Pontefract’s world number one squash player James Willstrop gives the inside track on the competitive world of sport.
Over the course of my travels to the US it has been fascinating to observe the differences and similarities of sporting attitudes between the English and the Americans.
This last week i’ve been in San Francisco where there was a big build-up to “the game” at the weekend.
I haven’t researched this, but the Giants baseball team have made the play-offs. The locker room chat at the Bay Club, venue for the first round of squash matches, has been full of game-talk: “Are you watching the game tonight? What are their chances? They’re playing well! I think they’ll do it! Oh, by the way, did you hear about some squash tournament they’re playing here this week”?
Baseball is scrutinised with passion here. Like football in England, people watch and analyse it endlessly.
I watched 20 minutes of the “big game” on Friday and I couldn’t quite grasp the situation. There were long phases where very little happened and some of the participants looked overweight.
Maybe there is more to this than the entertainment factor of sport. I like watching test match cricket and admit that the same negatives are repeated by people about this quintessentially English sport.
Football, our very un-beautiful game, can be an intolerably dull spectacle, yet people still herd round pub TVs on Sunday afternoons transfixed.
It is interesting how the two countries and their people have evolved so differently in terms of the sports they like and in the ways they show their love for it.
Squash, though, is not the most popular sport on the west coast of America; in the locker room I was approached by a kind gentleman who very jovially shook my hand and then asked me about the tournament.
“Now tell me, is it the best players in the world playing here tonight? Or is it the best in the club?”
“Erm...well, the world,” I replied.
“Oh wow! oh my! that is so fabulous. And you are one of them?”
“Well, yes I am.”
“Wow! Congratulations, the best players in the world in our club, that is amazing.”
“Thanks. It is a pleasure to be here. So you are coming to watch tonight then I take it?”
“Oh, oh I can’t. I’m hosting some friends tonight. We are watching ‘the game’.”
“You compliment me like that and then shun me for ‘the game’. Shame on you.”
For a moment he looked hurt. Then after a pause, he smiled, clocking the English sarcasm.
Maybe the two nations across the Atlantic are starting to relate to each other through sarcasm if not through sport!