There occurs next week (8–12 September) a sobering little anniversary. Remember 12 months ago and that heady aura of innocent joy and optimism all around? At the end of an enthralling Ashes cricket series through the summer of 2005, England and Australia were locked in a riveting decider in south London. A celebration of cut-and-thrust endeavour and good fellowship ended with a tumult of national mafeking in Trafalgar Square, the second one in the three months since London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end …and at least sport had shown itself a cause for good, and good cheer.
For shame, it was all an illusion, a passing fantasy. Just a summer on, the cover has been blown. Obviously, the starkest illustration came two weekends ago on that same Kennington cricket field which had been so suffused with glad rapture just 12 months before. The Australian cricket umpire Darrell Hair may be a dead ringer for Sergeant Ernie Bilko’s commanding officer Colonel Hall, but in real life the adjudicator of the creases has none of the forgiving placidity of the exasperated bigwig at Fort Baxter. Although the autocratic Col. Hair has ‘previous’ against sides from the subcontinent — even this last winter — once he had set in train the chaos with his unbending officiousness, the Oval debacle, in fact, was not so much his pigheaded fault but that of the army of squirming officials and flapping mandarins of the various boards who were unable to get a grip and simply order play to restart with a substitute umpire. It has happened before — Edgbaston, 1973.
It put the tin lid on a depressing summer which had begun with ludicrous expectations for football’s World Cup. In the event, levels of skill and sportsmanship were lower than they have ever been. In England, the cockeyed presumption that the team fashioned by Sven-Göran Eriksson would win the thing outright was soon smithereened. The overpaid Swede and his ditto bunch were way out of their depth; so a state of blank, semiconcussed shock set in which, I fancy, remains — and so far the vast majority of supporters, still in dozy denial of their optimistic idiocy, are unable to grasp our own Rod Liddle’s clear-minded opinion uttered just a week after the final, and his fervent wish that if S-GE ‘ever sets foot in the country again, he is arrested at Heathrow and dispatched to the US for a show trial, an orange boiler suit and 16 years in Guantanamo Bay’.
Assumed white-knight talisman Rooney jumped feet-first at a fallen opponent’s groin as a prologue to England’s shambolic exit and, in the final the Frenchman lauded the best player of the age disgraced himself by a head-butt so venomous that a Glasgow magistrate in the 1930s would have perked up with interest. A couple of weeks after Monsieur Zidane’s assault, up the Champs-Elysées whizzed the finishers in what his countrymen consider, imperishably, as the world’s finest sporting event. Before the Tour began, the two favourites had been banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs. A week after it ended, the winner was charged similarly. Within a month ‘the fastest man on earth’, Olympic foot-racer Justin Gatlin, admitted his 100m world record had also been achieved on drugs. A week later his US compatriot and Olympian, Marion Jones, the ‘fastest woman’, also tested positive. September, and the nights draw in on dark, negative days.