Just Above Sunset
September 18, 2005 - England's Big Summer

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Our Man in London is Mike McCahill.

Mike McCahill was born in Warwickshire, England in 1978. He currently works as a film critic for The Scotsman, The Sunday Telegraph and the BBC, while trying to string together novels, screenplays and travel guides for places he's never actually been to. Mike divides his time between the Midlands and London, where professional duty requires he spend at least the first part of every week sitting in small dark rooms. With a couple of exceptions, he is open to offers.

"England's Big Summer" read one of the sponsors' banners hanging over a packed Trafalgar Square on Tuesday lunchtime. The scene: a celebration of the England cricket team's triumph in the recent Test series against Australia, as covered in this very column a couple of weeks ago. And, in many ways, loath as I am to acknowledge that the multinational corporations that sponsor sport could get anything right between them, this really was a big summer, not just for England, but for all the home nations.


There was the double-whammy of the G8 summit (which proved Scotland was big enough to host a meeting of the world's leaders) and the Live8 concerts (which suggested England and Scotland - inspired by Irishman Bob Geldof - could successfully stage vast consciousness-raising spectacles). There followed the IOC's announcement that London was big and competent enough to host the 2012 Olympics.


There were the varyingly successful terrorist attacks of July 7 and 21 on London, which suggested the UK was now considered a target big enough for the world's militants and dissidents. And then, on a happier note, there was the cricket, which survived those early bomb blasts (the visiting Australians had mooted calling the tour off if there were further incidents) to deliver perhaps the biggest, and most engrossing, sporting spectacle witnessed in this country since the 1998 European football championships. (And England only made the semi-finals in that, so it doesn't really compare.)


It would be too reductive (if not wholly incorrect) to suggest that politics, and politicians, played absolutely no part in any of these events. G8, of course, was a major diplomatic event, and Britain's bid to secure the Olympics, against furious politicking from the other nations, was steered by Tory MP (and former athlete) Sebastian Coe. And yet, despite the presence of Tony Blair and Home Secretary Charles Clarke on every other news broadcast following the July bomb attacks, this English summer has largely been marked by an absence of political chicanery.


It helps that the politicians have been off on holiday (Blair, famously and "controversially", in the Caribbean), and had hurriedly to redress and compose themselves once more following the terrorist attacks on London. But the real sense of the season has been that this has been - Blairesque phrasing alert - the people's summer.


It was the people who turned out for the concerts that made Live8 such a success, not the acts: yes, I liked Pink Floyd and The Who, too, but - really - is seeing Mariah Carey getting someone to bring her water, Snoop Dogg swearing every ten seconds, or Dido in three different locations going to raise much awareness of African poverty? (And just when the politicians thought they might finally have the floor to themselves at the G8 summit, the news media paid more attention to what Bono and Geldof were saying than to anything that came out of Gleneagles, if indeed anything finally did come out of Gleneagles.)


It was the people's response to the July bomb attacks that held such resonance, not the political manoeuvring that followed in those bombs' wake: the way London picked itself up, counted the living and remembered the dead, and then went about its collective business with a pride-inducing lack of fuss. And, as the scenes in Trafalgar Square on Tuesday lunchtime demonstrated, the national cricket team's performance was the most popular of triumphs: spearheaded by such unassuming and humble figures as all-rounder Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff and journeyman bowler Ashley Giles. (The cricket team's triumph, incidentally, comes at a time when dissatisfaction with the England football team - managed by philandering, indecisive Sven-Goran Eriksson, captained by multi-millionaire model David Beckham and starring petulant, tantrum-prone teenager Wayne Rooney - has reached a recent high.)


The inevitable question, at the end of such a summer, is what now? Big summers can all too easily give way to modest autumns and chilly winter nights, the momentum gained in daylight somehow lost along the way. The legacy of Live8 and G8 remains unclear: the focus of most aid and relief work at the moment seems to be (understandably) the American South. A DVD of Live8 is soon to hit the shelves, perhaps to boost sub-Saharan spirits with deleted scenes, hilarious Santana outtakes, and a commentary by the Dave Matthews Band. It remains possible Britain will be subject to further terrorist attacks, though the expected all-out assault some predicted doesn't yet seemed to have arrived. (As exercises in terrorist public relations go, the July 7 and 21 attacks have to go down as a near-total failure.)


The more pressing matter for sports fans is the acquisition of next year's televised cricket rights by Rupert Murdoch's Sky. This year's Australia series was enjoyed by millions on terrestrial (free-to-air) television; sales of cricket bats have gone through the roof; young kids have been seen warming up their spin bowling in the streets. It is true that cricket was lucky this year, in that a fine series of matches came up against no competition from, say, an Olympic Games or major football tournament.


Yet the question is how long that luck will last, especially now the rights to England's further test match adventures have reverted to pay-TV. According to a friend and colleague who watched the footage of the England team being welcomed at 10 Downing Street by Prime Minister Blair, the players seemed unusually reticent when meeting the politicians who'd let their sport slip away to the outer reaches of the satellite sphere. (It may, perhaps, have simply been tiredness: one of the best stories of the week was, after all, the one detailing Flintoff's well-deserved all-night revelry on the Monday after the game had finished.)


Certainly, there was no such reticence, amongst players nor fans, in Trafalgar Square on Tuesday. I tend to remain sceptical in the face of such vast collective outpourings of nationalism, and get suspicious wherever there is gathered more than five Union Jack flags at any one time. (It's only natural: my grandfather grew up in Germany in the 1930s, and - though it hardly bears comparison - I myself had to live through both the "Cool Britannia" epidemic of the late 90s and the death of Princess Diana.) And yet - despite Jerusalem being played and sung to a point where even William Blake himself might have cried "Enough; enough!" - this lively, festive gathering seemed the perfect end to what was a summer by, of, and very much for the people.



Mike McCahill

September 16, 2005





Copyright 2005 – Mike McCahill

Email the author at mikemccahill@fastmail.fm





Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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