Is Andy Murray the best? Are Slayer the heaviest? Is the Spine Race the toughest? Why superlatives are the worst

Updated: 14/04/2024

There was a clip doing the rounds on social media over the weekend of a boy of around 10 years old witnessing a Premier League football ground for the first time.

The wonder and incredulity on his face as he clapped eyes on the yawning expanse of the stadium where his heroes would soon be running around (Stamford Bridge, as it happens) was touching.

And you would like to think that whatever happens in his football-watching life, that 2-1 win over Newcastle which he saw will remain the Best Game Ever.

Superlatives like that cannot be measured, as often as we like to try. His best game will be different from yours, from mine.

Greatest since the dawn of time

As easy as it would be for one person to argue why Chelsea’s victory over the Toon on Saturday was superior to every other game ever (because it was their first live game) it would be just as simple for another to claim Millwall’s 4-1 win over West Ham at the Den in 2004 was the best since the dawn of time (on account of there being an own-goal, a world-class volley, a missed penalty, eight police horses on the pitch mid-match and Alan Pardew scowling).

And yet in sport and life, we are constantly bombarded by attempts to shoe-horn metaphorical apples and oranges into a frenzied arms-race of greatest, longest, toughest or heaviest.

Take the eternal question of what is the world’s greatest album. The answer depends on the time of day, your mood, the company you are keeping and a zillion other intangibles.

(For the record, the correct answer is the Ramones’ self-titled record, unless it is after 11pm, when it would become Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue – unless you happen to be driving fast, when it would be Slayer’s Reign in Blood). See?

Aggressive arguing

What is even more perplexing are the people who argue aggressively online that their chosen superlative is indeed gospel. As The Dude in The Big Lebowski stated: that’s, like, just your opinion, man.

As Andy Murray announced his impending retirement last week we were asked whether he can be ranked as Britain’s greatest ever sportsman. Is he better than Roger Bannister? Than Bobby Charlton? Than Phil “The Power” Taylor? (That last one was a joke).

Aside from Murray’s sad ending, the beginning of the Spine Race on Sunday morning had another superlative-based question foisted upon us.

The Spine Race is a gruelling, 268-mile trek along the Pennine Way. The terrain and the unpredictable nature of the winter weather makes it a pretty darn difficult seven-day race. There are no stages; the clock started at 8am on Sunday and finishes when competitors cross the line. It ain’t easy.

So predictably, a leading ultrarunning website inserted it into its list of “world’s four toughest races”.

‘Big wet walk'

One finisher, Gary Dalton, scoffed at its inclusion, with the comment that it is “a big wet walk”.

That it may be – he did add that it was an “amazing race” – but where does it rank among the world’s toughest endeavours?

Is it harder than the 3,100-mile Self-Trancendence race where runners complete seemingly endless loops of a few New York City blocks? Is it tougher than the Badwater 135, held in searing Death Valley heat? Is it even worth arguing?

It would be easier to answer why bananas are a better fruit than grapes. Or why football is superior to rugby union. Still, it is fun trying to convince others that your Best Ever should be universal fact. As long as you are nice about it.

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