The much loved, and surely respected, Theodore Dalrymple does not like soccer. He says of soccer fans, “Try as I might to expunge the thought from my mind that this enthusiasm is a manifestation of human stupidity, I cannot.”
However, it appears Dalrymple’s dislike of soccer is nothing more than a disgust of his adopted homeland’s national team. Nine-tenths of his essay is given over to picking on the French; nowadays, an all too easy avocation. He reminds us of the French soccer team’s on-camera attitude toward the Marseillaise: “[They] refused to sing it or accord it any respect.” This is just as well. Do you even know the words of this catchy tune? Here’s the first verse and chorus:
Come, children of the Fatherland.
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us, Tyranny’s
Bloody banner is raised,
Do you hear in the countryside
Those ferocious soldiers roaring?
They come up to your arms
To slit the throats of your sons and wives!
To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let’s march, let’s march!
May an impure blood
Water our furrows!
Our National Anthem has a whiff of far off battle, of bombs bursting in air; at least there are no reports of shrapnel or casualties. But he French song is a detailed recipe for cooking up aristocratic sausage. Vive la Révolution! Let the heads of chemists be used as footballs.
But to return to soccer: It’s true that the French team behaved appallingly; their antics were embarrassing and petulant. The good doctor says, “The players appeared to be expressing their disdain for the country they supposedly represented and that had enabled them to become multi-millionaires by the age of 20.”
Well, c’est la France, you might think. A once glorious country, but now a people that are voluntarily committing cultural suicide (well, is there any other way except voluntarily?). But why pick on soccer? Why say, as Dalrymple did say, “When bread is assured, circuses fill men’s minds”?
Look, after you’ve found enough food to fill your belly and the bellies of your family, and you have secured a place to rest your head protected from men and other beasts and the elements, there isn’t much of necessity left to do.
The delights of high culture, it is true, soothes the soul and tames our savage nature. But real advances in science in art are given to us by the very few. When we start to believe that any can contribute, we have the situation in which we find ourselves today, where the “art” and architecture bestowed upon us by our award-winning bohemians is a positive menace. It would be better if these thin-rimmed-glasses-wearing, black-clad, humorless, controversy-grubbing, self-congratulatory dilettantes spent their time watching sports rather than infecting us with their “creations.”
In other words, what’s an average fellow whose bread is assured to do with all the free time afforded him? Watching a sport that occurs only once every four years, and then only over a one-month period, seems harmless enough. Rooting for your country’s team is a pleasant diversion, and if they win, it is a small joy. And by the end of the summer, it will all be forgotten.
There is a difference between “fan” and “fanatic”, of course. It’s also so that many forget that sport is entertainment and not war. Many seek a perfection in the games as if they had an enormous monetary, or even physical, stake in the outcomes. But I think we exaggerate the number of truly obsessed. We are not all Brasilians. For most of us, it is an adjunct which can be, and is, abandoned when the pressures of earning more bread intrude.
It’s my guess that most sports snobs—I mean, those who evince snobbery against those who enjoy watching sports—did not play, or hated playing, competitively while young. They were the ones picked last or not at all. Because of the lack of muscle memory, they do not have the same urge to act out the play as it occurs; they cannot feel the the Chris Matthews-like tingle up their legs when the striker nears the goal and should shoot!
And when these ex-waifs see such behavior in what otherwise would be civilized men, they, like Dalrymple, feel that sports are “decerebrating.” See what I mean? Anybody who can insult that well must have spent more time in the library with the books than on the field with the ball.