This is one of those posts where I take something that’s been hopping around the blogosphere and clumsily adapt it to fit soccer. You can see two undamaged originals here and here. The essential idea is to bring up and discuss “cultural gaps” you are aware of, and explain yourself. Now, if I were to be talking about culture writ large, I’d mention opera, modern dance, and I’d bemoan my experience of modern poetry (but with the proviso that I’ve spent the last seventeen years really trying: flick through almost any Bloodaxe anthology and I’ll have read the collected-works-so-far of practically everyone therein, I’ve been to the Voicebox many times, subscribed to Poetry Review, Ambit and the London Magazine, habituated the Poetry Library, count two Gregory Award winners as friends, and… the fail grade, for that’s what it is, is reluctant and regretted and isn’t handed to everyone).
Football, though: those parts of football culture that I just can’t make any headway with.
Football Shirts Replica shirts are not clothing for grown adults. At least the under-16s might, you know, play football whilst wearing them. Ugly, overpriced and ill-fitting. A football scarf is one thing – and less ridiculous on the person than those long, detassled varsity scarves you still see on the otherwise well-dressed. (While you’re out back burning your shirt, put your white trainers and hooded tops on the fire for good measure. Kids clothing looks absurd on adults).
Absurd Partisanship Supporting a club is one thing. If you’re reading this, the chances are that you do just that thing. Ridiculous, overheated hatred of other clubs and their fans is another. But I’d have to admit to reading e.g. Stephen Pollard’s comments about Arsenal, or just about every mention of “other” football teams by “United Rant” and being left completely cold and unamused. Again, something that might well be left in the playground. It’s also one of those parts of the game that middle class fans tend to take to ridiculous extremes in the hope that some of football’s proletarian quality will thereby rub off on them. “Clubs in Crisis” draws minimal middle class support. Any suggestion of racism or sexism sucks the oxygen out of middle class lungs and leaves them gaping and gasping like fish, but they’ll have no trouble generalising about certain other groups, like “Americans” or fans of clubs from cities they’ve never actually visited.
What about the wierd “demotic” broken-mockney accents used by certain Sky Sports News presenters and a number of wannabe-prole Five Live journalists? Have you ever heard anyone in real life talk like that? I haven’t, and just wish they could get comfortable both with the accent they really grew up with and, by implication, other people’s.
I can’t stand those adverts where everyone pours out of buildings to play huge games of street football or alternatively the streets are empty to drive in because everybody is indoors with 200 mates watching “the match” on a huge telly whilst dressed like characters from a Richard Curtis rom-com. But I’m not alone, there.
I don’t find the tight shorts on eighties footballers funny because I can remember the eighties, and back then they found the large shorts on pre-1965 footballers funny. I didn’t find it amusing then, because – what with the lack of international success, so many clubs being on the verge of bankruptcy, crowd violence and terrible, broken old stadia, not much about football was funny in all truth.
I don’t get on with phony working-class nostalgia about football, and even less with middle class attempts to muscle in on it. Everything that’s happening now is a direct result of there being enough interest in football to support huge TV deals, and that in turn is latching onto the consequences of the end of the maximum wage. It’s not the end of the world, and the old days were demonstrably worse, for players in terms of pay and conditions, and for spectators in terms of violence and horrible old grounds. We still have more football on free television than we had in the ’70s, and vastly more either down the soon-to-be-smoke-free pub or for £20/month on satellite.
Do I have to say that the cant about an English manager for England, passion and inspiration is just cant? Or are regular readers used to that idea now? After the England team’s recent performances, and after the Ashes defeat, does anyone still believe that passion is (a) an English trait or (b) the sine qua non of sporting success? (Actually, a confession. I’m never, ever going to convince anyone on this – if I was to name one thing I have learned from running this site this year, it’s that the English are as persuadable on this as they are that Churchill was Eric Blair in a fat man suit. Passion and inspiration cannot take you anywhere save in freak circumstances unless you have skill and strategy. If you have skill and strategy, passion and inspiration come easily. If you have to work them up, they’ll fold like wet paper in the face of teams and players who have prepared more intelligently. But I don’t think anyone is listening).
And finally! Football ads – yes, I know we’ve already had this one, but don’t you hate the ones where Beckham, Ronaldinho and co travel to top tournaments in huge convoys of scooters, stopping for bizarre kickabouts on wasteground along the way? Or the same players’ get-togethers on space stations or underground bunkers to play five a side in blacked-out tanks surrounded by barbed wire?
UPDATE How could I forget those Ford/Sky Sports ads that have anti-radar “window” strips exploding from the armpits of out-of-condition everymen as they celebrate a goal from the safety of their building site or moving car? There’s a parallel there with the chav tastelessness of FIFA trophy presentations, but in all other respects these ads demand explanation as well as condemnation.
Obviously, this is what I don’t get on with – most of the rest, I love. And, even the ads are right sometimes. If they made pub football teams – if they made pub football teams like THAT – they’d probably be the best pub football teams in the world. Merry Christmas, everyone.