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Dan Jones
July 24, 2014
Forget transfer talk, Champions League and Jose Mourinho... I'm off to the polo
By Dan Jones
Thursday, July 24, 2014 :: Posted 08:38:25 AM UTC

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The wife and I are off down to Windsor on Saturday. Oh yes we are! Bit of the old polo, my friends. It’s the fixture known as the Audi International: England vs Argentina at Guards, for the Coronation Cup. And we’re rather looking forward to it.

Why? Well, if I’m being totally honest, it’s a chance to swill champagne, rub shoulders with the blazer brigade and ogle a few dolled-up mini-Middletons wearing small skirts. (I assume my wife feels the same way.)

But there’s more to it than work: in case you haven’t been following, polo is one of the increasingly rare sporting events this summer at which England stand a vague chance of not being trounced so badly that half the side decide to retire immediately after the debacle is over.

Far from it, actually. As it goes, England are in with a very good shout of winning the Cup for the fourth time on the trot. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) There are probably other sports about which you might be able to write that sentence but I can’t think off the top of my head what they are. So what more do you want? Booze, suits, frocks, girls, lads on horseback waving hammers about and the chance of national sporting glory — all in a field less than an hour’s drive from London. I’m not ashamed to say, that this is rapidly becoming my idea of a good time.

And there’s a serious point here, too. There is something about this time of the sporting year that I find almost blissfully enjoyable. It’s not just the polo. It’s the Open, the Lord’s Test, the run of European grands prix, the Tour de France, the athletics, the odd big boxing match. And what’s that allowing them all to have their turn centre stage? Why, it is the sweet and refreshing absence of football.

Come on, you can admit it. It’s glorious. We have a gap of a few weeks — barely a fortnight, really, in a World Cup year — in which there is no Match of the Day, no Monday Night Football, no constant round-ball witter on the sports radio channels. No wonder-goals or howlers, no offside shockers, no phoney headbutting, no Jose Mourinho on the naughty step, no god-damned, effing, bleeding ‘talking points’. Just a beautiful serenity called ‘late July’: the metaphorical sound of an empty stadium, four hours or so before kick-off, pristine and ready, but silent all the same.

There are two caveats, of course. For a start, I am aware that while there isn’t any football, there is of course always football.

There’s the transfer gossip, which rolls over the back pages and the blogs like the wave of pure liquid horses**t it is — but which is curiously enjoyable all the same. The Champions League has started, too, in which pub teams from Eire are currently playing minor European powers called things like ‘Grasshoppers’, ‘FK Qarabag’, ‘Rude Boys’ and ‘Celtic’.

Meanwhile, Premier League giants are on world tours modelled roughly on the itinerary of the Rolling Stones: playing sleepy exhibitions in front of foreigners in corporate-branded stadia from New Zealand to Pasadena, pausing only to have their photographs taken with Chevrolet cars and insurance executives, and all the other dull things that earn them money these days.

The second caveat is to say that this is not a dig at football. (There’s a whole season in which to do that.) When the game is good, nothing is better — we saw that during the World Cup.

When the Premier League is flying, it is as good as all those insurance executives and sportswear giants told themselves when they were signing the sponsorship cheques. When it is international friendly night at Wembley and an experimental and half-interested England are labouring to a 2-2 draw with Norway… well, okay, we can draw the line there.

The point is that the best way to keep any sort of loving relationship fresh is  to spend a bit of time apart. If you want my advice, therefore, it is worth treasuring these few brief weeks before the season gets going properly, and we are dragged along in football’s slipstream from now until next May. So watch the Commonwealth Games. Stay tuned to the Tour de France. Come to the Audi International polo on Saturday, if you’re so inclined. However you fill the foot-void, enjoy it. It’s good for you, you know.

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