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Saluting the Aussies with Beer
I am not in
the habit of throwing drinks at people. It’s
disgraceful behaviour worthy only of hooligans. But
the bare, bald facts are inescapable. Last week I
sprayed beer over several Australians in a crowded
London bar. Amazingly I got away without a scratch
or a bruise.
This set me thinking about the curious relationship
we have with our down-under cousins.
England has grown accustomed to being humbled and
humiliated by her ex-colonies in sports that she
invented. We’ve almost come to accept it as our
due. And nobody dishes out these humiliations quite
so regularly and ruthlessly as the Australians.
They’re just so damned good at everything, and by
any reasonable measure they easily punch above
their weight. They’re world champions at just about
everything they want to be, and at many things that
they don’t care about at all.
Tennis? They have the world’s number one, Leyton
Hewitt, who always beats England’s finest. Cricket?
They’re world champions, and so much better than
England that it’s embarrassing, year after year
after year. They’re world champions in the two
different rugby codes, and they’re pretty good at
field hockey, surfing, sailing and cycling -
beating the English at every opportunity. The
Olympic Games hosted in Sydney was, by common
consent, the best ever, with Australian swimmers
and rowers in awesome form.
They even have the current world champion of darts,
for heaven’s sake. Now if there was ever a sport
invented which the English should win every time,
it’s darts. It positively rewards you for being a
lager lout. One of its most fundamental
requirements is that you should have a large,
wobbly belly. It’s played in bars throughout the
country, and is virtually a national pastime.
Yet this year’s world championship was won by an
Australian. A disabled Australian. He’s called Tony
David, and he’s a haemophiliac whose blood-clotting
disorder means that he walks with a limp and can’t
bring his throwing arm further back than his nose.
But this didn’t stop him hobbling along to the
world championships, making his way casually to the
final, and there demolishing his English opponent
in a comfortable victory.
In a catalogue of humbling humiliations, this gets
the centre-page spread.
To say, therefore, that the English relish any
opportunity for victory over the Aussies is an
understatement. It’s almost become an obsession,
with each fresh defeat intensifying the desire. And
finally, last Saturday, everything came good when
England took on Australia at rugby, and beat them.
In terms of momentous sporting occasions in
England, it doesn’t get much bigger.
That in itself is not the reason nor the excuse for
my throwing beer over people. Nor is the fact that
I had chosen to watch the match in a bar that was
full of Australians. Nor the fact that the winning
‘try’ -- the equivalent of a ‘touchdown’ in
football -- was scored in the most dramatic
circumstances as the game reached its climax. Nor
can I excuse myself by saying that I was drunk. I’d
had only a single pint of beer.
No one element by itself caused this outrage.
Rather it was a combination of factors, which, in
one moment, came together to give me an unexpected
adrenalin rush and, so it turned out, a loss of
The moment to
which I refer came about after the Australians had
gone into a big lead. They did so by scoring a try
in which a player ran the entire length of the
field, cheered on with great whoops and hoots of
joy from the Aussie supporters around me. They were
hollering and bellowing their guys to victory,
smacking each other on the backs, banging their
glasses together and generally congratulating
themselves on impending victory.
Now if there’s one thing that gets me riled it’s a
bunch of Aussies being smug at my expense. It’s
guaranteed to goad me into a bloated sense of
nationalism. It makes me ask myself all those
questions that are best left unasked in a bar full
of Aussies watching their team play rugby. Whose
country is this? Whose beer are you drinking? Who
invented your country!?
So when the English began to whittle away the
Australian lead, I roared my support without
inhibition. I wasn’t just cheering my team. In the
midst of a sort of grey mist, I thought I was
defending my country. The fact that I was
outnumbered by about three hundred to one didn’t
worry me in the slightest.
Then as the
game neared completion, and Australia still
leading, the ball came out to the England winger,
who side-stepped two Aussies and stormed forward
unopposed. He launched himself over the goal line,
and with the score deliciously inevitable, the
years of sporting hurt were crystallized and
banished. All the humiliations, humblings and
ghastly failures were set aside at last.
a sort of sporting multiple orgasm.
Baying incoherently, eyes bulging, I leapt up and
down. A bolt of adrenalin surged up my body, along
my left arm and toward my left hand, which was
holding my second pint of beer. The hand flapped
randomly and helplessly like a newspaper sheet
caught in a gust of wind, spraying its load in a
swirling formation. The beer shimmered briefly in
the artificial light before descending onto the
heads of those around me.
I remained perfectly dry, gibbering foolishly.
Once I regained my composure, I saw that much of
the beer had splashed upon the guy in front of me.
Earlier in the match, I’d had to move to my right
because his bulky upper back was in my direct line
of sight. I wondered what would happen next but
thankfully he shrugged off my clumsiness without
resorting to violence.
Some of the beer went over another, smaller Aussie,
standing to my right. He was wearing an anorak. Was
he going to be more dangerous? When I attempted a
conciliatory quip -- that he’d shown great
foresight in wearing the anorak -- he also remained
calm. The other Aussies around me were smarting
badly - too stunned by their defeat to take offense
at my display.
The fact that nobody chose to confront me says a
lot about the underlying relationship between our
two nations. It’s one of rivalry, not hostility,
probably because the two countries are so similar
culturally - although few English would admit it.
The fact is that the Australians are our cousins
who happen to speak with a funny accent and are
lucky enough to live in the sun. Viewed from the
other side, the English are eccentric and
occasionally embarrassing older relatives.
Yes, the Aussies taunt us for our sporting
failures, dreadful weather and call us ‘Poms’
because of our resemblance to pomegranates when
sun-burned. In return, we tease them for their lack
of cultural achievement, geographical isolation,
and criminal heritage. It’s on that sort of amiable
To me, the Australians, far away on the other side
of the world, are much less ‘foreign’ than the
French or Germans a few miles across the English
channel. The Aussies are blood brothers,
next-of-kin, in a way that our European friends
could never be. This means that two countries are
fierce sporting rivals - but the best of friends as
The peculiar adrenalin rush that I experienced, and
its briefly undesirable consequences, confirmed all
this to me. The Aussies are not inclined to turn on
an Englishman, however inexcusable his behavior. I
appeared to them as nothing more than a half-crazed
Pom who’d lost his marbles. And actually they were
right. I had lost my marbles. I was out to lunch,
eating a second pudding with double whipped cream.
But that’s Poms for you…
In any case, the taste of defeat won’t remain long
in the mouths of the Australians. They’ll be back
stuffing the English before long, and restored to
the pinnacle of the world’s sporting order.
But if the English ever conjure up another win, I
must make an effort to keep myself under control.
I’ll either watch the match in the privacy of my
own home, or I’ll choose a bar that isn’t quite so
well frequented by Australians. And above all else,
I’ll make sure that I haven’t got a pint of beer in
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