THE GAME’S THE THING. ISN’T IT?

I used to be marginally obsessed with sport. It was a reaction to not being sports mad as an early teenager. My madness of personal involvement was rugby (union) with a side helping of most things that came along, sprinting, road running, fell/hill running (short course ), badminton, power lifting and even on occasion squash and five aside football. The observant will have realised that some of those are almost antithetical. A power lifter’s physique is not conducive to fell running. Well, I never said I did them at the same time, or that I was any good at any of them! But I did them.

As age and career progressed, well the age did, progression seems a little too grandiose a term to describe the career, I dropped more and more sports and at c42 began to vegetate beyond a bit of light maintenance jogging, cycling and weight training. Recently, inspired initially by my daughter’s brief flirtation with gym membership, I have been back in moderately serious training, although I have no idea what for.

It has however reignited an interest in sports watching. My son, age 9, tried rugby as a mini and didn’t get on with it. Not wanting to be one of those fathers who insists his son follows his obsessions, I shrugged, and he abandoned my hopes of basking in reflected World Cup winning glory in 2027. Then he began an unholy interest in football. Soccer. Association football. I wasn’t any good at football and the idea of running around NOT picking the ball up seems insane. What was the point of our ancestors developing opposable thumbs back in the African Rift Valley if we were going to stumble round kicking things?

As I said though, I wanted him to pick his own obsessions, however mad I thought they might be. So I spend hours kicking a ball with him to the best of my ability on the local park pitch, buy him footy magazines and let him stay up to watch Match of the Day and Match of the Day 2. Something that brings back mixed memories of my own childhood. I quite liked watching football back in the 1960s and 70s. And I met several players through the rugby team I played for in a series of unlikely crossovers between sportsmen (however loosely that term is used in my case) in the same area.

I haven’t really bothered watching football since about 1980 apart from joining the odd national moment of mass delusion at various World Cup and Euro forays by England. My son’s apparently instant encyclopaedic knowledge of not just Premiership but world football however, has alerted me to that fact that the game is radically different from the one I remember. It’s not just the offside rule and what the keeper can do with the ball that have changed.

I mentioned in a recent ramblings post that I thought Olympic athletes have become part of a professional circus that has devalued the once every four years event. That is true in spades for football. The existential aim of the club, the matches, the game, indeed the whole sport has changed. From a release from the constraints of work to engage in inter village, town, school, pit, factory rivalries it has changed into a money making entertainment industry for rich kids of all ages. The footballers get paid ridiculous amounts of money, generally have an over inflated sense of their own intrinsic worth as people, but are treated just as badly, if not worse than before as people.

Players who are just as good as they were last season, indeed as the last match they played are suddenly cast aside on the whim of psychopaths called managers. Managers themselves are treated with a Lord of Misrule dualism: they are feted, built up as geniuses, paid mad money and then slaughtered in due, often very short, course by money men with the attention span of ADHD ridden stockbrokers.

Too much borrowed money chases imaginary, worthless, goals. It is sustained by hyperinflated, frenetic, marketing portraying it as more important than life itself (to misquote Bill Shankly as most people do for their own nefarious ends). An obsession with results, irrelevant to life, (it’s a game) lead to hyperbolic and vitriolic reactions. People are hounded at a bizarre and deeply unattractive bar of media hype, masquerading as public opinion.

It’s stupid. It’s nasty. It’s unnecessary. It’s a game.

I want my son to enjoy football. At the same time I want him to grow up with a good value system. I want to know how to explain the treatment of players he has loved watching suddenly being cast on the scrap heap by psychologically flawed managers for no other reason than they don’t like them. I want to explain how other managers, decent human beings, trying their best, get canned after a month of attempting to meld a bunch over enormous egos into doing the bare minimum for which they are paid. I want to know how to explain to him that someone who can’t run ten metres for the bus is regarded as an expert on the game with a huge twitter following because of their ‘witty’, foul mouthed posts.

What does that tell him about valuing ability, human dignity and heaven help us; job security? It tells him none of those things matter as the circus of senseless individualism is all important and people are disposable.

It’s a game.

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