Freeborn John Lilburne is the kind of celebrity name you’d expect to see emblazoned on the back of a striker for Manchester United in the English Premiership League. In fact, “Freeborn John” (1614 – August 29 1657) was a star in the 17th century.
He captained a team known as the The Levellers who played an influential role in how modern sport began and was instrumental in the formation of its five categories – invasion, measurement, bat and ball, adjudication, and combined sports, which feature elements of the four other categories. He and his Levellers are described in a publication of the USA Constitutional Society as;
An informal alliance of agitators and pamphleteers who came together during the English Civil War (1642-1648) to demand constitutional reform and equal rights under the law…Levellers believed all men were born free and equal and possessed natural rights that resided in the individual, not the government. They believed that each man should have freedom limited only by regard for the freedom of others. They believed the law should equally protect the poor and the wealthy.’
Prior to the actions of the Levellers, the Magna Carta signed at Runnymede June 15, 1215 by the unpopular King John Of England and rebel barons, declared ‘the rule of common law’ which was mostly forgotten for the next four hundred years.
The Levellers efforts to reignite interest in the Magna Carta and its ‘rule of law’ helped set the stage for the promotion of civil society and the eventual demotion of a King and the Christian deity from controlling all things that mattered. Nowadays, the five categories of sport play in the Big League, while Royalty and the Christian deity are relegated to the Minors.
“Freeborn John’s” ‘goal assist’ prior to the 19th century Industrial Revolution helped provide the missing founding pillar for modern sport to flourish – civility. The five categories of modern sport are all founded, in various degrees, on the support of the four pillars; tribalism, aesthetic appeal, home ground advantage, and civility.
Once combined, the four pillars and the five categories provided an answer to Nietzsche’s shattering disclosure: God is dead. What festivals of atonement, what sacred festivals shall we have to invent?
No longer was the taste of flesh and glory offered by the Christian deity and King required; it became attainable via a civil codified Association of laws, draws, and fixtures. While the primitive style of village games and gentlemen duels played prior to the 19th century industrial revolution appeared like a lot of fun, they were not for everyone.
Nearly always the rules were made up beforehand or during an event by a privileged autocrat. Often, the amount of stomping, shin kicking, scraping and maiming (even death) allowed was at the whim of a Royal person, Royal connection, or baron landowner. Often, participation meant extreme, lopsided hazards or disaster.
When novelist and political commentator, George Orwell [1903-1950], famously wrote: Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play…it is war minus the shooting…many of the invasion type games played in English private schools during his time and previously in medieval villages would have played into the hands of his scathing remarks.
Primitive impromptu village games often resembled gentlemen dueling. The maiming or even the killing of an opponent was acceptable. A favourite game was standing two throngs of assembled villagers facing each other in a narrow laneway. A pig-head was placed at the centre.
The objective was for each of the two throngs to fight ferociously for possession of the pig-head and then attempt to place it at the opposite end of the laneway from which they had started. Collective stomping forcing pathways to retain the pig head and gain territory, or alternatively regaining and reclaiming territory left the laneway strewn with bodies.
A decisive moment when civility entered the picture occurred at a humble meeting held on the evening of 26 October 1863 at Freemason Tavern on Long Acre in Covent Gardens. It is now recognised as the first official football body meeting. The purpose was to reach an agreeable set of unified laws for the various types of embryonic football games that had sprung up throughout England during the first half of the 19th century.
At the time, the more prominent form of football played throughout England’s privileged private schools was referred to as “rugger”. Similar types of football had also developed outside the private schools system. Charterhouse was the only private school that attended the meeting. At the conclusion, a motion was passed inviting the private schools to attend subsequent meetings.
Henceforth, at subsequent meetings, two distinct camps emerged. The private school contingent refused to budge on the rights of a player to hack and kick the shins of an opponent ball carrier. At one stage of a meeting a leading attendee representing the private schools insisted; “…hacking is true football.”
The term “rugger” became known as rugby, with its followers describing it as the game played in Heaven, which seems a likely reflection of the willingness of privileged private school supporters to act in self-interest by applauding their Christian muscle.
The rugby model was also instrumental in the creation of various homegrown invasion type football codes such as American and Australian football, rugby league, and Gaelic football. Nowadays, these codes still allow “hacking an opponent”, although it is now referred to as “tackling” which is judiciously regulated and interpreted at various levels by each of the codes. Shin kicking is now outlawed, but there is always some players that insist on doing it and a host of commentators who still applaud it.
Each of these rugby and rugby influenced codes tend to be played within territorial cul-de-sacs because they are not for everyone. They thrive on passionate tribalism and the protection of the home turf of the male species. Christian masculinity still lingers among them. Fair and brutal strength forms part of their aesthetic appeal, often described by its followers as lying within the ‘eyes of the beholder’, and that theirs is, ‘the greatest game of all’.
Soccer need not make this claim. It is generally accepted as The Beautiful Game. Worldwide, soccer now owns the term “football”, while other football codes can only claim ownership of “football” within territorial cul-de-sacs. “Freeborn John” and his Levellers team had got the ball rolling when they agitated for the ‘rule of common law’ to be applied to all comers, rich or poor.
Attendees at the 1863 Covent Gardens pub meeting followed up by insisting on the creation of a civil, united Football Association; and that the future lay in ridding “hacking” and “shin kicking” from the game of “rugger”. At the time, the demand for better working and playing conditions was also swelling among the newly founded trade unions and previously among the various guilds.
The rest is history. What the Football Association unleashed was more civility and skillful aesthetics, and please, keep brutish on-field feral behaviour at bay
Soon after the first Laws Of The Game were written under the auspice of the new Association, two distinct invasion football codes became popular among the upper and middle classes of England – Rugby Football (derived from “rugger” played mostly in private schools) and the new Association Football (which was first named “Assocer” and then “Soccer”, which initially was for privileged and middle class interest).
During the second half of the 19th century the working and middle classes of England gravitated to the game of soccer en mass. Meanwhile, the privileged and upper middle classes stuck mostly with rugby. The middle and working classes of northern England who preferred rugby created a rugby variant now known as “rugby league”.
The former British colonies of the USA, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, and New Zealand have continued to refer to the Beautiful Game as “soccer”. In each of the former colonies the term “football” belongs to either rugby or rugby league, or the home grown variants – American Football, Australian Football, and Gaelic Football.
By keeping feral behaviour at bay on the field of play, the original “Rules Of The Game” statements resisting “hacking and shin kicking” opened the door for greater aesthetic appeal, which has since become a prerequisite for all of the five categories of sport and their specific codes. Why does sport matter? Because as much as any other endeavour, it has successfully embraced and managed the elements of civility aesthetics, tribalism, and home ground advantage.
At first, the emergence of modern sport was entirely about maintaining a man’s home ground advantage. Subsequently, the bastion of protected turf began to change and will change even further. “Freeborn John” and his Levellers and the attendees of the 1863 pub meeting did not include women. But unbeknown to them at the time they set in train the potential future role of women in sport, interracial participation, and the never ending progress of aesthetic appeal.
As is always the case, austere resistance will occur from men protecting their home turf. The likes of Rupert Murdoch and his look-likes at News Corporation and Fox Sport will continue to insist that “tackling the man” is a true invasion sport. “Rupert” is a born ‘hacker and shin kicker’. He, never obvious, but for those he employs vulnerable to exposure as occurred during the New Of The World phone hacking atrocity. Eventually, “Rupert” and his team of hackers and shin kickers will have to submit; not because of any change of attitude, but because eventually it will boil down to men wanting to secure access to the money flows.
In the future there is a good chance of a team called the Levellers playing in the final of a Women’s World Cup will attract a trillion viewers and emblazoned on the back of the most famous striker of all is the name “Freeborn Joan”.
The continuing progress of civility and aesthetic appeal will remain in a Major League; and never eliminate “Rupert’ and his team of hackers and shin kickers from the field of play. But there was a time when no one thought that the King and the Christian deity would be eventually contained within the territorial cul-de-sac of playing in a Minor League.
The category of an invasion sport revolves around when a home and away team face each other on the field with a regulated boundary, a goal at each of end, and referees (or umpires) adjudicating field, boundary, scoring, game restarts and game length according to the specific rules of each code. Game length is usually divided into quarters or halves that allow the home and away teams to switch ends during breaks in play.
In addition to the football codes: basketball, handball, netball, hurling, hockey and ice hockey are team invasion sports. In each, the game result hinges on goals scored, as well as try-line touchdowns and goal conversions (American Football, rugby, and rugby league), or near misses on goal attempts (Australian and Gaelic football).
Another type of invasion sport is when opponents face each other within a regulated boundary ring, time frame, and scoring system and attempt to “combat” each other’s defense in order to strike a blow, stab, or hold; again requiring referees (or umpires) adjudicating according to the specific rules of each code. The length of the contest in a combat invasion sport such as fencing, wrestling, judo, or boxing is usually divided into rounds or bouts. The contest result hinges on achieving a knock out, knock down, hold down, or a number of blows or stabs.
The Beautiful Game of football, as the first team invasion sport to spread its wings worldwide, owes a great deal to its origins on the regulated frowning upon hacking and shin kicking, and then restricting ball disposal by foot or head: the only exception to this is the goalkeeper. Coupled with an offside rule, officialdom made scoring difficult, so in effect the final result involves a high level of chance. But most important is allowing space on field for players to display intricate skills, creativity, fair competitiveness, and dance like Lionel Messi.
The first combat invasion sport that captured public attention worldwide is the most brutal and hazardous – boxing. It did so by also cottoning onto civility and aesthetic appeal. The sight of two boxers facing one other goes back a long way. But there were no written regulations until the first publication in 1867 of the Marquees of Queensberry Rules.
In Britain during the beginning of the 19th century boxing events were relegated to the back lanes and illegal gambling houses because their gruesome carnage had to be hidden from the view of an emerging, modern world. To survive and progress beyond, boxing had to re-invent itself and it did. The Queensbury Rules combined an invasion sport category with a newly formed adjudication category sport. Thus, boxing morphed into a combined category.
It was Mohammad Ali (former Cassius Clay Jr b.1948) who said it all. At his pre-weigh in before claiming his first heavyweight World Title against Sonny Williams in 1964, like a circus ring master, he announced; he’d float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. He could dance and he did. He taunted his opponent with magic, saying; You can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.
Instead of the necessity to demolish an opponent with a knock out blow or a referee calling a halt because a boxer was mauled beyond recovery, it became possible to win a boxing event according to a judging panel awarding points. The Queensbury Rules and subsequent changes allowed for the presence of three judges at ringside to score the bout and assign points to a boxer’s number of legitimate connecting punches, defence, knockdowns, and other, more subjective and creative measures.
While nearly 100 years apart, Nietzsche’s fictional character, Zarathustra asked the question, What sacred atonements shall we have to invent (1882); Mohammed Ali had the answer when he said after defeating Sonny Liston for the first time 25 February 1964:
I am the greatest! I’m the greatest thing that ever lived. I don’t have a mark on my face, and I upset Sonny Liston, and I just turned twenty-two years old. I must be the greatest. I showed the world. I talk to God everyday. I know the real God. I shook up the world.
Inside the ring, despite the odds, after two more world title wins there are few who would disagree; Ali is the greatest boxer of all. Tough, he fought fairly (civility) combining power with imaginative zeal (aesthetic appeal). As a heavyweight, he boxed with the speed and footwork of a lightweight boxer.
Outside the ring he did what “Freeborn John” and Nietzsche had done beforehand; he challenged the home ground advantages of a supreme King and Christian deity, and succeeded. As a general rule, especially in times of war, any American sport hero is meant to show unquestionable patriotism.
Ali is a Black American who vehemently opposed the Vietnam War. He refused to serve in the American Army. He said, No Vietcong ever called me a nigger. From 1967 to 1970 he was stripped of his world tile and legally convicted for refusing to enlist. Eventually, the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, which meant Ali was able to avoid jail.
In 1975 he converted from Christianity to Islam and again explained so with delightful footwork by saying: Allah is the Greatest. I’m just the greatest boxer.
Of Allah he said; I’d like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then, he mix willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stirred it up well, then he spreads it over his span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.
After Mohammad Ali captured world attention inside and outside the ring, it became more accepted that restricting freedom of religion and speech, and racial injustice could no longer be tolerated in sport or elsewhere. The fact that he could succeed and have such and influence stems from the Queensbury Rules of 1867 when boxing changed; combining the adjudication and invasion categories.
When Ali boxed he understood the value of receiving regulated adjudication points as an alternative to pummeling an opponent into oblivion. After his match with Jimmy Ellis was stopped by the referee in the twelfth round (July 1971) Ali said: Ain’t no reason for me to kill nobody in the ring, unless they deserve it.
Not everyone is a bull.
Even so, it was Mohammed Ali, and before him, Frederick Nietzsche, the Queensbury Rules, the Association Football 1963 pub meeting refuting hacking and shin kicking, “Freeborn John” and the Magna Carta that were the steps that eventually have led to the current level of women’s participation in sport, which will inevitably increase in the future.
As always, women can dance, but toughness, energy, tenacity and even brutality are not a problem either. Welcome to modern sport. Of all social, economic, and political institutions operating within the public domain, it is the current and future participation of women in sport that is challenging the home turf that was previously occupied entirely by men.
Today, even the most occluded space belonging to men alone – invasion sport – is under challenge. Football (soccer), hockey, basketball are increasingly favoured by women with some participation rates now the equal of men. Netball is of interest because it is an invasion sport played mostly by women in which men are gaining interest and play.
Nevertheless, it is the other four categories that are favoured most by women. While an invasion sport requires skill, willingness, and creative abstraction, it also implies direct physical combativeness. Overall, physical strength is a man’s home ground advantage. Skill, willingness, and creative abstraction are common to both genders.
In the adjudication sport of gymnastics Romanian born, Nadia Elena Comăneci, performances as a 14-year-old contestant received startled worldwide television viewers during and following the Montreal 1976 Summer Olympics. Winning three gold medals, she became the first women’s gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event.
Raised during the repressive years of Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal Communist regime, in 1989 along with six other Romanian gymnastics she escaped via Hungry and Austria to live in the USA. In several subsequent interviews her descriptions of how precarious life was under the regime, and how it was monitored and controlled it makes for a terrifying story.
Her defection and life-story, along with others who had fled, were among a series of early cracks that began appearing in the Berlin Wall leading to its eventual dismantling. Her move to America also signaled a growing determination of women to place career first before settling into family life and rearing a child.
Mohammad Ali had described boxing as: privileged white men watching two blacks beat up each other. The perspective and injustice had to change. With boxing grace set within conventions of a combined sport, Ali was able to follow in the footsteps of “Freeborn John”. With extreme fitness, conditioning, flex, and sublime aesthetics set within an adjudication sport, Comăneci also followed in the footstep of “Freeborn John” by toppling two giants.
Firstly, she became a household symbol of the swelling agitation that had led to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. And secondly, her performance at the Montreal Olympics was equal and even outshone the men’s gymnastics. Thereafter, the participation and influence of women in sport became bound to progress at all levels. Women’s natural preference will always lean towards those sports that restrain hacking and shin kicking.
Comăneci is far from alone setting new benchmarks for modern sport. Women’s tennis was changed forever following the arrival on the tournament circuit of Margaret Court AO, MBE (née Smith; b. 1942) also known as Margaret Smith-Court, a devout Christian. Prior to Court’s exceptional tournament successes, petite ladies tennis was the standard. Who wore Teddy Tingling lacy peek-a-boo women’s attire became the focus of attention rather than the tournament winner.
Smith-Court was different. Her attire looked functional. Her competitive success was paramount. It was based on a combination of skill and her unmatched strength, fitness, and conditioning over her rivals. As a result, her opponents had a catch-up game on their hands. And catch up they did with a linage of women champions extending through to the current six times Wimbledon Champion, Serena Williams.
Margaret Smith-Court was born in the regional city of Albury situated on the Murray River and where her junior tennis career began. Before she was 15 years old, she had been in training to become a member of Australian Olympic Team in the 400 and 800 metre events, but stopped because she said it was affecting her tennis career. Instead, she moved to Melbourne, where she was welcomed and trained by famous players, coaches and trainers of the day such as Frank Sedgman, Stan Nicholls, and Keith Rodgers. Aside from the best tennis instructions available, her training regime included hours in a gymnasium working the weights.
On the tennis court, Wikipedia lists Margaret Smith-Court: as having won 62 Grand Slam events (24 singles, 19 doubles, 19 mixed doubles), which is a record for a male or female player. Her 24 Grand Slam singles titles and 19 in mixed doubles are also all-time records for both sexes. She achieved a career Grand Slam in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. She is one of two women to have achieved the Grand Slam in singles in the Open Era (alongside Steffi Graf), and is the only woman to have achieved the mixed doubles Grand Slam, which she did twice. Court won more than half of the Grand Slam singles tournaments she played (24 of 47). She won 192 singles titles before and after the Open Era, an all-time record. Her career singles win-loss record was 1,177-106, for a winning percentage of 91.74 percent on all surfaces (hard, clay, grass, carpet), is also an all-time record. She won at least 100 singles matches in 1965 (113-8), 1968 (107-12), 1969 (104-6), 1970 (110-6), and 1973 (108-6). She won more than 80 percent of her singles matches.
I lived in Albury between the years 1971 to 1974. I was aware of her career and achievement path because the stories of where she grew up and first played tennis had become a source of civic pride. Even before her time and since, the grass tennis courts of the Albury Tennis Club were heralded locally and much further afield. Back then; prior to the introduction of synthetic surface courts, at times the tennis centre featured 30 or more grass courts. Now is it has 25 grass and five synthetic courts.
Maintaining grass courts requires an abundance of water and meticulous green keeping skills. Situated on the northern bank of the Murray River, not far from its Alpine headwaters, the supply of water was never a problem for the regional city. Other population centres located in drier parts of the Australian continental land mass were not so fortunate, yet still managed to syphon sufficient water to maintain their proud grass tennis courts.
The attitude of, ‘whatever water it takes’ stems from a Colonial heritage. Early white settlers located faraway from where they originated were prone to constantly search for a homeland to find what they had left behind is unattainable. Local passion swelled, desiring replicas. Even in the most arid regions of the continent you can discover small population centres maintaining rows of grass tennis courts. So there is an overwhelming desire wanting Australian players to succeed at Wimbledon or at Davis Cup: tournaments played on grass.
In less than a day’s drive from Albury it was possible to cross the Victorian Alps into the Gippsland Region located in the southeastern corner of the Australian continent, where I was born in 1949, in the then booming township of Moe, which had become a dormitory suburb housing local and migrant workers required for the nearby electricity power stations on the edge of the vast brown coal open cut mines.
During my several drives from Albury to Gippsland, I began noting differences in the landscape of my homeland. From afar was the imagined. I was able to conjure patterns of roads and waterways dotted with tennis courts, sport fields and pavilions, cricket pitches, sheds and public buildings.
The other was gained from re-entering the visible boundaries of growing up as a child and teenager. For mine, as a young local sport prodigy I was being dogged by loneliness, even though I felt the strong love of my family, tastes at the kitchen table and the water where each of us kids played in creeks, ditches, and puddles. Those tastes still remain strong. The names and details of the kids I played with somehow evaporated. Perhaps, it was too much attention to sport. During my young adult visits, the dots on the homeland landscape began to form a picture. At ground level I could see they existed beside farm homes, churchyards, near council offices, railway stations, bus shelters, schoolyards, or sometimes on the very edge of town centres.
Stopping the car and entering any of the garage sheds, pavilions, public facilities, backyards and verandahs, I noticed a table tennis table or badminton net stretched between two standing poles. During the warmer months, there were people assembled around tennis courts and cricket grounds playing, watching, milling. Since then, I have learnt that tennis, table tennis, badminton, cricket, baseball, and softball are modern bat and ball category sports.
The bat and ball category has two types: one is court and net, and the other is pitch and boundary. Each type features the humanistic appeal of holding an object in the hand or hands that is capable of launching the projection of a small flying object within the space of a defined flying zone. (While golf, hockey, ice hockey, hurling, and la crosse offer a similar appeal, they also belong to the combined category – measurement in the case of golf and invasion in the case of hockey, ice hockey,hurling, and la crosse).
The appeal of bat and ball sport also extends to two additional features. The court and net types allow a receiver holding a propulsion object in the hand having the option of returning the small flying object to the other side of the court within the space of a defined flying zone. A point scored either way results in glee. The appeal of a pitch and boundary type offers the humanistic love of catching a small flying object in the hand or hands, usually associated with a yell – You’re out!
Beside the tennis courts I am familiar with is a pavilion adjacent to a church, sport ground, civic centre, or rural property. The term is derived from the French pavilionand Latin papilio, meaning within close distance of a main building. Pavillionarchitecture is intended to invite pleasure by including refreshment facilities, change rooms, and seating, in this instance, with clear views of the tennis happening on court.
Aside from being part of the court layout, the tennis net midway between each end also serves the purpose of ensuring any physical hacking and shin kicking on the part of players is kept at bay. The bat and ball sport of tennis continues to thrive because it excels at catering for two of the core pillars of modern sport – civility and aesthetic appeal. The conviviality of the pavilion is an expression of these features.
Of all the codes that have thrived since the beginning of modern sport, the playing of tennis and its viewing audience has reached further afield among all genders and ages more than any other outdoor sport. Middle and upper classes have welcomed the conviviality of tennis.
As yet it has not reached the poorer neighborhoods of the world to the same extent. Neither amount of space or upkeep costs required is available. In the poorer neighbourhoods it is the invasion sport category that is most favoured; especially basketball (male and female) and association football (particularly boys and men, and now women and girls who are now taking to the field).
Both of these codes, at an elite level, offer a pathway away from poverty. They are also notable for quelling the amount of direct body tackling between opponents compared with other invasion codes. Ever since the 1863 Covent Gardens pub meeting seeking an end to hacking and shin kicking, the working classes and poor quickly adopted association football. From the outset, the working and poorer classes have been canny enough to realize when it comes to protecting home ground advantage, that it was always the rich and powerful who would hack and shin kick the best.
Often, next to football fields there are two change room sheds. From each the atmosphere is more raw and pulsating than what is in a pavilion. Yells and thumping are often heard coming from the sheds. Tribal instincts can be felt in the air. In the spirit of the Levellers it is the role of officialdom to ensure the principles of competitiveness are adhered to, which usually boils down to a fair weighting of home ground advantages via team and talent grading and fixture and draw; and at best keeping opposing tribal instincts under control.
As a junior I participated in a host of school and local swimming, track and field events, which are measurements sports. Winning an individual event title is usually the most prestigious for a measurement sport, but there are also accommodations for combined team events in cycling, golf, and track relays and overall track and field team medal counts.
I’d also played tennis for the Church Of England Gold’s. It was fun. But we pre-pubescent boys didn’t know why we had to play mixed doubles with girls. Ozzi Rules footy was the main thing, I was the first picked. Also capturing my attention was dad in the back shed of our house building a speedboat. When it was finished, on summer weekends and school holidays, the Hopkins family picnicked beside lakes and rivers and waterskied.
I quickly learnt the thrill of skimming across water at breakneck speed. Toppling and banging into the water didn’t bother me. It drew attention. It made people watching gasp, and then laugh. When I did hit the water still in tact, wearing a lifejacket, my head bobbed up and down above the waves. As I re-gathered the ski and waited for the boat to return, I always heard the shout from my dad or older brother, Geoff; “Are you okay?” then I’d be off again.
When, I eventually returned to the bank and rested, often onlookers came up to us mentioning how they liked the pattern of water plumes I had created slaloming from side to side. Like my earlier childhood of mucking about in puddles, ditches, and creeks, water skiing gave me a taste and feel for the water. I liked the new aesthetic appeal, at an exhilarating speed. I took to the water, intensely. I had entered puberty. There were still no girls.
As a fourteen-year-old I won the 1964 Junior Australian Water Ski slalom and overall champion events, which I won again the following year. At sixteen-years of age I competed in the Men’s Melbourne Moomba Masters International tournament and came third in the slalom event. I was selected to represent the Australian Men’s team in an overseas tournament against New Zealand.
The month-long-time required for training and competing meant getting permission from my school principal to grant a leave of absence. He agreed, but added he would fail me for the year and I’d have to repeat my fifth year of secondary school. For the school, he was proud of my sport achievements. He said I was a good thinker, but also knew how poor I was at studying, spelling, and grammar.
It turned out as good advice. I had to think about more things than just competing in sport. The confusing, passionate desires I had felt during puberty were absorbed in the taste and feel of being dunked or skimming across water or handling a leather football that us boys referred to as the “cherry”. Even then, I did not want to end up attracting a girl who thought I had no brain up top.
After completing secondary school I was accepted to study for an economics and politics degree at Monash University located in Melbourne’s East. At the same time I was recruited to play for Carlton in the Victorian Football League, which at the time was the highest level Australian Rules Football competition.
By 1970 I had completed my degree. I had also played in the 1970 grand final against Collingwood. I was a reserve and came onto the ground after halftime and kicked four goals that were instrumental in my team winning the premiership. The official statistical record of the Victorian and Australian Football League writes:
Was this the greatest Grand Final of them all? A record crowd (126,696). The greatest Grand Final comeback of all time (Carlton down by 44 points at halftime). Jezza’s mark and Ted Hopkins’ moment in the sun. Collingwood’s third heart-breaking Grand Final defeat in seven years. The birth of the modern game and possibly the most influential game of the era. Handball was here to stay.
The following year I decided to leave Carlton and abandon football at the elite level. During the years at the club and university, my chances of becoming a professional international water skier had declined. In the second year at Monash, I feel deeply in love with a fellow student who achieved top marks studying mathematics. At the beginning of my final year we were married. Within 18 months the marriage was in tatters and we separated.
I spent the following year alone working as a Park Ranger in the Victorian Alps snow skiing resort of Falls Creek. The regional city of Albury was within a two-hour drive. During the many drives to and fro the idea swelled within me that I could think and write. I knew the writing part would take considerable time. Always playing sport during had occupied every bit of my mind space. The school principal told me I was coming from a long way from behind if I wanted to start thinking differently. I packed up my bags and went to live and work in Albury.
Entering a new journey, my greatest fear was being left alone. As a kid I’d experienced popularity because I was good at sport, yet still felt the jibes of Nothing up top.Starting again in a different locality I sensed something had to be proved, but never sure exactly of what it was – until I began to realize it was deep companionship and gaining respect. I was determined to cast a wider net being good at sport.
My best water ski years introduced me to two modern sport categories – measurement (slalom and ski jumping) and adjudication (trick skiing). The most prestigious title was Overall Champion, which was a combination of the points gained competing in each of the events. Olympic Decathlon events have similar scoring systems as do the new breed of Triathlons.
Rather, it was elite water skiing that introduced me to the constant quest for joy and the thrills along with constant perils. The edge is never far away. Within a split second of committing an error an opponent is breathing down your neck. The chance of getting splattered in a fall or crash is instant.
Trick skiing is not as dangerous as ski jumping or slalom. It requires a balletic gymnastic performance while being towed in the wake of a powerful speedboat travelling at a reduced speed. Practicing, you spend endless time being toppled and splattered.
Slalom is performing rhythmic curves from side to side at lightening speed. Toppling, you can get a smack to the head. Ski jumping is even at quicker speed. Approaching the wooden ramp incorrectly can smell like death. When all the parts come together, nothing can quite match the soar into the air.
Aside from the foreboding dangers, mostly I fell in love with slalom water skiing because of the aesthetic appeal of skimming the surface. I liked the non-aggressive nature of water skiing. You cannot fight water. It is too resistant. It can swallow you. Inject itself into an orifice. Toppling at speed, the surface can hurt like falling on concrete.
The best elite skiers find ways to negotiate the various flows and patterns that water presents, rather than break it. My disenchantment began at the other end of the towrope. I began to sense the toxicity of the speedboat’s throttling noise, its smell of petroleum infiltrating the water, steep boat wakes cutting into banksides. I could see the rivers and lakes I relished could not withstand the feral intrusions of a speedboat.
I gave up water skiing – forever.
My long and loving time together with Angelika Oehme began when both of us attended a late night cinema of the Werner Herzog film, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser. We were the only two people in the theatre foyer during interval, which is how we met. Not that long afterwards, we watched Herzog’s early masterpiece devoted to the Swiss snow ski flyer and former World Champion (1972 and 1977), Water Steiner (born February 1951) titled; The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner.
The capturing of Steiner’s aesthetic appeal and perils faced by the director filmmaker, who also performs as a sport commentator, are stunning. Watching and hearing the ski jumper, the viewer learns he is quite capable of testing the limit and landing beyond the cordoned finishing area with a good chance of getting killed.
Already he had covered 179 metres, which was then thought to be further than any ski flier could possibly land intact from even the longest and fastest ramp. At the base of the famous Planica ramp in Slovenia we hear Steiner grumbling. He thinks that the “Yugoslavian” judges are far too brutal in their awarding of points. Given the poor conditions, they are too eager at catering for the public wanting to see competitors attempt flying to the limit.
Ski jumping is a combined category sport with the winner decided on distance, style, in-run length, and wind conditions. Before the Covent Gardens pub meeting in1863 that started the ball rolling for football, perhaps it is the Scandinavians who can claim first to have adopted the four pillars of modern sport applied to a combined category.
Wikipedia recounts the first recorded public ski jumping competition was held, at Trysil, Norway, on 22 January 1862. At this first competition, judges already awarded points for style (“elegance and smoothness”), participants had to complete three jumps without falling and rules were agreed upon in advance. Before anyone, Nordic culture had already ticked the boxes of powerful tribal instincts, knowledge of what home and away meant, civility, and aesthetic appeal. So it should be no surprise where Nokia mobile phones, IKEA, and Volvo cars have originated.
The rules of ski jumping allow competitors the choice of a launch platform at the top of the ramp or other platforms lower along the ramp. At Planica, Steiner decided to handicap himself, starting further down the takeoff ramp than his fellow competitors. His logic was to avoid carnage. If he landed too far ahead by launching from the top, his fellow competitions would put themselves at risk attempting to match him. Handicapping would make the competition more competitive. Nonetheless, he still wins the tournament. The audience is ecstatic. He is on the side of The Levellers.
The film concludes with Steiner saying, “I ought to be alone in the world. Just me Steiner, and no other living thing. No sun, no culture. Myself, naked on a high rock…Then at least I wouldn’t be afraid.” His final statement was actually written by Herzog, who likes his lead characters to transcend beyond human expectations.
Watching Steiner ski fly is joyous. As he flies, the mouth is set agape and all that appears to move is the minutest fluttering within his gloved fingers. In flight, what is inside is inside him, and no one else. How he lands means everything to himself and everyone else. Legend has it that Steiner is now working as a gardener in Switzerland,
Far too early, Angelika died of breast cancer aged 58. She was a perpetual student of languages and their cultures. Her parents fled war torn Germany and by ship migrated to Australia with their four children. Another sibling was born in Australia. Aside from English and German, her reading extended to French, Spanish, and Mandarin. Her love of language became part of how I began to view and interpret modern sport as a language and culture.
The founders of modern sport were excellent at their job. They were proficient at the drafting of rules and regulations and often had a grasp of mathematics and arithmetic principles. It is remarkable how so much of their original templates have remained intact and have subsequently thrived in the marketplace. By the turn of the century, five distinct models were established. They would take to the world like wildfire.
The five categories are territorial invasion sport, bat & ball, measurement, adjudication, and combinations of the four main categories. Notable is how former and new British colonies were quick to create and adapt their own homegrown varieties of the categories.
In Ireland, Gaelic football (invasion) and hurling (invasion and bat & ball) prevail. In the USA baseball (bat & ball) and American football (invasion) competitions were formed prior to the 19th Century. Likewise, Australian Rules Football (invasion) sport dominated the winter in the former southern British colonies prior to Australian Federation in 1901.
As all these factors converged, individuals met to form committees that began to codify the first rules and regulations of modern sporting codes and respective scoring systems, fixtures and draws. In parallel, at a similar time there was a flourishing of literature, burgeoning media, the creation of global stock markets, industrial innovation, and a scientific revolution.
From mid-19th Century: Britain, and to some extent France and Western Europe, was like a giant sports factory producing and marketing five different categories and their specific code variation for uptake and adaptation at home and abroad.
Why Sport Matters is because at best, the modern version eradicates unfair hacking and shin kicking. On the field of play modern sport has and will continue to thrive by keeping feral behavior at bay, which is not easy when one must decide what is and isn’t feral. At present, drug taking, alcohol consumption, compulsive gambling, and what comes out of the mouth of Rupert are the greatest threats.
Thankfully, “Freeborn John” and his Levellers had the right idea. Stick to common law principles that are regulated properly. A recent article appearing in the Des Miones Register (USA, Iowa) is on the same side. Beneath the headline: For women, playing sports can sometimes be a ticket to freedom, the article referred to the number of women from Islamic countries that are now succeeding on the international stage.
It appears that following in the footsteps of “Freeborn John” and his Levellers won’t hurt anybody and could do some good. Mohammed Ali said it second best: Ain’t no reason for me to kill nobody in the ring, unless they deserve it.
 On the tennis court, Wikipedia lists Margaret Smith-Court: as having won 62 Grand Slam events (24 singles, 19 doubles, 19 mixed doubles), which is a record for a male or female player. Her 24 Grand Slam singles titles and 19 in mixed doubles are also all-time records for both sexes. She achieved a career Grand Slam in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. She is one of two women to have achieved the Grand Slam in singles in the Open Era (alongside Steffi Graf), and is the only woman to have achieved the mixed doubles Grand Slam, which she did twice. Court won more than half of the Grand Slam singles tournaments she played (24 of 47). She won 192 singles titles before and after the Open Era, an all-time record. Her career singles win-loss record was 1,177-106, for a winning percentage of 91.74 percent on all surfaces (hard, clay, grass, carpet), is also an all-time record. She won at least 100 singles matches in 1965 (113-8), 1968 (107-12), 1969 (104-6), 1970 (110-6), and 1973 (108-6). She won more than 80 percent of her singles matches