Not so much looking down as across..

Friday, June 25, 2010

Football Crazy

What is life without faith and hope? As I compose this blog the artistic photo of the football I took the other night in a friend's back garden is just six lines of hieroglyphics on my screen. It is more than a little disconcerting. I hope and believe this mumbo jumbo will turn into a football when I press 'publish'. Et voila - like a ugly duckling turned into a swan...

Are you a little tired about this football thing already? Like me, do you prefer to play a bad game of golf or football rather than watch a good one? Do you mourn the fact we have become a society of 'watchers' rather than 'doers'? Do you mourn the death of amateurism and the birth of professionalism?
And what is about football and language? Teams no longer lose a match and retire for tea and cucumber sandwiches. No! They are dumped out. They travel home in disgrace on economy flights.

Do you believe it is more important to take part than to win? I find this passion to win at all costs slightly ridiculous. If we wanted to win that badly, why not play against a team of blind people where the result would never be in doubt?
Can football be telling us more about society than sport? Just as we get the politicians we vote for and the papers we buy, we get the sports we pay for. We begin to live our lives through our teams and through our sports heroes. Instead we should bin the remote and bring the kids down to the park and kick a ball of any shape or size.

I travelled to the home of Manchester United at Old Trafford about fifteen years ago with my son. A number of things surprised me. We could not find a taxi driver who supported Manchester United. They were all fans of Manchester City whom I hardly knew at the time. In the hotel where we were staying there were Finns and Poles, there were fans from Iceland and Ireland. Man United was a global brand. God help us!

The following day we enjoyed a fabulous lunch in the Old Trafford Corporate Area with the 'prawn sandwich brigade'. We were treated to a four course meal washed down with wine. The glamorous lady who sat at my table enquired who was playing that afternoon. She tottered out on improbably high heels to see the first half of the match but stayed in the bar for the entire second half. Her corporate seat lay empty while her pretty derriere occupied a bar stool. No wonder Roy Keane made his prawn sandwich remark.

And then there is FIFA. I am sure they do a lot of good work for the game - but have they become too powerful? The World Cup in South Africa will make hundreds of millions for FIFA while leaving the hosts with losses of roughly the same amount. How can this be right? Should South Africa be marooned with debts of hundreds of millions when the circus leaves town?

The perceived wisdom is that we need huge stadia catering for tens of thousands of people. I think the blind conviction that big is beautiful is nonsense. If you travel to the new Croke Park Stadium, home of Gaelic Games, you better not suffer from vertigo. It is just too big to be intimate. You end up watching action on the big screens around the ground. If you are watching a screen I reckon you would be better at home or even in a pub where you can criticise the ref in some comfort.

The same madness applies to the current trend in medicine - where the only belief permitted is the orthodoxy of bigness and centralisation. Give me a local hospital any day - but that is for another blog.

Having played rugby at school, I am now a convert to Gaelic games - football and hurling - which are still amateur. Sadly even in the GAA there is a growing belief that professionalism is the only way forward. This insanity is sadly gaining ground. Those who defend professionalism point out that players now have to train five nights a week and thereby travel up to a thousand miles. My solution is very simple -prohibit training more than twice a week and prohibit playing for teams more than ten miles away. Problem solved. We want sport that is amateur and that is local. The money spent on Sky Sports would be better spent locally.

The inhabitants of Easter Island were convinced they should cut down all their trees to able to build a statue bigger than the next door neighbour's. An entire civilisation can get things wrong. I believe this current love affair with 'sporting excellence' to be an aberration of the human spirit. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of millions of people around the world sacrifice their money and their health so that a few hundred sports people can get enormously and ridiculously wealthy. Insanity. Women mostly see through this nonsense. Sadly a few ladies have fallen by the wayside in recent years. They should be saving their husbands from careers spent in pubs watching 'sport' and gaining ever more girth.

Like a voice in the wilderness I know that my words are falling on deaf ears. Indeed I will be lucky to find any ears - even deaf ones. But we do need to rediscover ourselves, to believe again that the important thing is to take part. The motto for 2010 should be - don't watch it - just do it...

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