Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Ugliness of the Beautiful Game.

The cult of football is alive as ever, especially in Britain where the English pride themselves as the inventors of the beautiful game. It is unclear, at least to me, what is so beautiful about the sight of over twenty millionaires chasing a bladder around a field. Chomsky would remind us of the role sports play in training us to be submissive to authority as well as the tides of irrational jingoism. This shouldn't be taken lightly as it was George Orwell who noted "The nationalist does not only not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." The rampant flag-waving and patriotic chanting emanates from the delusion that the England team embodies the spirit of the nation. Indeed many are left intoxicated by the ecstasy of these non-events. The power of the mass event should not be understated. It's forgotten that the concerts and music festivals we enjoy today come from the same model of the mass rally which Hitler used in the 1930s.

Peter Hitchens has compared it to Pagan cults, and for good reason, but we shouldn't take football as a Pagan exploit entirely as it is essentially prolefeed. And the aristocratic fans of Paganism are too often forgotten. It used to be that Christianity was for the poor while the ruling-class remained largely Pagan until the 19th Century in Britain. The aristocratic radical Nietzsche wanted to undo Christian values in order to return to the life-affirming polytheism of Ancient Greece. If anything football is not elitist even if it is particularist rather than universalist, it is open to all and for all. And it is the particularism of football - the preference for us over them - that holds a great link with Paganism. The loyalty to the team matters most, it can get you beaten up in some places. The worship of heroes, special clothing, the celebration of "seasons" and singing are all symptomatic; another particularist deed is racism. It isn't a coincidence that the neo-völkisch movements of Scandinavia are Pagan and call for white supremacy and a return to Odin worship in the same breathe.

The emergence of football hooliganism is not a coincidence, the fact that these hooligan elements are typically racists and right-wing extremists is also not a coincidence. The primary base of recruitment into the EDL were these thugs, the ex-BNP leadership itself comes out of hooliganism. This isn't to say that the sport of football is inherently fascistic. For 20 years Kick It Out has campaigned against racism in British football now, which is something that Eastern Europe and a lot of other places lack. But it is the case that there are a great many people who were whinging that the England manager Fabio Capello at the time was not English. There is plenty of talk about the high presence of foreign players in our teams. There is undeniably an element of nationalism that has been harnessed as part of the base of support for football teams. The shirt you were aligns you with a specific team in the same way that the flag links you with a nation, the glory of which reflects back on you.

The race relations of football have been on blunt display recently. Hodgson thought it appropriate to leave Rio Ferdinand out of the Euro 2012 Squad for "footballing reasons" and include John Terry. Even though it was John Terry who called Anton Ferdinand a "fucking black cunt" and will soon be in court for doing so. Kick It Out might condemn Hodgson's handling of Rio Ferdinand. There was the time when Ron Atkinson described a player as a "lazy thick nigger" with Jimmy Hill coming to his defense on the grounds that the comment is just harmless fun in the football culture. We don't like to remember the days when fans lobbed bananas at black footballers. Today in Poland the fans can be seen waving banners with such slogans as "Death to Hook Noses!" For many it matters that England is finally managed by an Englishman. No doubt some will think that the English team will finally be victorious after 46 years, even though we didn't actually win in 1966 - an unacceptable fact to be uttered in the pubs of our weary little island.

Roy Hodgson played for Berea Park FC as part of a white-only league in the years before Apartheid was brought down in South Africa. Of course, Hodgson has since "come out" as an admirer of Nelson Mendela in the years since the end of Apartheid. He states that he played in South Africa for footballing reasons rather than political reasons. This isn't inconsistent as the sport is an institution of continuity around which the masses can huddle while the establishment remains largely the same. It is a part of society's wallpaper, an investment for the business class and a source of national pride for the masses. The managerial function in society to regulate the passions of the masses. The need for an identity marker to derive a higher meaning had to be sated to dull the rages of class instinct. It is no coincidence that the counter-revolution has come to Egypt around the same time that there was an explosion of ultra-violence at a football match. Similarly as social democracy began to be torn apart in Britain in the 1970s and 80s there was a great wave of football violence.

As Terry Eagleton observes "If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football." The game provides mediocre forms of solidarity for the masses who gather around particular teams. This can't be said for high culture, the prolefeed excludes no one in its particularity. The teamwork can be seen as selfless for the most part, though this is undermined by the celebration of the obscene wealth accumulated by the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. The sport combines intimacy with Otherness in celebrity form, the hero we worship is just like us really and so we could be him one day. The game may have a place carved out for "experts" but it transforms its viewers into experts too. This is why my understanding of the subject is limited to the political and the theoretical. Eagleton goes on to add "Football offers its followers beauty, drama, conflict, liturgy, carnival and the odd spot of tragedy".

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