Seriously, it’s not just a bag of wind

Guy Martin, I understand, is a motor cycle racer. I have no information on what he wears (though I could guess) or how much he earns (probably quite a lot, as he is also apparently a TV personality). He does describe football kit as “underwear”, which is interesting.

Why am I bothering you with this? Let me give you the full quote: “I have nothing against football. It just seems very wasteful losing two hours of my life to watch 22 millionaires on TV chasing a bag full of wind in their underwear.”

The “bag of wind” bit is hardly an original observation. It has been used for many years by those who don’t like football, or games in general. To them there is no point in it; they don’t understand the appeal.

Why should they bother with it? Why indeed? There are many things I don’t bother with, because I have no interest in them, but that doesn’t mean there is no value in archaeology, knitting, hip-hop, reality television or opera.

To many people Euro 2016 is a waste of time and space, but to others it is fascinating. I am not talking about the loud-mouthed tribal devotees, but those who enjoy the moments of beauty that the game throws up, and for which many of us are prepared to sit through quite a lot of tedium. Or watch the highlights, which is my preferred option.

The attraction of any game, surely, is its beauty – and that’s something you never understand if you don’t take it seriously.

A non-sporting friend of mine never ceases to remind me of the day she saw me “fighting desperately” to win a game of croquet. I remember the occasion well, because I don’t play much croquet, and I was not fighting desperately to win: I was simply concentrating, taking it seriously.

If you don’t try to win games, there is no point in playing them, because that’s how they work. There is no point in playing bridge if you don’t pay attention. There is no point in playing anything if you don’t give it your best shot. This is not desperation: this is acceptance of how it works. That’s how you uncover its secrets. Not by winning, but by trying to win.

The beauty that is at the heart of any game depends on its being taken seriously. If you don’t get the beauty, or can’t be bothered, that’s fine. There are plenty of other things to do.