Tuesday, 14 August 2012
The Beautiful Games - and the return of Clive Tyldesley
I didn't need the unadulterated wondrousness of the Olympics to throw the grubbiness and sheer wrong-headedness of the Premier League into sharp relief.
Watching under/hardly paid, decent sportsmen and women compete honestly and ferociously, then accept their fate and finishing position with humility, equanimity, tears and smiles has, of course, been a delight. But I already knew the modern day footballer was in another world. Similarly, I don't need to stick my head in a bowl of pot-pourri to know that sh*t stinks. Talking of which...
On Sunday, I caught maybe 10 minutes of the Community Shield. I saw the multi-millionaires (paid by multi-billionaires) strut their stuff, I saw close-ups of the snarling, baying crowd, I heard their chants and their boos, I heard Clive Tyldesley's voice, I was even unlucky enough to catch a celebration: all clenched fists and preening machismo. And I thought, Jesus football, you're just so... ugly. So unappetising, so out of tune and out of touch.
I still love football. I still love kicking a ball more than I love running round things, throwing things or jumping over things. My favourite sporting memories all revolve around football. I still have more admiration for the skill of a great player than I do for any other sporting prowess. But do I admire or like the player executing that skill? These days, almost certainly not.
I also know football, in terms of its fanbase (its most active and vociferous fanbase), is a working class sport in a way that, say, rowing, is not. And that it inspires a different type of passion, one that lasts a lifetime rather than burns and fades in time with the Olympic flame. These are both good things. But no, this isn't about class. Well, maybe it is, but not that type of class.
The Olympic athletes were the best of us. They performed, won and lost with the values and spirit that we hold dear and like to think we carry in our real lives. Premier League players are on Planet Football. They breath a different air. They are not the best of us. They are not even the worst of us. They are simply not of us. They are other. We don't understand them. And we don't particularly like them.
There are exceptions, of course. There are honest, decent, inspirational footballers. But not many (The upcoming book by The Guardian's Secret Footballer will, I fear, bear this out in plenty of gory, gaudy detail). And there are athletes who cheat and bitch and think their money and status excuse them from the 'binds' of everyday morals and mores. But, again, not many.
As I said at the start, though, the Olympics didn't influence my feelings for football one iota. Like most people, over the last two weeks, I fell in love with these amazing games. But I fell out of love with football way, way before the B of the Bang.