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The Sport Heritage Gift Guide

The holiday season is upon us and, if you have someone in your life with an interest in sport heritage, gift buying can be difficult and quite expensive.  Of course, there are many gift options in terms of memorabilia, autographs, and the like – though, often times, these can be costly and sometimes difficult to obtain depending on the item. Other sport heritage-related gifts – such as attending a fantasy camp or an historic event like the Masters golf tournament or Wimbledon – can be equally expensive and inaccessible to all but a wealthy few.

Not to fear, however, as we have some gift suggestions for the sport heritage person in your life to suit both your budget and their interests!

Art

Though there are many options in the art/sport heritage landscape, the work of Paine Proffitt is particularly notable. I first encountered his work in the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham Stadium back in 2007 when on a research project, and I was thrilled to see that he is still producing magnificent artwork. Although much of his current work is based in English football, as an ex-pat American he also covers North American sports such as baseball and ice hockey. Visit his website at www.painproffitt.com – you’ll be pleased you did.

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(Some examples of Paine Proffitt‘s outstanding artwork.)

Apparel 

Retro and throwback sports jerseys and apparel are fairly common now, but weren’t always so. Several companies – most notably Ebbets Field Flannels and the Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company (or TOFFS) – now produce sports apparel from bygone eras, or from long forgotten teams, often in era-specific fabric (I have a replica 1950s canvas football jersey from TOFFS). I was amazed at some of the replica items of truly quirky teams and eras that these companies reproduce. For example, Ebbets Field Flannels, though mainly reproducing baseball apparel from various minor league teams from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, produced a replica jersey from the Edmonton Flyers – a  semi-pro hockey team that most people in my hometown of Edmonton had probably long forgotten existed. Much like Paine Proffitt’s artwork, people interested in throwback sports apparel would have a field day looking at all of the reproduction items available.

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Books and other reading material 

There are many, many, many sport history books released during the holiday season, as books are an easy fall-back as gifts. Of course, there are also several academic sport heritage books as well, some of which were covered in a previous post. However, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the holiday season is the best time to dream about the spring and summer to come. Few things are more enjoyable to think about during the cold winter months than a perfect day at the cricket ground and, for that, Wisden is your spot. This time of year, there are many cricket books on sale at Wisden – not the least of which is the famous Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack

Memberships

Memberships to sports museums, halls of fame, and sports clubs make some of the best gifts. Even if the recipient is not living near the museum or club, it provides an opportunity to both provide support as well as give a sense of being a part of the organization. Most museums and halls of fame provide various levels of membership – including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – while some sports clubs have memberships for patrons living away or abroad, such as Kent Cricket’s affordable “13th Man” club membership.

Donations

For the sport heritage aficionado who has it all, donations to organizations involved in the preservation and interpretation of sporting heritage make wonderful gifts. The International Sports Heritage Association has a list of member organizations – perhaps find one in a local area and provide a one-time or on-going donation as a gift. Another possibility are donations to organizations – such as the excellent Sporting Memories Network – that use the sporting past to tackle major health issues such as dementia and depression.

Sports Films for the Holiday Season

Binge-watching films and television shows – particularly in the Netflix age – has become an integral part of the holiday season.  After all, there are so few times in our calendars to pause, to reflect, and to the spend entire days lounging around the house (at least, when it is socially acceptable to do so!)  For me, at least, I like to balance my viewing between holiday classics, super-mega-silly blockbuster extravaganzas, and deeper, more serious films and documentaries – some of which involve something about sports.  There are many “classic” sports films and documentaries – stuff we probably all know and have seen many times.  However, there are some films that are a little more obscure, or may not have garnered a wide audience. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions of, perhaps, some lesser known sports films and documentaries that you may wish to fit in to your holiday binge-watching calendar.

Joyeux Noel – It would be difficult to call this a “sports film” per se – though, sports plays a central role in the story.  Similarly, it is probably the one film on this list that could be properly called a “Christmas Movie.”  In any event, this is my one “must watch every year at Christmas time” film.  The film is a fictionalized account of a real moment – The Christmas Truce of 1914.  The truce – which has become perhaps the most well-known aspect of the First World War – most famously included football matches and exchanges of gifts between enemy troops, though it also provided an opportunity to bury the soldiers left in No Man’s Land.  Joyeux Noel is deeply sentimental and very moving (the moment when a German solider sings “O Come All Ye Faithful” reduces me to a blubbering mess every time).  Given the First War centenary this year – as well as the many commemorations of the Christmas Truce – it is a poignant and timely reminder of our humanity.

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Fire in Babylon – I remember reading that the best time to think about baseball is during the winter.  Perhaps it is the same with cricket.  This documentary looks at arguably the greatest team ever assembled in any sport – the West Indies cricket test match team of the 1970s and 1980s.  Even if you don’t know your bowler from your wicket, this excellent documentary delves into the myriad of issues that faced this team – from colonialism and racism to the globalization of cricket leagues and labour – while also making for an absolutely engrossing story.  I have watched this documentary innumerable times and find something new each and every time.  It also made me want to build a time machine to go back and watch Viv Richards play. Wonderful stuff!

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Senna – I know absolutely nothing about auto racing and, though the name Ayrton Senna rang a bell, I knew nothing about him when I watched this absolutely engrossing documentary.  The way this documentary is constructed – the visuals, the sound, the lack of an audio commentary – allows the viewer to really get a sense of this man’s life…and, (*spoiler alert*) his tragic death.  By the end of this film, I was in tears.

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The Damned United – I adore this film.  Again, I knew nothing about Brian Clough and his time at Leeds United when I watched this film, but the wonderful performance by Michael Sheen is very funny, and often moving.  There are many sports movies about believing in one’s self in the face of overwhelming adversity, though few are as entertaining at The Damned United.

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Chariots of Fire – Although hardly an unknown film (it did win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1981 after all, and features perhaps one of the most iconic opening scenes and scores in cinema history), it seems a film that has been largely forgotten over the past three decades.  Though it is flawed at points, and much of the soundtrack seems lifted from Blade Runner, the story of two British athletes at the 1924 Olympics who run for more than just glory remains compelling, and certainly ticks the “epic, period drama” box for holiday viewing.

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Silly Little Game – ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series features some wonderful films.  Silly Little Game – a quirky, and often funny film about the beginnings of Rotisserie Baseball (the precursor to fantasy baseball) – is an often overlooked entry into this series.  The documentary is, admittedly, a bit unusual – there are some ways in which it was filmed that, I’ll admit, worked for me but might not be for everyone – but really gets to the heart of why grown men and women get so passionate about fantasy sports.

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Happy Viewing!