In this blog I’m going to try to explain my exasperation. Not with football, but with its parasites.
There’s a Seinfeld episode in which Elaine, one of the protagonists, agrees to a bet.
I know, bear with me.
A male acquaintance wagers that the actor Dustin Hoffman appeared in Star Wars. If he loses he’ll buy Elaine dinner. She knows better, finds the idea of “a short Jewish guy up against Vader” ludicrous, and takes the bet.
The joke’s on her though – the man wants to insinuate his way into her life, and dinner together would be a great place to start. The idea that he might have an ulterior motive never crosses her mind; her ego gets to prove someone wrong. Initially this is all that matters to her.
Why’s this important? It’s not. But it sums how I felt when I saw Robbie Savage on Focus Forum recently. It crossed my mind when a tweet by Talksport Drive appeared on my timeline, and has been recalled many times when I’ve read opinion pieces about Arsenal by nearly all football journalists – from the clique of nobodies jawing away on Sky Sports every Sunday morning, to the Daily Mail’s phantom “Sports Reporter”.
By design or not, their job title has become, “Winder-upperer”. They ramp up the importance of what is ultimately just a game, hold silly positions for the sake of being forthright, and watch their employer’s audience pour in and participate, leaving comments, phoning up or whatever.
The joke is on us, as it was on Elaine, as for some strange reason – Team loyalty? Pride? Knowing better? – we feel compelled to read, watch or listen. They don’t need much guile to do it – just express their opinion, or take a controversial line in what should be neutral reporting, without humour or trace of affection for the sport.
And whether they are as stupid as they pretend to be, aiming to get things wrong, is by the by.
There’s a movie from the 70s Called La Grande Bouffe. Its plot, which caused outrage when first screened, follows a group of middle-aged gourmands. For different reasons they get tired of their lot and agree to hole up together in a mansion, cook lots of their favourite food and gorge on it every waking moment for the rest of their now short lives.
In one scene a man, stuffed to the gills with foie gras, loses the capacity to continue spooning it into his mouth, and with “delicious” irony decides he must make space for it by bending over a table, thrusting crudely against its edge to force the contents of his stomach through the rest of his digestive system.
You know, that’s how I was starting to feel about Football on the Internet. What was kitschy, novel fun slowly cloyed, now nauseates. I can’t remember whether it was a turgid blog by Phil McNulty, or some shit-for-brains telling us that Cazorla wouldn’t get in the Swansea team, but something made me pine for the slow satisfaction of a print sports section every morning.
As I said – it’s not the sport that I’m suddenly sick of; it’s the expanding cloud of methane gas that stalks it. I read Mark Lawrenson’s weekly predictions and he said something like, “Arsenal would top a Financial Fairplay League, but I don’t think that will never happen”. You need to make a real effort to understand what he means before ridiculing him.
And I’m not here to proselytise my weariness or hold it up piously as a way to respond to the football stench cloud. More, I’m wondering if there are other people like me. How much of this stuff can you consume, knowing that the plot has been rehashed repeatedly, until your body starts rejecting it? How do you contrive to get angry or passionate about football on the Internet – or throw insults at someone who holds a different view?
In the end it’s less than worthless; fuel for idle chatter about a sport. If someone’s making money by getting on your nerves I suggest that you ignore them. That’s the sensible thing to do.
And where’s it going to stop? How do we tolerate having people like Robbie Savage on our screens? I spent a few minutes listening to what he had to say on the weekend. And I’m now wondering how long it will be before viewers suddenly drop to their knees and purge their bodies en masse, like No-Face in Spirited Away, violently regurgitating the dreck that they’ve been soaking up for years.
Or how about this: There are millions of people talking football on Twitter as you read this blog. Surely there have never been more people coming into contact with more information about football. People have never talked so feverishly about their teams and favourite players, about transfers and tactics.
We are all football fanatics – but also aggregated, potential revenue, leverage for the biggest dickheads the game has ever known. We’re the same audience van Persie was trying to manipulate when he published that heartwarming “Message for the Fans”. And we’re getting bigger and more valuable.
We’re background radiation – the static of millions proffering, sometimes blasting, their opinion. But I tell you what – participation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when TV, press and radio standards are lowered to encourage it.
A bit like someone listening to the same trite song over and over, we’ll tire with what once felt new. Even quicker if Robbie Savage and is in the choir, in a glittery waistcoat, with his platinum hair slicked back, and those eyes, open wide and empty. Keep people like him around and we’ll get cheesed off fast enough.
Will there be a breaking point, at which all these football fans decide they’ve had enough. I always figured my appetite for football talk would be insatiable, but I get the feeling it’s permanently spoiled. So that’s it. I’m on a football detox now and travelling light, with only Yogi’s Warrior’s site (you can never doubt that he does this for the love of football and Arsenal). Add to that a morning newspaper, and the spectacle of Arsenal passing and moving their elegant way through teams to sustain me.
In the end, what difference does it make if I find out about Diaby’s injury now, when the teamsheet’s announced or the next time I visit A Cultured Left Foot? Maybe I’m late to clock, and you’ve worked it all out already.