It’s difficult to justify eschewing social engagements just because 22 strangers are kicking a ball around on a field thousands of miles away, or because an array of non-British women are about to jump over a collection of hurdles (literal hurdles mind, not puny figurative ones).
It’s irrational, really. But if you’ve looked forward to the big sporting tournaments for your whole life, it’s a difficult thing to just turn off. That’s why I virtually disappeared during Euro 2012 and have gone to ground during the Olympics.
Sport was a huge part of my childhood. I played football, but my obsession was about more than the thrill of scoring the odd goal, and it was about more than just watching. To me, it presented an alternate universe as compelling as the likes of Star Wars.
I read and re-read books full of football statistics. I read and re-read and re-read an ITV Sport-produced tome about the history of the Olympics (football and athletics were – and remain – my favourites).
I drew pictures of goals being scored. You know those playbook-style diagrams you see in newspapers, where they illustrate the movement of the ball leading up to a goal? I was drawing those – loads of them, uselessly illustrated using colouring pencils and felt-tips – on a daily basis. I used Star Wars figures as footballers, kicking a Subbuteo ball around on the carpet and trying to score past my brother who would be holding Darth Vader as a goalkeeper (Subbuteo itself was always too frustrating for us, so we invented our own, more free-flowing variation).
I watched and re-watched videos of league goals and, in the absence of any other useful information filling up my brain, knew the home and away score for every match, for every team, throughout the season. You could have asked me what the score was for, say, Everton v. Derby 6 months ago, and I would know. I would also know who scored all the goals.
When I think about the time I now spend commuting, ironing, washing dishes, cooking, socialising… all of this time, when I was a kid, was spent obsessing over sport. There was nothing, nothing more exciting than the prospect of a new World Cup, European Championships, FA Cup or Olympic Games. So actually, I think I’ve done pretty well to emerge from such an all-consuming obsession a relatively well-rounded human being. Sure, I spent, cumulatively, a full 24 hours watching football during the opening week of Euro 2012 – but at least I still made it into work and somehow managed to feed myself (with awful, unnaturally-hued food – but no matter).
Of late I’ve been thinking about what sport taught me during my formative years. I’m not talking about ‘teamwork’ and ‘determination’, or any of that life-lesson pishposh. I’m talking about practical, tangible, how-do-you-spell-Mönchengladbach general knowledge. Because following football means more than just watching a ball being kicked around, and the Olympics is about more than chucking a stick into a field.
There’s always a context there, and it’s from these contexts that I think my childhood education was actually improved by sport. I’m not saying I learned more than I did in school, but my awareness and knowledge of the world was definitely enhanced. Not with semi-ironic stuff like the fact that, ha ha, the Germans never miss penalties – I mean actual, semi-useful facts and figures.
I’ve had a bit of a think about this, and here’s some of the stuff I learned as a result of being a sports-nerdlinger child.