Offside, 16 October
Football's snobs learn the correct way to express their prejudice.
Depending on your perspective, English football has endured two of the most nauseating and shameful weeks in its entire history; or conversely, English football has been subjected to the most nauseating and sanctimonious outpouring of moralistic bile witnessed since, er, the last outbreak of unbridled cant (about three weeks ago by my calculation). As you’ve probably guessed, I’m in the latter (not very populous) camp.
The protracted piety-fest was generally sickening but occasionally hilarious. ‘Voltures [sic] are circling’, was how footballer-turned-pundit Rodney Marsh described the media feeding frenzy. I found it particularly funny, not to mention ironic, that the mob of pharisees who queued up to condemn our ‘over-paid, over-sexed and immature’ footballers included erstwhile football hooligan Cass Pennant. ‘The fans and the players are worlds apart’, growled the former Inter-City Firm ‘top boy’. ‘I don’t think today’s players have got the respect of the fans.’
It surely is ‘a mixed-up muddled-up shook-up world’, to quote Ray Davies of the Kinks, when self-confessed soccer thugs start pontificating about the conduct of modern footballers.
Another priceless comedy moment was provided by the Mail on Sunday’s inimitable cartoon bigot Peter Hitchens. ‘Let’s make football illegal’, thundered Hitchens, adding that ‘if you want to ban foxhunting at the same time just to be fair, then it would seem to be a price worth paying for getting rid of this disgusting game’ (1).
Hitchens, to give him his due, is at least consistent. He is not one of those arriviste fans who declared, in newly flattened estuary vowels, their passion for the ‘beautiful game’ after Italia 90 and the publication of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. Throughout football’s renaissance Hitchens has steadfastly refused to follow the herd. ‘Since the Heysel Stadium events, where the game carried on as the corpses lay around, I have viewed it as an industry beneath contempt’, snorted Hitchens.
The essential paradox of the middle-class nouveau fan is that his self-loathing drives him to seek prolier-than-thou authenticity through football, yet the uncouth working-class scum who actually play and watch the game also repel him. There is an acceptable way for the middle-class fan to express his contempt for the insufferable plebs: wringing one’s hands at the boorish racism of England fans or the loutish conduct of pampered millionaire footballers is the correct way.
There is, however, an incorrect way, as demonstrated by veteran Sunday Times football writer Brian Glanville. ‘I think many black players – in many cases, particularly with young West Indian players – they come from a society in which families are so often fatherless, mothers have to work, children are left all day in the care of minders’, said Glanville on Irish television last week. ‘They have very little education and then suddenly these uneducated boys are projected into a world in which they are earning, say, £40,000, £50,000 a week. There are no controls.’ Oops! This is what is known in the trade as a ‘doing a Prince Philip’. The Kick It Out campaign is now set to make an official complaint about Glanville to the Commission for Racial Equality.
However, as Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee correctly observed, ‘Glanville may have said a little too boldly what the leader-writers and all the rest have been saying in code. Oiks from council estates – especially black oiks – are all being paid too much’ (2). Perhaps Glanville should have followed the example of Richard Stott in the Sunday Mirror, who pinned the blame on the clubs for failing to nursemaid players.
‘It is cynical, irresponsible and downright dangerous to create fit, red-blooded young men with money to burn and then ignore the obligations that carries’, raged Stotty (as he likes to be known). ‘What do club chairmen expect if they pay a young man, whose family has known little but poverty, prejudice and rejection, thousands of pounds a week?’ (3) Now that, Mr Glanville, is how to vent the same elitist prejudice in an inclusive and tolerant way.
What will be the consequences of the past two traumatic weeks for our once-beautiful-but-now-totally-minging game? Will clubs impose stricter paternalistic shackles on young players? Will a tougher drug-testing regime be introduced? It remains to be seen. There will be at least one enduring legacy. The word ‘roasting’ will never again have the same meaning for us.
In terrace parlance the verb ‘to roast’ had two possible meanings: (a) to beat a defender for pace; or (b) to administer a rollicking to players. Now, thanks to the revelations of ‘party-organiser’ Nicholas Meikle, we learn it also means to take part in a gang bang (as in ‘Premiership aces in four-in-a-bed “roasting” shame’). Never again will we be able innocently to exhort a nippy young winger to ‘roast’ a plodding full-back without conjuring up unpleasant homo-erotic mental images. And that can’t be right.
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