Wednesday, 22 June 2011

English football: a final word

Tell many - I fear, most - English football fans that you like even one film by Godard or Antonioni and you're "not one of them"; you've let the side down; you cannot be a "real" football fan and any claim you may make to love the game is fake, bogus, mythical. Refer to "Camp Nou" and you hate the game that is played better there than anywhere else in the world (I'd love to believe that nobody has ever told me this, but they have). The best part of two decades since the "New Football Writing" and its related myths were presented as having put an end to that bull-headed ignorance, it is as embedded as ever in the existence of the game's middle mass; strengthened, not undermined in any way, by the specific economic forces which appear on a superficial level to have changed the demographic basis and the origins and backgrounds of participants in the English game.

But what English football culture believes does fit in with a love of the game is just as telling as what it believes doesn't. Godard and Antonioni came from countries which have both won the World Cup in the last 15 years, and which contested the 2006 final. But while a love of their films - or anything else (don't come the "Club Can't Handle Me" with me, now; you know that doesn't count and you're just being pedantic to avoid the point) that originated from any other country outside England where football is the unrivalled top sport and a fundamental, overriding passion for millions - is seen as alien and unfitting to a love of football, an absolute and uncritical absorption by one country, and to a much lesser extent three other minor-functionary footman nations, where football has (at least until very recently) barely registered at all, is seen as entirely natural and entirely appropriate to a love of the game - in fact, more appropriate than a love of anything that existed even in this country pre-Murdoch. English football, like no other major sporting enthusiasm anywhere in the world, is bound up with an adoring worship of those parts of the world where the sport plays at best a minor role, and a sneering dismissal of anything whatsoever that originates in those parts of the world where the sport enjoys equal or greater popularity to that it enjoys here.

There is a direct connection between this unfortunate fact and the dismal performances of the England senior side against Switzerland (incidentally, isn't Bombardier beer - advertised as always before the game - an extreme example of Ploughman's Lunch syndrome? I had never heard of it before about 2005) and of the England Under-21 side in Denmark. The non-football world is more real to the players and especially to Stuart Pearce (repeat unto infinity if you're still stuck in 1987: the Lurkers were worse than George Benson) even than their own country; the football world is fake, Not Like Us, an unknowable phantom. They've never listened to Spanish, Ukrainian or Czech music or watched a Spanish, Ukrainian or Czech film; ergo those countries have nothing to teach them about football. They might as well not exist. That is why English football, worsened in this respect by Sky, is still every bit as removed in the way it is played and the values it incarnates from the rest of the football world as it was before 1992. That is also the root cause of the FIFA standoff (yes, I know capitalist greed is capitalist greed wherever it happens and isn't any better just because it isn't the work of Anglo-Saxons, yes I know the FIFA elite represents the capitalist greed of several "races" just as much as the NewsCorp elite represents the capitalist greed of another "race", but there is something peculiarly odious about one "race" of greedy capitalists attacking other greedy capitalists for being the wrong "race" of greedy capitalists while pretending to attack them simply for being greedy capitalists full stop).

If you have a sport whose entire culture is rooted in hatred for all the other countries that can teach it anything about that sport, and genuflection towards one country and its three footmen (who used to be our own footmen and are still ludicrously imagined to be so when it suits us) that can teach us nothing at all about it, you'll get English football. You'll get Stuart Pearce, the BNP lookalike with his good honest bone-crunching roast beef tackles sending people who listened mostly to the same music as the England players of the day, and ate the same food, and drank the same drinks, but did often have far more left-wing political views, back to their opera houses and onions and cognac and invading Poland. I hope you're all very proud of yourselves. Personally, I rather wish you'd all stuck with the NFL you were all watching instead when "Livin' on a Prayer" came out and had led our own football shrivel to crowds of 240 at Blyth Spartans and Rooney was the first European captain at the Superbowl in 2015. At least that would have shown where you belong. At least that would have been honest.

English football has dressed itself up as having escaped a world of insularity and xenophobia. The Under-21 side reveals this as the biggest lie of the last 20 years. We've swapped honest xenophobia - however odious it was, '70s blokishness never pretended to be anything else - for something which pretends to be "global" while actually being so only in the sense that the "Sweat" remix is. Let those words lie on Pearce's grave, after Montenegro have won Euro 2016.

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