Sport is life’s oxygen for bonding

It’s no secret – I love sport. Rugby is top of my personal hit-chart, followed by baseball, cricket, golf & football – in that order. Add in rallying, F1, boxing, tennis, horse racing, athletics and NFL and it’s pretty obvious sport plays a pretty big part in my life.

Sport is a shared joy, the arena for life-long friendships, and certainly for me has proved to be the glue and the oxygen that sustains and develops the bond between a father and his son. My Dad was a Doctor by profession, but for much of my early childhood he was passionate about rally driving. I have such vivid memories of many a weekend throughout my early childhood in Kenya spent supporting my Dad’s rallying career. The smell of racing oil still transports me back to my seven- year-old self and to the Nakuru Race-track, and whenever I think of Dad (sadly long departed from this world) I think of those hot and dusty weekends watching him race Mum’s Mini-Cooper.

Dad – like my whole family – was passionate about all sport. He could never watch a rugby match without screaming at the telly. Like me he was regularly reduced to a blubbering wreck at the mere sight of emotion in an Olympic medal ceremony. Quite simply sport is not just my passion, but my family’s passion. And it’s a passion I have been fortunate enough to indulge. To date I’ve attended two Champions League Finals, five FA Cup Finals, five Epsom Derby Days, a host of Ashes Test matches and I sat in Row 17 in the middle of the 100m track at the 2012 London Olympics on Super Saturday. Even Beatles superstar Paul McCartney only had tickets for Row 22.

I’ve also been to over a hundred Rugby Test matches, I’m a multiple Season Ticket Holder at the Rec for my hometown team Bath RFC, and I’ve seen England lose two Rugby World Cup Finals. In fact, my greatest sporting regret to date is not flying out to Australia for the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final when England finally managed to lift the Webb Ellis trophy. I had access to a ticket but my son Tommy was just seven months old at the time, and I thought it poor form to dessert my then wife. Given we’re now divorced my disappointment continues to fester.

Interestingly the word ‘Fan’ comes from the word Fanatic. Like most of us I am the former, but it’s easy to understand how someone becomes the latter. In 2011 Boston Redsox superfan Donny Murphy spent every day of the MLB offseason outside the team’s iconic stadium Fenway Park just waiting for the start of the new season. He had a five-month wait!

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NFL has no shortage of contenders for the Crazy Superfan title either. The Hogettes are a group of 12 dudes who show their love for the Washington NFL team by wearing dresses, party hats, costume jewellery and pig noses to every game. The group was founded in 1983 and has become a staple at all Skins home games. Perhaps tennis wouldn’t be your first choice for home of the crazy fan, yet in 2005 police arrested a wet and naked William Lepeska sprawled out on a pool chair just three doors down from tennis star Anna Kournikova’s Miami mansion. When Lepeska was taken into custody he was screaming: “Anna! Save me!” Police at the scene noted that he had an “Anna” tattoo on his right bicep.

But only cricket has turned being a superfan into a full-time group profession. The Barmy Army are English Cricket’s most loyal fan group, now registered as an official Tour and Travel Company. Barmy Army was the name given to the English travelling fans in 1994 by the Australian media in honour of the fans’ hopeless audacity to travel halfway around the world to watch their team inevitably get thrashed. No matter how desperate the situation the Barmy Army never loses the faith that England’s cricket team will prevail.

My favourite Barmy Army song is directed at King of the Swingers Matthew Hoggard to the famed Jungle Book song of the same name. The lyrics run: “Now Hoggy’s the King of the Swingers, an England VIP, he has a bowl, we have a song, the Aussies out by Tea. Ooooh, Ooooh, Ooooh I wanna bowl like you, don’t want to bat like you, just bowl like you – Ooooh Ooooh Ooooh.”

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It’s no surprise the quality of fan is directly linked to my favourite sport chart. I love rugby because of its ethos. It may be the most violent sport in the world, but it is also the safest sport to take your kids to. Tommy and I once went to the Rec and there was a clear Stag Do party of lads a few rows in front of us. The match Ref disallowed a Bath try and the clearly intoxicated groom-to-be started calling the Ref every name in the book. Before he finished his first full sentence of obscenities, a large Dad supporter down the front challenged him: “Oi!” he said. “I’ve got young kids here – this is not football. You want to use language like that go to a football match!” Everyone cheered – at which point the drunk Groom started crying. He was so mortified at his mistake that he pleaded to be forgiven saying I’m so drunk that I’ve no idea what I’m doing.

Football on the other hand is a cesspool of obscenities and aggression. Some suggest that that’s what makes a live game of football so enthralling. In my view the lack of respect for the opposition, let alone the opposition fan, and the never-ending abuse of the match officials is just human nature at its most ugly – and sadly that nature has a distinct male feel to it. Not that it’s all bad. I heard my favourite football song from the terraces of West Ham FC who had just taken a 1-0 lead over the mighty Reds of Liverpool after a stunning solo effort from their Italian maverick Paulo de Canio. The Hammers fans started singing: “We’ve got Di Canio, you’ve got our stereo!”

But recent events suggest all is not lost in football. My friend Melissa Chappell – ex agent to Alan Shearer – recently tweeted what a joy her regular outings to the Women’s Euros had proved. The stadiums were full to capacity with families and young kids. There was no swearing nor aggressive behaviour. The atmosphere was electric but respectful. She said of the Final: “As they started the National Anthems I immediately braced myself for the embarrassment of booing the German National anthem… and then nothing happened. It was great.”

The Lionesses not only brought football home, not only generated a 17.4 million peak audience mark for the Euro 2022 Final (with 6 million online requests), but they reminded us all about the joy of sport. I’m truly gutted I wasn’t there to witness it, but I bet my Dad didn’t miss a kick. I bet my Dad sorted out the best cloud in heaven with the best view, and loved every moment. Thank you, Lionesses – you made us all so very proud.

Until next time!  – IRC.

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