13th May 2019
My train journey back from Sheffield to Milngavie, after watching a session of the World Snooker Championship last month (“Ebbs and Flows”, 28th April 2019), took six hours. A delay to the East Midlands Trains service from Sheffield to Manchester Piccadilly meant that I missed the linking connection to Wigan North Western station and the scheduled Virgin Trains service to Glasgow Central. Even though I benefited from a different late-running train at Wigan, it was close to 11pm by the time I arrived home. The consolation was a home-made bacon sandwich, as I settled down to watch the snooker highlights on tv.
I am persuaded that there is a book to be written – probably under the category of “niche” – entitled: “Bacon Sandwiches in Their Sporting Context”. This most obviously applies to the pre-match preparations for watching cricket, in which the “second breakfast” – as favoured by Pippin in The Lord of the Rings – can be difficult to resist. I have a clear memory of the bacon sandwich I consumed (in 1999, believe it or not) in a café on the way from Haymarket Station to the Grange Cricket Club to watch, with friends, the Scotland versus New Zealand encounter in that year’s World Cup. (New Zealand won by mid-afternoon). Likewise, the well-informed supporter of Yorkshire CCC will have been fully aware of the high quality of such offerings in the little café (long departed, sadly) just down the road from the St Michael’s Lane entrance to the Headingley ground. (For the current Members of the Club, the pre-match supply in the long room of the East Stand provides a reasonable, though not fully compensatory, replacement).
In our household, the favourite bacon sandwich recollection is of their consumption on returning home after an excellent evening’s viewing of the 2014 Commonwealth Games swimming gala at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre in Glasgow. I reported it in Still An Ordinary Spectator: “[W]e sat in the living room for an hour and chatted… The windows were open and a warm post-midnight breeze aired the room. We supplemented the discussion with Pimm’s and lemonade and bacon sandwiches. A perfect coda to the evening”.
It is now clear that the 2014 experience established an instant tradition to be followed on those (relatively rare) occasions when the whole family attends a sporting event together. Hence, it was agreed beforehand that the evening we were to spend at last year’s European Cycling Championships at the Chris Hoy Stadium in Glasgow should conclude with exactly the same menu in exactly the same location, and it duly was.
And it’s not just bacon sandwiches, of course. Looking back through An Ordinary Spectator and Still An Ordinary Spectator and the subsequent blogs, I am conscious of the many casual references to the various snacks that have featured in my catalogue of sports spectating.
A small sample reveals that these date from the “bag laden with sandwiches and pop” that I took on my primary school visit to Wembley for the Challenge Cup final of 1966 (Wigan vs St Helens) and the annual post-match drinks in the Original Oak in Headingley after the lunchtime Boxing Day rugby matches of the 1970s (usually Leeds vs Wakefield Trinity) through to the “hot dogs (three with tomato sauce, one without) and beers/cokes” that the family enjoyed whilst watching the college (American) football at the Alamodome in 2015 (University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners vs Louisiana Tech Bulldogs), my first mince pies of the 2018 Christmas season (Alloa Athletic vs Brechin City) and, most recently, the “orange-flavoured scone” that I consumed in the nice little café in Sheffield.
There are three points of interest to make here. The first is that I did not deliberately set out to compile a long culinary list when I started to report on my various spectating endeavours; the various food and drink items were incidental to the main themes of describing or recollecting the sporting actions. However – the second point – these items were duly registered: in other words, they must obviously have left some sort of an impression that I thought was worth recording as part of the overall spectating experience.
This leads to a more general conclusion, I think. It is not just the bacon sandwiches. And it is not just the other snacks of food and drink. It is the recognition that it is the full panoply of surrounding detail and minutiae that helps to provide the colour and warmth to the enjoyment of watching live sport. Of course, we watch the action on the pitch or in the arena – the runs, the tries, the fouls, et al – and we register the final scores and we record the winners and losers. But later – perhaps much later – as we look back, we might also, on occasion, recollect that surrounding detail.
More examples, from just recent years:
* the sponsorship of individual rugby players by a local working men’s club and a local church (Dewsbury vs Halifax, 2015);
* in conversation, the neighbouring spectator’s casual statement that his uncle had taken him to see Don Bradman’s Australians in 1948 because his father had been killed in the War (Yorkshire vs Nottinghamshire, 2015);
* the blue ribbons on the lampposts outside the Brunton Park ground showing the height reached by the previous winter’s floodwaters (Carlisle United vs Hartlepool United, 2016);
* post-match, seeing the oystercatchers over the banks of the River Derwent (WorkingtonTown vs Hunslet, 2018);
* the signage inside the respective sports arenas in Arabic (ManchesterCity vs Arsenal, 2017) and Chinese (World Snooker Championship, 2019).
… and the bacon sandwiches we consumed when we got home.