Leading Article: Not quite as sick as a parrot

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The Independent Online
THE MOST refreshing sight and sound on television last week was Margaret Forster, the novelist and biographer, telling Melvyn Bragg that no, she had absolutely no interest in football, and no, she did not think that the failure of British teams to win a place at the World Cup was a leading symptom of national decline. When Mr Bragg used 'we' - as in 'surely, we must all be interested in the question' - the redoubtable Forster came back like Lady Bracknell. 'We . . . we?' Include her out - she had zero interest in the game.

Forster's obstinacy on television was singular and magnificent. We, using the pronoun in its editorial sense, heartily agree with it. There is far too much metaphorising about football. The fashion first appeared in the Sixties with the erroneous belief that England's World Cup victory in 1966 helped Harold Wilson win the general election (erroneous because the latter came before the former). Now it has resurfaced again, thanks partly to Nick Hornby's analysis of his devotion to Arsenal in Fever Pitch. Hornby's is a fine book, but it has released too many other obsessives out of their closets; and after the real obsessives, the fake obsessives, obsessed because it is modish to be so.

We should remember the words of Hugh McIlvanney when Scotland were on their way to (and out of) the World Cup in Argentina and the team was adopted as an all-conquering symbol of nationalism. It was, he wrote, a pretty rickety wheelbarrow for national aspiration. So it is now with England. The real symptom of decline is not failure at football, but our pouncing on it as an event of Great Significance.