Sport

On Springboks & Rainbows: Invictus reviewed

Having come a long way from his days as “The Man with No Name” and “Dirty Harry”, veteran actor-turned director Clint Eastwood has proved that at nearly 80 he still has that magic touch.

You don’t have to be a rugby fan to enjoy this film, a highly uplifting morality tale on the strength of the human spirit and the concept of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – in a sporting and psycholoogical sense.

One of the film’s opening scenes features archive footage of Nelson Mandela being released from his long incarceration with a voiceover making the statement “Mandela is now a free man” – surely an intentional pun on the name of the lead actor. Morgan Freeman is uncannily accurate in his portrayal of Mandela as the highly charismatic and charming individual that he was – and continues to be. Although it should be noted that such parts – ie the world weary wise old sage who has a knack of influencing those around him as in films like The Shawshank Redemption and Driving Miss Daisy – are his stock in trade.

John Carlin in his book Playing the Enemy on which Invictus is based sums up the spirit of worldwide revolution that was in the air in the lte1980s/early 90s:

“The world was changing fast. The anti-communist Solidarity movement had come to power in Poland; demonstrations in Tiananmen Square were calling for Chinese reform; the Soviet army ended its nine-year occupation of Afghanistan; the Berlin Wall was tottering. Apartheid belonged like, communism to another age.”

Mandela’s philosophy of in order to make progress you need to know your enemy is one of the central tenets of the film. Freeman is excellent in putting across Mandela’s extraordinary lack of bitterness towards his former oppressors following 27 years of incarceration.

When questioned by his black colleagues about his enthusiastic support for the Springboks who had previously represented the oppressive game of the white Afrikaner Mandela says “If I can’t change when circumstances demand how can I expect others to change?”

Despite the heavy overall message of Invictus its not wihtout its comic moments. A notable example is when the white presidential security guards who had previously worked for FW de Klerk under the apartheid regime report for duty to their boss who is now black – and suspects he is the victim of some kind of joke. But in reality it is all part of Mandela’s grand plan to heal the divisions and unite a once bitterlydivided nation which had not so long ago been on the brink of civil war.

Although Matt Damon doesn’t look like your average rugby player his portrayal of Springbok captain François Pienaar is convincing as is his Afrikaner accent. The scenes on he field of play are also well choreographed as are the reactions from the crowd.

The sickly sweet feelgood factor is perhpas a little overdone by the end of the film,with the final scenes of the jubilant team and their supporters now both white and black, but this doesn’t detract from what is a fantastic piece of cinema.

Darts is shite

There are certain sports that I firmly believe shouldn’t be shown on TV. This isn’t necessarily just sports I don’t like though. I don’t like cricket for instance, but I don’t object to it being on the TV. There’s a certain passion to it and a cause that people can sympathise with in supporting their team – watching the skill of a batsman hitting the ball for six – or a fielder diving from a diffcult angle to catch the ball and end the batsman’s session – or a fast bowler toppling the stumps.

Darts on the other hand is an abomination which has none of the passion or excitement of other sports. I’m not getting into the old argument of whether or not darts should be classified as a sport. Whether it’s a sport or not is irrelevant. Dog-fighting and bear-baiting are no doubt considered sports by their followers, but that doesn’t mean they should be on TV. Darts is basically a pub game which has somehow found its way on to our TV screens. Who wants to watch tattooed beer-bellied neaderthals throwing aerodynamic nails at a rubber circle in between downing pints in one go?

Besides there are much more interesting events going on at your local that would make excellent TV. Why not make Pissed-Bloke-Trying-to-Chat-Up-Busty-Barmaid a sport and start a world championship in it? Why not have Pissed Bloke Throwing Up In The Urinal of the Bogs a sport? An international championship in Pissing on the Soap Ball in the urinal to see how far it dissolves? How about the Two-Drunken-Slappers-Fighting Tooth-and-Nail-After-One-Accused The-Other-Of-Eyeing-Her-Bloke Masters live from the Red Lion sponsored by WKD?

Admittedly if there were world championships in these pursuits certain countries would have distinct unfair advantages.

Still, it’s worth the suits at the BBC/ITV/RTE/Sky/Setanta discussing it over the boardroom table.

Phrases like “bullseye”, “treble 20” and “180!” could take on a whole new meaning.

The Keltic Kup and local variations

The Keltic Kup?
It was announced today that the football associations of Scotland, Wales and both parts of Ireland have agreed on a new annual tournament between their teams due to kick off in 2011. As the four teams involved rarely qualify for any major tournaments such an event can only be welcome and is long overdue. Like England, these four teams have all suffered from the foreign invasion of the Premier League as a result of which the opportunities to play at the top level are much more limited now than they were 20 years ago.

However, one bone of contention will be what to call this new tournament. They could take a leaf out of rugby’s book and call it the Four Nations. Another possibility would be the Celtic (as in “Keltic” not “Seltic”) Cup, but Rangers supporters would take exception to this. Whatever it’s called, it could be a massive money spinner for the broadcaster Setanta who never seem to miss an opportunity like this.

Local Variations
I notice the BBC website has a section devoted to the four regions, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. England is simply listed as “England”, but Scotland and Wales are listed bilingually as “Scotland/Alba” and “Wales/Cymru”. Interestingly enough, Northern Ireland is just listed in English. I’m surprised the Irish and Ulster Scots lobbies haven’t been on the BBC’s case about this. But let’s face it – there just wouldn’t be enough room for “Northern Ireland/Tuaisceart na hÉireann/Norlin Airlann”.

Update:

* As a footnote to the first item above, I was baffled for years as to why the name of a certain Glasgow soccer club was pronounced as “Seltic” rather than the standard pronounciation “Keltic”.  I eventually found out that this was because the soft C pronounciation was in vogue in the 19th century when the club was formed, but the hard C took over as the accepted prounounciation in the 20th century.  This brings me on to a classic anecdote involving the Welsh actor Richard Burton.  Burton was allegedly asked in an interview with an irritating Hollywood hack “I suppose you would describe yourself as a selt?”

Quick as a flash Burton replied “Yes, and I suppose you would describe yourself as a sunt.”

Red Hands on the Up; Exiles continue downward spiral

I was glad to see Tyrone back in contention with a hard-fought win over Donegal after a shaky start to their National League campaign. The rest of Ulster will no doubt feel the opposite way. Being a Tyrone Gaelic football supporter is like being a Millwall supporter in some ways – it’s a sort of “no-one likes us, we don’t care” situation. In this sense victory is all the sweeter – there’s the satisfaction of seeing your team win as well as your rivals being pissed off.

Things aren’t so good for London though, after a comprehensive defeat to Antrim. London’s particiption in the league has been controversial for several years, with many being of the opinion that it’s a waste of time and money, particularly when the resources could be better spent on developing the games at youth level or directed at some of the cash-starved clubs in the English capital. I would concur. It’s equivalent to Leyton Orient playing in the Premiership. No disrespect to London but they just can’t compete on any serious level in the league. With a healthy club scene in the city, and my own club North London Shamrocks about to embark on the local league at intermediate level, the empahsis should be on developing the clubs, particularly at under-age level – not the county side who sholdn’t have to go through ritual humiliation every other weekend.