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Friday, 17 June 2011

Cycling - Tour of Switzerland

I've been following Eurosport's coverage of the Tour of Switzerland, and what a pleasure it has been. It's not so much the cycling as the great scenery ! Makes me want to go and live there. If you get a chance, watch the programme. The three major tours - of France, Italy and Spain - are equally spectacular in their own ways, but this one just appeals to me, and I hope it will to you !

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Tour de France

Much as I dislike professional sport - in principle at least - I cannot help being fascinated by the Tour de France. I love watching it on British Eurosport. Her indoors gets upset when I try to watch it all afternoon - I don't blame her, but I love it ! The live coverage is great. It's like a live travelogue with a bit of competition thrown in for good measure. Actually the TV pictures are provided by the Tour organisers and every station gets the same pictures, so the credit should go to them I suppose. The aerial shots are superb - and well-rehearsed, as every town or village the riders pass is shown with its name on the screen, as are any special sights, ruins, monuments etc. Add to this the exciting pictures from the motor-cycle camera men and it is sometimes impossible to take your eyes off the screen - or so I find anyway. I have to confess to being a bit of a cyclist myself, even at my advanced age, and I would secretly love to ride in the Tour, although of course after the first ten miles I would be at least five miles behind the rest of them and would no dobut give the official doctors some work ! Can't wait for the mountain stages. The cyclists must be some of the fittest competitors in any sport - imagine riding at about 40 kilometers an hour for five or more hours every day for three weeks, often up some pretty steep mountains in baking hot sunshine. Maybe if I had my time over again I'd give this a go.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Ashes 2009 - Why No BBC Coverage ?

I was under the impression that important sporting events - and the Ashes is surely one of them - were not to be limited to Sky and other "Pay" TV networks, but were to continue to be freely available on BBC or ITV. What has gone wrong ? Now I cannot enjoy this Test series as I cannot afford Sky's ludicrously high fees. I'm sure I'm not the only one !

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

C B Fry

I was recently given an old postcard of C B Fry to include on my website and so did a little research into the gentleman. He was an extraordinary sportsman, probably the best all-round cricketer of his age and successful at whatever sport took his fancy. He was England and Sussex captain at cricket and held various batting records during his career. As an athlete he held the world long-jump record for a while. He played football for Oxford University, Southampton and later Portsmouth, and Rugby for Oxford, Blackheath and the Barbarians.

Outside sport, he was a teacher at Charterhouse and with his wife was in charge of HMS Mercury, then a training ship for boys who wished to enter the Royal Navy. In politics he was a relative failure, being defeated as a Liberal candidate for parliament; in his spare time he wrote nine books, did some cricket commentaries for the BBC and wrote for various newspapers.

In later life his mental health deteriorated and he did some bizarre things, such as trying to persuade Ribbentrop that Germany should take up Test Cricket and running naked on Brighton Beach.

But what appeals to me about this man is, as Neville Cardus wrote, that he played games because he enjoyed them and not for personal financial gain. He was the true amateur, something which I admire.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Cricket - You Get What You Deserve

Someone wrote that every generation gets the cricket it deserves, which is a way, I suppose, of saying that the game changes according to the times. The 1920s, the "Golden Age" of cricket, were comparatively peaceful years, life went on at a leisurely pace, and so did cricket. At the same time, players got on with the game - none of this business of discussing field settings and only bowling a few overs an hour. The game's ruling body did not have to impose fines for a slow over rate - twenty overs an hour was the norm, fielders hurried to get into position after each over and the game moved on at a brisk but relaxed pace. County championship games drew big crowds who enjoyed sitting in the sun, reading the paper, having a drink and a chat, and watching the cricket.

The twenty-first century has seen all that change. The game has slowed dramatically. There is far more tension and competitiveness on the field. The desire to win at all costs has crept into the game, even at minor levels. Gone is the age of friendly competition. Village cricket has all but disappeared and there is now a plethora of "league" cricket which implies competition, winning etc. Limited over cricket has had an enormous influence on the game, and the 20 over competitions have turned it into a slogging-fest akin to baseball. Bowlers in this cricket are little more than "powder-monkeys" whose aim is to keep the run rate to a minimum, not to take wickets. The art of spinners "buying" a wicket is almost unheard of. Huge, "football" crowds turn out for these games, and this of course puts money into cricket, money which is much needed. And so they dress the players in colourful uniforms, make the ball white and generally change the game so that it is almost unrecognisable to us older people. And then the teams get silly nicknames such as the Middlesex "Crusaders", just so that fans can more easily identify with them.

What has happened is that commercialism has taken over the game, just as it has everything else in life. Profit is the new god we must all worship. If people won't watch the normal game, then it must change so that profits will accrue. Yet people still go to see Test Matches in large numbers, so maybe there is a lesson to be learned here. These crowds enjoy sitting in the sun and having a drink and a chat and keeping an eye on the game, so all is not lost, although winning is far more important than playing the game and good sportsmanship - just like the times in which we live.

(The photograph is of cricket at Dover in the 1920s)

Monday, 8 December 2008

Why is Winning so Important ?

Why is it that sportspeople are so obsessed with winning ? Surely the idea of games is that they are played for fun and exercise, something to be enjoyed. Yet everywhere you go, people want to win. Athletes are obsessed with winning Olympic medals - personally had I ever been selected to take part in the games, just being there would have been enough for me. Besides, the vast majority of Olympic competitors never win anything, and most have to go home before the games end !
It's time we sat back and looked again at sport in general. OK I understand that professionals have to win in order to make their livings - for some reason people only pay to watch successful teams, partly I suppose because they want to see the best players and also because of the herd mentality whereby success is all important. And no doubt amateurs want to do well so that they can perhaps turn professional and make lots of money.
So perhaps it's professional sport which needs a rethink. The pay is of course out of all proportion to what the players do, particularly in the major sports like football, golf, and in the USA baseball, basketball and their version of football where no-one actually kicks the ball. The huge sums of money paid to these people of course tempt anyone who is the least bit sports-minded - and why not ? We do, unfortunately, live in a capitalist society.
The attitude of most professionals fails to set an example to young people. Whilst most are reasonably well-behaved, it only takes one or two to show off or lose their tempers - often deliberately to gain publicity - and youngsters take them as role models because the press gives them so much coverage.
This year's Olympics in China were excellent, but I was disappointed that the UK team did so well - coming 23rd in archery is what we do in this country ! Not really disappointed I suppose, because it was great to see people who had trained hard achieve their goals. But should they have devoted so much of their lives to training and winning ? Do they have the right goals ? Did they actually enjoy getting up at some ungodly hour to train, day after day ? Or did some coach or pushy parent make them do it ? I don't know, but it disturbs me to see young people miss out on their childhood just to win a bloody Olympic medal. And what will most of them do in later life ? Education should come first and I hope that parents and coaches realise this.
Games are there to be enjoyed, so play them, enjoy them, keep fit, make friends and remember that it doesn't matter one jot if you come last as long as there's a smile on your face.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Old versus New

I'm sure many of you have often wondered how sportspeople of today compare - in performance - with those of the past. It is of course very difficult to make such a comparison.

People have changed physically over the last 75 years. As a young man, six feet tall, I would be the tallest in the room, but today six feet is the norm, or even on the short side ! It's all down to free school milk, orange juice and the welfare state !

Sportsmen and women train more and have more help with their training programmes, which are scientifically based, so in combination with physical growth, one would expect them to perform better than their counterparts from before or just after World War 2.

Athletics is the easiest to measure because records are constantly being broken. Roger Bannister's four-minute mile, a huge feat at the time he ran it (1954 I think), is a time since beaten by hundreds of athletes. The same applies to swimming - easily measurable comparisons can be made.

But can we assume that this improvement applies to all games ? Let's think about football (or soccer as you Americans call it). The game today is easier to play for one very good reason - the ball. When I played in the 1940s and 50s, the ball was made of leather, very heavy and difficult to control, especially when it got wet. I once headed a wet ball and was almost knocked unconscious ! And the laces used to leave a nasty mark ! Also we used to play in very muddy conditions for a good part of the year, as did most of the professional teams, which doesn't happen today. Today's players might find it difficult adapting to 1940s conditions. But they are fitter and better trained - and richer ! - than their counterparts, and ought to be able to outperform them.

But supposing we could take a footballer from, say, 1950, and avail him of today's facilities. Would he be just as good as a modern player ? Would Stanley Matthews compare with David Beckham ? We shall never know of course, but such comparisons make interesting talking points.

Don Bradman is widely regarded as the finest batsman ever. He averaged almost 100 in test matches, something no-one else has come near. But could he do this today ? Bowlers are taller, stronger and in general faster. Batsmen now have to wear helmets and face masks for protection. And because the bowlers are taller, the ball comes down from a greater height and bounces more. They don't have to bowl on wet wickets any more. Is there a case for increasing the length of the pitch by, say three feet, to compensate for the increase in the height and speed of the bowlers ? Batting is more difficult, fielding has improved beyond recognition, the game has changed. Is it even fair to compare Walter Hammond with Ricky Ponting ?

Perhaps not. Perhaps we should just leave it all alone. The trouble is that when you've seen both the old and the new sportspeople, you can't help making these comparisons. When you've played a game in the past and then watch it today, you wonder about these things. It's called growing old I suppose !