Dear Anglophiles: I'm delighted to present a guest writer for today's post. Jon Malings, of the UK, reflects on the changing ways of British sports.
I was brought up to believe that playing the game, whatever it was, was more important than winning. We even had phrases that reflected that ideal: someone who didn’t mind losing was a “good sport.” “It’s not cricket” implied that, while the rules may not have been broken, they were certainly being stretched. In that far-off perfect world it wasn’t enough just to obey the laws of the game, we had an inherent belief in the unwritten rule of “fairness.” We didn’t want to win unless our opponent was given a “sporting chance.” We’d rather lose than have a victory achieved by underhand means on our conscience.
I sometimes think that sport was invented so the English could show the rest of the world how to lose gracefully. Not that we would, if we could avoid it. Lose that is. And we’d be just as graceful in winning, trotting out self-deprecating phrases like, “luck of the draw”, “rub of the green” or even “better luck next time.” Even if you “played fair” there was something decidedly uncomfortable about “whitewashing” your opponent. It didn’t do to demonstrate your superiority too overtly. We English didn’t like to “kick a man when he was down.”
But now the world has most definitely changed. All our top-flight sportsmen and women are professionals earning megabucks--yes, we say that. Winning, at almost any cost, is what counts. So we have footballers “diving” at the slightest provocation to try and persuade the referee (umpire) to award a “free kick” or an even-more valuable “penalty” because of a supposed “foul” by a player on the opposing side. Gone are the days when a cricketer would “walk” or declare himself “out” just because he knew he was, even if the umpires didn’t think so. Gone are the days when the official’s decision was the final word. Although I’ve never seen one change his mind, and I’m sure players don’t expect it, I think the protests at questionable decisions are designed to soften the ref up so the next debatable one goes their way…. “it’s only fair.”
Today it seems that snooker players are the last sporting gentlemen, always willing to declare their own foul if the ref doesn’t see it. They manage this despite earning megabucks too. Perhaps it’s because they know that they’re playing against the balls on the table, or even themselves, rather than the opposing player. And a man ( I’ve not yet seen a ranking female snooker player) must be pretty low to cheat himself.
I’ve spent quite a while trying to think of any sport played worldwide that was not “invented” by the English. After a lot of head-scratching, I could only come up with golf. We codified most of the others back in the nineteenth century, presumably as part of a cultural colonising strategy that spread the red of the British Empire across the map as successfully as any regiment. Even now that the sun has set on that Empire, our international sporting links remain.
As an example, the mystifying (to Americans) game of cricket is not just an English pastime but is played seriously, with just as much care, attention and devotion in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and the West Indies. Ireland recently discovered that they, too, have a cricket team, as they “broke their duck” playing England in last year’s cricket World Cup.
Most other English sports have escaped the confines of the Empire too. Argentina, France and Italy have international rugby teams. Snooker is very big in Asia, particularly China, while tennis and football ("soccer" is a word we rarely use) run rampant across the world. Next time you see a news report from a refugee camp in Africa, or wherever, look for someone wearing a Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool team shirt--they’re sure to be there.
Before we go any further, there’s something I need to tell you: I’m a citizen of the United Kingdom, my nationality is British, and England is my “national” football team--got it ?
Most sports in the UK are organised on a country basis, i.e. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There is no UK football team for example. This presented a bit of a problem at the London 2012 Olympics. It was unthinkable that Team GB (in actual fact Great Britain, Northern Ireland and a few off-shore islands.. .i.e. the UK) wouldn’t compete for the football gold medal. There was a lot of resistance from the “home” nations to forming a joint team as the world governing body, FIFA, has started questioning why four teams from one country are all allowed to compete in the football World Cup. Of course, FIFA’s interest in the subject has nothing to do with the fact that British newspapers have spent the last few years making allegations of corruption in that august body.
A final word from my daughter, ten years on, when she was at University in Manchester. We were visiting her one evening, with thousands of Pakistanis on the streets celebrating their victory over India in the Cricket World Cup final, a game which had been played in Manchester that very day. Someone called out to her, “Which side were you on?” There was no pause, momentary or otherwise. “The winning one,” she said.
JON MALING'S BIO
Who am I ?
…Michael Jon Malings, a true-born Englishman, despite the fact that my grandfather was born in Ireland (purely by accident, you understand) and also spoke Welsh, which was a good thing, as my grandmother, Margaret Parry, was Welsh through-and-through so he couldn’t have popped the question otherwise. All of which leaves me with a bit of a problem; if I was so inclined I could play Rugby for Wales, Cricket for England or Snooker for Ireland.
The other stuff…
I graduated with a University degree in Psychology a long time ago and, having never seen a computer, was offered a job by IBM fixing software…those were the days! I spent a few years travelling round England, hunting down and trying to fix bugs. Eventually, realising I wasn’t very good at it, I moved to an IBM Software Development Laboratory and spent the next 20 years or so travelling the world extolling the virtues of our graphics and transaction-processing software. India and Hong Kong are my two favourite countries, after England of course.
Apart from that…
I’m now semi-retired, living in Ireland, looking after chickens, goats, ponies and flowers, researching my own, and other people’s, genealogy and some of the (very) minor figures of English history. I’m also trying to improve my communications skills so I can tell the Irish how great England (and Wales) is. Spending all that time talking to computers has left me in need of a bit of re-adjustment on that front. I love 17th Century oak furniture, old houses and strange things. For a while, we owned a shop selling old Chinese and Indian furniture and curiosities; there were certainly some strange things in it, not least the owners. I’m also fascinated by domestic architecture. I’ve built a couple of houses, and “re-modelled”, as the Americans say, several more. I’m currently struggling with a 150-year-old granite farmhouse with walls two feet thick.