Why sport on screen moves us and how I’m taking advantage

This will be my last Sports Monday column for a few months.

A week today I’m starting a sabbatical from the Yorkshire Post to spend three months working as a writer with Emmerdale, on a training scheme.

The Sports Editor decided he wasn’t going to let me leave the building without squeezing one last column from my overworked fingers.

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When I began writing for these pages a few years ago, my brief was to bring you tales from the battlefield of a local cricket team. Two seasons of that and it came to an end, mainly because it was making me wildly unpopular in certain quarters and with the members of some teams in the league in which I play – including my own.

The Sports Ed wanted me to keep penning columns, suggesting I broaden my horizons from the village cricket team and I have since held forth on a variety of subjects.

The great thing about doing this kind of writing is that you really can write about whatever you want. I’ve written about racism in football, about the essence of sportsmanship and about the emotional response to sport. The subjects are always of my own choosing.

Until now.

The Sports Ed, genius that he is, not only decided that he wanted a final column before I disappear off to the The Woolpack for three months, he’d clearly thought it through and decided he would ‘help’ by coming up with a subject.

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A bit like a three-year-old offering to help clear up a glass they themselves have just smashed.

Here’s a little insight for you.

Him: “Ahad, you’re off to write for Emmerdale?”

Me: “Well, sort of. It’s a three-month training scheme thing.”

Him: “I’ve got an idea.”

Me: “Did it hurt?”

Him: “...”

Me: “Sorry, I meant please, tell me your idea.”

Him: “Well, I was thinking, as you’re off to write for Emmerdale...”

Me: “Sort of.”

Him: “Whatever. How about a column on sport on tele?”

Me: “...”

Him: “Well?”

Me: “You mean, what, exactly?”

Him: “How sport works on screen. What films and programmes sport works in, that sort of thing.”

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Me: “Right. You know as our paper’s chief theatre critic, I don’t spend that much time sitting around watching TV?”

Him: “Good. Make sure you get it to me by Friday.”

Me: “...Course I will. Brilliant idea. Thanks.”

Does sarcasm come across in print?

Anyway, here it is. Normally when I write a column, I have the idea and turn it into words on a page. In this cart-before-the-horse version, I had to go and find inspiration once the idea had been helpfully presented.

I put out a note on Twitter and Facebook to ask for thoughts and recommendations. You wouldn’t believe the reaction.

Within half an hour across both sites I had dozens of people posting their lists of must see screen sport moments. I’ll share some of them in a moment, but it made me wonder why the subject caused such a stir?

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I realised that, for so many of us, sport on screen is staggeringly powerful and when we see whichever sport we love represented in a drama or comedy, it moves us. People really connect with it.

I think it’s to do with this: if you love sport, then – and you might not realise it – you love the nature of the unfolding of a narrative. Think about it – you enjoy cricket? Do you enjoy The Ashes more than other series? Of course you do – because each time Australia and England step on to a cricket pitch to face each other, they drag behind them over a century of narrative. The same goes for any sport – with a narrative, it is better, more engaging. You combine that already intense experience with a scriptwriter who knows how to push our emotional buttons and you have a seriously potent combination. That’s why sport works on screen and why my question prompted whole lists from so many people, featuring, among many, many others: the Brian Glover football scene in Kes, Invictus, a writer formerly of this parish suggested This Sporting Life, my sister suggested The Blind Side, which is a perfect example of what I’m talking about – a Hollywood tear-jerker combined with the excitement of American football. A scriptwriter I know has already told me I need to get the box-set of Friday Night Lights.

There was Fire In Babylon, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Bend it Like Beckham, and now long gone TV series Outside Edge, all suggested by people within moments of my question being asked. Sport on screen is clearly a subject that exercises folk.

Me? I’ve got loads of favourite sports movies – ones that don’t actually seem to appear on a lot of other peoples’ lists, but one of them stands alone, above all as the movie that not only did I love at first sight, but had a genuinely enormous impact on my life.

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Before I come to that very special movie, there are some others that I want to share.

Cool Runnings, the story of the Jamaican bobsled team that I stumbled across at Christmas last year, for the first time in ages, and knew that I was stuck to the sofa for the next few hours.

There’s The Karate Kid, which remains the film with the best denouement musical accompaniment of any Eighties movie.

There is an amazing film called Field of Dreams that is as much about America and the American Dream as it is about baseball.

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The one, however, that sits above all others, the one that literally changed my life was the basketball movie White Men Can’t Jump.

The nature of basketball is so fast paced it is virtually impossible to capture a game and tell a narrative effectively – but writer-director of White Men Can’t Jump, Ron Shelton, does so brilliantly. From the moment we saw it, me and my best mate Ben picked up a basketball – and basically didn’t put it down for a decade.

Hopefully this meandering, Sports Editor-inspired column will get you thinking about your own favourite sporting moments on screen. And now, that’s me for three months. I’m off to see if I can sneak a cricket game into Emmerdale.

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