Thursday, 8 August 2013

My nerves are shot. Not only can't I play sport - I often can't summon up the courage to watch it!

Some way into Australia’s first innings at Old Trafford, it dawned on me that I really didn’t have to go on pretending to enjoy watching baggy-capped sheep-botherers humiliating England’s bowling attack. In fact, I barely watched any of the rest of the match, preferring to follow the BBC’s online text commentary or Test Match Special on the radio.

Every time it looked as though England might save the match and I plucked up the courage to switch to Sky’s TV coverage, another England batsman would instantly lose their wicket. And if I kept on watching, there’d invariably be another wicket within a few overs. So I’d stomp back upstairs to follow the text commentary between splayed fingers: I find reading about an unfolding disaster less overwhelming than watching one.

After the rain had played a better innings on Day 5 than any member of the England team,  and the Ashes had been retained no matter what happens in the next two matches, I began to realise that I’m finding it harder and harder to watch the sports competitions that really matter to me. Even though Murray beat Djokovic in straight sets at Wimbledon, I spent as much time walking around the block trying to control my nerves as I did watching the actual match. I watched a recording of the whole thing afterwards, but even then – ridiculously – I found myself tensing up on key points as if the outcome was still in the balance.

It’s years since I watched an England football match all the way through. Obviously, there’s some excuse for this – the team is rubbish. But, even though I’ve long ago given up hoping that "the lads" will achieve anything of note, it’s still painful to watch them fail so boringly and so predictably.

I’m not a great rugby fan, but I did try to watch the British Lions’ three tests against the Aussies. Nerves rapidly got the better of me during the first two – and I waited until half-way through the second half of the decider before tuning in. Luckily, England were so far ahead, I could relax and enjoy the rest of it without retreating like some damned scrimshanker.

I watch most Manchester United games during the footer season – but if they’re up against a team I genuinely dislike (Chelsea or Manchester City) and are not doing well, again, I tend to spend more time not watching than watching. And I’ll only watch Chelsea or Man City if it looks like they’re going to be defeated.

So, given I can no longer watch large swatches of the matches (or match-ups as they now seem to be called) that matter to me, what’s the point of an expensive Sky Sports subscription? Well, I do get to watch La Liga matches involving Barcelona and Real Madrid, and because I don’t really care whether either of them gets defeated by Atletico Jobless or Real Insolvent, I can simply enjoy the skills on display. The same goes for local derbies such as Arsenal v. Spurs or Liverpool v. Everrton – I don’t care that much who wins. And there’s the occasional snooker and darts matches to savour. And all the tennis matches involving players whose results aren’t a matter of life and death to me or who don’t bore me stiff (I never watch Ferrer or Nadal matches, for instance, unless I get wind of a possible loss).

Either old age is making me more cowardly than I used to be – or perhaps I’m now more a fan of sports results than of sport itself.


  1. My Daddy has his own brick on the walks around Ben-Hill Griffin Stadium (where the beloved Gators play...The Swamp) that says "Who's Winning?".

    We chose that inscription because...he can't actually watch the games. He goes out and cuts the grass, rakes leaves, anything but suffer through actually watching them.

    College Football is especially bad for this because teams only play once a year...364 1/2 days to live with defeat.

    The funniest episode, to me, came after a very important game with Alabama in 06. It didn't look so good for the first half but Florida regrouped and did what they do...whooped that ass.

    So, I call Daddy to celebrate...

    "Hey Daddy." Obvious enthusiasm in my voice.

    "What happened."

    "They won!"

    "Who won?"

    "Alabama Daddy. I'm calling so we can celebrate an Alabama victory."

    Why didn't he know? He was at a FREAKING bowling alley. Bowling??????

    I think it comes from caring too much. Which is exactly what makes sports the delight that it is.

    1. Great story, e.f. - and nice to know it's not just me. Do you know if your father was always like this, or did it develop as he got older? I just wonder if age has a part to play in all this. Okay,I stormed out of the room in 1966 when Germany equalised with England in the World Cup final just before full time, but at least I caught the end of the game: now I know I wouldn't be able to. As for caring too much - yes, I agree, but why???

      If we ever meet, I'd appreciate it if you could explain the strange hold college football has on Americans. meantime,is it a Southern phenomenon or does the rest of the US get this excited by it? And when you say it only happens once a year - what, the final? Or is it a specific match between two old rivals? And the brick - do you pay for that or... or what?

    2. I would be happy if I never talked of anything else for the rest of my life.

      We do dominate college football through The Southeastern Conference (The SEC). Most colleges gather athletically into conferences. The SEC is really the only conference that is geographically and culturally intact...most others having ballooned beyond their traditional boundaries.

      If you were to look at what claims to be the next best conference in college football, the Big 10 (traditionally a mid western conference) they have two national titles since 1970. The SEC has won the last seven in a row.

      There are 12 scheduled games a year...8 of which are conference games. What I meant was that teams play each other only once a year. Which of course takes the urgency of each game to a ridiculous level because...

      We are very much like a family in these parts. In other words we hate one another...we just hate everybody else more. Ha. The rivalries are intense and personal. The teams represent their state or their area in ways that a professional team never could (most of the players are the state or the immediate area). Or they represent their class within a state.

      Alabama and Auburn are a perfect example. The two schools are only a couple of hours apart but, Alabama is Old South, Old Money while Auburn is a cow college. Alabama fans great Auburn fans with Old McDonald Had a Farm. This is more perception than reality but...that's what matters. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have the same issues with one another.

      These rivalries are comparable to Man U and Liverpool...Celtic and Ranger. In fact, it's been said more than once that the only fan base with a comparable level of passion is in the Premier League. These teams have been playing since the late 19th century and SEC stadiums hold a lot more fans than most professional football stadiums.

      Alabama seats over 100,000, as does Tennessee...Florida has over 90,000 seats, etc.

      I've said too much...we're going to be discussing this on the blog shortly.

      We paid for the brick.

    3. Thanks, e.f. - I now get it. As you probably know, universities here have little or nothing to do with where they're situated, and most of the students are bussed in from elsewhere (a high proportion from abroad nowadays). I suppose that's because Britain's so small - travelling to and from college is never that big a deal. Very few local people could care less about their local college teams, whatever the sport, and the only ancient rivalry that matters at all is Oxford and Cambridge.

      I look forward to the next outing for this subject on your blog - meanwhile, thanks for taking the time to explain.

  2. " I think it comes from caring too much. Which is exactly what makes sports the delight that it is." Very astute observation, e.f.bartlam. Great post, great comments. Thanks, gentlemen.

  3. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, we have the Lions victory, the Tour de France and yesterday the Ashes. Could our sleazy, yobbo-centric thicko footballers get off their arses and win something? In cricket, the hair transplants of Graham Gooch, Michael Vaughan and Shane Whatsisname [Australian - we don't have to worry about them anymore!]have taken root whilst Wayne Rooney's has obviously been a complete failure. Sez it all, really.

  4. "Could our sleazy, yobbo-centric thicko footballers get off their arses and win something?"

    I think we already know the answer to that one, SDG.

    And you're spot-on comments about Rooney's failed hair transplant reminded me of a joke once told by a Danish-American colleague of yours: "He had an asshole transplant, but the asshole rejected him".