Simon Barnes's reflections on sport's "meaning" too often come at the expense of his subjects. He should get back to writing about what he sees, not what he thinksby Robert Colls / May 26, 2007 / Leave a comment
The Meaning of Sport, by Simon Barnes (Short Books, £16.99)
It’s the 2004 European football championships and this is how Simon Barnes starts his book: “I am in a state of mild terror. I am sitting at a table in a café in Lisbon, having eaten a pleasant lunch with a couple of very pleasant crisp cold beers. The weather is overcast, cool, easy. This evening, England play Croatia: if they (should I say we? Definitely not) draw or win, they continue to the next stage… if Croatia win, they go through, England go out.”
Now, just after lunch in a beautiful city with a grandstand seat to look forward to, and a five-star hotel to come back to, why on earth should Barnes be in the grip of terror? Is it to do with his surroundings? Hardly. He loves café society and as he eats he is savouring Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet—”the great Portuguese novel.” Well, is it because of the shame defeat would bring to England? Not at all. He tells us he doesn’t feel English anyway, isn’t impressed by the England fans (men he’d cross the M25 to avoid) and is no stranger to the ironies of defeat. Good. So what is it? Well, to put it more plainly than he does, it’s the prospect of being Simon. For after the match, and before returning to his hotel “cell,” he has to file 700 words on 11 footballers he doesn’t know or understand taking part in something he doesn’t think is important or, at any rate, doesn’t think is as important as “world peace” or “the ecological holocaust that is to come.” Poor old Simon. “I would much sooner be in Suffolk than in Lisbon. Ride my horses, play with my children, hug my wife.” But being chief sports writer of the Times, he can’t. Like Beckham, the England captain, Barnes has to deliver that night. Sitting like Buddha in his five-star cell in all the hotels of the world—mineral water to the side of him, laptop to the front of him—Simon has to write about sport.
That’s chapter one. Only another 157 chapters, or “meanings,” to go. If you like the idea of people having ideas about the idea of sport, you’ll enjoy this book. If you don’t, you should spend your money elsewhere.