Saturday, 6 August 2011

Do women really like sport?

I'm not sure if I actually like sport or I've just conditioned myself to it. Somewhere, between childhood and the present, a strange relationship has evolved and now it's left me doubting the whole female race.

By "sport," I am not talking partaking or exercising, I'm talking watching. You know the capability most blokes hold, to sit for hours, not moving (except for their mouths,) remote in hand, watching other people playing sport on the TV.  Sometimes I find myself doing it too - but only when The FH is in the room. Surely there's a reason for this.

So this is how it started...

My earliest memories of watching sport revolve around my dad playing cricket.

The Cricket Club.

Now I don't remember watching much of the game, or even learning the rules. But trips to the Cricket Club did teach me something. I learnt that my cousins were allowed a bottle of Coca Cola and a packet of S&V's EACH! My siblings and I would ogle them enviously as we shared a bottle with three straws and took it in turns to prize a crisp from the singular packet, hoping to get a bigger one than the other two. It taught me how to develop the technique of hill rolling. We spent hours racing, sausage roll style, down the grassy banks behind the cricket field, acclaim only given to whoever could make it to the bottom without a breaking the rhythm. It taught me that you could build a den anywhere, with anything. It taught me that my dad wasn’t the only person who had a dingle dangle, as one afternoon me and my sister crept into the changing rooms and peeped, from behind the wall, at the cricketers getting showered. We then ran off squealing with giggles, and sat in the long grass comparing notes about what are innocent eyes had seen. I learnt the joy of rebellion, crossing over the white line - "Never cross over the white line!" adults yelled over their shoulders. We did. It was exhilarating. It taught me that the best sports had a tea break in the middle.

Next came the boys. This happened at primary school. Boys were footy obsessed and I soon cottoned on to this. What was the best way to impress the most popular boy at school? Wear the Football Kit he supports. Obviously, a nine year old girl can't just wake up morning and say "Mum will you buy me a Liverpool strip?" You've got to show a keen interest first. So I started small. I got a Panini sticker book of The First Division (pre-premiership young whippet snappers). Dad was impressed. I showed extra interest in the school football team, my Primary Teacher was the Footy Coach and somehow I ended up training with the squad. This was before primary schools insisted on a girl on the squad and was slightly controversial. However, result. Off we trudged to a sports shop where I was kitted out in footy boots, and the football strip of my choice. Now, unfortunately, the shop had sold out of Liverpool Kits, and even more unfortunate I with my Mum. So when the shop assistant, clutching for a sale, said "We've got Everton strips, that's in Liverpool". Me and Mum though "close enough". I know, *hangs head in shame*. So as I proudly wore my Everton strip the next day and strutted past the object my affection and was greeted with "Urgh ya dirty blue nose!" The FH is also a red, so even now 21 years later, that Football shirt haunts me.

I made it my mission never to be caught out again. I listened. I learned. I went to matches (tagged along with Dad and brother). I even watched Match of The Day. But, it paid off. As a teenager I prided myself on knowing the off-side rule, revelled in being able to join in with Footy chants on the walk home from the pub, and realised that being able to talk about football was a great way to start a conversation with boys. Success - 10 years on.

Wimbledon was easy. 1992. Andre Agassi - with hair. Strawberries and cream. Lots of posh people sat in the rain. I loved it. Then the Henman Years - "Come On TIM!", followed by the discovery of Pimms. What's not to enjoy?

Then there was cricket. Again. Now football I could cope with it. it was fast, popular, there was a world cup or Euro every 2 years to get your teeth into, swearing, controversy and male models doubled up as goal keepers. But cricket? Slow, long, tedious cricket. My family are big cricket fans. But I had vowed I would not become of them. Nothing could drive me to watch that. Nothing except A Level revision. The only time my parents weren't nagging me to revise is when I said I was watching the cricket (the only time they have bothered to nag me to do school work was when they feared I may actually fail my A Levels and would have to live at home for another year a\s I did re-sits). And  do you know what? I got quite into it. Helped along by the delightful Mark Ramprakash (10 years before his Strictly Come Dancing appearance) and the charismatic Darren Gough. I was smitten.

So by the time I met The FH in my early twenties, having discovered my extensive knowledge of sport had impressed previous suitors, I was in full throttle. Have I mentioned The FH is a PE teacher? I was put to the test. I think I passed. I'd overhear him talking in the pub. "You see I don't have that problem lads as Fran loves Togga" I'd catch his eye, wrinkle my nose and smile. Then a little bit of guilt would rumble inside me as I tried to work out if Match of the Day would coincide with the repeats of Sex in the City this week.

So that’s just me. But I cannot tar the rest of the female population with my devious and conniving ways. There must be some other women out there who have a passion for watching sport, and not just because they are conditioned to.
My Mother loves cricket, but then does admit her favourite part is listening to the commentators because they make her laugh. My best friend works for the premiership, but up unitl her career took her down the path she had NEVER watched a game of football in her life. My sister makes an effort, on her boyfriend’s behalf but the following phone conversation took place during the ashes…
Me: What you doing?
Curls: We’re just watching cricket. It’s quite exciting our batter is doing well
Curls: [to boyfriend] Now, Where’s he going? Why’s he walking off?
Curls’ BF: He’s been got out.
Curls: Oh
Me: Where did you think he was going?
Curls I thought he had gone to get his ball.
Maybe it’s just my family, we’re kind of fickle like that. But Curls, in here busiest of working of week of the year, was astonished to find herself checking the BBC sport website for cricket scores. So maybe some women just need a gateway – I suppose after years of being side-lined with hockey and netball (you don’t find them on TV) it’s difficult to then be expected to master the rules of sports we weren’t allowed to play. Or maybe would rather be taking a trip down memory lane with Carrie Bradshaw and wondering if we will ever own a pair of Manolos.

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