Saturday, 27 March 2010

Catching up at last on netball

THIRTY years in sports journalism, and I’ve just witnessed my first game of netball.
I went because my daughter was making her debut for her school team.
And I was impressed, not just by her side’s runaway win over their nearest neighbours. Not just by the enthusiasm – and in some cases the skill – of the girls.
I was impressed too by the excellence of the game.
So far from being the poorer, weaker relation of basketball, I think netball has potentially more going for it as a spectator sport. There’s no less scope for personal or team creativity and it’s easier to see what’s going on.
Which leaves the question why it is so unloved, so overlooked except in our schools. And why, even in school, it gets so much less attention than football, cricket or rugby.
At one level, the answer is obvious. It’s a game for girls.
(I was the only dad watching the netball. There were both mums and dads around the corner watching the same two schools in football combat.)
What’s not quite so obvious is why we don’t take girls’ sports seriously in this country.
Back in 1995 I happened to meet a couple of Australian women who for some reason had washed up in a laundrette in Ipswich.
They were fans on their way from Oz to Birmingham for the netball World Championship. And they were stunned by the total ignorance of everyone they met in England of the fact that the tournament was even taking place.
Even though England were among the favourites for the title, no British newspaper, radio or TV channel gave a whisper. Back home in Australia, they told me, every game was a live TV event.
OK, Australia are the world’s best at netball. They have taken the world title nine times out of 12 and finished second to New Zealand on two other occasions.
But without anyone really noticing, the England netball team are ranked fourth in the world.
That is, higher than our footballers (eighth), rugby union players (seventh) or cricketers (fifth).
Did you know that? I certainly didn’t. And I reckon we should all be ashamed of our ignorance.


THE closer we get to the General Election, the more fearful I become at the prospect of a Tory victory.
David Cameron may have spent the last few years trying to appear cuddly, caring, safe and different – but how different is he really?
As Gordon Brown’s government looks like ending its days in a welter of strikes, Cameron eagerly plays the Thatcher card.
So much for different. And so much for caring, too.
According to Cameron: “Margaret Thatcher’s government was defined by taking the side of the people against the powerful, the vested interest.”
You what? Were you actually there, Dave? Or were you still trotting about the playing fields of Eton playing soldiers?
Thatcher’s government was on the people’s side like a fox is on the chickens’ side.
What Thatcher the shopkeeper and Cameron the toff have both forgotten is that trade union members ARE the people. While their employers, such as the privatised British Airways, are the rich.
People don’t go on strike for the fun of it. It’s miserable being on strike. They do it because they feel collective action is the only way to be taken seriously.
But Cameron and his like don’t take ordinary working people seriously. Possibly because they don’t know any.
The people they take seriously, the people they’ve always taken seriously, the people whose interests they look after, are those people who own land and companies. People like them. Not people like you and me.
I’ve never voted Tory before – and I’m sure as heck not going to start now.


I WAS 11 when my parents started taking me to the theatre. Serious stuff, too – Shakespeare, Chekhov, that sort of thing.
Looking back, I suppose they figured it was the only way they could get to go themselves. But I enjoyed it (mostly) and it certainly stood me in good stead when I came to study literature later.
It was with all this in mind that we took ten-year-old Lotte to the Colchester Mercury Theatre to see Huck, having missed it when it was at the Wolsey recently.
It probably helped that she already knew Huckleberry Finn, the great book by Mark Twain that James Graham’s play is based on.
Like me, she was intrigued to know how a rambling tale set on the Mississippi river would be adapted for the stage. And like me she was very impressed with the efficiency and panache with which it was done.
She noted the clever use of a set in which Huck’s raft also served as setting for a variety of flashbacks and other adventures.
And she was delighted at how well seven actors managed to portray dozens of characters – and provide all their own music too.
She laughed at many of the funny moments and felt the pathos in the character of Jim, the runaway slave.
In fact, she thoroughly enjoyed the whole show. Which is good news for her theatre-loving parents.


Four of my Distressed Sonnets are in the new issue of American online magazine Free Verse. Very pleased to be following Peter Riley and in company with Ian Seed in an excellent collection: LINK

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