Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Coming back to me – A review by Mimitig

As we creep closer to the Sports Book of the Year Award – trying not to care, but as happens every year, caring a bit too much, I find that I’m checking on what I’ve read.

The Long List – announced a few weeks ago - is below.

How many have you read? How many have I read?

Well, I did get started some time ago with Ed Smith’s book: What Sport Tells Us about Life – a very good read – though I would debate if it is truly a sports book. Then there was Jackie Stewart’s Winning is not Enough. A good way of passing time for a motorsport enthusiast, but not much new, to be honest. Jackie has spent so much time talking to the media that there’s little else to say.

I haven’t read the ones about the historic Olympics and I’m waiting on Moray Council to deliver Richard Moore’s cycling book. There are some football stories in the long list, and I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t be very very happy to see Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid winning, but that’s not because I enjoyed it most.

JW’s book, wonderful as it is, left me pretty unmoved because I don’t have an engagement with football. It’s a clever book, he’s a clever man, but as I am unengaged with his subject matter, I am prepared to throw my support behind “Coming Back to Me”.

This is Marcus Trescothick’s memoir of his career and mental breakdown.

It’s not the best-written of books – to be quite honest I wonder how much the vaunted cricket journalist, co-writer Peter Hayter, has had to do with the finished product.

The editing is pretty poor and the construction of the book is not what you would expect from a professional journalist. This leads me to suspect that this is very much Marcus’s own book – warts and all.

It opens with some rather dire early chapters about the young West Countryman’s early years – no editorial control there, I would suggest. But then when we get to Tresco’s international career, it becomes riveting.

There are insights into other players – Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe are drawn brilliantly and we feel their pains. But the real stuff is about Marcus and his need to withdraw from international cricket to save his mind.

I was one of many England fans who just couldn’t understand why “Banger”, the great opener, had to pull out of tours – as I, and many others thought, letting down his country.

In this book, one understands just what happened and I have had difficulty reading because his openness just makes me cry.

He writes with great detail of the horrors that descended upon him in the darkest phases of his illness. His descriptions of breaking down, on the field, in the dressing-room and most movingly at Heathrow, are harrowing. The agonies of worrying how public to go with his illness are written with no punches held. The unhelpfulness of the press is documented but excused as Marcus makes it so plain that he colluded in obfuscation.

It’s not hard to understand why he did this.

Cricket – any sport – is the home of macho maleness. For someone to write so candidly about mental illness is a sporting first – as far as I know.

All sorts of people – many may be friends of yours – suffer from one form or another of mental illness.

When I was given a diagnosis of depression I was so ashamed. It must be my fault. My sister, not a very sympathetic soul most of the time, surprised me. She said, well if you broke your leg I’d know how to help. You’ve broken your head and it’s a bit tougher to help.

Reading Marcus’s book, I realise how lucky I was to have that gal fighting my corner. Marcus has had people fighting his corner too – and he has, with support, felt able to not just win over the Black Dog, but write his story. It’s a damn good read and anyone interested in sport of any sort, let alone the cricks, should read and for those who have the wobbles sometimes, say thank you.

I’ve read a few sports books that make me wince over the stress and strain that is put upon our premier sportsmen and women but this is the first time that I have felt moved to tears by an account of someone who seemed to have it all.

With the conclusion of the book, I think it is a fact that Trescothick will never play for England again. But it seems that within the family of Somerset, he can have some fine years left at County level, and continue being a loyal servant for the county that has stood by him through his troubles.

I’m wishing him a fine season in 2009 and I’d be very surprised if “Coming Back to me” didn’t make it to the shortlist. And for utter honesty, and being prepared to blow a whistle or two, it should be in with a shout of winning.

From pure bias, of course I want Wilson to win – he’s a mate. But for opening cans of worms and doing his bit to try and help remove the stigma of mental illness, Marcus gets it.

I look forward to seeing how it all pans out.

The Sports Book of the Year Award longlist
Paul Canoville - Black and Blue (Headline)
John Carlin - Playing the Enemy (Atlantic)
Janie Hampton - The Austerity Olympics [London 1948] (Aurum)
Rebecca Jenkins - The First London Olympics 1908 (Piatkus)
Richard Moore - Heroes, Villains and Velodromes (Harper)
Haruki Murakami - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Harvill Secker)
Musa Okwonga - A Cultured Left Foot (Duckworth)
Rowan Simons - Bamboo Goalposts (Macmillan)
Ed Smith - What Sport Tells Us About Life (Penguin)
Jackie Stewart - Winning is not enough (Headline)
Marcus Trescothick - Coming back to me: The Autobiography (Harper)
Jeremy Whittle - Bad Blood (Yellow Jersey)
Jonathan Wilson - Inverting the Pyramid (Orion)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Oof: the England game, a perspective - Beyond the Pale

I'm afraid that in the past few seasons when it comes to the English national team the scales have finally fallen away from my eyes--well, admittedly my eyes are failing--with a great crash.

Apart from the scoreline, which Maggie Thatcher might have liked, nothing about that game can have been calculated to please any Englishman (not to mention objective observer) who actually views football as even approximately an art form; I mean, as something other than an extension of the Falklands War, or some other imperialist war of yesteryear (I realise England has wisely crossed off truly formidable opponents from its war list, as when, a year or two ago, they allowed Russians to come in and drop plutonium tabs in everybody's drinks with impunity.)

They looked slow, ponderous, stymied and uncertain much of the time. Having to stay out of the way of Fat Frank effectively neutralises Gerrard. The only functioning offensive threats are Theo when he's getting to the byline to cross and Rooney when he's healthy.

I've always seen Defoe as a second-rate Javier Saviola, but at least El Conejito has great touch and positioning sense, can pass the ball sublimely, prefers seeing somebody else score goals, and even has a sense of humor and gives good interviews. In fact the only hope I can see for England players ever appearing interesting is for the English fans to develop the wit to give them colorful nicknames, like say:

Terry--Captain Overrated
Heskey--the Truck; the Bus
Lampard--Tubby the Overpaid One
Defoe--the Midget Garbageman
James--the Buffed Up Disaster Waiting to Happen
Upson--Mr. Nervous
Ashley Cole--The Brainlocked Peacock with Grey Feathers
And so on...

Last month's Croatia game wasn't bad because at least the opposition was worth playing against. But in this one the softball opponent was a country where, as a guy I know who works for the EPA and goes there often, puts it, you have to take your shoes off when you enter a house because the (dirt, of course) streets are aflow with human shit.

I doubt that's the case around Blenheim Palace, the domicile, I believe, of Capt. Rags to Riches Terry--who in interviews sounds like a character out of Eastenders, even when wearing his dove grey formal evening wear for royal receptions. What he needs is for the Queen to shit on his expensive Italian shoes, if she's ever feeling loose enough to manage it. And if she managed to score a direct hit, no doubt he'd have a backward injury-alibi ready to hand, eloquently demurring in the locker room: "No, mate that hangnail was no bovver."

It all makes me understand how hundreds of millions of nonwhite "England fans" around the planet, unable to erase the ancient psychological traces of imperial/colonialist domination, have to make themselves sick drinking warm beer in pseudo-pubs in order to even pretend to endure England games.

Really, in short, I'd much rather watch Jamaica play; at least they sport a colorful bit of kit and don't have to continually buy slack from their apologists in order to deceive and disappoint.

If a Jamaica or a Honduras or a Chile or a Uruguay doesn't make it to South Africa because the decks are still stacked in favor of boring and underperforming once-dominant Euro sides like England, 'twould be an actual shame.

Let's have our football in technicolor, kill those three lions, and hire the England kit design out to Benetton, for pity's sake. When you've dropped out of the top of a high building, are halfway down and finally realise it's time to change your life, you ought at least give it a try.

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