It is in sporting journalism where associations with Pierce Egan particularly come to the fore. Frank Keating’s obituary of Ian Wooldridge (1932-2007) describes him as ‘an undisputed heavyweight champion of British sports writing’, one of a ‘luminous handful’. An Egan connection is immediately established by the choice of a pugilistic phrase, but its admittedly general application is not as significant as a subsequent reference to the ‘peripatetic trade, sometimes considered trivial, if not rather grubby’. This underscores a familiar perception encountered by Egan, and Keating praises Wooldridge with an artistic analogy that resembles Egan’s outlook: ‘he had a singular but always flexible style: he could daub on the primaries with broad strokes or work with a water-colourist’s touch’ (Guardian, 6 March 2007). Egan advanced a distinctive narrative approach that helped to avoid sterility. His successors beyond the mid nineteenth century have only rarely been aware of Egan’s work. Nevertheless, consciously or unconsciously, elements of a metaphorical style have been perpetuated in fluctuating degrees by writers sharing the realm of unconventional sports reporting.
The nature of most sporting events produces difficulties associated with repetitiveness and these are not always successfully circumvented. Metaphorical gilding can only be deployed to a limited extent, and although the inclusion of participants’ profiles, alongside quotes, can pique the ‘human interest’ element of an event, this should merely complement, not displace the sporting action. The linguistic and imaginary guile that Egan deployed could be viewed as a literary response to certain sporting situations. Rather than espousing the existence of an ‘Egan tradition’, it is possible that Egan’s literary response is one that constitutes a naturally recurrent strategy deployed in the sports-writing genre.
The sport of pugilism created a form of reporting that was, to a certain extent, self-perpetuating. One writer providing commentary on an event could duplicate some stylistic nuances of predecessors without necessarily being familiar with past pieces. Basic recurring aspects of the sport render that dimension almost unavoidable. More difficult to rationalise is the idiosyncratic, or more playful, bent of Egan, Bee, and occasional others. One theory is that wit and verbal cleverness are quite often used to contain and somehow handle the ‘uncontainable’. I believe that a Boxiana style existed, and Egan functioned as an integral factor in pugilism’s infiltration of the national psyche, which forms part of the widespread influence of a sporting philosophy on everyday life. In addition, he assumed a prominent position in the development of sports reporting, as well as contributing to more imposing areas of satire, parody, and novel writing. Egan's enlivening style, arguably, expedited the evolvement of a ‘maverick sports report’.
Someone was in need of a little re-education. An eloquent fistic retort hovered in the air. The quickening descended upon him; he felt it - a vengeful benediction.
It was the straight right against the slugging ruffian. The retribution meted out was swift and emphatic. The heat-seeker right found its target --- and it was 'Goodnight Vienna'.
(David Snowdon, 2009)