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Spectator sport

Spectator Sport: National mourning

21 April 2012

2:00 PM

21 April 2012

2:00 PM

You don’t want to sound too swivel-eyed about this, but didn’t poor doomed Synchronised look cursed from the get-go in that enthralling Grand National? How often do you see the best jump jockey on the planet being chucked to the ground like a piece of straw? And that was on the way to the start. The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner looked out of sorts when he was eventually recaptured and Tony McCoy showed him the first fence.  ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ he should have snarled at McCoy. ‘Haven’t I done enough this year?’ Could McCoy have pulled his horse, one of the favourites, in a race watched by millions? It would never happen. But did the horse want to run? I don’t think so.

The death of Synchronised and According to Pete has set off a tornado of well-meaning cant, which had already been burbling away nicely for a few hours thanks to a feisty article by television panjandrum Sir Paul Fox mourning the BBC’s effective abandonment of sport. They won’t be covering the National again, it’s gone to Channel 4 along with the Derby and Royal Ascot. So the final BBC National was the most exciting ever, and one of the saddest too. I just hope that the wondrous Clare Balding will be given some sort of berth at C4.

Everyone knows that racehorses are treated like kings and live a wonderful life, with the best food, exercise and medical care there is. Racing people do more for horse welfare than anyone, and it will be a sad day if the National is tamed so much that the most exciting thing to do on a Saturday afternoon will be finding a parking space at Sainsbury’s. Sure, there could be fewer runners, that will probably come, and lower fences. The jumps could be made slightly safer, especially Becher’s. But it’s the uncertainty, the danger and the drama that makes it unique. The victory of a 33-1 shot, trained by the great Paul Nicholls for his first National winner, is a slam dunk bull’s eye for the joy of the uncertainty principle. Please don’t take it away.


So should anyone care about the BBC chucking in the towel over sport? It hasn’t really looked after sport for some time and, if you don’t care about something, you’re going to lose it. Perhaps the BBC relied on events coming back because Sky lacked gravitas. Fat chance: sport is demotic, vulgar, urgent, exciting and excitable, not qualities the BBC has ever really delivered. But then what is the BBC for, apart from being an efficient retailer of top class Scandinavian television drama? That’s pretty important, but doesn’t seem worth £3 billion or so.

•••

Who doesn’t love a bit of emotion? And the scenes of Bubba Watson’s hysterical tear-flooded joy on Masters Sunday were largely replicated on this correspondent’s sofa thanks to the generous odds of 12-1 over Watson offered by ­Ladbrokes on Saturday morning. But surely the CBS man was asking for trouble in the ghastly Butler cabin when he asked Watson, ‘Bubba, your father died a couple of years ago, you’ve just adopted your first baby, and now you’ve won the Masters. How are you feeling?’ Time to man the lifeboats…

•••

That was a frozen look on ’Arry ‘Loadsamoney’ Redknapp’s face as Frank Lampard scored his cracker of a goal at Wembley at the weekend to guarantee Spurs wouldn’t be going to the Cup Final. Was he thinking back perhaps to the young lad he saw learning to play at home (Lampard’s late mother was Harry’s wife’s twin sister)? It was a poignant reminder of one of the most fascinating family relationships in football.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.


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