More Than A Game


From top: Kenny Daglish with the European Cup, 1978; Listrade

Trigger warning: this is about a very trivial thing, it’s also about football (the association variety) and will involve some form of a happy fan of Liverpool Football Club.

If you’re in anyway familiar with The Second Captain’s Podcast then you’ve probably heard the Michael Parkinson clip. The bit where he succinctly and accurately describes sport as being the opposite of anything important like life or death and that’s what makes it so important.

I needed it last night [Roma Vs Liverpool[ European Champions League]. It was only a Semi Final, it’s not a trophy, but win or lose last night, I needed that escapism.

There will always be more important things than the success or failure of a bunch of millionaires of a tribe that I’ve decided to join, a hell of a lot more important things. But it hasn’t been pleasant to be so pissed off all the time, and I hardly use or look at social media any more, but stuff is still pissing me off.

At 43 I’ve seen a few of the booms and a lot of the busts. I’ve been at different points of the spectrum through both, sometimes at the bottom, sometimes in the middle, but there was always footie.

I mean, there are other sports and sporting victories that have been pleasant and exciting, but I’ve never known the collective lifting of spirits or collective lowering that comes from the highs and lows of association football. Emphasis on the fact that I’m speaking for myself and not saying that others don’t or shouldn’t.

We can lament how there’s a focus on the English League and one specific team in the Scottish league, but that’s to ignore history…and to some extent geography.

Take or leave Eamon Dunphy, but his autobiography “The Rocky Road” gives a good overview of life in Dublin in the 50s and 60s. Soccer wasn’t the media behemoth it was now. Even in Britain it was still largely a working-class pursuit and interest.

To be a soccer fan in Ireland at that time wasn’t exactly smiled upon, to want to be a soccer player wasn’t exactly supported or welcomed. That’s the environment my generation grew up in. It meant a lot, a hell of a lot and you kind of absorb that when you’re growing up.

But then the Irish lads started to do alright, they started to win things, you could watch them on the telly. It became an escape and just like heading out after seeing Star Wars and recreating the film on the streets with your mates with nothing more than a couple of sticks you’ve found lying around, you could recreate the game with anywhere between five and fifty of you (latter if it was a big game) with nothing more than some jumpers and anything that could stand in for a ball.

It wasn’t just a thing you watched on telly, it was in the streets too. You’d save up and manage to get an actual leather ball, jealous of the kid whose parents had got him the Mitre Delta while you’ve still got the old battered no-make ball with one of the leather hexagons missing and a large orange rubber egg sticking through.

And in many areas it was also forbidden, not just from the political sense, but from the noise and nuisance.“No Ball Games” signs started to creep up around where kids where just being kids and we all knew the houses some old bastard lived in where you’d never get the ball back if it went into their yard. Legend had it one would come out with a knife and stab the ball. Rob swore his brother had seen her do it.

I know it’s different now, but for many of my age and older, that legacy is still there and that’s part of why we like it and why, if we’re honest, we have this irrational passion for an unconnected sporting club that can dictate what mood we go into work the next day.

For all the real bad times in the 70s, 80s and 90s, nobody went into work or school in a foul mood over something a politician had done or hadn’t done or any of the “Troubles”.

It isn’t to say we didn’t care, we did, very much so, but that crap of life was just that: life. Get beat by United on Saturday? We’d spend Sunday wondering how we’re going to get out of work on Monday, we know what’s coming. Win against United on Saturday? We’re the first ones clocking in. We’re sat waiting for the United fans to sheepishly walk in.

They could have declared war on the Sunday. We could have had the long threatened nuclear destruction, but that was too real and too important. We’d have still been moping or celebrating the weekend’s results, the war would be way down on the list of discussion points.

Something changed in the 90s. Yes the whole Sky and Premier League played a part, but also how that led to more coverage in the broadsheets.

Even as an avid pseudo-intellectual with “highbrow” literature stuffed in my pockets, conveniently placed so that every could see what I’m pretending to read, I read the broadsheets for my pseudo-intellectual political posturing, but I never read one for a match report. That was always the tabloids.

Then we switched to the broadsheets and their eloquence about the game. It fell into that Money Ball trap. Not so much the analysis by the teams, but in over-intellectualising the game.

Analysis and detail that missed the whole point. You can’t analyse something that is intangible, something that is sort of primal. You can’t analyse the skill of a player when the talent is down to innate ability and dedication to be the best. Football had to have a reason to exist rather than letting it exist and enjoyed for what it was.

It meant a lot to me and many around me, but we’ve no idea why and that doesn’t matter because the reasoning behind it isn’t important. It just is.

The fact that for several decades, the only escape we had from the realities of our lives was an occasional movie and ninety minutes of twenty-two men on a pitch once a week.

The extent of the analysis we put into Kenny Dalglish was simplified to he’s fucking brilliant. We didn’t need heatmaps of his activity or positioning or any other analysis than he stuck his arse out and people bounced off when he controlled the ball.

I’m self-aware enough to know the disease of nostalgia and especially nostalgia infected with a working-class chip on a shoulder. I actually like that new breed of analysis. I read and listen to it all the time (except when we lose), but that’s not why I watch or follow it. It never has been and never will. Last night was though.

That’s just me and the people I knew and grew up with or worked with. For us it was soccer, for others that escape might be GAA or anything else (though probably not rugby, I don’t remember many of the senior managers skipping in based on the rugby results). Parenting, geography, peers, they all help dictate what it is that gives us that escape.

And it’s a different escape. Books, television, film, music, etc can all be escapes, but too often there are analogies to current social issues, the very thing you were trying to escape from.

I can’t keep rereading the first two Patrick Rothfuss while waiting for the third book for my escapism. Maybe that’s why reality tv caught on in popularity. There’s no socio-political analogy in a group of kids trying to shag each other on an island or who makes the best scones.

I’ve another couple of escapes coming up. Two games to secure Champions League Football next season and a couple of Spurs and Chelsea fans to gloat to or hide from and of course an even bigger escape on 26th May. Same day as the rugby…The day after the Referendum.

It won’t mean anything. It won’t solve homelessness. It won’t change the result of the Referendum (though it may dictate what time I get up to vote). It won’t end corruption or incompetence or anything important.

But that’s the whole point and I’m glad I have it. We might win. We might lose. But for ninety or more minutes nothing else will be as trivial and consequently as important as that match.

We shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting or needing a short-term escape from reality and we shouldn’t over-analyses it either.

Once you have an escape, never apologise and you’ll never lose it. Once you have that feel, it’s harder to get rid of than tattoos.

Listrade can be found on twitter @listrade

Earlier: In Fairness

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20 thoughts on “More Than A Game

  1. ZeligIsJaded

    Turned on the TV the other night as the end of the Real v Bayern game was on.

    Was set up for a very exciting finish – Real 1 up but Bayern only needing 1 away goal to clinch it – so said I’d give 5 minutes to watch it.

    There were two Real substitutions during which each player strolled very slowly off the pitch, stopping to roll their socks off and over their shin guards. The ref cajoling them off – encouraging them to hurry up as the players ignored him. Delaying, annoying sportsmanship.

    I didn’t last the five minutes.

    What a sport it is!

    Fair play to anyone who derives pleasure from watching it.

  2. Andrew

    I’m a bit older than the author of this piece of sentimental drivel.Typical of a Liverpool ‘fan’ though.. Sentimentality! I as a young lad pretended to be Liam Brady when playing football with my friends every chance we got. Everyone picked a team, most picked Liverpool as they were winning everything at the time, some picked United and others Arsenal as Brady,O’Leary and Stapleton and were there at the time.A few Leeds Utd
    Do you know what happened though? We all grew up. We realised we had no real connection with any of those teams. We still watch football and I will actually go and watch an actual football match or Hurling or Rugby. They will be local teams though.
    English football is a commodity now more than ever and football tourists from Ireland and elsewhere are customers. It won’t matter who is in the actual stadium as season tickets are out of reach of the ordinary working young man or woman. The average age of those attending is thirty years older than it was back then. It matters less who actually attends the game.
    If you really loved football then you would support a team from your own town. Because what we have now is a long way from the reason football clubs were established in the first place. It’s an insult.

    1. bertie blenkinsop

      Are you a fan of an SSE Airtricity League team and if so, which one?

      1. realPolithicks

        I grew up in Inchicore and was a big fan of St Patrick’s Ath, I even saw Gordon Banks play keeper for them..(you can look it up)

        1. Brother Barnabas

          i heard about that. my grandfather was a rovers fan. the day he stood behind banksie’s goal in richmond park was one of his go-to stories. would always add at the end, “he’d a bit of a fat arse on him”

          he had a load of great stories but he was a bigger spoofer than me so you could never be sure

          1. realPolithicks

            “he’d a bit of a fat arse on him”

            That’s a great description, he was definitely at the end of his career having lost the sight in one of his eyes in a car accident. It was still a thrill to see a famous keeper like him, there’s wasn’t much starpower in Ireland in the seventies.

    2. Boj

      In the words of the great Queen Elsa…”Let it go, let it goooooooo”
      Basically what you are saying is “people shouldn’t do that”…people will do what ever the hell they want.
      You say supporters are customers like that is some big realization that just came out today…they all know they are customers…and many many supporters are happy customers (most of the time). What do you think of Arsenal walking the ball into the net?

      1. Andrew

        People can do what they like with their money. I’m just calling it what it is.
        No they don’t see themselves as customers Boj. They really don’t. These man-children differentiate themselves from fans in Thailand for example. That’s a mixture of a lot of things.

        1. Boj

          People want to see the best football in the wurdled and apparently England (which unlike Thailand) is not so far away and is home to many wurdled class players. If Thailand was beside England, those fans would behave the same I reckon.

          1. Brother Barnabas

            Historia que tú hiciste
            Historia por hacer
            Porque nadie resiste
            Tus ganas de vencer
            Ya salen las estrellas
            Mi viejo Chamartín
            De lejos y de cerca
            Nos traes hasta aquí
            Llevo tu camiseta
            Pegada al corazón
            Los días que tú juegas
            Son todo lo que soy
            Ya corre la saeta
            Ya ataca mi Madrid
            Soy lucha, soy belleza
            El grito que aprendí
            Madrid, Madrid, Madrid
            ¡Hala Madrid!
            Y nada más
            Y nada más
            ¡Hala Madrid!
            Historia que tú hiciste
            Historia por hacer
            Porque nadie resiste
            Tus ganas de vencer
            Ya salen las estrellas
            Mi viejo Chamartín
            De lejos y de cerca
            Nos traes hasta aquí
            Madrid, Madrid, Madrid
            ¡Hala Madrid!
            Y nada más
            Y nada más
            ¡Hala Madrid!

  3. rotide

    A good read, especially given the comment earlier about the waste of time that sport is.

    One niggle though
    For us it was soccer, for others that escape might be GAA or anything else (though probably not rugby, I don’t remember many of the senior managers skipping in based on the rugby results).
    Howiye Tom Humphries!
    I can defintely trace the decline in my overwhelming obsession with football back to Italia 90. The pleasure and excitement that you so eloquently describe was heightened to such an extent during that world cup for a few reasons. It was the first time we’d been there and it created a countrywide togetherness that I’ve never seen before or since but at the end of the day, it wasn’t random tribalism, this was our lads. That same thought struck me the first time I saw Leinster lose to Munster with an insufferble muck savage collegue. In those days Donnybrook was purely the preserve of the elite (The advertising hoardings were for Beauchamps Solicitors!) but those days are well and truly gone . Provincial rugby is well and truly of and for the people now with the added bonus that you can see your local team play truly world class sport and not have to spit out ‘oh yeah? when was the last time you went to Bohs then’

    1. Topsy

      Provincial rugby ‘of and for the people’ – what a load of absolute drivel.

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