I did two things for the first time this past weekend. On Saturday I put on a clean shirt and went to watch the horse racing at Randwick*, and on Sunday I went to my first cricket match, Australia vs South Africa at the SCG. While a good time was had at both, the cricket was by far the more interesting thing to watch (and there’s a statement I don’t reckon I’ll be repeating any time soon).
The funny thing about the sport of kings is that for such a classy affair the attendants are remarkably classless. Everyone dresses up in their fashionable finest. For a lot this translates to a nice suit (I rock a slightly dishevelled 30s mobster look, just saying) or designer dress with matching fascinator, for others translates roughly to club-wear (and for the alarming number of old white addicts in attendance whatever they normally wear around the house), the point being that most people put an effort into what they wear and how they look. The problem is that regardless of how much effort everyone puts in to fancy themselves up, there’s not a lot to do except drink. Seriously, most people at the track on race day are only going to be betting on the races at that particular track (not all the races going on simultaneously at other tracks) and placing a bet only takes between a few seconds and a few minutes. A race only takes about thirty seconds, after which you’ve got somewhere between half and a full hour ’til the next one.
When a bunch of Aussies (and I expect this happens with other countries as well) get together on what looks and feels like an occasion and they have time to fill, they fill it with grog. So you end up with a bunch of guys in expensive blazers slurring about how weird it is that all the horses in the last race were brown (I mean, that’s really fucken weird ain’t it?) and girls stumbling barefoot over the grass, cheering on command and half wondering where the hell they left their bloody stilettos.
I’m not judging, mind you, I’ve been drunk in a suit too often before to judge (let he who is without sin and all that). Everyone was also pretty well behaved with most people at least looking sober beyond the odd knot of noticeably wasted friends, though that’s unsurprising given the very visible police presence and the high cost of alcohol (nine bucks for a bottle of Boags? Tell’im he’s dreaming). I will also reiterate that I had a good time, and mention that my mates and I didn’t actually drink that much (though for me the cost of getting drunk was the main obstacle … seriously, nine fucking dollars for a bottle of beer). I was just struck by how much effort we, the punters, put into trying to give a very dirty affair a veneer of respectability. Horse racing is still the sport of kings only because we keep calling it that instead of admitting that it long ago became the sport of drunken yobs in expensive clothes.
Going to watch the one day cricket match between Australia and South Africa was the far better experience, which actually surprised me a little bit. Y’see there’s a lot of things I’d describe myself as (“ruggedly handsome”, “intellectually gifted”, “short”) but “cricket fan” is not one of those. I’ve long been of the opinion that it’s “fun to play but boring to watch” (though it’s a good thing to have on in the background at a barbecue), an opinion that’s now been changed to “fun to play and watch live, boring to watch on TV.” Part of the reason is because the game seems much faster paced in person than it does on a screen, you can see all the activity on the field and realise just how fast a ball travelling at one hundred and forty-odd kilometres an hour moves. A much bigger part of the reason was the atmosphere created by the crowd.
Even though cricket is faster paced than what a lot of people (myself included) often give it credit for, it’s still not a fast game. There are plenty of moments when not a lot is going on, but the spectators fill the gaps. A group of guys having a laugh with everyone in the immediate vicinity, another group yelling encouragement to pressure the poor bastard in the front row into never putting down his ‘AUSTRALIA’ flag, kids running up and down the aisles to get their miniature bats signed whenever the fielders stepped near the barriers, a few thousand voices oo-ing and ah-ing at a good hit, respectful applause when South Africa made a great catch (along with a chorus of “I’ll pay that, good catch”), a drunken streaker barely making it five metres before the ‘Public Safety’ guys tackled him, and, of course, the sledging, where much fun was had at the expense of SA cricketer Wayne Parnell’s ponytail. One of my favourite moments was when a guy a few rows down began spelling out his name, “Give me a P! Give me an A! Give me a R!” when someone else cut in with “Give me a haircut!”
There was something refreshingly honest about the whole thing, a genuinely good-natured crossing of the classes. Upper drinking stupidly expensive mid-strength beer beside lower (both making fun of the toffs in the members stands while quietly admitting that they’re only a few years through the twelve year waiting list), and a level of multiculturalism that a lot of other sports could learn a lot from. As someone who likes to think they’re a cultural observer, that was something that really stuck out at me. The tribalism was there, as it is with any international sport, but the borders were fluid. Because everyone was there to have a good time.
So that was my weekend. How was yours?
*I feel like I need to add a quick note, since there’s been a lot of debate this year about animal cruelty in racing after two horses died at this year’s Melbourne Cup. I can’t honestly say that I know enough about the treatment of horses in racing to have an opinion about it either way, but I do understand there are a lot of people who feel that attending and watching horse-racing is condoning animal cruelty. I’m not going to insult anyone who holds such an opinion by apologising for any offence caused, but I wanted to acknowledge that this is an issue that is felt strongly by a lot of people.