Friday, February 09, 2007

Our beautiful game...

Not so pretty anymore. Tonight's main football headlines on Sky Sports News at 8pm were: a mass brawl between QPR and the Chinese Olympic team in a 'friendly', tied to QPR's charges on a brawl involving them and Luton last month, Luis Aragones (Spain Manager) having his appeal against making BLATANT racist comments upheld, Sheffield United player Keith Gillespie getting an extra match ban for punching an opposition player, and more on the story in Italy where a policeman was killed, maybe murdered, by rioting football fans.

Great. There's no news in football to do with football anymore, the only thing papers and media want to talk about is bad relations, bad behaviour, problems off the pitch, and so on. Whereas these sort of stories rumble on for days, the brilliant goals and sublime football gets rounded up in a highlights package shown once or twice.

Has football become, like all its detractors claim, simply two teams of 11 to running around an agreed space at an agreed time and trying to incite kicking the shit out of each other while thousands/millions of people look on? Is that all that men want to do on a Saturday afternoon nowadays? Last Saturday I went along with the first team (the first team - the team that is meant to be our club's best) and watched as three of our players got sent off for nothing to do with the football, but for either swearing or punching someone. After our centre-mid floored a lippy 16 year old kiddie with one blow (to be fair, how did the kid think he was going to react to being stamped on? Twat) an out and out brawl ensued. There wasn't a football kicked in earnest for around 10 minutes while just about everyone on the pitch piled into one corner and started fighting. Where have we seen that before? Oh, right, a top flight match between two Premiership sides in supposedly the 'best league in the world'.

My main anxiety is that football, after all is said and done, allows whoever plays to release some pent up energy and gives exercise and all that, but that this spills over into neanderthal savagery anyway. Why bother with Football Factory style hooliganism and risk getting arrested when you can join a team and have a legitimate circumstance to do it? It isn't enough to take part in competitive sport. It isn't enough to win at it. You have to fight for it, and win that war.

In the words of Henry Newbolt's World War One poem likening that great war to sport, "play up! Play up and play the game!" ("for fuck's sake", he might have added).

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