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CLIVE TYLDESLEY: Sport is the real world, politics is a pantomime

Jos Buttler of England celebrates as he runs out Martin Guptill of New Zealand during the Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

Broadcaster Clive Tyldesley on the sheer joy of last Sunday’s sporting action, and why Jacob Rees-Mogg clearly just doesn’t get it.

I take no pleasure in comparing Jacob Rees-Mogg to a drunken England fan but they simply deserve each other. Both will have enjoyed the Cricket World Cup final for all the wrong reasons.

Actually, no. Both will have enjoyed the outcome of the final, but only because the tie-breaker’s tie-breaker etched the name of England in bold capital letters at the top of another version of the world order. Germany and France were nowhere. If only cricket was life. In response to the victory, Rees-Mogg tweeted that “we clearly don’t need Europe to win”.

The irony of a richly diversified England team led impeccably by a Dubliner is tragic for what is left of the MP’s blinkered reasoning, but reason left the building some time ago.

The member for North East Somerset may claim that he was attempting humour. I’m sorry but I find glib Brexit jokes almost as unfunny as the tasteless songs that serenade England football successes.

The future of the United Kingdom long since ceased to be a laughing matter.

I blame Laura Kuenssberg. Well, not Laura specifically. I blame my entire profession. It’s definitely the media’s fault.

Somehow, we have allowed grave matters of state to become imitation sporting contests between cartoon public figures that vie for popular votes in reality shows disguised as news bulletins and studio debates.

Kuenssberg simply adds the knowing smirk that confirms our leaders are charlatans as she delivers her latest eloquent put-down of their ham-fisted political manoeuvring.

The most disturbing thing about Rees-Mogg’s “we clearly don’t need Europe to win” tweet is that it shows that he has no grasp of what a true contest is or involves. Weird as it sounds, sport is the real world, politics is the pantomime.

Sporting conversation engages the nation in a way that PMQs and Question Time cannot. The most damning indictment of my media’s coverage of the Brexit debate is that the country has tired of hearing about a decision so fundamental to their lives. Too many people have lost the will to care.

Millions cared avidly about what they saw at Lord’s, Wimbledon and Silverstone on Sunday. Real sporting contests are honest, serious and compelling. They contain no bluster or sham. You can’t dodge the issue.

When Lockie Ferguson rattles your helmet, it really hurts. When you share a 20-shot rally with Novak Djokovic, even toned muscles physically ache. When you go wheel-to-wheel with Max Verstappen, your heart races as fast as the carbon fibre shell around you.

And, watching on from sofas and bar stools, our hearts race in time to the impossible drama.

Two of the three sporting epics taking place within 80 miles of each other produced home winners. Interestingly, it was the odd-one-out – the Serbia-Switzerland match-up on Centre Court – that attracted the largest UK television audience (but that’s another column!).

I watched the cricket from beginning to end except for one tennis tie-break during a Lord’s drinks interval. I turned back to find that Joe Root was out. That was my fault, sorry.

Supporting your national team is a bit like parenting. As an Englishman, as a sports lover, there is a natural innate, organic attraction to a squad sporting a red cross or a trio of lions amid the rest of the branding on their kit. But, at the same time, I am far more demanding of them than any other team.

I have spent some of the happiest and most rewarding hours of my life as a touchline/boundary rope/other side of the netball court cage dad. My children made me most proud when they competed in the spirit, to the values, with the joy that I’ve always tried to encourage in them.

Over the last six weeks, I have adopted this England cricket team as my family. Like the current men’s and women’s football squads, they have been easy to love. Not always the case with England sides but people like Gareth Southgate, Phil Neville and Eoin Morgan have somehow connected with the national psyche in a warm, respectful way that the Westminster village will never replicate.

No jibes, no boasts, no threats, no deals to safeguard their own selfish interests. Just considered, committed leadership and example. They’re almost electable.

All know that if Jason Roy’s final throw had not connected with Jos Buttler’s gloves that the inquests would have started by now, but England would have been no less and no more of an outstanding cricket team if the ICC rules had found a way to settle the tie in New Zealand’s favour. The only difference is that Rees-Mogg would not have tweeted about them.

All he cared about was the ‘W’ next to their name. It’s all he seems to care about in his day job too.

Southgate is the first to accept that ‘Ws’ don’t half help job security and, therefore, continuity of progress. Next summer, it will be his turn to become a standard-bearer for outsiders with no appreciation of what he and his team are about.

The only downside to being a commentator around his squad these days is the embarrassment of the Snarly Army that follow the flag to helpless cities like Porto. None of the inebriated foot soldiers hell bent on their mission to ‘drink all your beer’ share much in common with Eton and Oxford-educated Rees-Mogg.

Except one thing. They don’t ‘get’ sport either.

They don’t even sing football songs very often. Their only ditty that refers to a specific player tells us that defender Harry Maguire “he drinks the vodka, he drinks the jagers”. Er, no he doesn’t. It’s a song that totally misrepresents both the individual and the team ethic. It’s a thought as far removed from the culture that Southgate has cultivated than the notion that they might be playing for Brexit Britain or to ‘f**k the IRA’.

It’s a bit of a cop-out to dismiss them as ‘not real England fans’ but they are no more in tune with the captivating thrill of watching a national team compete like Captain Morgan’s boys did at Lord’s than the ERG are actually a group that researches Europe.

Last Sunday belonged to us, to those of us who still get giddy about genuine sporting competition. Go and tweet and drink to something else. You’re not welcome.

Clive Tyldesley is a broadcaster and ITV football commentator. This article first appeared on

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