We’re all Scousers now? Count me out
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).
- Now look, I didn’t want to mention football this week, after all the stick my fellow Manchester United fans gave me over last week’s less-than-reverential piece about the holy crusade against Malcolm Glazer.
I wanted to write about how the story of three sisters who are all teenage mums has been turned into a media freak show. But then Liverpool won the European Cup final, and another freak show took centre stage, as everybody from Natasha Kaplinsky to Tony Blair appeared to transmogrify into plastic Scousers overnight.
Yesterday morning, a Downing Street spokesman was most keen to tell the world that when the Cabinet met at 9am, ‘they went into some detail on last night’s match. The Prime Minister described it as a brilliant victory.’ The Prime Minister’s message to the team went into more euphoric detail: ‘Unbelievable. Incredible. Brilliant. The whole country is very proud of you.’
It is indeed both unbelievable and incredible that the Prime Minister should think it his job to hold forth on the football affiliations of ‘the whole country’. Not for the first time, some of us found ourselves living in a different country from the one Tony Blair is on about. I wanted Milan to win. No, that’s not quite right. I was desperate for Milan to hammer Liverpool, and when the Italian team led 3-0 at half time, I hoped it might be six by the end.
This was not because Milan were the better team. (Although as Diego Maradona said: ‘I have seen comebacks like that in football, but never against a team so clearly superior as Milan were.’) It was because I always want other English teams to lose in Europe. And above all, because I honestly hate Liverpool FC. To some, that might make me a candidate for an ASBO. But to my mind, it makes me a normal football fan.
Politicians and public figures might all feel obliged to affect an interest in football these days, yet they have no feel for it. (Michael Howard, who can at least claim to be a longstanding Liverpool supporter, let the man-in-the-Kop mask slip somewhat when he declared that his response to the half-time score had been ‘Oh, dear’.) The football of their fantasies is a sanitised, all-seater, hate-free zone, played by role models and watched by families, with all the pent-up aggression of the Woodentops, who celebrate the success of any English team as a rare Shared National Experience.
But for some of us football, while it is a game of dreams, is far removed from that fantasy. It is the home ground of the id, where we can let rip with all of the feelings that we keep buttoned up in the civilised world outside. Hating other English teams, and revelling in their setbacks, has always been an important part of our primitive pastime.
As George Orwell said, ‘serious sport’ is bound up with ‘hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.’ There is no sport more serious than football, no war more bitter than a civil war, and no civil war in English football more seriously bitter than that between Manchester United and Liverpool. That is why, while many neutrals backed Liverpool against Chelsea in the semi-final, I hoped only that the pitch would open up and swallow them both. And why, for the past week, I ended my emails with the cri de coeur, ‘Forza Milan!’
Of course, we should not confuse football hatreds with real ones. I have friends, colleagues and a brother-in-law who are Liverpool fans, and for whom I will happily buy a drink, though perhaps not this week. And I suspect that some of them will also be less than impressed with all of the patronising guff emanating from Downing Street and everywhere else.
After all, it must be hard enough for Scousers to cope with the elation of triumph after all these years, rather than wallowing in mawkish laments about their defeats. (As one typically lachrymose Liverpudlian put it: ‘I cried at half-time ’cos I thought we’d lost; I cried at the end ’cos I knew we’d won.’) If everybody else suddenly starts liking Liverpool, it could seriously damage their self-image of put-upon miserablist isolationism. Therefore I feel it is my public duty to reassure them that, contrary to reports in some sections of the press, we are not quite ‘all Scousers now’ – and never will be.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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