Why? Well, it’s perhaps (actually it’s ‘almost certainly’, let’s be honest) hopeless and dewy-eyed and pathetically romantic to get all nostalgic about sport, but, damn it, I love sport, and this book gives off such a strong sense of sport as sport (as opposed to what tends, all too often, to fill the sports pages of (UK at any rate) newspapers: stuff about which football club currently has a winding-up order on it, or exactly which soccer players, who earn as much in a week as some people do in a decade, have unedifyingly been up to off the field...)
Even the Olympics aren’t immune: leaving aside for the moment any questions about awarding the 2008 games to China, there’s even been controversy about Canada’s “Own the Podium” philosophy in the current Winter Olympics, one of the last bastions, I’d aver, of “proper” sport left...The Summer Olympics are on a downward curve too, I think.
(To pick just one example, the cretins at the IOC, rather than sensibly add events to the women’s Olympic track cycling programme, so that there is gender equality in a sport where an Olympic medal still means something, are instead “equalizing” things by cutting both programmes, whilst simultaneously clogging the schedule up with nonsenses like tennis and golf, where the pinnacles of the sport are grand slam and major events, not the Olympics. It may keep the advertisers happy, but something vital has been lost, I think, and I tend, in my (hopeless) romantic way, to despair. [Aside: a brilliant post about the Olympics, and how they are, despite everything, still special, is, well, over there, on Sharon's blog.
What I love about this is:
a] its eccentric (and peculiarly British) comprehensiveness. The entry on FOOTBALL includes not only details of Association Soccerball, American Football, Australian Rules Football, Gaelic Football, and the various
b] it’s impossible to imagine now, as was the case when legendary John Arlott wrote his introduction in 1974, an editor of a companion or encyclopedia on sport saying, in his introduction, as Arlott does here, that the “first, and most important” editorial decision was to exclude blood sports. (And even then, they managed not only to include BULLFIGHTING [114 et seq] and COURSING [163 et seq], but mention in the entry for UNDERWATER SWIMMING pioneer COLIN McLEOD , that he was "captain of the British spearfishing team" between 1968 and 1971.) I mention this not because, in the real word, I'm in favour of such ‘sports’, or that, when I’ve finished typing this, I shall be donning my hunting pinks and charging across the countryside atop my trusty steed, but, it does, to some extent (maybe), hark back, again (and I can’t help myself, however unacceptable it is), to a more “sporting” age...(And yes, I'll accept it's not clear what I'm on about here. Something rubbishly vague about the Corinthian spirit and/or Hemmingway, possibly...)
c] Apart from entries on nineteenth century race-horses (and (really!) BLIND MAN’S BLUFF ), there are entries like this:
JOUTES LYONNAISSES is a traditional and localized French form of JOUSTING on water. The competitors are armed with wooden lances and carry wooden shields on their left arms. They are mounted on platforms raised above the stern of boats which are propelled towards one another and pass at close quarters…
I want to do that!