Spectator sport

Thrills and chivalry at the most civilised place on earth

28 May 2015

1:00 PM

28 May 2015

1:00 PM

If heaven is a place on earth, as Belinda Carlisle so wisely observed, then surely that place has to be Lord’s on a Test match Saturday. Celestial indeed, and a privilege to have been there for just a part of what was one of the most thrilling Test matches in history. More runs scored than ever before in a Lord’s Test, 40 wickets taken, three magnificent centuries, technically brilliant from Williamson, sage and resolute from the Cook of old, jaw-dropping and Botham-esque from Stokes and five days of extraordinary sportsmanship.

There is no more civilised place to watch sport than Lord’s. I love the fact that it still trusts spectators enough to allow them to bring in their own alcohol and doesn’t kick up a fuss when champagne corks are popped on to the outfield. And they don’t feel obliged to have a Fancy Dress Day to get the crowd in. Far from it: this was electrifying theatre for a full house, more or less every day.

If sport means anything, it has to be about chivalry. When Kane Williamson was out on Saturday after a magnificent century there was an immediate cheer for the wicket, a brief pause, then a vast wall of sound as the whole ground stood and applauded him as he walked back to the pavilion.

When Alastair Cook was out on the morning of the last day, the New Zealand team stood together on the pitch to clap him home. And after Stokes reached his sensational ton, the first to shake his hand was Kiwi skipper Brendon McCullum.

High in the Edrich stand, the best seats in the house, opposite the pavilion and under the media centre, I chanced upon the friendliest of communities, the Lord’s season ticket holders. Probably the best invention in the world, the Lord’s season ticket does what it says on the can: a ticket a day for each game. Here are passionate full-on supporters, teachers, engineers and people like the redoubtable Maggie Wootton, who hasn’t missed an England series, home or away, for decades and even christened her daughter Lucy Beth, so she would have the initials LBW.

One of the year’s sporting highlights was a trip to the unlovely setting of The Den, for Norwich City’s visit to Millwall. The Canaries won handsomely and as the home supporters left in droves long before the end, the Norwich fans sang out, ‘Is there a fire drill/ Is there a fire drill’ to the tune of Santa Lucia. Everybody loves Norwich, unless you are from Ipswich, and City’s promotion to the Premier League in a thrilling play-off final was a perfect climax to the season.

Norwich has an anthem, the origins of which are buried deep in the last century. It goes like this:

Kick it off! Throw it in! Have a little scrimmage!

Keep it low! A splendid rush! Bravo! Win or Die!

On the ball, City! Never mind the danger

Steady on, now’s your chance. Hurrah! We’ve scored a goal.

It’s difficult enough to say, let alone to sing to what is a remarkably unmemorable melody, and bemuses all opposing supporters. But it was sung lustily by half of Wembley throughout Monday’s £120 million game against Middlesbrough.

Spare a thought for poor David Luiz, the former Chelsea defender, now with Paris Saint-Germain. David is a devout Christian and, equally unusually for a footballer, has had to deny rumours that he is a virgin. They started because he said he would wait until marrying before having sex with his girlfriend; though he has now put the record straight: ‘I’m not a virgin. I’ve had more than one girlfriend in my life.’ Perish the thought that anyone could accuse a footballer of saving himself for marriage.

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