A working class hero is something to be. Brad the lad wins gold and the admiration of millions.

by Daisy Cutter

In the first of a two-part Cutter Special on the role class plays in sport we look at this week’s urging by Lord Moynihan to increase funding for sports in schools. Can we ever expect a level playing field for all?

Following Lord Moynihan’s urging this week for the government to increase funding for sports in schools a pertinent fact emerged.

Half of our incredible Olympic medals haul so far have been attained by those that attended public school which is a concerning statistic when it’s estimated that only 7% of the population enjoy the privileges that a private education affords.

Considering the nature of the Olympian pursuits perhaps this superficially isn’t so surprising; as a steelworker’s son who went to a perfectly normal and decent comprehensive I cannot ever recall perfecting my piaffe in dressage during P.E and the only shooting we participated in was using wrist-rockets in woodlands at weekends. Even activities that require only the basic equipment such as track and field were largely over-looked: it would have taken a brave triple jumper to hurl leg-first into our miniature sandpit that was littered with Embassy butts and shards of Hooch bottlenecks and the only javelin I spotted in my five years was festooned with cobwebs in the games teacher’s office protruding from the lost and found box.

Once a year we would be dragged across to a council owned tennis court where, due to the disparity between courts and students, you’d be lucky to get a five minute game of doubles using a wooden racket endorsed with the faint signature of Arthur Ashe and occasionally we’d have a bash in the cricket net (that doubled as the bike shed) or be instructed to climb a rope in the gym. That aside it was football and rugby – or rugby and football depending on the whim of the teacher that week – but this was a limiting sporting curriculum that was perfectly fine by me. With a ball at my feet I could pretend to be City schemer Ian Bishop and when the egg-chasers got their turn I’d stand away from the action talking about Roses B-sides with my mate whilst perving on the girls playing hockey.

Yet although all this is tinged with nostalgia (I can still vividly recall the 30 yard screamer past the school goalie on a pissing-down Friday whilst Andrea Jennings in a hockey skirt was, to a hormonal 14 year old, sexier than any pose Kylie could muster) there is of course a larger picture to view here.

From my school alone who can say with certainty that one pupil didn’t possess the talent and fortitude to become the greatest Finn class sailor the world has ever known? Yet although we were located close to the coast the idea of us boarding a couch bound for the seaside and spearing through the water in Tornado multihulls is fanciful in the extreme. Widening this to a national level out of the millions of kids who have been educated in comprehensives down the years imagine the undiscovered wealth of fencing skills due to each having never picked up an épée in their lives, the lost equestrian flair from a naturally-born horse-rider who wouldn’t know one end of a nag from the other, and an Olympic gold medallist canoeist in a parallel universe who is restricted to a Butlins pedalo in this one. There is a kid somewhere in Britain right now who could be blessed with the ability to become the most gifted water polo player of his generation. But he won’t fulfil that promise because of the school he goes to and where he lives. At best he’ll be taught to dive for a brick wearing pyjamas.

Around here it was football, rugby and boxing with cricket and tennis for those with two cars in their driveway. Anyone who did anything different usually had a briefcase and blazer. With boxing and martial arts classes a couple of quid a pop it was always the easier alternative to the swanky tennis school (that prided itself on its exclusivity) that was based in a suburban enclave requiring two long bus journeys and fees beyond the stretch of most. Our sports were dictated by financial means and though I hope things have improved in the twenty years since I was a schoolboy I fear this limiting allocation of the nation’s sporting resources based upon class continues unabated. Indeed the words of Lord Moynihan only confirms this.

His measured criticism of the current government – aired in his role as Chairman of the British Olympic Association – was commendable and welcomed at Cutter Towers and it is hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with the general hope behind it of a level playing field for all with the access, participation, and enjoyment of every sport for every boy and girl irrespective of background or circumstance.

However, it is also worth pointing out that it was during Colin Moynihan’s time as a cabinet minister in the early 80s that the educational authorities were first allowed to sell off playing fields with an estimated 6000 sites flogged for housing and supermarkets since then. Never mind giving inner-city kids hockey sticks and volleyball nets let’s at least go back to allowing them some grass to run on for a kick-off.

Should this ideal we seek – did I just say ideal? Sorry, I meant how things should be – ever be achieved there is an intimidating amount of restructuring, funding and work required, not to mention a seismic shift in our nation’s thinking. Worse yet, should it ever progress beyond the well-intentioned soundbites of those in power to such reconstructing actually being implemented it will come into effect once the lustre and feel-good glee of the Olympics has long since diminished into memory. And no doubt mean more council tax in a harsh economic climate.

But we should remember how this week has made us feel. Beyond the glib slogans regarding inspiration and legacy spouted by Coe and co the power of sport truly is immense, a cycle of positivity that reduces obesity in children and glowing patriotic pride in seeing a Brit beam from a podium.

It is a wonderful thought imagining just how many kids will have watched the likes of Jessica Ennis, Ben Ainslie, Peter Wilson and the multitude of rowers excel their way to gold these past couple of weeks and think ‘I’d like to try that’.

For God’s sake let’s smash this archaic glass ceiling that handicaps our grassroots sport and let them.