By Leanne Cloudsdale

Some kids used to shudder at the sight of double P.E. on the weekly timetable. I was a regular Zola Budd so remained unfazed – excited even – at the thought of doing some serious showing off on the school sports field. With Nike spikes and micro running shorts, I’d fly around the track, fringe to the wind, waiting for the inevitable cheers when I landed first place in the 400m sprint, again. These days I’m out of breath doing the bloody hoovering, so it’s not been the podium
busting success story you might have imagined when you started reading this. Ho hum.

Anyways! As we edge closer to the end of term and into ‘sports day season’, it felt like a good enough excuse to blather on about football and why we all love an egg & spoon race. Hopefully, collective memories of forgetting your kit and being forced to play in your vest and pants haven’t left any lasting PTSD scars. Looking back, I suppose the mandatory humiliation we suffered during enforced exercise with our classmates in the pissing rain was the closest ‘us lot’ will ever
get to national service (but let’s wait and see what happens on the 4th July eh, kids? Gulp).

As a nation – we take sport really seriously. Laughably, jousting was apparently one of the first ‘national’ ones. Originally a form of medieval military training, it morphed into a competitive sport – as a way for kings and knights to flex their courage and skill. Next up, you’ve got Polo – which was pulling in the punters long before King Charles and Princes Wills and Harry slid onto the scene (600B.C. if the history Googling is correct).

Cricket is another one us Brits hold dear. Described as a cocktail of baseball and chess, it takes a bunch of blokes in off-white clobber days to play one game. Who’s got time for that? And if what I’m hearing in the news lately is true, it looks like the Americans might have gotten hold of our beloved game. They’ve just beat Pakistan (arguably the most famous cricket team ever) at the ICC T20 World Cup in Texas. TEXAS! Cricket?! How do we feel about this? It’s about as British as Stephen Fry – former president of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) who me and the Aubin crew went to see a couple of week ago at the Hay Festival, speaking in that panel debate where he said that the 237-year-old club is “full of beetroot-coloured men who stink of privilege.”

Moving on, we also heard the ultimate tennis power mum, Judy Murray at Hay. She revealed during a Q&A for her latest book that Andy and Jamie were football-crazy as wee bairns, so things could’ve gone either way. We might have seen Andy rocking cornrows and a sarong – which brings us nicely to this country’s favourite sport – football. 22-blokes booting a ball about was banned by Edward III in 1349, who was worried the game was distracting men from practising their archery. A move that will have pissed off Bill Shankly OBE, who once said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

We can’t discuss football without touching on the people’s princess (sic) David Beckham. A sartorial saviour to straight men across the globe, ‘ole Becks can do no wrong. Family man, beekeeper, maker of a banging Sunday Roast, we’re quick to forget the Rebecca Loos scandal (gobble gobble) and how he was (possibly) the first victim of cancel-culture when he threw a massive paddy at the 1998 World Cup. What that tantrum showed us, was that no matter the stakes, bad sportsmanship is unforgivable. Worse than sticking your chewing gum under the desk or not self-scanning your carrier bag.

Perhaps this was what our school sports days were trying to teach us? The utmost importance of being a good loser? That limping across the finish line last with your leg tied to your best mate’s was still a triumph. That those ‘bean bags’ we were lobbing about in primary school were full of rice, not beans (hang on a sec...rice, eggs, spoon? we’ve almost got a kedgeree here). Who knows? Who cares? Coming first, or last, sport unites us, aligns us, helps us find our tribe.
Rugby, badminton, tiddlywinks – take your pick.