Whatever we throw at it , no matter how we blind it with desire or dilute its peripheries, football remains an addictive, committing, consoling root of human interest
First notions tend to linger. For pattern, I’ve always liked Paul Merson as a pundit despite the fact he might not be the most knowledgeable or the most coherent and may sometimes appear not to have realised he’s on television at all, to have just received himself talking for a really long time with smartly-dressed parties about Arsene Wenger while, for rationales that escape him, to participate in a brightly-lit room behind a cardboard desk.
The moment I first realised I was going along with pretty much whatever Merse said was the aftermath of Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina at France 98. Never mind the finish or the course the pre-injury Owen is able to move his feet at a strange, running triple-speed, operating within his own distinct bubble of hour and space.
The best fragment of that goal is the way the Tv feed slashes to the touchline just as Owen moves off to celebrate, capturing Merson out on the lurch hopping up and down, turning to the rest of the England bench with a huge gaping grin on his face screaming:” What a farkin’ aim !”
The other subs are all out there searching generically pleased. Further along Glenn Hoddle is already doing the classic temple-tapping think-about-it gesture. Merely Merse appears completely lost in the moment, utterly consumed by the spectacle of a objective that arguably payed him greater glee than it did Owen himself.
As a scholar Merson’s series of response is virtually the same, deviations on this scale, with the same ability to identify and communicate a basic pleasure in his sport. He was right very. For all the white noise about dashed hopes and geopolitical strifes, all that really remains now of that painstakingly constructed moment is the thrill, the indivisible truth of what a farkin’ goal.
The reason for going on about this at such length here is my own somewhat uncommon event over the last six periods expended watching six of the top 12 richest football clubs in the nations of the world, and by propagation ever, play in the flesh.
In a annoying twist it turns out I don’t have anything profound, or certainly particularly interesting to share about this experience, as regular readers will no doubt already be aware. But one thing has stood out from City and Chelsea, PSG and Real to the gripping end documents of Spurs and Juventus on Wednesday night.
Everybody knows there is a loss of scale around these institutions now. Our super-clubs have become features of the corporate landscape , no longer human-shaped, hard to grasp in synopsi. At this height of football even the word ” player ” can seem like a hangover from some more frivolous age. Probably it should be replaced now with something more apt, like human athletic section or elite degree ball-tactic cog.
And yet which is something we hurl at it , no matter how we blind it with gluttony or dilute its competitive advantage, football retains its superpower, is still a entirely addictive, engaging, consoling beginning of human interest. Again this comes back to that basic pleasure principle.
The game does work best, surely only really works at all, when we get a sense of performance and of joy. Not that this is news in itself. We know this about the best footballers, just as again the really striking thing about Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo on Tuesday night was the sense of pleasure.
Ronaldo is often drew as a kind of android-warrior, a muscle dummy filled with hair-gel and surfaced with a sneer robot head-thump engine. But this is of course to disclaim the basic beauty of his storey, the skinny kid from Madeira who merely desired kicking a ball and now in his ripen glory communicates that same suffer gratification. In Paris Ronaldo spent the initiation of the times of an epically serious football match wheeling out his zingiest flicks and rotations, experiencing the ping of the projectile, a sense of basic relish that also made victory feel somehow inevitable.
I hadn’t meant to spend so long going on about ace musicians, but then they do tend to hog the stage. The spot of this ramble about gratification was to linger on the other aspect, indeed the basic point of all unit athletic. This is, of course, team play, human chemistry, the exhilaration of examining even a collect of hastily made whizs blend into the human poetry of a functioning team.
With this in mind the most captivating spectacle of the week came at Wembley where Juventus grew a show of genuinely stirring collectivism. At the final whistling at Wembley one passing Italian of pensionable age could be seen haring up and down the alley waving his fists and yodelling with pure gratification at their own efforts of shared will.
And he was right. It was entirely sucking, just as this kind of fine-margins performance, a 0-1 battled back into a 2-1, is probably more rare now. Football will continue to have suns. If anything is in danger of being lost it is this other species of pleasure.
The wider unhappiness at a flaccid conduct by the stars of Paris Saint-Germain; the roar at Arsenal’s regular downfalls: there is something profound at the root of this, a basic discouragement at discovering such shared dysfunction. The exhilaration of boast has always lain in the concept of a miniature society, a unison that takes us beyond even what a farkin’ goal into deeper levels of play and please; and a euphorium that are able to, while it remains, keep us coming back for more whatever the bordering noise.
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