The football world cup is not xenophobic


8:50 am - June 14th 2010

by Robert Sharp    


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We’re only three days into the World Cup, and already I’m tired of the drone. I speak not of the Vuzuvelas, but of the naysayers who dismiss the World Cup as being somehow xenophobic.

Laurie Penny was at it last week, now quoted approvingly by fellow Orwell Prize nominee Madame Miaow. Even my friend Ste Curran was at it earlier, and I expected better from him.

These curmudgeons assume that any time two teams from different sides line up against each other, it is inherently warlike.

They assume that whenever anyone chooses to support a team based purely on nationality, they are indulging in a form of blind patriotism akin to the worst excesses of political nationalism. And while the tone of these writings is, yes, a little knowing and light-hearted, I detect real sentiments of contempt in what they say. How strange that these writers cannot perceive the knowingness of the football fans at which they sneer, the tongue-in-cheek tone with which real sports fans approach their passion.

In particular, the charge of ‘patriotism’, or of any kind of ‘ugliness’ does not stand up to even the most cursory of examinations. Christ, you do not even need to go to South Africa to do this – the evidence is right there on the TV screens. See those idiot fans, cheering and leering behind the po-faced TV reporters? Look closely at their shirts, their face-paints, and you will see the colours of many teams, of many countries.

I think that it is precisely because football is “only a game” you find its purest form in the international competitions, not the club game.

In the latter, I think the naysayers have a point – the excessive sums spent during tough economic times on ringers from overseas does seem obscene, bizarre and unsporting. By contrast, managers of national teams are limited in who they can pick. They cannot buy in new talent from elsewhere. In this sense, their situation is closer to the game as most of us play it – you’re stuck with whoever is available.

The fun of most sport, indeed, of most games, lies in these arbitrary constraints. We agree on some rules to abide by, and set ourselves other random constraints (such as the players, the cards, the dice)… and then we try our damnedest to win. The fact it is all made up; that we have chosen to spend our time like this; that the outcome does not actually matter to our lives one iota; that it is entirely and necessarily divorced from our day-to-day existence: That is where the ‘sport’ exists.

The fact that it doesn’t matter is precisely the point, because it is an escape from things that do matter. Pointing out the futility of the exercise, usually by reference to the well worn “grown men kicking a pig’s bladder” cliche, is like the irritating snoot who tells everyone else how the magician does his tricks, thus spoiling the show.

Cheating in sport is despicable because it similarly breaks the suspension of disbelief in which the rest of us have colluded.

Football is so popular because most of us have the emotional intelligence to be able to buy in to the spectacle. The utter frivolity of what is at stake is the perfect excuse for a great big global party, in which people of all ages, from all continents and from all religions, can participate. The simplicity of the rules means literally everyone can understand what is going on.

Yes, there have been idiots who use football as an excuse for violence… but the game was always the excuse, and not the cause of that particular type of stupidity. These men do not define the sport, and they are a dying breed. In their place steps an ever growing number of sports fans who just want to watch the game with their friends, old and new.

Once every four years, the eyes of all of humanity turn towards the same place. Everyone, whether they like it or not, is distracted by the same thing. It is not religious, it is not violent, and it cannot be bought. Its a delightful phenomenon, one we should cherish.

Football fans from Germany and England celebrate in Cologne during the 2006 World Cup Finals
English and German Fans mix in Cologne, before a World Cup 2006 fixture

Cross-posted.

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments


I used to think international football was always a bit divisive, I’m never a fan of patriotism or “my country is better than yours” rubbish. But I’ve been struck by the sportsmanship in this tournament, every single a time a player goes down there is someone from the other team with a hand out to help them up. I think this help send a message that everyone is in it to have a good time and if we all co-operate everyone comes out better. It’s nice to see people of different countries mixing together with a common purpose.

Yes, agreed with this, pretty much. I can imagine in parts of England with very small migrant populations largely of one particular background, there might be some unpleasant issues – but whenever I’ve seen matches in London, and even more so on watching it in Australia this year, there’s a strong sense of ‘we’re all in the football thing’ (even for people who are 4-year fans rather than every w/e fans).

And in today’s edition of the Blogger’s Dictionary under hyperbole we get:

“Once every four years, the eyes of all of humanity turn towards the same place”

Insert here boring points about parts of the world that don’t even know it is on, those that don’t have regular news coverage let alone the facility to watch the games and people that know about the FIFA world cup going on but just prefer less dull sports. Roll on New Zealand 2011 😉

4. the a&e charge nurse

“Why I find it difficult to cheer England at football” lamented a recent LC poster.

Well, they are entitled to their opinion, of course, but I can tell you now that cheering England is not half as difficult as wading through the turgid analysis that was on offer as to why this might be the case – I suspect this kind of joyless, monotone was almost on par with one of Howard Wilkinson’s more uninspiring half time team talks?

A predictable combination of A-level politics and psychology, no sorry, make that O-level politics and psychology, tacked onto an activity that has universal international appeal, and one that has stood the test time of time despite a growing array of competing sports or virtual/electronic games, etc.

If any of these dreary critics could have been at the Ataturk in the 59th minute (2005) they might understand why their comments are so wide of the mark.
Sadly, they have failed to appreciate WHY such moments are so exhilarating?

5. FlyingRodent

There’s something about the World Cup – as opposed to, say, the Olympics or the Six Nations – that really brings out the loopiness in some folk. I mean, I’ve been known to wish a) sinking followed by b) immediate drowning on the Oxford/Cambridge boat race, but I’m not actually being serious about that.

It never ceases to amaze me how often you get Bugger off, the England team columns out of political types. Anyone prone to worrying about how to make left wing politics interesting for the man in the street is onto a loser if they dump on the World Cup from a great height.

England v the USA was watched by thirteen and a half million people, for God’s sake. Pissing over the tournament is, in political terms, a bit like calling everyone who watches the X-Factor a retarded anus or like punching Paul McCartney in the balls on national TV. Even David Cameron understands that.

I must say, I too was a little bit (very little, as it doesn’t really matter) baffled by the successive articles about blokes who like football———-> macho culture——->sexism ———->xenophobia——–> jingoism etc.

Live and let live. I understand if you find it annoying. But it’s only for a month. And at least it’s not as culturally oppressive and all-encompassing as the X-Factor or Big Brother (which are there once a year, several months in a row).

It’s an event whose popularity crosscuts ages, sexes, religions. It is appreciated across the class spectrum and the political spectrum. It’s just widely popular.

What I would point out, however, is the overly-intense way UK tabloids overanalyse it. Look how Robert Green is being torn apart. One mistake (not even decisive, it’s not as if we lost the final or something) and he’s already been turned into a national pariah. Chill out, tabloids. That’s how the team get nervous and begin their downward spiral.

7. Sunder Katwala

Of course not watching or now being interested in the World Cup is absolutely fine. But advocating against it requires a better argument than is being put up.

Those who argue either that the whole thing is dangerously atavistic or that anybody who does watch it is being silly and wasting their life need to at least reflect on and given some account of why they think watching World Cup football matches happens to be the largest collective human activity we currently have, or have ever had.

If the response does not seem to be much more than “everybody should just grow up” then this illustrates a broader and potentially quite important weakness of one version or strand of thinking within the cosmopolitan liberal-left worldview. The lack of understanding of the popular and cultural appeal of sport seems to me linked to the incomprehension about and instinctive dislike of patriotism (in general, rather than the important project of actively promoting positive civic patriotism, as opposed to atavistic nationalisms)

Part of the liberal-left often suggests that we will (only) have a better world when
– people do not identity with national identities, but instead only with the brother-and-sisterhood of humanity
– people do not watch football but concentrate on serious issues
– religious faith diminishes and disappears as everybody realises it is irrational.

Yet national identity, sport, faith seem stubbornly resistant to dying out. Indeed national identity often appears to have become more and not less important since 1989. So why isn’t humanity following the programme? And might it also be worth reflecting on how to pursue the positive value of internationalism, universal rights, rational enlightenment thinking, etc in a way that takes account of that experience?

Those who want to promote the idea of the universal brother-and-sisterhood of man must surely by now have recognised that this is pretty much guaranteed to fail if the demand is that people should be internationalist by the means of rejecting their national and local identities to evolve into a higher consciousness.

Moreover, Michael Ignatieff wrote in Blood and Belonging back in 1993 “Cosmopolitanism is surely the privilege of those who can take a secure nation state for granted”

At the same time, there is a good argument to say that very significant progress towards universal brother-and-sisterhood can be achieved through supporting positive and outward-looking national identities which see the value as internationalism as important to “who we are” (as South Africans, Norweigans,Danes, Canadians, and other civic and internationalist patriotisms like that of Germans in the Federal Republic, Brits who stake a claim to hold World Cups and Olympic Games on that basis), and so support things like international development, positive approaches towards those of different ethnic backgrounds, because of who we think we are and want to be.

Those versions of identity are both portrayed and contested during major national events and collective experiences: choices between different ways of expressing identity can be chosen.

Orwell famously “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting”.

Even if he was right, one could make the case that “war minus the shooting” is quite a lot better than the other kind. I think the counter-argument could go a lot further than that. Can anybody really stand up the ideas that the patriotism of South Africa 2010, Germany 2006 is atavistic simply because it employs national colours and flags?

So this is quite an old argument: but it now seems clearer as to who seems to be winning it.

I’m very glad to see that an intelligent rebuttal to the horse-shit found elsewhere, written by people with no knowledge of the game, who somehow presume that a position of utter ignorance is a starting point for a decent opinion.

9. Luis Enrique

I’ve made a similar point on the other thread, but would those who think supporting England is xenophobic say the same to South Africans and Nigerians who are getting behind their national team and getting excited about the World Cup? I suspect not.

Can I suggest that politics keeps its nose out of football?

I’m never more put out than when a bunch of men and women who care nothing for the single most important affiliation that many people have, decide to deride that affiliation from some better than thou moral high ground.

The World Cup is fun. It is a chance to friends to meet up and enjoy a shared experience. It is a chance for strangers in pubs to interact freely over the course of a game taking place. It is of interest to billions of people and gives them joy.

I of course have some bias in this, being a Spurs fan – a club that is repeatedly told by idiot political morons that the use of the chant “Yid Army” is racist, because its rise in the 70s as an anti-racist chant pre-dates their interest in the sport I enjoy.

So from now on, those who dislike football should just pretend it isn’t there. And when they fail, can the rest of us pretend they aren’t there?

11. John Meredith

It’s curious how the world-cup-o-phobes tend to have a positive view of local community feeling (they are all for support of small local clubs) but despise this same sense of community on the national level (well, in the UK anyway, as mentioned above nobody seems to be suggesting that Congolese football fans are unacceptably xenophobic). But what is the moral difference between supporting your local community team (or whatever) and supporting your national community team? At what point on the sliding scale does unacceptable nationalism become admirable community spirit?

Part of the liberal-left often suggests that we will (only) have a better world when … people do not watch football but concentrate on serious issues …

As if there isn’t enough time in the day to do both. I sometimes wonder how happy those people are, concentrating on serious issues all the time.

13. Shatterface

I’m not remotely interested in the world cup or sport in general but I don’t begrudge people enjoying something I don’t and the hatred, class snobbery and misandropy I’ve seen elsewhere in the ‘liberal’ blogosphere makes me want to puke.

Good article, but wholly unnecessary. That New Statesman piece made about as much sense as someone trumpeting a vuvezela into my face.

15. political_animal

Whilst I applaud this article and the attempt at rebuttal, I feel it is fundamentally wrong on the assumption that somehow it is a purer form of the game because players can’t be bought!!! What game are you watching? Have you forgotten East Germany and the Soviet Union promoting sport at the expense of all else as a way of showing their superiority? And with the amount of money the rich nations have to spend on facilities, training, coaches, funding youth players through to full international status and then the bizarre spectacle of players switching international allegiances (admittedly most obviously in cricket but how do we find that one Boateng brother plays for Germany whilst the other plays for Ghana?) it is hardly a level playing field, or indeed, “pure”.

Sunder #8 as picked up by another poster, I really don’t agree with…

“Part of the liberal-left often suggests that we will (only) have a better world when…
– people do not watch football but concentrate on serious issues”

Really? The liberal-left should be trying to achieve MORE football not less. Or indeed, ANY form of leisure activity from sport, to art. It sounds like an incredibly dull society that would replace a work/leisure ethic with a work/serious issue one.

John #11, the moral difference is that nation states are merely a historical invention and what matters is life on a local – and yes community – basis, instead of one particular bit of land mass being different to another particular bit of land mass (when in fact, if looked at closely, shows not so many differences after all).

16. John Meredith

“John #11, the moral difference is that nation states are merely a historical invention and what matters is life on a local – and yes community – basis, instead of one particular bit of land mass being different to another particular bit of land mass ”

The distinction is entirely arbitrary. Local communities are just political entities too, there is nothing essential about them. Identity with one is not morally distinguishable from identity with the other.

Thanks for the positive comments, folks. I thought John Meredith’s point @11 was interesting, about drawing the distinction between local clubs and the international game. The first version of this post over at my place was (rightly) trimmed a little before cross-posting, but in the longer version I expand on the distinction between the different types of the game, and how the ability to buy in players at huge expense it why Premiership football seems to have lost its way. When similar attempts are made to ‘buy’ national supporting superiority, as political_animal @15 says, this looks like an attempt to ‘hack’ the constraints, and we find it distasteful. Likewise with nationality switches.

Regarding vuzuvelas.

There was a one hour phone in on Five Live this morning discussing whether or not they make a valuable contribution to our enjoyment of the World Cup………..

This provided the post-modern cultural relativists with acres of airtime to lecture us that we must approve of vusuvelas because they are part of South Africa’s cultural heritage and, as the tournament is being held in Africa, we are obliged to find them interesting and atmospheric.

As a libertarian, I am not, of course, suggesting vusuvelas should be banned but surely it must be tempting for the non participating spectators to investigate how many orifices can be used to play them?

Can I suggest that politics keeps its nose out of football?

You can suggest it, but it wont happen, because politicians are always going to attach themselves to something they see as popular, especially when they are going to be doing things that are unpopular.

So from now on, those who dislike football should just pretend it isn’t there.

I’d love to but it is very difficult – England have won the World Cup once, 44 years ago, and it hasn’t been shut up about since; I dread to think what would happen if they did so again (the reaction to England winning the rugby union world cup 9 years ago is an indication of the bottom of the scale of what will happen.)

(I don’t dislike football – I just couldn’t give a shit one way or the other.)

political_animal,

Sunder #8 as picked up by another poster, I really don’t agree with…

“Part of the liberal-left often suggests that we will (only) have a better world when…
– people do not watch football but concentrate on serious issues”

To be fair to Sunder, he was criticising that part of the liberal-left.

21. Shatterface

Going beyond football for a moment, there are those who think pleasure is a scarce commodity in human history and we should sieze every opportunity we can to enjoy, and those who think pleasure is dangerous or, at best, a distraction from the ‘proper’ business of life (building fantasy utopias in this life or the next) and who believe those who wish to indulge should justify it against some idiological ledger on each and every occasion.

Pleasure is not a means to an end, it is an end in itself. It doesn’t exactly surprise me that the more authoritarian posters are back out in force.

The only thing affecting me at the moment is the fact that my enjoyment of the greatest tournament in the world is being ruined by these horns.

Yes, there have been idiots who use football as an excuse for violence… but the game was always the excuse, and not the cause of that particular type of stupidity.

But why football and not snooker? Surely there is nothing wrong with enquiring as to why football is the type of cultural phenomenon that attracts angry, disaffected young men and their tendency to express themselves in violence, while others seem to avoid it? We can all play the “look under the kilt: no true [fan of the thing I personally like] would ever do that” game, but the organisers of the Chelsea Flower Show (for example) never have to contend with the accusation that they’re just enabling thuggery. What is it about football that makes it such an easily accessible and convenient excuse for violence?

These men do not define the sport, and they are a dying breed. In their place steps an ever growing number of sports fans who just want to watch the game with their friends, old and new.

Indeed the number of organised gangs who travel to the site of football tournaments specifically to engage in high-profile violence appears to be on the wane — although I would have personally loved to see our home-grown thugs travel down to South Africa and try it on there. However, it appears that the low profile bastards who take the excuse to brutalise their wives and neighbours are still alive and very much flourishing.

I think where you’re seriously missing the crux is that there are two things at play here. Indeed, let us have games. Let us arbitrarily decide that eleven of us shall be “England” and eleven of you shall be “Ghana” and let us waste a pleasant couple of hours booting around a ball and having a pint afterwards. How can anyone find that objectionable, indeed? The problem is that that is “football” in the same sense that the Nicene Creed is “Christianity”. There is a vast culture that surrounds this specific sport, and a multi-million dollar industry that has sprung up to perpetuate certain aspects of this culture around the, basically irrelevant, nucleus of the arbitrary game.

Objections to Football™ don’t spring from the game itself, but from the fact that this culture — which is, let’s face it, the entire reason that “ordinary, decent fans” get to have their escapist group fantasy — takes over while a major tournament is on, and distorts the place where we live into something subservient to the whims of the Football Supporting subcaste. When Utd play City in Manchester people with no interest in the game find themselves unable to buy booze in the city centre, put up with increased police presence, and often avoid the hotspots where fans cluster if we can help it because there is an increased risk of violence to us, even if such places would be entirely safe during non-football dominated times of the week. “It’s just a minority of fans who commit violence” is irrelevant, because it’s always a minority of people in any situation who expend their resources on violence. Even in war, which nobody would be silly enough to argue is inherently nonviolent, only a fraction of the population actually engages in the active process of war. But the behaviour of the violent minority (invariably disenfranchised young men) is supported and encouraged by the environment created by the majority. So it is with any culture that contains a violent minority, be it nationalism, sport or religious fundamentalism.

Defenses of the football always focus on the irrelevance of the game itself, and try to have it both ways. If it’s “just a game” then why don’t we all cluster round the TV to watch international chess tournaments? Of course there are very good reasons why not, the principle one being that it’s not “just a game” at all. But football defenders wish to have it both ways, to enjoy being a part of this massive, overpowering subculture, with its cthuluesque tentacles reaching into every part of the national zeitgeist, while seeking to distance themselves from all the negative aspects of it — the tribalism, the sexism, the violence — and claim that it’s not “real” football.

If it is the case, as suggested in comment @7 above, that football as “war without the guns” is better than the other kind of war, then fair enough, but that’s hardly a stunning defense of the benign innocence of the football culture, is it?

This is, of course, written not just from the losing side but the loser’s side, the side of those who try to tilt at windmills far bigger than we are. Expressions of violent masculinity as proxy for genetic fitness are bigger and more powerful drivers of behaviour than any political or philosophical theory could hope to be, and sexist, tribalist celebrations of gonad-proxy behaviour are hardly going to go out of fashion any time before humanity evolves away from the mammal body plan. But that’s not the bloody point! “You boring stick-in-the-muds just don’t get what it means to have fun, why don’t you just enjoy it” is a piss poor argument to make when faced with the genuine problems with global football culture. Of course it’s not all bad. Nothing is all bad. But the problems that exist do, in fact, exist, and claiming that people who point them out are missing some kind of point is like a spectacular exercise in unselfawareness.

24. John Meredith

“But football defenders wish to have it both ways, to enjoy being a part of this massive, overpowering subculture, with its cthuluesque tentacles reaching into every part of the national zeitgeist, while seeking to distance themselves from all the negative aspects of it — the tribalism, the sexism, the violence — and claim that it’s not “real” football.”

I don’t think this is true at all, on any level. First of all, while I think there is often too much football talk in political discourse I don’t agree that it has the grip on the culture you think it does. I find it very easy to ignore when I want to by simply not reading the back pages of the press. It is not even on TV anymore unless you want to pay to see it or stay up very late on a Saturday night (I have children so I may have a different value of ‘very late’ than many of you).

And on your other point, it is nonsense to suggest that ‘defenders of football’ ignore its ‘negative’ aspects. If anything, they are bores on the subject. The most consistent, probing and persistent criticism of football’s violence and xenophobia appear on the sports pages not the op-eds of The Guardian. They are not ignored. The game itself has led many effective campaigns against racism although I think we would all agree that they need to do more about homophobia. But it is only football that brings out such high levels of idiotic hostility. We just don’t get people attacking, say, international cricket with the same energy although it suffers from all of the same problems except (outside of the Indian sub-continent) for the degree of crowd violence. But the lack of violence in cricket (or Rugby, or chess) is probabaly just down to the smaller level of popular support. I can’t help feeeling that what makes football different is that people like Laurie Penny, despite their ideological commitments, just recoil from the sight and company of large numbers of working class people at play. Orwell noticed this tendency, of course, 80 years ago. The working classes do not enjoy football exclusively but there is no doubt that large football tournaments briefly render the working classes much more visible in our society and in a manner that many of their self-appointed tribunes find obnoxious: they are singing and laughing (and, yes, fighting) instead of suffering, failing and asking for help. The hostility to working class men who become rich playing football is itself symptomatic of this attitude. A Wayne Rooney is instantly dismissed as a sexist, racist, millionaire buffoon by people who know nothing about him. Why should someone like that, without a degree to his name, have all that cash to spend on his debased tastes, is the implication, when it is not spoken overtly. It is all very sad.

In the meantime I find I care if England win despite myself, and will suffer along with them until they are expelled affter their only decent performance in the quarters, after which I won’t care much one way or the other for another four years.

25. the a&e charge nurse

[22] “a multi-million dollar industry that has sprung up to perpetuate certain aspects of this culture around the, basically irrelevant, nucleus of the arbitrary game”.
Maybe, but isn’t ALL of life ‘arbitrary’, because it can certainly be constructed as a ‘game’
http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/whatis.htm

Anyway can you tell us what isn’t arbitrary or ‘basically irrelevant’ – do you have a list somewhere?

If your central point is that football is ‘problematic’ then yes, I’m sure most would agree with you ……….. but this factor only increases its fascination, in much the same way that any good drama does not really work without a ‘bad’ guy?

McDuff,

Objections to Football™ don’t spring from the game itself, but from the fact that this culture — which is, let’s face it, the entire reason that “ordinary, decent fans” get to have their escapist group fantasy — takes over while a major tournament is on, and distorts the place where we live into something subservient to the whims of the Football Supporting subcaste.

That may be where your objections spring from, but Laurie Penny says that “we shouldn’t waste our time watching [the World Cup] or buying themed merchandise when there are more important things going on.”

McDuff – that’s a far better and more eloquent argument than the two pieces being responded to here, and I have a lot of sympathy with it. But assuming that you’re aiming for a realisable goal beyond windmill-tilting or therapeutic ranting, the questions are how to improve football-culture, since as you ackowledge it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Simply damning it en bloc as bigotry and barbarism is (a) not going to achieve anything whatsoever, and (b) very unfair, since most football fans are innocent of the general charges against them. But more than this, the good-natured majority of fans are actually the key to sorting out the problems, aren’t they? Want a better football culture? Then get more, decent people involved and leave the thugs increasingly marginalised and unwelcome.

Anyway, the two posts this is a response both concerned the world cup in particular, not football in general. So the question is: is the world cup closer to football at its inspirational best, or at its violent worst? Without going overboard about it, I would say it is much closer to the former.

28. the a&e charge nurse

[25] “but Laurie Penny says that “we shouldn’t waste our time watching [the World Cup] or buying themed merchandise when there are more important things going on.” – interesting, but I doubt the hosts, S Africa, would agree with her?

Footie fans everywhere are hoping that they stage a memorable tournament (the first, as well as biggest sporting event in Africa) – surely there must be an upside to their nomination as world cup hosts?

“Blah blah working class people you’re just elitists”

I, sir, am a “WWC” male. I, sir, avoid the centre of the city where I live on match days if I can help it because it fills up with a particular class of violent, drunken young men. This class is not the “working class”. The working class are there every other day, too, doing their shopping, going to the cinema, going to work, drinking, and by and large managing to do so without fluffing their manes, dressing in their clan colours and generally increasing the level of aggression in the high street and making every public house an unpleasant place to be.

It’s unbearably patronising to say that the “working class” are the people that we are criticising. It’s not that football transcends class, but as with the BNP bollocks that’s taking over Labour, there’s an assumption among “elites” that their own prejudices are just reflections of the popular – i.e. working class – sentiments of the day, and in this case “football culture” has indeed, as I said, displaced the rest of the culture and come to stand in for it.

There’s no reason that Rugby couldn’t be the centre of a culture of violence just as much as football is. It’s entirely due to accidents of history that we have coalesced our particular groups of violent disaffected young men around sport X as opposed to sport Y. It’s unlikely that it would be chess or snooker, or even cricket to be fair, because they involve fewer displays of raw masculine athleticism (i.e. proxies for reproductive success), but football or rugby or hockey or basketball could easily have done it over here, as they have in other parts of the world. But, at the moment, for whatever arbitrary and historical reasons, football is where it’s at for this particular culture, in this particular nation.

Criticism of the Rooney’s of the world partly does stem, of course, from a similar kind of “what did he do to get all that money?” sense of unfairness. But this is not exclusive to football and applies to anyone who seems to have an undeserved share of resources, be they bankers, lords or musicians. What is particular to Rooney, as opposed to, say, Kate Moss or Lord Ashcroft, is that he used to roll around bars in Merseyside picking fights. The stereotype of footballers as drunken louts didn’t spring fully formed from Laurie Penny’s skull, you know.

In any event, the idea that football is some kind of exclusive working class pastime is outdated and ridiculous, and reeks of an excuse to shut down the debate by accusing people of bigotry. A match day ticket at Old Trafford costs £30-45 quid. That’s 8-10% of the median weekly wage, not counting bus fare or parking, shirts, pies and booze. Of course many working class people go to football matches, but it’s far from their exclusive domain, and the ranks in attendance are swelled with people up and down the income brackets. And last time I checked, dropping enough cash to spend the best part of five weeks in South Africa was out of reach to almost anyone who might be traditionally defined as “working class” in this country. I know I certainly can’t afford it!

So, would you like to take your “waah, you just don’t like the poor” warblings, put them back in the box, and perhaps try and produce something that’s not a twattish ad hominem? If you don’t think the violence you admit happens is a problem and you’re willing to overlook it for the sake of a game, then that is entirely your prerogative. I do not share that opinion. I think it’s endemic to the football culture – which, as I’ve said, has very little do with the actual game of football except inasmuch that it’s a team game played by groups of young men who get to run around being paragons of physical fitness. And I think that your easy brushing off of the impact of spectacles like this on the actual lives of many of the “working class” you claim I’m biased against, particularly the people who find themselves on the other end of the boozed up, worked up expression of “national pride”, is bloody lazy if nothing else.

That last reply was to John Meredith @23, btw.

@29, I have never heard of Rooney rolling around bars and picking fights, could you post your source please?

32. John Meredith

“In any event, the idea that football is some kind of exclusive working class pastime is outdated and ridiculous”

But that wasn’t my point. Football appeals across the classes. But during a large touranament it is manifestly true that the working classes at play become more visible and thet generates a lot of nose wrinkling among the commentariat such as Laurie Penny, I think. Of course the working classes are there at other times but their self-styled champions can imagine them then the way they like to imagine them because they are not so noisy and therefore visible and they are not having so much fun.

That was why I made the observation that anti-cricket tirades similar to the anti-world cup ones don’t happen. There are as many drunken louts in cricket as football (but people find Freddie charming, Rooney not so much) and as much xeonophobia and nationalism proportionally.

“The stereotype of footballers as drunken louts didn’t spring fully formed from Laurie Penny’s skull, you know.”

I know, it is a very common prejudice of the middle classes. Footballers are young men with money, usually working class men, and that has never been a cause for much celebration behind the privet. They get drunk, some of them are nice some nasty, like the other social classes and professions. But it is the footballers that make us squirm. Just look at their brassy wives! Just look at their gaudy houses!

“And last time I checked, dropping enough cash to spend the best part of five weeks in South Africa was out of reach to almost anyone who might be traditionally defined as “working class” in this country. I know I certainly can’t afford it!”

You need to check again. there are many working class men following England to SA. if you were not too scared to go out on match days, you would meet some, although they might eat you, so best not risk it.

Don’t worry about John Meredith, he’s guaranteed to the be the stupidest person in any comment thread in which he features.

I wonder how much McDuff’s experience is a reflection of life in Manchester in particular? Not that the problems are confined to that city of course, but if you lived in Las Vegas I imagine you might hold quite strong views about the evils of gambling.

A&E,

I doubt the hosts, S Africa, would agree with her?

Footie fans everywhere are hoping that they stage a memorable tournament (the first, as well as biggest sporting event in Africa) – surely there must be an upside to their nomination as world cup hosts?

Ah, but English / British fans should not watch the footy because “This country is in crisis. 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.”

35. Shatterface

‘“The stereotype of footballers as drunken louts didn’t spring fully formed from Laurie Penny’s skull, you know.”

No, she just tapped into an existing prejudice the same way the Daily Mail and the BNP do when attacking a group you have more sympathy with.

a&e charge nurse @24

The arbitrariness of football to the rest of life is not what I was talking about. The arbitrariness of football to football culture is what I meant.

That is to say, “football culture” is essentially the glorified culture of insecure, tribal masculinity. It has happened to coalesce around football by historical accident. It could have coalesced around rugby, or basketball, or hockey, or even some sport that hasn’t been invented in this particular iteration of history. In other parts of the world other sports do, indeed, fill the nucleus of the culture.

Larry @26

I don’t think you can separate the World Cup culture from Football culture. Certainly you can’t in this country, although in others where football doesn’t exert such a strong grasp on the national consciousness I’m sure that’s different. It may just be a subjective difference of opinion, inasmuch that what I consider to be boozy loutishness in the centre of the city right now is seen by many as “community spirit and cameraderie.” On the other hand, the increased police presence isn’t there to protect them from me, is it?

I’m not very hopeful about changing these windmills, but if you want a somewhat irreverent suggestion, I’d be all in favour of getting some women involved on the pitch. And not as cheerleaders, as players. The presence of ovaries anywhere near the exclusively male sport would immediately cause feelings of intense emasculation and weirdness and cause the violent elements to flee for safer, less female-friendly environments, where they can indulge in their adolescent insecurities without having to be reminded women exist as separate human beings.

Of course, this would never happen, as people would bring out all manner of arguments about the innate superiority of the bigger, stronger, more testicle-having males of the species at the very important business of kicking a ball around a field, and the fact that this is so much more important than involving the other 50% of the human race in the world’s most popular sporting event as anything more than passive spectators, possibly even giving 50% of the children in the world some kind of positive role model of athletic achievement for the next five weeks. Such arguments, of course, hold as much water as a cheesecloth bucket, because they are shorthand for “but girls have cooties!”

It’s not really about football. It’s about the fetishisation of a particular kind of male behaviour and its quasi-religious enshrinement as “normal” in our culture when it is, in fact, simply a phase that young men go through when they’re too much bollock and not enough brain. There’s no reason that the game of “football” can’t be just as good if women play, but women will never be involved because it’s not about the game. (And no, the existence of a women’s world cup doesn’t count, because the entire country doesn’t go nutso batshit and fly flags from every orifice when that’s on). Excluding women is not some unfortunate side-effect of the culture’s coalescence around a particular kind of game. It’s one of its defining characteristics, the reason it would coalesce around a physical sport rather than chess or movies.

The “solution” is to acknowledge that football culture is a huge part of the way our society is made up, but to not accept that its aspirations of primacy should be succumbed to in the way that we have. With the amount of money that splashes around it, it’s hard to avoid it punching well above its weight, but that’s no reason to just accept it without a fight.

37. John Meredith

“I wonder how much McDuff’s experience is a reflection of life in Manchester in particular?”

I don’t think he can be talking about Manchester. The city centre there is hardly terrifying on match days.

@19

I should stress I didn’t particulaly mean politicians in terms of MPs, who scarcely get involved other than to say which team they support. I meant more pundits, bloggers, campaigners and so on when I said politics should keep its nose out.

And it isn’t that hard to ignore if you want to. I mean it would be hard to not even know it was happening or that it happened. But why does it anger you that other people have the interest. It doesn’t anger me that people like RnB music, even though I find it and its most common sentiments trite and irritating. So I tend to change the channel is some is played on TV, and I don’t go to bars it is likely to be played in.

Everyone should do the same and leave people to their own pleasures.

39. John Meredith

“That is to say, “football culture” is essentially the glorified culture of insecure, tribal masculinity. It has happened to coalesce around football by historical accident.”

But this is question begging. You have assumed the truth of your conclusions in your premises. Personally I doubt there is such a thing as ‘football culture’. I might be wrong but you would have to make an arguyment rather thaan simply making a ragbag of assertions.

John Meredith @32, Shatterface @35

Do feel free to call up the local police force in the city you live in and tell them that all those extra mounted police officers near the big screens are completely unnecessary, because the popular conception of violent football fans was an invention of middle class liberals who find the working classes distasteful and smelly.

You doubt there is such a thing as football culture?

Are you, by any chance, living in a cave, on Mars, with your fingers in your ears?

42. John Meredith

McDuff, nobody is suggesting that there is no violence associated with football, or that large scale public events need to be policed. But those are trivial observations that don’t lend much support to your broader polemic.

43. John Meredith

“You doubt there is such a thing as football culture? Are you, by any chance, living in a cave, on Mars, with your fingers in your ears?”

I am not disputing that there is such a thing as football matches or tournaments, just that there is a ‘football culture’ that is in some way explanatory. When I watch football as I occasionally do, I do not feel that I have entered a differebnt culture any more than I do when I play chess. There may be a distinct ‘football culture’ or (more likely) various football sub-cultures, but we won’t know what you mean unless you define it in a non-question begging way.

@McDuff

Lets be absolutely clear here, if there was a woman available to England who was better than our present three keepers – most fans would want her picked to play and feel not one jot emasculated by it. (Most have barely even noticed the introduction of female matchday officials, despite a few old men making sad jokes)

Just as most white working class fans of the 80s quickly dropped their racist terminology, and over a longer period their outlook, when good black players started to emegre and play well for their team – so Football is pure in that regard. It over-rides biggotry and division with the desire to win.

45. Luis Enrique

McDuff

“I’d be all in favour of getting some women involved on the pitch”

erm …http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FIFA_Women%27s_World_Cup

or …. are you arguing for mandatory mixed male / female teams? if so, you look like a prime example of how it’s possible to be both clever and very stupid

Good to know you’re the authority on what is a “trivial” observation and what isn’t. Do you also think that it’s a “trivial” matter of demographics that most violence globally is committed by young men of a certain age, who just so happen to be the ones most attracted to football and the surrounding ceremonies in this country (and who are attracted to American football and surrounding ceremonies in the USA, or to Ice Hockey in Canada).

At what point does a repeated pattern move beyond mere coincidence for you? Is it the point at which you don’t feel any personal identification with the group under criticism, or is there some actual standard you use to decide what is “trivial” and what isn’t?

Oh
and there tend to be a lot of police at large pop concerts too. And at the Cricket (more people are ejected from one day games than top flight football matches). And at marathons. And at protest marches.

Does that make all culture dangerous?

Or does it reflect the need to keep crowds themselves safe from innadvertant crushing and dangerous criminal minorities?

48. John Meredith

“Lets be absolutely clear here, if there was a woman available to England who was better than our present three keepers – most fans would want her picked to play and feel not one jot emasculated by it.”

But, of course, the women’s football association (?) would object.

We could amend the rules of football to make mixed sex teams the norm and I wouldn’t be against it in principle, but there would be a justified sense that quality would be sacrificed and fans might feel aggrieved. It would be like introducing random moves to chess so that less skilled players could compete.

@46

So you seem to acknowledge that the violence you attach to football is in fact a coincidental relationship rather than a causal one.

ie. young men sometimes get violent.
and some young men like sport.

Lets be absolutely clear here, if there was a woman available to England who was better than our present three keepers – most fans would want her picked to play and feel not one jot emasculated by it.

I would be willing to bet at least $1000 that you are 100% wrong. Not least because there probably are women available who are better than the current three keepers, but we don’t know about them because “women can’t play sports”. Availability and acceptance are two entirely different things.

John

Obviously every woman would have to be there on merit. We could adjust the old addage for the purpose and declare “if you are good enough, you are male enough”

52. John Meredith

“Do you also think that it’s a “trivial” matter of demographics that most violence globally is committed by young men of a certain age, who just so happen to be the ones most attracted to football”

It is because the first datum is trivial that the second is.

I think there is a broader age range in football support than you do, though. I agree that football supporting used to be mainly a young man’s thing, but these days, with more money and leisure available there is a much older look to the (ex) terraces. Go along and see. I can almost guarantee that you will survive and be pleasantly surprised.

mcduff

I can promise you, having watched England in women’s football – there isn’t a woman good enough for the Men’s first team squad. Their stamina, technique, and agility is largely a lot lower.

That’s not surprising since fewer women play, and so the pool of talent is smaller. Plus because they play against lower quality opposition their learning never raises as far. And of course training methods in mens football are that much more intense and advanced for youngsters than in womens football.

54. John Meredith

“Not least because there probably are women available who are better than the current three keepers, ”

I would happily bet my left arm against your tenner that you are wrong and test it according to any football relatad test you like. Martina Navratilova, probably the greatest femal athlete of her day, once said that she doubted she could win a match against any seeeded man at all. I think she was right. She is still a great athlete though.

55. Luis Enrique

McDuff,

What exactly are you trying to say? You have noticed that most violence is perpetrated by young men, many young men like football, and football is associated with violence by some of its supporters, and some general silly male displays.

And?

it’s also a great game enjoyed by hundreds of millions around the world, all of which are now glued to the World Cup.

The intersection between these two sets of people (violent young men, football fans) is there, but small – the clue is all the millions of non-violent and/or non-young men who like football. Would you like me to draw you a Venn diagram?

56. Luis Enrique

edit: should have been non-young and/or non-violent and/or non-men in last para.

McDuff,

I’d be all in favour of getting some women involved on the pitch. … Of course, this would never happen, as people would bring out all manner of arguments about the innate superiority of the bigger, stronger, more testicle-having males of the species at the very important business of kicking a ball around a field, and the fact that this is so much more important than involving the other 50% of the human race in the world’s most popular sporting event as anything more than passive spectators, possibly even giving 50% of the children in the world some kind of positive role model of athletic achievement for the next five weeks. Such arguments, of course, hold as much water as a cheesecloth bucket, because they are shorthand for “but girls have cooties!”

I suspect women would struggle to compete because of innate physical inferiority. Cue a male conspirator writing, “but Faye White could beat me at football”. There’s always one.

So it’s not a matter of being sarcastic about football being too important to involve women, it is a matter of women not being involved because they are not good enough. That said, on the face of it I think clubs should be free to have mixed teams (they aren’t).

McDuff,

I would be willing to bet at least $1000 that you are 100% wrong. Not least because there probably are women available who are better than the current three keepers, but we don’t know about them because “women can’t play sports”. Availability and acceptance are two entirely different things.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that some prejudices generalisations are acceptable and others aren’t. Here it is unacceptable to say that “women can’t play sports” but entirely acceptable to suggest that most football fans think this.

Anyway, perhaps if years ago women had not been de facto banned from playing football, ever, things would be different. Nevertheless there are growing numbers of women playing football (but a lot of women just aren’t interested, you know) and growing numbers of TV viewers interested in watching them play. Change takes time.

margin,

I can promise you, having watched England in women’s football – there isn’t a woman good enough for the Men’s first team squad. Their stamina, technique, and agility is largely a lot lower.

That’s not surprising since fewer women play, and so the pool of talent is smaller. Plus because they play against lower quality opposition their learning never raises as far. And of course training methods in mens football are that much more intense and advanced for youngsters than in womens football.

It’s “not surprising” because women are physically inferior, although some conspirators seemed surprised to learn this last year.

60. John Meredith

“That said, on the face of it I think clubs should be free to have mixed teams (they aren’t).”

If they could it would spell the end of wopmen’s football (that is the theory anyway). The very best wopmen would all end up playing minor roles in the men’s C teams robbing the womens’ leagues of talent.

ukliberty

Agree that is one of the reasons, though with the right training and upbringing Messi seems to so pretty well despite the physical disadvantage of his diminutive stature. Likewise Modric (Croatia and Spurs).

Meanwhile players like Teddy Sheringham or Denis Bergkamp were never pacey, and overcame that with great vision and technique. Which in theory a female Johann Cruyff could do too.

Football isn’t all about the physical.

@Margin

It’s not coincident. Young men are not “coincidentally” violent. It’s a pretty standard reaction to being a biological male member of the species of a certain age. It’s what our sub-branch of primates does. Displays of athleticism are not unrelated to that, they’re proxy displays of reproductive fitness. Bigger, stronger, more aggressive men get more offspring, so genes that encourage displays of bigness and strength and aggression get passed on. There is, of course, a great deal more nuance to this than can be expressed in a single paragraph, but that’s the current broad state of play. Young men are violent. There is strong biological theory as to why it should be the case, and it’s held up with statistics from across the globe.

Every culture celebrates this particular kind of male behaviour to a greater or lesser extent, and has rituals and ceremonies surrounding it. In our culture, at this time, these happen to mostly revolve around sporting events, with football being by far the most prevalent in this culture. Football being a continuation of “war by other means” is, from a biological point of view, a trivial observation, although no less important for all that. From the point of view of the genes floating in your testicles, it is exactly true.

My argument is not that “football causes violence.” It is that there is a culture surrounding football which has latched onto it because it contains much of the elements that make it an acceptable nucleus for a sexist, aggressive, tribalist, masculine subculture. It can exclude women because nobody who isn’t stupid would ever assume that women could play physical sports, what with their being so weak and all. It can provide competition and give solid group identities, and provides a channel for the pent up aggression that comes with being a young male in our particular species of primates. Playing is a good violence proxy, and watching is a very good way of indulging in watching other males who are better at the violence proxy than we are — a not entirely dissimilar reaction to porn as a sex-substitute, albeit stimulating different psychological needs.

In and of itself, this is all so far, so inevitable, so pretty boring. But when football has a big event, there seems to be a tacit acceptance by everyone else that it’s our job to move out of the way and let this culture and its population, which trends significantly towards the young, male and aggressive, take over. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have football, or that we should in some way seek to make the culture into something it has no capacity to be, but that either we should stop privileging it or that, at the very least, those of us who object to the hypermasculinity of the whole charade shouldn’t be dismissed as being boring stick in the muds who “just don’t get” why the rest of you enjoy jumping up and down and shouting about a group of fit young men. I do get it, I really do. It’s not to do with class, it’s not to do with the beautiful game, it’s the same reason people always enjoy jumping up and down and shouting. If you could do that without leaving your crap all over the streets every Saturday and without making the rest of us need a disproportionate amount of police protection, that would be bloody lovely. And if, when it’s pointed out that there are indeed pretty good reasons to not like football that aren’t to do with our own personal failings or classes, and generally have a lot to do with us being so “boring” that we would prefer to be able to make it to our jobs or our cinemas or our bars or our musical concerts without having to negotiate a gauntlet of drunken yobbish lads trying to loudly out-penis everyone else in their peer group, you could probably benefit from being less kneejerkily defensive over it. You have your subculture, we have ours, and yours currently gets way more privileges than ours.

If you want to argue that it’s right and fair that football should get more support than any other cultural subculture, have at, but don’t pretend that it’s some universal source of costless national pride that everyone else should just quietly move out of the way for.

63. John Meredith

“Agree that is one of the reasons, though with the right training and upbringing Messi seems to so pretty well despite the physical disadvantage of his diminutive stature. Likewise Modric (Croatia and Spurs).”

But these men are small compared to other men, not compared to women and they are physically massive and very striong even if they are not tall.

“Meanwhile players like Teddy Sheringham or Denis Bergkamp were never pacey, and overcame that with great vision and technique. Which in theory a female Johann Cruyff could do too. ”

Again, they are only slow compared to to other athletic men. They would leave you or me for dead. It would be astonishing if a women, any women, could compete with any player in the prem, or even, I suspect, and professional or semi-professional male football player in the world. The gap in physical ability is just too massive.

I also think it’s pretty funny that as soon as I offered a tongue in cheek solution to the problem of violence in football, a whole bunch of men came out and immediately gave all these reasons why it would totes ruin the game, man! You don’t want to watch chicks play, that’s fine, I’m cool with how your tastes run. But because I think a football match is exactly what a world without women would look like — a bunch of sweaty blokes doing something ridiculous and physical to impress each other and crowing about it like it’s the most important thing in the world — I find it very hard to take it at all seriously.

I’ll accept that football isn’t sexist when we see the same level of flags hung on taxis when the Women’s World Cup is on. If it’s all for the love of the game, what should it matter if the sport is played by a male or female team? If it’s for the love of the country, for community spirit and cameraderie, why does it matter? Apparently, evidence suggests it does matter. Why, sports fans, is this the case, if it’s not that the general subculture of people who watch football would prefer to watch men than watch women?

McDuff,

I also think it’s pretty funny that as soon as I offered a tongue in cheek solution to the problem of violence in football, a whole bunch of men came out and immediately gave all these reasons why it would totes ruin the game, man! You don’t want to watch chicks play, that’s fine, I’m cool with how your tastes run.

Who said that? I don’t think anyone suggested it would ruin the game (except perhaps JM’s comment that women’s football would lose its players, which seems a fair point) but merely that women would struggle to compete.

John

I guess I’m an old fashioned idealist who wants to believe football isn’t just about athleticism and is more about technique and vision. I know it is much less than now than it once was. But it’s an ideal I want to hold on to.

67. John Meredith

” You don’t want to watch chicks play, that’s fine, I’m cool with how your tastes run.”

Don’t be silly, you are the only person who has suggested such a thing. The football fans on here all said they would be quite happy to have women in the team if they were good enough.

“a bunch of sweaty blokes doing something ridiculous and physical to impress each other”

People sometimes find it ridiocuous, it’s true. Games can look like that when you are not into them and if you choose not to understand them. You often hear similarly lunk-headed dismissals of the vacuity of women’s interest in fashion, for example.

“I’ll accept that football isn’t sexist when we see the same level of flags hung on taxis when the Women’s World Cup is on.”

As people have patiently explained to you, women’s football is not of as much interest because it is not as good. It has nothing to do with the sex of the players.

“If it’s all for the love of the game, what should it matter if the sport is played by a male or female team?”

It doesn’t. It matters whether the game is good or not. Second rate football is pretty dull (most first rate football is dull, actually, you hold out for the brilliant moment).

“Apparently, evidence suggests it does matter.”

What evidence?

“Why, sports fans, is this the case, if it’s not that the general subculture of people who watch football would prefer to watch men than watch women?”

Because men are better at football, and skill matters in football. It is why people generally prefer opera sopranos to be women. It is not that no men can approach the notes, they are just never as good as the best women. Surely this isn’t too hard to grasp?

68. John Meredith

“guess I’m an old fashioned idealist who wants to believe football isn’t just about athleticism and is more about technique and vision. I know it is much less than now than it once was.”

Actually there are good reasons to think technique is better today than ever. I agree that is is about much more than the physical, but the physical is the baseline, as in tennis.

Yes, I agree with almost every word of your article. I won’t watch a single minute of the world cup, I’m simply not interested at all. I keep my own pleasures that other people wouldn’t care about (mostly mathematics hehe). BUT I actually feel quite enthused that other people feel so passionately about football and are enjoying it so much. Even though I don’t care, I enjoy that they do. I was talking to my neighbour and a police woman outside about the world cup on Friday; where they are going to watch the England match, who they though would win, etc. It was nice, shared experiences make a community? I was hoping England would win on saturday too, not out of patriotism but simply that it would bring a bit of joy to some of the people I know who do enjoy football. It would be mean spirited otherwise?

Anyway, the contempt and lack of empathy in these articles really makes me feel so depressed and hopeless. Laurie Penny’s blogging about football fans, it feels to me like Melanie Phillips writing about single mothers or something. I really don’t think there is any difference at all. Maybe it is even worse, it is such a hateful piece.

McDuff

“But when football has a big event, there seems to be a tacit acceptance by everyone else that it’s our job to move out of the way and let this culture and its population, which trends significantly towards the young, male and aggressive, take over. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have football, or that we should in some way seek to make the culture into something it has no capacity to be, but that either we should stop privileging it or that, at the very least, those of us who object to the hypermasculinity of the whole charade shouldn’t be dismissed as being boring stick in the muds who “just don’t get” why the rest of you enjoy jumping up and down and shouting about a group of fit young men.”

And here lies what I percieve to be your problem, not football’s.

It is, in liberal society, our role to let every culture and its population get on with it, whether it is cricket, football, opera, or RnB music. That you are incapable of such liberal outlook is something for you to deal with. You are no more a stick in the mud for dislking football than I am for thinking RnB is rubbish. And I don’t suppose you’ve been called one for not liking football. The difference is that I don’t then complain about RnB in some wider social context to justify my dislike of it and the culture around it. I just ignore it.

In otherwords, you are a stick-in-the-mud. Not for disliking football. But for denigrating all those who like it and its myriad of cultures, instead of taking a liberal outlook and declaring “live and let live”.

So ignore football. It will occasionally enter your periphery, but so what? RnB occasionally enters mine – and I don’t feel a need to denigrate all those who enthusiastically get drunk and pull to it’s repetitive lyrics, or drive their highly polished cars to it’s mind numbing rhythm.

Also – on the young men issue – this again shows a lack of reading on your part, and you should thus try to comment more on subjects you know rather than football. After all, one of the great concerns of the last ten years in football has been the aging nature of football crowds, and why so few young men seem to attend matches nowadays. (Price is almost certainly one aspect, also seating issues that mean a group of friends can’t buy tickets seperately but still watch together.)

John
Technique has improved. undoubtedly so. But perhaps less rapidly than athleticism as that was a realtive quick fix when ideas on training and health started crossing borders properly in the 90s. I still like to imagine that the likes of Best or Greaves would, because of their vision and instinct, still stand head and shoulders above the rest as they once did. Though I guess their physical athleticism would be better too – what with modern players not generally being alcoholics in the mid-20s.

zebura

I think you have summed that up far better than any of those of us who love the sport could have done. Thank you.

For interest’s sake – I’ve done a quick test of opinion on the chat pages of a Spurs site.

at the moment it is running 4-1 in favour of of picking a woman for England if she improves the squad.

Of course it may go no further as it quickly turned into a discussion of which woman would be better than Green right now.

McDuff, you’ve overrun with your evolutionary explanations by miles:

it’s not to do with the beautiful game, it’s the same reason people always enjoy jumping up and down and shouting

Here you’re saying football is not about skill or artistry, but purely and simply about violence by proxy. Yes it serves that purpose, you are right. But is it only that? That’s just insulting to everyone who enjoys the game: look at all those stupid apes baying for blood.

What you’re missing is the glory of our branch of the primate family: that we’ve found some highly creative ways to channel our various psychological tendencies, including taking potentially destructive urges and turning them into something positive, in this case an international festival in which hundreds of millions of people around the world enjoy together perfectly peacefully. I see that as something to celebrate.

Anyway you can perform reductive evolutionary psychological analyses of any human activity (even bickering on the internet). Doesn’t everything come down to sex and violence, or is just football? Are you not a product of evolution too? Let us know some of your hobbies and I’ll happily paint a picture of you as a dull-witted monkey, scheming and jockeying for position within your social group. Would that make your pastimes ridiculous or shameful? Or are your hobbies allowed to transcend their evolutionary history and stand on their own terms, while the rest of us remain in the swamp?

Wow, the ongoing argument here is a bit like the back-and-forth of actual football!

Good show, chaps!

Larry,

I think you’d have to reach pretty far to say that, say, attending a Shakespeare play had the same biological connotations as watching a football game. Although, watching a Michael Bay movie where lots of man-shaped things blow lots of other man-shaped things up certainly polls much closer.

And of course I am a product of evolution, just like the rest of the species. Whether “everything” comes down to sex is kind of an irrelevance. Whether some aspects of culture are more to do with violence than others is somewhat more important a question. It’s interesting, by the way, that you see something offensive about being told that you get enjoyment out of something because it satisfies some deep primal urge. I mean, what’s wrong with pointing that out? You don’t enjoy sex and food because of your massively overdeveloped primate brain – you enjoy them because long history of evolution has left our species favouring some kinds of experiences over others. Football is just another one of these.

What, specifically, is the overreach? Young men commit more violence than other demographics. That’s not overreaching. Young men, as a rule, seek out subcultures that enable them to do such things, often within the context of a broader group identity. In English culture in general, masculinity and football are deeply intertwined. Also, in English footballing culture, the level of casual violence is noticeably higher than among the broader population, particularly around the games themselves. So far, so standard. These are not controversial statements on any level.

It is not exactly a massive leap from here to connect the overrepresentation of young men in the football subculture to the increased level of violence. Indeed, it would seem to present more of a difficulty to support the alternative hypothesis, that one would have to suggest some mechanism by which violence increased in the subculture that had nothing to do with the increased tendency of men to do violence when stimulated, that somehow said all these observed tendencies and traits didn’t come to the fore in this specific scenario.

Margin’s objection that in the specific case of football attendance at the ground the demographics have been trending older is somewhat of a red herring. It’s my understanding that non-Premiership clubs in general struggle against the big spenders, and since it’s the older supporters who are going to stick with a club and not be a fair weather fan, that’s much of a muchness. Further, a demographic that moves from being significantly overrepresented to being somewhat overrepresented is still overrepresented, and compared to the population at large, men are still hugely overrepresented and young men still significantly so. Again further, the totality of football culture does not stop with the wall of the grounds, but it rather spills out onto the big screens, the pubs, the home TV with the Sky subscription. Again, the populations of such venues is not going to be 100% young men all the time, but compared to the population at large if you walk into a “football pub” during match time, if you’re not prepared to be surrounded by shouty young men you need to find another pub.

Which would all be fine, were it just another subculture. But the idea that football and, to use Margin’s example, RnB are comparable in terms of cultural penetration is preposterous. The only time RnB makes the front pages is on the rare occasion some star commits some kind of crime. RnB doesn’t make every taxi in the country sprout an England flag. RnB doesn’t have an entire section of the news dedicated to updating the country how the musicians are doing and speculating on what they might be doing next. RnB doesn’t sprout a million ignorant facebook groups every time a tabloid newspaper suggests that some “PC Nazi” might be doing something that slightly infringes on the rights of RnB fans to do whatever they want while inebriated. RnB isn’t significantly intertwined with the cultural mythos of the nation. Also, there are loads of female RnB singers. It’s not even close to being the same thing.

But that’s the level of entitlement that football fans have. They don’t even realise how much they displace the rest of the culture.

It’s not only about the violence by proxy, but it’s the fact that it occupies that cultural niche, at the club level especially — which carries on to the national level because the group of England Supporters includes pretty much the whole population of club supporters — which enables it to be bigger than other forms of entertainment. And it’s our tendency to privilege violence by proxy which means we give football much more space to take up, despite the downsides of doing so, than we do to other subcultures, which increases the feedback loop, helps maintain the interconnection of English masculinity and The Beautiful Game, and in general perpetuates the whole thing.

There’s nothing inherent about football which is bad. But at this moment, at this point in time, a lot of bad things have attached themselves to it. Football benefits from these elements, but the rest of society suffers from them, and while it’s understandable that football fans would want to discount the negative impact they have on the rest of society, it’s also understandable that people who have to deal with them while not getting the benefits because we don’t like your game, don’t feel so generous about the negatives.

John Meredith

As people have patiently explained to you, women’s football is not of as much interest because it is not as good. It has nothing to do with the sex of the players.

What a lovely little get out that is. Of course male football fans would just love to watch women play. But, unfortunately, it’s just not as good.

Funny how they’ll tune in, in their millions, to watch a relatively piss-poor performance by a bunch of male players ending in a 1-1 draw, but are nowhere to be found when the female athletes might be putting in a good show. Not even out of national solidarity. Not even out of love of the game. Nothing whatsoever to do with gender: it’s just that the girls in the English national team can’t play as well as Bolton Wanderers. It’s an argument that would hold loads of water if the men weren’t in the habit of playing some absolutely rubbish football, even at the national level, and if football fans didn’t stay glued to the screen, weeping and screaming at every fumbled save or fluffed tackle.

You’ll excuse me if I don’t exactly buy it, I’m sure.

78. Charlieman

Some of the threads on LC would have had parallels 100 years ago in public debate (responsible management of transnational companies, internal party elections or that recent general election). But nobody would have been talking about football. Big sport was only just beginning although there was already evidence of football related violence.

100 years ago, sport was mainly stuff that toffs engaged in (cricket, tennis, rugby union). What made a difference was that working people had more money and more time for leisure. The predecessors of football were annual ball games between villages and the like, which are quaintly recreated. Working people had opportunities to play or watch sport because they were wealthier than their parents. And when I watch the World Cup games, I see nations where at least a few people (on the field and in the stands) have achieved more than subsistence and can indulge themselves a little. We may not approve about how money is distributed in some countries but we should be happy that wealth has been created.

@29 McDuff: “There’s no reason that Rugby couldn’t be the centre of a culture of violence just as much as football is. It’s entirely due to accidents of history that we have coalesced our particular groups of violent disaffected young men around sport X as opposed to sport Y.”

Not really. Football is incredibly simple: all you need for a game is a ball, because everything else is around you. Rugby requires a weird shaped ball, goal posts and lots of space, which is why the game is not played on the street. Cricket is a good street game — it requires a bit more equipment (a plank to act as a bat) than football — but it is a non-contact sport. Football is the simplest contact sport.

Some past colleagues were heavily funded to research hooliganism associated with football and they found numerous reports of incidents in the popular press of the 19th century. Some reference to this long history is made in this report:
http://www.politics.co.uk/briefings-guides/issue-briefs/policing-and-crime/football-hooliganism-$366570.htm

“incidents of crowd disorder at football matches have been recorded as early as the 19th Century. During a match in 1846 in Derby the riot act was read and two troops of dragoons called in to deal with a disorderly crowd, whilst pitch invasions became increasingly common from the 1880’s onwards.”
http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=376304098644&topic=14563

From a perspective of crowd behaviour at football matches, if Britain is broken, it was broken a long tome ago.

McDuff

What, specifically, is the overreach?

Since you missed it last time, I’ll emphasise it this time:

it’s not to do with the beautiful game, it’s the same reason people always enjoy jumping up and down and shouting

See, lots – and I mean lots – of people enjoy watching football for the exhibition of skill, the flashes of brilliance, the battle of strategy. The beautiful game. And then you come along with your unique insight as an angel among apes, and sneer that no it’s not to do with any of that, you lot are just enjoying yourselves because you love violence and jumping up and down and shouting.

Yes there’s are deep primal urges underlying sport, I’ve already agreed with you on that (very explicitly so I don’t know how you could have missed it). I am not remotely offended by that suggestion. But there’s also several layers of formalisation, channelling, and civilising of that urge, by our massively overdeveloped primate brains and sophisticated culture (at least for the overwhelming majority of football fans). But you ignore all that, and reduce it to apes jumping up and down. That’s what’s offensive. You’re using our evolutionary history to demean hobbies you happen not to like. It’s a cheap trick.

As you say, there are primal urges underlying the wine-taster sipping a glass of Mouton Rothschild, or the gourmet enjoying Raymond Blanc’s latest creation. Do you just see apes stuffing themselves?

As for you, you like Shakepeare, huh? No doubt you appreciate the poetry, plot, characters, and beautiful language. Nope sorry, you don’t. You might think you do, but you’re deluding yourself: it’s not to do with the beautiful language, it’s the same reason people always enjoy stories about killing and fucking. Seen Titus Andronicus recently?

Larry,

People never, ever, jump up and down and hug each other with euphoria over the fact that a glass of red wine tastes especially pleasing. And I don’t particularly care for Shakespeare, I just think that there’s a fundamental difference between the way in which people appreciate football and the way they appreciate Shakespeare. Which is, again, not so much overreach as simple observation of the respective crowds (at least, in the modern age — the gap was probably not quite so broad when Shakespeare was actually plying his trade, but then Shakespeare was a bit of a populist and he wrote for the crowd.)

Of course there are aesthetic appreciations to football. Those aesthetic appreciations don’t get a bunch of people stood in the freezing cold on a wet Saturday watching the home team get beat week after week, when you can’t even see the ball control for the sleet in your eyes. They don’t get people crowded into a pub around a flatscreen TV shouting riotously with every goal or missed chance. You might well discuss with your friends exactly how good Rooney’s ball control is, but the technique is not why people turn round and hug a complete stranger when the ball hits the net. It’s the goal that results from that technique that produces that emotional response, and people get that the goal is important even if they couldn’t tell the offside rule from a hole in the ground.

If you were to take football and strip it of the culture that surrounds it and reduce its fans to mere technical afficionados, football fans wouldn’t make up scatological chants about the opposing team or take along brass bands, they’d sit still and watch like snooker fans.

They don’t. The beautiful game no doubt exists, and I’m sure there are many technical fans who love it. But to try and claim that it’s the whole of the experience is silly. Not even for the technical fans is it the whole of the experience. I’d be willing to wager serious money that there are perhaps three or four technical football fans out there who didn’t start off simply captured by the visceral, primal experience that goes along with experiencing the group euphoria that surrounds football. Perhaps some academics in America or something, who studied the game and became fans along the way. But who in England started supporting football because they really loved the technical skill of the players? That’s backwards – they learn to appreciate the technical skill of the players because they love football.

If you want to bring it back to the wine, sure, there are people who can really appreciate the deep complexities of a really good vintage. But people started making wine because getting drunk is awesome. Take away their vintage pinot noir, as they did in prohibition times, and they’ll drink any old bathtub gin.

The point about the evolutionary basis of such pleasures is not, as I’ve said, to diminish it, but to contextualise it and explain it. This is why we like this. This is also why it attracts the elements that make it problematic and violent. The one goes hand in hand with the other. It’s not magic, there’s nothing mystical about football, it’s just group dynamics, over which, as you rightly say, we’ve layered and layered and layered until we manage to half obscure the underlying primal drive behind the behaviour. But that primal drive is still doing an awful lot of heavy lifting. And because of its roots, because it’s tied up with masculinity, violence, group dynamics and power plays, it’s no surprise that it’s going to spill out into the violent behaviour it’s a proxy for.

I’m not arguing that the one side of football means it should be banned for the other, any more than I’d argue the existence of lager louts means we should ban wine tastings — or lager, for that matter. But I do argue that the prominence we place on football in general in British culture is far in excess of its actual fanbase — only 17M people tuned in to watch the England-USA game, remember, out of a population of 70M — and that the excess privilege they get in turn helps to feed and encourage the socially costly side as much as it feeds the warm fuzzies that those 17M people get from the game. It’s a lot of warm fuzzies. It’s also a lot of excess assaults, a lot of police time, a lot of ambulance rides. Those who experience the warm fuzzies say that we should all just come in, join the big party, take part in the group orgy along with everyone else, stop being so boring. But taking part in it won’t make the inherent problems with the culture vanish, it will just make me more personally inclined to discount their cost.

It could be illuminating to compare audience engagement during the ever popular gladiatorial entertainments in ancient Rome:
http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/games/a/thumbsup.htm

Again – McDuff – I have to assume sadly that your use of the words “my understading that” is code for “It would suite me if”

For example

“It’s my understanding that non-Premiership clubs in general struggle against the big spenders, and since it’s the older supporters who are going to stick with a club and not be a fair weather fan, that’s much of a muchness.”

So you seem to think that 1) small clubs account for the aging fanbase, and 2) that is because they don’t attract crowds.

2 is of course weak analysis since the fourth highest attended club in the country this season was a second tier club (Newcastle) and ten second tier clubs had higher average attendances than at least three Premiership clubs. Several third tier clubs can say the same. That suggests that in terms of attracting crowds, competing with Premiership finances is not a great hindrance. Traditional fanbase is the key is key.

More importantly though

1) isn’t utterly wrong. You seem to have just made it up and hoped that it might be so. Yet actually the biggest clubs have seen fanbases age fasted.

McDuff

Having been here in California for their annual win festival, I can safely say people do indeed jump up and down and hug because of the taste of their win.

Making the winners list is not simply a useful advertising opportunity – though I’ll grant you that like football, this particular competition has some financial benefits attached to winning.

The wineries here are born in a large way out of the hippy movement of previous decades and a desire to create something natural and enjoyable independently of corporate America. There is no chanting as such, though plenty of competitive banter takes place. These are, after all, witty and energetic people. Some are nice. Others not so. Much like the rest of the world.

So when the competition’s gold award is announced there is indeed some hugging and cheering and some anger and frustration.

That is because competition for recognition of any sort does inspire people of all ages, sexes, sexuality, race and religion. Now you could try arguing that wine growing in California is connected to the biological imperitive of young men to be aggressive. But it isn’t. Very few young men have wineries. And I imagine you wouldn’t argue that anyway.

So why not do with football what I do with wine. (I’m not a wine drinker, I much prefer a single malt)

Either let it pass you by as not being of taste to you, or occasionally enjoy the unusual cultural expereince it can throw up. (watching Italy draw with Paraguay in San Francisco’s Little Italy was glorious today)

Just don’t try to find some position of cultural superiority and then argue beyond all reason for that position.

McDuff

Funny how they’ll tune in, in their millions, to watch a relatively piss-poor performance by a bunch of male players ending in a 1-1 draw, but are nowhere to be found when the female athletes might be putting in a good show. Not even out of national solidarity.

How strange you think that, given the millions of German viewers of the Women’s World Cup hosted by Germany not so long ago. Could it be that you don’t have a clue?

So, wait, you’re in California, telling me to avoid the World Cup in England? I’m sure it’s real easy from there. Christ on a bike, it was easy when I was in Germany two weeks ago, too, amazingly, given as they’re hardly a football-hating nation. They didn’t feel the need to plaster every available surface with the logo and have every other product be the Official Paper Towel of the World Cup. Over here I was sick of the bloody thing before it even started. We’re beating the continental Europeans in marketing, I can at least attest to that. There I chose to avoid it, and managed for two weeks to know nothing about it. Then I came back here, and it’s not quite as easy as that.

Also, I’m *from* the North East, mate. I may not know much about football, but I know that saying “non premiership clubs are doing OK, just look at (totally representative honest) example Newcastle Utd” is a bag of yarn. Down the road in Darlington it’s a bit of a different story. Premiership clubs may or may not be losing their share of the young men, but I rather suspect that demographic is still overrepresented compared to the population at large, if for no other reason than football crowds still trend male and Premiership attendances are on the increase. And the young men aren’t leaving football in general, are they? Perhaps they’re watching it in the pub? Perhaps they’re watching for free on the big screens in the middle of the city? Perhaps they really are shrinking as a percentage of the audience, but even if that’s the case, they’re not shrinking as the percentage of the audience that starts fights. There they’re definitely holding their ground. And it’s that bit of the football crowd that bothers me. Old men and women watching football I’ve no bother with. A pub full of boozed up lads watching a football game, though, well, it might not kick off, but I’m wise enough not to take my chances.

So you’ve seen people celebrate competitions over wine (although not, as I said, over the taste itself, I’d wager). Good. Did they also then start a fight? Did the police line up in order to keep the opposing wineries supporters from ever coming into contact with each other? When the local festivals announce their gold medals, do the local authorities prepare extra resources to cope with the increase in assaults? No? Then it’s not really the same kind of phenomenon, is it? Perhaps because, as you say, wineries aren’t owned by young, disenfranchised young men looking for an outlet for their aggression.

If you think I’m just making up the impact football has, as I said, you’re welcome to phone the police and tell them not to bother with all those mounted officers. I’m not making football violence up because I don’t like the sport. I don’t like the sport because of the bloody violence. The claim is that the minority just spoils it, but still, if you visit Old Trafford on a match day you’ll see an army’s worth of GMP officers in yellow jackets making sure that the home and away teams are kept out of punching distance of each other. Maybe that’s just really paranoid of them, putting all that effort in for the sake of that totally unrepresentative minority. Maybe, on the other hand, it’s not. All I know is that the police themselves think it’s worth spending all that money. And when they don’t, when they’re unprepared to give, for example, Glasgow Rangers fans the big screen entertainment that they want, they trash the place. Only a minority. But this same “minority” keeps turning up attached to football crowds time after time after time.

So what is it that causes this? If it’s not that there happens to be a violent subculture of young men which, at the moment in the UK, has attached itself to the game of football, how do we explain that putting on a football match produces violence? Not middle class sensibilities gettin’ all offended at the smelly poor folk just havin’ a good time. Actuarial levels. Increased insurance risk levels. Putting on extra staff at the local A&E levels.

I know how I explain that. But what, other than saying “just ignore it”, have you got that explains it? That the violence isn’t real? That it’s an optical illusion caused by moonlight reflecting off hi-vis jackets? That it’s not all that bad and we shouldn’t worry our heads about it? It’s just high spirits and kids having a good time?

ukliberty

Could it be that I’m talking about English football? I’ve spent quite a lot of time this year in Germany, within spitting distance of the Bayern Munich stadium for some of it. Remarkably well behaved, they are. Hardly saw any more than a few token police officers on match day, and barely a broken beer bottle at the U-Bahn station on the way home. You reckon I caught the Germans on a good day? I’m not so sure, but then I also spent a lot of time in St Pauli, where the football team is famous for being basically a bunch of left-liberal punks who pride themselves on their anti-racist, anti-sexist constitution. Actually made me almost think I could enjoy football, that bit of Hamburg, you know. Imagine that! I tried to think about how English football fans would cope with a football team with an openly gay president and an explicitly anti-homophobia constitution, and couldn’t make it work. Maybe it’s the fact that the last British footballer to come out as gay suffered so much abuse that he topped himself and nobody has dared it since? That’s the thing about there being a difference between “football” and a specific football culture, you see. You know that in the USA they can get away with saying stuff like this, and that they think football is some kind of girly sport, which right wing pundits have actually spoken out against because it’s not American and manly enough, like that thing they do with the lycra? And that coincidentally women make up most of the women’s world cup viewing figures, year on year? It’s almost as if cultural conceptions of sport change from country to country.

Anyway, point is, I reckon that, only anecdotally mind, there might be one or two significant differences between British and German football cultures, like the game not being quite so deeply intertwined with a fragile conception of masculinity that even a football club that doesn’t just accept gays and women but is proud of having them can achieve genuine levels of success. Perhaps that little bit of difference is all it takes. I’m all for that! If we can work out ways to make English football clubs a bit more like St Pauli, we might not even have to spoil the game by letting the weak and feeble girls actually play the big boy’s sport like the Americans do.

UK Liberty

Don’t underestimate that actually a couple of million Brits tuned in for the 2009 final even though it was on on a mid-week afternoon rather than in the evenin or at the weekend. It wasn’t just the Germans watching. I remember tuning in.

89. the a&e charge nurse

[87] “Remarkably well behaved, they are. Hardly saw any more than a few token police officers on match day, and barely a broken beer bottle at the U-Bahn station on the way home” – ahh, so the Germans are still coldly efficient and inclined to follow orders (runs for cover).

Wow – you really are shocking at this Mcduff –

So, where to begin?

1 – I’m in California now. I was in Brooklyn when it started. I’ll be back in London before England’s third game. And I timed my trip deliberately to see the World Cup start in the USA. It is a good way to interact with new people beyond normal tourist activity.

2 – I am of course from London – and have been through world cups before – And I have several friends who ignore the football perfectly well. Likewise one former partner who sticks in the mind for asking, genuinely, “Oh, was England playing again today?” after one very big world cup match. So of course you can ignore it. You simply choose not to. You choose instead to be irritated by something you are not part of and so come up with weak moral imperitives for looking down on football instead of being liberal and shrugging “live and let live”.

3 – I see you conveniently overlook everything I say about attendances so you could pretend I used just Newcastle as evidence for a fact that made you look foolish. What you meant to say was “Oh, I didn’t realise that, I take it back then.” But hey, why let information inform your opinions if it might stop you winning an argument?

4 – If it’s the fights and aggression that make you hate the World Cup – even though violence makes up a tiny part of football be it in pubs or grounds – then you must really hate
a) Cricket – more people ejected from games for misconduct than football
b) Democracy – protests, even legal ones, regularly attract a beligerantly violent wing
c) Carnivals and street parties – Notting Hill Carnival has a higher fatality rate than Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge just down the road. (Maybe you should generalise about that too and imagine it is because of its attraction to black culture?)

All of which begs the question – how do you get by being so distressed about so much? Or, more realistically, why just football?

5 – policing

Seriously – what a weak argument. Firstly as a Spurs season ticket holder, and a season ticket holder in the notoriously aggressive Park Lane, I am not even seperated pre-match from the hoards of Chelsea fans “ziga-zagging” their way to the High Road from Northumberland Park as they go to their corner of White Hart Lane. Yet I’ve never been hit or kicked or assaulted in any other way. Now you may argue that Southerners are more law abiding than northerners, but I’m not convinced the figures back that up, not least as I’ve not been hit, kicked or violently assaulted by fans of northern teams either. And secondly, surely then you should equally be angry at the existence of democratic protesting, pop concerts, the Notting Hill Carnival, and the Great North Run. After all, all those coppers are hardly there for their health…

6 – Putting on football matches leads to increased levels of violence in the vicinity, because it leads to increased levels of people in the vicinity. And some people are violent. Much like Saturday nights lead to an increase in the number of people in Romford town centre, and to an increase need for policing and emergency healthcare in Romford Town centre.

#

I’ll hold my hands up to a prejudice here and say that for some reason I imagine you do hate Romford Town centre on a Saturday night. For some reason that seems more likely than you hating democratic protests or the Notting Hill Carnival. That may be horribly unfair of me though.

McDuff

Practice that phrase “Oh, I didn’t realise that, I take it back then” as you need to use it about Justin Fashnu and about gay presidents.

On Justin Fashnu – he didn’t commit suicide because of abuse in England. He committed suicide (according to his suicide note) because of the accusation after he moved to the States that he sexually assaulted a 17 year old boy, who he reportedly said had consented. He fled to England when the arrest warrant was issued, and he killed himself, in his words, to save his family further embarrasment over the case.

On Gay presidents. (We don’t have club presidents as a rule, we have chairmen and chairwomen)

Elton John was chairman of Watford Football Club from 1976 to 2002. They loved him and still do.

Charlieman: while I like your theory on rugby, Australia’s a pretty good counter-example in practice: the popular working-class sports here are rugby league and AFL (which is basically an odd version of rugby), and they’re the ones with the macho, lairy connotations. Soccer is for girls, foreigners and posh poseurs.

I’m not sure I’ve really got that much disagreement with McDuff. It’s true that a violent subculture has attached itself to football in this country, and that brings problems. If you’ ve got any sensible ideas about how to tackle this, I’m all ears. However a large bunch of other people have also attached themselves to it, 17 million strong apparently, who behave in a perfectly civilised fashion. Your complaints don’t apply to them. What’s more the drunken violent minority are still drunk and violent even when there’s no football on. Some parts of town are pretty inhospitable on a Friday night, even outside of the football season. The Venn diagram suggests that football doesn’t play the central role you claim for it.

Football is not a monoculture in this country, it’s too big for that. If we want a more gay-friendly game, for example, then we need to challenge homophobia from inside within the football community. Damning the whole thing from on high is unfair, rather ignorant, and going to achieve nothing. I don’t like shouty homophobia any more than you do, or the atmosphere in a pub full of bevvied up lads looking for fights. But I still enjoy immersing myself in the odd game of football.

I’m still not sure what your point is with all the ev psych, if not to diminish. Yes, underlying all sport are primal urges to do with competitivity and group identity, I fully agree. But unless you hope to live in a society in which such primal instincts are suppressed (good luck with that), or simply enjoy peering down your nose at the bestial urges of other people believing that you are somehow immune to such viscera yourself, this observation gets us nowhere. The relevant question is whether football provides a good, safe release mechanism for those instincts. And with some admitted exceptions, the answer is ‘hell yes’. Not everything has to be a chin-stroking exercise in aesthetics. In the phrase ‘beautiful game’, you’re missing the ‘game’ part. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with competition or sheer, visceral experience. In fact, done right, there’s a lot right with it. And we can get all that without having to go to war, just through 22 men booting a bladder around on the other side of the world. Instead of killing each other, hundreds of millions of people around the globe come together for a massive party. Go us!

At root aren’t you just coming up with a lot of post hoc intellectualising for the ordinary moaning of someone who doesn’t like football but finds themself surrounded by people who do?

McDuff,

You reckon I caught the Germans on a good day?

I think most days are good. But Google German football violence – over 2m hits. One of them is about some Hertha Berlin fans rioting after losing to Nuremberg in March this year.

95. John Meredith

Wow, this still has legs. Just time for one observation:

“I just think that there’s a fundamental difference between the way in which people appreciate football and the way they appreciate Shakespeare. Which is, again, not so much overreach as simple observation of the respective crowds”

We should remember that this is quite a recent change. For most of theatre’s history it was a very loud, aggressive and rambunctious affair (competetive too in its earliest period), often involving crowd violence. Well into the 20th century there were incidents of serious crowd violence during opera recitals, for example. What changed was the drop off in popular interest in theatre and a change in the class composition of the audience.

I’m not sure it actually has got legs John, just a few folk with a last word obsession and a healthy dose of pedantry.

97. the a&e charge nurse

Hey, McDuff – feel the love ;o)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnUh5LlrPZ4


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  11. VOXNEWS

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  12. Liberal Conspiracy

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  14. Sim-O

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  16. Kevin Arscott

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  17. Tweets that mention The football world cup is not xenophobic | Liberal Conspiracy -- Topsy.com

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  18. joseph

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  20. Kean Mayer

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  21. Sierra Tate

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  22. Joseph John

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  23. joseph

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