About Me

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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Sporting Spirit

George Orwell's first published work is reputed to be a childhood letter written to the Henley Standard. He went onto be educated at Eton but despite his local origins I think its safe to say that unlike former Magpie and Etonian teacher Andy Jennings' pupils he never went to watch football at York Road. His opposition to organised competitive sport was later articulated in his essay entitled "The Sporting Spirit". The following passage sums up the article and contains one of his most famous phrases: 

"People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don't intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and "rattling" opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting."

Strong stuff indeed, but at a time when an individual deems it right to send Neil Lennon a parcel bomb, simply for being the manager of Celtic, does Orwell have a point? All too often something will happen during a televised game to move the commentator to say something along the lines of football being "put into perspective". Does the mere fact that we need reminding about the need for such perspective prove Orwell right, that we are all too eager to adopt "the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige?". Maybe? Or maybe not?

With his impeccable upper class origins Orwell singularly failed to understand the function of sport, which is to escape the workaday worries of the nine to five grind and vent your frustrations for ninety minutes before going back to reality. It took the son of a miner, Bill Shankly, in one of the most misunderstood footballing quotes to perfectly capture the real meaning of the sporting spirit: "Someone said to me 'To you football is a matter of life or death!' and I said 'Listen, it's more important than that'." With his tongue firmly in his cheek Shanks conveys the power of the game to blank out all that really matters in life for the duration of the match you are watching so that when the final whistle goes your emotions are spent ready for you to leave planet football for planet earth.

Yet I feel this is only true for those of us who actually attend matches and therefore create real relationships with everyone else involved. This cannot be the same for those who confine themselves to the sphere of TV, radio and the internet. Here relations become detached giving rise to the demons that Orwell warned against. Many view non league as "real" football. In my mind all football watched live at the ground is real and to some extent I wish a replacement could be found for the non league tag. Certainly the best way to keep it real is close your mind to the rubbish spouted by the media to maintain perpetually overhyped headlines and instead stick to the genuine sporting spirit, that of bearing witness to the game in the flesh and enjoying the heady emotions created by those around you.

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