Sport Heritage Review

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Nostalgia is an ever-present part of heritage, particularly in sport.  We long for the times when they (athletes, teams, etc.) “were better” – and, of course, there’s the gut-punch in knowing that, as we age, our athletic prowess will, inevitably, falter with us.  In those rare times when I get to play hockey these days, I still feel that I ought to be the nibble sixteen year-old goalie I believe I still am rather than a middle-aged and increasingly pudgy shooter-tutor who can barely stop a beach-ball.  But, I digress…

I don’t wish to go into the intricacies of nostalgia and sport today – for which I, and many others, have had a bash at in the academic research world, and which I have discussed in other contexts in this blog over the past year.  Rather, a couple of instances last week had me thinking about this idea of post-nostalgia, and perhaps what that might mean in terms of an understanding of sport heritage.  By using post, I’m thinking not that nostalgia doesn’t exist or that we are somehow beyond nostalgia – but, rather, that we are aware of it in ways that we weren’t before.

Although hardly a fully fleshed-out idea, I consider that there might be two forms of post-nostalgia.  The first is an awareness – and, perhaps, even a performance – of nostalgia.  This is where we are aware of our own nostalgia, and we revel in it.  We dress the part, talk about how much better the good old days were – but, we aren’t necessarily keen on returning to the irretrievable past. In this, post-nostalgia is temporally-limited…we enter and exit at will.  I wish I were sixteen again from a hockey perspective, but I have no interest in being a sixteen year-old again and to relive the social awkwardness of my teenage years.  The nostalgia is confined, I am aware of it and I revel in it – if only for a moment.  Sure, the bittersweetness is still there, but it’s not as acute and debilitating.  After all, an awareness of nostalgia also means an awareness that the past wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The second might be the retrievability of the sporting past, particularly media clips and so forth.  This not only means the triggers of nostalgia are “on demand” but that we might even acquire nostalgias through the viewing and re-viewing of various broadcasts.  Synder’s 1991 paper, for example, explores the idea that the archiving and replay of sports broadcasts inspires a kind of “flashbulb memory” and makes sport particularly good fodder for nostalgia.  In any event, two recent personal YouTube searches brought this to light.  The first was a night watching and re-watching many of the excellent CBC Hockey Night in Canada playoff montages (of which this might be the best of the best) and remembering watching many of these – particularly from the 80s and 90s – as a kid.  In that, there was a bittersweetness – missing my childhood, my homeland and, in some ways, the all-encompassing passion I once had for hockey.  The other one, more vicarious, was watching many Viv Richards clips. Viv Richards is my favourite cricketer of all time, largely inspired by the excellent documentary Fire in Babylonthough Richards last played test cricket in 1991 (and long, long before I gave a fig about cricket) and, of course, I’ve never seen him play live.  And, yet, I find I nostalgize (or, perhaps, romanticize) he and his play – perhaps because it seemed that his time, and what he stood for in terms of the social and historical aspects of sport, seem so far removed from today. I suppose in both cases, there’s a seeking out of the nostalgic experience – to weep a little for the past, then move-on.  Nostalgia on demand, it would seem.


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