Sunday, December 14, 2008

No pain, no game? - Ringo37

“I felt I was good enough to deal with the bowlers without using a helmet.”
Sir Viv Richards

A hockey ball weighs 5½ ounces, the same weight as a cricket ball. Hard, white, muddied in those days, and studded with the milk-teeth of unready goalkeepers... I was eleven years old and I wasn’t nearly good enough to deal with this.

This was my first club game: I’d been shanghaied into filling in as goalie for the under-14s. No-one else’d seemed to fancy it, and, quivering in the Bradford rain with nothing between me and hurtling white death but a bent stick and a pair of cast-off cricket pads, I slowly and horribly began to realise why.

When I was 12 the club gave me a pair of hobnailed leather ‘kickers’: reinforced boots for hoofing the ball to safety. At 13 I got my first chest-pad, and my first helmet. Armguards arrived at age 17 and by the time I turned 18 I was kitted out like all the goalies you see nowadays: a shambling golem of styrofoam and velcro.

I think about the innumerable times I could’ve been hurt – and the innumerable ways in which it could’ve happened – and I wonder: why do I miss those days? Why do I hate Cipriani’s scrum-cap? Why, when the F1 commentator says “Of course, with these new cars, it’s practically impossible for a driver to be seriously hurt”, does it always seem to be in a tone of regret?

I don’t think it’s about I’m-no-sissy machismo. And I don’t think it’s simple Luddism, either.

I think it’s about engagement with the fundamentals of a sport. Sport in general forces us to acquaint ourselves with the strengths and limitations of our own bodies; ball-games, for instance, are generally a question of how well we engage with the interacting realities of opponent, ball, grass and gravity. In some sports, danger – indeed, death – becomes a fundamental.

Every time we step away from these fundamentals, the appeal of the sport – to me, at least – is diminished. A padded-up hockey goalie is hopelessly compromised in terms of vision and mobility; a helmeted cricketer is insulated from certain realities of speeding ball and human skull.

I don’t wear a helmet when I ride my bike. In part, that’s because it’s what I’ve always done. In part – a particularly stupid part – it’s because I’m worried about looking like a tit. But mostly it’s because cycling’s meant to be just me, and the bike, and the hills – and anything more would feel like an intrusion.

It’s a faintly uncomfortable sort of position. I don’t want anybody to get hurt playing sport – but then, in a weird way, I miss the days when there was a better-than-evens chance that somebody would.


offsideingaeltacht said...

One word: Hurling.

offside said...

It's a bit like hockey, but for men.

MotM said...

I have some sympathy with your view, although the cricket ball can still hurt!

Try motorcycling in South London - all the risk you can handle.

zeph said...

"a shambling golem of styrofoam and velcro." Nice phrase, Ringo!

Women's lacrosse always looks pretty dangerous to me, and they don't wear helmets like those wimpy men:)

guitou said...

I remeber watching a game of Motorcycling-hockey once, when I was a boy-
It was like Polo, the bike replacing the horses-

millings said...

Having watched a kid in my team get hit in the clangers (no box) by the hardest-struck shot I'd ever seen, and get carried off by an ambulance, I wore a box (and a was all I had) every time I played after that, which wasn't many. Bulk up with as much protection as you can, say I.

ringo37 said...

Thanks Zeph.

But does no-one else miss seeing batsmen taking on fast bowlers wearing sun-hats? Or hate Jonny's body-armour? And don't even get me started on footballers wearing gloves...

MotM said...

Ringo - I don't much miss the sunhat, but Derek Randall's cap set at a Normanwisdomesque askew angle as he hooked Dennis Lillee for another six was fun. I liked Steve Waugh batting in his baggy green (or Baggy Green for Aus readers) looking like Don Bradman. Richie Richardson's sunhat was great and King Viv never seemed to have a cap that fitted. Roy Frederick's beanie hat was good too. Jack Russell's was ridiculous!

David Barry said...

I like seeing batsmen playing in caps/hats, not because of the extra risk of getting seriously injured, just because I think it looks nicer.

beyond the pale said...

If "engagement with the fundamentals of a sport" means deliberately exposing yourself to being maimed so as to prove your manhood, then perhaps it's an intelligence test, not a gut-check, that's in order.
As a lad BTP played a good deal of pick-up ice hockey, and in one game his best pal, playing in goal without pads or a mask, took a point-blank slap-shot square in the mouth, breaking his nose and knocking out all his front teeth. Under the eerie blue hospital lights, stitched-up and sedated, he resembled a "true man" much less than he did the victim of any particularly horrid car-wreck.

BTP himself, in those long ago days of reckless youth, suffered broken fingers (baseball), dislocated foot-bones (basketball), multiple concussions (American-style "football"--is this what it takes to make a proper Pseuds irregular?), among other helpful anatomical revisions; and to this day, dragging his thus-multiply-rearranged bones through what remains of life, feels he'd have been much better advised as a child to become as sissified as possible and cling to every available shred of protection, else stick to the sidelines.
(And as Madame B., eavesdropping on this interesting discussion, comments with characteristic sagacity, "men are all insane anyway.")

ringo37 said...

Offside - my grandfather played both sports for Ireland, funnily enough. I suppose the hockey was his way of getting in touch with his feminine side.

BTP - like I said, I don't think "manhood" has got much to do with it. It's not about proving anything and I don't think wearing or not wearing padding reflects on a player's character in any way.

This was really just a piece about a feeling I seemed to have. I just wondered what exactly it was, why I had it, and if anyone else felt the same way...

offside said...

Even though I lived in Ireland for quite a few years, I was too much of a sissy (or not enough of a lunatic) to try my hand at hurling (well, I did try to knock a few balls into an empty field, not as easy as it looks). I love to watch it, though, it's great entertainment.

I once talked to a guy (yes, in a pub, where else?) who said helmets were a nuisance because you can't wipe the sweat from your brow and it gets in your eyes. He also said that being scared is the best way to get hurt because if you shy away from direct contact, you're likely to be in the swing zone. You then have to practice saying "Clash of the Ash" without your front teef.

I always figured the guy who willingly plays in goal at hurling must be the village idiot. Sorry if I'm insulting anyone's ancestors.

beyond the pale said...

Offie--As to helmet-sweat issue, that's occasionally a problem for bike riders also, and in my mountain touring days I solved it by not wearing one--which worked perfectly until the time, high in the Santa Ynez mountains one February morning, I hit a bump, flew over the bars, and Pseuds Corner.

About hurling, as a master linguist surely you know that in Yankee Doodle Dandy sub-literate lingo "to hurl" means to do that thing you verbally mimed doing, some time back, when it was suggested here that the England football kit ought to be done up by Benetton.

mountainstriker said...

I remember everyone laughing at Brealey's Sherlock Holmes hat when the likes of Lillie, Thompson, Holding and Roberts were trying to kill him. In retrospect the only laughable thing about it was the notion that the two pieces of foam shoved behind his left ear would do anything more than bring him out in a heat rash.

I batted without a helmet until 1999 when I top edged one on to my left eyebrow. Six stitches, an awful lot of blood (they had to mop up the pitch after they carted me off) and a rather unbecoming scar later, I'm convinced that wearing appropriate protective gear is simply part of any game. Moreover, its absence doesn't detract from the game as much as it prevents it from being played properly.

As soon as I started wearing a helmet I noticed that I moved into line more readily and played straighter. In short, I wasn't afraid to play properly anymore. For me then, the argument that wearing helmets or other padding is to the detriment of technique is demonstrably wrong.

I've seen the Richards quote before. Botham said something similar and I also remember a line of argument that wearing helmets actually encouraged bowlers to try and hit them. They’re both quite spurious. If I know anything it's that Viv Richard (IS!) a better batsmen then me. (He is – honest). HE might be good enough to avoid getting hit, but I (and just about everyone else on the planet) am not. He also never had to play on village pitches (though he did play at Sophia Gardens for a season). There are too many random elements in a cricket match and the result of any can be a hard ball smacking in you in the teeth at 70+ mph.

Just wear the hat. Shake your head and get ready to face the next one. It beats a trip to casualty any day.

mimi said...

I really enjoyed reading this - with a wince or two as old injuries twinged. Sadly that's not metaphorical as I played most of my sport when "protection" was a word uttered under the breath in really bad sex education classes.

For us on eg the hockey field - the only gal with any protective gear was the goalie. We didn't even have shin pads or gum shields and in the 70's watching the men play in league hockey, they had very little. I can remember seeing chaps carried off on a stretcher after a high ball, and I once woke up in casualty having been taken out by a high stick behind!

Sport is inherently dangerous but for the most, modern safety requirements are A GOOD THING. I wish that I had never had to see Ayrton Senna die before my eyes at Imola.

Prudence said...
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Prudence said...
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