This Sporting Life.

Gritty, kitchen-sink drama, Richard Harris playing rugby and having the occasional punch-up. I remember one evening, early 1970’s, my siblings had all gone to bed, and my parents and I were sitting in the living room watching TV. The news had ended, and the late film had begun, This Sporting Life.

We weren’t many minutes into the film when my father jumped up and switched the channel proclaiming that he wasn’t going to watch this and that I certainly shouldn’t be watching it. I’ve watched it since, and I don’t recall that the language was that terribly bad in those opening minutes, but I suppose things were different then and dad always was a bit of a prude.

I’ve never been very sporty, obviously I did sports at school and some sports I actually enjoyed, putting the shot, 100 m sprint, 400 m sprint, long jump, javelin, swimming, I loved swimming, I loved just being in the water, I swam like the proverbial fish. We had sports lessons, PE, in the school gym, climbing ropes, vaulting horses, clambering up wooden bars affixed to the wall, messing about on the parallel bars. I didn’t really excel at any of that sort of thing.

I never liked football. I don’t know why but it never captured my imagination. One term, the sports master announced that we were going to play hockey. I enjoyed hockey, none of us knew much about hockey so we were all, if you’ll excuse the almost unavoidable pun, on a level playing field plus we had sticks to run about with too but mostly football was the game of choice for PE lessons when the weather was clement, even when it wasn’t particularly clement. I ran around on the pitch, mostly away from where the ball was. It’s no surprise to say that I wasn’t very good at playing football.

As for rugby, I don’t ever recall that being an option at school. Maybe I’d have liked playing rugby. I like rugby now, watching it that is, not playing it, but I still can’t get excited about football. Oh, I’ll watch or at least keep an eye peeled for the big international football matches, just to see if the cream of English Football can beat those Johnny Foreigners. Most of the time it seems that they can’t.

I regularly overhear chaps talking in the pub about this or that premier league football team, proclaiming in no uncertain terms that said team is better than their latest rivals. Then you hear that the match had ended in a draw, often a goalless draw and one team had won on penalties. Is that any way to go on? These people are supposedly the best in the land and after 90 minutes no one has scored a goal? Even though I’m not a great fan of football, it does seem a trifle fatuous that it goes to sudden death penalties. They may just as well come onto the pitch and toss a coin for the match.

I must admit here to having watched some of the women’s game. Women it seems actually play the game, I’ve watched women’s football and it’s been exciting, not like the men’s premier league where they just run around and try to persuade the referee that they’ve been tripped over by one of their opponents. I’ve also taken time out to watch some of the mismatched FA Cup matches where lowly provincial side is pitched against lofty premiership side, they too can be exciting, there too the teams, or one of them at least, plays the game.

I remember that Saturday at the end of July in 1966, mum and dad were glued to the TV, my brother Mike and sister Liz were there too. I watched a bit of the game but soon got bored and wandered out into the garden, the sun was shining as I recall, and I went to make my own amusement. To this day the football cognoscenti still harp on about that game when England beat Germany. Germany? They weren’t even playing the whole of Germany, just West Germany. I like to remind football supporters of that fact every now and again, it’s that little spark of the firebrand in me.

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