Monday, 18 August 2014

The making of a sports obsessive

A change of tack this week, as I reveal a bit about my childhood in the 1980s, and the massive part sport played in making me the sporting obsessive that I am today. Some of these tales are cringeworthy - most of them actually - yet I am sure that a few of you might be able to relate to some of the below. If not, then please don't judge me. We were all young once, and I honestly didn't do anyone any harm. I probably annoyed them intensely, mind.

Golf cheque

"What's this?" my dad asked me as we waited to tee off at our local golf course. I'd been rumbled. After watching the recent Open championship - Seve's triumph at St Andrews in 1984 - I had well and truly caught the golf bug, so much so that I began to dream of the day that I too would be Open champion. But waiting over ten years for this inevitable moment was just too long for me.

That's when I came up with my plan to become Seve immediately. I hastily created an 18 hole course in the back garden - pretty impressive seeing as our back yard wasn't massive - and then duly won The Open with ease. I can't recall what score I shot, but I have an idea that even if it was +23 I still would have given myself the Claret Jug, or one of my mum's vases as it turned out. On collecting the vase from myself, I also had a cheque to cash, and this is where my embarrassment really begins.

The cheque that I created on a bit of scrap paper was never meant to fall into the wrong hands, so you can imagine my shame when my golfing partner enquired about it before our round. Oh how we laughed (well, I didn't) as he put it in the bin, never to be seen again. As you can probably guess, I'm feeling a little uneasy typing this story. You can also work out that I never did win The Open. Perhaps I should have kept that cheque after all.


It takes a special/odd type of person to do what I am about to explain to you. Obviously, as a big fan of athletics, I was looking forward to the 1987 World Championships in Rome. Johnson v Lewis; Steve Cram, Daley Thompson and Fatima Whitbread; above all, live sport on television for hours on end. But I couldn't just enjoy it like any normal person. Oh no.

I'm not sure why I came up with this idea, or why I thought it would add anything to my life, but I decided to watch the vast majority of the track events accompanied by my stopwatch. It would then be my job to try and time the race, in an attempt to get as close to the official time as possible. Why? I have absolutely no idea.

Thankfully this was just a passing phase, as I had managed to wean myself off this habit by the time of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. I would like to say this was a reasoned decision made by myself, a realisation that the year before I had been a little daft. Alas it was more due to the fact that my stopwatch had run out of batteries and I was too lazy to replace them.


And the hits just keep on coming. Buoyed by England's surprisingly good performances down under, I wanted to be like messrs Botham, Broad, Gatting and Richards during the 1986/87 Ashes series. So, like any ordinary boy, I took to the bathroom in an attempt to create the Graham Dilley sunblocked nose look.

It was fairly easy to do. I took one piece of toilet roll, folded and put it under the tap, waited for it to dry, and then added some double-sided sellotape to one side. Then I would place it over my nose, and run around the living room, taking wickets, and doing appalling Bill Lawry impressions. It really was great fun.

Obviously I looked like a complete idiot - some things never change - but in my defence I was young, care free, and England were winning the Ashes in Australia. The next time I could celebrate this achievement I was a lot older and had children of my own, and naturally I was so much more mature and sensible to do anything as silly as I had previously. Instead I drunk too much and woke up with a cracking hangover, which might suggest that I hadn't grown any wiser in the intervening years.

More more more

There were many other incidents that happened during my childhood which give a lot of clues as to why I have turned out to be slightly obsessive about sport.

Recording my own Subbuteo commentaries; having an operation to remove my tonsils in 1987, waking up afterwards, and deciding the first thing I needed to ask my concerned mum was if England had won the cricket against Pakistan; correctly identifying Valerie Brisco-Hooks in the mystery guest round of A Question of Sport when the rest of my family laughed and thought I had made the name up; reluctantly going to see Mother Goose at the local pantomime, and fretting throughout the performance, as I was wondering how Arsenal were getting on against Middlesbrough in the 1984 FA Cup third round (they lost 3-2).

A strange obsession with Bob Beamon and his leap of 8.90m at the 1968 Mexico Olympics; putting the word CHEAT in Blu-Tack across a picture of Diego Maradona on my 1986 World Cup wallchart, after his first goal against England in the quarter finals; a more understandable obsession with Gabriela Sabatini; writing 'Cricket is skill' on my Ladybird book of cricket; paying 50p in 1986 to a school friend who had a shiny badge which completed my Arsenal Panini sticker collection.

Wearing my smart grey shoes whilst practising on my 4ft 6 inch table, in an attempt to be like Joe Johnson at the 1986 World Snooker Championships; trying and failing to follow the New York Mets in baseball on Channel 4, and the Nottingham Panthers in ice hockey, just because they were new sports to me and I felt I should like them and attach myself to some teams; watching anything on Grandstand and World of Sport, just because it was sport and it was on the television; being genuinely gutted the day I heard Emlyn Hughes had left A Question of Sport; disliking Sporting Triangles because of this.

Getting in a mood when my parents kept obstructing my view of the television on 1983 FA Cup final day - in fairness they were unpacking boxes as we had moved to our new house the day before; still hearing Bruce Hornsby and the Range to this day and immediately thinking of Grandstand; trying to contract any mystery illness so that I could get a day off school to watch the Turkey v England match in 1984; inventing a match in my head where Australia needed one run to win the Ashes and I took a remarkable 10/0 and became a national hero.

I think that's enough for now. Any more examples like the ones above and you might start thinking I'm a little bit strange.


  1. You missed out going on holiday to Scotland. 1st day you created a sprint course around the cottage and named all the corners. You then spent all week timing our laps on THAT stopwatch. I bet you still have your PB recorded somewhere.

  2. Great stuff, Steve. Really enjoyed that.

  3. Really good read!

  4. Great stuff once again, especially the Bruce Hornsby thing (me too) and the Turkey - England match. I had my neighbour record it (a rarish event in itself back then) and then watched it in the evening, much to the detriment of my Geography homework for which I got the worst b******ing I ever had at school.

  5. Love the Ashes scenario!

  6. I think I had the afternoon off school due to a teachers' strike when England were playing Turkey. What great timing.