Sports fandom, parochialism and Barcelona – Bidwell


Opinion – I will always remember the last time I watched the sport as a fan. Like many kids in this country, I grew up with posters of my heroes on the walls.

Outside Team New Zealand’s base in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbor during the 2020 America’s Cup.
Photo: Alexia Russell

I would sit and watch the images of Martin Crowe, Richard Hadlee, Glenn Turner, Mark Graham and Olsen Filipaina for hours at a time, taking in every detail and wishing some of their magic could rub off on me.

Later, bands and singers adorned the walls.

Where athletes had been idols, musicians were more of an affectation to make me look interesting.

It was therefore in England in 1999 that I definitively abandoned the fandom.

Not because my athletic heart was broken, or anything like that, just because I had to grow up and get a job and put all the childhood fantasies to bed.

But what a way out.

I had cobbled together the cash to follow the Black Caps on their four Test tour of England. Stephen Fleming’s side eventually won the series 2-1 but, in all fairness, could have won 4-0 if it hadn’t been for the 99 not off night watchman Alex Tudor in Birmingham and then the rain in Manchester.

Much of this tour remains vivid for me. The individual milestones, the reluctant way Bob Willis presented Fleming with the show trophy at The Oval, the continual jokes about sheep in the crowd, and the bizarre abuse of Daniel Vettori for looking like “a fucking student”.

I especially remember Chris Cairns and Dion Nash and their tireless efforts.

When things seemed dark or in balance, like during the series’ final test, one or the other rose again. Cairns hit Phil Tufnell in the clubhouse repeatedly, to give New Zealand a total to defend, then Nash knocked down the England batsmen when it looked like the hosts might see the target again.

Years later, when Cairns was embroiled in a corruption case, my boss at the time suggested I try to find a few former teammates who could offer a few words in Cairns’ defence.

Most of the Cairns peers had turned against him, but not Nash.

No, in the same sincere way he has always played cricket, Nash told me he believed in Cairns, that he had spent the best years of his life winning cricket matches for New Zealand with Cairns and that he would support him no matter what.

Cairns was amazing in 1999. The Lord’s crowd actually booed him a bit, when they saw replays of how he played Chris Read (comically) and Graham Thorpe with slower balls.

The level of deception was such that puzzled England fans thought Cairns must have cheated.

No, he was just too good.

What’s the point of all this? To say that I understand what it is to be a fan, but also to note that there comes a time when you have to grow up.

A time to collect all your flags, posters and replica jerseys and throw them in the trash. A moment to realize that your New Zealand identity is an accident of birth, rather than your defining characteristic.

A time to treat sports like another thing on your phone, laptop or TV, instead of something to rest all your hopes and dreams on.

I’m talking, of course, about the America’s Cup and where its next iteration will be.

Nothing has baffled me more in my life than the sight of adults living and breathing the results of America’s Cup sailing. Honestly, of all the things to worry about.

But that’s nationalism for you. It’s irrational, just like some of the reactions to the news that this event is taking place in Barcelona.

The hurt feelings, the confusion, the blow to national pride – it’s absolutely comical.

Taking the cup to Barcelona, ​​I have heard and read, is proof that this event is all about the money. It’s not about sports, it’s not about patriotism, it’s just greed. Wow, now there’s a news flash.

Worse still, I’ve seen sportswriters say they won’t support the team anymore.

Support the team? Support the team?

I’m sorry, but if being chief standard bearer is part of your reporting repertoire, then you’re in for the wrong racket.

But it’s the America’s Cup for you. It does strange things to otherwise sane people and, frankly, I look forward to the day when it’s no longer a national obsession.

We’re in the middle of an increasingly deadly pandemic here and people are whistling and complaining about an America’s Cup venue? Honestly, we got our priorities wrong.

Sport is great. It’s great to play, sometimes good to watch, but it shouldn’t make you lose your senses.

As long as I live, I will never understand the hold of the America’s Cup on New Zealand.


Comments are closed.