Posts Tagged ‘football’

A lovely follow-up to yesterday’s post about anger and Wayne Rooney’s language.

Brazilian match officials who will be in charge of England’s World Cup opener on Saturday have taken a crash course in English so they can know when players are verbally abusing them.

Referee Carlos Simon and his two assistants, Altemir Hausmann and Roberto Braatz, have learned 20 swear words ahead of Saturday’s match between the two English-speaking nations at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, but Fifa insist it is not something they have had any role to play in.

“We can’t do this in 11 different languages but at least we have to know the swear words in English.”

Braatz revealed English was the only language the referees were studying.

A Fifa spokeswoman said this morning: “No such list has been distributed to the referees.”

Assistant referee Hausmann told Brazilian broadcaster Globo Sport: “We have to learn what kind of words the players say. All players swear and we know we will hear a few.”

I always thought it was a good thing if you were ignorant of the profanities flying around you. It gives you a kind of innocence, an endearing naiveté. The whole ‘point’ of being offended, is that you have not chosen to be offended. What an intriguing idea that the Brazilians are making sure that they are thoroughly prepared to be offended when the time comes!

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Wayne Rooney lost his temper after the England match on Monday and tore into the referee with some foul-mouthed abuse.

Jermain Defoe, his team-mate, offered the classic excuse that this was just a consequence of his passion for the game:

I think Wayne’s temper is a good thing. He has that fire in his belly. If you take that away from him then he won’t be the same player.

Matthew Syed has a nice piece that questions this kind of simplistic psychological defence:

The idea that nastiness and aggression are a necessary adjunct to passion is not merely flawed, but deeply pernicious. Are we to believe that Roger Federer — a sportsman of great courtesy — lacks fervour? That Sir Bobby Charlton — a player who never received a booking for dissent — is a bit of a cold fish? Or would we rather say that these great athletes combine a passion no less ardent than Rooney’s but with the kind of civilising restraint that the England striker has yet to learn?

The reality is that respect for the referee and for opponents does not inhibit sporting passion any more than respect for a lover inhibits sexual passion.

Moral categories merely set the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in the same way that the rules of sport set the boundaries of acceptable play. Justifying verbal abuse as a corollary of passion is no less silly than justifying cheating as a corollary of competitiveness. “Take away his inclination to defraud his competitors and you take away his mojo.”

He goes on to make the more general point that in order to be truly effective aggression needs to be channelled and controlled.

You only have to watch Rooney for a game or two to perceive that crude aggression has nothing to do with what makes him tick as a footballer. Quite the reverse. Rooney is among the greatest players in the world when his passion is under control, enabling him not merely to channel his competitive intensity, but also to decode the shifting kaleidoscope of players around him so as to pick out the perfect pass into the path of an on-running team-mate.

It is precisely at the moment when Rooney loses his head that we see him tearing around the pitch haphazardly, lunging dangerously and losing any semblance of his perceptual acuity. It is at precisely this moment that he morphs from footballing colossus into dangerous liability. As any psychologist could tell you, anger rarely sits easily with mental clarity or canny decision-making.

I should make this the first in a series of posts called ‘sporting lessons for life’, but I think there are a thousand books in the shops on that theme already…

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Cultural critic Fr Martin Boland questions the idea that football has become a substitute for religion in secular modernity. His reflections were inspired by what he thinks might be the greatest television advert of all time, which you can see here:

He accepts that football has become a central part of the popular imagination:

Football, as the Write the Future advert shows, has mesmerised the collective cultural imagination, both locally and globally. But it wasn’t always so. Before the age of Sky TV and the big bucks of international oligarchs, football attracted a loyal, enthusiastic following but there remained a great mass of people who considered the game as a prehistoric pastime, a sporting brontosaurus on its way to extinction. Their image of football was of socially disenfranchised men passing through creaking turnstiles and standing on crumbling terraces beneath dishwater grey skies. Players with bad haircuts, bad shorts and bad prospects.

Then, the reinvention began. A makeover on an international scale. Football went designer and everybody (even those who knew next to nothing about football) wanted to wear the label, have others sniff the scent on them. New stadiums gleamed. Players, oiled and manicured, modelled Dolce & Gabbana underpants with the word Calcio on their waistbands. Football got funky and sexy. Football, if not writing the future, acquired the power to write big cheques for players, agents, managers and FIFA bosses. Serious fans may see this as a cynical exploitation of the game they love, but the public at large just want to buy in to brand Football.

But you don’t need the golden tongue of a poet to appreciate that, consciously or unconsciously, football has evolved into an athletic metaphor for the intangible delight and desolation of being alive. “Sport is more important than I ever gave it credit for, and athletes have a greater significance in everyday life than ninety-nine per cent of windbag politicians,” wrote the sports journalist, Duncan Hamilton, in his memoir of Brian Clough, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, “Red Smith, the best sports writer of his generation and most others, believed that “sport is life” – and I wouldn’t disagree. It can move people to rapture, like a glorious spring day. It can persuade people to identify with it, and with those who participate in it, in a way that few other things can. It matters. It stays with us like the characters from a great novel.”

But he doesn’t buy the idea that football fans are finding a release for their transcendent longings when they sit down in front of the box with a beer and a bowl of nachos:

Football has also acquired a metaphysical dimension in the contemporary mind. It has become a cliche to say that as “the Sea of Faith” began “its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” so football filled the spiritual void and provided religious consolation. According to the late Catalan writer, Manuel Vazquez Montalban, football is “a post modern religion, in that it is perfectly in tune with the commercial needs of mankind, intrinsically linked to business and consumerism. Its cathedrals are stadiums, its gods footballers, its faithful the millions of fans who not only participate in this ritual every matchday, but practise their faith on a daily basis, thinking about and reflecting on the deeds of their gods.”

This kind of idea and language is culturally popular, but it is also fundamentally flawed and excessive. Football’s horizons remain narrow and earthbound, whereas religion seeks that which is transcendent and ministers the grace for people to break free from the gravitational pull of earthly powers to seek the heavens. Football is no religion.

But football can be religious. Players making the sign of the cross as they come out onto a pitch. Players gesturing to heaven and some higher power when they score a goal. The Brazilian, Kaká (currently playing for Real Madrid) famously removing his jersey to reveal an “I Belong to Jesus” t-shirt and using the final whistle as a call to prayer. “God Is Faithful” is stitched onto the tongues of his boots and he persuaded teammates to reveal “Jesus Loves You” t-shirts in the postmatch celebration following Brazil’s 4–1 win over Argentina in the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup final. Kaká is evangelical about his faith. He lives on a win and a prayer.

What does this link between football and religion tell us? Exaggerating the importance of this link can only leads to skewed judgements. For every footballer with religious leanings, there will be countless others who simply enjoy the rituals of the changing room and the superstitious charms that they hope will bring them victory. As with any group of people, some will be religious, some nominally or culturally so and some not at all. If there is anything to learn from such links, it is that football has acquired a defining role in our cultural behaviour and attitudes. These coming weeks in South Africa are about to prove that.

I’m not sure about this critique of ‘football as religion’. Religion is defined in terms of the search for a transcendent meaning, for whatever might take you beyond the limitations of earthly life. But if you see religion instead as a quest for ultimate meaning, a commitment to a goal that drives and defines your life, then it seems clear that this can be found any number of non-transcendent pursuits – including football. It may be that the pursuit at hand is ‘ultimately not ultimate’ (forgive the awkward phrase), but like any idol it can act in the present frame of reference as a thing of religious significance.

I must go back and read Nick Hornby’s fabulous Fever Pitch, which convinced me at the time that football is indeed a modern substitute for religion, at least sociologically and psychologically – even if the transcendent longings are not ultimately fulfilled.

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Radio - 92/365 by morberg.

This is so funny I had to post it:

On Good Friday 1930, the journalists on BBC radio news did not know what to put in the evening bulletin. The country was on holiday. The world economy appeared to be recovering after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Few guessed that the revival was a suckers’ rally that heralded a global depression. Europe was quiet — Adolf Hitler was still an obscure opposition politician — and although Britain ruled a great empire, nothing much seemed to be happening there either.

Stumped by a slow news day, the BBC delivered the most honest broadcast in the history of journalism. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is no news tonight,” proclaimed the announcer. “So here is some music.”

There is a serious point to Nick Cohen’s article “Curmudgeons of the world unite“. He is writing about how news stories today have to be reported with the same intensity – whatever the subject. The ‘frame’, quite literally, is always the same (my image not his): the border of the newspaper, the edge of the TV set, the casing of the computer screen. So that every piece is flattened or heightened to the same level, given the same spotlight. [Too many metaphors…]

Deceit in the modern Radio 4 — and in the rest of the media — does not always lie in journalists’ biases. The pretence that there is always news worth reporting can be equally deceptive. Whatever has happened — or rather, whatever has not happened — the Today programme must always run for three hours, the news pages of the press must always be filled and, like Old Man River, the rolling news channels must keep on rolling along.

The result is media without discrimination in which a parochial argument about the allocation of resources in the NHS on one day is put on a par with the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Haiti the next.

Broadcasters deliver every lead story at the same tempo and pitch. However bold they are, you will never hear John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman admit, “We’re leading with this piece because we haven’t got anything better to air. On normal days, we would never have bothered you with such a trivial item.

He goes on to sing the praises of Radio 5 Live for being the only station that is ‘suicidally candid’ enough to tell you that the matter in hand (usually a football game) is abysmally boring and not actually worth listening to. He encourages even those who hate football to tune in so that they can savour this experience of journalism in its purest form.

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Barcelona - Supercopa 2009 - Thierry Henry by boldorak2208.What’s the difference between an outright cheat and someone who tries to push the boundaries without being caught? This is the moral debate raging after Thierry Henry’s handball gave France their win against Ireland in the world cut playoff game on Wednesday. [The photo is Henry playing for Barcelona.] The story has moved from the back pages to the news and editorial sections, with politicians and pundits weighing in. Perhaps this moral questioning is heightened by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the collapse of trust in the financial sector.

Is Henry a cheat? He has confessed to handling the ball, but claims it was an instinctive reaction in the heat of the moment. So if cheating means consciously breaking the rules and trying to get away with it, then it’s grey. We are into a debate about whether we are responsible for our instinctive reactions, and whether it is the job of the footballer to referee himself.

In some areas of life the fact of not being caught is enough to make something acceptable. The classic example is the card game ‘cheat’, where you have to put down as many cards as possible, telling your competitors which cards are in this hidden pile, and hoping that they won’t call your bluff and catch you out. The very point of the game is to get away with as much as possible.

But say you are playing poker, and you hide an extra ace up your sleeve and use it to your advantange. If this comes to light after the game you’ll be disgraced, have your winnings taken back, and be branded a cheat and a liar. No-one will think you clever or audacious. Poker, despite the deceptions and subterfuge, is an honest game. The same is true in golf, if you ‘accidentally’ kick your ball into a better position without anyone seeing it; or in cricket, if you tamper with the ball illegally.

Football is grey. Diving in the penalty area and deliberately handling the ball are generally considered immoral – like cheating at poker. But trying to edge past the defender against the offside trap and getting away with it is considered legitimate – if it goes unseen. No-one really expects a striker to put his hands up after a goal and say ‘sorry ref, I was six inches behind the last defender, but unfortunately the linesman didn’t spot it’.

The problem in politics and business and finance, and in much of contemporary social life, is that more and more people think they are playing ‘cheat’ instead of poker or golf. There is no ‘inner accounting’ – to the idea of sportsmanship, or to the voice of conscience, or simply to one’s own integrity. There is only the ‘outer’ accountability of whether we get caught or not. There has always been dishonesty, but the question now is whether this dishonesty becomes so built into the culture that we become unaware of what we have lost. [See Henry Winter’s article in the Telegraph for an example of righteous indignation at Henry’s behaviour; and see the comments below the article for the view that he was just playing a tough game and doing all he could to bring his team to victory.]

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