I'm thrown into a deep depression. And it's thanks to Accrington Stanley

The game is confined to the dark satanic mills when it could be played where the land lies green and pleasant
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The Independent Online

Inexplicably down this week, which is probably an inane thing to say since it would be more inexplicable, given everything, had I been up. Not to say a disappointment to my readers who come knowing that however down they've been over the previous seven days they will be sure, in this column at least, to encounter someone downer. A social no less than an intellectual obligation, I think, never to impose cheerfulness on others, never to wonder at someone else's depression, but always to be at a lower ebb than everyone you meet. Things won't get better, things can't be worse, and that which may never happen already has.

Inexplicably down this week, which is probably an inane thing to say since it would be more inexplicable, given everything, had I been up. Not to say a disappointment to my readers who come knowing that however down they've been over the previous seven days they will be sure, in this column at least, to encounter someone downer. A social no less than an intellectual obligation, I think, never to impose cheerfulness on others, never to wonder at someone else's depression, but always to be at a lower ebb than everyone you meet. Things won't get better, things can't be worse, and that which may never happen already has.

So I suppose what I mean is that I've been feeling over-and-above down this week - my service to depression in every point twice done and then done double. The year's end closing in is part of it. Darkness falling before nine o'clock. Autumn fruits appearing in the shops. The queer, gross absorption in Big Brother vanishing into thin air, an expense of spirit on a thing that never was. And then the football season beginning betimes, making cricket, as it always does at this fly-spring, see-saw, swap-over moment of the year, appear lunatic, the wearing of the white flannels of summer an eccentricity, when everyone else is indoors huddled around the electric lamp.

Bernard Levin dying hasn't helped. I can't say I ever found his prose or indeed his personality congenial - too close to home, I suppose - but he was an excoriator of determination and principle, an accessible anti-populist, highbrow in a manner and in language that made the lowbrow ashamed not to be highbrow themselves. Enough to put on any man's stone - he did not pander to the popular - and have him received among the elect. But down here, on our sublunary globe, we are an excoriator the fewer.

Too late for him the cloning that will guarantee eternal life to others. Too late for me as well. And while it's nice for those future generations whose organs will benefit from the all-clear given to the Centre for Life at Newcastle University (I almost said Newcastle United), it's asking a lot of ourselves to be pleased that we are the last of the mortals. Better to have been a medieval peasant and missed out by a thousand years, than to have been born into this age of medical miracles and come so close, only to have to face the fact that we will still go to our eternal rest as empty handed as Piers the Ploughman.

I warned you I was down.

Football. The more I ponder it, the more I see the fault is football's. Not just starting too soon but starting at all. I am not an enemy of the game itself. I watch it on television fitfully, and even attend a few matches in the flesh each year, sometimes trekking up to Old Trafford, sometimes whizzing across to Highbury, but always, of course, accompanied by writers and philosophers. This is the only way to see football, I maintain - in the company of intellectuals. Bernard Levin probably wouldn't have been much fun to go with, I grant you, but as a rule you haven't properly experienced what football has to offer until you've heard "Which part of why don't you get your fuckin' eyes examined don't you understand, ref?" issuing from the mouth of a Lacanian psychologist.

That said, what actually happens on the field is invariably a let-down. Very few teams play well often, and even the best players are skilful only rarely. You wait a long time for a goal, and when it comes the person in front of you is jumping up and down and stopping you from seeing. Television's better from the point of view of point of view, but who really got excited - the odd Rooney moment aside - by the wall-to-wall televising of the European Championships? Who really cared once xenophobia was off the table?

And that was Europe, where the glamour's supposed to be. As far as English football is concerned wouldn't the whole shebang be less depressing not only if it started later - January, say - and finished earlier - February, say - but if it got rid of all its outdated industrial encumbrances and nomenclature? Bolton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion, Tranmere Rovers, Scunthorpe Whatever They Are - these are throwbacks to a world we no longer culturally inhabit. I know some people have to live there, but must the rest of us be forced to share their suffering every Saturday afternoon? Hearing them trotted out again in the early evening dark, scoreless draw after scoreless draw - Slagheap United nil, Hell Is Other People nil; Well I'll Go to the Foot of Our Stairs nil, Down in the Dumps Inexcitables nil - is like the shock we register every time we discover Arthur Scargill is still alive. The damp vowels, the bleak belligerence, the lost causes trampled in the winter mud - we thought we'd done with that. We thought we were a different people now.

We tell ourselves that Spanish footballers are more elegant and French managers more successful than ours, but how well did their national teams fare in Portugal? The truth is, we are beguiled by French and Spanish accomplishments only because we are sick of our own stale, unmusical associations. Yet we have the very change we crave to hand. Stow-on-the-Wold versus Midsomer Norton, Stratton St Michael versus Shipton under Wychwood, Thornham Parva versus Piddlehinton, East Coker versus Little Gidding - wouldn't contests such as these slough off the soul-destroying where-there's-muck-there's-money image of English soccer, and wouldn't they, at the same time, better reflect the country's social and topographical diversity, its stands of loveliness, its terraces of quiet?

It's inverted snobbery confining football to the dark satanic mills when we could be playing it with grace where the land lies green and pleasant. That's what it is that's depressing me - Accrington Stanley. If I must relinquish summer so soon, can't it be for Burlington Bertie?

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