Stephen Fahey: Not Football

Football is a language onto itself, and as a non-native speaker (at best an illiterate) the wonder of the most popular sport on the planet is totally lost on me. Similarly, the communality and subsequent joy of ecstasy, rage and hatred shared in a (mostly) healthy environment is a blind mystery to me.

And while this has never been a problem, lately I’ve realised that being totally disinterested in football presents an unusual hurdle, of which I have been hitherto unaware. On one hand, the truth is that I don’t want to watch football and by not doing so I’m being true to myself, but on the other hand by not learning to speak the lingo I am alienated from the foot and ball related cosmos – a stranger in a faraway land.

Due to football’s omnipotent hold over the majority of the planet, I am thus, for better or worse, not part of the tribe. Because of the special status of football in the annals of human history, and so humanity’s very identity as a whole, the inherent segregation caused by not being able to speak Football puts me so far offside that I’m not even on the sideline. In fact, as far as the referee is concerned I’m not even playing the game.

There isn’t even a convenient individual facet of the football that I can blame for putting me off enjoying it, including both the vulgar practice of faking injuries (because, as a tactic, this serves a dishonourable function) and the blatant masturbatory practice of wealthy players grotesquely flaunting their public images (as this serves to publicise the business). The actual reason I didn’t get involved in football in my youth is that I was a sickly child, and the reason that I didn’t get involved when I was older and healthy enough to play is, as in church, I had by then witnessed the glazed hysteria and knew by instinct that it just wasn’t for me.

This isn’t to say that football is a cult. No more than chess is a cult. Or cults are cults. It’s human nature to find common ground and huddle around it, then kick an inflated bladder across it to one another for the visual pleasure of others, for a fee, in order to aggrandise of one’s own insecure psyche which, evidently, lacks the ability to pay the price of standing alone. I could argue against my own argument here and say that the underlying significance of football is the fostering and nurturing of competition, which itself harks back to the very essence of humanity in so far as the winning of a mate through displays of grandeur established by the physical overpowering and out-manoeuvring or the lauding of one’s wealth over one’s opponents and, further, I could counter-counter-argue that to engage in such an activity would force me to compete in a fashion and on a level that is neither who or what I am. However, why would I do that?

Objectively, there are elements of the game that even the likes of me can appreciate: skill, talent, dedication, charity, endurance, cunning, ingenuity, grace, prowess, commitment, imaginativeness, community, provenance and even panache all provide positivity for the next generation. There aren’t realistic professional opportunities for the vast majority of participants, but discipline and mutuality are far healthy than the alternatives that many around the world are faced with. I cannot and will not deny these facts.

As an outsider, the fervour that takes over the many sometimes seems to me to be a frightening plague with no peak or end (the nature of which intuitively feels insidious to me), but the fact remains that this is the world we live in. The many strange rituals – including but not limited to bravado, machismo, dares, bets, the impromptu hugging and kissing of teary-eyed strangers in broad daylight, singing, slurring, prancing and verbal assaults all vie to find any logic in my mind. And yet that seems to be the point – there is little to no logic and that’s why it’s so affective. But this is more about my lack of understanding of the cultural rather than of the language.

I’m also saddened to say that I miss out on one very magical element in particular. I refer, of course, to the supernatural nature of football itself, as evidenced by the adornments and vocalisations of fans who (whether or not aroused by that almighty opiate of a finely tuned amalgamation of leather, short shorts and a well trimmed pitch) are often observed engaging in the most bizarre behaviours any human ever has been, such as: the wearing of bright, seemingly intentionally unflattering, often inflatable, certainly flammable, sometimes far too tight, admittedly eye-catching, presumably uncomfortable attire, and the proud, even jealous tattooing of club names and emblems onto arms, chests, beer bellies, hands, heads, shoulders, knees and toes, not to mention the singing, droning, chanting, roaring and outright butchery of many a favoured musical number which could and (let’s be honest here) probably should otherwise be left to its own devices.

Part of me would be overjoyed to belong to this utopian nirvana wherein I can love someone just because they wear the same t-shirt as I do. My soul misses out on being bolstered by historic victories and the passionate agonies of loss. I do not know the taste of glory on the field. Nor is the World Cup, that temporarily globally unifying moment, anything special to me, and all the more sadly so as its unifying nature is exactly the kind of behaviour that I champion. I miss out on all these things, but I’m still not going to pretend. Because you can’t fake love, even the love of the beautiful game.

Stephen Fahey

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