Keating on the death of poet Mick Imlah and the rugby internationals from the British Isles who were among the millions slaughtered during the Great War
Today’s cricket post reminded me of the only other time in recent memory that I’d been enticed to read the Guardian’s sports pages. I’d parked the item in my draft posts over a year ago and then forgotten about it. Again, it was Frank Keating’s literary allusions that drew my eye to the page, along with the First World War reference. His Anthem for rugby’s doomed youth mourns both the death last year of the poet Mick Imlah and the rugby internationals from the British Isles who were among the millions slaughtered during the war. He quotes Imlah’s ’15-line sonnet London Scottish 1914, a panegyric to the three-score brothers in arms who volunteered to swap their Richmond turf for Belgian ditches – for three-quarters of them to die’:
Of that ill-balanced and fatigued fifteen
The ass selectors favoured to survive,
Just one, Brodie the prop, resumed his post.
The others sometimes drank to ‘The Forty-Five’:
Neither a humorous nor an idle toast.
The full text of poem can be found here. The claim that this fifteen-line poem is a sonnet provoked a challenge from Chris Warren – are there any other examples of this special kind of ‘sonnet’?
Regular readers (if there are any) may suspect I rarely even glance at the sports pages of the paper. This morning, however, just as I was about to toss the Guardian’s supplement into the recycling bin I caught sight of Frank Keating’s elegant column on the back page. His opening stroke, mentioning Stoppard’s The Real Thing, was followed by further evidence of the ways playwrights throw in allusions to the game. Gems include a reference to the scary brainwashing scene in The Birthday Party which includes the unanswerable question ‘Who watered the wicket in Melbourne?’ (which, Keating adds, “the Germans translated as ‘Who pissed on the Australian gate?'”). There is also a reminder of Jack Rosenthal’s beguiling play, P’tang Yang Kipperbang, woven around the commentaries of John Arlott. I loved to use this TV play with classes who had probably never heard the man himself on the radio.
The online version of Keating’s article has the rather more clumsy headline ‘Playwright’s XI would know how to bowl a good line’. Evidence, perhaps, that the possibility of greater prolixity away from the restrictions of a fixed page width is not always a good thing. To confirm this, today’s G2 supplement has an article about a sporting match headed, in print: ‘It’s just not cricket!’ The online version is the more prosaic ‘Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik: the romance that gripped two nations’. The article, alas, has nothing to match Keating’s inclusion of Beckett’s alleged instruction to imagine the parts of Vladimir and Estragon as ‘batsmen numbers five and six fretfully waiting to begin their innings at a Test Match at Lord’s’.