For the past 25 years, SI correspondent Lavinia Scott Elliot has run a one-woman battle station in London, combating the snafus that arise in our covering of Wimbledon, the British Open and various other stories every year. Handling such matters with deft precision is to be expected of Scott Elliot; she is the daughter of a British Army major general. When she began a well-deserved six-month sabbatical in February, fresh troops were needed to replace her.
The first three-month tour of duty fell to staff writer Robert Sullivan and the second to writer-reporter Richard Demak, and both have been struck by the tremendous growth of interest in American sports in the British Isles. "I've seen people in pubs dressed in Seattle Seahawk regalia," says Sullivan. "In bookstores the shelves are filled with stuff about the NFL. And in the parks around London you see almost as many kids playing softball as soccer."
Or a version of softball. "They seem to play with five bases, and tagging up doesn't exist, though they are learning," says Sullivan. "But as the British are quick to point out, softball isn't new to them; it's just an adaptation of their game of rounders."
Sullivan's stint ended on May 15, and he counts as one of its highlights a trip to the English countryside for the sublime diversion of pigeon racing. "Covering a pigeon race isn't exactly like Edward R. Murrow dodging buzz bombs during the blitz, but it is a unique story," says Sullivan. "A crowd gathers at dawn to watch as more than 10,000 birds are released from cages. And that's it. The finish line is 200 miles away, so no one sees both the beginning and the end of the race."
Sullivan also got an up-close look at fell running. A 35-miles-per-week jogger, he entered a fell run in Rydal, in northern England. For the uninitiated, a fell is a hill, and fell runners run up fells. And sometimes they fall down fells. "The race began in a sheep meadow, and all I could think of was not to fall at the start," says Sullivan. "One runner in front of me did, and he was covered in mud and sheep manure."
The one complaint we heard repeatedly from Sullivan—and are already hearing from Demak—is how difficult it is in England to keep up with American baseball. The coverage of the games in the newspapers is, at best, erratic. "We do get the West Coast box scores," says Demak. "The only problem is, they're from cricket games on the west coast of England."
Sullivan (left) and Demak: changing of the guard.