With apologies to Lord Alfred Tennyson: Better to have played and lost than never to have played before. (1)
Every year Australians get excited about tennis, epecially around the performances at Wimbledon, and every four years about a range of sports, some of which (e.g. artistic swimming, snchronised diving) only excite the nation, or are even heard of, at the Olympics. This year Stewart McSweyn has been selected in the Australian team for the Tokyo Olympics in the 1500, 5000 and 10,000m track and field events. An outstanding achievement. But we all know that there are only two sports that matter, even to Stewart’s mum. Stewart has a twin brother Angus. In an alarming interview on the ABC 7.30 program his mother, in a Ripley’s ‘believe it or not’ moment, actually said, ‘Angus is the more gifted of the two boys. He could easily do things when playing cricket and football.’
Here follow my confessions. I was no good at either football or cricket, yet despite my inabilities I enjoy both as spectator sports. I look back on three great moments in my sporting life (football, cricket and tennis), with a sense of pleasure, largely because of the enjoyment shared with my extended family.
I gradually came to accept that ‘forward pocket’ was a place where they hid the school house team captain’s younger brother. I happily accepted that position. My expectations, and I suspect those of my teammates were low and happily I was able to meet them.
Several years ago at a family gathering a football appeared, a regular event on such occasions, and the assorted siblings, in-laws and nieces and nephews began a game of kick to kick. For those not familiar with this termiology Wikipedia has the following entry: ‘a pastime and well-known tradition of Australian Rules football fans, and a recognised Australian term for kick and catch type games. It is a casual version of Australian Rules.’ Anyone can join in, with an opportunity for showing off both kicking and marking skills. A favourite nephew, not known for his sporting prowess, kicked the ball which dribbled off his foot and caused much hilarity, punctuated by a comment from another favourite nephew (all nephews are favourites) who observed loudly: “Don’t worry. We regard you as the Robert of our generation.” Both of us took this to be a great compliment.
The apogee of my adolescent cricketing was the award of a trophy for “most improved C2” mounted on a plinth of brown bakelite (polyoxybezylmethylenglycolanhydrate). Was this for encouragement, consolation or perseverance, or the obviously well-deserved recognition of a brilliant display when I’d made 8 not out in the final match of the season? My brother regularly found the opportunity to mention this at Christmas family gatherings when the collected nieces and nephews played cricket, even if only tippity run, ‘a form of backyard cricket; the defining rule of the form, which requires the batsman to run if they hit the ball.’
Several years ago I decided to present the trophy to m brother for a Christmas present, since over the years he’d obviously drawn more pleasure from it than I had. At that stage he was playing in Victoria in a State representative seniors’ team. In the end common sense and dignity prevailed and the trophy must still be in the house somewhere, though we don’t have a pool room. That very same Christmas my brother gave me a surprise present. He had been to the local historical society, located the records of the South Warrandyte Cricket Club, and especially copied for me the minutes of the meeting at which it was determined that the most improved player in the Club should be me.
Lest anyone think my life was blighted only by football and cricket I recount one other magic moment. It was my mother’s 75th birthday I believe when we all celebrated at a friend’s home. There we all played tennis, but uncharacteristically my mother announced to the family that she would no longer be playing singles tennis against any of us. When asked why, she gave an unequivocal answer: “I’ve never been beaten by Robert and I’m not going to give him a chance at this stage of my life.”
I now play Croquet and there are several aspects that delight me about the game. It is cerebral; the desire to win is not paramount (or is at least subservient to the intention to make an opponent lose); and in the most recent COVID shutdown croquet was recognised not as a community sport but rather as an opportunity to exercise. And I can beat my brother at croquet.
Great sporting moments in my life may be tinged with both bathos andpathos, but I suffer no psychological injury, and futhermore a consequence of not taking sport at all seriously means I am perhaps the only family member not to suffer long-term cosnequences of any sporting injuries.
Best to be a good sport rather than good at sport, though if like Ashleigh Barty you can be both then life is even better than best.
(1) There is no record that Lord Alfred Tennyson ever palyed sport and his sole reference to sport in his writings indicates that he knew little of cricket. His gene pool ultimately gained respect when his grandson captained the English cricket team.
ROBERT J. KING