Its Only A Game

My thoughts on why the World Cup is not xenophobic caused a good debate, here and at Liberal Conspiracy.  I think the public response to our national team’s dire performance yesterday backs up my view that football fans (even England fans) know all too well that “its only a game” and that xenophobia is rare, unwelcome and marginalised.

In particular, the consensus that Germany were by far the better team and deserved to win, despite Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal.  The ignorant patriot would hold that this mistake by the referee cost England the game, but apart from our Italian manager Fabio Capello, no-one is advancing that argument.  In fact, the effect of the denied goal has actually been to remind us of the 1966 goal-mouth incident, where Geoff Hirst was awarded a goal by the Azerbaijani (not Russian) linesman.  The merest hint of a suggestion that maybe there is a possibility that perhaps Hirst’s ricochet did not actually entirely cross the line used to be one of our nation’s most cherished shibboleths.  Yet after the game, the idea that Lampard’s bad luck was karmic payback for Hirst’s good fortune is common currency: Richard Williams analysis in The Guardian takes this line, and echos may of the tweets I read yesterday evening.  This is not the attitude of a xenophobic nation.  Rather, it is an aquiesence to Law 5 of the game that says that the referee’s decision is final, even if it is wrong.  A commitment to the Rule of Law that would make any civil libertarian proud.

England fans looking glum, culled from @qwghlm's Tumblr
England fans looking glum (culled from @qwghlm’s Tumblr)

3 Replies to “Its Only A Game”

  1. Well. I can’t let this post-hoc rationalisation go without comment, can I?

    a) Your notion of the “ignorant patriot” is about as helpful as Dianne Abbot’s description of people who are concerned about immigration as ‘people who don’t like immigrants’. There is a name for this type of argumentation tactic, and it isn’t complimentary. Or helpful to the debate. That type of deliberate misnomer is such an obvious attempt to undermine any valid argument your opposition may have, it’s as bad as denying the antecedent. No, it’s worse.

    b) And more importantly, I think your entire argument is undermined, precisely because of the reaction to England’s loss on Sunday. If you wanted to argue that everyone knows it’s only a game, bringing the reaction into it was probably a mistake.

    If it really was ‘only a game’ to those who partake, do you really think there’d be this much fuss made about it? The public vitriol levelled at the team? The manager facing a ten million-pound golden handshake to be got rid of? People on Newsnight having a go at FIFA? Grown men sitting in the gutter with their head in their hands because they’re so upset? If this is how people behave when it’s ‘only a game’, it makes you wonder how they’d behave if something really important happened.

    If the World Cup really is about the global unity of many nations, what does it matter who wins or loses? I thought we were celebrating a mutual love of The Game, not the chance for England to dominate the other nations….

    Maybe now that their team is out of it, some of the England football afficionados might have pause to consider how those who were never included in the World Cup might feel?

  2. Regarding the term ‘ignorant patriot’, perhaps my words need more clarity. I do not mean to say that all patriots are necessarily ignorant. Rather that there exists an unsophisticated form of blind patriotism, held by ignorant people. And I was further celebrating the fact that such ignorance is hard to find in the post-Bloemfontein discussion! I am not engaging in the sort of tautology that Diane Abbott seems to be peddling (did you see Newsnight too, then?).

    See my Most Respectful Letter for examples of what one might call ‘considered’ patriotism: Not “my country, right or wrong” but holding your country to the highest standards that it ascribes to itself.

    You write:

    If this is how people behave when it’s ‘only a game’, it makes you wonder how they’d behave if something really important happened.

    I think this is a massive exaggeration, Clarice. The dejection we see on the faces of these fans is extremely short-lived, and is a form of entertainment in itself (see, for example, the England Fans Looking Misterable site I linked to earlier, or these images that anchored the BBC reports of the game all through Sunday). The images of despair are very different from real crisies such as the violence in Kyrgyzstan or the Cumbria shootings, which are (rightly) devoid of the levity we see when reporting our sporting failures. As I said in my previous post, I think people can tell the difference.

    And as for the obbrobium directed at the players, I think the anger stems precisely because it seems that they lost sight of why they were playing. If the entire point of the game is one massive sporting celebration and doing your best (within the constraints of the game) then their lack of sporting spirit, inspired (we think) by the fact that they are overpaid in the Premiership, rightly irks. The other common aspect to the commentaries is the issue of how the Premiership is squeezing out other leagues and forms of the game, for purely monetary reasons. I made this point in my earlier post, and I don’t think one could write an honest celebration of International football and not highlight this contradiction. Thankfully, no-one else seems to being doing it.

    And as for the “mutal love of the Game” itself – Well, yes, you’re spot on. True football fans will still be eager to watch further games in the tournament. Good riddance to England’s hapless, stumbling performances. Even from the first game against the USA, it was clear we did not have a World Cup winning side available, and there was no subsequent improvement or arc of development worthy of praise. Just because the England team have been eliminated, that does not mean English football fans are now excluded from the party. Far from it – we’re all looking forward to the Spain vs Portugal clash this evening… and there are a couple of Ghanaian families on our street with their flags still fluttering. I see this as a simultaneous celebration of our different cultures and shared humanity, and I find it delightful.

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