I had to write one of those ‘all about me’ paragraphs for a work thing earlier this week. I mentioned that I watch a lot of sport on TV, this being cheaper and easier to access than going outside to a real sporting event. You also, these days, get such a great view, sometimes in 4K HDR, sometimes in a 360-degree immersive experience, that paying £100 for a ticket – plus transport, babysitters and drinks – seems idiotic. It seems all the more idiotic for two of my favourite sports: cricket and motor racing.
Idiotic for cricket because the whole show takes five days. How do you choose which day? Days three and four are often the best, and they normally line up with a weekend. But what about the weather? You often only know which was the best day after the match is over. What if you paid your £100 for the day that was half wet and the other half cold and boring, on the pitch and off it?
Idiotic for motor racing, especially F1, which is surely the pinnacle for British and Commonwealth viewers, because the nearest race is perhaps 100 – 500 miles from your house, which adds hugely to the cost, and even with the big screens at the track you don’t really see anything. You’re not allowed in the pits or on the grid these days, and a roof over you heard in a grandstand is considerably more than my throwaway remark about a £100 ticket. Sure, go and watch Formula E for free. It’s kind of interesting, but it’s not dangerous enough to be very exciting. And even that you can see with the enthusiastically brilliant Vernon Kay on Channel 5. You don’t even need Sky.
This column was also prompted by an accidental watching, and not for the first time, of the brilliant BBC documentary about the 1976 season. The one where James Hunt won against the odds, and Niki Lauda emerged, half-charred and missing an ear, to contest the rest of the season after many people feared he would die. They just don’t make them like that now.
So why do I suffer like this?
It’s hard to find the time on a Sunday afternoon, especially in summer, which is when most of the races still happen. Out of your 90 minute race, 50 to 90 laps, you will get one really exciting lap somewhere in the middle, possibly every three races or so. Once a year you will get something that you remember years later. Every ten years, you see something that you remember for the rest of your life. These are not good odds.
Cricket is even worse. 90 overs a day, 540 balls whizzing through the air, plus a few extras. Of those, only 10 will see a wicket, so that is perhaps 10 wickets in a day if you are lucky. If your side is batting, you might see that many sixes thrashed to the boundary, but probably won’t. But once a match, or a couple of times a summer, something special will happen.
The thing that happens isn’t always brilliance out on track, or on the field. It can be a commentator mucking up. As when the incorrigible Brian Johnston guffawed his way through a match report, egged on by Jonathan Agnew, about Ian Botham failing to get his leg over. It’s schoolboy stuff. But nobody forgot it. That it happened in the very first year I watched cricket makes it all the more memorable.
Or when Murray Walker, the voice of F1 for most of the English speaking world, was struck dumb by the equally brilliant James Hunt saying bullshit at Monaco?
Yes, the sportsfolk need skill, but it’s not always about them. When things go wrong in sport, it is at least as memorable as when brilliant skill and real daring is shown. I just wish it happened more often.