What footie fans want is a load of balls

WELL THAT'S France buggered, then. Felix and Euphragia are apsley desolate because they just didn't think. Planning their usual, do you see? Counted on just being able to pop Melete, Mneme and little Aoide in the Espace and taking their customary meander through La France Profonde, stopping at an auberge ici and an hostellerie la and generally getting, you know, back in touch with their savoir-vivre.

Yes indeed. Felix abjures moisturiser, Euphragia lets her armpits flourish, and they both try vachement hard to remember to be demonstrative and wave their arms around as they speak, although it's difficult, English being ... well, not really demonstrative, as languages go. They could speak French, they suppose, but they've been going there for 23 years now and you can't teach an old chien new tricks.

It came as a shock, really, to read about the football. All summer long. Who'd have thought it? France overrun with ... well, Felix likes football - he loves it, actually; no, rally, ever since he read Fever Pitch and found it, you know, sort of articulated the dilemma of being a male in the post-feminist era, but ... well, one doesn't want to actually mix with the fans, not on one's holidays, which are a time for tranquillity, re- bonding, and those marvellous local specialities made from pounded larks' offal.

Felix is right, of course, despise him though we do. Football is a hateful business, and any nation which competes for the right to fill itself with football fans is clearly on the skids and just one stage removed from buying a battery- operated Sacred Heart, a jumbo tube of K-Y jelly and sticking an ad in the local paper.

Football is a mug's game, a consumer's game. It has all the glamour of an ingrowing hair, the elegance of a nosebleed and the excitement of William Hague's sex life. It is played in surroundings of bleak concrete brutality by men in desolate, chafing, nylon clothes, reeking of Germolene. Its cultural underpinnings are those of frustrated, incoherent adolescence: spots, urine, bad haircuts, ululating pack-rampages, cheap lager, punch inna froat! punch inna gob! boot inna nuts! OOOO-waa!, OOOO-waa!, OOOO- waa!

Even the ball is ugly, and by some strange process of somatic mimesis, football fans come to resemble it themselves, leathery, seamed, dented and expressionless. Worst of all are the middle-aged, middle-class "fans"; the ones who hang around Soho bars analysing matches and pretending to know about it and love it and putting it on a level with proper grown-up pursuits like baroque opera and physics and poetry and weird sex. These poor saps, too old and gauche for the pleasure of the chase, too mean to pay for their Viagra like men, resort instead to a bogus, pseudo- demotic male bonding, swapping names of players (swotted up earnestly the night before) like dodgy solicitors having a night at the opera. It's a clipped and desiccated pleasure, cold as a nun's knickers, and the truth is that they don't like it at all.

You don't believe me? Try it. Worm your way into some yattering group of toxic media swine or yelping estate agents and wait until the football bullshit starts. Let it develop for a while, until they are all pretending to be immersed in and excited by their dull, dull, dull conversation, then strike.

"As a matter of fact," you will say quietly, "I loathe football. I think football is boring, pointless, ugly and stupid. I hate the way the football commentators shout and squeal with all the phoney emotion of a cut-rate hooker faking an orgasm. I hate the way that, what-ever the weather, it is always raining. I hate the clothes they wear. I hate the stupid par- tisanism. I hate the inarticulacy and the froz- en idiocy of their numb-lipped slack-jawed post-match `comments'. I hate the managers in the sharp suits, their pockets bulging with bung. I hate the lipo-sucked, bee-stung, collagen-inflated, bleached, tanned `girlfriends'. I hate the inappropriately heroic language. I hate the way the middle class has hijacked the game with its suburban parody of working-class enthusiasms. I hate the sponsors, I hate the executive boxes, I hate the communal singing, I hate the thudding, honking signature tunes; I hate the corporate hospitality, I hate the turf, the toilets, the grass, the mud and the goal. I even hate the ball. In fact, the only thing I like is the footballers' thighs and I like them a lot. Tremendous! Lean! Like horses' thighs, but unequivocally masculine! You can imagine them - and I know you agree with me - gripping you in an inextricable grasp as, mercilessly and inexorably, some iron-bodied, muscular ..."

At this point, of course, you will be smashed in the face by an outraged corporate-logo designer or public-relations consultant and fall to the ground. And you know why? Because you have articulated what they really feel and they simply cannot bear it. You have identified that football - that all sport - is really just an outlet for timid conformists to come to terms with their own homophilia in a formal environment designed to promote herd immunity. Sport, in short, is a gigantic, money-spinning commercial version of the Christ-Was-I-Drunk-Last-Night Syndrome, invented by Mart Crowley in his play The Boys in the Band. The syndrome occurs when a Confident Heterosexual makes it one night with some guy, and the next day they meet in the office or the locker-room or the pub, and what do they say? "Christ was I drunk last night," they say, "I don't remember a thing."

And this is what France is being given over to this summer. This is why Felix and Euphragia will have to content themselves with Harlech or Lowestoft, and open-air swimming in the rain. Serves them right. But does it serve the rest of us right? Or would it not be better if all the football fans simply acknowledged the truth and fell upon each other, mouths open, vague fingers scrabbling and fumbling, in a frenzy of un-pent lust, while, up and down the field, highly paid mercenaries chase their silly ball unregarded. !

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