Reading Le Tour

Mark Perryman reviews books that can help frame our enjoyment of the Tour de France

There seems to be something about cycling that helps inspire fine sportswriting. Perhaps it is the landscapes and countries traversed, the solitude on a bike, the risk factor of a fall or worse, the extraordinary feats of human endurance, and human-powered speed too. Add a healthy dose of British elite level cycling success plus a dash of greenery and its no surprise that publishers are backing bicycling authors to deliver sales, for the most part with very good books too.

Lanterne RougeOf course it is Le Tour that galvanises this interest, every year, right across Europe, free to watch from the road or mountain side, on terrestrial TV live too. And this year the first two days are in Yorkshire, from Leeds to Harrogate, York to Sheffield, then down south to London before crossing La Manche for the remaining three and a bit weeks of this most magnificent of races. Tim Moore’s French Revolutions is one of the best introductions to the scale and ambition of Le Tour from a cyclist’s point of view as he retells the experience of riding all 3,630km of one year’s route. Even for the keenest, and fittest cyclist such a venture would prove to be too far, and too much. Ned Boulting’s brilliantly idiosyncratic How I Won the Yellow Jumper is his own inside story on how most of us follow the race, via the ITV coverage. This is the professional journalist as self-confessed fan, which in Boulting’s case, but not for many others, works to produce a wonderful style of writing. Part of what makes Le Tour so iconic, as with all the major global sporting events, is its backhistory, now stretching back more than a century. The Tour de France to the Bitter End is a superlative collection of race reports from the Guardian beginning in 1903 to almost right up to the present with the Bradley Wiggins victory in 2012. Before Wiggins in terms of British riders the essential reference point was the story of the brilliant, yet tragic, Tommy Simpson. A career detailed in William Fotheringham’s Put Me Back on My Bike. Road racing at this extreme physical level is sometimes described as a sport for individuals played by teams. Simpson’s final demise can in part be explained by his becoming a victim of this contradiction. Richard Moore’s Slaying the Badger is the classic account of a bitter rivalry between two cyclists riding the race supposedly for the same team, Hinault vs LeMond, in what Moore dubs the greatest-ever Tour de France, the 1986 edition. Whatever the year, on the roads of France and beyond the riders will be stretched out over many kms as they follow the designated route for the best part of four weeks, a compelling sports drama. It is the sheer range of the riders that Max Leonard captures so well in his book Lanterne Rouge choosing to write not about the winners, but those at the back, the very back of the race, and what keeps them going. Ellis Bacon’s Mapping Le Tour provides the definitive insight into the scale of the endeavour of the race, beautifully illustrated, every edition of Le Tour catalogued, each stage recorded. Not only does cycling inspire and attract great writing, but it has a vivid visual culture too. A combination showcased in The Rouleur Centenary Tour de France with the very finest photography of the 2013 race alongside high quality reportage on each of the 21 stages, which ended of course with the second successive British Yellow Jersey winner, Chris Froome.

Cycle of LiesThe Climb is Chris Froome’s newly published autobiography and details his extraordinary road to the Yellow Jersey via growing up in Kenya, school in South Africa, joining the European pro-cycling circuit, debilitating illness and last year’s eventual triumph. Of course this was a victory whether he likes it or not will for ever and a day be measured against Bradley Wiggins’ triumph the year previously. Read the Wiggins biography My Time to get some kind of inkling of the nature and the depth of the rivalry between the pair of them. Before these two was Mark Cavendish, a rider expected to be very much a part of this year’s Tour too. The ferocious speed, not to mention the split second and millimetre perfect decision making required, of a stage finish seems to be almost the ideal environment for Cavendish’s very particular cycling. How he has developed and excelled detailed in his book At Speed. For many though whatever the scale of Wiggo, Cav and Froome’s achievements as British cyclists the long shadow of the sport’s drug problems remans so impenetrable as to cast such successes in doubt. The Armstrong case was eventually uncovered because of the dogged determination of the very best investigative sports journalism. And now with the revelations made spectacularly public and entirely unchallengeable Armstrong’s team-mates are producing confessional-style books to help reveal the mire of performance-enhancing drug culture the sport had become part of. George Hincapie’s The Loyal Lieutenant the latest, and as such a close and long-standing team mate of Armstrong’s, one of the most revealing to date too. Juliet Macur’s Cycle of Lies provides the panoramic view of perhaps the greatest story of decline and fall in the history of sport with a rare ability to get to grips with what Armstrong, the good the bad and the drugs, came to represent in and beyond his sport.

The Tour de France differs markedly from other sports mega-events – most obviously football’s World Cup – in the close relationship between spectating and participating. A huge proportion of those watching Le Tour in Yorkshire will be cyclists themselves, many pedalling their way to reach a prized vantage point on a hill climb. And lots in the weeks before, and after, will cycle a chunk of the official route with all the speed and energy they can muster dreaming of being in the mighty peleton on the day itself. This is in many ways a do-it-yourself sports culture. Kitted out with the Pocket Road Bike Maintenance handbook and the Cyclist’s Training Manual the advice will be more than enough to keep bike and body in the kind of shape to ride a Tour stage, or even two. For some the aim will be to rise a ‘sportive; the binary opposition of recreation vs competition blurred by a race which is mainly against the clock and our own body’s capacity to perform at speed, as documented in Successful Sportives. A tad muscle-bound some of this stuff, certainly gendering the way cycling is consumed and practiced. A welcome relief therefore provided by Caz Nicklin’s pioneering The Girls’ Bicycle Handbook.

A sense of the potential inclusiveness of cycling is provided by Robert Penn’s almost philosophical It’s All About The Bike. Penn is a missionary for cycling, he makes no apology for his two-wheeled evangelism. A bike as mode of transport, a means to a holiday, a family outing, a race to the finish. All this and more Robert Penn promises we can expect from our bike.

cycling anthology volume-4The rich variety of inspiration cycle racing can provide is admirably showcased in the latest volume of The Cycling Anthology.. Ranging over history, philosophy, the mediation and culture of the sport, this is high quality writing for the seriously enthusiastic.

And my book of Le Tour? Richard Moore’s superb Étape. There have been many histories of the Tour de France but instead of a dry chronology Richard Moore takes his reader to the core meaning of this most intriguing of races, the stages where the Yellow Jersey is decided by a lone break, a climb that defies human frailty, a calamity on the road, a rivalry unfolding. It takes three weeks to ride the Tour, ever day filled with drama. This book helps us to understand its ensuring and growing appeal, and to appreciate the tradition and culture this year’s Yorkshire Grand Départ will be contributing to in no doubt its own very special way .

Note No links in this review are to Amazon. If you can avoid purchasing your books from tax-dodgers please do so.

Matk Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’. aka Philosophy Football.

Tour de Angleterre avec France

Mark Perryman argues that as a model of how to consume sport Le Tour puts mega­events such as the Olympics and the World Cup to shame.

Philosophy Football t-shirtNo expensive new stadiums and arenas, often to be barely used after the extravaganza is over, sold off or knocked down. In fact no new infrastructure at all, apart from filling in the potholes on the road.

Free to watch. No frustrating battle for overpriced tickets, just turn up at the side of the road and enjoy.

Uncommercialised. The route so tortuously long, impossible for the sponsors and event ‘owners; to plaster with their advertising and police any local business or communities efforts to make any money out of the event.

Decentralised. What other global sporting event takes in Leeds, Ilkley Moor, Skipton, Ripon, Harrogate, York, Keighley, Hebden Bridge, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Saffron Walden, Epping Forest, and not forgetting London. That’s just before it crosses La Manche to go to all points north, south, east and west Francais.
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The world cup of our dreams

To drag ourselves away from the banalities of the Brazil 2014 TV studio punditariat Mark Perryman provides a World Cup reading list.

The story of the world cupThe professionally cautious Roy Hodgson just couldn’t resist it could he? ‘England can win this World Cup’ he declares on the eve of the tournament. Not if Roy consults the match histories elegantly provided by Brain Glanville’s classic The Story of the World Cup they won’t. No European side has won a World Cup hosted in South America, Central America or North America. No England side has made it past the quarter-finals in a World Cup for 24 years. No England side has ever made it past the quarter finals at a World Cup in South or Central America. Why should things be any different this time Roy? That’s not to say the next three and a bit weeks can’t be hugely enjoyable for football fans, England loyal or otherwise. Chris England’s witty and accessible pocket guide How To Enjoy the World Cup provides ample enough ways to drag ourselves away from what the TV studio punditariat serves up and consume the tournament on our own terms. Or delve intoThirty One Nil. A footballing travelogue which explores the global reach of the World Cup via the qualifying games we would otherwise never have heard of because the losers haven’t a hope in the proverbial of ever making it to Brazil for the finals. Yet without this international back-history the World Cup loses much of its sense of meaning, a case superbly made by author James Montague.

Football CronicasAs tournament hosts Brazil will unsurprisingly be the focus for much of the TV and other media coverage. Yet the richness of Brazilian football culture cannot be disconnected from the broader place of football right across Latin American society. Alongside Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and possibly Colombia will be serious contender. The collection The Football Crónicas provides a football-writing insight into the state of, and culture of, the game across the region. A prison team in Argentina, a team of Colombian transvestites, Peruvian women’s football, Chilean football hooligans. Romario’s campaign for a just World Cup. This collection really has got the lot. Golazo! by Andreas Camponar is a splendid history of Latin American football on both the continent and the international stage, including of course most importantly success at World Cups. This is football writing at its very best, epic on the pitch, socially aware off it.

The best writing on society and culture repays this kind of literary compliment by accounting for sport’s role in making the social. Justin McGuirk’s Radical Cities is critical travel-writing with an expert eye for urban design. The author tells his story via a tour across Latin America, on the the way accounting for how urbanism shapes the politics of Brazil. This is a powerfully original way to begin an understanding how the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics both seek to represent modern Brazil. Published by the Latin America Bureau, their brand new guide Brazil Inside Out is easily easily the best guidebook to have handy beside the TV as we wade through a month of banalities and lazy stereotypes. Perfect for a half-time alternative catch up to keep yourself better informed on Brazilian politics and culture.

FutebolOne of the by-products of hosting a World Cup is the unprecedented focus on the host nation. Brazil remains best known for its football, there is no obvious way of avoiding that salient fact . Jogo Bonito helps us to understand the central importance of global footballing success, dating back to the 1950s and pretty much ever-present since then, both to Brazil’s self image and external profile. Futebol by Alex Bellos is the definitive social history of Brazilian football and an absolutely joy to read. David Goldblatt’s Futebol Nation is also an historical account of Brazilian football with a sharp political edge to connect this story both to the formation of Brazil as a nation and the current state of this nation as 2014’s host, and favourites to win the tournament.

Brazi's dance with the devilAnd my book of the World Cup? Written by the finest critical sportswriter in the world today, Dave Zirin his new book Brazil’s Dance with the Devil mixes incisive sporting commentary with an angry polemical style that drags readers along to marvel both at the sport we love and the outrage FIFA with corrupt politicians in tow quite rightly spark. Read it to be informed in your anger. Not to spoil your watching of the World Cup, but to enrich the experience.

Note A signed copy of Futebol Nation with Futebol, Brazil Inside Out and Football Crónicas, all half-price is available for just £24.99 from Philosophy Football

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football.

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter’s fight for justice will live on after him

Rubin CarterThe death, at 76, of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter reminds us of the racism which underpins the US justice system, even today.

Carter spent 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, despite a campaign to release him which involved the endorsement and support of various celebrities, including Muhammad Ali. One of Bob Dylan’s most iconic protest songs – Hurricane – was written and released in tribute to Carter and his fight for justice in 1975, featuring heavily in the singer’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour of the same year and on into 1976. He also played a couple of benefit concerts for the former middleweight contender.

In 1999 Denzel Washington starred in The Hurricane, a dramatisation of Rubin Carter’s story, which won the actor an Oscar nomination.

Among the books written about Rubin Carter and his case was his own critically acclaimed autobiography – The Sixteenth Round - in 1974.

Carter moved to Canada upon his final release from prison in 1985 (he was briefly released on parole in 1976 before being retried and returned to prison), where he worked with an organisation highlighting the plight of people wrongfully convicted of crimes and imprisoned.

It is impossible to imagine the despair suffered by Carter whilst incarcerated and the moral courage it took to continue his long struggle for justice in the midst of that despair. The fact that his case constituted and constitutes just one among many hundreds, thousands, of cases involving wrongful conviction and incarceration stands as a brutal indictment of what passes for justice in the United States.

Books for a second summer of sport

After Wiggo, London 2012, Murray in New York, The Ryder Cup and Chelsea winning the Champions League it looked like last summer could never be bettered. And then this summer began… Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football reviews a selection of books that explain sporting success, and failure.

The Lions series victory in Australia, Murray’s triumph at Wimbledon, Froome making it two British Le Tour wins in a row, Mo in Moscow, a home Ashes win as well. Summer sporting success is something the Brits are starting to become accustomed to.

capitalism-and-sportTwo new books help us to understand the meaning of sport’s enduring, and huge popularity, as well as how economic and social change impacts on the organisation, consumption and performance of sport. Sport in Capitalist Society by Tony Collins is a highly readable historical account from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day of how capitalism has served to shape sport. Victorian morality, Empire, the Cold War, globalisation and much more are each detailed in terms of how they served to change sport.Add all the insights together and a comprehensive picture of today’s marketisation of sport is provided. Edited by Michael Lavalette Capitalism and Sport has a more activist-based approach to the subject. The range is amazing, including cycling, cricket, rugby league, tennis, football and more. The tone is angry yet never fails to be appreciative of the sports the authors clearly hugely enjoy despite their opposition to the economic structure that frames their fandom and participation. An invaluable guide for sporting summers past, present and future.
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Va-va Froome

A summer of sport is unfolding that reveals Britain as a nation of winners. Mark Perryman, editor of a new book on last year’s London 2012 asks what this means for our national identity.

Philosophy Football Vroome shirt July 2013A British encore in the Tour de France. Not even a sniff of winning the yellow jersey for 99 years, now we have two in quick succession. On the same day England pile up the runs at Lords to go 2-0 up in an Ashes series, for the first time since 1979. Add Andy Murray at Wimbledon ending the 77 years of hurt since the last British man won the singles title at our ‘home’ Grand Slam and the Lions tour victory down under, their first since 1997. Plus golfer Justin Rose winning the US Open, the first Englishman to win a major since 1996. 2013 already has all the signs of what seemed to be an unrepeatable 2012 Summer of sport, topped of course by Team GB finishing third in the London 2012 Olympic medals table.

A number of writers are already suggesting that all this adds up to ‘winning’ becoming a big part of British national identity. But what nation are we talking about exactly? In a wonderful sentence that must have taxed the skills of the sub-editors at the Guardian the complexities and contradictions of British sporting success were summed up as follows:

“It would make Chris Froome the second British cyclist to win the jersey. History beckons the quiet Kenyan.”

Chris Froome, born In Kenya where he spent his childhood, first representing his country at the Commonwealth Games, educated in South Africa, wins the Tour de France as a Brit. With his right-hand man from Team Sky on the road, the Aussie Richie Porte.The same kind of mixture applies to almost all of British sporting success stories. England’s cricket team is actually England plus Wales, not to mention more than a handful of batsmen and bowlers who could just as easily represent South Africa. Sport’s version of economic migrants except their search for a better life delivers a salary of millions and heroic status rather than at best a living wage and ritual demonisation. Andy Murray, Britain’s first Wimbledon men’s champion since Fred Perry in 1936, or Scotland’s first since Harold Mahony in 1896? Rugby’s Lions complicate matters still further by not only temporarily uniting in one team the fiercely independent rugby home nations of England, Scotland and Wales. But by adding Ireland too as one country ending the division that still defines Irish politics, north and south of a border that rugby wipes off the map.

Seasons in the sun

Until that summer of 2012 things, in sporting terms at least, were a bit simpler. These were summers that every other year in England were dominated by our biannual foray to end those years of hurt since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966. A semi-final in 1996, quarter-finals at World Cup 2002, Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 might be all we had to cheer for. But the relentless build up of expectation was more than enough to get the St George Cross flags flying, worn as a T-shirt, daubed on kids’ faces and after the inevitable early exit sustain the hope that it might just be different next time. 2012 stated to change all that, despite England getting to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, going out pluckily on penalties to eventual finalists Italy, the football barely merited a footnote to that year’s summer of sport.In 2013, with no summer tournament football hasn’t featured at all of course, apart from the near-endless stream of transfer speculation. But there’s another process in motion too. These other sports are acquiring a well-deserved share of the media spotlight because we appear to be rather good at them. England’s footballers on the other hand reveal themselves time and again as also-rans at the international level while at the same time providing the central focus for a national identity, Englishness, which politically simply fails to exist. Scotland and Wales, off the pitch, can boast a civic nationalism, broadly speaking social-democratic in character. Northern Ireland remains divided between nationalist-republican and unionist politics. In England we wave our flags for an under-performing football team and not a lot else.

Success on two wheels

So what does ‘British’ cycling success add up to? A mix of the public and private. It was state funding that first helped deliver the years of Olympic track cycling success, from Athens 2004 onwards in particular. The Gold medal haul was quite extraordinary with absolute dominance at Beijing 2008, sprint and endurance events, men and women. Repeated once again at London 2012, with a new generation fast emerging to replace those retiring, Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy. Success that led to the ambition to translate this into winning the Tour de France. A full-time professional team, sponsored by Sky though whisper this quietly in quite un-Murdochian fashion this is a sponsorship that has a benevolence quite unlike most corporate involvement in sport. ‘ From the podium to the park’ is an imaginative approach in association with British Cycling, focussed on local mass participation Sky Rides. Yes of course there is Sky branding all over the events but the essence of the message, connecting elite success to easy-to-access, informal participation which is predominantly recreational and non-competitive is hard to fault.

England’s fading football glories look unlikely to be restored at World Cup 2014, qualification is by no means certain. Summer age group tournaments rarely attract much coverage but the failure of the Under 21 and Under 20 sides to even get out of their groups at their tournaments have added to the felling that things can’t only get better. Even the women’s side who up to now had been enjoying a rising level of success failed to win a match at their Euro 2013. However international football has one significant advantage over these other sports. Its on the TV all-year round, and international football is on prime-time terrestrial TV, BBC 1 or ITV. Cricket’s selling off of the Ashes to Sky, Rugby doing the same with the Lions, cycling shunted off to ITV 4 , all have significantly eroded their impact as a national moment. Wimbledon is different, yet tennis really only achieves any kind of media profile for that one fortnight a year. A more pluralistic sports media would not only help to undermine the worst excesses of the commercial monster that modern football has become it would help these other sports play a more effective, and positive societal role in terms of the impact they can make. Cycling is the key to any connection that might be made between participation and elite success, what other ‘sport’ can you do as a way of getting to work or going to the shops. As a family day out, for a good cause or if you fancy the challenge test yourself with a 100-mile century ride.

Translating success into participation

There is no automatic connection between a Brit in the Yellow Jersey, thrashing the Aussies, a record Gold Medal haul and boosting sporting participation. Look at Australia, not only in cricket and rugby seen as a close rival but a nation in an earlier era that wrapped its national identity around its apparent sportiness. The Crawford Report commissioned by the Australian Government after the country finished a disappointing sixth to Team GB’s fourth in the 2008 Beijing Olympics medal table suggested that the massive skewing of sport investment to elite-level competition might be misplaced. Instead, motivation towards physical activity exists largely outside of the emulation of the achievements of elite athletes.

“Evidence shows that participation in physical activity is dominated by non-organised sport and physical recreation. Moreover, this is an increasing trend: aerobics and fitness activities were the biggest growth areas for participation between 2001 and 2008. The growth of time-poor two-income families leaves little time for sport. As a consequence, exercise is ‘purchased’ and ‘fitted into’ a schedule. People are moving towards activities that are able to suit lifestyle and time constraints and thus provide the most flexible options. Seven out of the ten growth areas in this time span were activities such as walking, running, cycling and aerobics/gym exercise—essentially activities that can be done on an individual basis. Apart from aerobics, in 2008, participation in the five most popular sports in Australia largely took the form of non-organised involvement. There is substantial growth in the number of people engaged in non-structured physical recreational activities— such as skateboarding, skiing, golf, cycling and more informally organised competitions such as mixed indoor cricket, netball and volleyball.”

The report provoked a furious response from Australia’s sporting establishment which sought to defend the enormous funding provided for high profile sports elite-level competition. Commenting on the row from afar, Observer journalist Kevin Mitchell noted drily that the report’s analysis was being accused of “Putting the general health of the nation over medals.”

Sport’s magnificent triviality

Understanding sport requires a sense of their social construction, particularly by class, gender and race. Not to ruin our enjoyment of watching, and doing sport, but to enrich and inform those processes. Without that kind of engagement we won’t begin to understand how to translate sporting success into participation apart from boosting numbers doing sport, from a sofa or a bar stool. Interest defined by the number of hours per day we spend watching sport, not doing it. Such a shift is one kind of vision surely of a better society , where leisure time is freely provided , recreation for all not just for some.

But sport’s contribution to our culture isn’t just about the instrumentalism of ‘taking part. It has a cultural impact out of all proportion too, what academic Alan Tomlinson describes in the book London 2012 How Was It For Us as ‘magnificent trivia’. Alan writes “It is top-level sport’s abiding appeal that it can draw us into a Never-Never land, combining an escapist focus upon the action with a willed immersion in the magnificently trial.” It is that ‘magnificence’, heavily mediated of course, that elevates sport’s possibility to provide the opportunity to start conversations around national identity. It cannot effect change on its own, that is the task of social movements. But the latter need sport, and all manner of other forms of mass culture too, to give substance to its hopes and objectives. In the past three and a bit weeks on the roads and up the mountains of France perhaps such a politico-cultural opportunity has been starting to unfold. The greatest cycling race in the world, which in its centenary edition remains defiantly French in every detail of its character and organisation , is becoming a part of our British sporting summer too. An embrace of its vocabulary, its history and culture the kind of popular Europeanism largely absent in Westminster bubble politics, defined by the people of Europe not its democratic-deficit institutions. A British love affair with the Yellow Jersey perhaps the beginnings of an effective counter to the little Englanderism of UKiP’s isolationism masquerading as so-called independence. Parlez-vous le cycling?

Mark Perryman is the editor of London 2012 How Was It For Us available from Philosophy Football. Where you can also buy their Va-Va Froome T-shirt.

All our sporting summers rolled into one

Mark Perryman explores what Andy Murray and the Lions tell us about sport’s impact on national identity

“The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people” – Eric Hobsbawm

Eric Hobsbawm’s acute observation concerning the impact of sport on national identity has been carted out so often that it is in danger of descending into becoming a cliché. Yet its enduring currency is reinforced by the fact that Monday after last weekend’s miracle of British sporting success at both ends of the global hemisphere commentators and politicians were scrambling to stake a claim for what the Andy Murray and Lions victories tell us about Britishness.

Large sections of the Left choose to absent themselves from this debate on the grounds that there’s nothing progressive about patriotism. Yet the ways in which sport represents, and shapes, national identity has been an increasingly popular discourse since another sporting summer, Euro ’96. Of course being football this one ended in anything but glory, instead the traditional early exit on penalties, and no trophy to show for it. The tournament took place a year ahead of the newly elected Labour government’s devolution referendums began the constitutional break up of Britain. In support of England the widespread, and then novel, flying and wearing of the St George Cross flag in place of the customary identity-confusion of the Union Jack indicated a growing awareness that England and Scotland shared an island but weren’t necessarily the same. Scotland, and Wales, had of course made sense of this a long time previously, for the English this was something new. And there was another difference too. In Scotland and Wales this popular mood around national identity connected to a wider politics of civic nationalism, with differing ambitions ranging from devolution to independence. In England, then and now there is no such expression of any such intent at a political level. Some of course on the Left portray any such awakening as reactionary, or worse, but the spectre of a racialised nationalism around Englishness is in large measure confounded by its primary vehicle, football. By far the most multicultural of all our team sports, on the pitch, in the stands, watching and cheering from the sofa. In many ways the St George cross, wrapped round football, a symbol of inner-city multicultural England.

Such was the evolving narrative every other summer 1996 through to England’s disastrous performance in South Africa at World Cup 2010. Given a nudge too by the winning of rugby’s World Cup in 2003, cricket’s Ashes in 2005, 2009 and 2011 , all in England’s colours.

But after 2010 the biannual summer of hopeful expectation and flag-waving celebration has taken more than a bit of a knocking. Despite getting to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals, and decent TV viewing figures, the popular mood seemed to have changed. England no longer creating the kind of buzz they had become used to. Instead 2012′s summer of sport was absolutely dominated by the London Olympics and all things GB. With Wiggins winning the yellow jersey, an incredible last-day recovery to win golf’s Ryder Cup and Andy Murray’s first Grand Slam victory in New York thrown in for happy measure. But these versions of sporting nationalism are more complex. The Olympic success often in sports where there is next to no interest outside of the Games, and zero fan culture of the sort football boasts on a weekly basis. Sports where the individual is celebrated, obviously to the maximum by those who share his or her nationality but beyond that it is his or her achievement that matters not the flag embroidered on the kit worn. The Ryder Cup in the most teasing of ironies given golf’s self-image of UKiP at play won under the EU flag. Andy Murray defying that favourite sporting maxim of a certain brand of Englishness , ‘Scots when he loses, British when he wins.’

The Lions victory doesn’t fit into a previously cosy version of sports nationalism either. Elite rugby players of course, but entirely unused to playing together as a team until they go on tour. This is teamwork at its best. The incredible third Test victory against Australia featuring a solid core of Welsh internationals, it couldn’t have been won without them. This de-centres a traditional version of Britishness. As for the Irish contribution. A united Ireland team playing this most English of sports, and all its home internationals are in Dublin. At a club level Ulster ranked alongside the other giants of Irish rugby, Munster and Leinster. Arguably Ireland’s most successful team sport on a global stage, this is a mix that the political imagination can hardly begin to comprehend.

And Andy Murray? David Cameron and Alex Salmond in the posh seats, nothing could better represent broken-up Britain. Each desperate for some of the gold dust of Andy’s victory to do their poll ratings some good, to strengthen the case for the Union or the cause of independence. But nobody was very much interested what either had to say, or tweet. Tennis, like most individual sports, doesn’t really do nationalism in the way team sports do. The story becomes a personal one, of family, sacrifice, talent-spotted and developed, turning disappointments into a glorious sunny July afternoon of triumph, with the backhistory of the tennis version of the years of hurt, all 77 of them, adding to the magic of the moment.

This is a superlative sporting achievement. But it hardly affects our emotional investment in that joy to add the observation that the All England Tennis Club’s pocket of SW19 doesn’t look much like the rest of that world-famous postcode, the rest of Wimbledon either, or London for that matter. An almost exclusively white crowd, white flight in reverse, this isn’t metropolitan Britain as we know it. Not ‘political correctness gone mad’ of the Jeremy Clarkson type jibe but enriching our understanding of sport by noting, accounting for, and acting upon those left out. Sport is socially constructed by gender, race and class in particular. Very few sports are ‘for all’ , some never will be, most could be. Why they aren’t as vital to our understanding of Britishness as lifting a trophy in Britain’s name, Wimbledon’s or any other we can get our hands on.

And this means also that John Inverdale’s pre-match commentary on Wimbledon’s women singles champion Marion Bartoli suggesting her father might have told her “you’re never going to be a looker” and this would explain her playing style “scrappy and to fight” weren’t simply a gaffe but deeply revelatory. And what it reveals is a misogyny at the core of sports culture. This was a statement that the media star of London 2012, Clair Balding, it is inconceivable to imagine would have made. Inverdale , not an isolated example, rather he is emblematic of a sports media culture blokedom, saloon bar putting the world to rights, keeping women in their place, getting down to the real business of sport, reinforcing their masculinity. As football shuffles way from its summertime tournament stage other sports offer the possibility to challenge this but not so long as the likes of Inverdale rule the studios and backpages they won’t

Meanwhile we can’t afford to get cocky. Last weekend may be as good as it gets this summer. But Chris Froome in the yellow jersey and a home Ashes win would surely set the seal on a British summer of sport every bit as good as the one in 2012 we thought we’d never get close to experiencing ever again. Will it change Britain for good? No, the impact of elite success has next t no impact on levels of participation in sport. They can help inspire, of course they can, and popularise a sport. But the tools for increasing participation require a much more serious unpicking of sport’s social construction, to account for the exclusions and inclusions, and most of all to focus investment and initiatives on the level most of us will ever aspire to, the recreational not the competitive. But there could also be the beginnings of a more profound cultural shift too. The bi-annual flag waving for the England team as it heads off to a Euro or World Cup only to return early with nothing much to show for the effort turning into a more multi-sports summer culture, breaking the hegemony of football over sporting culture, enabling a much greater variety of ways to identify with what sport and nation means to us. England, GB, a bit of one, some of the other, or none at all.

Mark Perryman is the editor of the new book London 2012 How Was It For Us published by Lawrence & Wishart and available £2 off, and post-free, just £12.99 from Philosophy Football

Why sport matters

Editor of the new book London 2012 How Was It For Us? Mark Perryman argues why the Left should take sport seriously

London 2012 bookOf course how fast an individual can run, how far they can chuck an object, how high they can jump hardly matters at all in the greater scheme of global justice and human rights. But that isn’t what is being claimed on behalf of sport here. Rather it is the grand emotional narrative sport can help construct, arguably in the early twenty-first century more effectively and more internationally, than any single other cultural pursuit. Apart from the most miserabalist, or socially isolated, section of the Left that is surely something we can all agree upon, whether we like it or not. With the possible exception of web 2.0. no other cultural form comes close to sport in terms of its global appeal. But then who apart from the geekiest of the Geeks is going to cheer on Apple vs Microsoft in the way millions cheered on London 2012’s Super Saturday of Grandstanding athletics.

One-dimensional Marxism

There is a certain version of one-dimensional Marxism that can on occasion decry anything meaningful to be derived from the masses’ enjoyment of sport. It’s as if those of us who do the cheering have handed in any consciousness we might have at the turnstiles, or those of us who do the training leave the same at the bottom of the changing room locker along with the smelly socks and half-eaten energy bars. Before the Games were even over the Socialist Workers Party in their Party Notes for members declared :
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The democracy of cycling

With the Tour de France starting on 29 June Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman argues for a two wheels good politics

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”
– HG Wells

Philosophy Football t-shirt 1 June 2013The most infamous quote on cycling from modern British politics remains hard right Thatcherite Norman Tebbit’s unhelpful advice to the 1980s unemployed to ‘Get on your bike’. So suggesting that two wheels are a more than useful basis for a progressive political project may be an uphill struggle. Whoops! Apologies, a cycling pun so early in the piece; don’t worry there’s sure to be more.

My weekend early morning ride takes me up Sussex’s Ditchling Beacon. Sad I know, but kitted out in a London 2012 Team GB replica cycling jersey I am Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott all wrapped up in one for those stupendous and lung-bursting 90 minutes of cycling. And as I finish with a sprint drown Lewes High Street there’s a little bit of me that is Cavendish too. This is part of the fantasy of non-competitive cycling: we can all have that dream and not be too ashamed to admit it. Click to continue reading