I went to Oakwell yesterday to see my football team Barnsley do battle against local rivals Sheffield Wednesday. It was even game until Wednesday scored a freak goal caused by a poor mistake by our goalkeeper. From that point onwards Barnsley fought to get back in the game and I was immersed in that struggle. An equaliser came towards the end of the game and even a chance for outright victory. The euphoria when Barnsley scored is hard to put into words. You feel such a shot of adrenaline and well-being everything else flies out of the window. Sport has this capacity to find ways for you to lose yourself and it is such a vital part of my well-being. But why? Many people I know groan at sport of any kind, others will talk of the negative aspects – drugs, competitiveness, cheating, violence and aggression – and some are just indifferent. This is my argument for having sport in my life. It’s based around four A’s – aesthetics; athleticism; adrenaline and alternatives.
Sport at its best is simply another art form, beautiful to watch and often set in beautiful surroundings. The beauty of a cover drive to the boundary, the timing of a well-struck goal, the finesse of the pass at tennis, the poetry of a floor exercise in gymnastics, the perfectly weighted iron shot to inches of the golf hole, all and many more can be appreciated in their own right as worthy highlights in such games. I could not live just with this beauty, though more of that below, but I love what a plethora of art forms are contained within sporting moments. I can watch a game of cricket and wait for that one moment that lifts it out of the ordinary and enables me to just nod in satisfaction that I was there. The settings in which sport takes place are also striking on their own account. In this regard the beauty of a cricket ground like Scarborough or my local Club Tickhill CC or the landscape of a classic golf course and many many more are sketches worthy of the artist’s brushes or photographers’ gaze. So it’s perfectly possible to simply appreciate the aesthetics of sport and I do.
One aspect which maybe appears more evident in the likes of gymnastics or athletics is the athleticism displayed all the time when watching sport. You can be treated to movement which you can just sit back and enjoy without understanding how it can be done. I always think that when you have played a sport to a reasonable level and then you see a skill you can appreciate the sheer dexterity, timing or just superhuman quality attached to its execution. I was a decent fielder at cricket but some of the catches seen at the top level just beggar belief. I wonder if playing a sport enables appreciation to grow? I don’t know as I know many cricket lovers who have not played themselves. I think one thing that happens with professionals in sport that they take their basic skills and with training, refinement of technique and sheer repetition in practise it rises to a level which can take your breath away when seeing it executed. These are truly athletes of the highest quality and style. Sit back and appreciate.
For me these appreciative aspects of sport can be enjoyed by all whether you have an interest at all in the sporting outcome. For me this third element – adrenaline – is what makes sport the unmissable event when it works. The capacity to lose yourself in a sporting event is linked to how much you can identify with the team or individual you are supporting. The more investment you have in that team the more you will be hooked and hope that the outcome meets your expectations. Your whole body is lifted for a while and you are on a drug free high which is fantastic. This can happen for me whether watching Jess Ennis winning London 2012 right through to my junior cricket team beating Doncaster for the first time. It is not dependant on the grade of the sport but the relevance of the sport to you. I will support an English entry to the synchronised swimming but as that sport for me is not of my taste, my excitement will be muted. I think the more the event is rare – four year cycle for olympics, Barnsley winning a trophy, a British star winning big tennis, golf etc – the more the excitement is created and the adrenaline flows. I have to have an edge when watching sport, a team or an individual to follow. I still remember such events – Marcelle’s goal for Barnsley to reach the premier for the first time ever, Denis Taylor beating Steve Davis in the snooker final in late night excitements, England winning the cricket ashes in 2005; and many more. I much prefer live sport, it is the uncertainty of the outcome which is sport at its most tense and exciting. Knowing the outcomes loses the sheer immediacy and adrenaline rush of the occasion. The aesthetics and the athleticism are important by-products but it is the excitement of identification with the event itself which captures my interest and maintains my commitment.
Finally I have used the generic word sport because the final beauty of sport is its sheer variety and personalisation. You can enjoy anything from kappati to underwater hockey, each to their own, a product usually of history, opportunity and a buzz which comes from playing it that makes you stick and continue. It is unhelpful to champion one sport over another though friends would know that I love cricket without reservation. I know others will not do so, their loss I guess, but one thing that some sports do have over others is their own internal variety. Cricket is both a game of basic athleticism through the execution of shots and the history and innate beauty of its grounds but it is an intellectual pursuit. The intricacies of captaincy and the delivery of a game plan means that when some people find it boring I know there are things going on if you can only see it. I have heard the same said of rugby union and other sports. Knowledge makes your appreciation much deeper. I have argued with cycle enthusiasts about the watchability of events like the Tour de France. I struggle because I do not have the knowledge to track the intricacies. So what else brings us to a particular view? Well I was brought up to cricket and football and being from Yorkshire, cricket is in our blood. I guess if I was brought up in New York I might enjoy American football, can’t imagine it really, but I guess that might have happened.
So all I have done is, through my 4 A’s – aesthetics, athleticism, adrenaline and alternatives – set out what sports mean to me. I have not felt well this weekend but that last 20 minutes of the football yesterday made me forget that and just lose myself in the moment. At that time there are few things as restorative and exciting, that is what sport can mean. #justsaying.
My week in photos