Ouais, ouais, je sais que c’est totalement con de tenir un blog en anglais sur un site francais mais j’ai pas d’accents sur mon ordi irlandais (du nord!) – je vous jure que c’est la seule raison.
Qui plus est, je suis parfaitement conscient du fait qu'un blog est sensé être un truc régulier - genre, plus régulier qu'une fois tous les trois ou quatre mois. Du moins si j'en crois la série Californication, la bible des tous les bimbo-romanciers d'un certain âge atteint d'une forme aigue de blocage.
So sue me.
Anyway . . .
Are you feeling bad, out there? Are you anxious, listless? Depressed, even? And simply unable to account for why? I know I feel that way. And I think I know why.
We are all currently experiencing a strange and disturbing period of uncertainty and anxiety. Politically, morally and emotionally almost everyone in Europe is feeling deracinated or disjointed. This is not caused by Irish No vote (how I laughed). It has nothing to do with the launch of Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Council. Neither the American elections nor the looming threat of sharp global economic depression can be blamed. Our feelings of purposelessness and nameless dread seem too systemic and much too personal to be caused by these remote events or developments.
Because the unease, the tristesse and melancholy come from the fact that we are going through that tumultuous and very nearly unbearable period of history known as the gap between the end of the last football season and the start of the next one.
It’s hard. It’s just so hard.
Forced to bear the harsh blankness of the between-season desert without even cricket to distract me, I have found myself in a dreadful philosophical crisis. I knew this was going to happen. Exactly what I always feared has indeed come to pass. I think I have come to hate football.
Football makes me slightly insane. Football makes everyone slightly insane. Euro 2008 had already begun to convince me of this. It was wonderful to be in the 10eme during that tournament. It’s not so much that the 10eme is ethnically diverse, it is that it is the bar scene in the original Star Wars. There is no representative of the species that you will not see there. Watching the progress of the Turkish team in that tournament was very easy in the 10eme. To see the alternating hope and despair (both expressed in disturbingly similar ways – it’s odd how football agony sounds so like football joy) was instructive. As the team progressed and the fans celebrated, neighbourhood tensions surfaced that had not been there a week before. They were actually created by a football match. There were no riots. But there was ugliness. Untypical ugliness in a neighbourhood where difference normally rubs along without too much friction.
And then when the Turkish team was finally eliminated, the pleasure of some of my non-Turkish neighbours was truly unseemly. More tension and conflict. It wasn’t pretty. And certainly, without the football, none of it would have happened.
You don’t need me to tell you that football arouses ugly passions. That’s hardly news. But there is a part of that ugliness that has not been much examined.
During the off-season, European newspapers run thousands of transfer and transfer-rumour stories, a kind of journalistic methadone for the millions of junkies. Even these can cause violent hatreds. The biggest story of the summer so far has been the possibility that Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United might move to Real Madrid. There have been unsubtle attempts at seduction by Madrid officials in the press and stern refusals and rejections by the Manchester United staff.
The player himself has expressed his interest in the move repeatedly and with very little grace. He has dropped his handkerchief and wiggled his ass for more than a month now in a way that has enraged Manchester fans and very many neutrals. The internet is saturated with vicious fan reaction. Every webnews page that allows comment reads like a scabrous hatesheet. It is truly educational to read some of the literate and less literate fulminations of people rendered absolutely tachycardic with hatred for this young man. It can’t be normal.
The only truly surprising thing is how much of the bile and viciousness emanates from Man Utd fans. They feel betrayed and traduced by Ronaldo so clearly caring less about their club than they do. Football has been departing from its origins for the last ten years or so at a rapid pace. Mostly because of TV money, this working class game is rapidly being priced out of the range of its traditional fanbase. English Premiership season tickets are now unaffordable to supporters on low incomes. The salaries of its most prominent figures have come to seem insulting to fans who would take more than four or five years to earn what these guys earn in a week.
It is a bitter new rage to add to all the other football-related dark passions. It is now easy and acceptable to hate and revile payers who play for your own team. Ronaldo is a perfect example of this new paradigm. His flirtations with Real Madrid will make a new season with Manchester United very difficult for him (unless you reason that the most angry fans will be economically excluded from the ground). Whatever path he chooses, his status in Manchester after a record-breaking season, has changed for ever. Meanwhile, the fans pour forth their rage and hatred with unprecedented freedom. You almost fear for the young Portugese player.
And just in case I sound too detached and intellectual about this, let me tell you that I really fucking detest Cristiano Ronaldo. I could slap him for hours. I could slap him as a form of exercise. I almost feel like my foot was invented to kick him up the arse. In that wonderfully expressive English phrase, he drives me up the wall.
(I’m not sure how he feels about me)
I am not proud of this. Indeed, I am ashamed. Truly. It is not a responsible attitude for a sedentary fortysomething European like me to take about anybody (mmm, apart from Ben Affleck perhaps – there are limits, after all). I am pacific, mild mannered and reasonable. How can I be like this?
And it’s not the first time.
Nearly ten years ago, during a particularly depressive and unproductive phase in my life, I became an addict of a football management simulation game called Championship Manager, an addiction I shared with no less a figure than the great Robbie Williams. It was the usual type of thing, you manage your team, buying and selling players, training them, selecting tactics etc. And no matter how hard the gameplay is, you always end up achieving title-winning records with teams like Sedan or Nimes. Fun, in a childish kind of way.
Personally, I got a little bored with it after I had taken Plymouth Argyle to their sixth consecutive Champion’s League triumph and helping Northern Ireland win the 2002 World Cup. There seemed few challenges left. What followed was truly embarrassing.
I spent a week of my adult life ruining the fictional career of the virtual Roy Keane* who only lived on my computer. Reluctantly, I started my career as manager of Manchester United. I put Keane on the transfer list and into the reserve team. I kept fining him two weeks salary for no reason. I watched his confidence and form statistics fall drastically. His price fell too. After, three or four game-months of this. I finally sold the enraged player to Sunderland (you had to lower his morale levels for him to accept a transfer to a less successful club). Then I resigned as United manager and took over Sunderland. Immediately, I put Keane in the reserves and on the transfer list. I fined him. I criticised him in the Press. His stats plummeted again. Eventually, I sold him to Bradford City. Then, guess what? That’s right. I became manager of Bradford City and the whole ghastly sadistic rigmarole started all over again.
It took a whole week and I had to be manager of about eleven teams of ever-descending quality, but eventually I had succeeded in demoralising the imaginary Roy Keane so much after four seasons of not playing first team football that he retired early and fell into oblivion.
It made me very happy.
That’s pretty bad, isn’t it. That’s more than pretty bad. That’s borderline psychotic. I have never met Roy Keane. Maybe he’s kind to animals and a devoted reader of Balzac. I might like him if I actually met him. But I felt such an unreasoning hatred for this unconscious target that I spent all that time and effort in ruining his very imago in a computerised representation of reality and actually really enjoyed it.
What other walk of life can produce such bulging-eyed loathing and intemperance? Who else but footballers can produce such a desire for violence in perfectly reasonable men (Leonardo di Caprio is a whole other discussion)? There has to be something in the game itself that can produce this madness, this gloating absurd malevolence.
The worst admission is that during this whole Roy Keane-destroying period, I was well aware that what I was doing was, by any normal standards, a little nuts. But I didn’t really mind. Because I knew that men who liked football would understand. Completely.
I really hate football.
* For those who don’t know, Roy Keane was an Irish international footballer, iconic Manchester United player and is currently manager of Sunderland.