Category: <span>Sport</span>

n+1

As with most of my hobbies, I tend to fling myself into them wholeheartedly from the get go. I’m the guy who signs up to the forums, does copious research on the internet, takes notes as he goes, learns as much as he can as fast as possible, and then goes and buys the gear. The topic doesn’t really matter as long as it’s something I’m interested in; as a teenager a friend got me into fly fishing and so (as this pre-dates the internet) I got the books and magazines, talked to the owner of the tackle store, and got the best rod and reel I could afford, and enjoyed a couple of (mostly unsuccessful) years wading into the River Leven and casting away to my hearts content.

Looking back I know I spent a lot of my pocket money on that hobby, hundreds of pounds just to get all the things I thought I needed only to find out that I didn’t need them at all. Fishing can be a very expensive hobby (can’t they all) but the basic satisfaction of standing in the river, the quiet burbling of the water as it flowed around me, and the simple setup I started with remains a fond memory.

I’ve dabbled with other hobbies, been through the DSLR camera stage, with multiple lens and filters and goodness knows what else, and today I solely use my iPhone because the best camera you have is the one you have with you.

More recently my hobbies have had a more serious bent and have largely been based around my fitness. Driven by my advancing years and expanding waistline, not to mention a much keener sense of self that has developed over the past few years; I now have an established (almost) daily meditation practice, I’ve managed to get back to running again and, thanks to lockdown, I realised just how much I enjoy cycling. It’s something I’ve mentioned here before, the simple joy of freewheeling down a hill bringing that instant return to a truly child-like state (with all the OHMYGODWHATIFICRASH background noise of being adult, of course). And man, oh man, if ever there was a ‘hobby’ ripe for geeking out on, cycling might just be at the pinnacle.

Not being a millionaire, I’m a league away from the top of the range carbon road bikes (unless anyone has £10k to spare?) but with some research I found a ‘budget’ road bike with a good set of components, lots of great reviews from seasoned cyclists and trade websites, and so the geekery begins….

This can be as simple as looking at any accessories your bike came with – mine came with lights but they are more ‘to be seen’ than ‘to see with’ and so I’ve upgraded them. Same for the bell (although I went for style over substance and I’m already regretting that a little, a quiet bell isn’t much use), and I’ve already changed to clipless pedals over the standard flat pedals provided. With a dark blue bike with very subtle orange accents, I’ve also gotten two bright orange bottle cages, and two orange end caps (the bits at the end of the handlebars, oh yes, there is nothing you can’t customise on a bike!), just to make it look a bit smarter.

Then there are the practical things you’ll need, inner tubes should you get a puncture and a pump, or perhaps it’s time to look at CO2 canisters which are faster (a real consideration if you are fixing a puncture on a rainy day). You’ll need tyre levers too, and it’s probably wise to have a small multi-tool just in case something works its way loose. Ohh and where are you going to carry all this? Do I get a handlebar bag? Or perhaps an on-frame bag? Or one that mounts under the saddle? Or maybe a carrier that I can throw in one of the bottle cages for shorter rides??

What’s next? Ohh yes, clothes! Yup, I’ve joined the ranks of lycra wankers. Why? Because it’s the best thing to wear if you are on a bike for more than an hour, because you need padded shorts and something that won’t chafe. And yes cycling tops are specifically useful too because you can’t really have pockets in your shorts, so those pockets at the back of the top are super useful, holding a lightweight waterproof (hey, it’s Scotland, even on the sunniest days it still might rain an hour later), my phone, and a few snacks to keep me going.

Ohhh snacks, a banana is fine, but maybe it’s time to look into gels, and is that just water in your bottle or is it an electrolyte replacing, caffeinated combo to make sure you don’t run out of energy?

For the safety conscious among you, yes I wear a helmet, and the rest of my ensemble includes cycling gloves, and cycling shoes (that clip into the pedals), and glasses with interchangeable lens (including clear ones which stop your eyes drying out too much on dull windy days). And yes, all of these little things make a difference, I’ve got the research to prove it.

And so it goes.

Truth be told there isn’t really much I need to add and the only thing I’m considering next is a proper bike fitting – a couple of hours with an expert making sure my seat height, handlebar height and position are correct – and this is only because in September I’m tackling Etape Caledonia and will need to do a fair amount of training for that, so I’d rather not open myself up to niggles and injuries just because my seat isn’t quite at the right height.

After that, who knows? With bikes still being largely mechanical and easy to upgrade there are all sorts of things to consider. Do I want to upgrade the chainrings to something with a wider range? Will a new saddle make a difference to my comfort on the bike, would it help me go faster? I have not, yet, gotten a bicycle computer, nor have I added power meter pedals as that seems a little OTT, and anyway the next key component should really be the tyres, or maybe the entire wheels could be lighter and faster. There really are so many things to consider.

My geek is well and truly on, it’s true. The more I read the more I wonder if changing THAT thing will be worth it for me or whether it’s only really the pros that would even notice. There is an entire subset of cycling geeks obsessed with the weight of their bikes, with each single component examined for any potential gains that could be made. It’s the kind of thing the Sky/Ineos team do, look for the smallest gains everywhere and by the time you add them all up you’ve made a leap forward.

I’m not quite there yet, although this all does feel a little different to my past deep dives into various hobbies. At the simplest level I have a bike, I know how to ride it, and all I really need to do is get out on it for as often, and as far, as possible. Everything else really is just noise, something you realise when you are cycling and all you need to do is focus on the road ahead. To that end the instant enjoyment is what I think will make this a longer lasting hobby, and in time I may even start to consider myself a cyclist.

I know myself well enough that I will make little changes and tweaks to my bike over time but I’m doing my very best not to fall into a well known cycling equation that is (semi) jokingly used in every cycling forum I’ve looked at.

The correct number of bikes for you to own is n+1. N equates to the number of bikes you own, therefore you should always be looking to acquire your next pride and joy.

Given that my new bike is still less than a year old I think I’ve got a ways to go before any n+1 thoughts. Although I’m largely going to have to ignore the fact that my (to be) in-laws are all cycling enthusiasts and will very much be prime enablers of any future bike purchases.

For now I’m more than happy with the bike I have, the joy I have using it, and the eagerness to which I look forward to my next ride. That’s the key for me, get to a place where I’m happy and comfortable and I know this hobby will become more than that, if it hasn’t already. With warmer days approaching I know I’ll be itching to go out more and more often, and my bike is always waiting patiently to whizz me along on the next adventure.

Cycling Health Personal Musings Sport

I can’t remember exactly when but I can remember exactly where; my Uncles house in Dundee with my cousin Stuart. I can’t recall how it came about, but I’m guessing it was around about the time I was playing basketball for the school house team, and as my cousin also played it’s possible we’d been talking about that. I had started to realise that I wasn’t too bad at basketball, helped by a growth spurt no doubt, and it was fast becoming my favoured sport to play given my basic footballing skills.

My cousin had a VHS tape of an NBA game, and he put it on so we could watch it. Looking back I’m guessing it was an older recording yet there I sat, utterly transfixed as the amazing athletes played the game that I knew yet which they made appear so much more dynamic and exciting. A man called Magic bamboozled the opponents and passed to a man called Kareem who turned sideways and, leaping away from the basketball, sort of rolled the ball up and out and over his defender, a looping shot that was his trademark. I didn’t realise it just then but I’d just seen a classic move from two of the all-time great players; Magic Johnson with a no-look pass to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with an unstoppable skyhook.

I too was hooked. The showtime Lakers were my first NBA team and have remained that way – despite a brief flirtation with the Chicago Bulls when a certain Michael Jordan came along – through thick and thin.

Suffice to say that the news that broke late last night was a shock.

As part of the next generation of dominant Lakers teams, alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant was one of those players that everyone loved, even if they loved to hate him. He had a skill-set that meant whilst he never dominated entire games, he was still able to control them and make plays that beggared belief. He was fierce, opinionated, and very driven.

He was the type of player that made most things look mundane, and the hard things look easy, and his passion kept him a level above many other players. He truly was one of the greatest to ever play the game.

I followed Kobe on Twitter and Instagram for a long time, and as he retired he started to explore other passions with the same fervour. He was also a proud father, and the news saddens even further hearing that his daughter Gina died with him.

What a tragedy for that family. What a loss to endure.

RIP Kobe Bryant.

Addendum 28/01/20: I did myself, and others, a disservice by not speaking to the darker side of Kobe, the side which was accused of raping a young woman. From other interviews since that happened, particularly after he retired, it certainly seemed like he was learning to be a better man and was aware of his faults. Does that excuse what he allegedly did, absolutely not. I don’t know what happens if you turn back time, but some would say it would lead to justice and in my heart I’d have to agree.

Sport

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I blame my Dad.

He was a P.E. teacher so I guess it’s understandable, and natural, that his job seeped into his home life and gave me a love of sport. Correction, a love of watching sport.

My earliest memories are rugby, likely the Five Nations, with cricket and Formula 1 a close second (the latter two are, to be fair, more attributable to my mother), and of course the grandeur of the Olympics and all those weird and wonderful sports you never got in P.E. class! Watching world class athletes perform at their peak of their powers is never anything but thrilling, and thanks to Dad, always informative.

It’s an approach I’ve retained, don’t just watch but learn, as I’ve taken to watching new sports. Figuring out why that person can run faster than that one, or how that team out manoeuvred the other to win the game is all part of my enjoyment and appreciation of pretty much all sports. Aside from horse racing and darts, I’ll watch pretty much anything and quite happily get engrossed and while away several hours watching Kabbadi or Ten Pin Bowling.

I’ve lucked out on a couple of occasions too; when Channel Four started showing some NFL highlights, their first show included a 15 minute segment on the basics of the how the game is played, what a down is, how play progresses, and what the key positions are. Since then I’ve watched NFL on and off, and you now see even better analysis on the BBC with two ex-players showing how a play came about, the different runs/routes taken by the offence and the tactics of the defense to try and stop them.

It’s always this side of sport that I’m drawn to, the tactics and machinations, and where better than F1 to see that mix of ultra-high tech, teamwork, and natural talent all meshed together. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a couple of races (both in Singapore) and it’s safe to say that the cameras really don’t capture the speed these cars travel at, nor the skill it must take to flick a car through a chicane at upwards of 100mph, breathtaking.

Again, the BBC offered a good TV package when they had the rights, including a wonderful spot that highlighted some of the engineering feats, and how a tiny little carbon fibre fin could influence how the air flows over one side of the car and alter it’s handling and speed dramatically. Geek heaven.

I’ve played a few sports as well of course, with the usual spins of 5-a-side football, badminton, and basketball from time to time, and it’s the latter that remains one of my favourites. As I got towards the end of high school I shot up and so as one of the taller boys, basketball became MY sport, the one I best at and was most confident with. It wasn’t the most popular sport, football was by a country mile (we didn’t play much rugby at my school but I think I would’ve enjoyed that if we had), but it was the sport at which I excelled.

I never took it particularly far, something I mildly regret, but I did play, and win, in our school house competition. In later years I’d revisit it with work colleagues and over time rediscovered some of the skills that had lain dormant for a couple of decades, the joy of threading a bounce pass between unsuspecting opponents, or setting a simple yet effective pick and roll, soon had me eagerly looking forward to our weekly games. A couple of other guys were very good players and it helped raise my game as well.

Unfortunately we don’t get much coverage in the UK, unless you have Sky Sports which I don’t, but I still follow along with my chosen team, the gold and purple of the LA Lakers. This is the first NBA team I saw footage of, on a fuzzy old video a cousin had, and I was in jaw-dropping awe watching a man called Magic run, pass, and play at a level that seemed much higher than those around him, he’d no-look pass to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who took a sideways step as he turned his body, flicking the ball up and out in what became his trademark shot. Swish. Another skyhook lands.

I didn’t realise then that I was watching two players, and a time, that would become Hall of Fame appointees and who still feature in debates of ‘who was the best player ever’. I followed the Lakers as best I could, through the doldrums and the emergence of Kobe and Shaq, another ‘best ever’ duo, and after the utter debacle of the last few years I now watch on in hope as a player who has genuine aspiration to be the best ever lifts the Lakers back into playoff contention.

A few years ago I was asked what my bucket list items were, and to this day I struggle to narrow things down. In fact there is still only one item on that list, so I guess I’d really better start figuring out a way to make it happen.

Lakers vs Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Blogvember Sport

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It starts when I get my leg over.

And it’s always my left leg due to whatever odd reasoning of biometrics and learned habits dictates such things, always the same one I swing up and over the saddle and, after a quick re-positioning of the pedals, we’re off. After the first few metres of making sure shoes get clipped in and the right gears are selected we are soon on our way and, without fail, a smile spreads across my face.

I always get the same feelings of nostalgia when I get on my bike, the simple childhood pleasure and sensation of speed all come rushing back, and isn’t it funny how we don’t remember all the scrapes and bruises we endured trying to learn to ride the damn things? Although not every child is the same, whilst I distinctly remember having stabilisers for a while, one of my friends was put on his new bike by his big brother, shoved off down the driveway and off he went!

Boxer bicycle

My first bike was a blue Raleigh Boxer. It was a solid little thing, almost like a small BMX (which were still a couple of years away from becoming mainstream) and with no gears it went as fast as my little legs would go. It was small enough that I could cycle round the back garden, round and round the large concrete slab that was the base of the old garage. At one end of the concrete was a grassy slope and my wonderful father added a small concrete slope at the other end so I could spend my summer evenings spinning in circles.

Many years later I’d help my Dad smash up that old concrete base with a sledgehammer. It was about then as a gangly 14 year old that I started to realise I was going to be bigger and stronger than him, an odd realisation for a boy who was still learning about his own body. I was already a little taller than him and had longer levers with which to swing the sledgehammer, sure it’s simple physics but it’s stuck in my brain as a ‘moment’.

Raleigh Enterprise

I’d moved on from the little Raleigh Boxer by that time, with my first almost full size bike being a Raleigh Enterprise*. A big black straight handled touring bike with three gears. Looking back it was a great bike, but at the time it was highly unfashionable with all my friends on Choppers or BMXs. Yet with thin tyres, a solid frame and three gears to use, I quickly started to appreciate the sense of speed it gave me as I weaved my way round deserted early morning streets, leaning into corners just like I’d seen the riders on Le Tour do, on my way to my piano lesson.

It was probably my first real sense of speed, self-powered and fully under my control. The sound of rubber on tarmac, the noise of air rushing past, clothes rippling, every sensation heightened with the threat of a sudden spill looming larger and larger the faster you went, the further you leant into a corner. I still get the same sense, with all the added weight of adult responsibility, when I’m out on my bike.

Falcon bike

That bike gave me love of speed and I started to read up on bicycle maintenance, techniques on how to ride faster (keep that inner pedal up when leaning into a corner) and as I got more engrossed in the sport so my next bike was an obvious, if not fashionable at all, choice. My friends moved from BMX to early Mountain Bikes, but for me it was all about speed, and so it was I got a 21-speed Falcon. I moved from three thumb controlled gears to 21 gears controlled by two frame mounted levers, and from straight handlebars to drop handlebars with two additional brake levers. It was a revelation and my cycling got much more fun and MUCH faster. Sure it helped I was growing bigger and stronger but once I figured out the fancy gears, and stopped flicking the levers too far and knocking the chain off the cogs, I was a veritable flying machine, at least in my own head. Trips to the town centre (slightly downhill) flew by, and the journey back was a breeze, that summer I spent a lot of time just cycling around and a recently opened local cycle path was perfect.

It was this same cycle path that I cruised down last weekend, it runs the length of the Forth & Clyde canal and winds its way through my home town before following the River Leven to Balloch (my destination on Sunday). The stretch from Bowling to Dumbarton always brings back memories of my childhood and that 21-speed Falcon flying machine.

I’d set off on a summer evening. From my house I’d have to make my way along quiet streets before I reached the sanctuary of the cycle path at the far side of town. Then it was a few miles of newly laid tarmac, only open to walkers, runners, and a young blond haired blur on his bike. The far end of the path at Bowling crosses a road, so that became the turning point as the path rose up to that junction. I’d stop at the top of the climb (it was a small incline but I hadn’t really yet figured out how to properly gear things) before turning around and tucking in for the descent, seeing how long I could free-wheel with the wind ripping past me, mindful to keep mouth shut after the ‘bluebottle incident’… .

And so it was again when I got to that spot on Sunday, as soon as I set off down that hill I was taken back to my childhood, the hot summers spent doing nothing of anything, cycling around the town and only stopping for a Fab lolly or a bag of chips. As I sped down the hill I could easily have been heading to my childhood home, turning up the driveway, bumping the gate open with my front wheel and dumping my bike in the back of the garage.

I’m wary that my increasing nostalgia is a sign of my advancing years and that all of these memories are tinged with the hue of fondness but I really don’t care. All I know is that when I’m on my bike with blue skies overhead, the world seems like a better place and for a couple of hours I can recapture that sense of naivety and innocence. Perhaps it’s because when you are on a bike that’s all there is, you, the bike (I will save my dislike of those who cycle with headphones in!) and the world around you. It’s an easy way to disconnect for a couple of hours and just enjoy this amazing world we live in, putting everyday life aside.

The bike I own now is far more complex and modern (and expensive) then any of the ones I had growing up but the real value of any bike, be it a carbon-fibre, razor saddled flying machine or a rusty old banger that creaks when you brake, is unlocking that feeling. As the tyres whirr on tarmac and the wind buffets your face, it’s hard not to smile. The best bike is the one you are using.

I really need to get out on my bike more often.

* I’ve always thought this is what it was called but Google suggests otherwise. I’m leaning towards the Executive but from photos it looked more like a Raleigh Sport… hmmmm

Life Personal Musings Sport

When the Commonwealth Games finished, 4 years ago, I took with me many fun memories and a real sense of pride in my home city (I wrote about it too). So when the chance to volunteer to help out at another major sporting event being held in Glasgow, I leapt at the chance.

I was offered a role as a T1 driver, which meant I spent the last couple of weeks driving various ‘Presidents of…’ and ‘Executive Directors for…’ around some of the venues being used to host the European Championship events in Glasgow.

Whilst not on the same scale as the Commonwealth Games, given that this was the first year this new ‘Championship’ had taken place, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty damn well! It all went by in a blur, 5am starts each day added to the general ‘zoning out’ effect that I remember from 2014 too; get up, head out, do your shift (0600 to 1630), head home, wash your uniform (1 of 2), eat, sleep, repeat.

Ohh but what fun! I got to meet some lovely people from all over European, got an Italian physiotherapist hooked on the band Honeyblood, chatted about Aston Martins and Porsches with the President of FINA (she wanted to buy a DB9 but they are seen as ostentatious in Germany so she ‘settled’ for a Porsche 911S instead!), and on the whole had a blast. We had a good bunch of volunteers, and I got into most of the venues I visited to watch some of the sport on offer; gymnastics, swimming, diving, synchronised swimming, cycling (road race), and triathlon.

Add in a buzzing George Square and Glasgow Green, and it certainly seemed like the event was a success and I’m so glad I volunteered for it. One visitor did comment that they hadn’t been to Glasgow before but she was delighted that ‘the people really are friendly very much all the time, is good!’ (to be fair, her English was way better than my Italian).

I do hope there are more events of this scale attracted to Glasgow now, there is no doubt we can deliver world class sporting events when we need to and, bar the lack of a dedicated athletic venue, we’ve got everything you could need.

Glasgow Olympic bid for 2028, anyone?

Sport

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The World Cup is over. Wimbledon is over. Someone is quite happy about this.

I am not.

I bloody love watching sport, me.

I usually put this down to my Dad being a P.E. teacher and I always enjoyed learning about various sports when they were on TV (usually the Olympics). Equally my Mum loved the cricket (back in the Beefy Botham days) and gold, mostly because they are both sports you don’t have to pay attention to so she could watch them whilst knitting.

It’s the learning I enjoy and as sports broadcasting improves, so does the level of information available.

Many years ago, Channel 4 had the rights to a season of the NFL. I’d never really watched it before and in the opening couple of shows they explained how the game works; what is a first down? what does 3 and 18 mean? And so on. And the more you learn the more you appreciate why the game works the way it does, how skilled the players are and how hard it is to achieve success.

Thankfully Le Tour is still on the go (rest day today mind you) and, again, the ITV coverage continues to be superb. David Millar offers insights as a previous Tour rider, explaining what is going on when it’s not always evident; the tactics, the team hierarchy, the psychology, the mental and physical fatigue and everything else that goes with it. It becomes utterly engrossing (watching an entire team in a sprint stage, leading out their main sprinter is a wonder of power and precision which usually comes at the end of 100+km of cycling).

More recently I’ve gotten into UFC. I’m not a big boxing fan but the mixed-martial arts approach of the UFC is intriguing. It’s not, for me, about watching someone beaten to a pulp, but the expertise, the speed and precision that some of the fighters have. A split second takes you from standing to the ground, a few seconds later you are ‘tapping out’ as your opponent has you in an arm bar. Again, hearing the co-commentators/pundits explain what is happening, whether it’s grappling or striking based, helps me understand the intricacies of timing and technique. UFC is not just two idiots beating the shit out of each other, honest.

But it’s basketball where my heart lies. Largely because I was above average at it at school, and because of a VHS tape my cousin gave me which featured a man called Magic who played with a smile on his face and made the game seem fun. I was barely into my teens and looking back now at what he achieved and how he played the game, now that I know a lot more about the basics, it’s all the more remarkable. Unfortunately a guy called Michael Jordan turned up and the Lakers fell away, then Shaq and Kobe did their thing for a few years and all was good. And now the current ‘greatest player’ has joined so I’m stupid excited for the next few years as a Lakers fan.

I don’t play any sport these days (stupid knees) and it’s something I’m trying to figure out a way to get back into. Ideally basketball, but I’m not sure where I’d find a team of middle-aged, not very fit, average-and-below level players who’d invite me along… I’m still looking though!

I do love me some sport.

Life Sport

Every now and then the stars align and, as you head to bed on Sunday night, you realise just how epic your weekend was (and how quickly it went). Sometimes it’s not really just what you did, but who you shared it with, and it’s telling that this weekend ticked all those boxes.

Not only did I attend some great events, I also spent time with some of my favourite people. What’s not to like?

Friday evening

My weekend started with a couple of post-work drinks with a good friend who has been wonderfully supportive these past few months. She’s been as good at listening to me as she has at giving me a kick when I need to get past ‘myself’.

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ROYAL BLOOD 🤘

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Then it was time to head off to the SSE Hydro for the Royal Blood gig. Quite the upgrade from the last time I saw them, at Barrowlands, but they filled the Hydro (literally and sonically) and it’s fascinating to see how easily they have made the transition from ‘upcoming band’ to arena filling rock stars. They put on a great show, seemed to be having a lot of fun themselves, and definitely know how to work a crowd. Stonkingly good gig!

Hat tip to support band Blood Honey who could be one to watch, and a resounding booooo for At The Drive-In (awful) and the black ice outside the Hydro that I slipped on when I arrived resulting in a sprained wrist and some bruises (mostly to my pride).

Saturday

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OHHHH YEAHHHHHH

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No Bootcamp (cos sprained wrist) but off to Murrayfield in the hope that Scotland might beat Australia. Final score, Scotland 53, Australia 24!!! Sure, Australia were down to 14 for the second half but Scotland played so well I think we’d have won it against 15. So good to see Scotland playing attacking expansive rugby, and some stout defence as well, especially their line speed. Bodes well for the 6 Nations! #AsOne

A few post game beers in Edinburgh and then home to watch it all over again on TV! A great day out with my best mates.

Sunday

Popped down to Dumbarton see my parents for lunch, had planned to visit my sister, her fiancé and my gorgeous niece but said niece was full of the cold so I steered clear. Drove to there with cheesy singalong tunes playing (yes I have a playlist called that) and drove the long way home on purpose just to hear a few more tracks. Nothing quite like a bit of top of yer lungs car singing and to hell what anyone thinks!

And then it was Sunday evening which brought an introduction to Campari, Martini and Champagne cocktails. Delicious!

Sometimes weekends like that, with little time to chill out and relax, can be exhausting and, whilst I’m a bit tired today, I walked home on Sunday evening with the biggest smile on my face. That said, next weekend is a little quieter which is just as well before we head into the usual flurry of social activities that marks the coming festive season.

Now I just need to find time to buy some presents…

Gigs Life Sport

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I watch sport quite frequently on TV. I’ll watch pretty much any sport going and whilst I have my favourites, I don’t mind watching something new just to learn about it (which is why I’ve probably seen more Kabaddi than you have, thank you Eurosport!). I’ve always put this down to the fact my Dad was a PE teacher, and I find myself looking for techniques and tactics to understand a game, rather than just marvelling at individuals.

Thinking back though I realise I watched a lot of sport growing up, just mostly not football. Although I do have vague memories of eating spaghetti bolognaise for the first time before me, my Dad, and my Uncle Bill sat down to watch a game of football that was ultimately cancelled when a wall collapsed in Heysel Stadium…

So I guess I put it down to my Dad having a professional interest and love of sport. My Dad is one of the smartest people I know and could have gone into any other profession but followed what he enjoyed (also smart). But it wasn’t all my Dad, my Mum used to watch cricket and golf whilst she knitted (two sports you can’t watch without dedicating your entire attention to) so as a child growing up sport was just what was on TV.

Rugby definitely felt like more than a ‘just on’ thing though, and when the Five Nations rolled around it was something more than just a way to pass an evening. I can remember David Sole marching the team out for THAT game against England, I watched Lomu flatten Carling with one hand (and cheered loudly!), and because the Scotland rugby team has always been reasonably ok, it’s been a lot more fun to watch them than their football counterparts.

A couple of weeks ago, my mate Stuart said he had spare tickets to a couple of the Autumn Internationals. I jumped at the chance. It was that my first ever experience of a live rugby game and just happened to be at the sold out Scotland vs New Zealand game at Murrayfield. I’ve seen live football twice (Dumbarton vs Queens Park, and Scotland vs a country we should have beaten but didn’t), and live basketball – Glasgow Rocks – a few times but never rugby. And what better way to start out!

Scotland international and domestic rugby has been on the rise for a few years now, but being Scottish there was a general sense of ‘as long as we don’t get gubbed’ because, lest we forget, the All Blacks are and have been for many years, one of the best teams in the world.

Regardless, there was a sense of hushed excitement that built and built until the kick off approached. Wandering to the stadium the good natured banter had already begun, and taking our seats as the players finished their warm-ups I started to get a sense of the stadium. I’d been in Murrayfield before, for gigs, and cycled through it as part of Pedal for Scotland, but seeing it packed full started to ratchet up the excitement.

They killed the lights as spotlights and music and fireworks kicked things up a notch, and then the players were coming out, the anthems were sung and boy, what a sound to hear your national anthem (Flower of Scotland) being belted out by a packed stadium.

A pause as the legend that is Doddie Weir came out to deliver the match ball – a huge gentle giant that is now battling Motor Neurone Disease – and received a standing ovation, and nary a few tears.

And then the first real stadium moment as the All Blacks lined up for their Haka. I’m not sure where in the rules of rugby etiquette this falls but the crowd were so pumped up for this and chanting loudly that it was almost an anticlimax.

GAME ON.

It went by in a whirl or dodgy refereeing decisions, scintillating play by both sides, huge tackles and as we entered the last 10 minutes a sense that maybe Scotland could take this?

Our seats were bang in line with the try-line that Scotland were heading for and as the last play of the game started, Hogg darting inside and out then charging up the line. I rose as one with the crowd… Go on Hoggy!! GO ONNN!!!!!

10 more metres and we’d have done it.

10 metres.

But what a game! I’ve since watched it back on TV and it was as frenetic and end-to-end as it looked. I fear I may have been a little spoiled for my first foray into live International rugby!

I’m back next Saturday to see how we fare against the Aussies, hope will bubble after that amazing display against New Zealand but as always, us Scots will always retain the knowledge of so many games that we were close to winning in the past. Aye maybe, but probably naw.

But, aye. Maybe.

COME ON SCOTLAND!!!

Sport

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