Better than drama

Andy West

Andy West is a sports writer originally from the UK and now living in Barcelona. He has worked in professional football since 1998 and specialises in the Spanish Primera Division and the English Premier League. Follow him on Twitter at @andywest01.

MAY 15 — What a finish!

With a matter of seconds remaining on the clock, there was time for just one shot for the title; one chance for the championship; one opportunity to complete an astonishing comeback.

One shot executed with nerveless precision into the net to ensure that months of toil were able to conclude with scenes of wildly unrestrained celebration.

Yes, Sergio Aguero’s last-gasp goal to secure the Premier League title for Manchester City was quite something. And uncannily, a few hours later on Sunday evening, so too was Georgios Printezis’ game-winning basket to clinch the European basketball title for Olympiacos.

The resemblance between the two dramatic finales was striking: Aguero’s goal came in the fourth and penultimate minute of stoppage time to complete City’s three-minute turnaround from 1-2 to 3-2; Printezis’ two-pointer with 0.7 seconds left on the clock allowed rank outsiders Olympiacos to overturn a 19-point deficit against the mighty CSKA Moscow and win 62-61.

The “you-couldn’t-script-it” conclusion to both games — two of the most memorable sporting encounters it’s been my pleasure to witness in many years — supported my belief that sport, at its best, is better than anything that fictional drama can provide: better than theatre, better than movies, better than even the most gripping of novels.

Cultural snobs will disagree, of course. Sport is just plain silly, they will scoff — grown men running around in shorts after a ball! How on earth can such a juvenile activity possibly be regarded as superior to the serious issues of life and death, self and society, love and war addressed by Shakespeare, Scorsese or Tolstoy?

My answer is simple. Sport is real; sport is spontaneous, and — unless dodgy Turkish referees with uncomfortably close links to the gambling fraternity are involved — sport is unscripted. Even the participants don’t know the outcome.

Fictional drama, of course, can touch its observers in many ways, addressing sensitive issues with creativity and perception to offer startling and brutal insights into our lives. I am not suggesting for one second that theatre and literature are worthless.

But for pure drama, for gripping, edge-of-your-seat tension and excitement, it’s impossible to beat the wondrous vagaries provided by sport.

When Oedipus discovers the truth about his life and his marriage, we know that he’s going to gouge out his eyes. It’s a horrific, unsettling, stupendous moment of drama, but we all know it’s coming — and so, of course, does Oedipus himself, his mother-wife and their fellow cast members.

The shock, despair and jubilation of actors are, by self-definition, feigned. They are faked. The very best actors might be capable of making us almost believe otherwise, but their emotions are not real.

However much even the most brilliant actor immerses himself into his role and grows to feel genuinely powerful empathy with his character, it is still acting.

The tears of King Lear are not real. The tears of joy streaming down the face of Vincent Kompany, on the other hand, as he prepared to receive the Premier League trophy, or those shed by Olympiacos star Vassilis Spanoulis as he was presented with the Euroleague Final MVP award, were more genuine and raw than anything you will ever see on stage or screen.

Of course, the events that take place in both sport and drama carry significance beyond the people directly involved as participants, and here, too, sport comes out on top.

It’s impossible to deny the power of the emotions experienced by sports fans, which are demonstrably more intense than those engendered by fiction. Film or theatre halls will never reproduce the sight of 50,000 disbelieving Manchester City fans rapturously celebrating Aguero’s astonishing last-minute winner with noise that made the foundations of the Etihad Stadium shake, or witness scenes comparable to the bars of Athens packed with raucous basketball fans acclaiming the heroics of Olympiacos as they watched the action from Istanbul on tiny TV screens. 

However strange it may be as an anthropological phenomenon, whatever it may tell us about the dislocated and displaced state of contemporary society, it is an undeniable truth that many, many people divest a huge amount of time, money and emotion into following sport, and derive a significant portion of their self-identity by mentally bonding themselves with their favourite teams and athletes — if you meet a stranger, he is more likely to tell you which football team he supports than to reveal his favourite novelist.

The fact that millions of people are profoundly and deeply moved by the sight of someone kicking a ball between two posts or throwing a ball through an elevated hoop is, from a detached, objective point of view, one of the strangest quirks of modern life. But it is nevertheless true; and it is that, along with the spontaneity of the action contained within sporting contests, that makes sport so great.

Give me the choice of spending two hours watching a great movie or a great sporting event, and I know which I’d choose, every single time: the one that’s real.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.



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