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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mystifying English Sports

After arriving in England back in May, my wife and I rode in a shuttle-van from Manchester Airport to our hotel.  I listened to the radio as commentators discussed the big name stars playing for teams of such large cities as Liverpool and Manchester.  As our driver unloaded our luggage, I asked what sport he was so interested in.  “Football,” he replied.

I blinked, making the mental adjustment.  “Ah.  Soccer.”

“No,” he replied.  “You’re in England now, mate.  “It’s Football.”

In the hotel lobby, as we lined up to check in, I asked how big a sport football was in England.  He went on for about five minutes, telling me about the various leagues and divisions, the latest results, attendance in stadiums, and how English fervor compared to that of other countries.  I smiled and nodded, bathed in the backsplash from his enthusiasm for football.  Sure, I had played soccer in my youth.  But in the United States, it was little more than a game children played at school.  Several times, San Diego had a professional team, but each championship-winning team went bankrupt from a lack of interest.

I find Rugby equally mystifying.  I had watched highlights on TV before we left, just to pick up an impression of this English game, and soon learned that there were several variations on the game.  The main reason I did this was because of a book.  In the late Reginald Hill’s “Dalziel and Pascoe” series, Superintendent Andy Dalziel is a hardcore Rugby fan.  In his first novel, A Clubbable Woman, he and Sergeant Peter Pascoe investigate the death of a small-town femme fatale.  For the most part, the two draw their suspects from a local rugby club. 

In the novel, Rugby was the club members' religion, and the club defined their lives, both business-wise and socially.  There was no greater sin, it seemed, than for a member to miss a scheduled game, or fail to complete any of his commitments to the club.  The members’ passion and commitment made the club the beating heart of community life.  One’s status rose and fell with regard to what happened on the field or in the clubhouse.  I had thought that I might find myself in a position to watch a local match at some point during our journey through Yorkshire.  It would have been interesting to gain some first-hand knowledge of the game, and see how reality compares with the depiction in Reginald Hill’s novel.  Sadly, that opportunity never materialized.

Finally, another English sport I find mystifying is Cricket.  It seemed as though we could never find any TV programs that interested us while staying in Holmfirth, so we watched Cricket while we ate dinner each evening.  Usually, I can pick up the rhythm (and reason behind) a game from watching it, but not this time.  Even after a few evenings, I still had no better grasp of it than I did of Whackbat, the game played by the characters in the Wes Anderson film “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.”  I was reminded of Eric’s description of the game in an episode of “Lovejoy,” when he’s impersonating a member of the aristocracy.  It went something along the lines of “So people go in, and then this happens, and your people go in, and then….”  Well, you get the idea.  Still, at least I got to watch several matches held at Lords Cricket Ground.  That's the one thing that will make Richard Devere take a break from running his vast grocery empire to watch in the sitcom “To the Manor Born.”

I had hoped that my trip to England might enlighten me in regard to these three mystifying English sports.  Still, I suppose that gives me more to discover on my next visit.  Right, mate?

Dragon Dave

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