The author Rick Gekoski, no mean sportswriter himself, once wrote that “Sport makes you write, and think, and feel, in exclamation marks”. Which is true for even the most seasoned of us. In 2004, the Boston Globe headlined the Sox World Series victory, their first since 1918, in this way: YES!!! Nothing nuanced: just one word, one syllable, in capitals, with no less than three exclamation marks (or screamers as they are known).
I doubt whether McIlvanney would have done this. However tight the deadline, his judgements were as measured as his prose. The emotional sub-text was implicit rather than overt.
It is because I lean towards Rick and the Globe in my response to great sporting events that I admired McIlvanney so much. Although he insisted on being known as a ‘reporter’, he was not. One did not turn to his piece to find a blow by blow account of a bout or a goal by goal record of a football match. We valued his writing because it concerned itself with what it meant: to the players, to the coaches, to those who were present as spectators. It is significant that he numbered amongst his closest friends those who were involved totally in the sports about which he wrote. They – Jock Stein, Bill Shankly, Alex Ferguson, Angelo Dundee – knew that he knew and understood as much about their game as they did.
In a few weeks, I will be taking part in a round table at the History Department of Warwick University which concerns itself with sportswriting. My fellow panellists – Dave Sternburg, Simon Hart – are stars in the firmament. I am not.
Although I am on record with my views about Coventry City Football Club and Warwickshire County Cricket Club, my prime focus is on my beloved Boston Red Sox and the life of a fan based in the baseball desert which is the United Kingdom. (Although judging by the demand for tickets for the Yankees games at the London Stadium this summer, there are more of us in this country than we imagine.)
I tend not to engage in a recitation of baseball stats – when I did I was mildly chastised for doing so. Rather, my subject is my very personal and particular experiences of being a fan of a team which plays 3,000 miles away from my home.
In many ways, and certainly in the great order of things, it is a trivial pursuit. But almost every night, as I tune in to mlb.tv, I know that I will almost certainly witness something that only sport can provide:
In the words of Hugh McIlvanney, “a magnificent triviality”.
Today from the everysmith vaults: After the fine performance of the Shostakovich String Quartet #2 in A major (actually mostly in A minor) by the Carducci Quartet on Friday evening, I am working my way through their Shostakovich cycle, including an advance copy of their new recordings of #1, #2 and #7. Magnificent and not trivial.