When I was at Headingley last year for the test match with South Africa, I blogged about a load of young men dressed up as Jimmy Saville, doing the conga around the stadium to raise money for charity. I was there again this weekend for the match with New Zealand and somehow –I don’t know, call it a weird kind of intuition- I had the feeling that those events were unlikely to be repeated. But don’t worry, cricket fans; there was still plenty of fancy dress on display, with my vote for the 'most amusing /least annoying' group going to a quite sober phalanx of Mister Bean lookalikes.
Having seen the New Zealanders dismissed for 174 in their first innings, most spectators were disappointed by Alistair Cook’s decision not to ask his shell-shocked opponents to bat again on Sunday afternoon. Predictably, a dullish passage of play ensued and some of the crowd seemed to lose focus on the cricket. As the English batsmen set to work on increasing their lead from the merely huge to the positively gargantuan, various pockets in the rowdy Western Terrace started to amuse themselves by passing empty plastic beer glasses around the ground, an activity which -for reasons mostly to do with beer consumption- has become popular at some matches. The object of the exercise is to get as many glasses as possible into one long ‘snake’ before gravity intervenes. At one point, there must have been several hundred tumblers in the ‘snake’ as it made its way from one end of the terrace to the other, accompanied by the chant: Feed the snake and it will grow. It was like an improvised version of ‘It’s a Knockout’, lacking only a bit of Euro-glamour, a complicated scoring system and perhaps Stuart Hall providing one of his famous guffawing commentaries. Although on second thoughts, perhaps we could live without the commentary.
Excessive consumption of beer can lead a person to believe many foolish things. It might, for instance, make them believe that they are quite funny and that their friends are even funnier. It might also make them forget the fact that they have paid good money to watch some highly-trained international sportsmen do their stuff, leading them to concentrate instead on watching some highly untrained beer-fuelled spectators collecting empty plastic glasses and passing them around the crowd until –guess what?- those glasses eventually fall and they have to start all over again. As the test match trundled along, many folk in the Western Terrace were focused, mobile phones in hand, on the unfolding drama of the tumbling tumblers. The cricket, at that point, may have been dull, but I had the feeling that the beer-people would have been concentrating on their beer-snake no matter what was going on out in the middle. In their defence, at least those folk were having some kind of authentic experience; they were living in their moment and that moment was all about ignoring the cricket to take sozzled delight at the attempted transportation of some empty plastic glasses around the crowd, all the while shouting: Feed the snake and it will grow.
Some folk however, had not only paid money to not watch the cricket, they were now not experiencing the beer-snake game because they were busy filming it on their mobile phones. Consequently, they were now two steps removed from the thing that they had paid money to watch. I tried to keep an eye on the cricket, but found myself distracted not only by the beer-people passing those tumblers around, but by the phone people not watching the cricket, not passing the tumblers, not quite having that authentic, beer-fuelled experience. I was, in effect, watching other people watching other people not watching the cricket.
On some weird kind of meta-level, I think I might have been having quite a good time.