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Layth’s Take Summer, sport and socialising

LAYTH YOUSIF writes about his passion for the longer, brighter and warmer evenings, and gives insight into how he spends them

I LOVE the summer. 

One of the joys, amid many, is that the gloriously long evenings allow for more outdoor activities, and of course, more sport. 

This time of year, more than most, really appeals, because there is a feast of great sport on offer. 

The Women’s Euros are coming up next week, Test match cricket is ongoing — having been to the Lord’s, Trent Bridge and Headingley for the mesmerising England v New Zealand series, I’m off to Edgbaston this weekend for the one-off India Test — and Wimbledon is in full flow. 

I had aimed to visit SW19 this week, if only to try to catch the imperious Serena Williams, but alas, I ran out of time. 

As it was, I caught her stunning first round match against Harmony Tan on TV. Despite her defeat, Williams proved once again she is a true sporting colossus on the court, not to mention an inspirational cultural icon off it.  

The extra light has also meant plenty of evening cricket, to go with lots of cricket during the day of course — not to mention extended outdoor socialising. The two are not mutually exclusive I have to admit.

In my quest to visit and watch a game at all 18 counties, I visited Worcestershire CCC as a punter last weekend. 

For a cricket tragic such as myself, not to mention as someone who loves sports grounds, New Road was simply stunning. 

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t attended, or covered, a game there before — to make it number 15 out of 18 county grounds. (Only Hove, Derby and Taunton to go if you’re interested). 

New Road was simply glorious. Not least because of the 11th-century cathedral and other beguiling church spires in the background. 

A sine quo non for me to love a ground is that it has to have a treeline. And the sweep of weeping willows that lined the ground were as beautiful as they were delightful. 

Late evening light also means wonderful dog walks at dusk, as well as evening drinks in daylight in a beer garden or two (again, the two activities are not mutually exclusive). 

It is no surprise that the summer normally puts a smile on the face of even the grumpiest curmudgeons such as myself.  

As an aside, international tournaments apart, I try to make it a rule that I watch, and think, about football as little as I can in the merry month of June. 

Not least because as someone who regularly covers more than 100 games a season at all levels, even I need a summer break from the beautiful game for at least a month to recharge. 

It’s a long season, and worrying about which reserve right-back your club may or may not sign around the longest day of the year is simply not healthy. Let’s face it, you’ve got 11 months in which you can do so anyway. 

And so, the summer also allows a greater chance to put down the infernal smartphone and read (and reread) books. 

It sounds counterintuitive but I never seem to read as much during dark winter nights, probably because it has felt over the years that I’m generally on the road a lot more, watching and/or covering international football to non-league football — and everything in between — and I simply never seem to have the time to pick up as many books as I would like. 

Whereas, sans football (in June at least) I find myself catching up with my favourite writers on sport. 

Having savoured Jonny Bairstow in the form of his life this summer, I thought it would be instructive to reread one of the best England captains in history, Mike Brearley. 

Not his Art of Captaincy, which of course is a must-read. No, rather, a later effort, called On Form. 

Some of the themes he muses on are absolutely fascinating, applying psychology and even anthropology to sport, while understanding, as I hope I do, that sport is the most important of least important things. And accordingly, he treats it as such. I certainly plan to revisit some of the thought-provoking themes Brearley discusses in a future column, so please do keep an eye out for that. 

However, the first weekend of July already sees an imperceptible shift back to football. 

Most clubs have returned, or are about to return, to pre-season training and a raft of July friendlies are set to take place. 

Which is why, I’ll be covering my first game of the 2022-23 football season on Friday evening. 

If you love evocative, tree-lined grounds, then Hitchin Town v Luton Town at grand old Top Field in North Hertfordshire is a must. 

Not least because there’s a cider and cheese festival going on yards from the manicured pitch, in the Canary Club, before the game. 

I’ll be there reporting on both convivial events in my guise as regional editor of a national network of hyper local websites called Nub News that are currently revolutionising the industry at that level — and I can’t wait. 

Cider and football in the summer. What could possibly go wrong? 

If all goes well, I aim to make an early start for Edgbaston on Saturday morning. 

I’ll certainly make sure I have Brearley’s On Form for company on the trip up to the second city, the calm before the storm prior to catching up with old pals on what will invariably be a raucous day at the Test. 

Sport and socialising? What more could anyone want. 

No wonder I love the summer. 

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