WHY DO PEOPLE WATCH SPORT? - The Anfield Wrap

By Martin Fitzgerald

I watch sport because I want to see people do wonderful things.

I watch sport because I want to see people being brilliant, being brilliant at sport.

I’ve come a long way in this respect.

Let me explain.

I used to hate Steve Davis.

Bloody hated him.

A snooker playing Tory that played snooker LIKE a Tory – conservative, grinding you down, never giving you a chance.  No charm, no charisma, a T-800 cyborg sent from the future to endlessly play snooker. The Romford Robot.

Steve Davis at German Masters Snooker Final (DerHexer) 2012-02-05 20

My dad threw an ashtray at the telly once when he was playing.

My dad threw an ashtray at the only telly we had because of how a fella played snooker.

Imagine that.

We liked Alex Higgins. Really liked him.

The often spotted sporting maverick, the romantic sportsman. Riddled with demons, often laced with drink, he was the opposite of Davis – fast, exciting, unpredictable. A reason to watch the game.

Unfortunately, there was another opposite too. He wasn’t as brilliant as Davis.

He had flashes, notably winning two World Championships, but he wasn’t so endlessly, persistently as brilliant as Davis.

So there comes a point when you give up. The sheer talent wins you over.

At some point you simply admit defeat and you acknowledge the obvious – Steve Davis is bloody good at snooker and if I’m going to waste my time watching snooker then I should probably appreciate that.

I used to hate The Australian Cricket team.

A gang of terrible professionals.

God they took it seriously, literally turning up over here with their helmets, their needle, their feet to the pitch of the ball and their straight bats.

David GowerDon’t show me the maker’s name, I’m not interested in the maker’s name.

And don’t get me started on the line and length, their endlessly persistent line and length.

Why couldn’t they be more like David Gower?

Gower had cricket sussed, he was having a right laugh. The embodiment of the amateur spirit.

In his floppy hat and open necked shirt, he resembled someone who had just left a garden party to play a bit of cricket. “Why do I need a helmet? I’ve got a bat”

And god, when he was good, he was beautiful to watch.

None of this textbook nonsense.

Feet nowhere near the ball, bat nowhere near the body. A man who could hit the boundary with the flick of his wrist whilst he seemed to have his mind on something else.

The game was changing around him though.

It started within his own team.

Gooch becomes captain. Gooch tries to get everyone fit. Gooch scores 333 against India at Lords.  Ten and a half hours of joyless batting underneath a helmet.

But he did score 333 runs.

And then the Australian dominance starts. Gooch multiplied by 11 but better.

It does my bloody head in, this new “professional spirit”.

1993. Old Trafford.

“The Aussies, they’ve got a new leg spinner, looks like a beach bum”

“A leg spinner? Don’t be daft, no one does leg spin anymore”.

“You watch, they’re saying he’s brilliant”.

“Great, can’t fucking wait. Bet he wears a helmet when he bowls”.

And then with his first ball in England, Shane Warne does that to Gatting.

His first ball!

What must he have been thinking?

“England eh? You don’t know me but let me show you something”

How could you not be seduced? How could you not be charmed?

So there comes a point when you give up. The sheer talent wins you over.

Warne, Border, McGrath, the Waugh Brothers, Ponting, Taylor, Healey, Slater etc etc.  One of the finest teams I have ever seen in any sport.

The professionals had taken over. The professionals had won me over.

I conceded defeat; they were a joy to watch.

Sometimes this process of hate to love takes years, sometimes it takes minutes.

I used to hate Diego Maradona.

It lasted for 3 whole minutes.

Mexico 1986. Maradona jumps with Shilton and punches the ball into the net. The goal was given.

Watching it live, I thought he headed it in. I think most people did. It was only after a series of replays that the full picture emerged.

Maradona y Bochini

But he knew straight away, Maradona knew straight away what he had done. He didn’t need a replay. And he peeled off to celebrate without a care in the world.

I hate you Diego Maradona.

Whilst the world was getting to grips with what he had done and collectively getting on its high horse, what must have been going through his head as England restarted the game?

“I know what I’ve done, I may be the only person that really knows what I’ve done, but they’ll be on to me. It won’t take long. All of them, they’ll be on to me. I better do something”

His response, just 3 minutes later, is incredible. As if he’s saying “I know you’re gonna hate THAT, but you’re gonna love THIS”

He spins on the half way line, runs past virtually the whole England team and scores the best goal ever. And he does the whole thing without the ball touching his right foot.

What amazes me about that goal is how long he left it to shoot. It’s almost as if he’s thinking “I’m in the box, I could score now but surely it would look better if I rounded Shilton? Might as well whilst I’m here”.

My theory about that goal was he was on a mission to redeem himself.

And for me, he did.

I love you Diego Maradona.

Hate to love in 3 minutes.

The sheer talent wins you over.

Luis Suarez.

Where do you start with Luis?

Loads of people hate Luis Suarez.

Loads of people hate Luis Suarez for far better reasons than I hated Steve Davis.

(Pic: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda)

(Pic: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda)

A racism scandal, biting two players, a deliberate handball to cheat Ghana out of a place in the World Cup Semi Final, loads of diving and finally, trying to engineer a move away from the club and fans that were the only people who stood by him.

He doesn’t make it easy does he?

If truth be told I’m not even sure if I like Luis Suarez. “Like” in the traditional sense of thinking he’s a good bloke that is.

But that’s not why I watch sport.

I watch sport because I want to see people do wonderful things.

I watch sport because I want to see people being brilliant, being brilliant at sport.

In that sense, I’m in awe of Luis Suarez.

Last night against England was just another in a long line of examples of his sheer talent persistently hitting you over the head. Hitting you over the head in the hope that one day you will concede.

“He can’t be fit can he?”

“Nah, if he was fit they would have brought him on when they were losing against Costa Rica”.

“Exactly, you can’t recover from a knee operation that quickly. I mean he was in a wheelchair a month ago”.

“Probably get 60 minutes out of him and realise it was a gamble that didn’t pay off”.

“Yeah, picking him probably plays into our hands”.

But, Luis Suarez defies belief. That’s what he does.

Leaving the beautiful first goal to one side, let’s just focus on his second.

It’s the 84th minute. He wasn’t supposed to be on the pitch this long was he?

Not only is he still on the pitch, but he’s more alive than anyone else.

He sprints away from the Cahill and Jagielka. On the 84th minute this unfit fragile player sprints away from Cahill and Jagielka and bears down on goal.

And then just watch it.

His legs are buckling underneath him but he keeps going.

The defence are trying to catch him but he keeps going.

His body looks crumpled and disjointed as he takes each stride but he keeps going.

Now look at his head.

His head is perfectly still. His head knows exactly what he’s about to do.

He’s about to co-ordinate his mess of limbs into one final position. One final position to unleash the fiercest shot imaginable.

Joe Hart? His head wasn’t still. His head moved out of the way for fear it would come off.

Ever since Suarez scored this goal I’ve thought of little else. I’m genuinely astonished by it. As astonished as I was by Warne’s ball to Gatting and Maradona’s second in ’86.

I’ve genuinely no idea how he did it and I didn’t even want it to happen. I wanted England to win.

I wanted England to win just like I did 86, just like I wanted Gower to be the best cricketer in the world, just like I wanted Higgins to always beat Davis.

Is the latest example of Suarez’s brilliance another step on the road to winning round his critics?

I get the sense that for some people it is. Those people who are fed up watching him in the hope that he isn’t brilliant. Despite obvious disappointment at the result they’re now finding a way to enjoy the brilliance.

Because that’s the thing, He is brilliant. If you like watching football, Luis Suarez is brilliant at it.

For others though, it’s a much longer road. No amount of brilliance, sheer talent, courage, tenacity and skill can ever win them over.

His goal last night is just another reason for them to tell you why they hate him.

They have reasons and I can respect that.

And that’s the contradiction that lies at the heart of watching sport. You’re asked to take sides in a game that isn’t good versus evil. Good and evil are merged in a way that confuses the mind. Heroes and villains are often the same person. It’s complex, the people you “like” are not always the best and the people you “hate” often are.

It would be great if all the players you “hated” were rubbish too, like Lee Bowyer, but it just doesn’t work like that.

I used to hate a lot of sportsmen that I’d never met but then I gave up. The sheer talent won me over.

That’s why I love watching sport.

That’s why I love watching Luis Suarez.

Pic: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda)

(Pic: David Rawcliffe / Propaganda)

@4hundredblows