Keating: Men don’t have sports field to themselves

From Frank Keating, The Guardian
Apart from the harrumphingly diverting set of essays Fifty People Who Fouled Up Football (Constable, £12.99) by this page’s sometime Rantmeister-General Michael Henderson, the most pithily provocative sports book on the Christmas shelves is Get Her Off The Pitch (Fourth Estate £12.99) in which best-selling punctuation tsarina and novelist Lynne Truss rather ruefully recalls her years a decade or so ago as a sportswriter on The Times.

I had ducked out of the daily grind just as Truss had begun her daily stint so it has been rewarding to read of her travels, travails and, just occasionally, her transports of delight. She writes so well, and even her mumsily brooding introspections are, in the end, invariably shrugged off with an appealing lightness of touch.

Nor is Truss herself always convinced the experience was worth it. Through it all, she says, she was hung up on the horns of a dilemma: “I was like the poor confused jurors in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland who sit in their jury box, writing emphatically on their little slates, ‘most important’ and ‘unimportant’, because both words are equally valid.”

There was more than a touch of chauvinist gimmickry in The Times sending out someone boasting they knew nothing on the subject, nor cared less — particularly when (as Guardian readers are especially aware) there is so much shining distaff talent being displayed on sportspages by columnists and reporters these days.

Mind you, there always was if you looked for it: for instance, for years I’ve treasured the incomparable (but sports-ambivalent) Katharine Whitehorn’s most exquisitely pluperfect definition of the barmy logic of cricket: “I cannot for the life of me see why the umpires, the only two people on the field who are not going to get grass stains on their knees, are the only two people allowed to wear dark trousers.”

When Truss set off on her Times wheeze, the Daily Telegraph‘s accomplished Sue Mott had long led that distaff parade; before her, there was the rich football writing of Julie Welch in the Observer. When I first joined the Guardian aeons ago, old hands will remember these pages employing two versatile women writers, light-touch enthusiast Nancy Tomkins and the formidable Christina Wood, widow of Lainson Wood, the Telegraph‘s thirsty backpage luminary of more than half a century ago who was fabled for being hastily extradited from Moscow the morning after snoring too thunderously, unstoppably, through the Bolshoi’s gala ballet the night of England’s football draw with Russia in 1958.

Margaret Hughes was a valued writer on cricket on the old Manchester Guardian. She doubled, of course, as amanuensis, secretary, sweetheart and soulmate of Neville Cardus. By Neville’s own account at the end of the second Test match at Sydney in 1954 when the series had been turned for England by Frank Tyson’s electrically charged bowling, Cardus and Hughes were happily leaving the ground together when a wild-looking local confronted them “Cardus, you’re an effing English bastard!” At which Neville removed his glasses slowly, and replied: “English yes. Bastard, yes. But effing — not yet at this precise moment, ol’ boy.”

To read Keating’s column in full, click here

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