Brian Edwards Media

Want Quality Writing? Check out the Sports Pages!

underthemarchsun.com

underthemarchsun.com

I was never any good at sport. At secondary school I was known as ‘Hat-Trick Edwards’. At cricket practice, bowlers used me to see how many hat-tricks they could score. I was no better at any other sport. I didn’t enjoy it. We tend not to enjoy doing things we aren’t good at.

I’m very good at watching television. I could do it all day. There’s lots of sport on television, but I refuse to increase Sky’s profits to get live coverage of events that every New Zealander should be able to view as of right. It’s a bloody disgrace actually, but Sky has the ear of government, and that story can wait for another day.

Anyway, it was television that stirred my initial and ongoing interest in sport. Just some sports – tennis, netball, one-day cricket, soccer, lawn bowls, gymnastics, weight lifting. (Note the absence of the world’s most tedious game – rugby union!)

To be precise, my sporting interest is restricted to sport on television. I would never think of abandoning the couch to actually go and watch something. And yes, I know, I’m missing ‘the atmosphere’. Thanks, but the atmosphere in our living room is perfectly nice and you can actually see what’s happening, and see it again and, if there’s any doubt about a ref’s or umpire’s call, ‘go upstairs’. You see, I’ve even got the lingo. 

As for reading about sport, it will not surprise you to know that at our place the sports pages go straight into the recycling bin. Well they did, until a couple of months ago when I discovered sports journalism. I can’t remember what it was I read, but it was probably something about Roger Federer or Irene van Dyk or David Beckham. I’m more into personalities than teams. It’s a TV thing again.

And I read this article with astonishment. Sportsmen and women were meant to be thick. The idea that someone interested in sport could read, let alone write, was simply inconceivable. And yes, it’s the most appallingly elitist attitude, but to be fair, that is rather the impression you get from sportspeople being interviewed on television and often from the people interviewing them. Not to mention Game of Two Halves and Sports Cafe.

But this article was thoughtful, intelligent, insightful and beautifully written. It was a joy to read.

I began to spend a little more time on the sports pages in the Herald and the Sunday Star Times – the only papers we subscribe to – and discovered that what I had thought must be the exception was in fact the rule. The quality of sports writing was higher than the quality of writing in the news pages  and frequently the editorial and opinion pages as well.

Check out this piece by Eric Young in today’s SST on racism in Australian sport. Or this contribution from Richard Boock on the passing of Carisbrook. This isn’t just sports writing, it’s social comment, history, ethics, philosophy, descriptive narrative and humour all rolled into one. This is literature. And it is literature transformed and elevated by the passion, the love of subject of its authors. That is rare enough in newspapers.

I suspect there are dozens of other sports writers of whom the same may be said. I don’t read enough to know their names and I apologise to them for the omission. Readers of this post may put the record straight.

In the meantime, my advice to you is this: Want quality writing? Check out the sports pages.

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25 Comments:

  1. The Awa Book of New Zealand Sports Writing edited by Harry Ricketts – check it out, it’s a new publication.

  2. The sports pages on the Guardian website are great.
    I heard an interview last week on Saturday Morning (National Radio) with Barry Glendinning of the Guardian so have looked up his website also.
    We are into the World Cup but a bit worried about what will happen against Italy. As long as they don’t get beaten 4.0.

    • We are into the World Cup but a bit worried about what will happen against Italy. As long as they don’t get beaten 4.0.

      Ah, the beautiful game!

  3. The pity is that editors, expecting and quite happy to enforce high standards of knowledge, accuracy and even insight from sports writers, have no such impulses towards art, music, film or architecture. Instead they are apparently happy to reprint self-serving press releases and dish out review tickets to the newest cub in the room.

    Commercial reality? Possibly, though interestingly enough, a quick look through a daily newspaper shows a whole lot more advertising of cultural events and products than sporting ones.

    • The pity is that editors, expecting and quite happy to enforce high standards of knowledge, accuracy and even insight from sports writers, have no such impulses towards art, music, film or architecture.

      Hmmm. Interesting. I’ll look out for that.

  4. that comment of Frank’s is bang-on. Sport is probably the only area of news which still has real specialists. Sport writers tend to be fans first. They live and breath it, always have which is why they ended up writing about sport in the first place. You can’t say that about many journalists and the work they do.

  5. I will make allowances because you are Irish with a limited attention span for your remarks about Rugby Union and for the omission of test match cricket.

    Amonsgst the annals of sports journalism these two sports have produced not only great sports journalists but in some cases great journalists in their own right.

    There is New Zealand’s T P McLean, without peer in my view, although Wynne Gray challenges him. There is Stephen Jones, loathed by New Zealanders but still a great rugby writer.

    Cricket has produced some wonderful writers such as Nevile Cardus (also a great music crtic), robertson Glasgow, E W Swanton, John Arlott, Michael Parkinson plus an Australian Jack Fingleton who played cricket at test level and went on to write some wonderful books especially about Bradman and the Bodyline series. I suspect it is because both of these sports require some thought, creativity and patience, rather than the crash bang wallop that admires Susan Boyd, as being the reason for their attracting such creative writers.

    But yes, I agree with you, sports journalism at its best, produces great wrting. Regrettably there is increasing emphasis on ‘celebrity’ journalism where the incoherent babblings of a well sportsman are put into some sort of intelligible order by a hack. In the UK there are increasing complaints that newspapers are promoting these so called celbrities whilst ignoring their own specialist sports writers.

    .

  6. Astonished to see such comment from the uber-critical Dr Edwards. My own take is that NZ sports journalists are such unabashed fans that their writings are full of tedious purple prose that offer nothing other than the conclusion that a Thesaurus is a poor source of inspiration. My sports journalism epiphany was reading the UK rags on-line. Their analysis (of the dreaded rugby union) was thoughtful and insightful. The Kiwi stuff is so one-eyed and rah rah in comparison.

    • Astonished to see such comment from the uber-critical Dr Edwards.

      Fortunately I read your second comment before responding to your first. You may after all not be a pompous ass.

  7. Okay, okay, having now gone to the bother of clicking on the links, the two articles cited above are actually delightful. Sadly, the match reports relating to any of the matches mentioned in the articles will be the most dreary procession of abject cliche that one could possibly read.

    • Okay, okay, having now gone to the bother of clicking on the links, the two articles cited above are actually delightful.

      Then again…

  8. Peter Taylor, I suspect that you hold sports journalists in such contempt because you have no interest in or knowledge of the sport (you refer to dreadful Rugby Union). Whilst you may not consider these sports worthy of your elevated intellect it does not alter the fact that ALL sports have in their history attracted some incredibly gifted writers and whose match reports can make the game come alive. I referred earlier to Wynne Gray. Jeremy Coney is another. Have you even read the writings of Neville Cardus?

    There are many subjects in which I have no interest but it does not stop me reading about them and appreciating good writing. I have come to have an appreciation of many subjects just because of a good writer. So please do not be so condescending.

  9. Good writing is good writing. Whether it’s about sports, arts and culture, music etc. It’s even better, when it includes a healthy dose of social commentary. Because the two are never mutually exclusive. Peter FitzSimmons (SMH), wrote a good piece on the recent racism blow-up, regarding “Joey’s’ intemperate description of Greg Inglis (likening him to a coloured woman’s private anatomical region), prior to the second State of Origin match. He’s a writer of much integrity and empathy, tempered with humour.

    Same with Boock, showing great knowledge and insight into the topics he’s writing about. He’s able to make sound judgements, but never sounds judgemental; has an opinion, but never opinionated. And he writes with refreshing élan, without pretension. Besides, he’s the Eternal Hero. We — who were around — will never forget how he managed to keep his wicket, so that NZ could claim the Test-win, against the West Indies, in 1980. That win helped ensure a NZ-series victory.

    For tennis fans, Jon Wertheimer (Sports Illustrated) is a gifted tennis writer. Jon has great depth of knowledge, encompassing the complete Tennis spectrum — from the actual events, its administration, television, players, players’ agents etc.
    Jon, considers David Foster Wallace, as the Best Writer, of tennis. DFW’s writing, about Tracy Austin — and the folly of famous sportspeople penning their own biographies, is a glorious read.
    http://ijstrose.wetpaint.com/page/How+Tracy+Austin+Broke+My+Heart

    DFW, a very gifted writer of essays, short stories and novels; who, was widely acclaimed as America’s finest contemporary author, until his untimely passing, in September ’08.

    We can all get inspiration and awareness, from our admiring good writers; to the point where we sometimes — consciously or not — mimic their style. And that’s not a crime.

  10. No one with a soul can be immune to sports writing. I think it tends to transcend the often-mediocre events it is descriobing. I realised I was in love with sports writing when my eye happened on a report of a deathly dull county cricket match in the Daily Telegraph. A nothing match, with no great drama was driven to new heights by the description of it by Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Where else buut in a sports report could you read such wonderful sentences as: “…deceived in the flight, he perished to a lamentable waft outside off-stump.”?

  11. Ah, the beautiful game!

    No Brian, I believe Joan was discussing soccer.

  12. The perepheral aspects of sport provide greater scope for interest than the actual sport itself.The two articles you provided as examples demonstrated this admirably.Is it really sport writing or the human condition coinsiding with the sporting event?I do take issue with anyone who considers themselves “never any good” as it generally is a lack of suitable practice which negates achievement and enjoyment in participation of sport.Its never too late.

    • I do take issue with anyone who considers themselves “never any good” as it generally is a lack of suitable practice which negates achievement and enjoyment in participation of sport.Its never too late.

      Very astute. In my day at school, only those who showed natural ability were given any coaching. Years later I took part in a charity cricket match – politicians versus the media. I said to John Reid that I was terrified because I couldn’t even hit the ball. He took me round the side of the pavillion, showed me how to hold the bat, explained the importance of keeping one’s eye on the ball and I went out and managed to make a reasonable fist of it. If I’d been taught that at 12 I might have turned out to be a reasonable cricketer.

  13. @ Merv – I may be wrong, but I’m sure Richard Boock the journalist is a brother of Stephen Boock who played test cricket for N Z.

  14. “If I’d been taught that at 12 I might have turned out to be a reasonable cricketer.”

    It’s not too late. Given the state of NZ cricket you might make quite a reasonable middle order batsman, and being Irish you would be an absolute natural to do a bit of sledging.

  15. @ Jill. You are correct. Thanks.

    All the while, I thought, that the cricketer and the sportswriter, were one and the same. Shows, talent runs deep through the Boock family.

  16. I always enjoyed the sports column in The Listener when it was written by Joseph Romanos. I can’t stand watching golf on TV, but something about his writing of it – the history, the wit, the appreciation of the human narrative on display, always made for an insightful and enjoyable few minutes.

    Romanos writes for a regional rag The Wellingtonian now I think – and I’ve read a few few of his general stories and profiles of regional issues. It’s a bloody good paper.

  17. @Ben – you have misread me. I enjoy rugby union (it is BE’s distaste for it that I was referring to). Secondly, I enjoy sports writing and referred to the UK sports writing that inspires me. It is the local reporting that leaves me cold.

    Having said that, BE’s links and writings referred to by other contributors here prove that I am unfairly over-generalising. There is much local writing that is better than the cheerleading that is served up in my regular daily reading.

  18. If you have the time, read Simon Barnes from the Times. There are some decent sports journos in NZ – Boock and Romanos as mentioned are two examples. Sadly many are mediocre, possibly because the majority of readers of sports pages are not after “thoughtful, intelligent, insightful and beautifully written”