Download the magazine here:
I remember the morning after very well: a steamy cup of tea warming my stunned face as I pondered a depressing political and cultural impasse; a near-masochistic decision bordering on watching Batman & Robin (on repeat [for 22 years]). On June 24, 2016, it was confirmed: the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union.
I imagined a Cormac McCarthy-esque New Britannia. A wasteland of economic drought where neo-Futurist gangs control the streets and grey-skinned mothers blind their rivals with overgrown nails, desperate to claim that final sack of oats for their doomed offspring.
I soon shrugged myself out of this post-apocalyptic vision and into ordinary routine. Fear not, eh? We always have football! Ah, football – an escapist world in which we can throw our collective weight behind a cause which, in reality, is fairly inconsequential. Football can spare us this contrived flagellation; this close-mindedness; this… aw fuck. It’s just as bad, isn’t it?
While football is indeed escapist, it also plays out dramas and tensions that we experience across the spectrum of life. Like art, it is both diversion and introspection; distracting and insightful. In modern, EU membership Britain, football is a lucid reflection of the culture as a whole.
Last year, ex-footballer turned talker-about-football Paul Merson exploded on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday, incredulously pontificating about Marco Silva’s appointment as manager of Hull City.
Why’s it always got to be a foreign manager?! I’ve got nothing against foreign managers… but why’s this geezer any different to Gary Rowett?
That’ll be the now just sacked-Stoke-manager Gary Rowett. Meanwhile, Marco Silva has (perhaps a little opportunistically) worked his way from Hull City to Everton in the intervening time. Meanwhile, British managers like Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce emerge seemingly unscathed any time that they underperform, like cockroaches in a nuclear winter. The Sky Sports clip gets better:
Every manager in the world – bar maybe Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid – wants to manage in the Premier League.
No no, we haven’t changed subject. We’re still talking about Hull City – a club that almost changed its name to include the word “Tigers”; a liquidation-worthy offence. I’m sure that Niko Kovac and Max Allegri are hopefully pacing the corridors of their respective Allianz Arenas, begging for a Hull City to hand them their big break.
Just as bizarre is the heavy-handed criticism handed out to the likes of Silva, a man who had won a Portuguese Cup with Sporting Lisbon and guided Olympiacos to a league title.
Then Phil Thompson tags himself into the ring, vehemently projecting, “what does ‘e know about Hull?!” Matt Le Tissier introduces some balance to affairs by correctly referring to Mauricio Pochettino as a successful “left-field” appointment.
(Incidentally, when Pochettino was hired as Southampton manager, Lawrie McMenemy went on Radio 5Live and said: ‘Pochettino? I thought that was an Italian coffee. What does he know about our game?)
Herein lies the point. “Left-field”, “outside the box”, “a project” – all of these footballing terms are essentially crude substitutes for otherness and foreignness; ideological labels that place prejudiced judgement upon non-traditional ideas. In Scotland, we had the Ronny Deila “project” at Celtic, which included the Norwegian sensationally banning professional athletes from eating chips and dumping sugar in their tea. Outrageous stuff – it’ll never catch on.
Even this past month, actual professional football reporters referred to the Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate as “the hipster derby”. Rather than – you know – one of the biggest matches in world football. The disregard towards the Superclasico is borderline professional negligence, but is symptomatic of British close-mindedness and arrogance.
I really believe that this attitude to foreign methods and ideas is linked to our culture of exceptionalism. The notions that we are safe in our traditions and that we will be fine without external influence are counter-productive. Without listening to others and allowing ourselves to be influenced, our game and our culture will fall victim to its own isolation – festering, regressing and decaying.
Britain is emasculated. Stripped of the Empire, we still claim that we contributed to the development of the countries whose resources we purged. In our arrogance, we think that we are the be-all and end-all; that the rest of the world needs us as much as we need it. It simply is not true.
We need to listen to other ideas and openly invite other cultures. Our bluster makes fools of us, and our hubris will see both our economy, our culture and our football left behind.
This article is from Edition Nine of The Cynical, our free online magazine.
Download the magazine here: