On Mortality And Football

By on May 3, 2012 in Latest, Opinion | 6 comments

The culture of association football is sometimes best regarded as a blank canvas onto which we can project just about any value system. Over the years, it has come to take on its own ecosystem as a world of its own. It has clearly defined seasons, its own judiciary – which mirrors but seldom matches that of the outside world – and it demands its own autonomy, free from what  it haughtily describes as “outside interference.” There are limits to this independence, though, and this is no more true than when death’s icy hand reaches in and reminds us that we are all, as it were, only here on a short term loan.

This season, those of us that immerse ourselves in the peculiar physics of this parallel universe have seen this intrusion force itself upon us several times over this season. The death of the Wales manager Gary Speed last year, for example, was a horrible reminder to all of us that notions of “success” and “failure” within this universe are fleeting and that the hidden depths of those amongst with everything invested in this particular universe can easily be interrupted by the world outside.

The universal praise for Speed after his passing was as much about this man as a human being as it was about him as a professional footballer or as the manager of a football team, and the debate held after his death on the touchy and difficult issue of depression and football was – even if it might not even have been relevant in the specific case of Speed himself – in some ways a refreshingly human one. Some of us allowed our masks to slip, to allow the world a brief glimpse behind the avatar that we employ in this particular universe.

Depression, the dark manifestation of a problem with the hard wiring of the brain, was discussed with an honesty which, whilst faltering, felt light years from any previous discussion of it in this particular universe. This, perhaps, was one of the unintended consequences of Speed’s untimely death, and if one other person’s life was saved as a result of it, or if one other person who had been feeling the storm clouds of this frequently debilitating condition was encouraged to at least seek the assistance of those in the other world with the skill to untie the psychological knots into which we can tie ourselves, then his life will have served a purpose far beyond the transient pleasures that most in the game can ever offer us.

Death can never be indefinitely cheated, of course, but it can at least be postponed with the help of medical science and we were reminded of this last night as the Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba made his public return to The Reebok Stadium for his team’s match against Tottenham Hotspur. Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane in March was a moment to make the blood of all watching run cold, its aftermath a peculiar mixture of genuine concern, occasional bouts of mawkishness and, ultimately, recovery. Those weeks saw the very best and very worst of human nature with all stops inbetween, but they paled into insignificance alongside the only matter related to this story – this player’s survival.

That the life or death of one young man would provide one of the good news stories of the season says something about the extent to which the other, “real” world, with all of its seemingly random, mundane horrors, intrudes into football’s bubble, but wider contextual debate of this were dwarfed by the simple, human drama of a young man – a father, a partner and a son – fighting for his very life. Those amongst us that believe in higher forces might have prayed for him. Others, supporters of Bolton Wanderers, may have offered a quasi-Faustian pact offering the club’s Premier League soul in return for Muamba’s life. The metaphysical question of the difference this might have made is one the answer to which could fill a book. For now, perhaps, it should be enough to be eternally grateful for the prompt and superb actions of the medical staff that saved his life.

It is, perhaps notable that such flashes of humanity should have been visible during a season that has otherwise been directed by the ultra-partisans and the tribalists. So much of the culture of modern football – far from merely the clubs and players themselves – is concerned with winning at all costs and the double-standards which inevitably accompany such an outlook that any glimpses of fraternity that cuts across club loyalties becomes something that is a minor cause for glee. That said, however, the greater cause for glee was on display at The Reebok Stadium last night. Regardless of what happens to the remainder of Bolton Wanderers’ season – and Tottenham Hotpur’s 4-1 win there last night took a little of the gloss from any celebrations that Bolton’s supporters may have been hoping for last night – this season will be remembered as the season that Fabrice Muamba lived. It’s a greater prize than the game of football could ever offer of itself.

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    6 Comments

  1. Frankly, given the disgusting tweet you apparently aimed at Louise Mensch, I find it astonishing that you can author an article with the word “morality” in the title.

    And no, I’m not a Tory.

    richard

    May 3, 2012

  2. Ach! mor-t-ality :-(

    richard

    May 3, 2012

  3. People are mortals. They die. And, as said by Bulgakov some time ago – the biggest problem isn’t that people die but they die suddenly. So people die suddenly. And all people die earlier or later. It’s normal. It’s ok. Therefore I can get what the fuss about Speed, Muamba and Morosini. Maybe they didn’t read Bulgakov?!

    “Football isn’t a matter of life or death, it’s much more important than that.” And nobody stops business or makes mass hysteria when some worker dies.

    Dunduks

    May 3, 2012

  4. To be honest RICHARD, I don’t see how likening someone to cat diarrhoea could be fairly construed as “immoral” or “misogynistic”, as L. Mensch suggests. At worst, it’s pretty impolite.

    Richard

    May 3, 2012

  5. Dunduks – you ice cold capitalist! You are correct that the world keeps spinning even when one person dies, but that doesn’t necessarily decrease the value of that person’s life or contributions to society.

    elliott

    May 3, 2012

  6. Hello everybody, and thanks for your comments. I rather thought that Twitter – ironically – would be the best medium for this “debate” (such that it is), but apparently not. So, I’ve copied and pasted what I had to say on the subject of *that* tweet on Facebook last night (with a couple of amendments for my incompetent spelling):

    So, yesterday evening during an episode of Channel 4 News in which she was defending the indefensible in the form of The Sun, I tweeted the following: “Just had a brief conversation that ended, “Diarrhea in a litter tray, Louise Mensch, same difference.”

    And then today, I saw an article on this particular MPs new crusade against the sexist abuse that she receives on social media. With this in mind, allow me to clear a few things up, on the off-chance that any confusion arises over this over the next few days:

    1. I (or rather “we”, since this was a conversation that I was having with Kate) would have had no hesitation in offering the same criticism of any members of the current cabinet in the same way, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or race.

    2. The message was not sent to her (ie, as an @ reply) – which can only mean that she therefore has her name set up as a search on her Twitter client and is merely collecting together anything derogatory said about her, which is the equivalent of over-hearing a conversation in the pub. This is obviously and clearly a completely different matter to Tweeting abuse or threats to her directly.

    3. If she didn’t defend the likes of Rupert Murdoch and The Sun on national television, I might consider her to be worthy of a few less of the characteristics of the substance referred to in the aforementioned Tweet. The notion of someone on live, national television defending a media empire that has acted in the way that we know this one to have systematically acted over the last few years is offensive to me.

    4. In any case, both Kate & I consider diarrhea to be gender-neutral and this tweet didn’t even contain any swear words (although a list of swear words that I would consider directing at any Conservative or Liberal Democrat MP to their faces is available upon request).

    Thank you for your time.

    Ian

    May 3, 2012

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