CLUB V COUNTRY
Mickey Blue Eyes
Football is one of my hobbies and I enjoy it without entertaining any of its manufactured illusions. I wouldn't give it my time and money if it were otherwise, match fortunes notwithstanding. But if it stopped tomorrow I would merely shrug my shoulders and concentrate on other pastimes. When all is said and done it is just a game however much it is hyped by professional promoters. It is a source of leisure time and amusement and certainly not a life-and-death matter. Anybody who makes it more than that ought to have their hard-wiring examined. Gawd knows there are enough of those in the game to fill several mental hospitals several times over. Which means you can either laugh or cry at the goings-on. Mostly, I choose to laugh. The only occasions I cried over football were the disasters at Ibrox, Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough, and for obvious reasons. Most of the rest is grist to the mill and treated accordingly. There are many much more important things in life.
When football overlaps with patriotism - as it does in international competition - matters can get a little complicated. But football isn't the reason; patriotism is......or rather the definition of it. At the extremes you get an unquestioning, "My country right or wrong," or a revulsion that amounts almost to self hatred. Each of these behaviours is part of the near-unfathomable content of human nature. In the first example a rational man will feel such an unthinking attitude is nothing more than fanaticism, in the second the same man will detect more than a touch of masochism and self harm. Both extreme reactions are anathema to anybody who chooses to use their innate intelligence and common sense. There is yet a third position, that of the late Paul Foot, a socialist I admired beyond extravagance. He claimed, "The country of course never did anything; it has no 'interests'.........but no one ever pointed out that the country can't be right or wrong. The country is a piece of territory." But Paul Foot was just plain wrong. Perfectly sane people for their own reasons do love their country without hating other countries, and countries do have 'interests' enshrined in foreign policy, and such policies (and therefore the countries) can be right or wrong as history shows all too clearly. So Paul was guilty of wishful thinking on the issue, a trap we all fall into at one time or another. If we are to say merely a "country is a piece of territory" then we might just as well claim our families are only the aggregate of tissue and bone, which obviously they are not. Humans are thinking, feeling creatures with instincts. Loyalty is one such instinct and reasoning patriotism is a development of it, which is why disloyalty is so universally despised. Naturally all of this spills over into the trivia of football.
Accordingly, there is one footy "controversy" that causes me almost to levitate with merriment, the so-called Club V Country pantomime. This is performed by mental dwarfs just before and just after every England international match. Its script writers use a standard reductionist technique, which is to contend you have to choose one or the other. That contention is of course as much utter bollocks as the fourth-generation, tenth-rate self-styled Plastic Celt "ethnics" who tell you they hate England. (The great Irish novelist Maeve Binchy got the Hibernian version dead right with this observation in her 1990 novel Circle of Friends: "The Anglo-Irish might consider themselves Irish.........but of course they were nothing of the sort. They were as English as the people who lived across the sea. Their only problem was that they didn't realise it.") Of course you can support who you want, something career malcontents would like to stop. Me, I support Everton and England in equal measure. I want both to win. I have no time for chauvinist haters or xenophobic nutters because they are some of the reasons the game almost died on its feet. Whenever I get their kind of drivel I always encourage its mouthpiece to go away and copulate with an ageing moose in Bootle. Have fun at their expense. It works every time.
None of which excuses the limited group of snarling, strictly small-time shaved head drunken Nazis who attach themselves to the England team as much as gang thugs tag their empty lives to each club, or indeed other national teams. All of them are weird and ultimately sad and pathetic even in danger mode. At that point, to use an old Scousism, "Dee need lockn up." To put it mildly they give the overwhelming majority a bad name. But it seems to me most people miss the point about these haters - whether it is a team or an individual on the end of their poison - which is they are NEVER EVER satisfied. If the centre of their hatred is removed, they simply transfer their psychosis to the next target. It never stops because if it did it would expose a life void of reason. Sadly, professional football is riddled with this networked insanity at club and international level and always has been. And don't let any of them kid you it has to do with a search for excellence. It is nothing of the sort; it is a neurotic obsession with their own lunacy. I don't think it has increased numerically, though quantum leaps in modern communications have intensified it and made it even shriller. A sane individual will hope it eventually expires of its own absurdity but I wouldn't make book on it. Mental weaklings have always needed that nonsense and always will. In a minor way it also drives the kind of crookedness we have seen in rugby and cricket in recent weeks.
It doesn't take much imagination to think of them relishing the possibility of an England defeat against Bulgaria. Or to grin briefly at their sour discomfort after a sound 4-0 win. It was an encouraging display against a difficult opponent capable of sharp attacking movements and tough tackling. It certainly wasn't easy and it didn't compensate for an awful World Cup because nothing could. It was good, though, to see Phil Jagielka play well despite another iffy performance from his centre back partner, Michael Dawson. Good too to see Wayne Rooney look as though he is going to mature into the controlling centre midfielder many of us thought likely even when he was sixteen; some of his passing was devastatingly world class. Add that to a red hot Jermaine Defoe at the scoring end and a rock solid Joe Hart at the other end and you have maybe a basic recipe for rescuing our national team from its self imposed torpor. Maybe they've given themselves a good arse kicking, or maybe they got it from Fabio Capello after he'd finished punching shite out of his coaching staff on the bench.
All this international footy buffoonery reminds me of an event during the American Civil War. A Confederate soldier wrote home, "It's hard, but I love my country. But after this is all over I'm damned if I'll ever love another country." Us England fans know exactly what he meant.