17/07/12 Chariots of Fire

Languishing in the comfort of being at home with Ella, waiting for mental and physical maladies to abate, I have allowed myself to become smitten by all things Olympian.

What better way to prepare for the festival of running about than to sit down and watch David Putnam’s cinematic salute to the 1924 Paris games, Chariots of Fire?

Ok, it’s very easy to go all republican, socialist and atheist about it all. Most of the teams in the games were made up from athletes who could afford to be amateur – with a spookily high percentage coming from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and other temporary homes to the British Bourgeoisie.

We can jointly sneer at the absolute comedy of security at the London Games – the crazy juxtaposition of missile turrets on the roofs of buildings to the absence of security folk on the ground – the ludicrous debates in the house of commons that go something like –

“The security at the Olympics is a farce,”

“No it isn’t,”

“Yes it is,”

“No it isn’t,”

….with accompanied sycophantic toadying and jeering from both sides of the house…impressive…

….add to that the hoards yelling, “How much is this costing? In a time of austerity? You surely are taking the piss?”

Not the best of platforms from which to launch…well, anything really…

Cynicism is rather easy though, isn’t it? When things aren’t going quite so well for me what could me more fun than putting my feet up with a glass of something or other and gratuitously mocking?

You could do that with Chariots of Fire…

There again you could rejoice.

Rejoice that Harold Abrahams – an English Jew in an anti-Semitic world – was driven by God knows what to push himself harder and harder…

Rejoice that Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian, brilliantly portrayed by Ian Charleson, stood up against the authority of the Olympic committee to stay true to his faith and not run on the Sabbath – to instead run in and win the 400 metres, his less favoured event, breaking the world record in the process – a man who ran from the heart, his head thrown back as if looking up to the God he loved.

A man who subsequently went back to China to work as a missionary, to eventually die of a brain tumour in a Japanese prisoner of war camp after sending his family home because of the risks of the second world war.

A man of principles and passion.

Which leads me to think of my own chariots – my own fire – and the beauty and the passions of others.

I’m so easily drawn back to that team in 1980 – a bunch of man-boys who’d mysteriously changed from a team of also-rans to one that represented their school, their county, in the nationals.

If I close my eyes I can see Paul Boath – he was the left back to my right back – sadly gone now – a sage nod and a smile to acknowledge another successful defence against the ravaging hoards of whatever team – the bellows of Shaun Hannah, our magnificent goalkeeper reminding us that he would tear us apart with his bare hands should we ever think about getting out of position again – the towering Paul Steed at the centre of defence shouting ‘Steed’s Ball’ as he leapt to head the ball away – Lee Marchant, a stalwart in defence – Malcolm Burr, the general in midfield, mild mannered off the pitch but he who must be obeyed during the game -Darren Hambly, George Brown and Alex Inglis all slight of frame, providing thought, skill, connection, tactics and cohesion to the team – God, could Alex header a ball – up front we had the small but speedy Craig McDonald on the right wing – my longtime friend David Alderson, another authoritative voice – the breathtakingly fast Sean Taylor – and, intermittently, when he wasn’t having some problems with the er…authorities…singularly the best footballer I’d had the pleasure to share a pitch with, a guy who had poise, speed, skill, flair and a hunger to score goals, Tony Hutchinson – who could forget his 20 yard thunderbolt against our greatest rivals, Pope John?

They’re all there – preserved in those magical moments – as vivid now as they ever were – we were giants.
I remember when Tony Hutchinson was approached by an England youth coach, inviting him to come for the trials, he responded, some may say undiplomatically, with, “Fuck off, I’m Scottish…”

As an athlete, I remember the exquisite tension of the 100 metres – I wasn’t the fastest person around, but the joy of racing to that single goal…the unmitigated joy of running and jumping, watching others, more and less skilled, doing their best – cheering them on and being cheered on.

Being part of a great big something.
Which brings me back to the Olympics – I can’t wait.

I’ll be walking most of the time, but I’ll be there in spirit – sharing that thrill – that beauty – the excitement of it all.
If you meet me and I appear a little distracted – it might not be dissociation – it may well be Olympic fever. Try to persevere with me.

I love being British. I love the people of Britain – these folk who are contained on this island of ours – I’ll be rooting for the Brits – yes, I’ll be discriminating – in every leap, dash, splash, kick, punch and throw…

Except of course for Usain Bolt, who has to be one of the most beautiful (in all senses of the word) people around.
For slightly under 10 or 20 seconds I’ll be Jamaican.

I can’t watch Chariots of Fire without crying. It’s little wonder really, given the above head full of Chariots and Fire I’ve had the fortune to live through.

So, just for a few weeks, let’s not think about G4S….

Walk a Mile



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