The First Serious Step

October 14, 2009

“A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life,” wrote Oscar Wilde, and while Wilde’s personal proclivities may render his judgment in many areas suspect, when it comes to men’s neckwear he was dead-on.

A gentleman’s tie, in venerable United Kingdom circles, used to announce his educational pedigree, army service, or club affiliation. Patterns of stripes, colors, and emblems were badges: a wide white stripe with red borders on green meant the Hampshire County Cricket Club, not to be confused with the blue and yellow pinstripes on a navy background of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Dark red and navy horizontal strips with white borders meant the University of London, and across the pond thick green and white chalk strips, running diagonally, meant Dartmouth College.

Which isn’t to mention emblematic ties, like the Royal Navy: gold crowns on a navy background. A red “M” inside of red diamond-crossed lines on dark blue denotes a member of the Missouri Athletic Club, and robins’ egg blue on black means an Old Etonion, or alumnus of England’s Eton preparatory school.

UK rugby club ties.

UK rugby club ties.

Unfortunately, two things have happened to relegate club ties to sartorial history: there got to be too many clubs, schools, and regiments for people to keep track of which color dragon meant membership in which collegiate eating club, and secondly, men stopped caring. Men are defined even less by their affiliations today than organizations are by their ties.

This, as you may have guessed, is a terrible tragedy. Not because the organizations which represent themselves with patterned ties tend relatively towards exclusivity, but because so many lesser ways of declaring allegiance have sprung up.

Consider the sea of rubber bracelets men wear to show their support of causes ranging from cancer research to ice skating, or gaudy gold lapel pins in different shapes and sizes, or oversized jewelry, or bumper stickers. In comparison to these, a tie is a subtle and stylish declaration of allegiance to a cause, club, profession, team, or military unity. It isn’t insistent, but a nod to the initiated. And unlike bracelets, jewelry, pins, and bumper stickers, a tie is nice to look at.


Noisy Cricket

June 22, 2009

Lord’s is a sports field, or pitch, which sits to the northwest of London, in the St. John’s Wood area, and which is widely credited as being the “home of cricket.” Lord’s is also a museum, the self-appointed keeper of cricket’s history and artifacts for a fan base for whom “old money” can be as old as feudalism.

The Nottingham Cricket Club.

The Nottingham Cricket Club.

Despite its august antiquity, Lord’s has been on the outs for years: India is now cricket’s epicenter, not England. While Lord’s may be the sport’s soul, new pitches in India are its muscles and, without a doubt, its wallet. The shift has left many English fans feeling they’ve lost some vital part of themselves. Mike Marqusee, in Anyone but England: An Outsider Looks at English Cricket, writes: “In cricket, there is always the fear that something will be lost.” Of Twenty20, a new, faster version of cricket popular in India, Marqusee notes substantial worry that this new version, called T20, will steal more of those vital parts.

The “highest” form of cricket is a version called test cricket, a game of which can last from three to five days and which is played by one of the most archaic and incomprehensible sets of rules ever to govern a sport. T20, in contrast, is quick and simple.

For the purists at Lord’s, that simplicity is the problem. Test cricket is like to a golf match, or marathon: strategic decisions happen over an extended period and fans are able to see self-corrections, psychological struggles, and dramatic changes of fortune over the course of the competition. T20 is more like a home-run derby.

Its cheap thrills and unruly fans have made T20 an enemy of the cricketing establishment. So have its name-brand players and their major league salaries: English cricket has never been about paychecks, instead being administered by a non-profit board akin to the Olympic Committee. The professional athlete culture is abhorrent to purists.

For now, cricket’s 21st century face is undecided. Many English swear by test cricket, including some of the sport’s most storied heroes, while T20 has attracted well-heeled new investors and an increasingly broad fan base and television viewership. The marketplace still competes against the spirit of the game, the new against the classic, and fans draw lines on both sides. And for now, both England and India are out of contention for this year’s championship: the West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and South Africa are the remaining title contenders, both England and India having “crashed out” early on. Before their exit, though, the teams squared off against each other at, of course, Lord’s and, as evening fell on bleachers of unruly Indian fans, England notched a victory.

Lord's Cricket Ground.

Lord's Cricket Ground.