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Thursday, October 16, 2003

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OK, due to popular demand - and the Times having an annoying registration system to read their site - here are 'highlights' from that Sunday Times (12 October 2003) article I'm linking below. It's not actually about Mr Rascal, but football, but is a bit of a swipe at everything really.

Of course, before cutting and pasting an article en masse, I can only recommend registering with The Times: registration is free, and you are given access to the many exciting and innovative online features as well as all you'd expect from Britain's best quality daily. (Hopefully I won't get done for copyright if I say that...)

Comment: Minette Marrin: It's not football I hate, its the phoney-as-hell fans

The Chinese sage Confucius advised us, in the pursuit of virtue, to avert our eyes from what is unseemly. Unfortunately with football this is impossible.
There is no escape from football. Everything you can see and hear is dominated by footie news, and when there are two or three footie scandals running at the same time, the media can hardly pay attention to anything else, so obsessed are they with what they mysteriously call the beautiful game.

[...] The game itself may be beautiful at times, like many games, but what surrounds football these days is an ugly stink.

I'm not so much thinking of the usual nastiness of corruption, greed and beastly behaviour.

All proletarian spectator sports attract all three, for obvious reasons. I'm sure that the ancient Romans had just as many trouble-making hooligans, in and out of the arena, as we do.

Gladiators made equally sensational sums of money and were just as keen on the ancient Roman equivalent of "roasting" [...] at least one Roman empress was rumoured to have boffed a top gladiator.

One despairs of today's silly little slags, who dress like tarts and go to the hotel of a celebrity they have just met, even though such girls deserve the full protection of the law. But it is hardly worth getting upset about the silly salaries of greedy managers and coaches. Who cares, really? Nor does it matter much if they fill the tabloids with love-rat shenanigans. That is at least a form of light entertainment.

Perhaps it is rather sadder that talented young boys from nowhere who suddenly become football stars go equally suddenly wrong, with their defenceless heads turned by money and fame. It's not easy to go from a sink estate and a single mother to fame and £50,000 a week. You might have thought that their coaches and managers could advise them and guide them. But then with role models like Sven-Göran Eriksson, one can hardly expect much.

Why I hate football has nothing to do with any of that. What I hate is the strange football orthodoxy of today.

[...] You must think football is really, really important. Otherwise there must be something wrong with you. Worse than that, you must be an out-of-touch toff so no one can possibly take you seriously.


[F]ootball has come to stand for something quite other than men in shorts with a ball, or reasonable national pride.

Football means demos, the masses, the people. If you love footie, understand footie, you care about the people. You are of the people; with your belief and your passion you can somehow identify yourself with the people, even if you were born a bit of a toff, or went to Fettes. Ich bin ein footballer. To claim your love for football these days is to claim serious prole cred, or so people are stupid enough to imagine.


In other words, this is all about middle-class guilt and middle-class fear of the masses. It's the same thing that made people in the 1960s prole down their accents. It's the same thing that makes otherwise intelligent middle-aged toffs go about boasting they simply love hip-hop and rap when they don't. All sorts of top media intellectuals and novelists, often Oxbridge white males, go about publicly proclaiming their love of gangsta-rap. Maybe they do. But in fact it doesn't matter what you actually like; it's what you publicly say you like.

Alastair Campbell had himself pictured after his resignation watching footie with his son. Campbell does truly love football, but that doesn't matter either way. It was the prole cred (and incidentally the dad cred) that mattered. Football these days is one of the most efficient ways of getting prole cred.

We can all understand why politicians are in hot pursuit of prole cred, misguided though I hope they are. I hope the few genuine proletarians left in this country despise them as frauds. What is much more hateful is why intellectuals and film makers and writers, and even normal people, seem increasingly to feel driven into the same pursuit.

Call me naive, but these are the people we depend on to tell us deeper truths. And this is a particularly dishonest form of political correctness. Wisdom cannot thrive on pretending to be something you aren’t, by pretending to like something you don’t, or don’t care about.

Why must a novelist be interested in football to be any good? One might as well say he ought also to be interested in military history, or musical counterpoint, both just as important and a lot more interesting, but entirely lacking in prole cred.

This is not to belittle football, or the pleasure of football fans. Good luck to them. And good luck to all the rugby players and ice skaters and showjumpers and skateboarders too. Sport is wonderful. At the same time, it creates lots of work and wealth, some of it perfectly respectable.

In the absence of any real religious sense, or national sense, or feeling of shared identity, there's something very shabby in trying to create a false one out of a game. And it's intellectually very shabby to impose on a game more significance than it has and to sneer at those who refuse to do the same.

If football were only a game, I wouldn't hate it. I would just ignore it. If only they'd let me.

I don't want to make a big thing of this at all (this is just a columnist doing her job, after all), but I just found the whole thing such a bemusing and frustrating opinion that I had to share.

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