Thursday, 30 December 2010

Football Considered as One of the Fine Arts

I found this post under the cushion on the blog sofa. I can't even really remember why I wrote it now, but here it is. The title, obviously, alludes to Thomas De Quincey's essay "Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts", but not in any constructive, useful or even amusing way.

My rant back in November about "project proposals" (it's OK, thanks, I'm feeling better now) made me wonder about the widespread uneasiness with "elitism" and "craft" in the fine arts and, by contrast, their complete acceptance in the realm of sports. How odd, ironic even, that the over-educated middle classes should agonize about the unfairness of unevenly-distributed talent in the aesthetic realm, while the mass audience for, say, football is completely untroubled by it. Such is ideology.

However, it is clear that the arts are ahead of the game here, so to speak, and some useful changes could be made to sport that echo some of the progressive moves made in the arts in recent decades. Here is the text of a speech I propose to make to the Football Association at the earliest opportunity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Football needs to change. Here's how:

1. The top teams are unashamedly elitist, drawing team members from a very narrowly-defined segment of the population, and this needs to be challenged. There is no justifiable reason to restrict a career in football to fit young men with an affinity for sport. Footballing talent is quite likely evenly spread across the population: we'll never know until we look. I suggest it be made mandatory that teams are assembled using a process similar to jury service. Eleven people must be easier to find than twelve, after all.

2. Community involvement is traditionally strong in many football teams, but over time some have indulged the appeal of a rootless cosmopolitanism (yes, we're looking at you, Man Utd.). I suggest all teams, players and fans are henceforth strictly "localized", i.e. drawn from local electoral rolls. Serious consideration should be given to compulsory attendance at matches, to foster community spirit.

3. It is unarguable that the Premier League has wrecked the wider game, financially. I suggest we adapt the model current in the arts, i.e. reverse the cash-flow by making players pay to play. Gate money could be distributed, in part, as compensatory tips, perhaps allocated on the basis of a spectator ballot. Professional aspiration should be restricted to in-house "residencies", retained primarily for training and outreach purposes, usually on a two-year non-renewable contract.

4. There is an unhelpful and vulgar emphasis on success through playing and winning games. I think we need look no further than events like the Booker or the Turner prizes to see that pre-selection of a shortlist of teams from which celebrity pundits can select a "winner" is a far more efficient way of deciding "success". This would also free up much valuable broadcasting time.

5. Football is radically under-theorized. Noting that even the driving test now has a theory component -- a progressive move we can only applaud -- I suggest that no match should be played without a properly-qualified theorist available to evaluate, challenge and generally deconstruct the referee's decisions. The theorist's decision will be final (if protracted).

6. I worry about the expression, "the beautiful game". Beauty is a contested category, and there are significant and under-represented sections of the community for whom football is far from "beautiful". However, once these proposed measures are in place, I think we will find ourselves naturally referring simply to "the game".

Thank you.


Martin H. said...

Imagine the stunned silence that might follow...

Paul Mc Cann said...

I am not a sports fan of any sort but to my limited knowledge a fair amount of what you advocate applies to Gaelic football in Ireland.(The most popular sport by a long shot) Players are strictly amateur, not paid, and in fact have to pay a subscription to train. All are generally drawn from their local community. No buying and selling of players. No massive transfer fees. Despite all these 'drawbacks' it is immensely popular.

Mike C. said...

"Advocate" is a slightly strong word for a tongue-in-cheek piece like this, but it sounds like compulsory gaelic football may be the way forward!

Or perhaps a revival of the various ba' games that pitted entire villages against each other. I think a stunned silence, punctuated by inebriated groans, generally did follow those "gloves off" matches.