Mauricio Pochettino is the Argentinian-born manager of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (“the Spurs”). He is seen as hardworking, assured, focused, steely and staid, and also as one of the best managers in the Premier League. Towards the end of a recent match he suddenly ran full pelt down the touch line jumping high into the air as he went. The uninitiated in the stadium might have thought that here was someone who had taken leave of his senses. The answer is much simpler than that and probably goes back millions of years.
On the day of the jumping – Wednesday 5 April to be precise – Spurs were playing against Swansea in a match critical for both teams. For most of the game, Pochettino’s face, with its deeply-knitted brow and tight lips, bore the hallmarks of a man who was worried – hardly surprising since Spurs were losing. In the last minutes his team scored three goals and when the third went in, which assured their victory, the leaping began. His behaviour was no aberration, it was his version of what many humans do in moments of exhilaration. He could have clapped his hands, or hugged his neighbour, or clenched his fists above his head. No, he chose instead to jump for joy and his response reminded me, in the nicest possible way, how closely linked we human beings are to other members of the animal kingdom.
Amongst animals, jumping is commonplace. Often it is used for serious intent – as a mechanism for instance for escaping predators. In such circumstances, fleas, grasshoppers and frogs are such jumping stalwarts and, to this end, they have developed, over generations, elaborate undercarriage systems to provide the necessary thrust. In larger mammals something else may be afoot – some amongst them jump for pleasure or to express moments of exhilaration, as seen when lambs gambol, horses frolic and rabbits binky. Just recently, I learned that cows do much the same, but only on one occasion each year, and this seasonal display lasts no more than a few minutes. My source was the early-morning, BBC Radio 4 programme “Farming Today'” which I happened to chance upon.
For me, scenes conjured up while listening to the radio are often more vivid and compelling than anything seen on television. The mind’s eye is a great creator. That particular programme focused on springtime in Wales. In thirteen or so minutes, I was treated to a discussion with this year’s “Welsh Farmers’ Woman-of-the-Year”, an interview with a man cultivating asparagus in a plastic tunnel and an account by someone who had just been told that one of her cows had tested positive for TB.
While all this was engaging it was hardly visually captivating and it was the next item that bowled me over. A dairy farmer told how, in a few days time, he would be releasing back into his fields the cows who had spent the winter indoors. He described how every year on that first outing, as soon as these otherwise sedate animals tread on the lush grass, they begin to frolic with delight, zigzagging through the field, kicking up their hind legs, arching their backs and jumping into the air. During the celebration their joy is evident and, for him, this is one of the great sights of the farming year.
Being an impetuous and inquisitive man, in minutes I was planning to contact Farming Today to ask when and where I could come to see the next such display; I wanted to witness the joy for myself. However, sense got the better of me and I turned to the Internet for help. There, to my delight, were several cow-frolicking videos (for instance “Cows coming out in the summer”, “Happy cows”), which show newly-released cows jumping for joy like children.
It is worth noting that in some countries, such as France, cows often stay out in the fields all winter. Consequently, when the spring arrives, there is no sudden change in their environment and locals are denied any display of bovine high jinks. However, in recent years, across the Channel, there have been first-hand sightings of the human equivalent. Between 2001 and 2004, the much-travelled Pochettino was the manager of two French teams – first Paris St-Germain, then Bordeaux. No doubt, at moments of exhilaration, his leaps along the touch-line would have been as much in evidence then as they are now at Spurs. Moreover, when making this gesture, audiences are treated to an expression of joy that is shared across nations and between animal species.