Categories
Culture

Whispering Death: The Life and Times of Michael Holding by Michael Holding with Tony Cozier

I enjoy watching cricket, so when looking for books from the West Indies for the Read The World challenge, it occurred to me that a few cricketers must have written books. But I had previously resisted that temptation; because it seemed like an unimaginative choice and, let’s face it, because sporting memoirs tend to be pretty dull.

But in a moment of weakness I ordered Michael Holding’s autobiography from 1993. Holding is one of my favourite cricket broadcasters these days: he seems like a thoroughly nice man, he talks well about cricket, and his rumbling Jamaican accent is one of the great voices in broadcasting. And Tony Cozier, who is a great radio commentator, is a good person to have as a ghostwriter.

Sadly, this book is indeed fairly dull. It’s not a bad book — in fact it’s probably better than average for a sportsman’s memoir — but it’s not one of the rare examples that transcends the genre. There are all kinds of ways one of these books could stand out: it could be funny, or psychologically insightful, or gossipy and indiscreet. But instead this is just a solid, professional bit of writing. Perhaps some of the opinions expressed were controversial at the time, by the mild standards of sporting controversy; but it’s no Ball Four.

In the last chapter, he mentions in an offhand comments that he has three children by three different women, only one of whom had been his wife; and you suddenly get a sense of all the things he hasn’t been telling you. Not that I particularly need to know about his love life, but it’s part of a broader professional discretion. And ‘discreet’ is not the most exciting quality in a memoir.

Michael Holding is from Jamaica, but Whispering Death is my book for Barbados, where Tony Cozier is from. Mainly because there are lots of good choices for books from Jamaica and not so many from Barbados.

Categories
Other

The Olympics is a delightful oasis of non-corporate sport

I’m not being sarcastic; well, not entirely.

We’ve had months of angry coverage about the heavy-handed brand management put in place to appease the corporate sponsors of the Olympics: how ATMs at Olympic venues will only accept Visa, and McDonalds have an exclusive right to sell chips in the Olympic Park, and the torch relay is accompanied by a rolling advertisement for Coca-Cola, and you may be turned away from the events if you arrive wearing a T-shirt with a rival corporate logo.

So it’s worth pointing out that one reason they are so heavy-handed about asserting their branding rights is that there is no advertising in the venues themselves. When the sport finally starts, the athletes will not be competing in front of a backdrop of hundreds of corporate logos: just a lot of pink and blue London 2012 branding.

Which is a stark contrast to, say, Premier League football, where the players wear shirts with the team sponsor’s logo printed much bigger than the club badge, and the entire pitch is ringed by an enormous continuous pulsating distracting animated advertising billboard. Or Test cricket, which has advertisements spray-painted on the outfield, and all along the boundary rope, and the boundary boards, and the stumps, and the players’ bats, and the back of the umpires’ shirts, and the scoreboards, and where a 150-year-old cricket ground pisses on its own history by calling itself the Kia Oval.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that, if they were allowed to plaster the Olympic stadium with their own logos, so they knew they would be seen by the hundreds of millions of people watching on TV, the sponsors would relax their iron grip over every other aspect of Olympic branding. I’m sure they would like to have their cake and eat it. And it doesn’t justify the heavy-handed, joyless way their branding rights have been enforced.

But at least we should take a little pleasure in the fact that the winner’s podium is not going to have a Coke logo on it. The medal ribbons are not going to be Samsung-branded. There is not going to be a gigantic Procter & Gamble logo spray painted on the grass where the javelins land. Because if the Olympics was a normal modern sporting event, all that stuff would be true.

» ‘Olympic Torch Relay Day 64 Green Lanes 010‘ is © David Holt and used under a CC by-sa licence. The post-match interview is from an Indian Premier League cricket match. ‘Post match interview with AB De Villiers‘ is © Royal Challengers Bangalore and used under a CC by-nc-sa licence.

Categories
Other

Half a cheer for Formula One

I’ll say one thing for Bernie Ecclestone: he may be a greedy, ruthless, vindictive, amoral little shit and a panderer to tyrants; but as far as I know, he’s never come out with any self-serving pablum about how Formula One brings the world together in peace and harmony, and thus promotes understanding and brotherhood amongst all mankind.

Unlike FIFA and the IOC.

Which doesn’t make him any less of a foul-smelling turd, but at least he isn’t a hypocrite about it.

Categories
Other

Olympic tickets: achieved!

I worked out what I wanted in advance, was waiting ready at 6am when sales opened, had my order in within minutes and got to the point where it was trying to process my payment… and the website basically died under weight of traffic. But after forty minutes of trying I managed to get the order in; and I learned today that I got tickets for beach volleyball and weightlifting, but didn’t get the basketball tickets I applied for at the same time.

Not getting the basketball means I’m not going to anything in the Olympic Park itself, which is a pity; but I was keen to see the beach volleyball, because of where it’s being held: Horse Guards Parade. Which is the parade ground behind Whitehall where they do the Trooping the Colour. You can actually see it from one of the windows of 10 Downing Street.

Weightlifting wasn’t my first choice; in fact, in a very literal sense it was my 12th choice, since I applied for nine sessions the first time round. But when I’ve seen it on telly it always seems naturally dramatic, and it’s cool to see people pushing the human body to its limits. It is, and I mean this in a good way, a bit of a freakshow.

» Park Yoon Hee of South Korea attempts a lift in the women’s over 63kg weightlifting finals of the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games. Photo: SPH-SYOGOC/Chia Ti Yan. Used under a by-nc licence.

Categories
Me

My [non-existent] Olympic tickets

Well, I finally got confirmation yesterday that out of the nine events I applied for for next year’s London Olympics, I received a total of zero tickets. Which is fucking irritating.

For those who don’t know, it was a ballot system: instead of being first come first served, there was a period of a few weeks when you could decide what to apply for, specifying particular sessions and price ranges, and anything that was oversubscribed was allocated at random.

And now, those of us who were unlucky in the ballot get first dibs on the remaining tickets, which go on sale next Friday. So I went to the website to check availability, and the first sport I checked was tennis; completely sold out. And not just the glamour events, like the men’s semi-finals; all sessions, all prices. All the swimming tickets are gone. And all the gymnastics, the diving, the track cycling, the BMX, the badminton, the equestrian events. There are a few sessions which still have tickets at the table tennis, archery, beach volleyball, rowing, fencing, but those are going to be immediately swamped when tickets go on sale again, I’m sure. There’s even a few tickets left for athletics, but then it is an 76,000 seater venue and they are for morning sessions when it’s all early rounds.

So it’s quite frustrating. I always said I just wanted to go and see something at the Olympics, to be part of the experience while it was in London… but it looks like I really might end up going to see something like greco-roman wrestling, or handball.

If an event is massively popular, a lot of people are going to miss out. Which sucks, but you can’t sell more tickets than there are seats. However: these games had better be played to packed venues, or I will be So. Pissed. Off. If it turns out that masses of tickets allocated to corporate bloody entertainment and the fucking sponsors end up going unused… grraah. I will go round to Lord Coe’s house and personally give him a stern talking too.

Categories
Other

Anticipating the Champion’s League final

It’s rather refreshing to approach the Champion’s League final, or any game, with Manchester United as distinct underdogs. I started supporting United in the first place because I was pulled in by the glamour of the big European nights, when English clubs were still feeling their way back into the competition after the Heysel ban. They would go to famous stadiums like the San Siro and the Camp Nou and it all seemed incredibly glamorous and intimidating, and it seemed like a big deal to be in the quarterfinals or the semis.

Whereas for the last few years, the top English clubs have gone away to big clubs in Italy and Germany with everyone expecting them to win, and we’ve had far too many all-English ties for the big games. Manchester United v. Chelsea might well be a good game, but it’s not exactly European. I want to see players and teams that I don’t see every week on Match of the Day.

And while Barcelona are hardly an unknown quantity — I’ve probably seen more of Barça this year than quite a few teams in the Premiership — they are definitely foreign, they’re definitely glamorous, and they’re definitely scarily good. I think United can beat them, but they might need a slice of luck to do it.