Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Watching from Afar

Over the years, I have become accustomed to finding bizarre means of keeping in touch with major sporting events. I found myself acting in a school play during the England vs Argentina match in 1998, for example, and spent the time I wasn't on stage wandering around outside trying desperately to interpret the cheers and groans that were emanating from houses and pubs up and down the high street.

Friends at university still remember the time that I was cheering the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2003 NFC Championship whilst watching a helmet moving up and down a graphic image of an NFL gridiron. And I'm not sure the librarians in the American archive I was visiting in September 2005 ever quite understood why I was walking to the computer terminals every five minutes for an update on the latest score from The Oval.

Then again, when England won the Ashes, it was the only incidence of the three mentioned above where the team I was following actually won. To a certain extent, it is easy to follow something when your team is successful. It would be nicer to watch it in person, of course, but there's a pleasure to be derived from seeing a team you support win. It's much different when your team loses.

Part of the irrationality of sport comes from the fact that you feel that your support, in some way, can help your team win. I've certainly seen this happen. My local rugby team, for example, has come from behind in a number of matches I've watched, and you could see them lifted by the roar of support that came from the fans. But that, of course, is when I was there in person.

Just because I'm in an armchair, however, doesn't stop me from roaring my support at a TV screen. Nor does it prevent me from jumping up and down in frustration when things go wrong, or heaping abuse at a referee for perceived failure to uphold the laws of the game. Rationally, there's no good reason for this. I know it won't have any effect on the game, and the only effect it has on me is to unnecessarily raise my blood pressure.

There is something reassuring to this, though. For all that it is a charade, however strangely emotionally involving, it gives me peace of mind - that whatever I could have done to help the team (even if, in reality, it is sod all) has been done. That it is not my fault that the team has failed.

This is all a long preamble to my frustration that I will be on the other side of the world when England play South Africa in the World Cup on Friday, and far away from a TV showing the match. I remember back to four years ago, when every passing England victory gave me a greater sense of pleasure, culminating, ultimately, in the lifting of the Webb Ellis trophy. In my heart of hearts, I know that time is past; I know there is little to no chance of a repeat performance. But that doesn't stop me hoping.

I know that the most likely result on Friday will be a defeat for England. If it isn't, I'll check the BBC Sport website and let out a large cheer when I see the result. But if it is, then it will give me a bigger punch to the stomach. After all, how could I let my country down?

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