of our being allowed out in one piece, the right team prevailed. In terms of footballing prowess and culture; the peasants prevailed. A tough circle to square.
So. We agreed on cricket. I do have a natural soft spot for Arsenal too. My father died in 1985 and in the 1988/89 season, the Gunners won the league. They won it by beating Liverpool. 26 May, 1989 in a game re-scheduled due to a clash of fixtures elsewhere. Arsenal needed to win by two clear goals. The second of these arrived at the death, I shed tears for the team, for my father… blood. And DNA. You had to be there, as they say.
Nowadays, I watch for the results of The Saintees (St Johnstone, Perth) Southampton, Portsmouth (NEVER mention the one when located in the other). Ever! Arsenal and the team I ended up supporting, after I finished turning out to play myself, which I did at the age of 35; namely, Havant and Waterlooville.
Seriously conflicted. Clearly there is too much choice with football. The separate comflict between billionaire premiership and non-league penny pinchers is a book in itself. It’s been written many times, so I won’t. Not today anyway.
So, onward. I started scribbling this at the end of the final round of the rugby union 6 Nations this year. I am a Scotland fan and it’s national sides which fork me over. And for some reason, rugby in particular sees my heart cradling the thistle. Why Scotland? Blood and David Sole, John Jeffrey, Tony Stanger… to name but three. Although I played football, I’ve always loved rugby, but growing up in an area with no high profile teams, beyond the U16 side at my own school, my involvement was restricted to TV. I live in Northampton these days. This is important. Northampton is a rugby town, my love for the game has been freed to the extent that my partner and I have season tickets at Franklins Gardens; the home of Northampton Saints. We are part of the Saints Family.
When I was a teenager, the decision to follow Scotland was a pretty easy one. The Scots played a 15-man game. Often coming up short, as the gallant Scots do in most sports, but the ball went to hand. I had been spoilt by memories and oft shown highlights of a monumental game between the Barbarians; an international representative side and the touring New Zealand All Blacks, played in Cardiff in January 1973. It was a feast, a spectacle. Surely all rugby should be played this way?
Not If you were English though. Putting 15 blokes in a white kit, getting them to run around in a sea of mud for 80 minutes, then marvelling in the snowy white shirts with the numbers 11 and 14 still bold as you like on the back, trotting off at the end. Rumble rumble, penalty, line out, rumble some more, penalty — 3 points.
I despaired and publicly transferred my allegiance elsewhere. Down the years, I have seem a few notable victories, many close calls for the opposition, and as mentioned, that staple of Scottish sport; the last second defeat from victory scenario which is; it seems, exclusive to us Sweaties.
Suffering for art is a headache!
The current captain of England is Dylan Hartley, of Northampton. Panto villain for every other side in the Aviva Premiership; beloved by us Saints & Sinners. I’ve met him. He’s awfully well spoken and thoughtful. He also led England to the 6 Nations Grand Slam. Scotland won two games. See?