I know we didn’t win the rugby but….

Many years ago I was asked to judge at the Speedo swimming regional finals in Cardiff. On arrival, and having been given the grand title of Chief Inspector of Turns, I was dispatched to the far end of the 50m pool, two-way radio in hand. This was a new toy for me and I found that by tuning in to channel six I could contact the local pizza emporium which was just as well as it had been a long morning and I was becoming quite peckish.

And it was just when my pizza had arrived and I was paying the delivery boy that there was a problem with the start signal and the recall sound was given. Most swimmers stopped and those that didn’t were caught by the false start rope, that is all except for the swimmer in lane one who had managed to swim under the arc of the rope and was now clearly well on his way. Seeing the impending calamity the Referee, Assistant Referee, Starter, Stroke Judge, the person who brought round the water, the person who brought round the sweets, Coaches, Assistant Coaches, swimmers, and the Cardiff Male Voice Choir, all charged headlong down the pool in an attempt to stop our hapless hero. Some raced ahead to the second false start rope and tugged and hacked at the unfathomable knot which had been tied extra securely by the helpful poolside assistant, others threw anything to hand such as floats, pull buoys, water bottles, and blue plastic chairs ripped from their mountings but by now he was just yards from the wall and nothing and no one could stop him.

It was only at the turn when a warm slice of margarita pizza fell squarely on his head dropped by you-know-who, that he finally stopped and as the St John Ambulance crew attended to the officials, many of whom were in need of oxygen after their exertions, and as our fugitive climbed out of the pool, it was in that moment that everyone saw this for what it truly was – a metaphor for life – for in these troubled times he had persevered, he had continued despite all that life could throw at him and he had prevailed.

In a flash the gallery were on their feet in rapturous applause, the swimmers banged their drums and hooted their horns, and with the Cardiff Male Voice Choir booming out ‘Men of Harlech’ across the pool, with their rich baritone voices and their faces streaked with tears, our plucky hero began to walk back to the start. Towels were laid end to end so that his feet never touched the ground, girls wrote out their phone numbers on scraps of paper and pressed them into his hand, and here and there mothers held up their little ones so that they might catch a glimpse of this returning conqueror. And as he reached the end and took his place again at the start, and to a crescendo of adulation and a cacophony of sound from around the pool, his team captain took off his T-shirt and handed it to him for surely this was his hour and truly he was the Victor Ludorum, the winner of the games.

And that’s the thing about sport. It resonates and it inspires us, and continues to inspire long after the event has passed. Maybe England didn’t win the rugby final but we’ll talk about the New Zealand game for years to come. We continue to have admiration for the England Women’s football team; We all remember where we were when Mo Farah, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, and Jessica Ennis excelled on the athletics track, and for those of us who are old enough we remember how the city of London came to a standstill as Ian Botham repelled the Aussies at Headingley in 1981.

So, well done England rugby. Maybe you didn’t win, but you achieved so much more.

Jan van der Velde
Chief Inspector of Turns