WITH the western world becoming
unhinged by football, the time has come to confess my carefully-nurtured
secret. While I could be seen as the cringingly-mortified subject of a
Bateman cartoon, the receiver of scandalised stares and indignant glares,
I am defiantly unembarrassed.
In fact, I can look the world
straight in its sports-loving eyes and declare that I am not a fan of the
so-called beautiful game with its passions, prejudices, virtues, vices,
triumphs and disasters, and there are, I believe, millions of social
pariahs and eccentrics like me.
I say this with regret since,
as a former unswerving supporter, I once played football under fire. It
was on an autumn day in 1939 when German bombers attempted to reduce the
Forth Bridge to a heap of twisted metal and broken masonry and so ruin the
Fife holiday trade.
I was among a group of football-playing youngsters
at the area known in Edinburgh as The Meadows. Suddenly, the sky was
dotted with a host of golden puffballs which my reading of Biggles’ books
indicated anti-aircraft fire.
Despite the fact that a German
plane with its doubtless sabre-scarred pilot, flew directly overhead soon
afterwards, I, a junior citizen of steel, was able to place the ball at my
feet neatly between the two school-blazered goalposts.
spectacle of mass support, even adoration, of football teams and their
celebrities repels me, as do mass political rallies, I have tried to keep
football as remote from my life as the rings of Jupiter - an aim as futile
as trying to squeeze toothpaste back into the tube.
that football, to its fans, is more important than being a mere matter of
life and death. As we seem psychologically wired up to believe in some
universal referee, so, it may be that a quasi-religious passion for the
great game is inherent in the human psyche.
Adoration of football is not a
phenomenon but a commonplace matter. It is not just a major conversational
topic, it is, in a sense, in the air we breathe, an escape from
hum-drumming lives and even, perhaps, in the dreams - not mine - of
millions. Almost from the mouths of mewling, puking infants to the
mumblings of lean, slippered greybeards, the fortunes of its titans and
their teams - even squads that resemble an old bra, no cups and hardly any
support - are worried over like a dog’s bone.
Once, mercifully, there was a
distinct football close season. Now, it seems never-ending. It occupies a
vast desert of newspaper print, and non-football enthusiasts sag in
despair at the amount of time it captures on television. We
soccer-detached are like grim, black-browed rocks against which waves of
supporters’ disappointment and exultation lash themselves in vain.
drumfire bombards us with revelations about the players’ wayward or
wronged wives, the riotorious extra-mural activities of the footballing
gods themselves, descending among mortals from Mount Olympus, and we see
images of semi-naked, beer-bellied, drunken, obscenely-tattooed,
often-foul-mouthed, vandalising troglodytes - mainly English supporters, I
hasten to add - and are told that David Beckham is not fit to lace George
Best’s drink, we know the score and realise that there is no escape from
the all-pervading, all-demanding worship of the golden calf of football.
THE game has flourished despite severe, centuries-old condemnation. The
Romans may have played a form of it in Britain that involved much kicking,
shoving and a lot of injury time. Versions were played in medieval
England, but were sometimes banned because monarchs thought males should
be practising archery to deflate French egos instead of knocking the
stuffing out of balls and each other.
Shakespeare, in King Lear,
referred to a "base foot-ball player." Author Thomas Elyot penned his
critique in 1531: "Football, wherein is nothing but beastly fury and
extreme violence, whereof proceedeth hurt, and consequently rancour and
malice do remain with them that be wounded," and the poet John Dryden
(1631-1700) wrote about "Those athletic brutes whom undeservedly we call
Nothing changes; Euro 2004. goes on. Let me confess
again; I watched a game on television the other evening and went into
sleep time after the first five minutes.
There is a yawning gulf
between me and the footballing world; I intend to keep it that way.