Sport

There is a part of the game of cricket that many foreigners don’t get, even people from other cricket mad countries. When I lived in America, Indians would try to taunt me about the latest defeat for England, but for me cricket always meant sitting in a deckchair at a village game, slightly disorientated from the alcohol and unable to get out of the chair except by slowly toppling over sideways and collapsing in a heap on the grass. Sometimes something would happen on the field and an uncertain applause would trickle around the edge of the green as the spectators tried to figure out what had transpired.

I think my finely honed love of the game came from being placed on the boundary when playing at junior school. There must be few eight year olds who can hit a six and there certainly weren’t any in my year. I would spend the entire afternoon catching some rays or lying on my back and watching the clouds drift by, safe in the knowledge that the chances of a ball even rolling my way were remote.

I could never get into American sports, it always appeared so unnecessarily convoluted. I lived there for 17 years and I never figured out why the rules in every sport have to be so complicated. And it’s not just the rules, there’s also all the stats surrounding the games which leads to drawn out pre-game and post-game analysis by overweight former stars who appear to have maintained their caloric intake from their pro days.

One of the biggest days in the sporting calendar is the Super Bowl. Everyone gets an invite to a SuperBowl party; throw some meat on the barbeque and drink some beer, throw a ball about and drink more beer. Finally, sit and watch the game while consuming more beer. Drive home drunk. But I could never really embrace the event. Sure, it was a good excuse for a get together with friends from work, just as long as you stayed away from the enthusiasts. These types would drink in moderation just to keep their brains sharp in order to bore you with the stats at every opportunity.

You had to keep an eye out for these guys or before you could say excuse me I need to go drown myself in the pool, they would be on you, spewing facts on carries, rushing yards, running averages, reception and longest runs. In the UK I would occasionally get stuck on a train with football fanatics who would start talking about Paul Gascoigne or Wayne Rooney, but at least their comments would be along the lines of “fuck, you see that goal Rooney pulled off against Leeds last week? Fucking excellent weren’t it” and usually they would have the good grace to offer you one of their cans of Stella. You know where you are with comments like that. And even if you didn’t see the goal you can, even if your opposite number is fairly well tanked up, get a description that outlines the basic idea.

American football enthusiasts will never tarnish the description of a touchdown with such details. If they were describing a Rooney goal, it would be defined entirely in terms of the stats. “Rooney’s goal was a 50yd conversion, his 10th for the season from the left for a career total of 54 which ranks him in 17th in the all time list”. And they would never offer you a beer either.

Another problem with American sports is they are forever stopping the game to switch out players and allow a team of referees to discuss some philosophical interpretation of a rule. From their serious demeanor, you’d think they were brokering the Northern Ireland peace process or negotiating a hostage release, but then the head referee will turn to face the camera and say something meaningless such as “no 15, masturbating in the end zone, 10 yard penalty”

When I lived in the US, I would go to mountain bike races which were up to 18 hours away by car. To pass the time fellow racers would try to explain the rules of baseball and American football to me. Despite three years of racing and hundreds of hours in the car, they still didn’t manage to explain it all, there was always some obscure exception they forgot to mention.

I would ask something like
“Shouldn’t that a 15 yard penalty?”
“Yes, but don’t forget his team were in possession”
‘Okay, got it”
“Oh, unless if he had been facing his goal and the other team had kicked the ball, then that would have been a 15 yard penalty”

Baseball is even worse. You may as well try and make sense of the latest documentation from the Inland Revenue Service. They appear to waste even more time than the football players, play nine innings and if the game is drawn at that point they keep playing until someone scores a run. Games can continue until 4 in the morning and what is even more incredible is many of the fans will stick it out. I used to live behind the Texas Rangers baseball stadium and by the top of the 6th it was possible to walk in without a ticket. I enjoyed sitting at the top of the stadium on a hot summer evening, oblivious to what was going on down below but by the eighth I was bored and ready to go home.

But I would often stick it out to the end, because then I could walk out and watch everyone stuck in the ensuing gridlock as several thousand cars would all try and exit on to interstate 30 at the same time. There were fewer rules, and it was a lot more exciting than the baseball.

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