Five Live on and the thrum of news and noise and oohs and aahs. Snippets tumble and actually – following late night(s) and some devastatingly wholesome fresh air via The Beach all morning – fall in time with … my eyelids. And briefly, the sleep of the just. Or rather a luxurious snoozette, reflecting justifiable knackeration and also some degree of meandering of interest away from the allegedly beautiful game.
If pushed I could establish in some depth the atvincent pedigree in terms of closeness to and understanding of that extra limb, that family member we grew up calling footie. Then, we had or wanted or were aware of little else, it seems.
My authority in the subject is however sentimentally deep rather than encyclopaedically Motsonesque. I forget dates but remember Saturdays or Wednesday nights at Forest/Derby watching United/Everton and The Happy Hammers. I remember pink Football Specials – on one occasion with a front page feature welcoming a Dad down from Grimsby with his clutch of sons to watch Clough-era Baseball Ground action. Back even further, I remember late-vintage Best/Charlton/Law skitting unreally beneath the floodlights, with Foulkes/Crerand/Byrne patrolling like red minesweepers. And Dave MacKay there, pigeon-chestedly bustling through a throw-in, in order to reduce my appearance fee on MOTD. These are indeed memories of a convoy-on-the-horizon kind; almost monotone perhaps, but nevertheless poignant.
Family life nowadays seems more cluttered; there are obscene and wonderful multitudes of distractions whirring noiselessly or insidiously close. Running off down the park is not the dumb-heavenly default position it once was. Many more things blink and shine and probe for the burnished weaknesses to break the surface; the needs for the new; the needs for the cool. The story can never be languidly innocent again it seems; and it’s ‘clips’, not a story.
But ludicrous to imagine otherwise. How could the context for anything remain unshifted in times characterised by rapaciousness/superficiality/dynamism of the tail-chasing sort? Why would footie remain untouched by all this stuff? It hasn’t.
Let’s swerve to the positives – of which there are always mercifully plenty (too.) The pre-eminence of Spain in world football marks perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime triumph for skills over functionality. The current gorgeous irresistibility of David Silva amongst the often unhinged limbs of the Premier League is likewise something to be treasured. Arsene Wenger’s magnificently imperfect but idealogically Invincible tenure at Arsenal is similarly inspiring, if a small degree of separation from the need to win big is negotiated. Levels of inclusion and even anti-racism are massively improved. And yet I drift.
I drift because of many things – some of them impossibly beyond footie’s remitt or control;
- the competition from rugby and cricket
- the indescribably absurd amounts of dosh being shovelled around, generally in the direction of pretty modest talents
- the cynicism of many in or around the game, exemplified by the typical forward -Oops, striker!- thinking only of drawing a foul or penalty when breaching the box, rather than instinctively bursting the net
- the shameless faking of injury or contact
- the foul abuse of referees/officials
- the fact that only 2 or 3 teams could actually win the Premiership.
The tsunami that is Manchester City epitomises many of these concerns. Funded remorselessly, they have spent the last few seasons proving that great individuals don’t make a team, whilst their fans foamed with expectation and United and Chelsea trod the ammoniated waters, fearfully. For an age their Mancunian galacticos teetered on the brink of implosion, such was their incapacity to win.
Now, things have changed, results-wise. But this is still a club attempting to smother a terrible secret – the Tevez affair. The Argentinian may have entirely refused to step on the park when called upon by the manager Mancini, or he may have not. He has, however brought shame upon the sport through a series of defections and mercenary switches of non-allegiance; metaphorically kissing the arse as opposed to the badge. Serially.
This insensitivity to the essence of the thing is both unforgivable and sadly infectious in the modern era and it therefore reflects an important truth. That football may have more dead souls, more non-sportsmen, more Show Ponies than is viable for a world-important game.
Whether the plusses tippy-tapped out by our Spanish brothers can either mitigate or make amends entirely for the mouthy the ungrateful and the undeserving is open to question. Watching Rooney – brilliant though he is – face contorted with Shrekian rage, assaulting a ref or TV camera by way of expressing his dark but manicured frustrations invites recoil towards less offending alternatives. And so I drift, unsure of whether to hope.