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Saluting the Aussies with Beer


Robert Taylor

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 motor control.

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.

I experienced 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 tit-for-tat level.

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 well.

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 my hand.

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