by Geordie Glenn, 28 Feb 04
If there is one thing I hate about contemporary England, and from what I gather it's even worse in the States and Australia, is the way sport, especially soccer and rugby, are elevated like some kind of God in this country. Ever since I was a boy I have always hated sport, with the exception of some motorsports and martial arts (I did judo for a while when I was younger which was probably far more use to me than running after a bag of wind in the snow to keep some pervert games teacher in a job.) I hate watching it, getting drawn into conversations about it, and the fact this was forced on me for five years as a kid.
Unlike now, where kids can drop out of sport at 14- schools have finally realised that it is pointless forcing a six stone boy to play rugby, compulsory games were part of your school life until you were 16 in the seventies and eighties. You could, of course, forget your kit, but the games teachers usually made you do games in outifits that were too small for you, which added to my view that games teachers were mostly a mixture of perverts and sadists. For five long years I struggled through the hell they called a games lesson twice a week, standing bored out of my skull on a freezing rugby pitch dodging the ball, running through cow pat filled fields in some of the worst winters since the war, or trying to understand the tedium of cricket.
Not that the men who taught this sadistic waste of time understood that I, and a fair part of the school, considered this activity irrelevant. Indeed I once said to a games teacher, before getting a tedious lecture on the value of team sports, that the two hours we spent on a rugby field on Thursday morning would be better spent trying to get better results in our exams to equip us for a near non existent jobs market. Obviously this idiot could not understand that with the Western world being hit by the worst recession since 1930 that playing rugby union meant far less to a prospective employer than an O level (the old English exam pupils sat at 16) in English. Also, since we often had to play this atrocious sadistic game on a field that was frozen solid at times, our hands were so cold afterwards that we wasted half of the following lesson trying to defrost our hands and, therefore, learning even less in essential subjects that could help our futures.
My first games teacher, a character who looked like a sadistic version of Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky on " Starsky and Hutch"), totally soured my relationship with people who taught this subject. Not the most intellectual of people, games teachers generally were morons in designer sportswear, he once attempted to teach maths and the results were hilarious, as he stumbled through a page in the text book and had to look at the answers, though the nature of his temper ensured no one dared laugh. His two interests in life, apart from boring any other teacher that would listen to him with his alleged rugby playing career, were watching people in showers and hitting pupils with a size ten track shoe when they committed such crimes as not answering him as "sir" or walking round in a cross country race. To say I disliked this braindead pervert was an understatement, in the two years I endured his perversions and corporal punishment fetish I developed a total hatred for games teachers.
However, Pervert Starsky (I won't give his real name for legal reasons) did, occasionally, meet his match: a rather large senior pupil who was on his last day decided to connect his fist with his nose, quite keen on dishing out pain himself, Pervert Starsky was no good at accepting it and predictably went down like a sack of spuds and offered no resistance. Had I been a bit older I would have probably joined in, though no doubt a large queue would have soon built up to dish out years of pent up revenge. Fortunately, though, I transferred schools at 13 and got this freak off my back. These days some one like him would probably be in Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane. However, I still had another three years to endure of these failed sportsmen and their grudges against life and the un sporting before I was freed from my sentence on the rugby field.
After my brutal introduction to the world of sport and the sadists that taught it and played it, I did get a fair bit of grief from the English version of the jocks for being more interested in the previous night's "Dr Who" than England's new scrum half (a rugby position, for American readers), I decided that anything that smacked of playing fields, shower rooms, round balls, cricket balls and oval balls was the anti- Christ and to be damned to hell.
Actually in the eighties, soccer, unlike the following decades, was going through a bad patch and was becoming the butt of TV comedians jokes, "I went to a Birmingham City match today and spoke to the man next on me on a loud hailer" was a popular one as the crowd violence, crumbling stadia and lack of success for the national team saw this worthless pastime in deep decline. Good, at least in the eighties, unless you lived in some of the big cities where the game was popular or had the misfortune to climb on a train full of psychotic looking men in expensive Italian sportswear with concealed razor blades to attack rival fans or unfortunate members of the public they took a dislike to (ie 99 percent of the population) you could get away with insulting soccer fans as illiterate morons and their game as a waste of 90 minutes. I would say that most of the people who were watching live soccer in the mid eighties were probably waiting to see when the crowd would start to riot and interrupt a desperately dull 0-0 draw. There are quite a few of these goalless non-events in this low scoring and totally dull game to make you wonder why a fair part of the population can sit through 90 minutes where nothing happens.
At the time the biggest television sport in Britain was snooker, a kind of 8 ball pool with coloured balls where matches can go on for hours. Our top rated television programme in 1985 was indeed a five hour pile of boredom between an Irishman with funny spectacles and a humourless Londoner called Steve Davis, perhaps the world's most boring sportsman (though he does have some strong competition), knocking coloured balls around a table in front of 19 million viewers. At least the fans did not knife each other, smash up the conference centre, or riot ouside, but I could not see the appeal of a glorified bar game taking prime position on the television. From then on, I decided televised sport, especially that subsidised by the BBC licence fee, was a bad thing. The BBC, which most Yanks think is marvellous- and indeed is probably far better than other broadcasters in other respects- does have the annoying habit of inflicting hours of sport on sport hating viewers. Even after it has lost a fair part of its sporting coverage to other broadcasters, the BBC will hammer what remains of its sports contracts down non sporting viewers throats. Sport haters are often treated like dirt by the BBC when Wimbledon arrives, not only do you have its two channels showing simultaneous coverage, but other programmes can be replaced for up to three hours until game, set and match is declared. Who gives a damn about a fake Englishman called Greg Rusedski facing some unknown from Bosnia anyway?
I always find the patriotism thing with sports fans annoying. These days to avoid England playing in the soccer or rugby world cups is to be the same as being accused of being a communist in fifties America. Never mind that, despite hating sport as a boy one of my ambitions, until I got older and lazier, was to join the RAF, so don't play the unpatriotic card with me. Sports fans, who generally don't think much about patriotism or much else in general, tend to become especially vocal if you have avoided a big match that involves " our boys". " You don't care about your country," or, and this grates, " Are you a faggot?" are particular accusations if you do not become automatically orgasmic about David Beckham's free kick in a goal less draw against Botswana. I hate these morons, who are generally xenophobic, stupid and overweight, with a passion. Never mind that you mention the things that you really care about in your country- in England we could mention the violent crime rate (often involving these lager fuelled idiots) which is now as bad as America's, useless public services, gridlock, corrupt and hopeless politicians, drug abuse- David Beckham and that humourless ape Martin Johnson who used to captain our rugby team are more important. The England soccer captain, Beckham, is now so important that he could become the main story ahead of a nuclear war on our evening news. Both Beckham and his talentless ex pop star wife over here are now more important than the Queen. I can't stand them. Since soccer reinvented itself in the nineties over here- we managed to kick the thugs out of the stadiums, though they've only been moved a few miles down the road and are more vicious than ever- and had billions of pounds wasted on it by the broadcasters, anxious to cash in on the glory (of what, it's still a crap game), the sport has become as much a disease as its American namesake, football. In the eighties live soccer was confined to a few games a year and weekly highlights shows that few people watched, TV rights only amounted to a million pounds a year, which meant money was better spent on drama, comedy and news. These days soccer, if you include satellite and cable as well as the terrestrial channels, takes up on average 48 hours a week of television and the broadcasters spend £ 300 million a year on the game. Most larger bars now have Sky Sport (the British version of American cable sports networks), which offers four channels of sport simultaneously, while the BBC, ITV1 and Channel 4- our traditional main broadcasters- gorge themselves on highlights shows and some pointless made for TV European soccer league called the Champions League, or some obscure international tournament. Meanwhile anything that is intellectually worthwhile is sacrificed in favour of a group of millionaires kicking a bag of wind between two posts. No wonder a large part of the British population is now as dumb as rednecks from West Texas, I blame sport totally.
While you can meet sport haters quite easily in England, most tend to be unathletic, alternative, artistic, or plain disinterested, or often all four, generally speaking the man in the street would not dream of walking into a pub bar and saying, "I think televised sport is a waste of money and time" without receiving a pile of abuse from a group of often overweight men in sportswear glued to some pile of boredom on a wide screen TV. If you live in one of the citadels of soccer like the North East, Liverpool, or Manchester, then during a match day, you would be lucky to escape with your life if you spoke the unthinkable. Similarly South Wales promotes a dreary, sado-masochistic game called rugby union like it is a religion, when in reality it is a violent bore often played by drunks, and my home town in the North West was traditionally a hot bed of rugby league, another rugby variant, nowadays often played by steroid filled morons who spend most of their time involved in drunken violence or hitting their partners and, due to a lack of qualifications, end up in bottom grade manual jobs.
One of the main reason I hate modern day sports is the amount of money that is wasted on them. A recently signed contract to broadcast soccer in Britain over three years came to £ 800 million, with around £ 100 million of that coming from the publicly funded BBC to show highlights. While you can excuse the satellite/cable companies, as they are funded by private money, the BBC extorts from every Brit with a television £ 116 a year, with heavy penalties if you refuse to pay for a licence, to fund their programmes. (Most Yanks would march on Capitol Hill if they had to pay this form of a tax). Around £ 400 million is wasted on sport whether you watch it or not: that means I'm forced to contibute this TV tax on something I dislike. Despite the BBC losing a large part of its sporting coverage to pay per view channels, a good thing as the sports bores can watch a bag of wind being chased around at thier own voluntary expense for as long as they want, what remains is inflicted for hours on BBC viewers whether or not they want to watch it. What the BBC now has the rights to, which it often has acquired with a huge amount of public money, it churns out like a sausage factory. Sport haters this year will have Wimbledon broadcast simultaneously on both channels, often until 9pm, the Olympics virtually non stop, endless golf tournaments, the European Soccer Championship, snooker for hours on end and rugby matches on a Saturday evening, which is traditionally a time for comedy and family shows. The BBC shows a contempt for sport haters, who total nearly half the population, that borders on ignorance at times. Never mind that the 10 million viewers are eagerly awaiting the Saturday evening entertainment after five hours of sport, the 4 million that want to watch a homoerotic sado- masochistic rugby match come first.
Similarly at times in the summer the four main networks will be showing sport simultaneously, bad news for my housebound 87 year old grandmother who cannot afford cable and hates sport or people who lack cars and don't relish the prospect of going out during a wet English summer's day. Also, the BBC and our main commercial network ITV 1 will be indulging themselves in a bout of soccer mania over the summer as the population will be exhorted to support the drunken, amateurish bunch of overpaid whingers known as the English socer team, while a bunch of beer bellied plebs with shaved heads will be displaying their nationalism in Portugal by destroying the historic centre of Lisbon after Beckham's Bores send the country to sleep with a 0-0 draw against a better side from Dnemark.
Of course the Stalinists who follow the "beautiful game" will be listening out for dissenters. Rather like American football fans at Super Bowl time, who regard anyone who missed the Super Bowl as a possible traitor, during big tournaments that involve "our boys", soccer haters or disinterested people tend to to feign an interest or learn the names of a few players to avoid ridicule or abuse from soccer fans. It's no wonder that soccer haters tend to go to ground during the World Cup or Euro 2004, to enter a pub and turn your back on a match involving the national team would be the same as admitting to being a carrier of the SARS virus. At best you'll get your sexuality challenged and, at worst, if you dare to declare the game was a total bore and a waste of 90 minutes, will be to invite a violent reponse, or, if a fan is feeling philosophical, to be bored to death about "football ( soccer) being the new rock'n'roll and being a thing of beauty."
I once had to endure this kind of drivel from a drunk for an hour before making a sharp exit for the pub door. Even having a glass broken in my face would have been more fun. During the four weeks while this epic of boredom and national failure- we never get close to winning it, so why bother- I shall avoid every bar in England which has a television. How can I get patriotic about a bunch of guys who earn more in a week than I could ever earn in ten years for kicking a bag of wind about. Most of them aren't exactly people you would want to meet, and would probably tell their adoring fans to f*** off if they approached them in the street, they tend to be money obsessed, anti-social thickos who are often in the papers for being blind drunk or involved in brawls. Many top players can earn £ 5 million pounds a year, around one hundred times more than someone with real skills like a doctor.(If I ever get into power, I'm considering reintroducing the 83 per cent supertax on Premiership soccer players.) No wonder non fans like me get angry: I had a friend come back from active service in Iraq, where he saw two friends killed, who was risking his life for the meagre sum of £ 350 a week, while the likes of premiership soccer players, who might get the odd hamstring injury, earn £ 150, 000 a week for 90 minutes on a pitch. Yet people are often brainwashed into thinking the likes of David Beckhan are some sort of Gods, when in reality their contribution to society is nil. No wonder that soccer haters in Britain have flocked to a new soap opera called " Footballers' Wives", it portrays the players as self obsessed morons who only think about money and themsleves, while their wives are cocaine snorting, devious, amoral sex maniacs. While the show has been condemned by soccer lovers as a gross lie, everyone who watches it knows it's true to life.
Yup, team sports suck and people are conned into them, especially guys who want to fit in with the crowd around the 33 inch Toshiba screen in the bar. Me I think these guys should get off their butts and do some real exercise instead of fantasising about Manchester United or Bradford Bulls. Either that or develop an interest that makes them more interesting to sports haters, who account for nearly half of the population and aren' t the isolated freaks sports lovers make us out to be. Luckily quite a few of us gather in groups where we know we'll be safe from " Did you see the offside decision in the 84 th minute against Luton Town where I'm sure the ref must have been blind, etc, etc, for the next two hours." Given the choice between a conversation on refereeing decisions and my favourite Beatles album, I'd always choose the latter. I rest my case. Down with team sports.
Geordie Glenn, in a little country called England.