Please, No More Classic Sports Replays. I've Had Enough Nostalgia

Tom Nicholson
Photo credit: GLYN KIRK - Getty Images

From Esquire

Danny Welbeck seems like a good guy. The kind of guy who'd be in the group of friends you only see when you go out together, and you'd go, "Heyyy! Danny!" and he'd go, "Heyyy! Alright mate?" and you'd not really talk again after that, other than asking each other if you were having a good night. But that would be fine.

I've had a soft spot for him since England's 3-2 victory against Sweden at Euro 2012. That game was one of the few genuinely thrilling and fun England games of the 21st century, and Welbeck's tumbling back-heel flick brought a game of twists and turns to a crescendo. I was still grinning when, after the match, my flatmates and I binned the smashed remnants of the coffee table, which was sacrificed to our celebrations.

The whole game was replayed this week as part of the BBC's Euros Rewind, a run of full European Championships games from the past. To fill the sport-free void, ITV put the entirety of Euro '96 on its ITV Hub streaming service and ran England's games on ITV4, as well as showing old FA Cup matches. The BBC has even been inviting pundits to pick Premier League highlights packages of the past for Match of their Day. Now, with the football well running dry, Auntie has announced that this summer it will be running 50 hours of Wimbledon highlights, to fill the gap in the schedule left by this year's cancelled tournament.

Photo credit: AFP - Getty Images

For a while, I was quite excited about watching endless high quality sport from the recent past. Seeing sporting moments in the full context of their matches can be refreshing. Being reminded that Roy Hodgson had spent the three days before the Sweden game explaining that England would exploit Sweden's two weaknesses – crosses, and Andy Carroll's terrifying four-foot neck – makes watching England concede two Olof Mellberg goals from free Olof Mellberg headers especially hilarious.

But in practice, it's been an incredibly unfulfilling way of passing the time over the last couple of months. I didn't end up watching any of Euro '96 in the end. I'm probably not going to watch any of those 50 hours of Wimbledon.

There's no jeopardy, obviously, and one of the privileges of looking back over history is having the option of skipping over the boring bits. In the moment, live sport is all about those boring moments, and knowing that you could be about to be catapulted into an exciting, definitive moment. Andy Murray's tears at Wimbledon in 2012 wouldn't have meant as much if he'd not just been mercilessly ground down over three sets by Roger Federer, all Murray's howling, pointless rage absorbed, polished and floated back to him by this benevolent and frictionless Swiss yogi. Settling down to gorge on old sport feels a bit like eating candy floss: a short, unsatisfying high that just reminds you of how hungry you are for something substantial.

Photo credit: Visionhaus - Getty Images

More than that, the Wimbledon rewind feels less like a celebration of sport than a stubborn attempt to impose structure and order on a vague, shifting period.

"It's summer," the Beeb seems to be saying, with the teeth-gritted force of a suburban dad wrestling a sodden parasol against a stiff North Sea breeze. "We're having a normal, family summer."

But nothing's normal. This amorphous, gelatinous swamp of time cannot be corralled, and I'm not sure it should be. If you want a sport that speaks to the times – repetitive, surreal, oddly emotional – get into marble racing on YouTube. If you take some comfort from old sport, settle in with Sue Barker and ignore reality for a bit. Totally understandable.

My nostalgia ducts, though, are running completely dry. If I saw Welbeck now, I wouldn't give him the old "Heyyyy! Danny!" routine. It'd be a curt nod. And a reminder that he owes me £30 and a lift to Ikea for a new Skoghall.

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