Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Spurs; Africa; Hope for Football

First, a nod to Spurs tonight who have capped a wonderful week in football, with a riveting African Cup of Nations debut starring a cracker of a game with Egypt of all teams beating with sheer skill and tactical sturdiness Samuel E’too and Cameroon 4-2, Ghana’s great start against Guinea 2-1, Villa challenging Liverpool at Anfield with an inspired 2-2 draw, and today, a 5-1 rout of the would-be Premier League Champions at White Hart Lane. I take back any negative thoughts I ever had toward the Carling Cup, well, at least until Everton v. Chelsea tomorrow.

Second, having just finished Michael Pollan’s exceptional “In Defence of Food,” a book about the mass-marketing and production of ‘food-like substances’ and the consequent deterioration of traditional food-culture and the simple, inelegant home cooked meal, I found myself thinking of Eduardo Galleano’s remarks about football in the plastic, pastel-coloured present: “Obedience, speed, strength and none of those fancy turns: this is the mould into which globalization pours the game. Soccer gets mass-produced, and it comes out colder than a freezer and as merciless as a meat-grinder. It’s football for robots.”

Having passively watched the BSkyB-sponsored Big Four ‘Grand Slam’ Sunday in December, a day traditionally left for Church and rest in the Western calendar, I remember feeling that perhaps the Premier League with all its financial and ratings successes may have just stepped beyond itself and into territory where football, unlike many other sports, has no appeal. This is as mere ‘entertainment.’ As Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson once put it: ‘A myth has grown up that football should strive to be entertaining. Sport is not entertainment.’

Football can be thrilling like no other sport and as equally maddening. The brilliance of the game is its refusal to perform on command, to allow for commercial breaks, to be as good on TV as it is live, to refuse to provide seven goal thrillers between two Big Clubs vying to win the League but let the boring and useless domestic league cup produce nothing but thrilling goal-fests, in other words, to stoop to our level.

Football is football and yet, there we all are, cursing ourselves for being enveloped in a sport than brings so much misery even as it haphazardly, even cruelly doles out pockets of pleasure beyond what we thought possible on a Saturday afternoon. Perhaps, just perhaps, football will conquer the commercial onslaught that has made all the world a vending machine by getting stuck in the gears, by refusing to show itself like a somnambulant animal at the zoo, or to perform for us despite all the money we can throw at it. Results like those at home and abroad this week give hope.


the ink-stained toe-poker said...

I like it. Anyone who can quote Howard Wilkinson and Galeano on the same page is making an effort.

I love Eduado's book In Sun and Shadow and I think Howard Wilkinson said what he did because he didn't know anything about getting a team to play entertaining football.

Have you read Franklin Foer's book about soccer's explanantion of globalization? If you haven't already I think you'd appreciate it.

Also there's a collection of short stories about Scottish football called The Hope That Kills Us. It talks to the your hope for football, the double edged sword, the joy, the frustration you know what I'm talking about.

Richard Whittall said...

I've read Foer's book and I was disappinted...he was dismissive of the game's appeal in Europe and tended to focus on racist fans instead of looking at the broader picture, and then was wildly sycophantic toward Barca's 'More than a Club.' Right now I'm slogging through 'The Ball is Round.'

Georgina Best said...

I share your disappointment with Foer's book. It's claim to "Explain the World" was not met although the bits it covered were interesting for someone new to the beautiful game like myself.

I think the most compelling thing about football is the drama behind the drama. Behind the ups and downs on the pitch there is the soap opera that is the world of football.

And like you I love football's abilty to surprise and evoke strong emotions of all kinds.

That is how football really explains the world