A new book on sport in the county is in a league of its ownby John McTernan / October 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
A Yorkshire Tragedy is the name of an Elizabethan play now remembered mainly by academics for its false attribution to Shakespeare. Though, in its swift dramatisation of an actual homicide—it was probably first performed between the conviction and execution of the murderer—it resembles many later genres from murder ballad to video nasties. Now, the same title has been artfully appropriated by Anthony Clavane for the third part of his informal trilogy of sports books.
It is a dirty secret that much of the finest journalism is sports journalism. From AJ Liebling to Hugh McIlvanney to, well Anthony Clavane, the language sparkles, the insights flash and the world revealed in the boxing square, the cricket oval and the football rectangle turns out to be our world. Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool boss famously 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.” An exaggeration—until your team are playing. And we all have a team, however deeply buried that loyalty is.
In sport, your team is a link back to place—the place you are from, or where your family are from. It is an anchor. Is it, though, more than that, more than a sentimental indulgence? That is the question Clavane interrogates in this book. Appropriately, this is a tragedy in three acts, one for each of the three main sports of the county: rugby league, cricket and football.
Astutely, amusingly and accurately Clavane tells four decades of Yorkshire history through these sports. And, of course, he tells the history of the whole nation too. Thatcher. The market. Globalisation. The consumer society. Individualism. The making, unmaking and remaking of communities is retold and illuminated through sport. But not just sport—the quotes are widely drawn, from Anthony Powell to privately published memoirs.
A rich history is exposed which owes as much to Situationism as to traditional socialist critiques of economic development. Sports writing, like much genre writing, wears its learning lightly. Nevertheless, the rise and fall of Yorkshire sporting giants is a marvellous prism for the social…