But also a week when events forced us to recall the dark 80s and wince at the first time we saw man’s basest, vilest instincts take hold inside a stadium.
Can we ever truly escape the clammy reach of those awful times? Washington Nationals pitcher Ryan Mattheus hopes so as he lent his voice this week to an important campaign.
“Kill it. It’s the worst thing in sports. Sit down and watch the game.”
Brave, inspirational words that afforded us a glimpse of a better future, a future without the Mexican Wave.
Triple H, too, should be fine, despite burning himself on dry ice as he made his way to the Wrestlemania ring. All in all, this week almost felt like a watershed clearing of the decks of several of the past decades’ worst excesses.
If a fascination with standing up and sitting down in staggered unison was the 80s foulest legacy, the 90s are responsible for the modern scourge of sporting banter.
If the laughing game had been left then to the likes of Ally McCoist and John Parrott and Nick Hancock, the genre’s lifespan would, surely, have been mercifully short. But Baddiel and Skinner briefly lent it the oxygen of creativity and their brief but dangerous banta junta paved the way for the toxic Lovejoy regime, itself a time of great comic prosperity compared to its recent shouty incarnation, an inglorious shambles in which the baffling Tubes isn’t even the worst of them.
But Soccer Am is the least of our problems because nowadays top, top banta is everywhere. So insidious that Northumbria police felt the need to advise Newcastle United supporters that a Di Canio-baiting display of Nazi saluting during tomorrow’s Tyne-Wear derby wouldn’t look in any way amusing in the eyes of the law.
The need for a dedicated curriculum — bantiquette classes — in schools isn’t far off.
But it was also a week when BBC darts commentator Martin Fitzmaurice entertained fans during a BDO international with wisecracks about black people eating bananas and ‘pakis’ who refused, unlike ET, to go home.
“I was having a bit of banter with the crowd,” protested Fitzy, who has since said his goodbyes. It almost sounded like a farewell to a way of life. Where can banta go from here? If the 90s — Crusheen etc — was also responsible for a certain heightening in levels of zealousness in GAA, it was really the Noughties which crystallised this newfound requirement of champions in a brand.
The Savage Hunger.
Doubtless, you have heard more than enough about The Savage Hunger at this stage, with its endless prattling about intensity and the many, many persecution complexes that need to be indulged to allow a team truly get in touch with it.
But again, might we have happened upon some kind of natural Armageddon? Could there be a more obvious conclusion to The Savage Hunger era than the GAA’s first known biting controversy? There may have been no bite yet — we don’t know — but we do know that the idea has been put into their heads. And as we have seen with the spitting and the racism, there are impressionable lads loose out there. Let’s hope the hunger has been sated before they get a taste for it.
You might ask what miserable albatross will this decade foist on the next generation. Two words: Bonus Territory, a low watermark in the cesspool of psychobabble that drowns today’s sport.
Our good friend Google confirms the term ‘Bonus Territory’ was used just once in a sporting context before 2006; in 2002 when a man beat cancer to play Aussie Rules again.
Then the trickle. Salthill-Knocknacarra prospered in Bonus Territory after winning Connacht. 2007: England at the Rugby World Cup. 2008: Roscommon minors won a match, Wexford made the All-Ireland semis. Still a handy label for modest over-achievement.
But a quick audit finds the following candidates lounging in Bonus Territory: Dublin hurlers, Derry footballers, Munster rugby, Dublin footballers, Tipperary hurlers, Millwall, Mayo footballers, Kildare footballers, Borussia Dortmund, the horse Black Caviar. It’s now a byword for managed expectations, for picking your games. It is an enemy of glory. You’d nearly prefer The Savage Hunger.
So English football will not fall silent this weekend for Margaret Thatcher, but some of rugby will.
There is little evidence the Iron Lady had much regard for either sport. Perhaps football was simply unlucky to have crossed her when she had settled more comfortably in her seat of power.
When the Lions cemented plans to tour South Africa in 1980, Thatcher’s government, like ours, expressed opposition, but she accepted it couldn’t intervene. “Our governing bodies of sport are rightly autonomous and ministers do not have the power to direct them in their day-to-day affairs.”
Yet, by the time football’s hooligan problem reached an ugly nadir in Heysel, Thatcher was prepared to lead the game by the nose through a raft of measures that would condemn its supporters as a feral underclass.
In opposition, her rhetoric had been slightly different. “What is needed is a lead from the government, and I hope we will get it. Every weekend thousands of young people spend their time battling on the football terraces. They are bored and fed up, just looking for trouble.”
Evidently not much respect, but some acknowledgement the mob had human attributes.
Later, her government would begin to absolve itself of many responsibilities, its values encapsulated by her famous denial of society’s existence. But while Thatcher may have favoured the responsibility of the individual, football people were not to be afforded that dignity — they were to be shunned as an amorphous threat to law and order.
Somewhere along the way, they were no longer regarded as people at all. For the sake of everyone’s dignity, it’s probably as well they will be denied a voice again this week.
There is no more compelling evidence, seemingly, of the quality of a tennis match these days than word that one of the participants has been carted off to hospital with exhaustion.
James Ward of Britain’s Davis Cup team was this week’s martyr to the grind, the latest victim of the modern obsession with leaving it all on the court. Put on a drip after the win over Russia.
If tennis was to seek a ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ motto with which to market itself, it might well settle on ‘Longer, Longer, Longer’. Week on week, we are treated to breathless accounts of epic battles, marathon rallies, titanic slugfests. Gruelling is the new great.
In 2012, 41 matches — Grand Slams and Davis Cup ties — extended beyond four hours. In 2000, there were just 10; in 2001, 19; in 2002, 21. Tennis succeeded in bursting its boom era — when firing squad servers threatened to smash subtlety out of the sport. But in slowing the courts, it squeezed the volley and ensured only the fittest now survive.
Increasingly, the game is not about defeating your opponent, but outlasting him. Even in the best-of-three Sony Open final, a fortnight ago, Andy Murray and David Ferrer managed to drag things out to almost three hours, before Ferrer staggered to a standstill in the Miami heat.
Before the end, CBS TV had left them to it, cutting away to college basketball. If tennis isn’t careful, more viewers will be saying a long goodbye.
Whatever about the politics of the situation, in rebuking Madonna, the Malawian president put together a hell of a five-a-side team, “It is worth making her aware that Malawi has hosted many international stars, including Chuck Norris, Bono, David James, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville, who have never demanded state attention or decorum despite their equally dazzling stature.”
How did Emerson – not the Middlesbrough one – put it: “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one person.”
Not Steve really, just the wretched futility of what he’s selling. “At the end of the day, it is all about money. If the money is there the fight will happen. Roy Jones wants payment and if he is confirmed people will realise that it is a good investment and a good investment will sell.”
He doesn’t give two effs, does he?