Monday, 9 July 2012

Sharing the sporting burden

With just over two weeks to go, I decided to look at how diehard sports fans may find sharing the London 2012 Olympics with fair weather fans

There's a gentle thud from the hallway as a girl in her early 20s munches on some Coco Pops. She emerges from the lethargy which has defined her summer, her first back in her parents' little back bedroom since university, to pick up the post. Gasping, she rips open a letter with a garish pink logo on it - "Yesss!" she yelps. "I've got them!" It's the best moment of her year, she's been debited £144 for tickets she works out, scouring her painful credit card receipt, are for first round Greco Roman Wrestling at the Olympics. A passion is born.

Because this could be a glorious or a dreadful summer for British sports fanatics. Time and again, us long sufferers hear "oh, I only watch if England are playing" when asking about which football teams people support or "do they play tennis the rest of the year?". Yes, this has been the summer we've been forced to share.

We are slap bang in the middle of that beautiful period when the summer and winter sports collide - people listen out for football results at cricket matches, the tennis clashes with the Grand Prix and the athletics is in full swing. One year in every four, sport takes over a nation. Robbed of the combination in 2008 by England's failure to qualify for the Euros, the Beijing Olympics passed off, at slightly awkward times for European viewers, in modest style. 

So it was with some shock that sports fans have been thrown back into sharing dingy pubs with excited St George-painted types and 5live's 6-0-6 radio phone-in is further populated with broad brush, ill-considered views. 

The much vaunted lack of expectation on the Three Lions from the media translated to the fair weather fans bringing a new experience for diehards.

Instead of being the voice of cynicism every time a part-timer would say "that Darren Anderton could do a job for us long term" or "Henman can win the whole thing using serve and volley", we have to stick up for the overpaid egos which populate the national football team. As such, we hear ourselves saying "but he's had a great season at club level" every time Ashley Young fails to connect with a two yard pass or "I've seen Murray smile when he won the Cincinnati Masters", unable to extoll our usual brand of unflinching cynicism masking blind hope.

And we've been let down twice in very different ways. Against Italy in the Euros, we put out a pathetic, unambitious and embarrassing performance which was inept and dull to the merest onlooker, killing off another swathe of potential fans. The number of fans who cite Italia 90 as the point at which they got into football is unlikely to be seen again as the national side fall from all-action heroes to bedroom action baddies. 

And then there was Andy Murray. I've been following Murray since he astonishingly burst into the mainstream at Queen's in 2005 with a shocking permed haircut and an enthralling follow-up five set defeat to David Nalbandian at Wimbledon. Summer fans have seen his ups and downs at Wimbledon, semi-finals and agonising injuries, but they haven't seen the wins against Federer elsewhere on the ATP tour, the three other Grand Slam finals and the lighter side to the sullen Scot seen under pressure on the court. Without context, yesterday's final was a bolt from the blue and an expected failure when in reality Murray was in the game for long periods and lost out to Federer's key abilities: tenacity, court coverage and finesse. 

So with two opportunities down, we have one sporting event to go to win over the sporting doubters. Names that mean nothing to The Many right now: Mo Farrah, Dai Greene and Andy Baddley, have the chance to become the new Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis or Linford Christie. 
Because however much fanatics hate to share their prize loves, London 2012 might just be our opportunity not to sit ranting in the corner to no-one for a few weeks.