I don't like spelling. Never been any good at it. Tried it every now and then but couldn’t get the hang of it. The few times I had to spell others seemed better than me, some pathetically worse, many about the same. Some weirdoes even seemed to enjoy spelling: we ripped into them. Fortunately I’ve never really had to do any spelling. Mostly it was easily avoided. My parents hated spelling too, never did it as far as I could tell, definitely not when I was there, thought it was a waste of time and were crap at it. Teachers never bothered with spelling either, we never had to do it as a class and the few times they tried to make us do spelling my dad wrote me a note to say I didn’t have to (He could spell a little, obviously. Must have been all those afternoons he sat on the couch watching Countdown). I mean catarrh: What use is it being able to spell that?
Why is spelling compulsory and sport not? And before you go off on one, spelling is still mandatory in schools, they just don’t whack you when you get one wrong. I did spelling and sport at school and came to love both. Ten words every morning in class, beanbags and benches twice a week on the parquet in the big hall. Despite initially not thinking it should be compulsory for two hours a week, lest pupils occasionally do some evil dancing, David Cameron has come round. He had two hours every day at Eton, after all. Two hours of sport, that is, not spelling.
I reckon I usually did about ten hours competitive sport a week at school; you could easily double that for break-time and evening bounce games. Table tennis, badminton, tennis, swimming, golf and athletics all featured but football was the obsession until, at 35, my body told me to stop. Apart from being a great team sport football has taught me countless invaluable lessons. Amateur football that is, you don’t need to be an Olympian to learn.
It’s June 1977, the Barrhead U15 Cup Final. The starting eleven have been picked and three of us are waiting for the two subs jerseys. My mum, dad, brother and sister are waiting pitch side, having wandered through the stalls at the Fair and bought candy floss. It’s the biggest game of the year. I am nervous but needn’t be since on ability there is no question I will be getting one of those jerseys. One of the three of us is a diddy and it isn’t me. But the manager bottled it. He left things to chance and, in front of everyone, got the kit-man to toss a coin between me and the diddy for the last jumper.
It still burns, more than three decades later. I hated the humiliation; that it was public; that it was unfair; that I had spent extra time polishing my boots; that my fate rested on the toss of a coin. I especially hate remembering, even now, how desperate I was to win the toss. When I saw my mum pitch-side I lost it: the full Andy Murray ensued and we never stayed to watch my team lose. There is still a physical pain when I think about that day. I can remember every detail.
Despite the failure of leadership by my manager, the disappointment was my fault. I had deserved a place on the bench for sure, but aimed for number 12. I did not expect to be in the team. I was a make-weight, a substitute. That was not going to happen again. Next season I played every game and scored a goal when we won the Barrhead U16 Cup Final on the same pitch. A first-time, left-foot half-volley, from just inside the box: I can remember every detail. The manager who left me out voted me Clarkston Amateurs Under 16 Player of the Year that season. The trophy was presented to me by Benny Rooney, manager of Greenock Morton, who briefly thought of signing me (Very briefly. I had pace to burn but all the composure of a GB athlete with a baton). I still have it in the loft.
The individual award was a surprise but being in the team wasn’t. I had upped my game, big-time: Got stronger, got louder, got braver. I was scoring every week and setting up goals for fun for our centre forward, Michael Ewing. In my view he should have been Player of the Year, with about 60 goals to my 23, but it seems to have been no surprise to anyone that it was me.
Compulsory sport in schools is a no brainer. During one of our Olympic couch discussions The Snip says she hated sport at school but donned the big navy knickers every week and remembers rain, orienteering, rain, gymnastics, rain and hockey. Eventually her talent as a musician took her out of the knickers and into the school orchestra, which is fine. As a very poor second violinist I know that the orchestra pit can be as competitive as the long jump-pit.
Mark Rowlands in “The Philospher And The Wolf” tells the story of his wolf, Brenin. One day Brenin is wandering round the park while Rowlands is playing ball with his friends. There is a commotion and they all run over to see what’s up. A huge Rottweiler has Brenin, at this point a small white ball of fluff just two months old, pinned to the ground, about to snap him like a twig. There is silence. No one knows what to do. Everyone stands helpless, watching, waiting. Out of the silence comes a low, guttural growl: It’s not coming from the Rottweiler. It’s Brenin, looking up as if to say, “Come on big chap, do your worst, I’m ready…” Rowlands makes the point that it is not when everything is fine that we find out who we really are. Our character is formed, and revealed, when we are under the severest pressure.
Sport gives you that pressure, no matter the level. It can be exhilarating and wonderful, to be sure. But it can also tell you that, occasionally, the light at the end of the tunnel really is an oncoming train.
For two hours a week, bring it on.
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.