Friday, March 03, 2006

Watching sports

Sometimes I'm surprised when I read other people's blogs about how much football they watch on television. Maybe they don't have much of an option, but as these days there seem to be so many television channels from which to choose, I'm sure it's done out of choice. I can't stand watching football on television. My son does it and I have to leave the room or read a book.

Even when I was young, I never liked watching football. Sure, I used to watch the FA cup final, but halftime would normally find me in the garden, kicking a ball about myself. I did go to a few football games in person, but being small (and in those days I was even smaller), I could never see anything.

Even if I can see what's happening (ie via the television screen), football strikes me as being very boring. One waits all the game for the possibility that someone might score a goal. Nick Hornby finds this entertaining, but I don't.

Around the age of ten, I started watching rugby and found this much more fulfilling. A few years later I had a season ticket to Bristol RFC (whose ground was a long walk from my home), and as a junior I could stand in the members' enclosure and normally have a very good view. But around the age of fourteen or fifteen, I found other things to do with my time, and so my rugby watching was relegated to the five nations cup (as it was then) only.

I was also very keen on watching (and playing) cricket from an early age. Whatever 'natural' desire was no doubt encouraged by the fact that I went to junior school with the son of a professional cricketer. We were friends before I knew this - and probably wouldn't have understood at the age of nine the concept of someone whose job it was to play cricket all day. In the summer I used to watch complete county games - three or four days - which seemed a pleasant way to spend the time.

Later on, of course, there was no way that I could devote this amount of time to watching a game. As I was never very happy with the one day version of the game, I find it difficult to watch cricket on tv, as a few snatched minutes lack the grandiosity and continuity of the full game.

I was also a Wimbledon fan; somehow the tournament always coincided with exam time at school (when we would be at home, nominally revising), so I used to be able to watch a tremendous amount of televised tennis.

Long years passed. These days I content myself by watching basketball on television, primarily Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague. After years of stumbling around and being moderately successful, they suddenly took off at the end of the nineties, and since then have won the European championship several times, including two consecutive years. Although this year they still have mainly the same team as last year, the magic is beginning to wear off - or maybe other teams are catching up and learning how to counter Maccabi.

Although it's pleasant to be on the winning side, that isn't the reason why I watch basketball. It's relatively short (the game lasts 40 minutes, so if last night the game started at 8:45pm, it was over by 10:30pm), there's plenty of action, excitement and upsets, and above all it's a tactical game which appeals to my cerebral nature. Football these days seems to be a bunch of people kicking a ball about between themselves, often losing ground at the same time, whereas basketball is something completely different. The 24 second clock has a great deal of influence, of course.

And just to round off: no, I don't like watching NBA. I find it too perfect compared to European basketball and too personal, whereas the European game has a certain amount of imperfection (players don't always make their baskets - far from it!) and there's more emphasis on team playing.

Last night's game had all the adventure and drama of an Oscar winning film. Whilst the opening was fairly balanced, Turkish team Ulker pulled ahead in the second quarter and soon were leading by 18 points. As has happened several times this year, it seemed that they could do no wrong whereas Maccabi could do nothing right. But slowly slowly Maccabi started pulling back and lowering the lead until finally at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Maccabi took the lead - and didn't look back.

Last week it was Real Madrid, the mythological opponent from the 80s. I have to say that Real 'maccabied' Maccabi. Real played extremely well and did all the correct things in order to beat Maccabi convincingly.

There are many fanatical Maccabi fans (I suppose all fans are fanatical - that's where the word comes from), but I wouldn't count myself as being one. Far from it! I wouldn't even count myself as a fellow traveler or weekend fan - primarily because I enjoy the game itself, and if one team plays very well (be it Maccabi or Real), then hopefully I will enjoy their mastery and skills.

For me, it's only entertainment, not a matter of life and death. It's a permanent date on a Thursday evening for most of the year.