Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Sport is like love: it can only really hurt you if you care. Or for that matter, bring joy. You can't explain sport, any more than you can explain the Goldberg Variations: you either get it or you don't. So it can be hard to justify a life spent among bats and balls and leaping horses. I spent 32 years writing about sport for the Times , the last 12 as chief sportswriter, all of which comes to an close at the end of this month when I become News International's latest economy, doomed to wander Fleet Street (is it still there?) wearing a luggage label that reads 'Please look after this bear'. What shall I write about in my last week? The usual trivia of the sporting round: triumph and disaster, victory and defeat, leadership and betrayal, revenge and counter-revenge, strength and weakness, hubris and its chastisement, hatred, horror, honour, joy and glory: all acted out in front of me. The news pages of every newspaper are about cover-ups: in sport your subject is emotionally stark naked in front of you. A sportswriter is never without a big subject.

The betrayal stuff mostly comes from the England cricket team. Last week there was a concert of sporty music at the Proms, and I did a bit of stuff for the BBC on the medium my father calls the wah-liss. I realised in the course of this that the operatic themes that have dominated the England team for the past three years are pure Don Giovanni : Kevin Pietersen in the title role, Alastair Cook as the virginal betrayed Zerlina and Andrew Strauss as the equally betrayed and now vengeful Donna Elvira. There's even a part for Piers Morgan, KP's eternal Leporello, faithfully cataloguing every triumph.

Sport has power over the human imagination because it is a never-ending narrative and as an eternal metaphor. Nobody is supposed to die: that's rather the point. The territorial ball sports are cod battles, tennis is a phoney duel, cricket is about that life and death thing -- the batsman forever seeking to avoid the little death of dismissal -- while horse racing on the flat is about evolution: only the fastest get to survive and become ancestors. Powerful stuff, if you happen to get it. But I've never got golf. The Open unwound itself across last weekend to my complete bewilderment. I was once given the apparently enviable privilege of accompanying John Daly through a round at St Andrews; after two holes I sneaked off and went birding. Golf seems a pleasant enough recreation for people too old for sport, but shouldn't proper sport have an element of physical risk? …

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