We need bad behaviour in sport, it's the way to win

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The Independent Online
LIFE is competition - wasn't that what Darwin wanted us to face. What he didn't say was that life was a competition for gentlefolk. Natural selection doesn't take account of manners. You win, and that's that.

I was head over heels in love, when I was seven, with a lovely golden- plaited girl called Josephine. 'Ah!' I remember our parents crooning when they saw us skipping along to school together, our innocent little fingers intertwined like sleeping baby octopuses, "Just look at them, they're inseparable".

It was true. We were never apart. I'd have done anything for Josephine. If she'd asked for the rubber from my catapult I'd have given it her and asked no questions. Ditto my veteran pickled conker. Ditto the chewing- gum I kept in a milk tooth cavity. But when her fireworks performed better than mine on Guy Fawkes Night I lifted up a spade and split her head open with it. It wasn't personal. Life is competition and she was winning. I had no choice in the matter. My genes sniffed extinction and massed in my defence.

There is, of course, no excuse, genetic or otherwise, for splitting people's heads open. Human society cannot function on the win-at-all-costs principle. Which is why we have invented sport. Sport ritualises the impulse. With sport we can win vicariously. We nominate someone else to split heads open for us.

You can see where my argument is tending. If sport is proxy blood letting - the means whereby we can obey our primary instinct to prevail while adhering to the artificial forms of civilised behaviour - then where's the sense in trying to civilise it? You want good manners? Go to Church.

We watch sport in the hope that we may see someone die, or failing that, humiliated. We give up our weekends to witness rage, violence, unreason, the hand of God; to be a part of the unrelenting hysteria of species survival, but at a safe distance. And we love those whom we elect to do the dirty for us in production as they do not conform to those patterns of restraint by which we live the rest of the time.

This is why we do not give our hearts to sports puritans like Sebastian Coe, in whom we could always see the prune-mouthed Tory politician, or those bulimic white-face women marathon runners who always look as though they're running for the Church of Scotland and finish second. Think of Lineker - a national hero, almost, and so conscious to this day that he was compromised by niceness - oh God, niceness! - that he has to guzzle potato crisps on television to show that there's a voluptuary underneath.

Rowers are hard to care about because of that spirit of wholesomeness and regimen they exude. Archers, similarly. Clay pigeon shooters pass us by because we cannot discern by what practice they may be guilty of malfeasance. Be thankful for drugs. Now that we can be reasonably certain that the midget weightlifter sobbing to his national anthem on the winner's podium was flat on his back gargling a steroid Pimms the night before, the Olympics stand a chance of becoming interesting to us again. Transgression, that's the true Olympic ideal. Winning by whatever means. Preferably foul.

All sportspersons should be on drugs. Make it obligatory and level the field. I'd go so far as to suggest that we'd get something out of it if we actually saw them swallowing or shooting up as part of the warm-up, maybe as part of the competition proper even. Skaters get marked on artistic impression as well as on performance, why not points for gracefulness of spliff-rolling?

It's not the performance enhancement I care about. Forget performance. Whatever enhances ill-temper is what we should encourage. Some sportsmen don't need it. McEnroe got there by sheer superabundance of natural bile.

Australian cricketers only have to smell an Englishman and their phenomenal aggression content immediately quadruples. But not everyone's so lucky. Some have to work at it. Gazza needed to clobber his wife intermittently. Sheringham, if we are to believe what we've been told, has to go clubbing into the early hours in Portugal. So what's all this about him shaming his country? He's dong it for us, isn't he? So that we don't have to.

There is nothing to be said for the new gentrification of football. Fine, you can now watch the game in comfort in a designer stadium in Bolton. Everyone can sit down. Everyone can see. Everyone can find a toilet. And you can take your kids. But tell me who you turn to when the firework rage is on you and there's a little shovel in your hands? Where has it gone to, all that football violence? Suddenly vanished, like vapour, into the stratosphere? No wonder there's a hole in the ozone layer.

No less than a snooker table or a tennis court, a football pitch is a killing field. Not quite a Roman Coliseum - we have refined the ritual somewhere since then - but fulfilling the same function: the aestheticization of the will to murder. And there is no satisfactory aesthetics of murder that doesn't take full account of those slinkily murderous inducements, alcohol and sex. It is therefore entirely necessary that our footballers get plenty of both.

That doesn't mean, however, that I can wholly condone, if it is true, Sheringham's half-hour in a lavatory in Portugal with a blonde. Is that any way to treat a woman. Half an hour! In my day half an hour wouldn't have got you to the foreplay prior to the foreplay.

But there you are, we live in soft times. Kick another player on the field, which is precisely what you're meant to do, and you get a red card. Meet a woman in a bar in Portugal and it doesn't ever occur to you that she might appreciate a whole night in the lavatory.

Howard Jacobson's new novel 'No More Mister Nice Guy' is published by Jonathan Cape.

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