Someone once described sport as the most ‘magnificent irrelevance’. I can’t remember who said it, or when they said it, but it resonated with me then, and has done ever since. A brief yet clear statement that provided me with an immediate and unquestioned feeling of agreement, without need for further explanation. For sport (at any level) can provide us with amazing highs and painful lows. It can bring joy as well as heartache, it can bring delirium as well as despair. It can lead to elation, euphoria and ecstasy, but just as easily result in grief, misery and woe.
In that moment when you are truly invested , whether it be a 5 side game in the local league or watching your country in the World Cup Final. In that moment nothing else matters. In that moment it is the most important thing on the planet. In that very moment you would sell your soul to the devil for victory, for that feeling of ultimate bliss. Yet, when the adrenaline rush dissipates and you’ve pacified your emotions. When you’ve had a good nights sleep and worked things over in your own mind. When the arena is empty and all is said and done, does it really matter? Not really. In the grand scheme of things does it matter if Man City win the league or Bournemouth get relegated? Does it matter if Jofra Archer stops Martin Guptill getting 2 runs in the World Cup Super Over, or if Owen Farrell scores that penalty kick against the Springboks in the Final? Not really. It might do at the time, in fact it definitely does at the time. But a week or two later, the magnitude of the moment fades and you are left with just the memories and the dreams. For sport is a magnificent irrelevance. At least, that’s one way of describing it.
Or perhaps, sport is more than that. Perhaps it is important. Perhaps it does matter beyond just that moment. Perhaps, it is in fact one of the most underestimated, undervalued foundations of which society can be built.
Sport has been a meaningful facet of civilisation for as long as as there has been written history, and possibly longer. Take the Olympic games for example which are more than 2700 years old. A worldwide event whereby countries must present their case years in advance, to even be considered a potential host. This is just one of the many examples of sport paving the way for society.
Sport brings people, communities and countries together like nothing else I can think of. Sport has the ability to teach us so many of life’s important lessons. I started playing sport when I was around 7/8 years old and my dad took me to one of the local football teams in my area. I still remember it now, being nervous as hell about that first training session. A skinny, shy, unassuming boy venturing out in to the big wide world of sport and all that it entails. Ever since that evening some 22 years ago sport has been, and continues to be one of my greatest teachers, one of my biggest outlets and one of my most loyal friends.
It has taught me the importance of teamwork, of working alongside fellow human beings all trying to achieve the same common goal. The value of working as a unit and how integral that unit is towards achieving success. The importance of never giving up, of battling hard right until the final whistle. Of not letting your team mates down and putting aside your selfish needs for the greater good of the group.
It has taught me how to build friendships, both on the field and off. I have met countless amazing and wonderful people through sport. In fact, I don’t think I would know or have half as many friends as I do now if it wasn’t for sport. The camaraderie and sense of belonging you feel from being in a football changing room is something special. A place where you can be yourself and know that everyone around you has ‘got your back’. A place of comfort and affinity. A place where you belong.
It has taught me to judge someone on who they are as a person, and who they are inside. I have met and made some of my best friends through sport. Friends from all different races and all different rungs on the social ladder. Sport is a direct gateway for meeting such a wide variety of people – rich people, poor people, tall people, small people, black people, white people, happy people sad people. It teaches you that more often that not, deep down people want the same thing in life – to be happy and to be respected. It proves to you that if you offer someone that, more often than not you get it in return.
Sport has certainly hammered home the importance of keeping fit and healthy. Being surrounded by people who value their physical health and well being rubs off on you. I have a played a half decent level of football (semi pro) and there isn’t much room for people that don’t have a decent level of fitness. I’m sure the higher you go up, the more that level of fitness increases. Right up until you get to the Premier League, where every player is in the peak of condition. A bit like a finely tuned engine.
Sport teaches you to relish and live in the moment. Too often in life we are preoccupied with what might (or might not) happen in the future. Too often we get bogged down with the complexities in life and forget to actually enjoy it. Sport demonstrates to us the importance of sometimes just living in the moment. It also proves to us that nothing lasts forever. I have been a part of, or witnessed some fantastic teams / events down the years. Experiences that will last with me for a lifetime. As I sit here now though, all of them have been and gone. I am sure there will be more to come, but for those that have been already, they are now simply memories and recollections.
I think most importantly though, sport provides us with that much needed escape. That release from the complications and hardships that life throws in our way from time time. When you step out on that football pitch, or that cricket pitch (or any sporting pitch). Or when you go for that run, or go and watch your favourite rugby team, all of life’s stresses disappear. For those 90 minutes, or that afternoon, or that period in your life you are free from all the dark thoughts, all the insecurities and all the worries, that let’s face it we all have. All of us, every single one of us, needs an outlet. No matter if we are 17 or 87, if we are male or female, if we are rich or poor, we all need an outlet. Sport for so many, can be that much needed outlet. That process with which to channel our anger and frustration. We are only human after all.
In today’s society, today’s culture, mental health is such a big issue. Unhappiness and discontent seem so rife . Why is that? Well that is a debate for another day. In short though, we have developed in to a society with a jealous undercurrent. Social media has in large, been the catalyst for this. Everyone looks from the outside like they are living the perfect life. Comparisons with others are now just a touch of a button away. Instagram influencers and celebrities on Twitter with their perfect bodies and one holiday a month lifestyles. Sadly this isn’t reality though. For the chosen few it is, for the majority it’s not. Modern culture has sadly become, very money orientated. Success and failure is often based on money, or lack of it. We are all about what we can have right here right now, about what possessions we can boast of to others. Sport at it’s core is none of this. It matters not how big your watch is, or how many followers you have on Instagram. It cares not for wealth or greed. It asks for skill mixed with courage, talent mixed with determination, and in return will provide you with somewhere you belong.
A game of football on a Saturday with your team mates, an hour’s run round the local park, a day spent watching cricket or a solid session at the gym. These are worth 20 times a counselling session or a medication tablet from the doctor. No-body, not one single person has ever got back from a decent session at the gym, or a tough run round the park, and said ‘you know what I really regret doing that’. As Hollywood as it may sound, sport is good for the soul.
Today’s population seem to have so much pent up anger and frustration. There is so much cruelty and injustice out there happening every day of every week Why are we so angry? We all lead such busy lives. The rat race is in full force in the 21st century. Racing to wake up, racing to jobs we don’t really like, racing to meetings we don’t really care about. Stuck in endless traffic jams and endless queues at the shops. It’s no good for us, it creates animosity and ill feeling. Sport is that process by which so many could vent their frustration and anger. An opportunity to let off the proverbial steam, and re-focus.
Sport is one of the few avenues in life, where money or social ranking means little compared to ability and will. Think of Anthony Joshua, Steven Gerrard, Lewis Hamilton, Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling. All sportsman who started off on the bottom rung of the ladder, so to speak. No money, no help and no prospects. Now they are all (or were) at the very top of their chosen sport. Those five, and so many others could quite easily have slipped in to a life of crime or a life not destined for the dizzying heights they find themselves at now. Sport provided them with that chance. That glimmer of hope, that light at the end of the tunnel.
A lot of the problem I feel, is sport isn’t valued and promoted enough at school, and from an early age. To be fair my Primary School headmaster was amazing. He loved sport and helped me and my best friend endless amounts. He is a rare and dying breed though. Once I got to secondary school, sport was barely mentioned. An hour, maybe 2 a week of physical education, and that was it. No sports teams and no coaching. Instead I and everyone else were made to sit through algebra maths classes and science lessons spent dissecting the Periodic Table. How many of us have used those classes to help us moving forward? I bet you can count the true number on one hand, maybe one finger. How many people have used sport to help them moving forward? How much time have you got!
I agree and accept that it’s difficult because you need to try and include everyone, but there are so many sports out there. Football, cricket, golf, running, tennis, gymnastics, athletics, swimming, boxing, bowls etc etc etc, the list is endless. Surely the majority of people can relate or show an interest in at least one kind of sport. Maybe you don’t like football but you love boxing. Maybe you can’t stand cricket but you love going for a run. Maybe it isn’t rugby that grabs your interest but the thought of being able to run the 100 metres quicker than anyone else does.
Sport mirrors society in so many ways. Today’s generation just aren’t interested in sport and what it has to offer. Football has, in recent years seen a catastrophic decline in the number of participants. A 2015 study by the FA revealed that an astonishing 2360 grassroots football teams had folded in a 3 year period between 2012-2015. Alongside this unwelcoming statistic is perhaps an even more depressing one – approximately 180 thousand players aged 16 or over have dropped out the game since 2005 Astonishing. In 2014 the ECB revealed a worrying statistic that the number of recreational cricketers had shrunk from 908 thousand in 2013 to 844 thousand the following year. It was also stated that well over 5 percent of matches had to be cancelled due to teams not being able to field 11 players. Player retention in the 16-to-19-year-old age bracket is one of cricket’s, and sport in general’s, biggest problems. The ECB National Playing Survey in 2013 concluded that 40 per cent of young people who play more than 12 weeks a season were dropping out of cricket by the age of 19.
As i said sport mirrors society and today’s society seem more interested in their phones, Instagram and technology than participating in sport. I suspect the major increase in TV coverage of sport over the last decade or so hasn’t helped either. Any normal given week during the football season and there’s a live Premiership game at midday on a Saturday, then another in the evening. On Sunday you have at least 2, often 3 games on the TV. Monday night football is now another regular fixture, not forgetting the mid week European competitions as well as the plethora of lower league games being shown. I genuinely don’t think this is a good thing. It’s almost being rammed down our throats. It’s too easy for people to not bother playing sport and instead spend all week inside watching it on the TV.
I can think of numerous occasions where having an interest or being involved in sport has helped in some way, or made life more enjoyable. When i was doing my farming work in Australia and we had a ‘Sports Day’ for my birthday, it was possibly the most enjoyable birthday I’ve ever had. Every single backpacker got involved and helped create a more close-knit environment. Think about when you start a new job and get paired up with someone to shadow for the first few days. I don’t know about you but my first go to conversation is nearly always sport. When you meet your father in law or your partners cousin for for the first time, it’s always a bit easier if you can discuss how bad Arsenal’s defence are nowadays, or your thoughts on who will win the next Ryder Cup. Think about how the whole nation gets together when England are playing in the World Cup. Jubilant scenes up and down the country when we knocked Columbia out on penalties or swept Sweden aside 2 nil.
I’ve had some of my best, most satisfying experiences playing and watching sport. My favourite moment still to this day, ever since being an Arsenal fan was when Tony Adams smashed home that half volley with his left foot against Everton at Highbury, before going on to be crowned league champions. Goosebumps just thinking about it! I’ve played in numerous football teams down the years, and even turned my hand to management in recent times. All memories I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I feel like sport is fast becoming an abandoned building block of society though. With all the hate, anger and disruption in the world it is good to have something that offers hope and inspiration. Something with no hidden agendas. We must not forget this. With so much effort and so much money spent on building faster railways, faster cars and faster computers, we seem to have cast sport aside, like an old toy in the bedroom. How do you bring it back from the shadows? I think everyone has a part to play. All the parents, all the teachers, all the TV stations and the government too. How about one less class on algebra and an hour instead on PE. How about one less trip to the game console shop, and one more trip to the park. How about Devaluing love Island and valuing the link between sport and health instead. You can see what I’m getting at.
Where will we be in 20 or 50 years time. Will people growing up still play sport, or will Instagram, Facebook and Social Media rule the world. Will kids at school want to make the football or the athletics team or will kids just want have the most followers on Twitter. No-one truly knows what the future holds, but a society that functions and operates effectively surely needs sport at it’s core.