I grew up in to a lanky young lad much too fast for my own good. This caused my knee ligaments to stretch rather than grow – so my knees were prone to dislocation and I was in pretty much constant pain with them. This put paid to much participation in sport, certainly at any sort of competitive level. But I have always enjoyed watching it and would like to thank some of my heroes…
To my sporting heroes
I shall begin with my first love, football. If you’ve read my letter to my dad, you will know that the love affair began on Saturday, August 1, 1970 at the Goldstone Ground. Dad took me to a few more games there after that but, gradually, his health deteriorated and he could no longer do so.
After that, I went to most of Brighton’s home fixtures with a Mr Arnold, a friend of dad’s. The golden era for the Albion came around 1976/1977, when a certain striker by the name of Peter Ward was at his height. He just couldn’t stop scoring, netting 79 goals in 178 appearances. I remember a league cup tie against Derby one Tuesday evening under the floodlights: Wardy banged one in after a minute and I was swept half-way down the terraces on a wave of adulation (there were no all-seater stadiums in those days). Peter lived only a little way from me and, on my way back to school after lunch, I would sometimes see him doing his washing in the launderette on Mile Oak Road (my, how times have changed!).
Dad was born in Atherstone, Warwickshire, so I always had a soft spot for his closest top-flight team, Coventry City. One of the few positives of working for Norwich Union was that, for some reason, they had a number of season tickets for the Sky Blues and I got to take Christopher to quite a few games at Highfield Road. We enjoyed watching the likes of Dion Dublin, Robbie Keane, Youssef Chippo and Darren Huckerby. Some years after the move to the Ricoh Stadium, I went to find the site of the old ground. It is is now a faceless housing estate with, sadly, not a single mention of its provenance.
After we’d moved to Norfolk, I took David to his first game at Carrow Road – Norwich City v Wolves – on February 24, 2001. I bought good seats and we had use of one of the executive lounges ahead of the game. I can still see his face beaming as he craned out of the window to get this first glimpse of the manicured stadium. The 2003/04 season was City’s finest hour, when they were promoted to the Premiership as Champions – with the help of players like the legandary Iwan Roberts, Peter Crouch and none other than Mr Huckerby, who I had watched at Coventry some years before.
Later, I came to admire and enjoy the play of Grant Holt – he is what I call a proper old-fashioned centre-forward who had worked his way up through every level of English football. He was strong, aggressive, held the ball up well and knew how to mix it up a bit. And he enjoyed every minute of it, always playing with a smile and a glint in his eye. Those of you who know Norfolk will have heard of the market town of Holt. On the A148 there is a road sign which reads Holt 10. Some character had crossed out the 10 and replaced it with number 9. Brilliant!
Cricket is my second love, although I only have interest in the five-day test version of the game. As a lad I loved to watch England players like Bob Willis – hammering down towards the wicket, ball menacing cradled at his side, his long curly locks bouncing as a rhtythmic warning of the missile about to be unleashed. I was captivated by Alan Knott – the cat-like wicket-keeper who found it impossible to remain still – and the mighty Ian Botham, when he pretty much single-handedly destroyed the Aussies in 1981. Nowadays I marvel at the talent, skill and power of the likes of Jimmy Anderson, Ben Stokes and Joe Root.
I still maintain that the 1985 World Snooker Final is one of the greatest sporting moments. Dennis Taylor came from being eight frames to nil down in the early stages to win on the final ball of the 35th and final frame, that winning pot being the only time he was ahead in the entire contest! The match went on well in to the early hours. Carol, heavily pregnant with Christoper, had gone to bed and and I remember leaping round the lounge urging Taylor to his victory. Tremendous entertainment.
I used to enjoy Formula One when it was about racing, single-mindedness and guts rather than processions, politics and team orders. Ayrton Senna was, without doubt, the greatest of all the racers and, as you may have already read he, like me, was once a resident of the sleepy Norfolk town of Attleborough.
I want to thank all the sports men and women I have watched and admired over the years. Now, do read the next letter which is to Sky TV – which has revolutionised its coverage.