From an objective point of view, this season football has nudged itself ever closer towards a warped manifestation of utopia. It has lunged violently between menacingly good and astonishingly bad, intermittently grotesque and overtly sentimental. Aesthetes of stats and figures, connoisseurs of footy ‘lols’, perpetuaters of intellectual discourse, bastions of good old fashioned tribalism have all been nourished from the seasons crop.
But how can you ever look at something objectively when you care so much about it? Sure, you can present an argument by placing yourself consciously in the position of the objective viewer; you can present yourself as the equanimous being that, in general, you are, but the bias, subjective opinions that shape your character – for better and worse – will eat at you, always there reminding you that we’re not all the same and that you can’t truthfully sympathise or empathise with every Other. The saying, ‘people not like us, are people just like us’ is a kick in the teeth for you – you, who wants things to be a considerable amount better. Of course when I say ‘you’, I don’t mean the you reading this, I don’t mean ‘you’ plural either: I mean me.
If you’d have asked me before this winter, I’d have estimated that I probably wouldn’t ‘get on with’ about fifty percent of football fans – ask me now and it’s more than double that. If you’d have asked me in November how I thought United were doing, I would no doubt have spoken with optimism, maybe even excitement; I do love football, although sometimes through gritted teeth. During the past three months though things have changed.
Players can’t be all things at once, but I do expect them, by the time they reach their mid-twenties, to have got to grips with the concept of gravity – something Park and Young for very different reasons haven’t yet done. Players have to be given time, but I don’t expect Phil Jones, The Twins and Anderson to play the role of water, to consistency’s oil. Players aren’t machines, but I don’t expect Giggsy and Rooney to take their winter-break mid-match. Michael Carrick is okay with me (now), but I don’t expect to be saying he’s been one of our stand-out players by default. There’s something missing. Without the added incentive of trying to claim the nineteenth title, or the anticipation of a summer of rebuilding that never happened (or having Berbatov to eye romantically), this season, more than the last, has been punctuated with uncertainty and not in a good way. I don’t think it’s ‘enjoyable’ winning a title because of the inherent failings of other teams. *cue montage of me this time last year saying a similar … oh, wait it’s been recorded over by me addressing myself and reminding myself I’ve done this joke now three times in previous posts, so should perhaps get a life*
I’ve heard it said that we ‘use our squad well’ and that ‘SAF’s man-management is second to none’. I understand that we have some ‘noisy neighbours’ and that ‘we have the experience at this vital stage’. It’s apparent that ‘new fans are spoilt’ and that ‘we’re not arrogant, just better’. On it goes, arbitrary statements heaped upon platitudes. It’s exactly these cliches that are at the root of my more general malaise, not necessarily the individual issues with the players themselves in the paragraph above, but the way we are ‘expected’ to rationalise and articulate our own personal opinions. It’s always the same. How many times can the same people say the same things about the same things. If we’re supposed to reset at the beginning of every season and re-enter the same discussions again and again, then I apologise as I was obviously not copied in on that memo, and p.s. – I quit.
At some point during this winter I became aware of how, from my own perspective, the way fans talk about football has entered a maddening era of ennui, with the same repeating sequels. I’m not just referring to the fans with their insipid mantras of f*ckwittery, it’s also the self-anointed leaders of the meritocracy who spend an inappropriate amount of time ridiculing others whose interactions with the game they perceive as worthless. It’s also the pseudo-moralists, the knuckle-draggers and the affected, all jostling for position in a vacuous game of ‘vapid comment jenga’ ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
It’s not just this. I’m also disheartened and offended by the United bloggers who regularly use abhorrent sexist language, the United bloggers whose public face occasionally slips, showing them up as the bigots they are. The members of the ‘#MUFC Twitter family’ who are the vehicles for the above and more (that’s not to say this is specific to United fans, they just happen to be my main frame of reference). I’ve never felt so Other within a group to which I thought, to varying degrees, I belonged (as if it weren’t enough taking the regular slaps in the face that football delivers unapologetically). But then, as Jiddu Krishnamurti reminds me, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”.
A couple of weeks of moping about with a face like a smacked arse ensues until a fella on the radio reminds me that the human condition is to rationalise later. My girlfriend reminds me that there is no era of ennui, just permanent ennui. A.C Grayling reminds me that taking a strong disliking to things, especially Others, is externalised anxiety and worse still, inflamed antipathy. Peter Crouch scores THAT goal. I go to see a talk with Tony Benn and am buoyed by tales of the agitators of history, not that I’m suggesting my little issue with football can be measured against the political struggles of the socialist movement, or the historical plight of the proletariat … who am I kidding, yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing, which in itself is ridiculous. I’m ridiculous. And I find myself reconnecting piecemeal.
Finally, I go to a book talk with Alain de Botton and he tells us how we should approach things like we’re diners at a buffet cart. I like the buffet cart analogy. I don’t have to fill my plate with the whole spread, I can surreptitiously wrap some in a tissue and dispose of it later, or even spit it back out, rejecting it completely. It’s my choice.
Winter becomes spring.