My passion for sport began long before my episodic memory began to store moments of a special disposition.
I was – though recollection of the momentous, life altering occasion now eludes me – present at my first Manchester United game at Old Trafford in March 1993. My seven-year-old self was privy to a palatable nil-nil draw with Arsenal that preceded the seven-game winning streak which would take Cantona and co. to a ten-point lead over Aston Villa, thus crowning United champions in the Premier League’s inaugural season. It is fitting that the generation-spanning family advocacy of the Red Devils was passed on to my brothers and me in a season of such significance in the history of the club, the title returning to Sir Matt Busby Way for the first time in twenty-six years.
Reminiscences of my childhood camping holidays to northern France are frequently coloured by international test match cricket; we would insistently attempt to tune into Radio 4 LW in the hope of catching Henry Blofeld – when not remarking on superfluous details like red buses or wood-pigeons – covering England’s trials and tribulations in his own inimitable way. At the age of 9, I can recall imbibing Dominic Cork’s sensational hat-trick against the West Indies in 1995; Australia being skittled for 118 in 1997; and Caddick’s four-wicket over in 2000. That these most vivid and happy of sporting memories occurred to the incongruous backdrop of the most uncricketing nation on Earth – France – is merely an odd footnote.
My own sporting zenith came, rather more annoyingly, at the tender age of 14; having spent years playing local football and cricket week-in-week-out I reached the dizzy heights of the Cheshire county cricket excellence academy and football trials for Stockport – feats which would, unfortunately for my heady sporting ambitions, never be surpassed. I have, however, since my competitive apogee, soldiered on regardless in my distinctly amateurish sporting pursuits – still regularly playing football, cricket, a bit of golf (badly), and the odd frame of snooker. The standard might perhaps be lower than I would have wished as a boy, but the immense enjoyment remains unaltered.
I am, nevertheless, a much more established armchair critic of most sports – mainly of the afore-mentioned pursuits. Having grown up surrounded by a family of journalists (including a golf writer) news and sports literature has always been compulsory reading. I find fascinating the relationship between the media and sport; there is a strange bond which becomes (unsurprisingly) soured during periods of unrest, controversy, and defeat and yet (even less surprisingly) blossoms into a rose-tinted-Hollywood-super-romance in times of success.
Regardless, it is often pure theatre: without sport would we have ever been party to incomparable Mourinho quotes like, “Sometimes you see beautiful people with no brains. Sometimes you have ugly people who are intelligent, like scientists.” Who would guess he was merely discussing the state of the Stamford Bridge pitch.
Sport is ultimately a very animalistic action, both in its actual contenders and its affiliates, and in the perfunctory, massed ideologies of the supporters who follow it; it is the people, their stories, and their own sporting heritages that truly cement our obsession. The Corks, the Blofelds, the Mourinhos, the roar of the Stretford End; it is the people of sport that surely decree it as the most complete allegory for human nature.
And I absolutely love it.