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In this non-fiction book, sports journalist Anna Kessel investigates the role and treatment of women in (mainly) competitive sport. I’m going to be honest and say that this was not entirely what I expected; the sub-title ‘How Sport Can Change Our Lives’ led me to think that this would be a study of how sport or exercise can make us feel good, give us confidence and improve our health and fitness. As someone who partakes in a lot of high intensity, but non-competitive exercise, this really appealed to me.

However, the book is actually a feminist study of how women have been treated in the world of competitive and professional sport throughout history and right up until the present day. Despite being not what I thought it was going to be, for the most part this was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I liked that it talked about how exercise in general for women is generally only promoted in popular media in terms of how it can improve our looks and our sex lives. (I was looking at the cover of a so-called health magazine aimed at women recently, and almost every headline was talking about how to get sexy legs, or washboard abs, how to have better sex etc – instead of focussing on the health benefits. This is something that I feel particularly strongly about.) It also talked about the issues that girls suffer in PE at school – if you are not naturally athletic for instance, you are generally written off from day one. At least this is how it has been for many young girls, although I am certain it is the same for boys too.

The book is very clearly well researched, with interviews with several sporting personalities or women working in sport, and Kessel underlines some of the discrimination that women are subject to in sport – it amazes me that in 2007, there was such a huge furore about a woman commentating on Match of the Day! What century are we living in for goodness sake?!

However, a lot of the book focussed on aspects that didn’t interest me so much – obviously this is a very subjective opinion, but I have zero interest in football, whether it is played by men or women, and so I did struggle to keep my attention for the parts of the book dedicated to the passion of football fans.

I also would have liked more about exercise in general, not necessarily competitive or professional sport, and an exploration about how we should be exercising for health and well-being, rather than to get the perfect beach body, would have been very interesting.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in sport and/or feminism. I liked Kessel’s engaging and conversational writing style and will keep an eye open for more work by her in the future.

 

 

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This film is also known as The Perfect Catch, and is based on Nick Hornby’s novel Fever Pitch.  The book was originally adapted in 1997, into a film starring Colin Firth as a die-hard fan of Arsenal football (or soccer) team.  The comedy explores how his love for the team affects his romantic relationship.  In this American adaptation, Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) is a Boston Red Sox fan, who falls for Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore).  However, they initially meet out of the baseball season, so it’s only when the season starts that she realises that she will always have to compete with the Sox for Ben’s affections.

I haven’t seen the 1997 film – I like Colin Firth a lot, but football leaves me cold.  However, I do enjoy baseball, and recently had some wonderful times watching three Red Sox games (two of which were at their home ground, Fenway Park).  You don’t have to be a baseball fan, or a Sox fan to enjoy this film, but I do think it helps.

The movie is set during the 2004 World Series, which the Sox unexpectedly won, thereby beating the Curse of the Bambino.  (In fact, it was originally assumed that the Sox would lose, so when they won, the ending of the film had to be re-written).

I really liked the film.  Jimmy Fallon was terrific as Ben – sweet and affectionate, as long as nothing got in the way of him watching any of his team’s games.  Despite the way that he stretched his girlfriend’s patience to the limit, he was really likeable throughout.  Drew Barrymore was also lovely as Lindsey.  Her character was a workaholic (in many ways, as obsessed with her job as Ben was with the Sox), and in the hands of a different actress, Lindsey might not have been likeable, but Barrymore is very warm and hard to dislike.

There are loads of laugh-out-loud moments, and lots of physical comedy.  The ending is – maybe – quite predictable, but I really liked it anyway, and it was great to see actual players from the Red Sox in the film, although none of them had a speaking part.

It’s an undemanding, but very enjoyable film, great for any time, but especially if you’ve just been, or are planning to go to Fenway Park!

Year of release: 2005

Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

Producers: Drew Barrymore, David Evans, Marc S. Fischer, Nick Hornby, Alan Greenspan, Nancy Juvonen, Kris Meyer, Gil Netter, Hal Olofsson, Amanda Posey, Gwenn Stroman, Bradley Thomas

Writers: Nick Hornby (novel), Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel

Main cast: Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore, Jack Kehler, Ione Skye, KaDee Strickland, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Willie Garson, Evan Helmuth

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In the first part of this funny, moving and frank memoir, Alexandra Heminsley discusses how and why she started running, and – more importantly – how and why she continued to run, despite occasional setbacks and bouts of self-doubt.  She talks about how it brought her closer to family members, and made her feel better about herself, and along the way describes some of the races she has participated in.

The second part of the book is given over to hints and advice to other runners, or people who are thinking of taking up running, whether as a casual hobby, or a serious enthusiast.  The book also talks about the history of women’s running (and boy, did that chapter open my eyes; after reading about the journey that Joan Benoit Samuelson took to become the first female Olympic marathon winner, I watched some of the footage on YouTube, and was filled with admiration and tears).

While Heminsley’s own story is very entertaining and inspiring, the second section of the book is very useful to new runners, offering tips on buying running trainers and equipment, and what you will need if you take part in a big race.  It also highlights injuries that can be caused or aggravated by running, and the best ways to deal with them, and debunks many myths surrounding running.

As a fellow runner, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and identified with many of the feelings that the author described.  Heminsley is very engaging and relatable, and also very funny.  I don’t think you would have to be a runner to appreciate this book, but I am pretty sure that after reading it you would want to pull on your trainers and go for a trot around the block.

I would recommend this book for everyone, but particularly people with even just a passing interest in running.

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Based on a true story, A League of Their Own tells the story of the first female baseball league, which was started when many of the professional male baseball players were away fighting in World War II.  Tom Hanks plays Jimmy Duggan, a washed-up, alcoholic former professional player, who is given the job – which he doesn’t really want – of managing the Rockford Peaches team.  Geena Davis and Lori Petty play sisters Dottie and Kit, who have issues with jealousy, and who are both signed on to play for the team.  Other players on the league are portrayed by Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Bitty Schram, and others.  The story shows the league’s progress, from a game of little interest to outsiders, to a popular sport in its own right.

I really enjoyed this film.  All of the actors were perfect, especially Davis, Petty and Hanks.  There was a lot of comedy in the film, but it was also very moving in parts, and I actually did cry.  Baseball gave these women – and Jimmy Duggan – something to live for, and a sense of self-belief, which some of them desperately needed.  It also gave them a sense of camaraderie at a time when many of them had loved ones fighting overseas.  I loved how Jimmy was initially resentful of managing a girls team, but how he came to appreciate their talent, and want to fight their corner with them – his personal story was one of redemption, and I loved the character.

There are lots of baseball scenes in this film, but you do not need to like, or even really understand, the sport to enjoy it (although a basic knowledge of the game might help).

I waited a long time to watch the movie, because I was not sure that I would like it.  However, it gets a definite 10 out of 10 from me, and I do not intend to leave it that long before watching again.  Very highly recommended.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Penny Marshall

Producers: Penny Marshall, Elliot Abbot, Robert Greenhut, Ronnie D. Clemmer, Joseph Hartwick, Bill Pace, Amy Lemisch

Writers: Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel

Main cast: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, David Strathairn, Megan Cavanagh, Tracy Reiner, Bitty Schram

 

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Roy Hobbs is a baseball player who comes almost out of nowhere in the 1930s, to join the New York Knights, who are going through a losing streak.  Nobody has ever heard of Hobbs, who has never played professionally, but his talent for the game is undeniable, despite him being nearer retirement age for the sport, than a youthful rookie.  As the film shows, his career was halted for a while by an unforeseen tragedy, but that doesn’t stop his determination to be the best baseball player in history.

This is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted film, with an air of magic about it.  Robert Redford, at nearly 50 years of age, may have been slightly too old to play Hobbs, but it doesn’t matter at all – partly because he looks so youthful, and partly because he embodies the role so completely.  Glenn Close is Iris, the sweet woman from his past, and Kim Basinger is Memo, the avaricious girl who dates him after he becomes famous.

This is certainly a baseball movie, but you do not have to be a fan of the sport to appreciate and enjoy the film (although personally speaking, Baseball is about the only sport which I can enjoy watching).  In fact, the sport scenes are very enjoyable, and I could feel the excitement and tension of the players and the crowd.

I loved Redford as the gruff but brutally honest Hobbs, and Close as the young lady he almost left behind.  Basinger was great in an extremely unsympathetic role, and Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth gave excellent support as Pop Fisher and Red Blow, the manager and co-owner of the NY Knights, and his assistant.  The always superb Robert Duvall also makes the most of his role as Max Mercy, an unscrupulous sports journalist.

Not just a sports movie, but an allegory for life, this film was unexpectedly delightful and moving.  As a Redford fan, I was bound to enjoy it, but it exceeded my expectations, and I would certainly recommend it.

Year of release: 1984

Director: Barry Levinson

Producers: Philip M. Breen, Roger Towne, Mark Johnson, Robert F. Colesberry

Writers: Bernard Malamud (novel), Roger Towne, Phil Dusenberry

Main cast: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth

 

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