There are places I remember. In 1986, I cried tears of outrage, as Maradona swatted us out of the world cup. In 1990, David Platt brought me unbridled joy. I was in turn enthralled, scared and relieved by Cameroon, before tears of anguish at the scenes in Turin. In 1996, there were tears again, this time in resignation that it would always be like this.
Throughout these times, sport has been touched by tragedy. Large scale deaths occurred in Glasgow, Brussels, Bradford and, most poignantly for me, 200 yards from where I now live in Sheffield. I was not there, but like all others connected with sport, I was numbed by that day. Within weeks though, football on the pitch and in the stands had sent me on a rollercoaster. The scenes at Celtic Park brought a tear to my eye, before they flowed when the FA Cup was won against Everton. Days later, and more waterworks as Michael Thomas ‘grabbed it now’.
2003 and 2005 brought dramatic and unexpected highs in Sydney, Istanbul and the little urn. I sweated, laughed and was overcome as Jamie Carragher whooped about the Attaturk, Mike Catt humped the ball into touch and Matthew Hoggard larruped it through the covers. In 2004 my son learned how England loses, I thought that this was a good thing, and that he would come to appreciate the beauty of the nearly men.
On the 22nd March 2007, Jamaican police confirmed that Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer had been murdered. This is not the first time acts of murder have taken place around the arena of sport; lest we forget Andres Escobar, Syed Modi and Sir Peter Blake, while an Italian Policeman was the latest in a too long line to perish at the hands of fans this year. We have also had to endure the Aryton Senna’s and the Michael Watson’s in more overtly dangerous sports. Yet this does not bear the hallmarks of the above deaths, which were caused by accidents, Pirates, crimes of passion and gangs of hooligans and hoodlums.
It seems likely that Bob Woolmer was strangled either in response to his team losing a game of cricket, or because he was about to tell us that the said game was fixed. I am not sure which prospect sickens me more, but it is clear that when men or women are murdered because of a game in which we invest our time, money and emotions, we have to ask ourselves: ‘What the fuck does it all matter?’
I have spent my life pouring over statistics, devouring all the column inches I could digest, and watching all the footage I could find in the name of sport. Yet increasingly I find that I couldn’t care less if Ronaldo winked at the bench, if Andrew Murray has a scab on his knee, or if Jon Lewis makes a tit of himself in Rumours. I can blame it on the fact that I can’t identify with the overpaid sports stars who represent us, yet ever since I was discarded by Sheffield United as a youngster they have seemed otherworldly to me. Maybe I am just getting older, but I look in the stands and see men twice my age, who are living through their team.
Johnny Cash reckoned that San Quentin left him a ‘weaker, wiser man.’ I have never been to prison (though neither had the late man in black), and my disillusionment should not even be considered next to the suffering of those close to all of the above, but I have felt a profound detachment this week. Has this Cricket World Cup left me weaker? maybe; wiser? hopefully, but sadder; definitely.
The show will go on, and sport is probably no more corrupt today than it has ever been, but it is fast becoming something different to me. A diversion, not a lifestyle. Enjoyment, but not the be all and end all.
I have hated, loved and admired many people from afar through the years, and have perhaps never been more inspired than by Mark Richardson willing himself over the line in 1992, or Steve Redgrave gasping over it in 2000, yet I will struggle to attach those emotions to men and women playing a game again.
Football, Cricket, Rugby, Tennis, Athletics, Racing and Boxing; we are moving into a new phase in our relationship. Yet of all these friends and lovers, Sport; I’ve loved you more.