Alex posted something brief in response to my post from earlier today, and it sparked off further thoughts on the post-Wilsonian terms of ‘intelligent’ discussion of the game. Watching the match together last night, we found ourselves (perhaps put off by some of the inane aerial camera work, and stoked by A’s excellent recent interview with Terry Eagleton) talking about the problematic way in which the public intellectual is conceived of in Britain right now. There are few non-academic or semi-academic intellectuals with a significant public profile who engage with emergent radical voices in political theory; rather, the thinkers deemed relevant by publishers – and ‘visionary’ by reviewers – are those who affirm the political status quo by emphasising how the fantastic technological and neurobiological things which occur within its frontiers redeem it and increase its sphere of possibilities. Chatting with Karl and Flann earlier on today, we were soon referring to this phenomenon as Gladwellism; it strikes me now that there’s an element of this technocratic thinking in some of those long, earnest discussions of tactics which occur on the Guardian sports pages.
Again, I’m not saying that Wilson himself isn’t a great student of football, and one of his particular strengths as an analyst of tactical development is a willingness to historicise. When the discussion becomes entirely about subtle shifts occurring within the game today, however, you can’t help but feel that there’s a scramble for cultural capital happening: that is, football – as a mass-cultural phenomenon which has always had powerful implications for our understanding of public space in modernity – becomes subject to a specialist’s pernicketiness. Abstracted from the real social contexts in which it occurs, it gets translated into microeconomies of highly-focused knowledge. This reflects Gladwellism, where important technological developments which many theorists regard as the commons of late modernity, are reappropriated as dinner-party staples.
I’ve written today about football and its complex dynamics of ownership and opposition in The Quietus and find myself this evening wishing I had a copy of Simon Kuper’s Football Against the Enemy to read against Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid. Wilson, I feel, has a similar sociological and anthropological impulse to Kuper, but it’s precisely these elements of his work (which were particularly accentuated in his book on football in post-communist Europe, Behind the Curtain) which are often overlooked by his fanbase. At the moment, it appears as if there are two parallel discussions of Euro 2012 taking place – one about fan behaviour which often seems to entrench differences between Western and Central Europe, and another, technocratic, one about tactics which vacuum-seals football from social contexts.
Posted by Joe Kennedy