Opinion - Still reasons to love British sport

Charles Graham
Charles Graham

OUR little old country is not having the best of years as far as stocking up on medals and cups is concerned.

It was always going to be difficult to top 2012 and ‘13 when Britain enjoyed unprecedented success at the Olympics and then Andy Murray went and broke that 77-year hoodoo to win Wimbledon.

But we have to face facts: 2014 has been much grimmer than we anticipated.

You don’t have to rewind too far to find many similar years but it’s amazing how a couple of triumphant seasons can wipe out bad memories and raise expectations unrealistically.

Of course we are only a little over halfway through the current calendar but we’ve already seen our cricketers, not long since world number ones, humbled by the Aussies then beaten at home by Sri Lanka.

The England football team didn’t even flatter to deceive before returning so early from the World Cup that some folk will have already forgotten they were in it.

And and an out-of-sorts Murray crashed out at SW19 at only the quarter-final stage for the first time in six years (those with longer memories will know that the last eight was beyond most of his Brit predecessors for decades).

Even our golfers, who quite recently dominated the top 10, seem all to be out of form at once.

But, strange as it may seem, I’m still feeling pretty proud at the moment. And that’s because we still aren’t half good at putting on a sporting party.

Novak Djokavic acknowledged, as he clutched that famous gold trophy on Centre Court at the weekend, that Wimbledon is the biggest tennis tournament in the world. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just the record £1.75m first prize which provoked such a comment. The whole event takes tennis onto a higher, special yet historical plane.

The eyes of the world were focused on Silverstone too on Sunday as Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix - hooray a rare home-grown sporting victory! That event can easily hold its own against the others in the championship.

And there will be further opportunities for this proud nation of ours to show everyone how it’s done when Hoylake hosts The Open (not the British Open as the Americans like to call it: the biggest and oldest!) and when the Ryder Cup comes to Gleneagles.

There will also be massive audiences around the planet when Glasgow stages the Commonwealth Games later this month.

But the reason I’m feeling particularly proud in spite of this year’s silverware dearth, is what happened on the streets of Yorkshire and southern England last weekend.

I nipped over to the outskirts of Huddersfield with my family on Sunday having been deeply moved and impressed by what I had seen on television the day before.

I had spent many a happy day in the Dales as a child and couldn’t have been more delighted to see it shown off by the weather and film crews to its best advantage as this year’s Tour de France got under way.

We camped out on the roadside along with thousands of other people in either direction as far as the eye could seen and were very quickly in the party mood.

There was the cavalcade of support and sponsor vehicles, plus plenty of bobbies and gendarmes who came past intermittently for more than an hour until the cyclists past by.

And, yes, it was all over in a flash (see my snap). But that huge surge of well-being and excitement that came from the spectators as the peleton flew past I could only compare with one other event: when I stood on Library Street two years ago with thousands of other Wiganers and saw the Olympic torch paraded through the town.

Britain’s hosting of the Grand Depart has been described by the French organisers as the best there has ever been in its century-plus history and the crowds over the three days - variously estimated to have been four to six million - were the largest too.

Yorkshire especially really got into the spirit of the event, hosting a 100-day festival, painting its sheep yellow and getting cycling infused into every aspect of life in the run-up.

The sight of the cyclists parting a Red Sea of roaring spectators atop Holme Moss was truly inspiring. No wonder Chris Froome had goose bumps.

I was sad not to be seeing Mark Cavendish and our local hero Sir Bradley wooshing past but it was still a moment I shall treasure forever.

You see - we are sporting successes after all!