Friday, 31 December 2010
2010 has seen very different fortunes for our sports teams. The England cricket team is on the up, having retained (and surely about to win) the Ashes, the best competition in world cricket. The football team on the other hand had a dreadful World Cup, and if the recent home game against France is anything to go by, have not improved since then. There was a moment at the end of the recent test against Aussies that illustrated the difference between the teams and their approach. Having won the test and retained the Ashes, the entire England team performed the 'Sprinkler' dance in front of the barmy army. The question is: can you imagine the England football team doing that in front of England football fans? Basically, no. And I think there are a number of reasons for that, that perhaps go to the heart of why one team is successful and the other isn't - the cricketers realize that at the end of the day, sport is ultimately a matter of fun.
The barmy army are very different from England football fans. The cricket fans (a bit like Irish or Scottish football fans) will have a good time and support the team whether they win or not. There is an anarchic sense of fun about them that the football fans lack. I always find going to England football games rather depressing - there are too many wealthy bankers who are only there because they can afford it, or snarling racists whose only reaction to an England goal is not joy but anger and gloating. A glance at the barmy army song website - http://www.barmyarmy.com/funandgames/index.php?m=songs - tells you what you need to know - this is a combination of complete commitment and utter fun.
The England football team also has a joyless streak about it as well. I don't know if that's down to Capello, or the strength of the club system that makes it hard for the players to gel as a team, or what. But it's all very corporate, manicured and moneyed. You get little sense of a team working together, because it all feels so serious and intense. Swanny's video diary breathes a whole different world. Deadly serious about winning, yet having a lark at the same time.
Fundamentally, The cricket set-up, both player and fans have realized something very deep and important about sport that the footballers haven't. That sport is a celebration of the fact that we are not to be taken as seriously as we often take ourselves. God created us not because he had to, or because he wanted to use us for some purpose, but, so to speak, for the sheer fun of it. Out of simple delight. To out it more theologically or philosophically, we are contingent and not necessary. Life is ultimately about delight, joy and wonder, and sport at it's best reflects that. Of course there is a serious side to life when all that is denied, goes wrong and needs to be put right, but that mustn't cloud the deepest sense of sheer joy that life is meant to bring, and that sport in it greatest moments brings about. The cricketers have realized that a sense of fun can go alongside an intensity about winning that brings success, a sense of camaraderie that somehow the national football set-up lacks and needs to find. So for the time being well-done to Straussy and the lads. And keep up the Sprinkler.
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