Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Beautiful Game

By Euclides Montes (@gatulino)

I found myself in a peculiar position recently. As you might already be aware, there is some sort of football competition going on at the moment and being one of the many loony football fans around the world, I could barely contain my excitement. Having been born in a country whose World Cup experience is painfully risible, my allegiance has squarely been with the English team for the last decade or so, yet I found myself defending my position as an England supporter recently in conversation amongst a group of British-born fans. Peculiar indeed, in my opinion.

Of course there are the obvious – and to an extent reasonable - arguments of ‘why bother?’. With the English team it’s usually a matter of ‘we came, we saw, we stuttered, we went home with our tail between our legs’. The echoes of ’66 still ringing as loud and heavy as the vuvuzuelas in South Africa. We all know that we’re probably going to face Portugal or Germany at some point, and that Lampard will take that pivotal penalty kick and … well, I can even see The Sun headline already ‘HE BENT IT LIKE BECKHAM’. But surely that’s no reason to stop supporting our team. After all, being a glutton for pain and disappointment is an essential requirement for football fans everywhere, especially if you are an [insert your own team here] supporter. And besides, this could be our year after all!

Add to that the fact that some of our players will never make it into any of our Christmas card list and that the modern state of the sport mean that some of those disliked players still command ridiculous sums week in, week out and you can understand why some people have chosen to forsake the national team and support teams from other countries. As I said above, understandable.

However, one criticism I have seen gathering pace recently is that of football – and the World Cup at that – being a prejudiced enterprise in almost every sense and just by supporting it I should almost feel ashamed of myself. I am a very woolly liberal, I’ll be the first to admit but this argument really grates. I know that the sport is not perfect in any shape or form. Corruption, overpaid stars, a tacit allowance of homophobia, racism and sexism, Sepp Blatter. These are evils that continue to plague football to this day. However, the advances the sport has made to clean itself from these problems have been vast and commendable and to dismiss offhand the pinnacle of what is possibly the most universal sport of the 21st century through a very loaded and hackneyed viewpoint is surely not helpful and even prejudiced in itself.

I understand many people’s discomfort to cheer for England. Some of our symbols have been appropriated by racists and extremists and I have no doubt groups like the EDL are having their birthday and Christmas all come at once - especially with so many lies spreading like wildfire. But surely to shy away from reclaiming our team, our symbols, our right to feel proud of our nation without the tinge of jingoism, in short to cower away is not be helpful. It would instead give those who hold these extremist views an open field to claim ‘supporting the English team’ as well and that surely is a worse state of affairs? Unquestionably everyone can see that supporting doesn’t equate thuggery in any sense?

Besides, beyond all those arguments, football will always be in its most basic form a beautiful spectacle but it is a spectacle that can bring people together and it always has done so successfully. It is flawed and it has issues that need resolving but surely to dismiss it offhand is not beneficial in any way whatsoever? Hmm…

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