My favourite sporting theories, based on my last fifty odd years both playing sport, and covering it extensively in books and articles? I thought you’d never ask. I put a few of them together in a book, I did, a few years ago, as part of a chapter called Little Theories of Life.
Here are several. See what yers reckon:
1. Average age drops on sports tours
When on a sports tour, the average mental age of the tour group drops by about ten years, although as the group gets older the age-drop gets larger. I write this as one who has been on many tours, and was as much an observer of the phenomenon as a victim/celebrant of it. Without going into details – mercifully – when I was on tour for the first time, as a 15 year-old, my mates and I behaved like five-year-olds. At the age of 25 we could have held our own in fart-jokes with a bunch of 15 year-olds, and even at 31, we could find high hilarity in things that might have made normal 21 year-olds blush with the infantilism of it all. Don’t know why that was, but it just was – and still is.
And nor is the phenomenon confined to just rugby – I know from my time as a sports journalist that the same rule applies across all sports, most particularly cricket, Aussie Rules and rugby league – though I can’t resist finishing with my favourite rugby tour yarn, which I think demonstrates that the same rule still applies, even when the tourists are much older.
2. The rarest thing to see in sport is. . . a soccer goalie who has a goal scored against him and accepts it with a modicum of grace . . .
The next time you see highlights of a soccer match on TV, at whatever level it might be, from anywhere in the world, take a look at the reaction of the goalie immediately after the ball whooshes past his sacred person and into the net.
Every time a goal is scored . . . I mean every time a goal is scored, the first reaction of the goalie will always be to glare at his own two fullbacks and to imply that the fact that his goal was breached was most definitely their fault and TRES CERTAINMENT not his, (heaven forbid!).
It doesn’t matter how brilliant the goal, how diligent the defence, the goalie will always come up glowering, pouting, hands belligerently on hips, to glare at the low dogs who dare call themselves his team-mates . . . and generally do everything possible to lay the blame elsewhere.
3. Assessment of a team’s backbone
As the game of football, be it Union or League, progresses, there is one sure-fire way to judge the backbone left in the team for the fight. When a try is scored against them they are, of course, obliged to stand behind the goal line. The distance between the players indicates the amount of backbone left. If they are in huddle, shoulder to shoulder, each putting in his two cents’ worth, it is sure that they want to go on with it and strike back at the opposition. If they stand shoulder to shoulder to shoulder each gazing at the kicker, then this is less likely; and if they stand with a good metre between each then the game is lost and they know it and don’t care for the struggle anymore.
4. The difference between the English and the Australian approach to sport… is all contained in the following episode:
It was on January 3, 2003, as the shadows lengthened long over a jam-packed SCG. With three balls to go till stumps, the Australian captain Steve Waugh – playing the innings of his life for the Baggy Greens against England in the Fifth Ashes Test – hits a cover drive before the roaring crowd to bring him up to 98, but … but this leaves Adam Gilchrist on strike, with two balls to go. Around the ground, the chant of “Sing-le!” “Sing-le!” “Sing-le!” goes up. The people have spoken. Their will is clear. It is up to Gilchrist to get Waugh on strike for the last ball of the day, and give him the chance to reach his century.
Gilchrist – who in year nine at high school had a photo of Steve Waugh front and centre on the cover of his maths book – glides a beautifully timed nudge to mid-wicket and it is done!
The crowd, now beside itself with roaring anticipation continues to roar for all of the next 90 seconds as the English captain Nasser Hussain laboriously rearranges his field to maximise the pressure on Waugh and give his spin-bowler, Richard Dawson every chance to pick up the prize wicket to beat them all.
Up in the ABC commentary box, England’s Jonathan Agnew and Australia’s Kerry O’Keeffe are doing the honours, their words being beamed right around Australia and the United Kingdom. And it is at this point, for my money, that the two manage to give the greatest exposition as to the central difference between the English and Australian approach to sport. Take it away, gentlemen, if you would . . .
Agnew: “Well, what high drama we have here, Kerry. What will he do?”
O’Keeffe: “He’ll go for it.”
Agnew: “But he could come back tomorrow and wait for a trundler down the leg side . . .”
O’Keeffe: “Stuff tomorrow, Aggers. Tomorrow is for silver medallists. We’re Australians. Poms come back tomorrow. Australians only want the gold and we want it now . . . He’ll go for it.”
Two seconds later, Dawson dances in again, flights his spinning orb towards Waugh . . . pitching just outside the off-stump . . . while the crowd hangs in suspended animation . . . as it lands and snarls up … as Waugh moves … on to his back foot … and CRACKS it … straightintothefence!
Waugh has his century, the crowd goes wild, and everyone lives happily ever afterwards.
5. The Guardian Ivy Syndrome
There is a syndrome in Australian life far more prevalent than the famed Tall Poppy Syndrome, which holds that once someone has achieved a certain stature, there will be a natural tendency for the media and certain members of the public to want to cut them down to size. For what it’s worth, I call the lesser known syndrome the Guardian Ivy Complex. That is, as soon as anyone takes a shot at a Tall Poppy – most particularly in the fields of sport and entertainment – myriad media Guardians will start swarming to the Poppy’s defence, wrapping themselves around the trunk of the Poppy so as to take the evil blows themselves. Self-conscious in their saintliness, these Guardians are there to defend to the death the right of the Poppies to continue blossoming untouched, do you hear them? You can call them old-fashioned if you like, but they just want to see the Poppies get a fair go!