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A sea of difference in UK sports coverage

by Archives October 5, 2005

DORSET, U.K. (CUP) — One day in August, I sat in my grandparents’ living room in beautiful Dorset, England, eyes glued to the television screen.

I know, what a waste. But, not when you’re watching cricket.

Yes, cricket-that funny sport with the flat baseball bat and players who haven’t realized the advantage of fielding with gloves.

When I first arrived to study at Harlow campus, I scoffed at the idea of devoting five hours a day, for five straight days, five times in the summer, to cricket.

But this is The Ashes, an annual match-up with rival Australia (boo). For most Brits, this five-game series is a matter of national pride and a great chance to avoid work and drink beer all day.

While this summer-long saga of cricket is just wrapping up, the English Premiership soccer league has begun with massive expectations for a great season. Interest exploded as Newcastle signed English star Michael Owen.

While riding the train in the northern city, almost everyone I saw donned the black-and-white number 10 jersey.

Soccer is so much more than a game in England, that it may even classify as a religion. It is more loved in England than hockey is loved in Canada, and that is saying a lot. People say that the lack of scoring is keeping people away from the NHL, but what can you say about the close to 100,000 people that show up for a 0-0 draw in soccer? It says more about the fans in England than it does about the game. Soccer, however, is getting a bigger and bigger following in Canada and the United States as more people are seeing the game for the skill involved in that 0-0 tie.

Clothes are essential to the lifestyle of the English fan. Everyone seems to own at least three jerseys. And while the World Cup is still a year away, everyone wearing the three lions from England’s jersey looks ready to fill a stadium and cheer on the team- no need to wait.

Completing the Big Three of English sports is rugby, which leaves North American sports fans in total shock when flipping through the newspaper in search of baseball or basketball. Rugby is probably the sport that North Americans understand the least, but it is making a bigger impact in the sports section than it used to.

Make a Kobe Bryant joke and nobody gets it; ask about footballer deviance and Britons will talk until they’re blue in the face.

While sports celebrities receive plenty of attention this side of the Atlantic, it is nothing compared to the British press completely devoted to sporty gossip. On one occasion, Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham claimed she would like to have a girl to name Luna. One week later, the wife of Chelsea F.C.’s star player Frank Lampard gave birth and mischievously named the girl Luna.

It’s genuinely strange to walk into a pub and hear louts downing pints while talking about the star rugby players’ sweethearts. And while tales of hooligans are widespread (and largely true), the goons are rare to come across.

I estimate at least half the population is wildly dedicated to a particular team, though most won’t prove it by smashing your face into the shape of the team’s crest.

I suspect the main catalyst of intense sports watching in England is gambling. On almost every street of every city there are at least two bookmakers, which is legal in the U.K.

Even the media rakes in the grass-stained money. For example, satellite provider Sky Television now owns the rights to the Premiership, so anyone wanting to watch football has to pay for the satellite feed. The company has now acquired the rights to The Ashes to make rabid cricket fans shell out pounds as well.

While England is a totally different sporting landscape than Canada, it’s nice to be back. After all, there is no NHL coverage in the UK.

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