In Season Four of Curb Your Enthusiasm, one of the main story arcs involves Larry’s ham-fisted attempts to sleep with another woman (something his beleaguered wife promised him he could do if they remained married for ten years). After a number of disastrous, ultimately futile encounters, Larry ends up in the dressing room of an enamoured co-star (he’s starring in a production of, erm, The Producers – long story). As they get down to business, Larry notices a photo of George W. Bush on the table behind them. Dejected, he realises that he cannot go through with the affair.
You’ve got a picture of Pulis in your dressing room?
Things like this rarely happen in football. Like the wider world in which it exists, football plays host to innumerate competing ideologies, on as well as off the pitch. Yet, while it can often be difficult for people to overcome their differences in this regard in the real world, compromises are made in football all the time. Many of us fret about the corporatist nature of the modern game and the machinations involved at the highest level. UEFA’s decision to fine Nicklas Bendtner €100,000 for his Paddy Power Underpants Charleston does not seem in and of itself excessive. When placed in the context of the €20,000 fine handed to Porto last April for the racist conduct of their fans in a Europa League game against Man City, it tells you all you need to know about what really matters to the fellows in charge. We still tune in for all the games though. If a political party carried on in such a manner, we’d roll our eyes and allow ourselves a pat on the back for having distanced ourselves from such a shower of charlatans in the first place. Things become a little more complicated when the foot soldier is Zlatan Ibrahimovic rattling in an utterly sensational volley rather than a defiant Tory councillor fleeing the area to which she was elected for gentler bourgeois pastures.
However, it’s really only when you cast a glance at the pitch itself that you really see the differences between football and the real world. As we trundle through an era where the only question seems to be who can best guide our harried consumer souls through more and more state-supported capitalism, it’s nice sometimes to sit back and watch something unexpected happen. Like Greece advancing at the expense of much-favoured (and far more powerful) Russia. Furthermore, it’s possible to admire their competing ideologies in equal measure; Greece’s dogged attempts to prevent the fan having anything like a meaningful aesthetic experience, Russia’s firm, unending commitment to tactical anarchy. In the real world, where it can often seem, as Karl has pointed out, that nothing ever changes, these surprises can sustain us. The underdog can triumph in football in a way that looks increasingly unlikely to occur in modern politics.
There is a danger, in putting forward this argument, of falling into dangerous territory. Living in Ireland, I’ve grown tired of the phrase ‘this great (insert sport here) achievement has helped us forget all the doom and the gloom’. It is frightening how often it is employed. I’m not suggesting for a second that football, or any other sport, be used to mask the depressing nature of what passes for political and societal discourse in the modern world. I simply think it’s interesting how we act so differently in these different spheres. If you disagree with, or dislike, someone’s political perspective, you will do your best to explain why in a calm, rational fashion. If you dislike a pundit, a manager, or especially a footballer, you shout ‘WANKER’ and other assorted niceties at the television screen. In football, you can square your antipathy towards asset-stripping oligarchs and your love of Didier Drogba in a way that can never happen in the real world. But most importantly of all, in football, sometimes the good guys win.
Posted by Flann MacGowan