Football — the continuation of war by other means.
The trouble with football (collapsing a whole long list into a handful of bugbears) is that its mindset bears an uncanny resemblance to the belief in "my country/party right or wrong". It appears designed to programme the collective brain out of thinking and nuance, making those same synaptic connections that can only deal with black and white, binary three-minute hate. Us (good) and them (bad).
Coming out of the Second World War, which devastated huge swathes of the globe, we valued our intellectuals and artists for helping to make the world a better place. Nowadays, changing social conditions means social engineering, militarising society and the creation a nation of gladiators. From Sky to Skynet, turning you into a combat machine. Prepare to be assimilated.
It's like living in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Existence reduced to sex and death as we close ourselves down. All hail the sacred ground where you mash the opposition into the dirt, whether on the field, in the ring or at the dispatch box.
Laurie Penny writes a very funny miserablist piece on the upcoming World Cup in the New Statesman — Why I Despise The World Cup — and makes the point that, while we're staring at the bread and circuses spectacle of the World Cup (on at a television near you from today), this is the reality for those of us who swallowed the red pill.
Young people are in crisis, poor people are in crisis, unemployment stands at 2.5 million, the Labour movement is still leaderless and directionless, and there's a brutal train of Tory public service cuts coming over the hill.
To those who cry that this is a proletarian pastime, whatever it was, it ain't now.
... football is no longer the people's sport. Just look at the brutal contempt that the police reserve for fans, or count the number of working-class Britons who can afford to attend home matches, much less the festivities in South Africa. Then there's the uncomfortable fact that the World Cup is only and always about men.
Er, and the WAGS. Don't forget the frocks and the shopping, a crucial component of any major footballing event.
Do I really want to identify with massively overpaid narcissists and their big-buck masters? How does victory for one set of businessmen over another set improve my life?
I love the artistry of great footballers. Watching George Best run rings around his opponents like he was occupying a different time and space was a joy to behold. But the small local football team that was part of the community is a myth, destroyed when British soccer emulated the American sports system and became a money-spinning industry, making your passion something that could be bought and sold. It bears the same relationship to the beautiful game as porn does to sex. So your team can spend millions on a talent from Nowheresville, Abroad? Well done. That means you are the best because some oligarch had deep pockets.
An irate Nick Cohen quoted Orwell at me (cheeky!) because I said I wanted both sides to lose this Saturday when England plays the US, accusing me of being ashamed of being English like the typical lefty wot I yam. But he misses the point. Which England does he mean? The England having its safety net dismantled by the Tories and Ramsay McClegg? Or the England that produced some of the best art and culture in the world with the post-war democratising of the state?
I cheer England on in athletics because it isn't about two sides crushing each other. It really is the best man or woman winning through skill and it is possible to appreciate the accomplishments of the winner even if they aren't on your team. Same with British culture when we do something great in film or music.
There's no point admonishing detractors of the sport for somehow not being patriotic.
To riposte with an Orwell quote of my own: "If we really want to punish the people who weakened national morale at critical moments, there are other culprits who are nearer home and better worth chasing."
I'll probably succumb, though, and watch the bloody thing out of curiosity and an indulgence of my own pack instincts, despite Loved One insisting the only thing worse than watching a team sport is playing one. For those about to die over control of the TV remote, I salute you. I wonder who'll win.
Republished at Liberal Conspiracy.