I’m no football expert, or even really a fan. I’ve always found the acts of faith and devotion that surround it to be slightly absurd. Fans’ vicarious living through a bunch of (albeit talented) avaricious simpletons. Investing considerable emotional energy and money in things over which they have zero control.
And that’s before we consider the obeisance to the marxist race hustlers, the covid pantomine and the ludicrous shilling for women’s football.
I watched – of all things – a Russell Brand video the other day that made a very powerful case for the transcendant human experience of togetherness that arises from football fandom. A convenient vehicle for something fundamental to a healthy society and (mentally) healthy individuals, partcularly in a time when such communion is no longer sought from (or provided by) religion.
So, having put a tenner on Denmark, to incant the Sod’s Law that always accompanies my sports betting, I settled down to watch last night’s performance.
One of the benefits of watching about one game a year is that I notice the big step changes in a way that perhaps avid fans don’t. Like when someone puts on 3 stone. You never have that “OMFG!!” moment if you see that person every day, but if you haven’t seen them for a year, they’re almost unrecognisable.
There’s no doubt that all of the guys on the field are fit, focused and talented people – perhaps moreso than ever before. Fair play to them. But as the game progressed, it became clear that it’s been so corporatised that I found it unrecognisable and repulsive.
By ‘corporatised’ I mean that systems thinking, cynical hair-splitting readings of rules, obsessive maximisation of every possible advantage has lead to something soulless and lacking in authenticity. The way England’s tactics increasingly turned towards trying to trap Denmark into commmiting a foul or outright pretending that they had, preferably in the penalty area, seemed dishonourable to me. But when so much money is at stake in the game as a whole, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Honour, decency, dignity and honesty are all faintly embarassing baggage when there are oligarchs who need a new superyacht.
Newspapers in Denmark and Italy this morning made digs at the England team for diving. I found this particularly funny coming from the Italians who, by my recollection, were entirely responsible for bringing pantomime and hysterical fake injuries to the game in the 90s. Nevertheless, it accorded entirely with my experience of watching the game.
And don’t you feel like the English are slightly overreacting to this only-just victory over Denmark? This isn’t the world cup. It’s European. It was only the semi-final. Until they’re holding the trophy on Sunday, they’ve won nothing. They still have to overcome the absolute kings of this cynical way of playing the game.
And then comes the news that while England were taking their ill-earned penalty, someone shone a laser pointer in the Danish keeper’s eyes. UEFA are acting against England for that.
Still so proud of ‘our’ brilliant performance that proves what a class act England are now?
As of today, there is a significant chance that Monday morning’s media will be awash with pictures of sunburnt fatties around the country crying into their takeaway cartons.
I won’t be amongst them.
But if we do win? Oh it’ll be just unbearable. I’m more than fine with the man in the street beaming contentedly, claiming his vicarious victory and attaching a flag to his car. Why not? But I cannot bear the guaranteed prospect of all those dreary, scheming politicians and celebs preening and basking in the reflected glory.
By the way, am I the only one who suspects that Southgate was given instructions from Downing Street not to embarass Scotland, given that we could live without the points from that match?
Perhaps the moment of the evening for me was the commentator after the final whistle who went completely off script, encouraging fans to celebrate in total disregard for the prevailing covid restrictions, and then adding – presumably after a producer called Karen had squawked in his ear – “of course you must remember to adhere to the restrictions.”