Friday, November 18, 2011

Keep on the Grass

Insert joke about different shaped/sized balls here

A few weeks ago, when we were still enjoying what laughably passes for the summer in this country, I was taking a lunchtime walk to get out of a hot stuffy office, when I was suddenly hit by a very strong smell of newly cut grass.

It’s almost a cliché that aromas can transport your mind elsewhere, and particularly so with newly cut grass which many people cite as a favourite.  But for me it really did take me back, not to a specific moment, but to the period of my life spanning the ages of about 10 and 15.  In those days I spent most of my free time playing sports; football mostly but also some rugby, and on one or two scary occasions I dabbled in cricket.  Forget the sound of leather on willow, the sound of leather on shinbone brought tears to my eyes.

My mates and I seemed to spend every waking moment running about on various sports pitches (not always with permission), in parks or just in someone’s back garden.  A rare thing back then was to come across some actual goalposts (yes – we did use jumpers), but when you found some with nets attached, it was like striking gold.  In a haze of nostalgia most of these memories relate to glorious summer afternoons and evenings, although it’s hard to forget literally crying in pain as my frozen hands thawed out after a wintry rugby match, made even worse by having been steamrollered by a team of giants.

I suppose in this day and age it’s almost fashionable to avoid such places in case it brings on hay fever or an asthma attack.  40 years ago I hardly knew anyone with asthma; now it seems to be all the rage, and indeed neither my wife nor my 2 sons are strangers to a Ventolin inhaler.  Perhaps back then it was just as prevalent and we simply didn’t know we had it.

I loved playing team sports.  I was never too good at competing on my own.  I used to row for my school (yes I know, but I’m really not that posh), and although I was hopeless and uninterested at single sculling, I became ultra competitive in fours or eights.  As part of a team I liked the camaraderie, the common purpose, and what Sky Sports pundits call the dressing room banter.  The latter was much more noticeable playing Sunday league football.  In later years (I didn’t hang up my football boots until I was 43), it was one of the few occasions when I could be laddish and immature in that special way that we men have without feeling any shame. Training with people instead of alone was far more enjoyable; so much easier to make yourself sprint up and down a frozen pitch if all your mates are suffering with you.

But the real reason for enjoying team sports, as I’m now prepared to admit, was the opportunity to be praised and validated by my peers.  Not that I was ever that good at anything, but I was proficient enough at most sports for the occasional contribution to be appreciated.  I enjoyed the feeling of winning together and I suppose it made the losing much easier to swallow too, and heaven knows I’ve seen plenty of that!
They left the nets up! We've struck gold!!

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