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Spectator sport

Spectator Sport: Glove story

25 February 2012

1:00 PM

25 February 2012

1:00 PM

My foul-mouthed friend Claudine had it about right after seeing Michael ‘full-­frontal’ Fassbender’s latest sex-and-angst gloomathon, Shame. ‘I didn’t know where to look,’ she said, ‘when Carey Mulligan started singing.’ And anybody who’s spent any time caring about Arsenal these past few years won’t have known where to look as the team was pulled apart by an ageing Milan side, before collapsing to Sunderland in the FA Cup.

If you want a long and happy life with the full complement of legs, it’s always best to keep on the right side of Roy Keane. But the Cork man was on to something when he complained about the number of Arsenal players wearing gloves: ‘No professional footballer worth his salt should enter the field of play in gloves. They should have been worrying about playing for their manager, not worrying about getting cold hands.’

So it’s all about tough glove, then. We northern European types don’t have much time for tights, snoods, or even gloves. Typical Mediterranean softies. But indeed Arsenal have become pretty dismal, and it will be a sad day when the casual football fan looks on an Arsenal game much as you would a Bolton or QPR game. If Arsène Wenger does go, and his marvellous project does run into the sand, it would be good if he were treatedwith the respect and love his great vision deserves. Even by those fans of other, less attractive teams. It would be a passing that needs a Wagnerian accompaniment… Siegfried’s funeral march perhaps, always a big favourite round the Archway Road. But hey, it might not happen. After all, Arsenal weren’t effectively booted out of the Champions League by, say, Young Boys of Berne. Milan are top of Serie A and have won the European Cup seven times: seven times more than Arsenal, or indeed any London club.

The heavyweight Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, are both PhDs, speak five or six languages each, and behave with considerable dignity. Vitali’s slapping, spitting, loopy opponent at the weekend, Dereck Chisora, is a posh Zimbabwean of considerable means. He lives in Hampstead, but wants to be seen as a gangster, though you’ll forgive me if I don’t say that to his face. He tweets as @dellboychisora. The other night he tweeted: ‘I’ll fight David Haye. I gave him the mic and he glassed me so 1 to him and 1 to me.’ With its mixture of pseudo-toughness, boasting, retribution and a sense of grievance, that message tells you a lot about the modern urban psyche. When he advanced through the crowd at the post-fight press conference, with a couple of substantially built citizens at his side, most of us would have scarpered pronto. Haye understandably thought that would be bad for his image so threw the first punch. I bet he regrets it now. But Chisora apart, boxers are without doubt the best-behaved, politest, most considerate of sportsmen. And whether they’re marquee names or the humblest of gym fodder, they are always available to talk.

Still time to catch one of the jewels of the current BBC output. I was lucky enough to know Clare ­Balding when she wrote for the Observer. She is every bit as honourable, funny and clever as she appears. She was of course head girl at school and president of the Cambridge Union and as far as I am concerned should soon be running the country. What she is actually doing is presenting a marvellous little 15-minute programme on Radio 4 called Sport and the British. Her choice of subjects is magical (from boxing and immigration to women in sport, sport in wartime, Irish politics, and of course why everyone hates the English) and her research impeccable. It runs till 9 March and please don’t miss it.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

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