The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct; part 3.

So now we have the Para’s – is it okay to call them the Para’s? And more genuinely stirring and even remarkable sporting stuff to satiate that proper-joy-meets-nationalist-frisson-thing. A summer of smiling madly and wondering if that’s okay? C’mon… that reading and thinking stuff is … okay… but… give it a rest! BOUNCE – bounce and clap!! TOGETHER!

For life is simple and sport is good and gold is only gold. And these Olympics – these sports – can surely be enjoyed disproportionately in the moment but returned to the real life context promptly. Contemplate later if you will the alarming inconsistencies twixt ‘glory’ and gory chauvinism/materialism midst the nose-bagging or could it be appeasement of our most bovine requirements – for fast-food highlights watchable from our Pringle-caked sofas? If you will. Afterwards. Or not – I’m a fan, me.

So either relax or have fraught moments of post-modernist angst before keeping it simple. And celebrating – continuing to celebrate – on the Brit-funded, Brit-led and spun carousel. Every day there will be a fabulous and a winning smile as our athletes respond magnificently to the world-beating support in the world-class venues. Every day somebody will talk inspiringly modestly and generously of their achievement being rooted in their team, in us. And this sits somewhere rather proudly between heart-warming and outright wonderful. If you just believe.

The thread of my Conduct posts – which I promise I am returning to – has been woven crudely around this un 21st Century wholesomeness; the nature of TeamsGB being so contingent upon, so lifted by some recognition of (dare I use the word communal?) good stuff we might call spirit. It’s something surprisingly pure, this thing – their connection with, even their reliance upon a real and conceptual us. Time after time we have seen athletes rise to the challenge, even when the pressures seem absurdly charged agin them; they’ve performed; they’ve thrived. And this is one of the key things that separates them from (for example) England footballers.

There could be a specific charge here, that Team England FC have perennially wilted when their Olympic equivalents came around. I am more interested in broader charges against the game of football – or allegedly top level football – and its indulged protagonists.

My first two posts on this subject spilt their six-pack of beery moralistic banter around dubious ‘comparisons’ between the Olympic brilliance/properpeople combo as epitomised by Katherine Grainger/Mo Farrah/Justaboutallofthem,actually and (say) Rio Ferdinand. Following that massacre, in which it was scientifically proven that too many footballers really are wankers with the sensitivity of er… oil tankers, I begin to reconstruct the football model in a Danny Boyle-like pastorale. Because diving, screaming abuse at the ref and owning 5 rolexes is well out of order, right? So.

In this anarchic tumble I will again try to key you in to football’s anti-gems – the dollops of doo in the matrix – suggestive or reflective of wider issues. If this seems obtuse, my counter would be simply that I reckon fans feel like this, in spluttering, impassioned bulletpoints. It’s personal. Stuff that gets my wick then, includes;

  • Strikers seeking only to ‘draw’ a foul, or better still a penalty whilst bearing down on goal –or, increasingly, anywhere on the goddam pitch. The traditionally burning, gurning desire of the No. 9 to smash one in the top corner now being gone.
  • Pretending to be religious whilst crossing the threshold of the park.
  • Endless and often aggressive abuse of the referee/officials.
  • Petty appealing for ‘everything’, including everything that patently isn’t ‘ours.’
  • Diving and acting and the generally associated trying to get a fellow pro (hah!) sent off.
  • Note to above; in particular the diabolical histrionics around any slight contact with the face. I’ve seen Scotty Parker – otherwise a proper throwback to good ole English terrierhood – feign acid attack to his fizzog; unforgivable. And diabolically prevalent.
  • That general crassness around money.
  • That general crassness around seemingly knowing the value of nothing.
  • Specifically on Teams England FC – even given their prevailing mediocrity – the galling lack of achievement when Big Days arrive. (And I’m not just talking about penalties.)
  • More than this, the stultifyingly dull and ungenerous manner in which England teams have performed in these major tournaments. Where they play no meaningful football; where they seem pale unbelieving shadows… barely even ticking the ‘honest triers’ box. This chronic unbelief, this inability to rise when atmospheres are at their most magnificent is surely hugely telling of their relative smallness as people as well as damning of England systems? It’s what makes fans wonder if they care… and rightly or wrongly, football fans watching our Olympians and Paralympians will and do wonder why the hell the footballers can’t lift their game like this. Sorry… did I go off on one ?

Much of this counts as a digression I know. So I will attempt to retreat to my argument over Gentlemanly Conduct.

The crassness in Premiership football combined with the Hodgson-led slink back (apparently) to philosophies 30 years plus out of date means there is a crisis in the soul of English football; a real one. It may be business as usual in the Prem but it’s a sour business. Particularly when compared to the smiley-roundedness of what we have seen on tracks, on water and generally all over this summer. Nobody believes in the players because they are mercenaries. They dive, they cheat, they lack much of what is broadly regarded to be sporting. The managers routinely offend our intelligence, either through blandly pursuing the Offer Nothing ritual that is the ‘face the cameras’ moment, or, in the case of someone like the now departed Dalglish, by being actively hostile to the notion that folks might want to know something. Something real. The presiding emotions – if any are apparent – are closer to a kind of barbarism than sport. And football is… a sport.

My Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct is a loose and I hope likeably unthreatening but genuine call for that tumbleweed moment to turn into that lightbulb moment; for some change. Footie is so in my blood it’s not true; yet I find myself turning elsewhere, increasingly, for that daft but preciously sustaining glimpse of triumph or grace. Because too much in the game is not good enough; leading me to ask why and what might be done.

My conclusion is that a recalibration of notions of respect – and the Law of the Game around this – is necessary. This seems central to the major problems (and major turn-offs), namely the poor or disrespectful or dishonest conduct of players and managers.

It’s one of the great no-brainers of world sport that footballers must be in whatever way works re-educated in terms of their relationship with referees in particular. This will probably mean bans for abuse, fines in the modern era being sadly meaningless. Beyond this, I contend there really is a role for some panel of wise men or women who review controversial moments or incidents that in some way bring the game into disrepute. They should be empowered to penalise offenders against sportsmanship as well as the Laws of the Game.

I realise the difficulties around such a panel but see little hope for improvements unless at some stage player X is materially judged against for obvious simulation – for example. If this necessitates changes or extensions to the laws so be it; that might where that politically unsound but retrievable Ungentlemanly Conduct concept comes in.  Making things or people better.  Then 3 former players or officials in a room – job done.

Us fans feel that stuff is wrong and needs righting somehow. Having a foot in other sporting camps I can tell you that rugbyfolks and cricketers and sportsfolk generally really are offended and really do relentlessly mock the arrogance and the lack of honour (however pompous that might sound) amongst footballers. The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct has been (and is) about representing that amorphous groundswell-thing against crap in football. Crap behaviour, crap attitudes, crap awareness. Football… take a look at yourself.

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