"To children ardent for some desperate glory, the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori."
WILFRID OWEN, 'Dulce et decorum est' (1963 ed.).
There isn't a Royal Blue fan out there who wouldn't give his right arm to be climbing the famous steps to use his left arm to collect FA Cup glory at the next Final. Quite right too. But where glory is concerned, would it were so simple and straightforward. There are other considerations. There always are.
As we all know, since September we Evertonians have been out of all main tournaments except said competition. We have no money and aren't likely to get any in present economic circumstances. We might even have to sell one or two players. But thankfully Moyesy's stopped sounding as though he's about to top himself and looks a bit more like he wants to put in a shift. So, to use a Scouse colloquialism, our arse is 'angin' out of our kecks but let's 'ave a laff anyway. If you can't understand any of that then you best go back to believing in fairies, sugar daddies, "free markets," religion, property "developers," media information clerks and back entry crackpots. Reality and football are not for you.
In a spare moment this prompted some thought on the nature of footy "glory" and how it is defined. You cannot do this without also considering the place of competition and success, then trying to merge all three. All of which turns out to be as easy as grabbing a handful of mercury. This seems apt in a society that invented built-in obsolescence, and which produced Andy Warhol's famously prescient prediction, "In the future everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes." Scratch fifteen, make it five. Still, for a moment it anaesthetizes the notion that we are unlikely to achieve anything this season, though at the time of writing there isn't a team in the entire league that so much as lifts your eye brows. Also there is our uncomfortable dearth of trophies during the last thirteen years, fourteen by season's end. Few of us need reminding our last trophy win was the FA Cup in 1995. It has been a long time without silverware, similar to 1970-1984, but not yet as bad as 1939-1963. So I am being optimistic when I say this season looks bleak, glory-wise. However, hope springs eternal. It has to, otherwise the trivia of football has no point. And who among us is willing to admit that?
A pause, then, to ask what is it and what do we expect from it? What is it worth, if anything? These days, literally what price glory? Do we need it, and, if yes, why? According to the late great Danny Blanchflower it is what the game is all about. This is what he said in one of his long-ago newspaper columns:
"The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind.
The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish,
about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."
Sounds great, but it doesn't help explain amateur clubs and players with no chance of winning trophies or achieving anything, or Sunday League players and referees playing into flying darts of iced rain that stipple bare limbs and irrigate a mud heap. These are the overwhelming majority counted in millions who actually keep the game going season after season, week in, week out, hardly tiring in their enthusiasm or celebrating a brief moment of success. In theory it also helps explain the Premier League outside of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal when the question logically becomes, "What's the point in being part of this when it's all settled beforehand, when for all intents and purposes it is rigged for three clubs with the most money?" But to be logically correct is not necessarily to be morally right or hopeful. Formal and philosophical logic are merely intellectual tools which scarcely acknowledge human feelings and its almost-infinite variety of behaviour. Therein lies the dilemma. Therefore it isn't just about "doing things in style." Would that it were. And "a flourish" doesn't always involve "style." Would that it did. Blanchflower could afford to speak like that because at the time he was part of a great team. There's more than a touch of arrogance and narcissism in it.
In fact glory comes in many guises, at many different levels and with different intensities. It comes cloaked in military, religious, political, artistic and commercial as well as sports raiment. It is perilous too: Philosophers from all civilizations warn us of the danger of hubris in victory......overweening, evanescent pride that can and does spill over into goose-stepping attempts to crush individual spirit, or individual fanatics who seek to impose their view of the world at any cost. This makes it impossible to ignore football's appalling record of organised thuggery and death, racism, twisted commercial dealings and grotesque media coverage. Where the record is concerned you are bound to ask, "Is football worth all THAT?" To which a civilized human being can only answer No. Nothing is, let alone sport. There has to be something more and better.
To illustrate, I digress for a moment to another industrialised leisure pursuit, the film industry. The subject is reminiscent of the closing words of a 1969 American film titled "Patton," first released in Britain as, "Patton: Lust for Glory." It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and had George C. Scott in the lead role. The title change had an interesting history. At the time the Americans were busily engaged in Vietnam in one of the West's regular imperial invasions, looting of resources, and genocides against weak nations. The film was two years in the making and thus came before the cameras as widespread anti-war feeling built across Europe and the USA. It was released as protests peaked in the infamy of Kent State University (unsolved) murders in May, 1970. Schaffner told the story of an unbalanced, anti-Semitic, gung-ho, rich American general named George S. Patton Junior, but concentrated only on some events in the Second World War. It gave the impression, a few scenes excepted, that Patton was a misunderstood military genius or hero whose only real fault was an eccentric inclination to tell "the truth" too often and too forcefully. The actual character and story were of course quite different. At the time very few people knew of the part played in Allied military success by Ultra code intelligence at Bletchley Park and how useful it was for field commanders like Patton. The closing voice-over words in the film were:
"For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars
enjoyed the honour of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came
trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories,
together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments.
The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, dazed prisoners walking in chains before him.
Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses.
A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: That all glory is fleeting."
So why was the film title changed to eliminate the reference to glory? Why didn't Scott turn up for what should have been the highlight of his artistic life? Why did he return the Oscar trophy when it was sent to him? In footy comparison, can you imagine a winning FA Cup team not making a ceremonial walk up to receive the famous old trophy, and then making a tumultuous parade around its home town? It is a heady moment, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime reward for team and player success. Who would want to miss it? Yet Scott did so - but then accepted a New York Film Critic Award for the same role. A few years later he accepted an Emmy award for another role. Plainly, Scott's perception of "glory" was at variance with the American Film Academy. It was also in contradiction with then President Richard Nixon who supposedly viewed the film several times before deciding to bomb and invade Cambodia too. If true, artistic hubris encouraged political hubris. But it was Nixon and his fellow war criminals who chose to cross the dividing line, not Schaffner or Scott. As always, the divider was as fragile and devastating as a human thought. Schaffner proposed, Scott disputed, Nixon - ultimately a weak, vain, bullying and corrupt man - exploited. For all its artistic and technical brilliance and Academy awards the film became as inglorious as any example from ancient history.
However, back on the main subject, the roots of Western sports glories are many and far too deep and extensive to describe here in detail. The two main tendrils are of course in Ancient Greece Olympics and later Roman Games. The latter grew from the former. Both originated in Paganism. Both contained athletic and performing arts events. Ancient Greece Olympic Games began around 776 BC and lasted a thousand years before they were banned because of Pagan origins. They began as a test of individual excellence and developed spontaneously into organized social spectacles riddled with superstition and myth. From that came supporting factions, chauvinism and religious and political divisions. According to Edward Gibbon there was a fundamental difference between original Greek Olympics and original Roman Games founded in about 366 BC: Participant eminent Greeks were actors, Romans were mostly spectators. Roman Games took their inspiration from the Greeks but gave birth to factions identified by colours, blue, green, white and red. Gibbon claims political differences - even massacres - between Blues and Greens were one of the causes for schism between West and East Empires. The Roman historian Zosimus claimed abandonment of rituals like the Games led to decline and fall of the Empire. Roman Games developed into unparalleled spectacles of cruelty, where death and killing became the ultimate glorious accolade. In the end this got too much even for the Romans and gladiatorial games were abolished in 404 AD. All of this many hundreds of years before regular large scale sports spectacles re-emerged in late nineteenth century industrial Europe. Modern Olympic Games restarted in 1896.
Encouraged by English public school experience, Olympics re-emergence brought with it an artificial difference between so-called "amateurs" and "professionals." Modern Olympics insisted on contestants who were amateurs, supposedly to preserve the "purity" of a contest "untainted" by money. It was an ideal with quasi-religious roots. From its inception amateurism promoted an ethic that "the game's the thing," that excellence and taking part - "Corinthian Spirit" - are the most important factors, not winning. But the dichotomy is stark because excellence involves winning too. Nobody honest sets out NOT to win in anything, not even in the public schools, which is where most modern codified sports really began, including football. In reality nineteenth-century amateurism was mostly designed to exclude gifted working-class performers who actually made a living from their talents, who were generally more motivated and successful than those who had private wealth to subsidise their efforts. It was also utterly absurd, overtly class-conscious, and doomed to failure in a secular capitalist society. The contradictions are obvious.
Modern Olympics became notorious for hypocritical scandals over payments or commercial sponsorship. Its history is littered with the banning of great professional athletes. The English Football Association even introduced a FA Amateur Cup in 1893 because of the playing success of professionalism, and it lasted until 1974 and was then replaced by two other competitions for part-time clubs. Rugby Union and Cricket evolved in similar fashion. Eventually common sense got traction and the difference between "professional" and "amateur" was abolished for all practical purposes. Nevertheless, the original ideal endures in different forms. The irony is there was never any such difference in ancient history. Participants then were just as feted and well-paid as they are now. Slaves who achieved success could be freed. Then, as now, corruption was rife. But so was excellence, as it still is. The dichotomy has always been there and always will be. There has always been a price on glory and patrons and players have always been willing to pay it. Also, sports spectacles have always celebrated victors through ritual presentation of rewards, medals and other trinkets.
So much for historical basis. So much for roots.
Where it all goes wrong is when competition for success, professional or amateur, crosses an invisible boundary between a natural instinct to win and a fanatical obsession to make victory a permanent or semi-permanent state, when winning becomes the only objective. Defining the limit is difficult but we all know instinctively when it is breached. You see it in the behaviour of guilty fans, players, managers, administrators and owners. Some people are bad winners as well as bad losers. This is why we admire honest FA Cup giant-killers and resent distant "glory-hunter" fans who attach themselves to a club solely to sit in the glow of victory so they can jeer at those who don't. But all genuine footy fans know true, worthwhile glory is gained at the moment of victory after long yearned-for and earned success. Then it quickly fades whether well-earned or not. Once you have won a trophy it is in the past. You then become a target for aspirant teams. Therefore, relish the moment then move on. You have no choice if you want to keep your affection for the game. The main problem is that monopoly of success in too many cases brings with it a cynical disregard for anything other than narcissism, arrogance and money. This is one of the reasons the current Premier League set-up is so disliked by football supporters. But would we Evertonians be much different if we restored our status in the game? I doubt it, having seen how some people behaved during our great years. No club or individual is immune to the ugly twin hobgoblins of chauvinism and tribalism. At its worst it brings total abrogation of decency. As we all know too well it can also bring criminality, cowardly racism and even death.
The pinnacle of glory of course is the ritual moment when a successful team collects a trophy in front of its supporters. This is when it all comes together for everybody, all the hopes, all the behind-the-scenes hard work, some of it years in the making. Few things are more gratifying than the chance to savour a well-earned triumph or a measure of success. For example, it would take a cynic with the properties of almonds and arsenic to begrudge those many thousands of Evertonians who relished the ups and downs of last season's UEFA Cup campaign. A smidgeon more fortune and it could have been oh so different. Lady Luck decreed otherwise. But who can forget that glorious second leg against Fiorentina? It was a marvelous occasion lacking only a third goal to see us through. Glory, then, comes in various forms, and not just at the absolute pinnacle.
It is important too to distinguish between individual player glory and club team glory and national team glory. The three rarely coincide, though in truth they are interdependent. When the first two diverge too far, players usually move on to regenerate their career. Myopic fans often see this as disloyal while conveniently overlooking their own disregard for players after the glory days have gone. It isn't at all unusual for players to be pilloried mercilessly when they run into a period of bad form, even after they have generally performed outstandingly and stayed with a club for a long time. One of the ugliest sights in football is the spectacle of fans barracking their own players. Such experiences virtually guarantee a level of world-weariness in experienced professional players, to say nothing of aforementioned cynicism. For a player on the receiving end it becomes a matter of survival. For guilty fans it is mob sado-masochism. At such times glory is the last thing in sight. Players must as a matter of course look first to their own talents and achievements, however limited. For them, everything else flows from that including making a living. For them, glory can exist in perfecting a difficult playing technique or having an outstanding game. But some fans, egged on by an irresponsible media, are interested only in results, not performances. It is an altogether uneasy relationship that can switch instantly from euphoria to enmity and, sometimes, hatred. It has always been so, and it is made worse by the current financial structure of the game. Some fans patience can be in inverse proportion to the money they pay at the gate. For some the chase for success has become near desperate, almost hysterical. Moreover, a departing player who attacks his previous club runs a real risk of infringing club tribalism and an endurance test when he returns with his new team.
However good or bad a player may be he is dependent for his team glory on his fellow players, manager and club owners. This naturally cramps his ego somewhat. You can't shoot your mouth off too much when everybody knows you are one cog in a wheel even though you may be a gifted player. You run the risk of alienating some team mates. Team spirit becomes essential, though it doesn't guarantee success because nothing can do that, including money. It is a peculiar part of human nature that players who actively detest each other off the pitch can manufacture real glory and playing magic on it. The most famous example I know is the wonderful playing partnership of John Charles and Omar Sivori at Juventus many years ago. Teamwise, some players such as Stanley Matthews and John Barnes are great with the ball but someone else has to go and get it for them. Not everyone has the magical all round talents of Pelé or Ruud Gullitt, a self evident fact that sometimes escapes more chauvinist fans. Which is why a victorious ritual includes distribution of individual medals as well as a team trophy. Everyone needs tangible memory of a successful or memorable moment. The natural wish is to share glory and show it. Why else would fans collect old shirts, programmes and other seemingly useless memorabilia? Why else would starry-eyed young fans of lesser known clubs have pictures on their bedroom wall of heroes who wouldn't make it to the subs bench of one of the more famous clubs?
International team glory is at still another plane. In theory it is the highest plane of all, the best players in the world in open contest. Any player worth his salt will always want to test himself against his greatest peers. International championships on TV are watched by a world-wide audience measured in billions. It should be, and sometimes is, the greatest spectacle of all. Could the opportunity be any greater for globally-witnessed glory and fame? However, in England and some other countries it is bedeviled by an unrelenting so-called club versus country argument, a tedious and petty dispute. In this fan's opinion there is plenty of room for both. Well, there is if you have an open mind. I support Everton and England in equal measure and I cannot see why some people squeeze their club chauvinism so flat they can exclude their national team. Very few players have withdrawn from their national team squad because they didn't want to play for their country. In fact club versus country should be redesignated club tribal stupidity versus common sense. Generally when the national team does well it benefits everyone in differing ways. National teams also attract fans in disproportionate numbers from lesser known clubs because it gives them the chance to participate at a level they can never accomplish at their club. And who but miserable curmudgeons would begrudge honest fans their moment in the sun?
Professionalism of course means high earnings and prize money. The intense popularity of the game ensures it. In England, The Championship play-off final has been dubbed "the richest game in world football." Some have calculated promotion to the Premier League to be worth as much as £60 million to the winner. Premier League place money is now crucial, as is the revenue from European competition. A club which fails to gain either is doomed to a nether world where you can't go forward and are more likely to go backward. Meanwhile, a useless, myopic media give the majority of their coverage to the top four or five clubs, thus compounding the problem and not caring one jot about a solution. For the media, the moments of glory outside those clubs are reduced at best to a highlight or a soundbite lasting a couple of minutes or a few column inches in newsprint. In other words, they are the worst and most cynical glory-hunters of all, always on the winning side and always at least dismissive of losers, sometimes even jeering - which is why most football journalists and pundits are held in contempt by the fans.
Leading professional players are now a distinctly separate social class from the vast majority of fans. For as long as they have fame such players have the kind of future security and lead the kind of life most supporters can't even dream of. They are very much a minority among players but they share with their lesser-paid colleagues the same necessity to maintain their earnings for as long as possible. If that means moving clubs, they move. Players take full advantage once they sniff money and glory through their talents. Then they quickly pass out of the mind of the fans they leave behind. It is a relatively short earning life that lasts fifteen years if they are lucky. A few go on to management, administration or media work. In professional football there is no glory in loyalty and never has been. Once they have finished playing, for the vast majority that's it, there is nothing more. Prior to freedom of contract and movement the only thing that kept players at one club for life was the old retain-and-transfer system. Players left when the club said so and not before. The game was just as ruthless, but in a different way. Time moves on, conditions change.
Fans too change their immediate behavior and perception of glory to suit social circumstances. Since most Western countries swung sharply to the right in the late 1970s (and reaped the subsequent whirlwind) the fans, even the patient ones, have become audiences who demand performances commensurate with pay, a proportion which cannot apply to competitive athletic team sports. For the moment we have left behind the miserable horror of organized violence, but at a terrible cost to freedom. It still hovers in the background like a fascist wraith. During a match crowd dynamics remain much the same but with greater intensity, a lot of it now as artificial and cynical as a nineteenth century opera claque. Some supporters actively seek the doubtful instant glory of media interviews or exposure to a panning TV camera. Some try to indulge in corrupt financial dealings associated with the game. But that new breed is still very much in the minority and greatly disliked by the vast majority of supporters. Most fans still stay remarkably attached, however crudely, to the concept of club loyalty, fairness in play and the hope of winning a trophy. The professional game simply could not exist without them. Their loyalty is the real drive to playing glory.
Underpinning everything is the philosophy of competition and how it is applied. Even life long pacifist Bertrand Russell claimed the struggle for success is a struggle for life, that it is difficult to be grand without money, and that real soldiers are needed more than toy soldiers. This gets him uncomfortably close to Nietzshcean "empowerment of the will," "the superman" with its logical conclusion, and "loathing of the underdog." Economist Thomas Malthus, not Charles Darwin, is the originator of the phrase "survival of the fittest." Plato admired only war competition, which he said was promoted by homosexual love. But Russell also explained that success is only one ingredient in happiness and is too dear if everything else is lost. Competition, he said, produces grim tenacity and tension, that it eventually poisons work and leisure. Most telling of all:
"Competition, unless artificially maintained, brings about its own extinction
by leading to complete victory of someone amongst competitors."
Nietzsche would have considered this weak, though he also conceded the combined adversities of illusion, will and pain when chasing glory. Organised religion urges us to suffer gladly for whatever superstition it promotes. If competition is taken to its logical conclusion it becomes difficult to avoid Aristotle's definition of hubris: To cause shame to an opponent for your own gratification or revenge, to ill-treat others to make your own superiority greater. Eerily, Rush Rehm tells us this leads inevitably to "insolence, contempt and violence" - and he knew nothing of football. Everyone in and connected with professional sport has to face such issues sooner or later, just as they must face the consequences of nihilism. But can you think of a better observation than Russell's (albeit in a more serious vein) of the current football set-up and its encouragement of monopoly?
The difficulties of the subject were highlighted inadvertently when David Goldblatt took a shot at it in his outstanding book, "The Ball Is Round" (Penguin, 2006), chapter 11, "The Glamour and the Glory." According to Goldblatt, the glory years were 1955 through 1974, an era he calls "High Industrial Football in Europe." Unfortunately the majority of the chapter is taken up with a description of widespread corruption, particularly in Germany, thus neutralizing the implication in the chapter title. Sadly the chapter amounts to little more than the dual claims that football gained its new cachet through floodlighting, television and entrance to European competitions, an absurd notion which insults the founders of the game and its world-wide history and popularity up to 1955. The reality is the game was already well established as a working-class institution everywhere. In fact it reached its attendance peaks in the ten years before 1955. The game obviously did gain increased publicity during Goldblatt's era but there was nothing new about its appeal, or the glory sought by every player, supporter and administrator. Goldblatt mistakes increased public relations (that is, false "glamour") for increased glory. All genuine long-term supporters will recognize a default introduced by an irresponsible and untalented media whose only interest is artificial hype for their product; this is at the expense of understanding and a sense of proportion in the game
Also, there should be no attempt to deify Blanchflower's quoted approach, great player though he was. There was more than an element of lip service involved because Blanchflower also said, "If we've got the ball, they can't score," not the most positive of football thoughts. Moreover, both he and Dave McKay (in the same Tottenham side) were more than capable of fouling the opposition when they considered it necessary. So were the rest of their midfield and defence. Every great team in history has had its hard men. Later on McKay moved to Derby and Evertonians have never forgotten his infamous "tackle" on Jimmy Husband, a disgusting assault that almost finished Husband's career. As he grew older McKay became notorious and was detested for repeat behaviour. Not much glory there, then, despite his collection of medals.
So it transpires all glory is seductive in contemplation, but usually with the substance of morning mist. Here early morning, gone by mid morning. Almost everybody connected with the game entertains at least some illusions of what it means. Yet most English fans I know want to win deservedly. Preferably with style, but, if not, at least honestly. I am sure the same applies even with professional players. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks Italian corruption is worth the price - the irony being, of course, that Italy are current world champions and the English national team is managed by Italian Fabio Capello. The contradictions are palpable.
What glory actually does is draw attention to the usefulness, or otherwise, of all sport. What is it FOR? If you listen to dogmatic politicians they will claim it is used to divert attention from serious social issues to useless spectacles, the bread and circuses of Ancient Rome. If you listen to idealists, it is the opportunity for individuals to reach their own level of excellence within a team framework, the best and healthiest of all performing worlds. The truth is somewhere near the centre. Yet even that moves with social and political trends, never better demonstrated than during the horrors of the twentieth century. We live with the results, but they are not definitive. Now and future generations will make of it what they will. It will be their free choice. The first hundred-odd years experience of modern professional sport provides them with enough precedents to decide. For their sake, I hope they choose wisely. If they don't, football will die a lingering and painful death.
For this fan the subject reduces to an instinctive feel for the game. In my case it is perhaps best illustrated by two events.
Firstly, I once read an interview with a police sergeant from Walton - it could have been anywhere in the world - plainly a man with a proper vocation for the job and an observational eye to go with it. He said of children in the area, "You see these kids when they're all bright eyes, innocence, spontaneity, embryo ability and full of hope. If they're lucky they get a chance. Then you see them gradually come face to face with a system that sets out to destroy hope except where it suits itself. For some, the eyes get duller, the innocence chokes, then the spontaneity goes, then whatever abilities they have falter, then hope dies last. It can happen to the best of kids. That's how some of them face down the wrong road." He didn't mention the promise and opportunities of football. He didn't have to. Every decent parent everywhere knows what he meant. Chances are, if it hasn't happened to their own children they have seen it happen to someone else's. And this isn't to get too precious about the onset of adolescence and the natural problems it brings with it. The vast majority of adolescents gets into one scrape or another and come out the other side undamaged and in reasonable shape to face the world. We've all been there, which is why we shouldn't forget the experience. Football, all sport, provides the opportunity to avoid a dead end, to be creative and healthy when it would be all too easy to take the lazy option and be mindlessly destructive. Individual and collective glory is the reward for making an honest effort, whether it is at the humblest level or the most exalted. But you have to be able to deal with it sensibly.
Secondly, some years ago I was in a train dining car when it passed a local playing field covered in kids' neighbourhood league teams hurling themselves from end to end in pursuit of their own vision of glory. I looked up in time to see a skinny youngster no older than ten or twelve receive a pass with his back to goal and just outside the D. As the ball arrived, he squeezed it between his boots and up his body and over his shoulder. Then he swiveled and volleyed it home, top right corner, no sweat. No other player had a chance to move. It was utterly, utterly brilliant, sublimely spontaneous and balletic. He immediately took off around the pitch, head back, mouth open, yelling, arms outstretched. It was his moment of glory. You wanted to stand and applaud. You wanted it to go on forever for him. Then it was gone from view as the train hurtled past. The whole episode could be measured in seconds but there was never anything that better captured why we love the game. I often wonder what happened to the youngster and whether he will manage to edit out all the curmudgeons and cynics and get from the game what it has given me over the years. If that goal is anything to go by, he will.
So honest, earned glory is worth it. So is a sense of proportion. I don't watch and support football to hate someone or some other club or to jeer - typically, now called "bragging rights" - at opponents. The game has enough self-deluded nonsense in it to provide laughs for all eternity, and we all fall from grace every now and then. I watch it with the hopes that I'll see something akin to the spontaneous joy and optimism I saw in that youngster, that the club I support will survive this monstrous era intact and will restore its status in the game, that we get rid of gutless racism and extreme chauvinism and tribalism, that we can somehow bring about a fairer administrative structure in football. These are large hopes that may take years to accomplish, but if they are reached they will be my idea of true glory.
And I don't half want to win the FA Cup. That's glory too.