Only a game
I can’t stand it any more. I must put my indignation on the record. Football is taking over our language, our leisure time and intellectual energy. No one is fighting back. The field is left wide open to the bellowing ranks of sports fans now reinforced by their representatives in the intelligentsia such as yourself.
Professional football at its rare best is artistic and exciting. On average it is tedious and clumsy. There is nothing wrong with that. It applies equally to tennis, gymnastics or chess.
When you and I were schoolboys at Latymer Upper in west London, we and our friends collected cards with pictures of Norman Hunter and Ron “Chopper” Harris. We slagged off a procession of England managers. We cried sometimes when our teams lost.
But we also fought over T-Rex and Slade, and tortured insects with magnifying glasses on sunny days. Some kids tortured each other with magnifying glasses on sunny days. Some liked arts subjects at school and others preferred sciences. But what were important were pop groups, football teams and torture.
That was childhood and now we are grown-ups. My contemporaries now don’t do much tortur-ing, I think. But “Chopper Harris” is an answer on Question of Sport or They Think It’s All Over or one of those other television sports quiz shows (games about games-amazing). And a conversational gambit that proclaims “intelligent” maleness is to talk of the artistry of Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham or the management skills of Ruud Gullit and Ars?e Wenger.
Worst of all is the theory that Nick Hornby is the new Shakespeare, or at least the new Wilde. I am sure Hornby is a nice chap. And his book High Fidelity was funny. But Fever Pitch is the chronicle of an emotionally disabled person. The main, male, character finds it easier to relate to his football team than to his girlfriend. His team does not argue; that relationship is under control. The girlfriend has a mind of her own.
It is a bit like girls who are obsessed with their ponies. Such relationships are indulged by parents, but a source of concern if the teenager does not grow out of it. Men who love football are like women who still love their childhood ponies. Fond memories are not enough for them. The childhood crush continues, perhaps as an escape from coping…