I recently can across this excellent article by Marina Hyde which was published on http://www.guardian.co.uk on 1 September 2010. Recommended reading!
The article can be read here; http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2010/sep/01/mohammad-amir-marina-hyde
Saturday’s hero Mohammad Amir received a muted welcome when he batted the next day (the day after spot fixing news broke out). Photograph: Gareth Copley/PA
Sport is about stories. The reason no one cared when Matt Le Tissier used his autobiography to confess spot-fixing was because his story was over. The heartbreak of Mohammad Amir being implicated in the Pakistan spot-fixing scandal is of course that his story was only just beginning, and even old hands instinctively romanticise the narrative of sport. For how many tens of millions of cricket fans did Nasser Hussain speak on Sunday morning, when he admitted his immediate thought on hearing of the allegations was “please don’t let it be the young lad”?
We can’t help but see sport like this, which is why fixing lends itself so evocatively to fiction. In the Godfather Part II, the Chicago Black Sox scandal serves as a character note for the mesmerically amoral Hyman Roth, who declares: “I’ve loved baseball ever since Arnold Rothstein fixed the world series”. Rothstein was the mafia gambler on whom Fitzgerald based the minor character of Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, who is casually introduced to the narrator as “the man who fixed the World’s Series.”
“The idea staggered me,” the narrator relates. “It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people – with the single mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe. ‘How did he happen to do that?’ I asked after a minute. ‘He just saw the opportunity’,” is Gatsby’s affectless reply.
Perhaps inevitably, taking poetic licence with sport fixing doesn’t limit itself to art. Even in the realm of reality, fact tends to blur with fiction. There is no contemporaneous record of the words “Say it ain’t so, Joe” ever being uttered, though that has not stopped the supposed child’s inquiry of the disgraced Shoeless Joe Jackson having passed into legend.
Despite the intense public attention on the grand jury investigation into the eight White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series, the only report that resembles the story was featured in a single Minnesota paper, which claimed Jackson emerged from the courthouse into a crowd of “several hundred youngsters, aged from 6 to 16”. (Very cinematic.) According to the paper’s account, “one urchin stepped up to the outfielder, and, grabbing his coat sleeve, said: ‘It ain’t true, is it Joe?’ ‘Yes kid, I’m afraid it is,’ Jackson replied. The boys opened a path for the ball player and stood in silence as he passed out of sight. ‘Well, I’d never have thought it,’ sighed the lad.” Forgive the cynicism, but I can’t help suspecting that sleeve-tugging urchin was about as real as the convenient “onlookers” and “close pals” that populate today’s tabloid stories.
Yet though it may not be literally true, the youngster’s tragic disillusionment has echoed down the years because it carries a psychological truth. Into this canon of truths literal and psychological we may induct the News of the World’s revelation that Mazhar Majeed, the alleged middleman of this latest scam, roused the teenage Mohammad Amir out of his bed on the eve of a Test match, and called the young prodigy a “fucker”, before informing him his instructions would keep till morning anyway. It is the sort of detail that if it hadn’t happened, one would have had to make up.
One piece of Shoeless Joe testimony that is undeniable, because it appears on the stenographer’s record, has the player’s wife finding out about his involvement when a team-mate entered their hotel room and threw $5,000 on the bed. “She felt awful bad about it,” reveals Jackson, “and cried about it for a while.”
I first read that years ago, and ever since have had the most vivid picture of a scene, imagining Katie Jackson staring at the bundle of money and crying for the loss of the hero she married. All surmise, of course. She was probably crying out of fear he’d be caught – but our imaginations fill the gaps. We instinctively map narratives onto what we see and hear because we want – need – to experience sport as a story.
A melee of co-dependent and antagonistic people will have to decide whether they want Pakistan’s current story to have the scorched-earth ending of a Shakespearean tragedy, where none of the main characters are left standing, or whether a more modern tale of redemption is possible. For me, sport will be better if a way is found for Mohammad Amir to go on to take 600 Test wickets as a symbol of reformation. You don’t have to be soft hearted or “soft on crime” to wish for this. You just have to dream of seeing the second act.
The article can be read here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2010/sep/01/mohammad-amir-marina-hyde