There was no Miracle of Medinah

Europe’s Ryder Cup win cannot be the greatest sporting comeback ever – because golf is not a sport.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

It’s been described as the Miracle of Medinah. But was Europe’s dramatic Ryder Cup victory really the greatest sporting comeback ever, as it has been hailed? The answer, in case you can’t be bothered to scroll down, is ‘no’.

Firstly, does anyone outside a small coterie of golfistas really care about the Ryder Cup? Even the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy – fought over by the teams in the Football League’s bottom two divisions – is a bigger prize from my perspective. Secondly, the Ryder Cup doesn’t even make my shortlist because – whisper it – golf isn’t a sport.

The hyperbole writers went into overdrive on Sunday night as Europe’s golfers clawed back a 10-6 deficit to retain the trophy. The G-word – and that’s G for greatest not Gangnam – was immediately bandied about liberally to describe the remarkable turnaround in the European team’s fortunes. A feverish debate ensued about where Medinah ranks in the pantheon of greatest sporting comebacks.

Although I was completely indifferent to the Ryder Cup, others were swept up in the occasion. The hashtag #GoEurope started trending on Twitter. People on my timeline declared a hitherto unspoken love for golf. Harry Wallop in the Telegraph admitted that ‘distrust of the sport vanishes once every two years when the Ryder Cup starts’. Why would a seasoned golf-sceptic like Wallop get all worked up over this tournament? ‘Because the Ryder Cup is not really about the golf’, wrote Wallop. ‘It’s about the strained relationship between America and Europe, a battle between cheese-eating surrender monkeys and those who munch on “freedom fries”.’ The yank-bashing motif was echoed by that unlikely Europhile Joey Barton, who tweeted that the USA’s supporters were a ‘posse of face-painted, passport-less, junk-food eating half-wits’.

Frankly, I was nonplussed at all this Team Europe nonsense. Firstly, Europe isn’t my team. I’m not having a Nigel Farage moment here. I love Europe as a continent. I’m married to a German and we spend most of our holidays in France or Italy. But I feel nothing for Europe’s Ryder Cup team. During the Olympics, I was happily cheering on Team GB in sports, like clay pigeon shooting, that I barely comprehended. I’m not even sure some of those events were proper sports. I mean, dressage? Do me a favour. You see, I felt an affinity with Team GB. It wasn’t a political statement – I wouldn’t even call myself a patriot. It was just a sporting allegiance with the athletes from the country I live in. But Team Europe? Sorry, the very idea leaves me cold. And, as for waving the EU flag, well that admittedly does offend my inner Farage.

To return to the comeback question, the Ryder Cup victory doesn’t even hold a candle to Crystal Palace’s recent 3-2 win over Cardiff. Palace trailed 2-0 at half-time but won the match with a rousing second-half performance. I’m not exaggerating, but the delirium among the home supporters was incredible. I’d never seen a comeback like it in all my years of watching Palace. Apparently, it was the first time we had recovered from 2-0 down to win since 1969. Fans of other teams will, of course, have their own comeback stories to rival this. A Wolves-supporting friend of mine reminded me that his team had overturned a three-goal lead to beat Leicester in 2003. Kopites will point to the Miracle of Istanbul when Liverpool team overturned a 3-0 half-time deficit against Milan to win the 2005 Champions League final. Veteran Charlton fans will recount how, in 1957, their team was trailing Huddersfield 5-1 and down to 10 men with half an hour remaining, but somehow came back to win 7-6.

There are plenty of stories like these. And in a way, they all rank as greater comebacks than the Ryder Cup turnaround. My point is that allegiance to a football team is more deep-rooted than the transitory faux-Europhilia you see every two years at the Ryder Cup. Sure, there was partisan cheering and terrace-style chanting – all of which is relatively new to golf – but it was a pale imitation of football. Jumping on the Ryder Cup bandwagon every two years doesn’t compare to the obsessive devotion of football fandom.

As you may have guessed, I’m not a golf aficionado. Apart from the fact that I find golf utterly tedious, I don’t have anything against it. Indeed one day, when I hang up my football boots, I might consider taking up golf. But the Ryder Cup will always be ineligible for greatest sporting comeback accolade because it isn’t a proper sport. Firstly, just look at their clothes. How can it be a sport when everyone’s dressed like Alan Partridge? Yes, golf is a trial of skill, decision-making and nerve. But where’s the athleticism? Golfers don’t run from hole to hole, they stroll. Some of them even take a ride on a golf cart. The fact that Tom Watson very nearly won the Open at Turnberry in 2009 two months shy of his sixtieth birthday blows a great big hole in the argument that golf is a sport. Yes, I’m aware that golf will be on the Olympic roster in 2016. But dressage and synchronised swimming are Olympic events and you’ll never persuade me that these are proper sports.

So, sorry, Europe’s Ryder Cup team, this wasn’t sport’s greatest Lazarus job. For the record, my own personal choice is the 1981 Headingly Test when Ian Botham dragged England from the jaws of defeat to beat Australia. This trumps Liverpool’s Champions League victory because it required heroic performances, notably from Ian Botham and Bob Willis. Liverpool by contrast didn’t win the game; rather it was Milan who carelessly squandered a 3-0 lead. The Italian team clearly believed their name was on the cup at half-time and simply switched off for six costly second-half minutes. Greatest comeback? It wasn’t a comeback so much as a catastrophic collapse.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.

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Topics Politics


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