We’ve all been there… You’re on a group holiday, the sun is beating down and everyone emerges from their quarters to congregate around the pool. Suncream is applied, poorly, and the day appears mapped out in front of you like a particularly uneventful script; an odyssey of sunbathing interluded only by a casual dip into some trashy novel you bought at the airport or a bit of light chatter… Unless you’re a boy, that is.
If you’re a boy, and statistically some of you are, then by now you’ll be bored. Your intrinsic ADHD will have kicked in, as you realise you couldn’t care less about sunbathing, gossip or your book and deep inside there will be a hunger brewing, a hunger that can only be sated by one thing: some form of game.
Now at this point, I know there will be people out there questioning the validity of this statement, so for the purposes of putting their minds at ease, I find it important to state that “game”, in this case, does not refer to Backgammon or Chess, nor does it include pre-existing sports. No, it is much simpler than that. What boys really want, in the grand traditions of Lego or Meccano, is not a finished product but the tools and time to create one.
It must be a truly staggering thing to observe, the evolution of one of these games. Rules and expressions springing up out of nowhere mid-game as new variables and skills are added, occasionally followed by the word “obviously”, as if it would be sheer madness to even contemplate anything else.
It’s a mad scenario where you can leave a group of boys together with a tennis ball, only to return half an hour later and find them running around shouting now-entrenched rules and phrases out like some sort of competitive Enigma code… “Get the slippery little number!” someone will holler, as you watch something loosely resembling about 17 different sports, “Oh yes, I’m on July 14th next go” in another… and it goes without saying that the tramlines only count in ‘Royal Fennis’ (which is the purest form of the game… Obviously).
The most amusing aspect of these games are their appeal. A friend’s brother came to visit us one day last summer while on holiday near Seville. Within half an hour he was up to date on all the rules and was a seasoned pro at ‘Snatch’, ‘Tazball’ and the aforementioned Fennis (although naturally, as we were playing in Spain, it was a regional variant called Real Xeniz). He was so enthused about the latter that he has since suggested that we organise a rematch in London, although I suspect the local tennis club may be slightly less supportive when six of us turn up armed with a football. Perhaps I need to get a government grant to expand the game?
All of the above did make me wonder though that perhaps we are just a couple of hundred years too late? I mean there is little doubt in my mind that Fennis is, for example, more enjoyable than Fives, a sport that is both joyless and absurd in equal measure. However, due to the pitfalls of us being born a couple of generations too late, large concrete rooms with a buttress ludicrously tagged on one side adorn the nation’s public schools instead of an attractive solution to the problem of what to do with tennis courts in winter (or is Fennis a summer sport? This might have been the problem).
What if the annuls of history had not recorded the ingenuity of Mr Webb-Ellis, and instead the Tazball World Cup had just finished in some far-flung country with a large Samoan lifting the coveted Harland trophy?
These are the sort of things that perpetuate my mind on a day-to-day basis, the fires of optimism fuelled by the begrudging acceptance of the world in 2005 that darts is a sport. Perhaps in five years or so, I will have grown up and given up on the idea of being a forefather of the sporting world. Perhaps I will have focussed entirely on my job, my career, my family. Perhaps I will cease to dream?
But I won’t. Because in the summer of 2016 I will be in a Rio de Janeiro stadium. Representing Great Britain. At Fennis.
by Harry Harland