In the summer of 2004 I had a relatively new half-Greek girlfriend whose 5 year old son was just getting into football. Utterly oblivious to their impending unexpected triumph in the European Championship, I nevertheless considered it in someway profoundly important that the child follow the footballing fortunes of his grandfather’s home nation. Why did I think this was important? I’m too bedraggled in doubt to think so now. What would my ignnorcent 22 year old self say? He’d probably mumble something about authenticity.
Football’s one big writhing mess of notions of ‘authenticity’. And this was undoubtedly a case of me passing on this particular social skill to the next generation, with an unthinking low-level political undertone of pushing this kid away from the nationalism-lite homodoxy of Engerland and towards a (perhaps equally troubling) postcolonial exotica of the Other.
As football’s fandom moves further from the authentic (if such a thing ever existed) into a twilight zone of ironic and physical detachment it becomes seemingly more obsessed with authenticity. Football, as so often is the case, mirrors the wider world in stark terms. In their book Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, Gilmore and Pine, not content with the ipso facto of running a ‘thinking studio’, argue that as life is flooded with “toxic levels of inauthenticity we’re forced to breathe”, the “consumer” (that is, everyone) yearns and struggles for the real thing, albeit stuck within the limited horizons of consumptive preferences.
Irony, inauthenticity, consumption. It brings to mind that contemporary villain of the football landscape… The ultra-leveraged club owner? The banning order trigger-happy judiciary? The racist abuser? No, not those teddy bears. I speak of the ‘Football Hipster’. The go-to lazy term for anyone whose own teetering sense of authenticity is threatened.
I do believe the general term hipster once had some use, some accuracy if applied carefully, defining a particular kind of postmodernly ironic, 1990s Brooklyn-style, apolitically liberal, marginally useful idiot beneath the crushing wheels of gentrification’s economic causes. But now it seems to be fired off either at random (just look at those teenagers on rollerskates) or in self-defense (you just moved to a £1,250+ pcm flat in Brixton but it’s okay cos you don’t eat cupcakes, well fucking done, applause for you).
And in football it seemed to immediately crashland as the panicked cry of choice for people scrabbling about, clinging on, fighting the gravitational pull of existential crisis. I see your distressed twig of a body on the cliff edge. I decide to help you. I crouch down and stroke your rigid fingers with an awkward tenderness. I giraffe my neck towards you, my lips close to your right ear, and whisper, “Football fandom is totally pretentious, learn to enjoy it.” I wrench your fingers free and watch you plummet.
Three years later you find the rope-ladder and enjoy football once again with a child-like abandon.
Posted by Robert MV