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April 3rd, 2003


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04:49 am - Sportio!
I've said in the past that one of my 100 ambitions is to watch fifty sports live at a reasonably high level. Inspired by England's 2-0 win over Turkey, making the team who came third in the last World Cup look very ordinary, it's time to look to see how far I've got with my ambition.

THESE COUNT:
  • Football
  • Boxing
  • Athletics
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Horse Racing
  • Motorcycle Speedway
THESE DON'T REALLY COUNT:
  • Rugby
  • Rowing
  • Greyhound Racing
  • Wrestling
  • Puzzles


The borderline between does count and doesn't count, I said at the time, was "a crowd of 200 paying audience members". After mulling it over, there's a bit more to it than that; there's the concept that there are some sporting events which attract 200 but still feel very bush league compared to the extent that the sport could be watched at. Let's go through it case by case and see why things have or haven't made it:

Football: England Under-21s vs. Albania Under-21s, 4th September 2001. I remember this clearly: it was a Tuesday night. I attended the games club for an hour then left to watch the international match taking place in Middlesbrough's nearby football stadium. (All seats: £5.) Due to uncertainty over the starting time, we only got to our seat 15 minutes late, having missed the first England goal; happily, we scored four more without reply. I can remember Francis Jeffers playing distinctly well, but only now do I realise he scored a hat-trick. Attendance: about 21,000. (Apparently about 24,000. Wow. I remember the atmosphere was nothing special all the same, though.)

Boxing: "The War of the Worlds", 13th February 1999, a £50 ticket bought as a birthday present by a very generous friend. Main event was a contest for the WBO super-middleweight championship - Joe Calzaghe got a split decision over Robin Reid. (I was happy with the result, though had scored it as a narrow win for Reid and the Sky analysts had called it a draw.) I wrote more about it (Word .doc) at the time. Attendance: 8,500.

Athletics: not the decathlon meeting I went to last year, but we did go and see a meeting at Gateshead Stadium, ooh, probably some time during the first half of the 1980s. What I can remember: long pauses between races, being very poor with boredom at that age, chocolate biscuits which didn't taste very nice, someone claiming some sort of record in a 300m race. Steve Cram was probably running at the time. Attendance: probably a couple of thousand, at a guess.

Baseball: Louisville Mud Hens (...or something, I forget) at Indianapolis Indians, opening day, 2001. (Or was it 2002?) AAA baseball - about as major as minor league gets, accompanied by lambertman. I particularly liked the big video screen with its stupid stunts; we made copious Banzai references in response to the play-along games depicted. An effete usher of considerable size called "Macho Mike" got up and danced to the Village People's YMCA between innings, which was quite funny and made far more so by the fact that he fell over while trying to get up and start his routine. The Indians won 6-5, I think. Attendance: ten thousand, +/- 15%.

Basketball: Channel 4 started broadcasting in 1982 and made considerable note of their British basketball coverage. Probably within the first year or two of Channel 4's existence, we went to see Sunderland play someone (usual suspects here being Leicester and Crystal Palace) in a match live on TV. Dad and I took a sign which said "Sunderland 4 Wembley" (for the championship game was played at the indoor Wembley Arena at the time...) and received a close-up on TV for about a second or two. We didn't own a VCR at the time, but a friend a couple of doors away had taped this for us. Attendance: high three digits, I'd say, but it was televised so it definitely counts.

Horse Racing: the Dickson family go to watch horse racing every few years or so. I suspect I've been three or four times, to a variety of Yorkshire tracks. It had the same problems at the time as watching athletics, but only more so. Attendance: sufficient, by force of repetition if necessary.

Motorcycle Speedway: I watched quite a bit of this in 1985 and 1986 while I was just becoming interested in sport, but at a time when my parents didn't want me to go to football matches. Speedway races have four motorcycle racers riding four times around a nearly-quarter-mile track in a little over a minute; speedway matches see two teams of seven riders each submit a pair of riders into a race, fifteen times over, with points being awarded according to race finishing positions. I probably still have fifteen or twenty match programmes somewhere. Attendance: some matches over one thousand, the final match ever about two thousand.

Rugby: Middlesbrough has a rugby union football club which plays about ¾ mile away from here. Unfortunately they're not very good to the point that I haven't been able to work out just how the rugby union football pyramid works down to the level that Middlesbrough are at. We went to see a match once. Middlesbrough won, but I was very bored. Attendance: probably a little over 200, but this was clearly so minor league that it cannot count for all intents and purposes.

Rowing: If you attend Oxford University, some of your friends will end up rowing there, even if it's just in a crew that's more interested in beer than in boats; accordingly, you will take an interest in how well they do. I watched some of the races over my years there; they are run according to a spectacularly intricately and cleverly organised system. I may attempt to explain this system some day, but it makes Australian Football look simple. Attendance: more than a few hundred along the banks of the river, but not paying spectators so they don't count. (Watching the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race live certainly would count, though.)

Greyhound Racing: rather like Motorcycle Speedway, but with dogs running around instead of motorbikes and no organised team competition. Went once. Enjoyed it. Attendance: probably a little over 200, but really pretty small compared to the meetings at famous greyhound racing tracks, so it Doesn't Count.

Wrestling: something like a show a year throughout the 1990s if you work it out. Clearly qualifies on grounds of attendance (I went to two shows promoted by WCW in Birmingham and Manchester, each of which must have attracted well over 5,000) but clearly disqualified on the grounds that it was pro wrestling and sports entertainment is not a sport for the definition of this ambition.

Puzzles: this one's mighty close. Participating in the World Puzzle Championship is about as high a level as competitive puzzle-solving gets. Furthermore, the grand final of the championships - a staggered-start handicap race between the best three or ten participants from the main body of the event - is clearly a spectator event. While I definitely don't draw a distinction between mental and physical sports, the attendance was clearly under 200 and so this just squeaks on the "not" side. (An early heads-up: the online and globally accessible US Puzzle Championship will be on May 31st. More about this closer to the time, but it's only weeks away now.)

So seven sports down, forty-three to go. Some might ask whether there are fifty sports which might be watched at a high enough level to count, but I am sure there are; Yahoo!'s directory has suggestions, after all, and their list of sports isn't nearly encyclopaedic. It's the spirit of the event which might qualify a sport for this distinction, not the statistics; unusual sports would get rather more gentle treatment than mainstream ones, should the event be cool enough.
There's another reason I'm bringing sport up today. Motorcycle Speedway was probably the one sport I followed most over the years, being a team sport, being accessible and being a sport in which Middlesbrough had an excellent team. As a sport, it suffered from great variation from year to year generally caused by a lack of funds. Speedway has been on a mild upswing in the UK over the last ten years or so, with strong efforts to (re-?)establish teams in places where teams were not active. Nevertheless, speedway does rather suffer from a very 1960s/1970s down-and-dirty image - which is a shame, because it's really the only accessible way to have a domestic team-based motor racing sport. Middlesbrough had a reasonably competitive team which raced around a track at the local greyhound racing stadium, which was in pretty bad condition. However, the school next door expanded and took the land over, spelling the end of the team in the mid-1990s.

However, when I was out buying the papers today looking for jobs (two promising-looking ones: Information Officer with the Tees Valley Joint Strategy Unit, a stray bit of local government who I know already for their transport planning; Customer Services rep with some geocaching-tastic GPS sales people) I saw today that there is an initiative to restart a Middlesbrough speedway team.

The new Middlesbrough team consists of just four young riders and they will be racing in the most minor-league matches imaginable in Hull, about 100 miles away. I read this on a speedway bulletin board and the Hull Vikings team confirm the news on their site. Hooray! So once more I have a Middlesbrough speedway team to follow and I suppose I should throw my allegiance behind Hull for providing this Middlesbrough team with a base. I also note that their team includes one Paul Thorp, who I remember being one of the league's top stars back in the 1980s. He's now 38, or "old enough to know better", but it's nice to see he's still on the circuit. (So to speak.)

Oh yes, one other prominent name from Middlesbrough's speedway history was Gary Havelock, who debuted for the Middlesbrough Tigers, as was, in 1985. He only went and won the individual world championship in 1992. What chance that a member of the new Middlesbrough speedway organisation might go on to do exactly the same thing in another seven years? Not high, but evidently not zero.

It's always interesting to follow changes in sporting organisation. Almost all sports have far less money than they need and so it's interesting to see how they face the challenges. There is a long and glorious tradition of sporting management computer games, but they all assume a stable and inflexible league structure for simplicity. When so much of the appeal of following sports is the intrigue of following the organisation, I'd find a simulation where leagues struggle and alter and possibly collapse to offer an unusually interesting challenging scenario in which to manage a team. For instance, we read today about the latest attempts to run high-class professional ice hockey in the UK, caused by last year's slightly-too-elitist attempt proving too elitist for its own good.

See also the extinct sports leagues site by Steve Dimitry - lots of fascinating historical data and jumping-off points to sites about individual dead leagues. (There's even a link to an ace page about the various Superstars initiatives around the world, a pet subject of mine.) Steve Dimitry also has a rather ace page about heavyweight boxing history which tracks not just the undisputed champions but also all the defunct and minor boxing title-awarding associations. I think this makes him a bit of a dude.
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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:irinaauthor
Date:April 2nd, 2003 09:01 pm (UTC)
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Have you ever thought about attending an American football game? I've been twice - one to a pro game (Detroit Lions vs. Some Team from California that might have been the 49ers) and one on the college level (University of Michigan vs. Notre Dame) - and the college one was way more fun. That might have been down to the fact that I was six years older and way more into football, though. Anyway, you might really enjoy it, and it would definitely add to your 50 sports goal. :-)
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From:irinaauthor
Date:April 2nd, 2003 09:53 pm (UTC)
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I forgot to add: hockey! It's really all about the hockey. It's the best sport to watch live, no doubt about it. Once you've been in the middle of an arena of blood-crazed hockey fans all yelling, "Hit him! Knock his teeth out!" at the top of their lungs, you can truly say that you have lived. There's really nothing quite like it. All other pro sports pale in comparison. But, then, I might be biased, since I'm from Detroit, the self-dubbed Hockeytown.
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From:jiggery_pokery
Date:April 3rd, 2003 06:41 am (UTC)
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I suspect/fear that British ice hockey has rather less brawling than the NHL. :-)

There used to be three good semi-local ice hockey teams: the Billingham Bombers (I think), who are about seven miles away from here, the Durham Wasps, about 25 miles away, and the Whitley Bay (mumble)s, about 40-45 miles away. None of the three have made it to this proposed elite league and I'm not sure whether any of them are still plugging away in some not-quite-elite league just below. There certainly have been noises about Billingham losing its Forum, a leisure centre which had a theatre and the ice rink. Rather lost track of things here.

I supsect you'll only get truly authentic Americna football and ice hockey experiences in the USA. :-)

*makes ice-hockey organ music "diddly de-da-deee" noises*
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:April 3rd, 2003 06:33 am (UTC)
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Yes, I have. A few towns and cities in the UK have American football teams, but not many; the only one in this area is associated with the local university, the Teesside Cougars. I looked them up last year, found that they played on a particular playing field which is about 1½ miles walk away from here and thought about going to watch. Unfortunately it also said that they were going to change venue to Darlington, which is about 12-15 miles to the west. Hadn't looked at their site for a while, but it looks like their season is starting soon and that they will be using this slightly distant venue for their home games. Boo.

It would be nice to see a Scottish Claymores NFL Europe game, which would probably be at the same sort of standard as college football and would probably have a much better atmosphere than British university amfoot. Unfortunately they play in Glasgow, which is a good 4-5 hours away from here by train or by coach. Ooh, the World Bowl itself is being held in Glasgow this year, but the same weekend as hermorrine is coming to Oxford. :-(

One of my non-LJ friends used to play gridiron football for his town (Maidstone in Kent) before he went to university. He was some sort of defensive player, caught an interception and ran it into a massively improbable defensive touchdown. He got into "First Down", the domestic amfoot publication, as a result. :-)
[User Picture]
From:katrionaa
Date:April 3rd, 2003 07:21 am (UTC)
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I would definitely suggest seeing American football at the college level. You and 110,000 other fans at Michigan Stadium, aka the Big House. (I'm slightly appalled that you only went to one UM game, Irina. ;)

Hockey is most excellent too. I haven't been to a Detroit Red Wings game but years ago saw the University of Michigan vs Northwestern (I think) where 3 players from each team were in the penalty box.

Also, it's the Toledo (Ohio) Mud Hens. Minor league baseball is much more fun than major league these days.

[User Picture]
From:irinaauthor
Date:April 3rd, 2003 07:58 am (UTC)

Re:

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I'm slightly appalled that you only went to one UM game, Irina

Hee! Believe it or not, I bought my season tickets faithfully every year, which meant an outlay of $13.50 per game, and usually made a profit of around $40 each when I sold them on Ebay or to the scalpers in front of the Union. More if it was a Michigan State or Ohio State ticket. They were investments. I did go to that one game, though, and loved every minute of it.

I would definitely suggest seeing American football at the college level

Oh, yes. The crowds are way more into it at college games.
[User Picture]
From:irinaauthor
Date:April 3rd, 2003 08:12 am (UTC)
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Forgot to add:

Toledo (Ohio) Mud Hens. Minor league baseball is much more fun than major league these days.

Yes! The Mud Hens! I live about two feet from Fenway Park, and still I'd rather go to a Mud Hens game than anything going on with the Red Socks.

And:

years ago saw the University of Michigan vs Northwestern (I think) where 3 players from each team were in the penalty box.

Six guys in the penalty box at once? That's amazing. *is jealous of you* It must have been an awesome game. As for me, I'll always have a special place in my heart for the March 1997 Red Wings-Avalanche game, when even Vernon and Roy brawled with each other. There was something so satisfying about watching McCarty rearrange Lemieux's face in revenge for Lemieux's dirty, dirty hit on Chris Draper the year before, and the goalies' fight was hysterical, both of them at center ice, grappling with each other in their gigantic pads. I don't know why, but hockey turns me into a complete barbarian. You'd think people at BU would understand, since this is a huge hockey school, but if I'm not talking to someone from Detroit I mostly just get odd looks. It must be something in the water in Michigan that makes us all so rabid.
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From:katrionaa
Date:April 3rd, 2003 08:41 am (UTC)
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I love that the picture comes from a Greatest Hits section in the Freep. *snerk*

You'd think people at BU would understand, since this is a huge hockey school, but if I'm not talking to someone from Detroit I mostly just get odd looks.

*is appalled* It must be that reticent East Coast thing. Hockey is about being rabid! Yeah!!

UM is in the Frozen Four! And I'm picking the Wings to do some damage again the playoffs!
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:April 3rd, 2003 10:29 am (UTC)
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Ladies discussing ice hockey violence? In my LiveJournal? At 3 o'clock in the morning? With myyyyyy reputation? This calls for a bully-off.

Do you literary types write extremely violent ice hockey player real person slash? One of my Friends has been told he looks like Wayne Gretzky, but I fear I may be dispatched to the Sin Bin in a most brutal fashion if I tell you who. Oh, what the hell. It'll be worth it.

Toledo. Indeed. Louisville is the MLB team that lambertman supports these days, or something. I get confused. I have a suspicion that not-quite-major-league-but-not-too-rube minor-league sports are more entertaining than major-league ones for more sports than not.
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From:ericklendl
Date:April 2nd, 2003 11:33 pm (UTC)
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Not bad. In spite of the political shenanigans earlier in the year, it appears that the scheduled England vs. Zimbabwe test match will go ahead in June at Chester-le-Street - near enough for you to spend a day adding cricket to your list, I feel.

Thanks for the heads-up on the US Puzzle Championship. I believe I'm free that day. Or at least, I was last time I looked!
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:April 3rd, 2003 06:46 am (UTC)
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Aagh, cricket at Chester-le-Street - WWTBAM? reference!

Really not in a hurry to add cricket to the list, thanks :-) Some day in good company, certainly, but it'll probably not be one of the first thirty or forty to make it.

Change of thought overnight: puzzles do qualify as a sport for the purposes of this ambition after all. We were there the day Wei-Hwa changed his answers at the last minute, after all...
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From:ericklendl
Date:April 3rd, 2003 07:55 am (UTC)
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We were there the day Wei-Hwa changed his answers at the last minute, after all...

Not exactly "We were there the day Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy" though, is it? :-)

I wouldn't count puzzles as a sport. If pressurised, I might even be able to come up with a valid explanation why not. If unpressurised, I'd question whether there were 200 people watching. There weren't, were there?
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:April 3rd, 2003 10:34 am (UTC)
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No; I worked it out as ~20 teams of five, minus ten, plus hangers-on - no more than 150 at the very most. However, probably not very different from 100, and it was the World Championship and a really credible World Championship at that. The reason why it counts is that I don't think it's possible for it to reach any higher a level than that, reducing this to the "are puzzles a sport" issue. Especially in the WPC final format, I think they just about scrape in.

MSO newsflash, less than 3 minutes old: as exclusively not-revealed in this journal, and indeed as exclusively kept under my hat, it's in Manchester this year. Oh God, here we go again... :-/
[User Picture]
From:addedentry
Date:April 3rd, 2003 03:55 am (UTC)
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Catford Greyhound Stadium is five minutes' walk from the house I've been renting for three years. I have three weeks left to visit before moving home. Next time you're in south London...
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:April 3rd, 2003 06:50 am (UTC)
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Catford used to have a speedway team, you know.

A Google for "Catford speedway" reveals your stadium was used in that All Saints movie...
[User Picture]
From:picklepuss
Date:April 3rd, 2003 07:23 am (UTC)
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This post and the related 100 Ambitions one really makes me wish I was on LJ 6 months earlier than I was.

I have nothing new to add as American Football has already been mentioned by someone who has seen as good as it possibly gets (Michigan-Notre Dame).

I do ask if you have a distinct definition of a sport. This was an argument I had many times in school with girls on the dance or cheerleading squads. I don't believe either constitutes a sport. For me a sport consists of any game or competition where you can only have a clear winner i.e. one person bests the other through talent, skill, strategy, etc. Any competition where the winner is decided does not count i.e. no performance judging. This is obviously not quite cut and dried (boxing being a perfect example). What are your feeling on the situation? I'm guessing you fall somewhere on the opposite side me. If so, would you consider, say the National Dance Team Championships as one of your fifty?

I assume you've made this quite clear before, but I would appreciate being humored.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:April 3rd, 2003 10:54 am (UTC)
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One of these days I shall work out just what's so special about the Fighting Irish within US sporting culture. I'm vaguely aware that they aren't in any of the established NCAA conference structures, but not aware why or why they're given any more prominence than any of the few other independents. Tradition, I guess.

I think the sportiness or not of a pastime is not a cut-and-dried issue and that there is a sliding scale of the extent to which competitive pastimes are sports or not. Something like figure skating (or, alternatively, any of bikin', bladin' or boardin' from the X Games) where there is performance judging is clearly a less objectively satisfactory sport than something where there's a ball and a goal and no dispute possible whether the ball has crossed the line, he said, deliberately excluding most ball games. I would count dance and cheerleading as sports, certainly at least as much as (say) synchronised swimming, but at least partly because it's going to be a lot harder to get to fifty otherwise. ;-)

(Ooh yes: at the risk of igniting a flamewar, Dance Dance Revolution competitions judged by how close to perfection dancers are in their routines - how many steps are recorded as having been Perfect - are a much more objectively satisfactory sport than Dance Dance Revolution freestyle competitions wherein judges grade the dancers' grace and outlandishness among other attributes of their performance.)

Last paragraph: I hadn't. It's always a good question and I generally don't mind being asked whatever whenever, within reason.
[User Picture]
From:katrionaa
Date:April 3rd, 2003 11:14 am (UTC)
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There is nothing special about Notre Dame. And I laughed this past year when they came out in their stupid green uniforms and LOST! Hahahaha.

Michigan-Ohio State is the pinnacle of American college football.
[User Picture]
From:picklepuss
Date:April 3rd, 2003 12:15 pm (UTC)
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The Irish are in fact a member of the Big East in all sports but football where they remain fiercely snobbish. I believe their enduring popularity stems from the one of the single greatest bouts of fair-weather fan-ism in US history.

Looks like our opinions on the matter run very similar. That boosts my ego a bit. Thank you.

I know almost nothing about DDR other than it's existence and it's popularity with my least favorite person in the office. Otherwise all info comes from you and leiabelle's Current Music entries.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:April 3rd, 2003 12:25 pm (UTC)
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"Hey strange-Euro-blend over here! Big Eastness, 12 o'clock!"

I really don't get the name. Why would a university with a blatantly French name be the Fighting Irish? Please tell me about this fair-weather-fan-inspiring incident. This page explains the nickname, sort of, and this page suggests that they had four consecutive national championships in the late 1940s, but if there's more to it than that then I would be keen to know.

Unrelated question: are there organists to fill in the gaps between downs at football games like there are to fill the gaps at other US sporting events? If not, why not?
[User Picture]
From:picklepuss
Date:April 3rd, 2003 01:04 pm (UTC)
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Your guess is as good as mine on the name thing.

It was not a singular incident as much as good decade. Notre Dame has always been a significant powerhouse in college football, with typical fluctuation. In the 80's they were particularly strong on top of being Notre Dame, though they only won 1 national championship. This time frame also corresponded to a high concentration of adrift fair weather johnsons (yuppies and their children). One naturally latched onto the other. Other teams that gained fans in that time frame include Miami (3) and Penn State (2), but ND had the widest actual fan base to build on. Also they were the prettiest in terms of fashion, which has a disgustingly high significance in this country.

In the decade since, ND has taken a serious nosedive that they are only now coming out of. By definition, the johnsons have jumped ship, and now you'd be hard pressed to find a casual fan that could even tell you their record from last season.

Unrelated answer: The organ has been generally replaced by popular music but yes. Though it's not quite as common as in some of the other sports do to the lack of downtime in between most downs. I am speaking only from experience at college games; I've never been to a professional game. I hope to remedy that next season when my beloved Raiders come into town.



[User Picture]
From:lambertman
Date:April 6th, 2003 08:27 pm (UTC)
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Expect no organs at college or pro football. They're disappearing at baseball and hockey as well, but much more slowly than you'd think. The minor-league hockey team in Indy still uses the organ liberally.
[User Picture]
From:lambertman
Date:April 6th, 2003 08:33 pm (UTC)
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Notre Dame had the two winningest coaches of all time in college football, led by Knute Rockne, who is still a legend 73 years after leaving the school. I also think it helped that they were riding a wave of success right about the time TV and radio networks were spreading across the (Eastern, at least) USA in the late '40s, and were thus a popular choice to receive network TV coverage. It probably just snowballed from there.

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