Friday, February 05, 2010
Like anyone who has spent a great deal of their time devoted to such a basically pointless activity, I have had similar pangs myself at various times. And now, with hooligan behaviour still rife in Europe, wages at farcical levels in leagues such as the English Premiership, and John Terry recently showing just how bullet-proof the new generation of stars consider themselves, football's social impact and basic raison d'etre is worth considering.
There will always be those who claim that sport as a whole has no social value. For reasons that Vickery outlines in his article, the possibility of friendships that transcend race, class and culture tends to give the lie to this gloomy attitude. Albert Camus, a good footballer himself, was always at pains to point out the capacity of team sport for softening class distinctions.
And what of the anger on the terraces, the hatred which Zico refers to, the racism which is still central to the identity of many of the hooligan groups? Lamentable, deplorable, and all the other adjectives. But football is hardly the cause, merely the catalyst. And such catalysts change from era to era, with each new focus for group rage being slightly less horrifying than the last. Heysel? Consider this, and the matter comes into perspective.
Entertainment, in my view, is almost as basic a human need as food and shelter. For those unlikely to be moved by Verdi or Rembrandt, sport (and football is, for better or worse, the world's current favourite) is of inestimable value. For every Terry or Steven Gerrard caught disgracing themselves, for every shocking clash between rival fans, there are millions who have their lives temporarily brightened by a slick move, a brilliant goal, a stunning upset.
And then there is the point which Vickery comes back to at the end of his article: the basic camaraderie of social sport. In my years playing club football (and cricket, for that matter) I made friends with people of incredibly diverse backgrounds, and gained hundreds of small but fascinating insights into other cultures.
Similarly, whenever and wherever I've travelled, football has been a precious conversation-starter. It happened to be football because it is the world game, but the principle would apply to any sport, had it experienced the historical accidents that have pushed football to its present primacy. The need for entertainment is universal, and sport is the most universal of all forms of entertainment.
If you put Tim Vickery in the middle of Pyongyang and led him to the nearest party official, he would probably say "Pak Doo-Ik...1966". I guarantee that the Cold War would temporarily be forgotten.
That's the value of football.
I am sure Marx would now call it the opiate of the masses. It is a good way to keep the middle and working classes peaceful and controlled. It is probably more effective than religion. I doubt Nietzsche would approve either.
Plus, as seen especially when I went to the World Cup, it is also strongly about consumerism and advertising (left a slightly bad taste in my mouth).
..I still love it though. The cross-cultural aspect most of all (which is why I ultimately follow national teams over club teams).
If human beings spent all their time thinking about "real issues" without any time out for entertainment, they would all go barmy pretty quickly.
Anyway, I tend to think that too much thinking about politics tends to get people thinking increasingly in the abstract and ignoring the human nuts and bolts...the sort of ruminating over a grand philosophy that ultimately makes the massacre of thousands somehow justifiable.
That's one of the nice things about sport...it brings the individual human element to the forefront.