Tuesday, March 20, 2007

SPORTIN' LIFE: Freddie, You Let Us Down

Any self-aware soak recognises that Andrew Flintoff's dipso tendencies conceal a threat. But Paul Stump wants things set straight about the accused, the accusers - and their priorities

As a guiltily heavy consumer of alcohol, with habits I wouldn't care to pass on to any children I might have the misfortune to sire, I raised a tut or two at the 'Freddie Shipfaced' headlines. Tut tut. Silly boy (although why isn't there more noise about his ridiculous tattoos?). More than a tut, though? Nah. Flintoff has shown bad form, spoilt sloppiness, but that's all.

Apart from sex, there are few things to bring out the cliché in the British - especially in the British press - than boozing. Puritans and dipsomaniac apologists alike have their own stock responses. A) Role model behaviour, must we fling this filth in the face of our kids etc. B) 87 pints never did me/Fred Titmus/insert name of journeyman Test bowler here any harm, didn't David Boon sink 53 tinnies on the flight from Melbourne to Heathrow in 1989?

Both responses are equally as fatuous, as meaningless as showing that clip of George Best and the champagne waterfall whenever sport and alcohol are mentioned in the same sentence. Pat response encourages pat response; saloon bar punters rabbit on 'standards' all they wish before drink-driving 'the wife' home to Virginia Water or Alderley Edge or Llandaff at twice the speed limit; then there is the journalistic sodality that powers the whole discipline, newspapers and "new media" both praise the 'down-to-earthness' of the likes of Flintoff and carry ads for inebriatory wee-wee like Carling and Strongbow.

Flintoff was monstered for getting out of it with Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne back at New Year after the final nail was driven in the coffin of England's whitewash; he, almost nobly, argued that after England's Ashes win in 2005, England's players had generously pinted it with the humbled Aussies, supposedly the most focused and professional Spartans in cricket. There's no gallantry or panache in drunken incapacity; but unless devotion to exercising the old elbow outdoes dedication to exercising a given skill, or to one's own health, then this really is not an issue. If the sauce has had a deleterious effect on Flintoff, let us know when, where and how. Ponting, Warne, and (one presumes) their paymasters, realise this. Until then, let us issue a fatwa on all crud about 'letting the side down'.

If Flintoff has let anyone down, it's the silent majority of England cricket fans who loathe every genetic particle of the 'Barmy Army' whose foot-soldiers were apparently those righteous souls who papped the pedalo prang for the tabloids.

How so? It's regrettable that Fred didn't choose to take one or two with him on his moonlight jaunt and land his considerable bulk squarely on them in the Caribbean surf, preferably holding them under.

That these professional freeloaders and gin-slingers, whose inane chants have devalued every part of watching international cricket in England, have the nerve to dob in one of their icons and then be congratulated is a state of affairs so surreal it could only happen in Blairite England.

Looking for any aspect of modern life more annoying than The Barmy Army is as thankless a task as locating Maoist guerillas in rural Kentucky. There are honourable exceptions. I've met them. I've got pleasantly drunk with them (no pedalos were harmed). But this doesn't apply to the majority of these 'real fans', who 'spend thousands following England' were, we are informed, 'disgruntled' at the players' 'lack of professionalism' and so decided to act when Freddie went Awol. Ooh - bully for them.

These, presumably, are the same right-minded model pros and civic-minded paragons whose contribution to right and proper conduct is to embezzle or simply steal shitloads of cash, wangle months off work on fictional sickies, pull any bilk imaginable, change the subject when asked about it and then jolly it up in the sunshine for periods of time unimaginable to most people and then to annoy the locals by getting pissed as farts and singing 'no surrender to the IRA' all day in such historical touchstones as Kandy and Georgetown. These are Clarksonistas, shadow economy wallahs, chancers, deal-pullers, they know a thing or two, they've got contacts; someone in the SAS is a brother or an uncle. You want to show them respect, you do. They are the endlessly indulged; the sort of people who trash hotel rooms on 'team-bonding' weekends and who respond to reprimands from superiors, police officers etc with a drunken 'oddight, mate?' and get away with it. The sort of people who end up in Fathers4Justice because for once in their lives they've been told 'no, you can't'. The only crime in this twisted world worse than getting found out is owning up to being found out; Flintoff at least had the guts to do that. In spite of the Ashes hammering, that makes him more of a man than his former acolytes will ever dream of being.

'Respect' is a prole buzzword now, but the bulk of the Barmies, for whom the term is an article of faith, are in actuality worthy not of respect, but of nothing but contempt; so shallow are these arseholes that they will even jettison one of their own (Flintoff, with his artless body art, high disposable income and thicko's crop is pure Barmy). To pretend that this was a public service 'for the good of the team' that they purport to support, and not for a nice earner from Newscorp, as suggested by the BBC's cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew last night (and no doubt all cheerleaders for citizens' journalism/user-generated bollocks), is naivety gone haywire.

Freddie, if you can be bothered to trouble yourself about this (and I am sure that being a pro with an eye on your diet you have better salt cod to fry) you can redeem yourself. Yes, miss that extra pint of Marston's - if it means that you knock even just one of these 'supporters' or their media stooges to the Promised Land with a well-timed heave to leg, then cricket will be all the richer.

No comments: