Game Beautiful

In the beginning…
Futbol. Footie. The Beautiful Game. The poetry of grown men kicking a bladder around a field, even an exotic South American one, leaves me yawning, tepidly. A few weeks ago, a friend squeaked excitedly that she was going to the World Cup which no doubt cost her fiancé a great deal of money. She apparently has tickets for two matches, the protagonists in both being unknown and dependent on elimination from earlier rounds, so she has to decide on the spot what colour she’s going to wear. In the last week of school – international schools are so much fun – students emblazoned their faces with flags of their home countries and some staff were unsporting enough to send them to the washroom to clean up, on the grounds, presumably, that Germany’s chances that afternoon were less important than vulgar fractions. Some say that football is a matter of life and death. The diehards would respond with “Oh, no. It’s much more serious than that.” The historical record is, however beyond dispute. In 1314, complaints by London merchants led Edward ll to issue a proclamation banning football in London because, “…there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls from which many evils may arise which God forbid; yea, we command and forbid, on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future. Local towns banned it on the grounds that whole villages inflated a pig’s bladder and kicked it and each other up and down the main street until people dropped from exhaustion or were trampled to death by their neighbours, which I have to say, does sound remarkably unsportsmanlike. In the early 1600’s we read “With the ‘fotebale’…[there] hath beene greate disorder in our towne of Manchester we are told, and glasse windowes broken yearlye and spoyled by a companie of lewd and disordered persons.  Hate to tell you, sport, but, there still is. Shakespeare had little time for it, either.  This from King Lear : “… you base football player” (1 iv).
Must get one, must get one…
James the First’s “Book of Sports”, on the other hand, encouraged people to play after church on the Sabbath, presumably in a spirit of love, tolerance and forgiveness and also because he hated the Puritans who liked their Sabbaths gloomy.

There are worse things, of course. I read the other day that American football is like prostitution where people ruin their bodies for the entertainment of complete strangers and savage violence is interspersed by committee meetings, surely the two worst attributes of American society. Still, this time around, the USA soccer team – why must they still call it that – made it to the last sixteen, only losing to plucky little Belgium. Shame, really.
“Our Father”

Postscript: as I was writing this last night the host nation were being unmercifully thrashed in an historic 7-1 defeat by the iron men of Germany who barrelled through a flimsy Brazilian defence like a Panzerfaust. The hosts’ ramshackle performance means that careers will be ruined, bucketsful of tears shed and humble pie will be on the menu for months. Oh, well. It’s only a game, as Mr Cholmondely-Walker was fond of saying. Pass the shag, gentlemen.

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