A bit of a departure here, I know. And I promise that BSaD isn't going to make a habit of reviewing the Sunday supplements (unless there is a sudden demand from the public, of course). Personally, I've found the first Sunday of the month being brightened immeasurably by the Observer Sport Monthly (OSM). Although I'm sure its pages are already familiar to many of BSaD's discerning readers, just in case you don't know OSM is a free glossy supplement that arrives with the Observer on the first Sunday of every month. It's an excellent combination of regular items and well written features. Within OSM's pages many, many sports are covered. From football to fencing, cricket to cock-fighting, the popular, the beautiful, the brutal, the graceful, the bizarre are all included. Global superstars, unknowns, retired legends and promising youngsters all rub shoulders within OSM.
The December issue was partly, and naturally, an end of year review. Archive articles were used to illustrate the ups and downs of the last sporting year. The triumph and future of English rugby was given some realism by Julian Barnes in these heady times for the game with odd shaped balls. Lance Armstrong was held in awe by Geoffrey Wheatcroft for his staggering stamina and amazing achievments. Simon Garfield celebrated the Roman Abrhamovich effect at Chelski as only a true Chelsea fan could (sickening reading for the rest of us, though). Meanwhile, Kevin Mitchell lamented the passing of old warhorse Evander Holyfield as a force in boxing, hoping that he'd know to call it a day before it was too late. Grace Bradberry eulogised about a man who'd clearly blown his chance, but with youth on his side would return to get many more - Juan-Pablo Montoya. These articles are intelligently written by well-informed people who clearly love and care about their sports. Yes, they are writers, nevertheless they are also fans, and that passion shows through in their writing. Fortunately the OSM doesn't only concentrate on those at the top of their sports. The passion for sport is no less evident when the focus is turned on young boxers in Marrakesh who fight on the street for cash, or the struggles of an Iranian refugee to gain British citizenship and represent his adopted country. OSM continually recognises that sport grows from the grassroots up.
Another OSM special issue recently underscored several of OSM's strengths. 'The 50 Best Sporting Photographs' was a simple, yet stunningly beautiful, supplement. A glorious extension of the Top 10 column that we'll mention later. Photos were included for a myriad of good reasons, some for pure aesthetics, others for what they represented about sport. The glories of sport were captured by shots of Bob Beamon flying through the Aztec Stadium to win Olympic gold and set an almost unbreakable world record, a headless Geoff Hurst celebrating a World Cup goal at Wembley, or Ali unleashing his aggresion on the vanquished Sonny Liston to cement his place as World Champ. The pain of sport, was summed up by the faces of a fallen and heartbroken Mary Decker or a Welsh prop with an Argentinian thumb in his eye. The duality of Diego Maradona was expressed by shots of the entire Belgian defence lining up to tackle him in 1982 and his hand rising above Shilton's in 1986. There were also moments from anonymous football, baseball and racing events that captured the beauty, excitement, comedy and tragedy of sport, the competitors, spectators and freakish conditions that it can be played in.
The regular colums more than hold their own, though. To the extent that the undoubted the jewel in the crown of any OSM issue is the now legendary 'Top 10...' section at the front of each issue. Fairly self-explanatory, a writer nominates their Top 10 on a given sporting subject, the subject can be almost anything. The 10 Best Premiership Imports, The 10 Best Athletics Performances, The 10 Biggest Dives, The 10 Biggest Chokers, The 10 Best Fly-Halves, The 10 Biggest Wastes of Money (Luther to AC makes it, Ramon Vega to Watford doesn't - it's an unfair world!), The 10 Biggest Bounders in Cricket and so forth. The subject can be almost anything, the ten selections are written about and justified by an OSM writer. The following month's issue will then feature readers' reactions of agreement, disbelief and alternative Top 10s. Like all the best ideas, the thinking behind this column is very simple - basically, it's an extension of the great pub debate, and I don't know anyone who can resist giving their opinion in one of those!
Other regular columns include the following month's sporting calendar, which is supplemented by TV and Betting Guides. A sports book review and a very tough quiz are to be found among slightly more off the wall colums such as 'Seve Watch' and 'British World Champs' (this month featuring Paul Beech - Toe Wrestler), all rounded off with the 'Frozen in Time' picture, a classic shot with accompanying 'Where are they now?' type captions. Last month's 'Frozen in Time' featured Elton John and Rod Stewart gracing the hallowed Vic turf (anyone care to admit to remembering that?).
For my money (and I say that in full knowledge that we're talking about a free magazine), OSM is the most intelligently written and illustrated sports magazine around. It's put together with great care every month from a wealth of sources and writers . It entertains, informs, amuses and arouses debate, and very rarely does it let its readers or subjects down. The magazine most importantly covers many sports without spreading itself too thinly, recognises the many levels that make up those sports and doesn't duck the surrounding issues. All in all, a cracking way to see off the Sunday hangover!