For pure electioneering, yesterday, Gordon Brown, The PM, surrounded by professional footballers, youths and children, extolled the merits of supervised sport and training as the way forward to produce a healthier nation and subvert the street violence so prevalent. Where has he been? People with Blogs have been preaching it for ages. If you read on you will find it isn’t as simple as that, there are risks.
Are people today as universally interested in sport for its own sake as they were 40 years ago? Then amateurism was at its height. Professionals, in games such as golf, unless top flight, earned a pittance, nonetheless respected, but not idolised. All of us played games, such as rough cricket for a pub team, and I actually scored, 50 not out for the only time.. I played rugby as a prop forward, and when the scrum collapsed on me, I heard the creaking of the bones of my skull. We learned by attrition, not classes, a lot of fun, with the odd bruise. My father, as a young man, joined my uncle in the Surrey Walking Club, to walk from Westminster to Brighton, with that strange gait. The Club joined the army at the outbreak of World War1 en masse.
Not only are amateur clubs thin on the ground now, TV, international leagues, and now our league system, are reducing the number of viable clubs in the lower ranks through lack of funding, legislation, greed, and aggrandisement by the major clubs. It grieves me to see families on low income with maybe a couple of boys in the family, having to fork out ridiculous sums for tickets, and for kit for special presents for the children, at prices these people can ill afford, the money being used to boost the salary for some hotshot foreigner. It doesn’t stop there, the kit has to be changed yearly, because changing the hotshots is on the same basis, and the club needs cash. Over the years the attitude of athletes, footballers, and other sportsmen has changed, from the amateur ranks where success was rewarded with a cup, a medal, or just a silver, engraved spoon, to the point where money talks, and second-best walks. I am not worried about the state of sport, I gave that up when dope taking to obtain excellence became common, for money rather than success. I fear the latest trend, where very young children are being sent to groups to be coached in some sport or other, as if they were teenagers, and recently it has been reported that several children have suffered heart attacks, and I believe, died. One reason we know, there aren’t sufficient play areas for children to gather together, to make up small teams and entertain themselves. Another is that there is a culture in all sports now for the young people to start almost when they fall out of the cradle, to achieve excellence in tennis, and other sports, instead of being left to develop normally, and that has developed because in the professional game training is paramount, and I believe, not only is it too severe, games are at such intervals, stress fractures and the like are now common – not in my day!. Even amateur and school sides now train as if they were the professionals of the 70s. In my day, the playing and the enjoyment were paramount, excellence was a bonus.
One other cause of the Training Group’s success is that the parents know their children are safe from mindless aggression. Whether they are safe from excessive pressures, physical and psychological, especially as there would inevitably be a pecking order based on ability is something else. There is a doubt in my mind that the sports trainer can supervise at least 22 kids, to the extent that he is aware of their physical condition as the period progresses. It is my untutored opinion, from my own experience of learning rugby and cricket at school, and nowhere near under the pressures that there are today, that accidents will happen. They used to happen when we played on the common, a boy would get a cricket ball in the eye, twist an ankle, but when he got tired, he would probably lounge on the grass and then the others would join him. There was no pressure, ,it wasn’t exerted by the whole, nor was the external pressure to be the best, to be a success, to excel.
Finally, one of the reasons I don’t watch much sport any more, even on Sky TV, is because I’m disappointed that so many of the players in the teams, allegedly representing this country, the counties, and in the professional football clubs, come from abroad. Youngsters have to be honed by playing at increasingly high levels, but if those high levels are not available, because the ‘name’ from some other country is in the team, it all becomes purely an international moneymaking system on behalf of a select few. I find it incredible, probably because I’m not interested in sport any more, that people want to buy the shirts when the team they are supporting is 80 percent foreign. It is no longer Chelsea, Arsenal et al, it is a cosmopolitan team, playing good football, but not for Chelsea or Arsenal, but for money. As to the Olympics, that is a bottomless hole for the money that we need for essentials and a spectacle for only a few at the cost to the majority.