It will not have escaped sport-loving Rusters that the Easter weekend was loaded to the gills with action across the board – I shall just cite in evidence the fact that the business ends of football’s European Champions and Europa Leagues are in full sway and the English Premiership and Championship title and promotion/relegation issues are approaching their climaxes with outcomes of the various matches hitting the airwaves with sometimes bewildering rapidity; rugby union’s European equivalent tournaments and English Premiership now also coming into the home straight; regular world title-featuring major boxing promotions taking place; the GB ladies’ tennis team securing a return to the World Group level of the Federation Cup for the first time in 26 years; over in the North American ice hockey play-offs the Toronto Leafs are Boston Bruins are now locked 3-3 in their play-off series; and, of course, the Irish Grand National.
However, every success and triumph necessarily brings corresponding disappointments and failures for the vanquished and their supporters.
As I scanned the overnight reports on the UK newspaper websites I came across two excellent articles on the website of The Guardian which are worth recommending to readers of the Rust.
It seems to me that the English Premier League suffers from complexities and issues that, as with the Formula One motor racing series, stem from the fundamental inequalities produced by extremes of funding and commercial power.
When the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari have so much more money behind them than the other teams – and indeed the prize money and revenue shares are weighted in their favour – the notion that what the hundreds of millions of TV viewers are watching is an example of true competition is straight from cloud-cuckoo-land.
In any given Grand Prix there are three, okay maybe four, teams that have any chance of winning and the remainder are merely touring the world in luxury and engaged in a series of processions.
The argument for the status quo one hears from those on the inside of Formula One is that, by allowing ‘development’ unfettered by true funding equality between the teams, over the decades innumerable leaps forward in motoring technology and engineering have emerged that have later found their way into mass car production to the benefit of all mankind.
There may be something in that theme but please don’t let anyone tell me that it makes for more exciting motor racing or a superior ‘product’. It is what it is, period.
In football – supposedly ‘the people’s game’ – a similar and invidious conceit underscores the loyalty of all club supporting fans.
Whether the object of their affection’s glory days were ten or fifty years ago, every owner, employee and fan labours under an ‘entitlement’ delusion which permits them to feel that, if only results and other factors would go their way, perhaps sweetened with a large dollop of Lady Luck, they too could be contesting a ‘top four’ position in the Premier League.
And hope springs eternal, of course.
Meanwhile, within six months of Roman Abramovich buying Chelsea in June 2003, fans of Chelsea had conveniently forgotten – and banished from their minds – that his money has bought them every success they’ve enjoyed since.
Instead they see their years prior to Abramovich’s involvement as simply a period of the doldrums which ended with a welcome (some might suggest inevitable) return to the successes of the 1970s and beyond which is supposedly their ‘natural state’.
One could point to Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool – indeed any Premiership club past, present or future – and defy any fan to prove anything but that their success in climbing to the top of the League, or staying in it, or even just temporarily into the bottom reaches of it before being relegated again … was much to do with anything but the amount of cash they had at their disposal, whether it came by chance or commercial success, to spend on players.
Don’t get me wrong. These days I am happy to accept that the quality of football being played in the Premier League week by week is as high in quality and entertainment as it has ever been in the top flight of English football, if not higher.
But the idea that it is borne of a century’s worth of local traditions, styles of play or spirit – or indeed that these considerations are anything bar a minor and passing factor in a club’s thinking in the 21st Century – to be used when convenient for PR purposes but not otherwise – is baloney.
You only have to look at ticket prices and the costs of away travel these days to realise that the Premier League is global television product before it is anything else. And things will only become different if ever fans begin staying away because, of course, pushing a television product with stadia half empty rather than rammed to the rafters would never do.
I came to my above observations – or some of them – after reading Jonathan Wilson’s perceptive piece in The Guardian on the current travails of – MANCHESTER UNITED
The Noble Art, which lends itself well to stirring fisticuff tales of epic mano-a-mano conflict and has one of sport’s strongest folklore traditions of reports, hyperbole, skulduggery and sheer guts, power, perseverance, camaraderie and courage at the coalface, has always had a lexicon to be envied.
Whether it is couched in terms of phrases or adages – e.g. “the ruby red (or claret) flowed …”,“a good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un”, “the last thing a boxer loses is his punch”, or “they never come back” (some of latter occasionally proved wrong, of course) – or perhaps developed and kept alive down the ages by the quality of the writers and journalists who have been attracted to report upon events unfolding within the rope-square that remains the most unforgiving sporting arena ever devised by Man, the prose – and sometimes poetry – associated with pugilism is unmatched.
Sporting careers are short and some deeply so when affected by traumatic injury or a series of sometimes unlucky niggles. Boxing comes steeped in them.
And like all sports which most depend upon rhythm, timing, speed and effort (in a word, reflexes) – and ultimately all sportsmen and women are defeated by Time as these inevitably dull – choosing the right moment ‘to leave the ring (or pitch) for the last time’ is a thorny problem.
Particularly in boxing, where the risk of brain injury and its potential later-life complications are so extreme and mentally debilitating.
Britain’s Amir Khan was well on his way to a comprehensive defeat in his Maddison Square Gardens world welterweight bout against Terence Crawford in the wee hours of Sunday morning UK time when he copped a heavy ‘below the belt’ blow that caused his retirement approximately two minutes into the five-minute recovery period permitted under the rules.
In his press conference afterwards he stoutly dismissed allegations that he used the incident as an excuse to quit in advance of what in prospect was potentially going to be a fearful beating from his formidable opponent and – since then – has repeatedly said that he is not going to quit the fight game just yet.
In the interview that I watched, his face after only six rounds looked as though it had been run over by a 20-ton truck, never mind done 12 rounds with Mike Tyson or even 6 with the opponent who did for him on Sunday morning.
Here’s Bryan Armen Graham reflecting in The Guardian upon the future of – AMIR KHAN