So, this weekend lots of sporty stuff gets going; England/Wales at Twickers; The Championship; The Charity Shield. Already the distant gleam of silverware. Papers are foaming with the Fabregas thing, the Mancini thing(s), the Road to Glory thing. The usual wunnerful daft disproportionate bollocks many of us lap up – no, too unfortunate an analogy – many of us get caught up in every pre-season.
But is it a sign of something meaningful I wonder that the footie stuff in particular finds me less compelled towards engagement? For although I speak as one proud of family connections to the pro game, with a decent pedigree in turning defenders inside out, I am currently experiencing difficulties of association with the typical Top Footie Player. And I drift more towards the relative sporting class – dignity even – of the rugby boys.
Spells coaching rugby at junior level recently renewed my familiarity with the utter contempt in which footballers generally are held by the rugby community. This goes beyond the guffawing at laughably poncy reactions to the kind of ‘injuries’ we as skinny 9 year-olds would have wiped away in a moment. It goes beyond the envy at decent but not extraordinary athletes being paid obscene amounts of moolah. What offends more deeply, I suspect, is the pervasive arrogance and disrespect for the sport itself. Players diving or faking to get fellow players booked or sent off; players endlessly whining at officials; players frankly pissing on notions of fairness and honest competition between respected adversaries. The thin, arguably cowardly cynicism.
I know there are examples of cheating/faking etc etc. in rugby. However I am clear that the general level of sporting integrity displayed by elite rugby players – under massively more physically demanding circumstances than footballing equivalents – is still a treasure. Rugby players get battered; taking punishment that would reduce the likes of Nani/Drogba/you name your own pussy to a tearfully exasperated heap. Given the testosterone-worship inevitably present, rugby folks like being tough; but this tendency is expressed typically alongside a more sophisticated appreciation for… say it again… sporting behaviour. From junior level upwards, players are discouraged from celebrating in a fashion that insults the opposition; contrast this with Balotelli/Adebayor. There is a healthy understanding of commandments within the game.
Fortunately, there are certain sparkly-things in the footie firmament, Barcelona being the obvious one. Let us hope the magnificent generosity of their carousel persists, post their revered manager’s (likely) desertion to Chelsea. Their elevation of the purist, short-passing practise to a position of such command is heart-warmingly important, surely? But even here, though we absolutely revel in the unlikely domination of sublime skill over all-coming cloggers, we have to note the Barca boys propensity for an Oscar-nominated fall. Likewise the near-saintly Mr Ryan Giggs has certain ahem… imperfections. As do individual stars from premier class rugby, of course.
So I confess to again regurgitating dangerously general feelings on issues which may only absurdly be compared. Feelings that may not withstand laser-like or anorak-backed counter-theory. May I – should I? – then withdraw with the following, meekly? That though footie is absolutely in my (English-in-Wales) blood, ’tis to the giants of the oval ball game that I shall most eagerly be turning. For confirmation of the red-blooded, fire-breathing but relatively untainted truths.