I can’t seem to get by without sport or the structure it gives my life these days
AFTER A WEEKEND spent binge-watching sport, the extra 70-minute wait for the Ashes Test to start this morning is killing me.
I spent most of Saturday glued to elite sport on the TV: the Arsenal-Burnley match, Wales vs England in the rugby and, most of all, England vs Australia in the cricket.
But for four days now I’ve gone cold turkey, and I’m really struggling.
I woke up on Monday, after a family day out the day before, feeling not just hungover and Monday-ish but also somehow bereaved. Sports bereaved.
My liver was craving alcohol and my mind the freedom of the weekend. My whole body was yearning for sleep; but the saddest feeling at all was that there would be no meaningful action until Thursday. Three whole days of nothing.
Admittedly, there was Manchester United vs Wolves to watch on Monday night – but I abhor Man U., having been bored silly by their Success Juggernaut trundling over all comers since 1993.
I was horribly aware that – if I didn’t slum it in midweek, watching The EFL or some obscure Champions League qualifiers – there would be no action in my life for 96 hours, save the odd podcast or Jonathan Agnew column.
Which is a sad state of affairs for a mature man.
In my defence, I might say that the cricket – in particular – was totally intoxicating on Saturday afternoon.
Watching Joffra Archer twice spear 90mph deliveries into the helpless form of Steve Smith – hitherto the undisputed best batsman in the world – was both wonderful and frightening.
I was double screening – but found myself turning down the rugby because the giants of and England and Wales smashing into each other seemed somewhat bloodless, compared to the drama unfolding at the Lord’s Test.
Smith – known to England fans as a cheat, a serial humiliator of our bowling attacks, and a batsman so twitchy and mannered that he even pisses off his team-mates bowling at him in the nets – underwent a dramatic and unforgettable metamorphosis in our minds.
From Got him! when Archer crashed one into his unguarded left forearm.
To Shit: Hope he’s all right! when the bouncer to the neck dropped him to the turf.
To He’s got some balls as he argued with the team doctor trying to drag him off the field.
To the standing ovation he received when he staggered off – and again received when he returned at the fall of the next wicket.
After that brief passage of so-called play, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever think of Smith in the same, hateful, way again.
Meanwhile, Archer has simultaneously emerged – further emerged, after his World Cup heroics – as a National Hero; the saviour of English cricket, a Demon Aussie-slayer for maybe a decade to come.
To paraphrase Uncle Bryn from Gavin and Stacey: I, for one, couldn’t wait to see what they would come up with next…
I’ve written before about how sport is becoming more and more important to me as I get older, and how worrying I find it sometimes.
In a way, it’s a bit like that Living For The Weekend feeling I used to have when I was a Young Man, when I was in a job I didn’t much like and the wider world – the pursuit of pleasure aside – didn’t make much sense.
It was a life I don’t have a great control over but, slowly, I began to insert some structure: a girlfriend and then a wife, a better job, a mortgage and a family. Gradually, I found that I was too busy to need the old distractions.
But now that I’m into my 50s, with the kids both adults now and needing me much less, with a writing job that allows me to vary my routine much as I want, I find that sport is again providing some much-needed structure and meaning to my life.
In this kind of second adolescence, I’m Living For The Weekend again – even though it still seems to come around as bloody slowly as it ever did.