In the body-popping, screaming hysterical celebrations as Liverpool celebrated a win granted to them by an expensive pony-tailed horse some were suggesting should be put down, we should spare a moment to think of the brain farts, the fallen and the weight of history.
We should spare a moment for Sylvain Distin, whose underhit back pass extended an invitation to Luis Suarez to squirrel into the Everton penalty area and finish superbly with his right foot to ultimately change the tone and direction of the match. The sight of Distin collapsing to the ground at the final whistle after Andy Carroll had scored a goal Jamie Carragher said was “worth £35-million” was heart-wrenching. He finally dragged himself up to take a walk around the ground with his teammates, his hands up in apology to the Everyton fans who remained in the ground, his head bowed, his heart heavy. “I cost my team mates, the staff, the club and a the fan a place in FA cup final. Nothing more to say but SORRY all of you,” he tweeted later.
I watched the semifinal with fellow Liverpool fan Barry Skjoldhammer at the Bush Bar in Craighall. Skjoldie is the former Gauteng Cricket Board chairman who took on Cricket South Africa over the 2009 Indian Premier League contract and set in motion the fall of dominoes that could save the reputation of CSA. He also, like myself, plays in the Johannesburg Social League (at least he will when his knee replacement settles and heals), and has experienced the sickening horror of making the mistake that has lead to our team losing. This column was written an hour before my first match of the season for Rhodes Old Boys Football Club. There is every chance I will have given the ball away in a daft place, although I doubt I will ever hit a back pass in my life again (postscript: I did not, and we won 6-0). Late on Saturday night, Distin was still hurting: “Thanks all for your messages. I find it difficult to move on right now and it hurt (sic) but your tweets will help.”
Compassion is what Distin deserves, even – especially – from Liverpool fans as they – we – grab on to the remains of a season that has been a testing one when they got as much wrong off the field as sometimes on it. Dalglish told ESPN he would have handled the Suarez-Evra incident differently, but, in the vague, somewhat stubborn manner that has become his public face, he refused to say how exactly. I could tell him what to do differently. Millions could. His handling of the incident, the wearing of T-shirts by the players and the attitude of the club’s management probably did as much as the loss of Stevie Gerrard through injury to throw them off kilter.
Compassion is not what the organisers of the Grand National at Aintree deserve after two horses had to be put down on Saturday. I’ve never understood the attraction of a race whose intention seems to be to cause horses and riders to fall, to push horses to utter exhaustion and have them collapse. The race is 165 years old, that’s 165 years of drop fences that have causes death and mayhem. Sometimes tradition needs to be updated, even in a modern world that is becoming as brutal as it is politically correct. The Grand National is bloodsport as surely as fox-hunting is. It caters to the people who watch Formula One hoping for a crash, save that it has conditions that are more conducive, and seemingly, contrived to producing the accident. It is an event for ghouls.
My weekend ended with Nico Rosberg winning his first Grand Prix yesterday. I always warmed to his father, Keke, who puffed away on a Marlboro and thought fitness training was a chore that he would rather avoid. I remember watching him in the 1985 South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, a race that showed the sport’s continued disdain for human rights. It was a magnificent effort by Keke as he pushed Williams teammate Nigel Mansell hard for the win, and then spun, but charged back. It is one of the great Formula One drives, despite it ending in second place. He was cheered heartily by the South Africans at the finish for his spirit.
It was a display that showed that sometimes second place is not an inglorious place. I showed that sport is not without heart, that the likes of Distin play a part in history, and the horses who died for sport in Liverpool. Sometimes the fallen can make us love the sport more, and hate what it does, too. Think of those who have fallen as much as you do the heroes. They deserve it.