In which worthing just can't be a good sport.

Printed 08/04/09.

I like it when Worthing makes the national news. It helps a little in the blank-faced response arena if you can add “…where all that wood washed up that time” and get a glimmer of recognition.

Indeed, I’ve spent most of my life accumulating little Worthing factoids, to help me out during those moments of obscure-town showdown that arise on dull social occasions. When you’re talking to someone from, say, Burnley, or Telford, or somewhere equally drab, with their “yar, we have the largest rectangular, cobbled, 18th century market square in the whole of the North Lancashire region”, it’s always nice to be able to come back with: BOOM – “Billy Idol was born there”, and POW - “Harry Hill once worked in our hospital”, and if things get a bit more highbrow, KABLAM – “Oscar Wilde wrote the Importance of Being Earnest… somewhere near the Aquarena.”

Yes, I like having Worthing in the news. We made it a few weeks back for the sandwich and biscuit cutbacks at council meetings, and that was nice – we’re trailblazers in solving the economic crisis; we will do without custard creams if it means everyone gets to keep their houses. But last week, oh dear – the people of Worthing are unsportsmanlike! Towards children! While the old adage of all press being good press is particularly apt when the sole aim is not having to lie and say “Brighton” at parties, one can’t help feeling that hitting the nationals with our sore loser parents isn’t exactly kudos for the town. Not for the town that birthed Nicolette Sherridan of Desperate Housewives fame, oh no. It’s a low stoop.

Of course it is, also, hilarious. When your flatmate calls you to say that the Daily Mail is reporting, in all seriousness, the Middle School parents who booed at Thomas A Becket’s inter-school sports day victory, you have to say – well, first you say “what are you doing with a Daily Mail? Put it down before someone sees you.” – but then you have to say “Tsk Worthing. Would Littlehampton behave like that?”

That’s what you have to say. You have to say “Rah, disgraceful, poor kiddywinks, setting an example, rah rah jolly bad show” and words to that effect. But, and here’s my spoonful of controversy for the week, that’s not what you actually want to say.

What I want to say is this: sports days suck. They are the blight of the school calendar.

They are torturous affairs for almost everybody except the eight per cent of kids who can actually run like the wind, sting like a bee etc, and who feel all smug about doing it. For the rest of the world, the fat, asthmatic, clumsy, nobbly-kneed rest of the world, they are long, hot, uncomfortable and embarrassing. Nobody likes wearing polyester shorts in public, even twelve year olds, and wearing them while trying to balance a bean bag on your head because you weren’t athletic enough to do the proper events? That’s enough to put you off exercise and onto Kit Kat Chunkys for the rest of your years.

Now think of the parents. You have had to take an afternoon off from your properly air conditioned office to sit on a tiny plastic chair and watch a hundred small people in identical outfits, who at this distance and without your reading glasses may or may not be your offspring, and you must look enthusiastic while you do it. You are dehydrated, bore, and must use all the energy you’re not expending on applause trying to avoid the head of the PTA in case she tries to make you be in charge of something.

Then at the end of it all, the only moment of vague excitement, and instead of your child’s own school, they announce that one that always wins. More crucially, that one whose catchment area you tried for years to move into, but had to give up because your husband wanted a games room. Yes, it’s wrong to resort to the churlish pantomime response of actually booing… but I think we should make some effort to understand what the parents go through at these things.

Thomas A Becket. don’t need to worry, they can rise above it and carry on being great. But I’ll openly admit, their sporting prowess did (please don’t throw a javelin at me) used to grate on me too. And here’s the twist: I went to Thomas A Becket.

I was the one with the bean bag on her head.