Tag Archives: sports writing

The Swan (Mascot) that Would Not Be Tamed

Photo by Swanseajack4life (CC BY-SA 3.0)

At Howler Magazine, Jeff Maysh tells the story of Cyril the Swan, the misbehaving mascot of Welsh football club Swansea City. It’s a story about the fading, post-industrial city that embraced the swan’s antics as a symbol of local identity. But it’s also the story of club groundskeeper Eddie Donne, the man inside the costume, and the making (and unmaking) of ultra-local heroes. In a particularly surreal scene, Maysh recounts a disciplinary hearing between league officials and the mascot — who appeared in full swan regalia.

Neil McClure hired Britain’s most famous sports attorney, Maurice Watkins, to defend Cyril. In 1995, Watkins had represented Manchester United star Eric Cantona after he kung fu kicked a spectator. He wanted Cyril kept away from the hearing because, Watkins told me via e-mail, he was “unpredictable to say the least.” This, he said, almost caused Lewis to “have apoplexy as the interest in the case had already generated huge sales of Cyril memorabilia, and [Lewis] had just commissioned the purchase of thousands of Cyril statuettes.” Donne avoided the TV crews and fans out front by sneaking in a back door and carrying Cyril in a bag. When Donne poked Cyril’s head out of a window, the mob went wild and began chanting, “Save our swan!”

Welsh FA chairman Alun Evans and two officials were sitting behind a long table in a barren conference room when they called for the defendant.

“They wanted to see what my vision was like,” Donne says. Cyril kicked the doors open and staggered inside. “I was falling over on purpose,” he says. “There was a plate of biscuits, so I pecked them, knocked the plate over.” As the biscuits went flying, the FA officials looked on in disbelief.
When Lewis explained that Cyril was a mute swan, the chairman instructed him to act as a translator.

“Ask Cyril, Mike, can he see a football at his feet when he is wearing his costume?” said Evans.

The swan shook his head: no.

“Ask Cyril, Mike, did he intentionally kick the ball in the direction of a Millwall player?”

Again, the answer was no.

“Mr. Watkins,” the chairman barked, turning to the lawyer, “were you aware that Cyril patted an official on the head shortly after Swansea had scored their third goal … after encroachment on the field of play?”

“Yes, Mr. Chairman,” Watkins said. “Cyril thought that he had seen a coin thrown at the linesman and went over to console him.”

Brilliant, Maurice, brilliant, Lewis recalls thinking.

Cyril was dismissed from the room. As he was leaving, Donne saw referee Steve Dunn sitting in a chair in the corridor.

“I dipped my beak in his coffee,” he says.

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Longreads Best of 2016: Sports Writing

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in sports writing.

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Erik Malinowski
NBA/features writer at Bleacher Report.

The Art of Letting Go (Mina Kimes, ESPN The Magazine)

Whereas another writer might’ve taken this story’s central question—how (and why) Koreans have elevated bat flips in baseball to an art form that deserves celebration—and answered it with condescension or (at best) superficiality, Kimes goes above and beyond, taking readers on a swirling journey across South Korea, through stadium dugouts and Seoul’s inner-city neighborhoods, to produce a compelling narrative that is part sports, part travelogue, and as illuminating a culture piece as you’ve read all year. Between Kimes’ words (which are a masterclass in scene-setting) and the wondrous illustrations of Mickey Duzyj (who was along for the reporting), this was a story I kept seeing in my head all year long.

The Official Coming-Out Party (Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN The Magazine)

Bill Kennedy was living his childhood dream of being an NBA referee when his world was upended last December: A star player yelled two anti-gay slurs at him during a televised game. Kennedy’s open secret—that he was, in fact, gay—was now quite public and on its way to becoming a national story.
With empathy and a deft touch, Arnovitz details what happened that night, what preceded it, and (perhaps most importantly) what followed in the months ahead, as Kennedy’s coming out became a national story and sent the veteran referee on a personal journey that was decades in the making. (The kicker, which takes place at New York’s LGBT Pride March, is stirring and sensational.) When this new season tipped off, Kennedy became the first openly gay player or referee to appear in an NBA game. What Arnovitz so brilliantly conveys is the scope of all that had to happen for that moment to finally become real. Read more…