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Words have become rather a hot commodity in football of late, both the spoken word from those participating in and the written word of those observing and opining on this rather silly game where the players can’t even use their hands. Whether it has been alleged racist taunts by individual players or the complex matter of who pays what and where for the consumption of content surrounding football, words have done some damage over the past few weeks. John Terry can’t get a Ferdinand brother to say hello to him anymore – if either Rio or Anton had wanted to in the first place is a separate matter – while Luis Suarez might avoid ever having to buy Patrice Evra a café au lait as his French is a bit rustier than his Spanish slang. Those who provide content on such stories remain conflicted on the value attributed to stories on matters such as these at a time when the written word might be at its most voluminous and thus less valuable than when Johanes Gutenberg printed a book. Why has football become such a serious business?
To be fair, perhaps we have always been this serious about the game but are still struggling to grasp the environment in which it is now conducted. Professional players like Terry, Suarez, or any other who has been accused of saying exactly the wrong thing to the wrong person should know better by now, what with the millions of eyes affixed to their every movement. No matter how many millions of pounds you give someone though, nor how much rests with his reputation being one of a sporting role model for your kids to emulate, there are idiot football players just as there are idiots throughout the known world. A slip of the tongue inevitably occurs for everyone, but for those who have a predisposition for racism, sexism (á la Gray and Keys), or any other despicable -ism, the rush of blood to the head will force it out for all to hear. Unfortunately this has always been the case for as long as theories on social Darwinism have let us down, but the primary difference now seems to be that, with so many ears to hear and eyes to see, nothing is missed. Idiot millionaire footballers will be called out for it, and the hordes of us who either comment on their linguistic tragedies either for free or for pay will run them through the ringer for it or defend them to the hilt for as long as it remains somewhat relevant for football. Even after all this, the event will never be let go because there will always be another with a new spin on the story, another angle to take to ensure whatever happened remains on that idiot footballer’s CV for life. There will also be future idiot footballers that do something similarly awful later to reinforce the tale.
Herein lies a potential reason why we have all become so serious about what is said both on the pitch and in the stands. Those millionaire footballers playing for their wealthy clubs have a great deal at stake to lose should whatever evil -ism is proven against them. Thus, the immediate response from officials is quite often to defend, deflect, and protect their investments rather than truly making a difference to rid the game of such ills. When Terry was stripped of the England captaincy last year over the Wayne Bridge affair, he reportedly stood to lose around £4 million in sponsorship money and now should be be found to be a racist on top of being an adulterer, those corporations that either remained endorsing him or returned after the Bridge story concluded its cycle of hyperactivity will surely drop him. Without the armband last summer, Terry still turned out for England regardless of the outcry, and while the current investigation is ongoing, he will be there to wear that armband again in England’s next match. The FA have blocked Terry from speaking on the ongoing investigation into racist language directed at Anton Ferdinand, both as a means of preserving the integrity of their probe but also to deflect it away as the main topic of conversation when we should continue waxing philosophic on England’s victory over Spain, giving the slight impression this will be shoved aside while some other terrible -ism is tackled in its place. As for the matter between Suarez and Evra, whatever Suarez might have said by intent looks set to be irrelevant, as a language misinterpretation will likely see the matter die off, thus saving Suarez from possible censure and Liverpool from being without one of their rather influential players.
In these instances, our general notions of accountability and responsibility will never be satisfied, thus we focus on meaningful words that might eventually be adjudged to be meaningless in the interests of self-preservation for players and those they represent.
As for the written word, there are so many of them produced daily from so many sources about what might have happened in football as a whole that the lines between those who write with no compensation and those who are professionals has become so blurred we have little idea to whom we are accountable for our work product. The rules seem to be as clearly defined as the English constitution, or a fit and proper persons test for football ownership. While words look to be of the cheapest currency going at the moment, we will defend our own as determinedly as if they were our last. Value, then, resides in whether that content is delivered to the millions of consumers of football information as properly as can be determined and at the right price measured either in pounds or in visibility. Likely, we become serious and begin sounding as idiotic as the footballers we write about when this hazy barrier has been breached, but sadly those general consumers do not care as a continual race to the bottom benefits them in the greatest.
In these instances, consumers have no notion of accountability and responsibility to be satisfied, which only makes the issue more serious for those producing what they consider meaningful words to those from whom the source can sometimes be meaningless as long as access is easily available. So, is there any way to extricate ourselves from sinking further into this quagmire? Perhaps we should consider the words so often used when idiot footballers or idiot fans do something inherently idiotic and whomever is in front of a microphone to defend, deflect, and protect in these situations. Let’s just get back to talking about the game of football.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Was this meant to be ironic?
As someone commented after the Terry incident and silence from Ferdinand, who is going to rock a boat when everyone in it is getting paid?
This is a very good piece of writing, Jason: accurate, brooding, sincere. The Terry incident, really, has provided an almost irresistible opportunity to negotiate these issues (I have written on it with my “Dog Fights” on Catch-22, which you have read). Your exposition made me think, once again, how much of today’s public behavior–think of the grabbing of Qaddafi’s corpse in the streets of Libya–is going to be a question of amplification and reverberation. Racism and the body politics almost seem like carnal knowledge, the body acoustic. What would it become of football, if the stadiums could turn into a massive sound archive, with each bit frozen for others to take stock of its agency?
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