Monday, March 23, 2015

Someone once suggested that sport is `the last refuge for those who find it impossible to idle.`   But these days sport seems to be more and more the first port of call for those who are bewildered and  disillusioned by the pressures and stresses of modern day life.

And what a glorious weekend of escapism it has been.  Saturday morning began with the news of Martin Guptill`s staggering innings in New Zealand`s win over the West Indies to reach the semi-finals of cricket`s World Cup.  Guptill scored 237 not out including 11 sixes and 24 fours in just 163 balls and for me it put into context the probability that I never once scored 237 runs in a season, let alone in 20 blistering overs.

Then the Six Nations Rugby Tournament ended with Ireland winning the trophy by a whisker with England and Wales losing out on points difference.   But it was not just the enthralling and unpredictable spectacle of Saturday`s three games because, once again, Rugby showed football just how games even at the very highest level should be played and conducted with the utmost respect for the laws of the game and the match officials. Another breath of fresh air.

As for football, we had yet another inkling of what the Premier League is really all about in some brief, ill-considered post match comments by West Brom Manager, Tony Pulis. Now with some justification he was complaining that the referee had sent off the wrong player but his main concern seemed to be about the damage that decision had caused to `the product` rather than to his team.  "The Premier League is a fantastic product," he declared.  "It`s a product enjoyed by millions the world over and it doesn`t help when we have decisions like the one today."   

And so I turned to what is condescendingly referred to as the lower reaches of the game and the final of the Johnstone`s Paint Trophy played at Wembley yesterday afternoon between Bristol City and Walsall, with the added attraction that our street`s local hero, Scott Wagstaff, was in Bristol City`s winning squad.   Five years ago almost to the day I made my own pilgrimage to Wembley to see Southampton beat Carlisle to win the same trophy.  That day there were over 70,000 spectators, the vast majority from Southampton and we witnessed a joyous occasion. 

Yesterday there were 72,315 at Wembley - by far the biggest crowd at a sporting event in the UK this weekend and second only to the Barcelona/Real Madrid game in the whole of Europe.  So the Johnstone`s Paint Trophy is a prize worth winning, not just for its own sake but also because it provides a memorable occasion for loyal fans of teams who are far removed from the relentless glare of the Premier League and it reminds us that football is still a game to be played, watched and enjoyed, rather than a product to be sold in a results driven global market.

Yesterday morning I painted the walls in the bathroom - well, it needed doing - and as I did so I felt a tinge of regret that I wasn`t using Johnstone`s Paint.

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