Monday, 15 October 2007

Underdog day

I joined what passes for the prawn cocktail brigade at Port Vale on Saturday at the start of one of those weekends when the whole world stops for sport. Invited to the game against Brighton as a guest of Vale chairman Bill Bratt, a one-time work colleague of my dad and uncle, we partook of the pre-match refreshments and settled into the padded seats of the director’s box before being numbed into senselessness by 90 minutes of near-eventless tedium.

We got the tour of the dressing rooms, the famous ex-players’ names on the walls, a peak into the laundry, the tale about the day they put dry ice in the bath and the walk down the tunnel onto the pitch. I’ve been on it a few times – including the time I got thrown out of the ground as a teenager and the occasion when the Valemail internet group of which I’m a member sponsored a player. But there’s still a primeval thrill about walking out onto those fields of dreams, and no 0-1 home defeat is ever going to diminish it.

Then, in quick succession, it was England 3 Estonia 0, Scotland 3 Ukraine 1, St Helens 6 Leeds 33, France 9 England 14, an early-morning drive to Luton (with Sir Ian Botham on the radio) for a trail half marathon and an early-evening farewell five-a-side with one of my best footballing mates before he moves out to Essex. Oh, and somewhere in there was an England win over Sri Lanka in the cricket and the fastest man in a rugby jersey outpacing the Argentineans for South Africa. My only worry at midnight on Sunday, as I listened to Bob Dylan being booed at the Newport Folk Festival on BBC4, was that I’ve got tickets for Philip Glass putting Leonard Cohen’s poetry to music at the exact time that South Africa will be trying to stop England staging what’s being talked about in sporting circles as the biggest comeback since Lazarus.

Being a Port Vale supporter and a socialist (not necessarily in that order), I’m almost invariably on the side of the underdog. So it always makes it easier to indulge in a spot of gratuitous nationalism when the national team isn’t expected to win. With victories for England in rugby, football and cricket all in the same weekend, though, it was probably just as well Port Vale lost or I might have started believing that socialism could succeed as well.

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