Ah, the leap, the acceleration into open space, the sweat, the speed, the crack, of bat striking ball, the ripple, of net catching leather, the sudden, torrential storm OF APPLAUSE THAT FALLS UPON THE FIELD LIKE A THUNDERCLAP AND SHAKES THE EARTH AS THE CROWD ROCKS BACK AND FORTH AND ROARS! The slapping of butts. Oh, no this isn’t tea time at nanna’s house my poor, misguided friend. This is sports.
Nearly nothing else can sway my mood as high or low as abruptly as sports can. For agony? Striking your hip against a table corner, dropping a whole pizza cheese-side down, ‘reply all’ instead of just ‘reply’, running full tilt into someone else’s flatulence on the home stretch of a half marathon, when ctrl-z doesn’t work, when a mac user wants to talk to you about how macs don’t have ctrl+z, hearing The Kardashian’s has been renewed for another season; these are all terrible, terrible, terrible things to endure, but besides dropping your phone down a street grate, near nothing else can bring up as true a sense of abject despair as a sports result not going your way. Is it stupid? Oh, yes. It’s the stupidest, and yet… I cannot look away.
I’m an Australian, and like many other Australians, I get into sport; my favourite brand of emotional manipulation being rugby. The recent Rugby World Cup was case in point. The national team, a traditional power in world rankings, had, like ‘Revenge’, been relatively mediocre in recent seasons. But in a World Cup year, when it really counted, they fielded a team of true POWER, toughness and speeeeeed. Men with boulders for shoulders, thighs that could fill out cargo shorts like bike tights, that could fling passes half across the field at thumping chest height, and accelerate through tackles like a cannon ball careening down a hill. Did I picture myself being carried like a baby from a burning building by David Pocock? Only when I closed my eyes at night. This was a good rugby team. Early on, they rolled the supposed strongest team in Europe, England, and found themselves in a knock-out game against an underwhelming Scottish squad.
Scotland as a nation, plucky though they are, haven’t won anything since Braveheart, and in this game they were supposed to give way like a kilt in a hurricane. Australia scored with regularity but yet, somehow, a series of improbable events kept the bagpipe brigade in the game, and, with just three minutes left, a Scotsman intercepted a wayward pass and highland danced down open field. And fucking scored. To take the lead! I, on the other side of the world, reacted like The Ring girl had just climbed out of my TV. As I lay facedown on my living room floor, 4 in the morning with hair askew and mouth agape, I just thought “This isn’t… fair.’ Despair descended like fog and actually blurred my vision, unless it was tears. I went through all five stages of grief in 60 seconds, before being resuscitated by a dubious penalty call that allowed Australia to kick the winning points on the last play of the game. The next day, Australians around the world compared notes like they’d survived The Day After Tomorrow. It’s emotional, man…
But it shouldn’t be. Not really. My girlfriend is of this opinion, as is my mother. And so am I, but then, there’s something elemental about live sport that amplifies all emotion to child-like levels. I’ve only jumped off my couch in joy three times in my whole life, twice whilst watching soccer and once when Joffrey died on Game of Thrones. Technically still a game. It’s in the title. But whilst I and sports fans around the world obsess over the inconsequential, really dedicate ourselves to the point of losing sleep, we brush off stories of true human hardship, of war, of poverty. We’re sad about them, but relatively speaking, barely blink at all. It takes something truly horrific that feels close to home to slap us a sense of perspective.
A Friday night, a friendly soccer match between France and Germany. Two explosions are heard outside the Stade Francis in Paris, marking the beginning of more than one hundred murders that night. The stadium is evacuated, but as they exit, the fans link arms and sing a defiant La Marseillaise. Meanwhile, bombs detonated across the Middle East, as they have done for decades. But this is a humour blog. I don’t know the answers, and won’t pretend here that I do.
I do know a lot about sports though. A stupid amount frankly. For example, I can recognise and name no less than 250 of the 377 active players in the NBA, plus dozens more who’ve since retired. I’m not proud at all. It’s a horrible waste of my addled mind since I routinely blank on the names of everyone I know, including people theoretically dear to me.
Q: Hey, introduce me to your friend! Who is he?
Often I’ll check my watch, someone will immediately ask me the time, but their asking will have caused me to immediately forget what time it is. So I have to check my watch again, which has suddenly become much harder to read, so I lie. But I can tell you the Lakers’ starting five from three years ago (Howard, Gasol, Artest, Kobe & Nash you idiot). It’s like being a nerd, but about something pointless.
Or is it? *arches eyebrow* No, it is mostly pointless. But there is a genuine sense of community that’s brought about by sports. Nationalism of course, at the very top, and then there’s localised pride in pro and school leagues, where parents proudly fight! parents of the other team. For the children. And then there’s the micro pride of the company sport team. My technical job title is “Online Media Manager”, but my spiritual title, is “SPORTS GUY!” which requires me to oversee the company’s various teams of variously coordinated keyboard warriors into shorts, as well as serve as the Player-Manager of the mixed basketball team, ‘The Online Predators’. ‘The Hmm, what? Nothings.’ How good are we? No. But we do have the distinction of winning more games than we’ve lost for two straight seasons in Division 4 (of 4), in a city gym best known for accountant fist bumps. Being the office Sports Guy is my absolute favourite thing. Side note; every time middle class white people bump fists, Donald Trump becomes more powerful. So stop it.
Sports brings people together like nothing else can. Where else in life, really, will you find 20,000 people voluntarily sitting together wearing the same shirt and not doing the whole “Hey, I thought we’re supposed to text each other what we’re wearing-HAHAHAHA-Awwwwkward!” thing? Is it the army? I think it might just be the army. Sports, at a surface level, appears to be a divider of people. This shirt versus that shirt. But, when the worst happens, sports is a uniter.
Five days later. Wembley stadium. The French soccer team picks themselves up to play England. In the stands, England and France fans rise, and for first time, sing La Marseillaise. Together.