He doesn’t report on the match, or give you a stroke by stroke exposition of the previous day’s proceedings – lesser mortals do that. He hovers above these things, and writes a piece, usually from way out on Left Field, which leaves you thinking that you’d thought the same all along – except you hadn’t really put it into words or even thoughts. Barnes makes you think you had.
It was actually his piece on George Best, the day after Best died, which set me off scribbling this minimus opus, some 183 postings and 15 months ago.
I am/was an Accountant, and was some decades ago, a technically trained Aeronautical Engineer. The act of writing, even slightly creatively, was something which had given me an extremely wide berth for over half a century. But, Barnes struck a very resonant chord in me that day, so I sat down to write my thoughts about George Best. I finally put them in this Blog a year to the day after his death.
Now, I am the least likely person you’ll ever find to show any interest in Football. I have been to about three matches in my adult life, and even spent the afternoon of England’s 4-2 World Cup win in 1966 shopping for something inconsequential in downtown Guildford. But I had seen Best play on TV and, even to my utterly untutored mind, could see he was from a different planet from the rest.
But it was Barnes’s words about him which energised me. When I saw he had written a book called “The Meaning of Sport”, I raided Waterstones, curled up in an armchair and sat down with it. As sports books go, it’s simply the most thought provoking one I’ve ever read. It doesn’t go thought the “What” of Sport, it looks at the “Why”. It looks at the spirit of sport, its purpose, its power and its futility. It distils the essence of Redgrave, Federer, Rooney, Sampras, Beckham, even Flintoff, and ponders on why what they do, be it kicking a ball, or yanking on an oar, is so supremely important to us.
That is not to say I agree with everything he says. He has a very individual balance on the relative importance of sports, with Soccer probably at the top. Since Soccer is a complete blindspot for me, I find myself reading about an almost alien subject.
On the other hand, his complete disdain for Golf, one of the most mind bending and psychologically intriguing games Man has yet invented, leaves me ranting at him about his lack of understanding and the level of his idiocy.
But, in spite of all that, and maybe because of it, he is continually twanging at your thoughts. The book rambles around, returning quite frequently to the things he clearly feels most deeply. ignoring these thoughts about his own individual sporting balance, I read it through in one sitting, and then started to read it again. And that, with a pretty massive pile of unread books beside my bedside table, is probably the ultimate accolade.
I’ve read a few sporting books, but I’ve never read one like this. It seems to stands above Sport, and looks at the subject as an essence, as a myth, as a mental challenge.
A very original, and brilliant book.