A sage once said, “Faced with such immensities, my mind falls back on contemplating the simple.”
Well confronted with such immensities, I fall back on contemplating the simple minded.
This gives you a flavour, as if you needed it, of the sort of one-eyed bilge that’s passed for journalism this past week, coupled with a complete absence of irony or attempt to keep a sense of proportion about the whole thing.
Look at this, a journalist (Millwall fan) writes about Chelsea.
Look at this, Millwall fans in action.
Look at this, Millwall Football Club complain about journalists writing about their fans. Seen our club doing that?
Look at this – professional footballer swears on telly and gets pilloried a lot for it.
Look at this – ex-professional footballer swears on telly and gets paid a lot for it.
(By the way, see CFCnet for a great rant at Channel 4 when they rang up for an interview.)
Media tells us “Man goes into hiding”.
“Man in hiding” tells media he isn’t.
Yes I know the victors get to write history but in this case, because we may not be too good with Spanish or Catalan, the goodly men and Amy Lawrence of the 4th Estate have leaped in to the breach, aided by the vast swathes of “neutral” fans ready to chuck in their two bob’s worth as well.
Surprisingly, the age of the interweb has done little to scatter the homogeneity of public discourse and shared memory, which is so much a part of building accepted myths. With the good weather encouraging DIY enthusiasts these days, it’s been difficult to walk around and not to expect every sound of nail on wood to mean that just around the corner a scaffold is being constructed on which Drogba, Ballack and their craven familiars (you and me) will be publicly dismembered to the howls of the baying mob.
Every new article forms another page in a new “Maleficium Maleficarum” compiled by football’s modern day Inquisition seeking to persecute those who will not follow their regimented orthodoxy.
A number of websites refer to the Oxford English Dictionary’s assertion that the first metaphorical use of the term “Witch Hunt” is in George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia”. I have neither the time nor the inclination to check this but have to lie back for a moment and luxuriate in the delicious irony.
Now if I wanted to sit and listen to some spittle flecked, gobshite preaching God fearing decency, railing against the corruption of children, the imminent destruction of moral values and an end to civilisation, I thought I’d have to get myself down to one of those tin shack chapels in West Virginia where everybody’s waiting, arms outstretched, for the Second Coming and the moment of “Rapture”. But no, I can listen to Alan Green and Radio 5 Live.
Maybe it’s because I’m a “left footer” and spent my youth cultivating a severe distrust of the Rev. Ian Paisley, but when Green gets into full flow about the iniquities of the modern game, I’m back to black and white TV, men in sashes and bowler hats “walking the Queen’s Highway” and the pulpit taking a fearsome pounding. Fundamentalism was ever part of our fabric.
Now, there were three groups of people entitled to lose their focus and any sense of balanced and sensible viewpoint on Wednesday night. Chelsea fans, Barcelona fans and anyone with enough nous to have seen how one of the finest football teams of this, or indeed any decade, had been denied a proper chance to contest the game.
Chelsea, we are informed, embody the concept of anti-football. What’s that? You send two footballs opposite ways around the Large Hadron Collider and when they smash into each other at 50 billion miles an hour you get “anti-football”? I have read God knows how much ill-informed toot this week, a lot of it in comment columns, and never once seen a definition. Football is played with the feet and the head. Anti-football must therefore be played with the hands. So who’s really anti-football? Go figure.
From what I’ve seen Barcelona may well suffer from that well known footballing syndrome, “All fur coat and no knickers”. Our coat may be a little less glamorous but under Guus, we’ve never been seen in anything less than good quality pants that lend support in all the right places, (except when Bolton or Liverpool came to town and we inexplicably reached for a G-string that would do a better job as dental floss).
In years gone by, one would buy a newspaper, listen to the radio and watch a bit of TV. After taking some stick from friends and work colleagues you could find a small, quiet space where the world couldn’t touch you. All that has changed in the digital age. You can access everyone and everyone can access you.
Well, maybe not. As my mother always says, “The greatest invention next to television is the knob that turns it off.” The same goes for the humble computer. And yet, and yet and yet… why do I do this to myself? Like some hollow-eyed crack addict I know it’s out there, I must get my fix and go crawling back to the keyboard.
You tell yourself, as the final whistle blows, that you will not read, listen or watch any of the very predictable hogwash that will follow on from the game. Days later you reel away from the cheap hackery of yet another worthless journo. Filled with self loathing, you will yourself into trying to get your life back together and to start caring about really important things, like it’s Sunday and you were supposed to collect the children from school on Friday. (Err… hope they haven’t been fretting and had something left in their lunch boxes. Do they do survival training in Nursery and Reception? They don’t? Why not? Jesus I should have let them stay up and watch Ray Mears on Bushcraft.)
But just before you run to get them, you have take one more quick look at the comments that follow the annoyingly rubbish article, in case there may be one sharp, searing, beautiful insight that will transport you to a place of cool, running springs and balmy, healing breezes.
It always starts with a few decent comments, some not even by Chelsea fans, but quickly the heavy pontificators, the bar-room intellectuals, the self-loving smart arses, those who care only for the “beauty” of the game and the turgid, purblind halfwits who pass for other teams’ football fans, all pile in.
Singularly unencumbered by original thought as they all are, you soon tire of scrolling down and suddenly, confronted by almost universal hatred, despised by what appears to be the entire, seething, unwashed, foul-breathed mass of humanity, you suddenly realise that you deeply, deeply hate the whole suppurating, puss-filled, running sore that passes for the world of football (outside of our beloved club).
It is only hours later when, arraigned before the magistrate for allegedly charging into your local fast food emporium, armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weaponry screaming “You motherf*****g whoreson bitches don’t deserve the steam off Drogba’s piss to clear your filthy MancScouseScummy snot infested nostrils”, that you have to cough and politely request bail because you have to collect your children from school and “Yes m’lud I know it’s a Sunday, they’re… erm… getting extra tuition… erm… erm…”
So I’m going to stop torturing myself. I’m going to stop reading, listening to and watching this shite. I read the match reports where the majority felt we had very far from the rub of the green. Then I’ve watched as it gradually evolved from:
“Well it affected both sides evenly”
“Well the ref did a good job and anyway Chelsea should have been down to two men and losing 14-0 in the Nou Camp. It was that ref who was useless not good ol’ Tom…”
Finally we arrive at a general agreement that somehow, in a strangely twisted moral construct, assembled with the skill and integrity of a cowboy roofer, Chelsea richly deserved to get shafted, particularly as some players dared to get a bit upset.
No-one got punched, there was no pitch invasion but hey let’s not keep any sense of balance. Ban us from Europe why don’t you? If we want to be treated leniently and be fined a couple of bob, then we should limit ourselves to a bit of racist chanting, a couple of stabbings, a pitch invasion, assorted bribery and assaults upon sundry ground staff.
It’s interesting. You have to catch the retelling just at the moment of its birth, on the cusp and you almost get something near a version of the truth. As time passes, the bias, the spin, the excessive moralising takes control. Then the sheep come trotting in, regurgitating the phrases, the ideas that Lacey, Barclay, Lawton et al have been coaching into them with for years.
Why their fury? I suppose our being very competitive was bad enough for the so-called “neutrals”. Exposing Barca’s flaws was tantamount to heresy and going far too close to winning, while also being patently robbed by poor refereeing, unleashed a fury and outbreak of moral indignation not seen since the judges went after John Sargeant on Strictly Come Dancing. They had to deny us any crumb of comfort. Stamp out any vestige of a feeling that we might have been the better team on the night.
The temperature of the reaction is indicative of some dark and disturbing vacuum at the epicentre of the so-called “neutral”. It was like opening the front door and having a million people bellowing their unfiltered rage straight at you. It beggared belief. A reaction wholly out of step with the events that were witnessed.
As I say, we have to accept the nonsense or sensible comment of Barca fans, that’s all part of the contest. But the rest of it? What was it all about?
Do we dedicate whole days to debating games between other clubs and spewing garbage that endlessly repeats tired old clichés? The Poo, for example, do. Like shrivelled old widows, they contemplate the power, the skill, the athleticism, the passion of our players, the passion of us fans and something stirs in their dried and shrivelled nether regions. They think they remember how it should be done but secretly they worry that even though thoroughly lubricated with Yankee dollars, the equipment is going to let them down.
They all talk about class, how we lack class. Class? Define it to me please?. ‘Cause sure as shit flies off a shiny shovel, somewhere along the line they will always fail their own poorly thought out benchmark and be exposed for the hypocrites they are.
But I will still feel sorry for whoever blubbers on our screens as they hurtle into relegation. I will still feel sorry for those fans whose team stumbles at the last hurdle for promotion. They may well have been laughing like drains at us the other night but well, some of us still have it in us to feel empathy, understanding. I feel sorry for Norwich and their fans. God, in some small corner of my “waxy pea-sized heart” (to quote another Chelsea-hating Milwall fan) I feel for Charlton and Southampton. Christ on a bike, I even emitted a small squeak of sympathy for Liverpool fans the other week because while we had got what we wanted I had watched a riveting footballing contest and thought ”Well fair play to them.”
And I’m no saint. I’m no different to any other man on the Clapham Omnibus. There were some who offered the genuine hand of fellow feeling the other night, many more probably wished us well and prayed it wouldn’t happen to them. But they were drowned out by the torch-wielding mob that assailed the castle of Chelsea’s self esteem. Talk about the football, the tactics, the events, but spare us the scales of justice and retribution please?
You see deep down I know that all fans can be tossed on the stormy oceans of sporting fate and there but for the grace of God go I… in fact I have just gone haven’t I? So maybe it’s time to harden my heart and laugh at the despair etched on the face of any sad sack whose dreams are in tatters. Vilify any player who strays from the passionless, android-like state our media and the game’s masters now demand. Time to become a “real” football fan.
No I can’t really do that, I don’t know why.
But I won’t be feeling sorry for either of the mobs in Rome. Even the bottom of my generously dimensioned barrel of human feelings can be scraped, provided someone holds you by the ankles while you reach in over the edge.
Indeed part of me will laugh an empty laugh should the Dream Final develop into a turgid borefest and once again we are called upon to acclaim the Mancs enviable ability to squeak a win in Europe’s major trophy final, while being far from the best team on the night. Down there in Munich a rueful smile will tell you they are thinking the same thing.
(Right I think I got that off my chest, now has anyone seen a couple of small children waiting outside this school since Friday?)