Sunday, March 18, 2007

Real Life Sad Ending To a Happy Story

As you've probably figured by now, this sport business has a slight tendency toward the dramatic. In fact, I've long thought of sport as soap opera for men. Improbable storylines, pantomime villains, joy, heartache and then Gary Lineker presents the omnibus so you can catch up on what you've missed.

Of course, the problem with soap operas is that sometimes people mistake them for real life, accosting Dirty Den at the petrol station or sending love letters to that Maria off Corrie. This phenomenon is also replicated in sport, especially on a weekend like the one just passed, where the potboiling plotlines whisk us off to a land of makebelieve, and perspective and reality disappear from view.

Saturday's incredible events put sport onto the front pages, which only exacerbates the confusion, placing games alongside real life so that they blend in seamlessly. Then something happens to make everyone snap out of it. Like the grey-haired figure who had just watched the team he coached fall on the wrong side of one of the biggest shocks in sporting history dies only hours later.

A guy who had just been an unfortunate stooge in a particularly outlandish sporting cock and bull story, the poor sap on the wrong end of a ripping yarn, had just, well, actually died.

Oh. Shit.

I knew little of Bob Woolmer before Saturday. Like many others who don't follow cricket closely his earlier career as a test batsman who had joined up with the Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket and later taken part in the rebel tour to South Africa was unknown to me, as was his later standing as one of the most respected and innovative coaches in the game.

He was a close personal friend of Dickie Bird, the former test umpire, however. Bird had been unearthed by Sky News to provide some good old-fashioned bluster on the news that 'Freddie' Flintoff, English cricket's erstwhile Boy's Own hero, had been stripped of the vice-captaincy of the World Cup squad. Flintoff's boozy carousing in the aftermath of England's loss to New Zealand on Friday had necessitated his being rescued from an imperilled pedalo in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The news of Woolmer's death broke while the interview was in progress. Just when the wrathful brows of the British public were gathered most fiercely in the direction of the naughty Flintoff, real life impinged, like a school bell harshly bringing play-time to an end.

But the transition from the ersatz emotion of pompous indignation to genuine human grief was uneasy. The news anchor blasted out at Bird the details of Woolmer's death in that usual Sky News red-top tone. Bird's shock was immediately obvious, his lip trembling after the anchor asked him to provide his thoughts on his close friend's death just seconds after he had heard the shocking news.

Those of us who'd cheered the Irish team home to their improbable victory the previous night even felt the chill wind of reality cool our own jovial glow. The giddy glee of such a win is for the most part derived from patriotic pride, but also from the natural element of schadenfreude in the humbling of a giant. So when the man whose team have been humbled dies at the height of our joy, the intrusion of reality can't help but dampen the jubilation.

Ireland's cricketers' win, and the thrilling failure of the rugby team were great, rip-roaring stories that remind us why we devote so much of our spare time to watching people play games. Just like the latest tidings from the Rovers Return, however, it's not for real, and thank God for that. There's enough real around already.

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Anonymous Charisse said...

Good for people to know.

1:49 a.m.  

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