The Last Word: What have football and Dr Who got in common? Crass hunger for a spectacle
Hysteria is the last thing you should give to those in or around the bear pit
We saw it in banking. Maybe we’ll see it in football as well. For avarice, in the end, takes on a life of its own.
In profiting from the lies they tell, ever faster, those in its thrall become so fat they can no longer keep pace with their own deceit. Finally they are themselves consumed by greed. Human decency and shame are absorbed into some monstrous automaton crashing, blind and drooling, through the bonds that hold a society together.
Football has all the ingredients in place. It has the big money. It has the big lies. It has conjuring tricks as brazen as any sub-prime mortgage. Through satellite subscriptions and exorbitant tickets and replica shirts, working-class fans have been seduced into servicing the debts of clubs whose inherited romance – which, for many of us, can make a stadium feel like a family hearth – has been looted by corporate bloodsuckers.
Nobody should be surprised, then, if those who have given the game its glossy veneer should ultimately prove the agents of its implosion. For hype is just another form of mendacity, fuelled by greed. Its sheer intensity might yet generate precisely the sort of vileness and volatility that once purported to justify disenfranchisement of the terrace culture.
New competition between BT and Sky, not to mention the new millions swilling round the game as a result, is injecting corresponding hysteria into the imminent season. And hysteria, you would think, is the very last thing you should give to those in or around the bear pit.
Perhaps the Community Shield tomorrow – community, egad! – will prove a less spiteful encounter than last year; and perhaps the underdogs so enjoyed their last visit to Wembley that they will now have forgotten all about the horrid contamination of one of Millwall’s greatest days, by their own fans, in the semi-final.
In the lower leagues, especially, violence has continued to smoulder within a sport ostensibly sanitised by prohibitive costs. Already we have seen a steward injured by a police horse after being pushed into its path having been caught up in a pitch invasion at Preston on Monday. “Has someone got to be stabbed before we listen?” asked the Blackpool manager, Paul Ince.
Even as fans backed away, one was apparently spotted filming the moment on his mobile phone. In doing so, he obeyed the fatuous instinct of a society that vests a legitimising quality not so much in events themselves, as in the prism of a screen. He had not really come to enjoy a derby match, but to glorify his idiocy in its surrounding mythology.
Football is hardly alone, of course, in its crass hunger for a spectacle that transcends the performance. It is bad enough that a new Dr Who must be introduced by the sort of puerile live show associated with reality TV ejections; worse, that such shrill self-aggrandisement should be complemented by a constant reel, across the screen, of inanities vouchsafed by viewers on Twitter.
So many of these conduits that ostensibly bring people together instead take them, strand by egotistical strand, away from the essence of things. The shallow glister of spectacle, together with the illusory privilege of participation, are plainly hostile to contemplation or compassion. And what kind of witless delirium survives?
Most, no doubt, will find satisfaction in the magnification of harmless platitudes. But others sucked into the void by hype and hot air may reveal that emptiness of their own, that inner decay, more destructively.
Meanwhile the transfer window – counted down by the minute on Sky, even with weeks to go – seethes with ever more posturing and resentment. And the commercials dispel the narcolepsy of last spring by vowing that this will prove “the most competitive Premier League season to date”.
It would be even better with that 39th game, naturally; or once the fixture list, in a few years, is ruptured to accommodate the iniquitous grant of a World Cup to Qatar. Even as it stands, however, we are all looking forward to the Big Kick-Off. Because, sooner or later, the chances are that it’s all going to kick off.
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