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Sporting Reflections

Last Friday evening, we invited parents to see the new pavilion at Teddington Cricket Club and to learn more about our plans for the future.  There is no doubt this excellent new facility will create many opportunities for our pupils to develop their skills and to learn more about why playing sport throughout your life is such a good idea for both the body and the mind.

It was nice to have the chance to make a different sort of speech at the event, to focus on why sport matters and to reflect on some of my own sporting memories, most of which have not been entirely positive over the years, with the obvious exception of Wimbledon’s 1988 FA Cup Final win over Liverpool!  I therefore thought this week’s blog might provide a useful opportunity to summarise some of what I said, though please bear in mind that some of it is tongue in cheek and designed for a Friday night audience in a relaxed frame of mind!

Sport is important in so many ways.  After all, if you can work together as a team, you’ll be much more effective in hiding the fact that, individually, you have no idea what you are doing.  They say, of course, that there’s no ‘I’ in team, but it’s worth pointing out that there are several in individual brilliance.

It was an excellent summer of sport in all sorts of ways, from an epic Wimbledon final, another home win for Lewis Hamilton in the British Grand Prix and, of course, the Cricket World Cup Final.  It was just a shame that all three events happened on the same day – and people complain that Radnor’s scheduling sometimes leaves a bit to be desired!

I was reflecting on my own positive sporting memories from my childhood and teenage years, but there’s quite a lot of barrel scraping, if we’re honest.  I was 11 at the time of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal – a gold for David Wilkie in the pool, gold in sailing for John Osborn and Reg White, and a gold for the modern pentathlon team of Jim Fox, Danny Nightingale and Adrian Parker.  On the athletics track, Brendan Foster won a bronze in the 10,000 metres and Great Britain won 13 medals in total.  By 2016 in Rio, the total was 67 medals, 27 of them gold.

In football, my first birthday was two days before England won the World Cup, so that rather passed me by.  From there, quarter final defeat to Germany in 1970, from 2-0 up to 3-2 down; defeat to Poland at Wembley in 1973 so no qualification in ’74; nor in ’78; no goals in the second stage in ’82; the hand of God from Maradona in ’86.  1990 was exciting but heart-breaking and then a 28 year wait to experience the same emotions last year.  Football didn’t come home but, rather like a bad Amazon delivery, it got left with the neighbour you don’t like very much.

English rugby was largely terrible in the 1970s, slightly better in the 80s and really quite good in the 90s, but we still only have the one World Cup and I’m not convinced this year will be any better; but we’ll hope and dream and probably be disappointed as usual.

As for cricket, Headingley in 1981 was extraordinary but I can’t remember much else that was good until 2005.  We made the mistake of not winning the early cricket world cups, which was surely the time to do it with the first three competitions all being played in England.  It only took 44 years for Stokes and Buttler to get us home in what was one of the truly great sporting occasions of all time – if you’re English, of course.  And then Stokes did it again a few weeks later at Headingley, in what was surely one of the best test innings ever.

It’s wonderful to be able to enjoy such success, and I hope that our children are able to enjoy a consistent diet of such excitement; but I also hope they realise that it hasn’t always been like this, and may not be in the future.  If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat these two imposters just the same…

Sport can inspire in the same way it can excite or frustrate.  A Radnor parent sent me a photo from a museum in Australia last year.  It was a quotation from Don Bradman: “When considering the stature of an athlete, I place great store on certain qualities that I believe to be essential in addition to skill.  They are that a person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, with courage and, perhaps most of all, modesty.  These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition, determination and competitiveness.”  

I was fortunate to meet Alistair Hignell a few years ago, the former England rugby player who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  His advice from his sporting career was to make sure you honour your talents; don’t die wondering about what might have been; control the controllable in your life; improve 1% in a hundred things rather than 100% in one thing; always be ready to change course; and, above all, remember that life is for living.

The golfer Arnold Palmer only had one small cup, the first he ever won, in his office, along with a plaque with this poem, which I know I have shared before, but which is always worth sharing again:

If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you like to win but think you can’t,
It’s almost certain that you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost.
For out of this world we find
Success begins with a fellow’s will –
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are.
You’ve got to think high to rise.
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger woman or man,
But sooner or later, those who win
Are those who think they can.

One of my favourite sporting quotations comes from US President Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Our new pavilion and playing fields therefore give us first class facilities, great opportunities for development, a lasting partnership with TCC and a real step up in the quality of the sporting provision we are able to offer.  All of us now need to think carefully about how can we make best use of it and what could be possible from here.

As we toast the success of this new project, let us remember the words of the Emperor Napoleon, who was not of course talking about sport, but who nevertheless provided a memorable line when he said: “In victory, you deserve champagne; in defeat, you need it.” 

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