FOOTBALL AND FEELINGS
Mickey Blue Eyes
"Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact. Perhaps their pride is like that of the fox who had lost his tail; if so, the way to cure it is to point out to them how they can grow a new tail. Very few men, I believe, will deliberately choose unhappiness if they see a way of being happy. I do not deny such men exist, but they are not sufficiently numerous to be important. I shall therefore assume that the reader would rather be happy than unhappy."
BERTRAND RUSSELL, 'The Conquest of Happiness,' page 19 (Unwin Books 1975).
You can tell the football season has started when after just a few hours of match play your email inbox is swamped with suicide notes or ethereal optimism, depending on results. It is manic-depression gone......er, mad. Not that we should be at all surprised: this is a Generation Z of screen-starers and computer programmers with the urinary emotions of a spaniel on heat and lives dictated by the nearest VDU or flat screen. You would scarce believe there is another nine months season to go in which anything can and does happen. But there's nothing new about cheap reactions; the faces might change but it is still the same conversion disorder relished by unemployable tabloid hacks and other hysterics. Its worst perpetrators require serious counselling, and if that fails maybe the application of physical or chemical restraint, though these days it is entirely possible the cause is chemical in the first place. You can just about get by if your team is winning. If it is losing, well, there's more than a touch of peculiar masochism involved. Sometimes it even has overtones of religion's comic rituals and absurd texts. Inimitable Richard Dawkins would be in his element if he waded into football and its superstitions, myths and "passions." Dawkins figures mankind is a "fifth ape," but comparing some of the offenders to monkeys is an insult to our simian cousins.
After watching the game for a few decades you get used to certain hack behaviour; you dismiss manic-depressive propaganda in much the same way you swat a rabid moth. There are of course many examples of une crise de fou in footy. For instance the end of each season usually excretes a drama queen into your local pub who, seeking five minutes of fame, announces loudly to anybody foolish enough to listen that he's never going to another match. The "reasons" are usually limited to three: (a) A favourite player moved on or was sold and footy life as we knew it is now impossible, Jim, or (b) Standards of play/management/administration are now too corrupt or dirty, and (c) Simply, the game is just going to the dogs and will never be as good as it was. During my lifetime I have heard these diatribes so many times I could repeat the scripts almost verbatim......if I could be bothered. Generally you know where the queen's going after the first few sentences, after which you make yourself scarce and leave the varicose fitful one staring into an empty glass, though sometimes there is irresistible fun to be had at his expense.
Absolutely the worst thing you can do is act as if you give a shit. After all, I have never heard one of them say something reasonable like, "I think I'll move on to another hobby. Football has given me all I need up to now," before decamping to philately or, so help me, anal cramp computer games. There always has to be an excuse, as though the outraged one has been watching footy for x years with his eyes and ears firmly shut. Then suddenly the senses open, the sun comes out and lo, a Pauline moment! And as human history shows there are few more fervent practitioners than self-righteous converts. So I treat them accordingly. No loss. No sweat. Move on. The club and the game go on without them, though you can bet some of them still hang around the periphery moaning solipsisms. In which case, they still need the game but won't admit it. This must create havoc for a programmed mindset with rump "passions."
Take example (a). I have heard the same thing said after Dave Hickson, Bobby Collins, Roy Vernon, Alex Young, Alan Ball, Bob Latchford, Andy Gray, Graeme Sharp and Wayne Rooney left Everton for one reason or another. When I was a kid I heard the same thing from squiffy, tearful old men still jaundiced about the departure of Tommy Lawton and Joe Mercer, both of whom, as it turned out, left for personal reasons and regretted it for the rest of their lives. I have no idea why any in the above list departed and I don't much care, any more than I know the full reasons - though I can probably make the same kind of reasonable guess as you - for Joleon Lescott's offski. I never pay the least attention to ale-house shiny-eyed gossip of any kind, or to tabloid media, let alone listen to anything fuelled by ha-ha powder. Once a player elects to go, in my eyes he has already gone. He is in the past no matter how good he is or was. I remember them as they were, not as they might be had they stayed. They make their own free choice and so do I. That's the way freedom works.
But then I have always preferred reality to nightmares or useless "interpretation" of dream state. Perhaps the most melodramatic illustration I can give of this is a long ago discussion I had with a close friend who insisted human existence was so awful he knew there was something better. Since we were in a military situation I handed him a loaded side arm and invited him to prove his thesis, to press the barrel to his temple, pull the trigger and return to this mortal coil with full proof of his "knowledge." Naturally he declined, as I was certain he would, and I didn't hear the same nonsense from him then or since. In other words, you pay attention to your survival instincts - not the same thing as solipsism - or you won't be able to live sensibly and healthily let alone exercise your abilities, imagination or fantasies. So players, managers, owners and fans come and go, as do the fortunes of all clubs........so what? Why do you think promotion and relegation exist? Football success can never be permanent and a good thing too. If you think it is or can be then perhaps you ought to reconsider what it is you put up your nose, or any other orifice.
Then take example (b). To believe that nonsense requires an ignorance of the game's history bordering on illiteracy. For football has always had its corruption and always had dirty players and tactics. The intensity of each ebbs and flows according to circumstances. If you want to see corruption at its ultimate, read the history of fascism and football in Europe and South America, or analyse Italian football of the last half century, or see what Bayern Munich got up to in the 1970s or consider FIFA's notorious racism during the tenure of stiff upper lip Englishman Stanley Rous. If you want to see really dirty play watch a video of Chilé V Italy in World Cup 1962 or any of Leeds' worst assaults in the period 1962-1970. If you want to see businessmen using clubs and the game for their own profit then you need look no further than the famous nineteenth-century split between Everton and Liverpool, or the Edwards family buy out of Manchester United, or, for that matter, Moores family ownership of Everton and Liverpool. If you have your wits about you, you will know there are many other examples.
Finally, consider example (c), the biggest load of bollocks of all. Anybody who saw the general standard of play of the 70s and 80s will tell you how vile the spectacle could be at the time.........riddled with lousy playing surfaces, offside tactics, defensive and dirty play and pass backs to the goalkeeper in an era that allowed them to collect with their hands. A substantial minority of fans were even worse. Organised, cowardly gang thuggery was the norm in decrepit stadia and facilities that were literally falling to pieces. Then the inevitable happened and we had crowd tragedies and even murder. So don't try to tell me about "the good old days." I was there. Average match play these days is far superior and open, the players much fitter, individual skill a lot better, and team play much more sophisticated. Stadia are incomparably better and safer, and gutless thugs and racists have been forced to sulk into middle and old age under the nearest rock. But the price has been heavy and must now be reassessed if we are to rescue the sport from its worst contemporary defects. The ownership system is, of course, quite another matter.
Also, what has not changed is the affect the game has on individual feelings, psyche and temperament in its supporters. The difference now is that modern electronic communications merely ensure these network a lot faster, almost instantaneously. An internet misery-arse or a malcontent can moan publicly and have an immediate crowd of like-minded riffraff under the same depressed rain cloud. But it works two ways, for such mentalities are equally as quickly identified for what they are and then safely isolated and left to stew in their own melancholic juices or made fun of. Few rational humans wish to be associated or identified with perpetual misery. Life is too short. Optimists and realists can and do use the same tools to counter misery mongers. None of this implies acceptance of bland or unthinking optimism, which can be just as corrosive. After all, actual achievement requires genuine effort and talent plus an ability to absorb inevitable occasional disappointment. Genuine optimism is a conviction to get things right, to persist and learn from example. A misery-arse-in-a-rut can never understand this, hence drama queen narcissism and ale-house ranting. However, these are the extremes. Most sensible fans are somewhere in the middle and have a reasonably balanced view of the world.
Therefore, the game survives despite extreme feelings, not because of them..........which is why I roll my eyes to the ceiling every time I hear the word "passion" in connection with football. All too often it is just an excuse to enter the mental cul-de-sacs of hysteria, lunacy or plain misery. We should be clear it is quite possible to love footy without any of those emotional aberrations, or the little back-entry Hitlers who try to propagate them. In the end, a clear civilised mind will always emerge as evolutionary victor over manic depression, cynicism and thuggery. Our species could not have got this far were it otherwise. But of course it takes time, which, by definition, is beyond the grasp of a short attention span or a butterfly mind or a cocaine/alcohol-dribbling thug. Football, as we all know, has far too many of them to allow complacency to regain a foothold.
So let's give it a few more months shall we? We've waited a decade and a half to get a squad as good as this one. A bit longer won't make that much difference. Along the way we'll win some, we'll lose some and draw a few too, for it's in the nature of things. Meantime, just hope like Jasper Carrot that the Nutter doesn't try to sit next to you. If he does, you are just as likely to invite him to fuck right off as you are to try some crude counselling. Sometimes your own feelings come flushing through too.