Roger Alton

Spectator Sport: Worth celebrating

Celebrations — not just an egregious though annoyingly addictive form of mini-confectionery, but the single hottest topic in sport.

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Celebrations — not just an egregious though annoyingly addictive form of mini-confectionery, but the single hottest topic in sport.

Celebrations — not just an egregious though annoyingly addictive form of mini-confectionery, but the single hottest topic in sport. This journal’s team of volunteers stationed along the touchlines of the nation’s football pitches report with sadness that nowadays schoolkids would much rather practise their goal-scoring celebrations than, say, trying to win the ball, pass it or even dribble it. Or possibly score goals.

Hence the sight of youngsters rushing to the corner flag in the wider outposts of Hackney Marshes to practise rocking their babies, or breakdancing, or shushing opposing parents with a finger to the lips. Or standing arms outstretched, eyes shut, waiting to be anointed. Well, that’s really only OK if you’re Wayne Rooney and have just scored a goal of such synapse-stunning athleticism, skill, audacity and co-ordination that it will live in the memory until, well, until you do it again.

It’s the same with rugby. You just hope that mini-rugby is not now full of chunky 12-year-olds swallow-diving over the line. But then I suppose that if they can run support lines like England’s new hero Chris Ashton, go looking for the ball like Ashton, and rely on hunger and instinct like Ashton, they can swallow dive all they want. Even if Ashton drops one in the World Cup final, children everywhere will still want to play like him.

Ashton’s had his critics, but if anything shows that sport can be fun it’s Ashton and his dive. And if it gets up the noses of his opponents, well and good. Paradoxically, though, almost the biggest roar at Twickenham last weekend came for the most undemonstrative of players, Jonny Wilkinson, brought on for the final quarter against Italy. The most emotion he ever showed came in Sydney after kicking the winning points against Australia in 2003. He smiled, mouthed ‘World Cup, World Cup’ to Will Greenwood… then realised that the final wasn’t over, and trotted back for the restart. No ‘anoint me’ rituals for the man who really was the anointed one.

The F1 driver Robert Kubica, like Ashton, knows that sport should be life-enhancing. He’s aroused the wrath of the pursed-lip brigade after trashing his hand in an accident while rallying in Northern Italy. Renault were mad to let him do it, they said, and Kubica was selfish. Actually no: Renault know that driving cars is what makes him happy. ‘Had I not done it, I would have stayed home regretting it,’ he says. ‘So I did it and now I’m in this bed. But rallies aren’t just a passion. They are severe training for F1.’ Call me a bit Pathé News, but it’s good that fans should see the best drivers in the world actually driving.

If you want to see another of the great celebrations, Usain Bolt’s arrow to the stars after mincing the competition in another 100m race, you are going to have to pay up to £725 a pop for the final in the Olympic Stadium on 5 August next year. But I reckon the best seat — free, too — will be on the first day of the Games on the pastures above Box Hill in Surrey, and along the nearby valley known as Little Switzerland. The 240km cycle road race tackles Box Hill nine times.

It’s not the steepness of Box Hill that makes it so enthralling but its two hairpin bends, overlooked by pastures, with room for thousands of spectators. Cyclists love a hairpin bend: the tilt of the bike, the sudden change of direction, the slingshot effect as you speed away. This could be a real cause for celebration with gold for Britain’s Mark Cavendish, though keep an eye out for another hot UK talent, Ben Swift.

One thing certainly not worth celebrating is the sight of once-great golfer Tiger Woods gobbing on the course at Dubai. Still, at last he’s managed to hit the greens.

Written byRoger Alton

Roger Alton is a former editor of the Observer and the Independent. He writes the Spectator Sport column.

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