View from the Bridge: 61
by John Morrison
61: Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-laaa -and...
Wow, what a summer of sport we have in prospect. We can anticipate a plethora of great sporting moments... Cricketers making off with celebratory stumps (yeah, what a fascinating collection they're going to make...). Tennis players grunting like the soundtrack of a low-budget porno movie. Formula 1 drivers standing on the podium and spraying each other (drink that champagne, you over-paid tossers...).
Soon we'll be pulling back the covers at Wimbledon; with its strawberries, cream and smug narcissism it's like the last outpost of Empire. No-one is allowed to forget, for an instant, that holding a grass-court tournament is something we do rather well. So expect the commentators to ask only leading questions: "What is it about Wimbledon, exactly, that makes it the most wonderful tennis tournament in the known universe, hmm?". And everyone, bless 'em, understands that the best thing is to humour our delusions. "Yes", they'll say, on cue, "there's nowhere quite like Wimbledon...", in a tone of voice usually directed at a small child seeking praise for a talentless finger-painting.
Then there's football. Love it or loathe it, there'll be no escaping it this summer. Even our Town Drunk, recently abducted for his notional reproductive prowess by the desperate denizens of planet Zob, is vaguely aware that the World Cup has finally arrived.
It's one thing to be there in person, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of football in France: doing the hokey-cokey with fellow inebriates from around the globe. But here in Milltown we are adopting the more traditional approach: staying home, stocking up with microwave pizzas and a few crates of lager, pulling the living-room curtains tightly closed to keep the summer sunshine out, and enjoying blanket World Cup coverage on TV. The baffling Gallic symbolism of the opening ceremony... Hours of pointless pre-match predictions... Endless post-match analysis, proving merely that hindsight is indeed 20:20 vision... And, oh yes, a few undistinguished football matches squeezed in between...
Despite the much-publicised problems, the England players are beginning the campaign in good heart. Even Glen Hoddle's back-room staff will be having a friendly game: the psychics against the faith healers. The psychics have put both their footballing prowess and their professional abilities on the line by forecasting a five-nil win...
Some things can be predicted with confidence. England will lose the first game - abjectly - and get slagged off in the tabloid press. Glen Hoddle will be compared, unfavourably, to a root vegetable. The team will band together in adversity, refuse to talk to the press, and rediscover a bit of form. England will get a scrambled win and a lucky draw, to scrape through the first round. The nation's expectations will rise, unreasonably, fuelled by tabloid speculation that England can - indeed will - win the World Cup. England will lose - pluckily, but inevitably - to Germany, on penalties. The country will continue to be racked by regrets and recriminations until the time comes to qualify for the next World Cup. That's the way we like it; failure is what we know best.
There are other certainties too. While many of the big-name players will fail to live up to expectations, the tournament will throw up a new crop of football stars, who will be able to add a couple of noughts to their next transfer fee. John Motson will have trouble telling the black players apart. Our hooligans will follow in the footsteps of their great-grandfathers, by laying waste to foreign lands in the name of Queen and Country. Without prejudice - happy to engage in hand-to-hand combat with people of every colour, race and creed. And, yes, someone will fail a random drug test.
The drugs issue asks more questions than it answers. Like: if drugs really help competitive performance, then why wasn't Timothy Leary a sporting colossus? British athletes aren't just crap at sport, they're crap at taking drugs too. Whenever you hear that some plucky British runner is "still in twelfth place, trying to get past the Lithuanian", you can bet your boots he'll test positive for drugs. It's humiliating. What's wrong with us? If we are taking drugs, then why aren't we taking them properly ?
There's talk - maybe it's just idle chatter at this stage - about abandoning drugs-testing altogether. Let's face it: anyone who suggests that sport and drugs don't mix has never smoked a joint and watched synchronised swimming. Perhaps we could be more pragmatic and run 'drug-free' and 'drug-enabled' competitions side by side. At present we merely seem to be penalising those who manage their steroid intake badly, and rewarding those who do it well.
Let's pause for a moment to remember an unsung casualty of performance-enhancing drugs. Tamara Press, a burly female Russian shot-putter, who was arrested in Carnaby Street in 1967 for stealing a jock-strap. She may have won medals thirty years ago, but a lifetime of Soviet-endorsed steroid abuse has left the athlete beaten and broken: a sadder and wiser man.
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