Thursday, 23 August 2012

Concerning Sport


After a ridiculous absence I'm back.  It's not been a conscious decision to stay away - I've just struggled to find something meaningful to write about.

The last few weeks saw the country gripped with Olympic fever and I was no exception.  I was fortunate enough to get tickets to 4 events (football, tennis, handball and volleyball) and I was so enthralled with the buzz of the Olympic Park that I signed up for Paralympic tickets as soon as I got home.  I'll finally get to go inside the Olympic Stadium this Friday for two sessions of athletics.

I took my daughter to the tennis at Wimbledon as well and she was remarkably well behaved for a 2 year old.  I wanted her to know that she'd been part of this great spectacle, even if she wasn't necessarily ever going to remember it herself.  Aside from being asked to leave Court 2 at one point for walking around and shouting, she survived a full day of sport unscathed.

Last weekend, the football season returned to fill that void left by London 2012.  A number of people (including journalists far and wide and those at the FA) were quick to note the differences between top flight footballers and our Olympic athletes and 'demand' something be done about it.  Privately I think I was one of those people too.  Having been a follower of football (in one way or another) for a good 27 of my 31 years, it's fair to say I'd forgotten how brilliant other sports can be, and how humble and gracious other sportspeople can be too.

Football is a worldwide "brand" (I hate that term) and due to it's lucrative appeal it has over a number of years descended into a soap opera of sorts.  For those less familiar with this, you only have to look at Sky Sports' self-parody of a Transfer Deadline Day to see what I mean.  I've tried to stay away from "articles" about what Rio Ferdinand tweets or who Ashley Cole has dinner with - such things fill me with an inner rage that isn't good for my health.

Compare the daily, relentless, in-your-face minutiae of football with the Olympics and the difference is so refreshing you'd think someone had thrown a glass of water in your face.  As you'll no doubt be aware, our Olympians work incredibly hard for a fraction of the recognition (and for the most part, a fraction of the financial reward) of top flight footballers and, it seems, do so with a graciousness you'd be hard pressed to believe.

And so, for the first time, my enthusiasm for the start of the football season was subdued.  This is the first year I've ever had a season ticket for my club (Sheffield Wednesday), and yet somehow I was struggling to motivate myself submerge myself back into football. 

Admittedly, a lot of that went out of the window on Tuesday night as I turned up at Hillsborough for our first home game of the season.  I sang as passinately as I've always done and shouted as loudly as ever when we scored, but it felt a bit different watching the game.  Seeing players (ours and theirs) shouting at the referee for calls that were never going to go their way seemed cheap somehow.  My Dad turned to me at one point and said "you wouldn't have see that [player rolling around on the floor after a 'foul'] at the women's football the other week".  And he was right.

I don't mean this to sound like some incredible revelation - it's quite the opposite really.  To anyone who's not a football fan (and to a lot that are) this is old news. 

Football is, and will always be, my first love.  I've been going to Hillsborough for about 26 years now and I'll keep going as long as I can.  But I think the Olympics has changed my view of it as a sport - in the short term at least.  There's a good chance that the spirit of London 2012 will die away (the reasons for that are numerous and probably another post in their own right), but for now, the daily gossip columns and "Breaking news" stories can go whistle.  I've long understood that football is only a part of llife, but now, more than ever, I'm starting to insulate myself from the trivialities of it all.

My best football memories make me smile - I haven't cried about football since I was 9 years old - but I'm still not yet past the stage of watching Jessica Ennis win the 800m without welling up.

Whether London 2012 inspires a generation remains to be seen.  It's inspired me to look at my sporting life differently and that feels like a good thing.

I know this is just a set of random thoughts, but I felt like I needed to write it down.  If you made it this far, then thanks.

I'll be back again soon no doubt.


P.S. As part of my final fundraising attempts of 2012, I ran a 10km the weekend the Olympics finished.  I worked out if I was 2.5 faster, I'd give Mo Farah a run for his money.  My Olympic dream may be over.  I'm running my second and final 10km next Sunday (2nd September) and like the other one, I'll be doing so in quite a bit of pain, having struggled badly with shin splints since the London Marathon. This will be my last run of this year as I'll be switching to low impact exercise afterwards to give myself some proper rest ahead of training for a half marathon next year.  I won't post a fantastic time, and it'll hurt like hell, but I'm going to do it anyway.  If you want to put a few quid towards my attempts to raise £200 then you can do so by following this link to my fundraising page.  Thank you.

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