Spectating Sport

Spectating Sport

As I sit on the sofa with my laptop I am thinking about our Thursday afternoon activity.

Thursday is my day off. Every Thursday the boys go to swimming lessons. We had a lovely pattern for a while where I swam in the lane across the pool from them while they were in their various classes. I’d bring snacks for when lessons finished, allowed them to watch those dreadful portable DVD players for the car journey home to keep them awake, while I sipped on an Americano from a takeaway cup.

One time I even paid a pound for them to stand like little lemons in what looked like an oversized sunbed that blew hot air at them, to let them get dried quicker and in a more fun way than me tousling their hair with a rough beach towel . Thursday swim routine had become quite a novelty for the three of us.

But lately the Thursday swim pattern has changed.

My Mum is off in the afternoons and kindly offered to take the boys to the pool to allow me to work the past few weeks. In many respects this suits us all- Granny has time with her “treasures”, the lads choose a treat from the vending machine post swim, and I get a good two hours of work that I wouldn’t normally get at that time on a Thursday. It’s win win really.

Or not.

On recent Thursdays when Mum’s car pulls away with the lads sporting their goggles above their eyebrows pre-empting the craic at the other end of the car journey, I feel a bit sad. Like a flashback to 2001 during the time I experienced my first bout of F.O.M.O (Fear Of Missing Out)when my mates seemed to be out together having banter on the hockey field by day and dancefloor by night every Saturday without me. I was waiting tables and saving money to go travelling for four months, alone, ironically.

Knowing my kids and Mum are taking part in the live activity and ritual that is “Swim time” hurts my heart a bit. (a bit dramatic, I know).

I believe there is something cool about sport and all that it brings to your time and energy. Whether it’s the hype around it, friends with clinking beer bottles arriving as the mid week footie starts on the tele, or the meal booked late in the evening for a group of you walking home from a rugby match. Sport is a sucker for bringing people together, and I like that.

Live events are cool. They are there to be a part of, seats are there to be filled and stands swarmed with fans. My kids swimming lessons albeit mostly uneventful each week are there for an over keen sporting Mum like myself to be a part of. Last week the youngest was reported to have stood at the pool steps in waist high water with blue lips refusing to listen to his teacher, so it’s not like I’m missing an Olympic event when I stay at the studio and work instead of accompanying them. It’s more the act of being there. Like the days I watch from the pool gallery and it’s hotter than hell and have to strip down to the last layer before my bra, the smell of the chlorine wall that hits us as the automatic doors separate, the hussle and bustle of being involved. It’s great to be in it and I guess it’s always been a part of my life.

My Mum helped to teach young people with learning disabilities how to swim, she also played hockey religiously each weekend so I spent many a Saturday afternoon hanging out by the side of a gravel hockey pitch with my brother. Mostly fighting with each other or climbing trees, but it signalled the weekend. We were present.

I don’t think it’s just team sports that bring people together and give a grounded sense of belonging, solo sports do too.

Sure swimming is mostly a one man band (unless again we’re back to the Olympics). It’s the doing and the being of these activities that promote such positive wellbeing. Rooting for the solo sprinter or singing “Ireland’s call” with a thousand others is in my view, one thing. It’s enthusiasm and it’s fun.

Being present at sporting events is a bit of a thing in our family. Both my husband’s family and mine love watching sport. Rugby tickets are like gold dust and every year around this time we can’t wait to see if my Father-in-law can get the siblings and their respective partners some Six Nations tickets. Once distributed we all spend more time than is necessary arranging the craic before and after the matches we’re going to. It can be a decent party when you know others heading down to a home game in The Aviva (or Landsdowne Road as my husbands still insists on calling it) in Dublin.

It’s the same with Wimbledon. As far back as I can remember my friend Hazel and I recognised Sue Barker’s voice as marking the start of our School summer holidays. Watching games of tennis every day and eating melon with a melon ball scoop. Then later in life we queued for Wimbledon tickets . Honestly that trip to see live tennis was worth the 4am starts each morning, the camaraderie in the (delightfully polite and well behaved) line was just heart warming. Seeing players walk through the crowds, pimms in plastic cups, meeting strangers who gave you their ticket upgrade because they just didn’t fancy staying to the death to see the final game on the centre court. ALL of this felt good. It felt real, like a movement and a once in a lifetime buzz that you only get at live events.

For my husband’s birthday one year I bought him tickets to boxing at the Odyssey. Have you ever been to one of those? Now there is an experience. I box from time to time with Ian Young Fitness in Belfast. I even persuade the guys with the foam body suits to let me in the ring to give them my version of a right hook, but live boxing is a bit different. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and I had the pleasure of meeting quite a few recognisable characters from Northern Ireland’s political line up (an odd encounter). But unlike rugby I find boxing is a bit less predictable. The crowds are passionate and rowdy and a bit mean to be frank. There was definite spitting near me and I had to check my G&T didn’t catch any as it came from directly above.

Despite the hostile atmosphere in and outside of the ring, the whole act of being in that arena with flashing neon lights and terribly outdated house music was electric. I fed off the sweat and shouting and anxiety of everyone ringside. I felt there.

So armchair fan with the luxury of HD and replays or the atmosphere of ‘being there’, that is the question.

With the lads you have to be there…with other events, previously I would have said watching it on the tele IS better because of the camera angles and the beauty of replays, but maybe I just shouldn’t compare them.

Tonight I’ll be at Ravenhill (or should that be the Kingspan Stadium) watching live rugby. It’s wet in Belfast, will this makes for a less enjoyable experience? Maybe in one respect. Instead maybe i should embrace the crowds, the beer ‘sploshing’ down my back, the umbrella dodging…It’s all part of the joy of spectating at live sport after all.