It’s quite a common sight; a sportsman (or woman) crossing themselves before the start of a game/match/race/jump/dive/whatever. I’ve often thought that it is a curious ritual. As far as I understand it, it is simply tracing the shape of the cross, as in the cross from the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, and I’ve always understood it to be a largely Roman Catholic practice. To be honest, I’ve not done any research into the subject, apart from a quick squint at Wikipedia (where else?), so I’m certainly no expert on the history and meaning of this action.
In its sporting context, I guess it’s a kind of superstition; our heroes (or heroines) are perhaps seeking some kind of Divine cloak of safety or protection. I doubt that it is 100% effective, but if it gives a sense of comfort to those concerned, why not give it a try? There are undoubtedly many secular versions of similar superstitious practices among elite athletes. I recently heard the cricketer-come-dancer Mark Ramprakash admitting that he’d keep the same piece of chewing gum throughout an innings, sticking the flavourless globule on his bat handle during meal breaks and even over night. Yuk. [I used to stick mine behind my earlobe. Eeeeuw. It just seemed like a fairly clean place to hide the Wrigley's Spearmint, and it was certainly discrete.]
Being an analytical type of bloke, I sometimes wonder at the convenience of this whole crucifix thing. It certainly makes things easy for vampire hunters, when making the sign of the cross in front of Count Dracula or his cronies could mean the difference between life and death. It seems that any two pieces of wood or metal will do, although I’m not sure on the efficacy of the two fingered approach. Two digits, one from each hand, laid across each other at right angles certainly make the shape of a cross, but does it count (no pun intended) from a vampire’s point of view? If in doubt, and you’re thinking of tackling some blood-sucking, pasty-faced gothalikes, ensure that you’ve chopped some garlic the night before and have handled it with all available digits. Crossed fingers tainted with a healthy dose of eau de allium sativum should do the trick. Anyway, the point is that Christ could have been executed in any number of different ways. Imagine if he’d been hanged or beheaded or stoned to death or burned at the stake; imagine Dracula sniggering as he watches some hapless wench trying to fashion a noose from her knicker elastic, or some chinless wonder struggling to construct a guillotine from the contents of his breeches. I suppose you could go armed with a pocket full of gravel* or a box of matches and some kindling, but my guess is that by the time you’d thrown enough aggregate or broken enough Swan Vestas, you’d have a set of teeth firmly clamped around your jugular. Evidently and undoubtedly, the cross is convenient both as a Transylvanian defence mechanism and as means of showing your faith.
Back to the point. I have recently undertaken further analysis of the subject, aiming to tackle the whole thing from a 21st century perspective. I wonder what would have happened if Jesus had lived and died in the modern age? As far as I know, crucifixion is no longer the execution method of choice, even for the maddest despots and dictators, or State Governors, so it is more likely that he would have expired in an electric chair or from an injection (use of the term lethal seems superfluous here). Now, an electric chair would undoubtedly be the choice of vampires, but I’m not so sure about needles and syringes. Miming the insertion of a needle into the crook of one’s arm is pretty simple, in the same way that forming the shape of a/the cross is easily done with the hand. So, let’s imagine Jesus lived in the twentieth century and died after the insertion of a needle. This would leave the Christian world as we know it with a major image makeover. We would have been denied countless works of art depicting Christ on the cross and our churches would be filled with objects featuring the humble syringe (or the terrifying ugly electric chair if that method had gained priority in this hypothetical new world of mine), while the faithful would stand before the alter injecting imaginary poison into their veins.
Before I finish, I should perhaps explain the title. I learned the term from my dad, who explained that it is one way to describe the action of crossing oneself. To be fair, it is rather dated, since very few men will now wear a watch near their chest, and it also takes no account of womankind’s lack of plums, but no matter, it still works even if I have never been sure if the watch should be on the left or the right side. Where is all this leading? Well, go back to the start and imagine our sporting stars again, dutifully preparing themselves for their upcoming performance with the sign of their faith. Imagine countless cyclists sat on the start line miming the injection of the needle into their arm rather than the form of the cross. I don’t know about you but I’m imagining Alanis Morissette positively wetting herself at the very spectacle.
Come to think of it, in the light of the USADA evidence which has recently entered the public domain, perhaps I should have titled this Spectacles, Testicle, Wallet and Watch.
* Couldn’t resist this: