Jamie Carragher & The Spit Heard Round The World
The modern world, it increasingly feels, seems hellbent on destroying many of the basic civilities that used to hold society together. Such is our addiction to hurling abuse at anyone with the temerity to have a different opinion to our own these days that, whether through through semi-detached snark or picking apart every syllable of every word in the worst of all possible faiths, there doesn’t seem to be a single thing that anybody ever says that won’t ultimately be sneered at by somebody, somewhere, for some reason. What a grotesque people we’ve become, and in so many different ways.
If bad faith is the lingua franca of twenty-first century Britain, then the recent controversy concerning Jamie Carragher has felt like something approaching a perfect storm. On the weekend of a Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool – which, as some of you may recall, Manchester United won by two goals to one, a detail that has felt somewhat overlooked since Saturday evening – the Sky Sports pundit found himself in a whirlwind of his own creation.
Watching the video that has now streaked around the world so many times, one thing is striking about the shaky telephone footage. Of the three people involved in this particular set piece, it is only the fourteen year old girl emerges from it all with any credit whatsoever. It says something for the beyond puerile and facile nature of male-to-male discourse in times of disagreement that two grown men, both with children of their own, couldn’t just rein themselves in for the few minutes during which their lives intertwined.
Although it isn’t a universal trait – in parts of India and Eastern Europe, it used to be customary for mothers to lightly spit to the side of their children to imply a sense of disparagement and imperfection in order to protect them from evil spirits – our sense of revulsion towards spitting is deeply ingrained. This wasn’t particularly the case until the nineteenth century, when the extent to which diseases such as tuberculosis could be carried through saliva became clear, and the subsequent illegality of spitting has probably gone some distance towards feeding into this taboo. The “It was only spitting” argument doesn’t really hold much water, though. Spitting is offensive because it is offensive. We all know what it implies, and we all know the rule.
Such strong feelings on the subject have a tendency to lead to such pearl-clutching as this… thing from the Guardian yesterday evening, in which the writer seeks to argue that “His [Carragher’s] actions tell us more than his punditry has to date. It’s a sorry reminder that the game of Moore, Bobby Charlton and Bobby Robson has been hijacked by an arrogant elite”, demonstrating comfortably that there is literally no subject into which some writers can’t inject the phrase “arrogant elite” with a little application.
But this isn’t a new phenomenon, and if the end of the world is coming in the near future, there are far more likely ways than as a result of spitting, although one wouldn’t rule that out in the event that Donald Trump ever gets to actually meet Kim Jong Un. Indeed, much of the reaction to this particular outrage feels like theatre, with Manchester United supporters in one corner, Liverpool supporters in another, and the rest of us somewhere in the middle, wondering whether it’s healthy, desirable or even possible to view this all as anything but a mildly curious news story on an otherwise fairly quiet week.
Still, at least Jamie Carragher has apologised, and goodness has he apologised. He’s apologised in a statement, he’s been to meet the family and has apologised to them, he’s apologised to billions of people, even though he’s never spat at 99.999999999999% of us. Such, however, is the nature of the news cycle in this day and age, however, that an apology is seldom enough to satisfy matters such as these. “Did he mean it?” “He’s only said that to try to save his job.” And so on, and so forth. Our capacity for taking things in bad faith is now so sophisticated that the only way in which Carragher could likely redeem himself would be to offer to sit in stocks in the centre of Old Trafford while United mascot Fred The Red pelts him with anthropomorphic demon faeces until he sobs like a small child.
Will all of this kowtowing save his jobs with Sky Sports or the Daily Telegraph, though? Well, Sky Sports have suspended him, which casts him into broadcasting purgatory for the time being. In televisual terms, Jamie Carragher has become Schrödinger’s pundit, in God’s waiting room – required to undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to resume the joy of re-entering the Sky Sports studio and returning to the sweet, innocent days of bantering in the fields with Gary Neville and Graeme Souness. He remains with the Daily Telegraph for the time being, presumably whilst the newspaper’s management weigh up the balance between the terrible indecency of spitting and surrendering to the Political Correctness Gone Mad rabble. They have a constituency to serve, after all.
The other apparent “adult” at the centre of this story hasn’t exactly avoided censure either, though. Although Greater Manchester Police have expressed an interest in talking to him, it is not expected that he will be prosecuted, but both the legality and wisdom of using a mobile phone in this way whilst driving have been called into question over the last couple of days, and greater public awareness of road safety and mobile phone usage is probably, on balance, A Good Thing. It says something for the state of the rest of the story that this is about the only way in which it can be viewed in a positive light. Thin gruel, indeed.
Thin gruel, however, fits the narrative of so much coverage of The Football nowadays. For those of us without partisan obligations towards a Huge Red Football Club, this entire story seems a little pathetic. Grown men probably shouldn’t be winding down their windows down to goad former footballers under any circumstances, but there’s really no moral high ground for anybody to take when the response to this from another fully grown man is made using the medium of phlegm. Should we expect better from adults? Well, you’d think so, but the truth of the matter is that this entire exchange was closer to the truth of how we have conversations these days than many of us would like to acknowledge, and all the apologising in the world feels like a drop in the ocean, compared to that.