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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 92 - No escape from all-pervading football worship

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.

Since the 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.

I KNOW 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.

As media 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 heroes."

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.

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