Football from the sidelines

Almost blinded by the sun and my own perspiration as I drag myself up the steep hill, I find that the cobbled roads are near empty while the normally empty bars are packed. Packed with men, shouting men. Football, I assume, and snarl.

Mind you, I don’t at all mind football. What bothers me is all that seems to be so evident if we objectively look at a football stadium or study the comportment of men around TV screens when certain games are being played. “We’re in this together,” they seem to be saying, “our team!” “fight till death”, “kill the infidel”, or as General Halil of Janjaweed says, “eliminate anything in my way!”

General Halil is fighting for no cause other than himself. And he has earnest supporters, including loyal and good men who think they are fighting for a worthy cause, men who believe in Halil by virtue of his “strength”. A strong general is a good general, they think. Alas, ruthlessness and callousness is often mistaken for strength, as the US is kind enough to remind us at regular intervals.

The US is a deeply religious country, as are Israel and Saudi Arabia, its close allies. The crimes against humanity committed by those three countries are such that more and more people in my country are saying that religion is the root of all evil.

No, I say, religion is not the root cause of war. The root cause is what we see when we watch those who watch professional football. After a match, people sometimes get bashed to death. The spectators’ arousal, almost sexual in nature – indeed, fired by male hormones surging as the battle is played out before their eyes – makes them dangerous. They are one with the players, identifying with them (“our” team, “us”) , admiring them, enjoying a moment in the sun of borrowed fame and glory, and ready to defend them with their lives, if need be.

Now, some people will retort that war is not necessarily bad. Some wars, they will say, are just, wars for freedom, for instance, wars for liberation from oppression. Of course this argument is neither here nor there, since we will never all agree as to what wars are just, will we? Forget WWII, there have been infinitely many wars since, and in all of them there will have been at least one big bad bully against whom resistance is at least justifiable. Sadly, even the oppressed are usually also lead by big bad bullies, since – again – what is mistaken for strength tends to inspire confidence.

Football makes it all so clear: What spectators by the billions see and admire is: brute force, naked muscle, precision and cunning. They will rise to their feet as one, almost levitating, and they will all feel, for a few magic moments, omnipotent. In short, they will loose, not only their voices from screaming, but also their heads. Who needs drugs or religion to go to war prepared to die? Give me a general who can generate the electric current of a football match, and he will be in business, regardless of the cause.

I, too, long to – more than that – I need to admire. I particularly enjoy feeling kinship with those that I admire. I, too, feel elevated when any of my heroes “wins” a battle.  But my heroes are neither callous nor ruthless, and their strength is not muscular.Today, I finished a novel in which one of my favourite protagonists, George Smiley, definitely sealed his long-time opponent’s casket. Characteristically, Smiley did not enjoy his moment of glory, due to ruminations that I shared with him.

I wonder what Smiley would have made of the global mess we’re in now. For one thing, this little Spanish town on the top of its cliff is becoming near uninhabitable due to summer heat and winter cold. What would Smiley have suggested? I imagine him turning off the light to go to sleep. Outside his wide open window, the neighbours have finally come out of their houses, seeking relief in the evening breeze. Fathers, children, grandmothers, gossiping women… the street is full of their laughter, their pleasant chatting. Yet for all their easy pleasure, he cannot help hearing, still, the continued low wailing of a woman he knows is 97. She wails day and night, but as he knows, she has been out of this world for years. She cannot talk, cannot tell her surroundings why she is so unhappy. Her children take turns looking after her, and they all visit her almost daily. Every day she is dressed and cherished.

Smiley plays with ideas of what may be occupying her mind. After all, she is nearly a century old; think of what she has seen and endured!

Finally, Smiley falls asleep, covered only by a sheet. When he wakes up, he knows he was woken by a sound, and he soon hears it again, a thrill sound that ends in a tremulous sigh. He sits up in bed, because there is no mistaking an owl. An owl? This is definitely not owl country! But hark, there is another one. And another. Standing by now, stark naked in the middle of the room, he hears them all – four owls on different roof tops, one of them just above him on his own roof.

After a few moments, he sadly goes back to bed. Even the owls have lost their marbles, he muses.

And that was the best my hero could do, alas. Can you do better?

Copy link