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A wry view of life for the world-weary

Category Archives: Sport

Sporting Event Of The Week (3)

TOWT, aka my wife, and I occasionally spend a pleasant weekend in the environs of the beautiful village of Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. I have noticed the locals walk with a strange gait and now I know the reason why. It is all down to the ancient sport of shin-kicking, the championship for which has been held on the adjacent Dover’s Hill since 1612.

The rules are quite simple. The contestants stick straw down their trouser legs and assault each other’s shins with gusto. The winner is the last person standing and it is thought to be a variant of Cotswold Wrestling.

Alas, I read this week, the 2017 games, scheduled for June 2nd, have just been cancelled. The organisers cite a number of reasons for the decision including dwindling attendances, a reduction in the number of contestants and increased ‘elf and safety requirements, all of which have contributed to a shortage of dosh to stage this year’s event. The organisers hope, however, that they will be able to stage the event again next year.

As the fates of all of us are in the hands of a group of Alpha males, I have a suggestion. They could all be invited to Chipping Campden and settle the world’s problems with a few bouts of shin-kicking. They could then retire to the excellent Eight Bells and sample some of Hook Norton’s finest. I offer this suggestion to you, Boris, free of charge. Let’s see if you can make a mess of that.

The world would be a safer place and one of England’s finest traditions would be restored. What’s not to like?

Bull Of The Week

Not being a fan of bull fighting, I always raise my montera when I hear of a bull getting its own back. A bull in Mexico City called Caporal certainly got its revenge and I’m sure it was sweet, if a  story I came across last week is true.

Matador, Antonio Romero, was in the ring with the bull, doing his stuff, annoying the hell out of the beast and trying to get it to turn around. Caporal decided enough was enough, caught the matador on the arm, knocking him off balance and proceeded to ram one of his eleven inch horns up Romero’s fundament. According to medics, the horn destroyed Romero’s anal sphincter and very seriously damaged his rectum.

Romero was rescued and is recovering in hospital. There is no truth in the rumour that he is considering giving up being a matador because he finds it a pain in the arse.

As for Caporal, he lives to fight another day.

I Predict A Riot – Part Twenty One

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The Disco Demolition Riot – July 1979

As an Englishman I find the attractions of baseball mystifying. It is a glorified game of rounders that is tedious in the extreme, punctuated only by the cheesy seventh innings stretch. And because of the American fetish with finding a winner – draws are not in their national psyche – if there isn’t a victor at the end of nine innings, it goes on interminably until someone has an advantage. I may have been unlucky with the baseball games I have seen live but this seems a regular occurrence. And they say cricket is boring!

As far as music went, the 1970s was a mix of the very good and the downright awful. Firmly in the latter camp was disco music, something that drove me to distraction and dissipated all of my natural bonhomie. It seemed that there were many at the time who shared my views. So what could possibly go wrong if you mixed a deadly dull game like baseball with a marmite-like genre such as disco music? The events at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12th 1979, that’s what.

For the double header between the local team, the White Sox, and Detroit Tigers the promoters offered entry at a bargain price of $0.98 if you brought and handed in a disco record. At the interval between the games, local DJ, Steve Dahl, an arch-critic of disco music who had recently been fired from WDAI-FM when it switched to become an all disco station, would blow up the records using fireworks. The promotion for the so-called Disco Demolition night worked well with an official attendance of 59,000 and a further 15,000 milling around outside the stadium. According to some reports, the air was heavy with the sweet smell of marijuana.

The White Sox lost the first game 4-1 and with due ceremony a crate full of the offending disco records was wheeled into view. Dahl blew them up to smithereens, creating a small crater in the outfield. The playing area was not guarded and a large section of the crowd – some estimates put the numbers at between five and seven thousand – ran on to the grass, forcing the White Sox team, limbering up for the second game to fell to the relative safety of the clubhouse. The ground was trashed, the batting cage overturned, base poles stolen and vinyl records were thrown like Frisbees or burnt. A large bonfire was lit on the centre of the pitch.

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Appeals for calm went unheeded and at 9.08 pm the Chicago cops in full riot gear appeared on the scene. The rioters quickly dispersed, although 39 not quickly enough as they had their collars felt and charged with disorderly conduct. The ground was so badly damaged – the field resembled “a grassy moonscape” – that the second game was abandoned and awarded 9-0 to the Tigers.

And the aftermath? The owner of the White Sox, Bill Veek, sold them the following year and his son, Mike, was unable to get a job in baseball for some time, claiming he had been blackballed because of the incident. Disco music soon waned in popularity shortly after the riot, with record companies rebadging the stuff as dance music. Dahl claimed in an interview some time later that the Disco demolition Night “hastened its demise”. For Dahl, this was the end of his anti-disco rallies but it shot him to national fame, becoming a radio superstar in the windy city.

It would never have happened at Lord’s!

Website Of The Week

For some stroking a cat is immensely comforting. For me there is nothing better than blowing a trumpet through someone’s immaculately coiffeured hair. Thanks to TrumpDonald.org for this.

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Placard of the Week (2)

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Error of the Week (3)

Two things about half-marathons never fail to surprise me. Firstly, that the organisers can’t measure the course correctly and secondly, that those who participate complain when they get it wrong. I would have thought a reduction in the distance to be run would be welcome.

Well, I read this week, it has happened again. The red-faced organisers of the Great Scottish Run, held in Glasgow last October, have now admitted that “due to human error”  the course was some 149.7 metres short. A right stushie has broken out with people’s records and personal best times rescinded and competitors demanding their entrance money back – £33 a time. Surely, at best the fee should be pro-rated.

Some people are never satisfied. At least they got to the pub sooner for a well earned dram.

What Is The Origin Of (112)?…

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Off his own bat

Writing this post in early January the opportunity to hear the sound of leather striking willow seems a distant prospect. The game of cricket is a wonderful sport and the elongated form – I have no truck for the modern variant of T20 – is a perfect way to while away a day, in convivial company with a glass of something in your hand. You may even be lucky to have the sun shining.

For those living in countries which were unfortunate enough not to experience the (ahem) civilising influences of the British Empire, cricket can seem a bit of a mystery. It has a set of rules which can seem arcane – leg before wicket is a form of dismissal which provokes controversy amongst even the most seasoned practitioners – and a bizarre glossary of terms.

Fielding positions include mid on which is an abbreviation of middle wicket on, silly mid on where silly has the archaic definition of defenceless – it is a dangerous position – slips who wait for a slip from the bat and a third man, so called because when over arm bowling was introduced the position supplemented the existing positions of slip and point. The position of gully is so named because it fills in the gap between slip and point. A bowler achieves a maiden over when they have sent down six balls which have not been scored from and so from the batting side’s perspective is unproductive as, perhaps, maidens were seen in days of yore.

In essence, the principal objective of the team fielding is to dismiss ten of the opposition’s eleven batsmen as quickly as possible and of the team batting to score as many runs as they can before the fielding team achieve their goal. There are a number of ways in which the batting team can score runs, through a variety of extras such as byes and leg byes, wides and no balls, but the majority of the runs are compiled by the batsmen standing at the crease – so called because in the early days of the game a furrow or crease was cut into the ground to show him where to stand – and hitting the ball with their bat.

Our phrase today is used figuratively to convey the sense that someone has done something through their own efforts. It owes its origins, though, to the noble game of cricket and was used to refer to runs, or notches as they were quaintly termed in the 18th century, accumulated through the batsman’s own endeavours. The first citation is to be found in Henry Waghorn’s Cricket Scores of 1742, “the bets on the Slendon man’s head that he got 40 notches off his own bat were lost”.  No match fixing there, then. It was not used figuratively until 1845 when the Reverend Sydney Smith wrote in Fragments on Irish Affairs, “but [I] suppose he had no revenues but what he got off his own bat”.

One of the mysteries of cricket is how it was invented in a country where the weather can be so variable. In the old days when pitches were uncovered and ground maintenance had not reached today’s peak, a prolonged bout of rain could make the pitch very treacherous for batting. The term used to describe such a pitch was a sticky wicket which was used in July 1882 in Bell’s Life In London to describe the Australian tourists’ predicament. “the ground.. was suffering from the effects of recent rain, and once more the Australians found themselves on a sticky wicket.” The phrase is now used figuratively to describe any sort of difficult predicament.

Summer won’t be too far away.

The Streets Of London – Part Fifty One

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The Palestra, SE1

The Palestra is a hideous modern building, now the headquarters of Transport of London, situated opposite Southwark tube station where the Blackfriars Bridge road intersects with The Cut. Apart from tut-tutting at the hideous carbuncle I paid the building no more heed and went into the boozer opposite, the Ring – the plum porter was excellent. It was only when I looked at the bric-a-brac on the pub’s walls, all with a distinctly pugilistic feel to them, that I realised I had stumbled upon a bit of London history of which I had previously been unaware.

The land now occupied by the Palestra previously housed the Surrey Chapel, built in 1782, which was round so, according to the Reverend Rowland Hill, not to be confused with the stamp man of the same name, “the devil had nowhere to hide”. It operated as a nonconformist chapel and also hosted musical event and meetings of various philanthropic and charitable organisations. The trustees and congregation didn’t renew the lease in 1859 and for a number of years it was then used by the Primitive Methodists until in 1881  when it was partially demolished and renovated for commercial purposes.

The next character in our story is a professional boxer, Dick Burge, who was English Lightweight Champion between 1891 and 1897 and reportedly one of the finest fighters of the decade. In 1901 he married Bella – an entertainer in a double act with Marie Lloyd’s sister – but retirement from the ring ad meant that Burge was on his uppers. He became involved in a complex fraud – the sum quoted was around £15m in today’s terms – and was sentenced to 10 years in chokey, a month after he had married. His sentence was reduced in its eighth year when Burge rescued a warder from a prison riot.

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On his release, Bella, who had stood by her man, and Dick decided to open a boxing club and no ordinary one – “our place would be no place for nobs..our patrons belong to the cloth cap and muffler brigade”. The premises they chose to host the bouts was the Surrey Chapel – as a round building it was ideal for the 14 foot ring. Bella organised an army of down and outs to clear the site in return for a decent feed and on 14th May 1910 the first bouts were held. The soup kitchen continued to build up awareness of the venue and by 1912 it was established as London’s premier fighting venue, hosting shows four or five times a week. Many of the big names including Len Johnson, Jack Drummond, Alf Mancini, Jack Hood and Ted “Kid” Lewis fought there.

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In 1918 Dick died but Bella continued with the venue and made a great success of it. Marie Lloyd was one of the regulars ringside. In 1939 it closed for renovations but its end came the following year when a direct hit from a German bomb reduced the place to rubble. The Palestra reflects this part of London’s sporting history in its name – a palestra in Ancient Greece was a training ground where sports such as wrestling and athletics were practised. The Ring, of course, directly refers to the Burge’s venue. Ironically, nearby there is a club where city slickers – the modern day Nobs – can don the gloves and work off their aggression.

It is amazing what you can learn by sitting in a London pub.

I Predict A Riot – Part Sixteen

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The Sydney cricket riot, 1879

There is nothing quite like a game of cricket. Probably my favourite sporting contest is the Ashes, test matches between representative teams representing England (with the odd South African thrown in) and Australia. The cricket is tense and hard-fought and the atmosphere in the crowd febrile, especially as the heady mix of English sunshine (weak) and the amber nectar on sale (even weaker) takes its toll. Having watched many a test match I have never seen a riot but then I wasn’t at the Sydney’s Association Ground at Moore Park in February 1879.

Lord Harris brought a team of cricketers to tour the Antipodes and, as was the custom at the time, picked up a local umpire, this time George Coulthard, who came from Melbourne. Now one thing I have learned from my sojourns down under is that if there is one thing a Sydneyite abhors more than a Pom it is someone from their neighbouring state, Victoria. Coulthard was on a hiding to nothing, a situation not helped by giving Harris not out controversially on the first day (February 7th) – “a mistake”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald – and then on the second giving crowd favourite, Billy Murdoch, run out, a decision which many in the crowd disagreed with.

Money was habitually wagered at games and there were rumours that Coulthard had staked a considerable sum on an English victory whilst many of the locals who had their money on a home win took a dim view of their hero’s early return to the pavilion. The Australian captain insisted that Coulthard be replaced and in the hiatus in play, some spectators climbed the perimeter fencing and invaded the pitch, making a bee line for Coulthard. Harris ran back on to the pitch to protect the umpire and was struck with a stick for his pains. One of the English players, Hornby, a boxer as well as a cricketer, frogmarched the assailant back to the pavilion.

The rest of the English team showed the stiff upper lip we come to associate with the Brits at the time by staying on the pitch, surrounded by “a howling mob”, in Harris’ words, of a thousand or so. Pleasantries were exchanged by both sides including from the English the standard term of abuse for Aussies about “them being nothing but sons of convicts”. Among the pitch invaders was Banjo Paterson who later found fame by composing Waltzing Matilda. Order was eventually restored and it required the intercession of the other umpire, Edmund Barton, later to become Australia’s first prime minister, before play resumed. The English won the game on the following day.

The local press initially condemned the disturbance – the Sydney Morning Herald calling it “a blot upon the colony for some years to come” and the South Australian Register “a disgrace to the people”. Wisden called the incident “a deplorably disgraceful affair” and described the spectators as a “rough and excited mob”. But the mood changed when Harris published a letter in the Daily Telegraph in which he accused members of the NSW cricket association of being instrumental in causing the disturbances. Responding in kind the association accused Harris of being economical with the truth.

In the aftermath, two men were charged with disorder and several members, including a well-known bookmaker, were expelled from the association and banned from the ground. What would have been the fourth test between the two countries was cancelled and when an Australian team toured England the following year hardly anyone would play them. When a test, the first to be staged in England, was held at the Oval three who had represented England at Sydney, Hornby, Emmett and Ulyett, refused to play.

Who said cricket was boring?

What Is The Origin Of (101)?…

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Rub of the green

This phrase is often deployed to explain some piece of bad luck, often in the game of golf, where the player has managed to miss what seemed to the bystander a regulation put. The ball hit an unseen obstacle or took a diversion but, hey, that’s the rub of the green, they might say phlegmatically.

The key to our understanding the origin of this phrase lies in the word, rub. Rub, as a verb, appeared in Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale with the meaning that we attribute to it today, smoothing, “He rubbed her upon her tender face”. In Middle English a rubstone was a synonym for a whetstone, presumably because its purpose was to smooth a surface.

But rub makes an appearance as a noun in the late 16th century in the gloriously titled The Paine of Pleasure published in 1580 and attributed to Anthony Munday. In describing the delights and tribulation of playing a game of bowls, the fourteenth pleasure, he wrote, “How some delight to see a round bowl run/ smoothly away, until he catch a rub:/ then hold thy bias, if that cast were won/ the game were up as sure then as a club”.  Rub is clearly being used as some kind of imperfection in the bowling green, an obstacle or impediment to a true lie.

Shortly afterwards, in 1586 to be precise, it made another appearance, this time in Hooker’s History of Ireland and its usage is metaphorical, “whereby appeareth how dangerous it is to be a rub, when a king is disposed to sweep an alley”. Perhaps the most famous usage of rub in a metaphorical sense is to be found in Shakepeare’s famous to be or not to be soliloquy in Hamlet. “To die – to sleep/ to sleep – perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!/ For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/ when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/ must give us pause”.

Interestingly, the expression ay, there’s the rub did not appear in the First Quarto of 1603, although some scholars view the text as unreliable, but it made an appearance in the Second Quarto (1604) and the First Folio (1624). Ay, though, was written as I and appeared in this format well into the 17th century, probably owing its origin to the use of the first person pronoun as a form of assent. Be that as it may, Shakespeare uses rub to mean an obstacle or a form of hindrance.

The long walk ruined, to echo Mark Twain’s glorious description of golf, is particularly prone to be subject to the lie of the land or the rub of the green. We find it used in a golfing context in 1812 in the rule book of the game issued by the Royal and Ancient club in St Andrews, “whatever happens to a Ball by accident must be reckoned a Rub of the green”. The phrase can be used to describe a piece of good fortune – a lucky in-off or a wayward shot being diverted back on course by an imperfection in the topography – as well as ill fortune.

In a sporting context, its origin is from the game of bowls, not golf. Nowadays we use the term in a general context as well as in a narrow sporting context, to explain an unexpected or unanticipated outcome.

So now we know!

Sporting Event Of The Week (2)

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On August Bank Holiday Sunday the 31st World Bog Snorkelling Championship was held just outside the town of Llanwrtyd Wells in Mid Wales. Contestants who must wear flippers and a snorkel are invited to swim two lengths of the 55 metre trench that runs through the Waen Rhydd peat bog. The winner (natch) is the one who completes the course in the fastest time.

This year’s winner was Daniel Norman from Wolverhampton who completed the course in 1 minute 26 seconds whilst the women’s champ was Anna Lohman who finished third overall in a time of 1 minute 33 seconds. The world record is held by Kirsty Johnson, appropriately from Lightwater in Surrey who completed the course in 2014 in a time of 1 minute 22.56 seconds.

Like all good ideas bog snorkelling was dreamed up by Gordon Green and a few regulars of the Neuadd Arms over a pint in 1976 although the first world championship was not held until 1985. Strong stuff, that Welsh ale!

Sporting Event Of The Week

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While many people’s attention has turned to the Narcolympics being held in Rio my interest was piqued by a much lower key event held last weekend at the Frognerbadet water park in Oslo – the dodsing world championships.

For the uninitiated competitors perform what might be termed a belly flop from a 10 metre diving board into a pool. The aim is to keep the body as flat as possible for as long as possible and then curl your body just before hitting the water. Marks are awarded for the speed, height and power in the jump off the platform and the resulting distance in the pool, style in the air, how wide the body is spread, the landing and how late the curl is – too late and injury may result – and the spray from the impact.

Held since 2008 this year’s winner was a teenager, Truls Torp. Now that’s what I call sport.