Magazine article The Spectator

Always Employ a Slow Bowler

Magazine article The Spectator

Always Employ a Slow Bowler

Article excerpt

WHAT SPORT TELLS US ABOUT LIFE by Ed Smith Viking, £14.99, pp. 190, ISBN 9780670917228 £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

It would be hard to imagine a worse title for a book, or one more likely to unite the sceptics of every camp.

For those poor souls who think the Cheltenham Festival has something to do with books the idea will be ludicrous, and for the rest of us whose year begins with the Melbourne Test, and moves through the 'Six Nations', Champion Hurdle, Augusta, Aintree, Formula 1, the FA Cup Final, Epsom, Ascot, Wimbledon, and the Open back to the Charity Shield and another eight months' dose of the Premiership, the notion that sport needs validation from 'life' or anywhere else is deeply offensive.

I remember many years ago, playing in a 'Sixes' Hockey tournament sponsored by, I think, the Midland Bank. At the end of the final in which we had been beaten, as everyone always was, by Kingston Grammar School, we had to queue up for our wretched Runners-Up pennants, and listen while some old buffer -- looking back, he was probably a perfectly decent man in his mid-forties -- told us that, as we got older, we would find that life was very like a game of hockey... I didn't believe him then, and I don't believe Ed Smith now, but to be fair -- a phrase exclusively used by sports pundits when they're about to put the boot in -- Smith is ready to trawl an awful lot of sport and 'life' in his quest to demonstrate their mutual relevance. If you took a quick glance through the book you might think it was no more than another book on sporting greats, but behind his chapter on Zidane lurks the Russian-Armenian mystic Georgei Ivanovitch Gurdgieff, Ignatius Loyola and Jesus Christ, while propping up his discussion as to why England won the 2005 Ashes, are Johan Huizinga, the coup d'état of Brumaire, Gibbon, Carlyle and -- a shoo-in for any serous philosophical debate -- President Jed Bartlett of The West Wing.

There are really only two sorts of sports journalists: the Racing Post school, who believe that the business of sports writing is sport, and those who belong to the Simon Barnes school and think that any sentence that does not contain the words James Joyce and Ulysses is a wasted opportunity. There is, of course, room enough in any paper for both kinds, but the problem with throwing Minna Wagner, Thomas Macaulay, Freud, Nietzsche, Christopher Ricks, the Tudor monarchy -- what is it with these Peterhouse historians? -- or Anthony Storr into the mix is that it can raise expectations that are not always easy to satisfy. 'What then would Freud have made of sport, with its capricious and ridiculous swings of fortune? …

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