I have slowly come to realise that I enjoy professional sport less and less. I could rant about why at length, but here is a small selection of reasons.
Football The obscene wages; “professional” fouls, lack of local roots (in some cases) and lack of regard for fans (in some cases) as typified by shirt and ticket prices.
Rugby The enormous injury toll on players as they all become huge and hugely muscled, and are even (in some cases) coached to cause injuries. I am told that some teenage players are being encouraged to take steroids to bulk up.
Tennis The obscene wages and the increasing lack of subtlety as power takes over.
Cycling Drug use (in some cases).
Cricket I think I had better write about this separately, because this was my great love and now I find I have fallen out of love with it, at least as it is now played.
Obscene wages seem to be a theme here. Yes, I do mean obscene, given that we still have people living on the streets. (See my blog £367, 640). Drug abuse is another problem underlying a lot of sport. I also hate the way professional sport seems disconnected from the grass roots, and how children are hothoused rather than just having fun. Children’s sports and amateur sport increasingly copy the excesses of the adult professionals. There are a host of reasons for all this happening, but what are my answers? I haven’t got any. Instead I present to you….
Jumpers for goalposts. That is, I know, a very loaded cliché. However, I do hanker after a return to sport played just for fun, so as light relief I offer you these alternatives to professional sports, to reclaim the lost territory of the real amateur:
Garden badminton I am not entirely joking when I say that badminton is better outdoors. It adds an element of judgement that is lacking, especially at the top level, involving judging the wind and the terrain, as well as avoiding the offerings of next door’s cat. It’s also very easy to set up and relatively cheap. Unless you trample on your Mum’s precious flowers.
Rough cricket There are of course many variations of this, but it’s disappearing fast. I remember painted wickets on the school wall. A tennis ball was used, of course- but it still hurt if it hit you in the face if you hadn’t been paying attention. In the summer we’d have epic Test matches on our local field; a true rough sport rule for us was that you could only hit the ball on the on side, as the field was too small. Beach cricket of course is an honourable tradition, the terrain levelling skill differences. The picture, which was tagged as copyright free, is of cricket on the Bramble Bank at low tide. True rough cricket.
Table- top table tennis As a teenager, we played intense table tennis tournaments on a large sheet of hardboard in a friend’s barn. To my huge pleasure I found that my Mum and Dad used to play on their dining room table using books for the net and the bats, at least initially. A return to this type of improvisation is long overdue. (I’m delighted to see tables being set up in city centres in the summer.)
Football tennis ball squash In the playground at school we had a corrugated iron fence. We used to play a version of squash against it. As long as you could kick the ball against the appropriate panel of the fence you were still in the point. The killer move was to get the ball going down the sleep slope and into the outside boys’ toilets. It should have honed our skills to high standards….. but it didn’t, and that’s not the point of true amateur sport. It was just fun.
Rough football Oh dear, this is turning into reminiscences; our cub scout goals were just a little more sophisticated than jumpers, being bamboo poles. I was a master of the mighty toe punt. It could go anywhere, occasionally into goal. Oh how they ducked.
Cross-country golf This really does exist, and I don’t mean just on golf courses. Be careful playing it in urban areas…. I should also add garden putting. There’s another challenge.
Road bowls Again, this does actually happen in Ireland. It might be a bit difficult in our crowded island…..
Although this is light-hearted, it has at heart a serious point. It might surprise my small circle of friends that I really do value sport, for young and old. It doesn’t matter what you play, or at what level. You don’t have to be Maro Itoje, Jonny Bairstow or Justin Rose. It should just be fun.
(No, please don’t mention Quidditch.)