For John X

I've never trusted straight men who don't like football. Something just isn't wired up right in there.

Now here's a thing. I wouldn't, in a million years, describe myself as a serious football fan in any commonly-used sense of the word. I've seen my club team play in the flesh once in the last decade (not even that, in fact, as I had to leave before half time to catch a train), my national side less often still, and I don't even have Sky Sports. But I can't for the life of me grasp how any man with a properly-functioning brain could fail to be moved by the extraordinary drama, passion and beauty of it.

That a game played chiefly by people of, let's say, limited intellect and sensitivity is capable of conjuring movements of such breathtaking improvised co-operative grace, mixed in with odds-defying feats of athletic heroism, exhibitions of dazzling individual technical skill, moments of dastardly skullduggery or brutality, spectacular justice and heart-rending injustice, magnificent endeavour and slapstick farce and more besides… well, you can shove opera right up your arse, for a start.

(Likewise ballet. I went to see one for the first and very probably last time in 2009, and even though I already knew the plot – it was Romeo And Juliet, which in movie form left me dizzy, drained and breathless, actually gaping at the cinema screen – it was incomprehensible, tedious and left me completely unmoved despite having the odds stacked in its favour with all the choreography and costumes and orchestra. And I'm actually a total sucker for emotional manipulation in films and music generally.)

Football teaches teamwork, yet also encourages and rewards individual flair. It's as tactical as chess and as visceral as boxing. It requires almost no equipment and can be played almost anywhere. The rules, with the exception of offside – which despite the legend isn't THAT complicated – can be learned in ten seconds. ("Kick the ball in there, don't use your arms, don't kick the other players, go.")

In every meaningful, objective sense of the word it's a thing of beauty – it is, ultimately, about measurable empirical geometry and curves, after all. Plus everyone hugs each other at the end. (Football is also one of the few remaining examples of shared mass community in our 1000-channel age of individualism.)

I'm not interested in making sexual-politics points on the subject. A fair number of women like football, and plenty of gay men. That's just aces with me. But all the triggers in football are specifically tuned to the male psyche, particularly the heterosexual one. You don't have to have a team or ever go to matches, but if you're a straight man and those triggers don't set anything off at all when you happen to catch a game on the telly, something's defective in your genes.

You might be a perfectly nice chap and everything. But there's something wrong with you, and Nature wants you dead.

Nature, not me. 'S all I'm saying.


13 Responses to “For John X”

  1. Klatrymadon Says:

    Oh, I do enjoy the “extraordinary drama, passion and beauty” of particularly important World Cup type games, and at those times occasionally wish I was ‘into’ it, but you can file me under “Defective Genes” for everything else. Hitler. 😦

  2. Logically, I’d say there’s two issues.

    Firstly I can’t deny that there might be a few moments in each game that even clueless guy like me can appreciate. Moments of beauty. But if you want me to watch something for 90 minutes it better have more than a few cool moments in it. Especially when it’s competing with a good drama that can offer that emotional engagement all the way through. There’s a reason you can get a DVD box set of The Sopranos but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a football DVD at all, and when you do it’s inevitably a ‘greatest hits’ compilation. The only reason football gets watched in its entirety is because it goes out live. Else people just watch MotD.

    Secondly, there’s a level of education required about the subject. You didn’t see artistry in the ballet. You’d probably see beauty in
    the design of a good 2D shump that very few other people would recognize. Because they lack the depth of experience in the genre to really understand.

    It’s the same with football. Yes, if someone does something obviously physically impressive or unlikely I can see why that’s cool. But I’ll never see the beauty in a wonderfully pitched play or get the technical skill involved. It’s just most guys do, as Dad’s take their sons to football, or they play it with friends in the park and that basic understanding of the game is ingrained in them. For some of us, it passes us by. I’m sure I could spend some time and grow to appreciate it, but then I return to the first point: why bother when the alternatives do it better.

  3. I don’t have any interest in football at all.

    It is dull.

    I might as well watch a random number generator, and shout when it comes up even.

  4. I don’t know why people think it has anything to do with gender. I don’t see many women into obsessive attic/shed/bedroom things like strategy games, electronics, record-collecting or building model ships, so these are arguably common male qualities.
    Yet I can’t see the stereotype goon that would kick in BMWs when England lose to Germany putting the finishing touches to a delicate scale replica of the Cutty Sark. Is he defective?

    Anyway, football to me is a closed-off boorish world where you must commit yourself with utter zeal to the cause or face exile from manhood. When held rapt, its followers appear to be primitive bawling beasts with red faces, bulging eyes, and taut vocal chords. Hypnotised by a white dot moving semi-randomly, and only a glance away from jerking into savage violence.

    Maybe it’s a loner thing – I’m terrified at how easily people can willingly surrender individuality, and football worship seems far too close to ruthless religions or totalitarian regimes.

    • Well, this is a common fallacy. The average football fan as grunting violent yob is a stereotype of the past, and a product of a different society and culture that also produced racist comedians on Saturday-night TV and pitched battles between youth factions at the seaside. Your point was arguably valid through the 70s and 80s, but it hasn’t been for 20 years now.

      Most people drink alcohol, but most drinkers don’t pick fights in taxi queues. The number of people arrested at or around football matches is statistically tiny – if anything it’s less than the number arrested at any other gathering of tens of thousands of humans, whether it be a rock festival or a political march or a rave or anything else. When some drunken dickhead beats somebody up on a Friday night, it’s not the drink’s fault – it’s the dickhead’s. And so it is with football. Arseholes can be set off by anything, and it’s not fair to blame the sport because of a small minority of wankers who can’t handle it.

      Most football fans are perfectly decent, normal human beings. They get together to release the pressures and stress of everyday modern life in a safe environment, where they can let off steam at an “enemy” (who in reality will often be their workmate who they’ll be laughing and joking with on Monday morning), experience an increasingly rare sense of community for 90 minutes, and maybe grasp at moments of sheer joy the likes of which you’d otherwise need heroin for. The vast majority are no more likely to punch you in the throat than the average Coldplay fan.

      They’re also, incidentally, quite probably pouring money into some needy economies, since the heartlands of football are still predominantly poor, urban, working-class areas.

      All that aside, though, I wasn’t saying all men should like football FANS. That’s another argument entirely.

  5. Were your poetic description accurate, then your argument would make sense. But you must surely concede that while those moments occur, the majority of a game is spent watching people slowly kicking the ball back to their own goalkeeper. I find it insufferably dull.

    Perhaps if I knew more about the sport I’d see nuance in this. I know that 90% of people who don’t know baseball think it’s the most unbearably dull sport. However, learn what’s going on and you begin to see the tactics in every pitch, and realise each moment is rich in detail. So perhaps I’m missing such detail in foot-to-ball. I’m not sure what it could be, since they just kick the ball slowly toward their own goalkeeper a lot. But when apparently intelligent people can find it stimulating to watch this for 90 minutes, then another 90 minutes of people describing how they slowly kicked the ball back to the goalkeeper afterward, I suppose I must be missing something.

    Although perhaps they’re just idiots.

  6. Good grief. I’m hoping this was a result of some mix-up whereby Rod Liddle accidentally posted this on the wrong blog or something.

  7. Insightful and enquiring minds will find complexity anywhere their gaze rests. And the powerful desire to rationalise after the action leads to the justification of time spent indulging in activities that may be obscure to others.

    But then, in italics, I don’t follow football.

  8. A world/euro cup match, I will generally watch.  Two nations with a storied history meeting on the pitch?  Yes.  Ipswich vs Wolverhampton?  I don't care.
    Still, it's better than rugby or just about any other such sport, which I absolutely don't care about at all.  I don't want to watch hairy shouting men getting all muddy, but neither do I want to watch hairy shouting women playing tennis.  It's all bollocks.
    Playing football or tennis or basketball or whatever?  Yes.  Paying to watch someone else prove that they can play too?  Well, I assume they can, or they woldn't be there involved in the game.  The score is irrelevant to me also.  Absolutely everything about it is irrelevant.  I don't know any of the people involved personally so I have no personal interest.
    So, fear not!  It's not just football that's rubbish, it's all the rest of that sports business too.

  9. It's just a kid's game, like any other number of countless games out there that mysteriously seem to fail to attract the same creepy fans in this country (but potentially have similarly creepy fans in other countries). Except this one is particularly boring and silly with far too many people taking it too seriously while they masturbate furiously over countless statistics and rules for a kiddy kick about. Yawn.
    Too much of the crap on TV and too much money wasted on it. If I could I would ban it – just to delight in the big kids getting upset about their game (and the obvious benefit of more TV time and money for something worth while instead) and finally we'd all have revenge for their bloody game causing all the TV schedules to be ruined once again (and ruining my carefully set up timing for the VHS/DVD player over the years).
    If it was like Speedball 2 I might be interested, as it is I don't see anything worth while beyond what we all played ourselves at school or the park. At least other sports involve something special and unusual that very few could ever do themselves, like F1 racing, Red Bull Air Races or other great feats.

  10. TheVision Says:

    I like to divide my time between watching football, watching paint dry and watching grass grow.

  11. One thing I quite like about football is people talking about it. What I don't like about football is pretty much everything else. Football highlights can be interesting but I really can't sit through a whole match. It's just really boring.

    I have to be a little bit sad now that you don't trust me. All I wanted to do was help with the cleaning of all your nice things in your house, I wasn't going to steal everything or anything. Honest.

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