X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Diary

Simon Barnes’s diary: A sportswriter is never without a big subject (unless it’s golf)

I’ve seen Roger Federer, Fu Mingxia, Michael Johnson, Dancing Brave, Ayrton Senna, Katarina Witt and Malcolm Marshall

26 July 2014

9:00 AM

26 July 2014

9:00 AM

Sport is like love: it can only really hurt you if you care. Or for that matter, bring joy. You can’t explain sport, any more than you can explain the Goldberg Variations: you either get it or you don’t. So it can be hard to justify a life spent among bats and balls and leaping horses. I spent 32 years writing about sport for the Times, the last 12 as chief sportswriter, all of which comes to an close at the end of this month when I become News International’s latest economy, doomed to wander Fleet Street (is it still there?) wearing a luggage label that reads ‘Please look after this bear’. What shall I write about in my last week? The usual trivia of the sporting round: triumph and disaster, victory and defeat, leadership and betrayal, revenge and counter-revenge, strength and weakness, hubris and its chastisement, hatred, horror, honour, joy and glory: all acted out in front of me. The news pages of every newspaper are about cover-ups: in sport your subject is emotionally stark naked in front of you. A sportswriter is never without a big subject.

The betrayal stuff mostly comes from the England cricket team. Last week there was a concert of sporty music at the Proms, and I did a bit of stuff for the BBC on the medium my father calls the wah‑liss. I realised in the course of this that the operatic themes that have dominated the England team for the past three years are pure Don Giovanni: Kevin Pietersen in the title role, Alastair Cook as the virginal betrayed Zerlina and Andrew Strauss as the equally betrayed and now vengeful Donna Elvira. There’s even a part for Piers Morgan, KP’s eternal Leporello, faithfully cataloguing every triumph.


Sport has power over the human imagination because it is a never-ending narrative and as an eternal metaphor. Nobody is supposed to die: that’s rather the point. The territorial ball sports are cod battles, tennis is a phoney duel, cricket is about that life and death thing — the batsman forever seeking to avoid the little death of dismissal — while horse racing on the flat is about evolution: only the fastest get to survive and become ancestors. Powerful stuff, if you happen to get it. But I’ve never got golf. The Open unwound itself across last weekend to my complete bewilderment. I was once given the apparently enviable privilege of accompanying John Daly through a round at St Andrews; after two holes I sneaked off and went birding. Golf seems a pleasant enough recreation for people too old for sport, but shouldn’t proper sport have an element of physical risk? Or at least physical commitment? I’m a horseman — I always say it’s because I haven’t discovered boys yet — and would swap all the golfers that ever golfed for half an hour with Lucinda Green, who won Badminton six times.

A Cetti’s warbler gave its sudden terrific shout from our fragment of Norfolk marsh while I was doing some horsey chores. These birds are almost comic in their attention-seeking. Not that you ever see one: they are lurkers and shouters. I was convinced there were two pairs hard at and breeding, but I have revised my notions down. Cettis operate the Beau Geste stratagem. If a bird keeps out of sight, but sings very loudly from a number of different places, you might get the idea that there is more than one of him. If you were a rival male thinking of moving in, you’d conclude that the place was too crowded for you and fly onwards. Cettis used to be an exoticism: the sort of bird twitchers boasted about. These days they’re all over southern and eastern England, wherever it’s seriously wet. The first British breeding record was 1973; there are now 2,000 breeding males annually. They’ve advanced northwards in response to milder winters; Cettis aren’t climate change sceptics.

It’s tempting to look back. After all, I’ve covered seven Summer Olympic Games for the Times, attended half a dozen World Cups and getting on for 30 Wimbledons. I’ve seen — and better, much better, written about — Roger Federer, Fu Mingxia, Michael Johnson, Dancing Brave, Ayrton Senna, Katarina Witt and Malcolm Marshall. I’ve also seen and written about blue whales, tigers, jaguars, lammergeiers and the blue morpho butterfly. And the very best of all is — But no. I’ve not spent 32 years talking to athletes to fall into that trap. It’s all been great, and many thanks to all who made it so, especially the subs who spotted and removed my many cock-ups, but well, Brian, it’s not about last season, is it? You see, Brian, me and the lads are ready for new challenges. We’re in good shape, we’re quietly confident, but we’re not underestimating the opposition. There’s a long way to go, or so we hope, but we’re taking each match as it comes. What more can any one of us do in any circumstances? Let the umpire call play again and we’ll fidget with our pad-straps, adjust our box and take guard once again.God help us, we can do no other.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close