William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

In Defense of World Cup Enjoyment: A Response to Dalrymple

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:

Marseillaise

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.

12 Comments

  1. Perhaps if they replaced the ball with the head of an aborted baby they might show some interest.

  2. Based on the randomness of victory in the World Cup, FIFA can call me back when they schedule the World Series of Football.

  3. Its a good thing that some players (& sometimes fans) behave poorly, that refs occasionally make bad calls & so on & so forth. Otherwise these competitions would degenerate to mere games ending with a certain score a winner & a loser….without the whining/whiners (recreational & otherwise) we’d be missing out on so much entertainment!!!

  4. If one of the reasons for the existence of a nation is to protect against enemies. I think the La Marseillaise was written during an invasion as a war song. Why mince words? Better to be dog-matic and mince enemies, no? It was also an inspirational tune during the French Revolution. Aristocratic sausage, indeed.

    Do the French players live in Paris? Parisians can be every bit as obnoxious as New Yorkers. ;)

    Soccer is just basketball played with the feet. Frankly, I never quite understood the passion that it seems to inspire in its spectators. From what I’ve heard, watching it is a dangerous sport.

    Since we are being frank, I’ve never quite understood the enjoyment and preoccupation with watching someone else play games. I can understand wallowing the past, though. From informal observation, the majority of the seat occupiers do seem to use the watching as a substitute (even a suppressant) for thinking.There are Thinkers and Doers and Watchers.

    Hmmmm … I can see it now: The crowds jumps to its feet and roars as Briggs bears down on the final and determining calculation!

  5. Methinks Monsieur Dalrymple is being dogmatically snobbish towards kickball. Members of the French team were simple being….. Fwench! What else could one expect from…..Fwenchmen? Maybe when he was growing up if he’d learned not to drool so much he’d have been chosen for a few teams. Or maybe not. Otherwise Dr. Daniels is spot on with much of his non-sporting meme.

  6. How many players on the French team are from France? Maybe they just didn’t recognize the song…

  7. “Try as I might to expunge the thought from my mind that this enthusiasm is a manifestation of human stupidity, I cannot.”

    It is not stupidity . It is the group thing that we inherited from our fathers (and mothers) who cheered 20 000 years ago because THEIR team lead by the fearless Mhoarg just won against the mammoths 2 : 1 .
    It’s an identification thing which is rewarding probably for reasons that reach in the very far past .
    It works for any kind of team activity – from war to basketball .
    People who deny this are “pisse froid” (French , meaning “people who piss cold”) that you wouldn’t want to be your neighbour in a trench .

    I observe it in myself without being able to explain it by a clear determinstic cause-consequence process .
    I have 3 citizenships . One happens to be French . The other is German . The third is the land of my fathers from 15th to beginning 20th century .
    Yes I agree the French team was ridiculous , below par and deserves a couple of years in Cayenne to build roads .
    Yet tomorrow I will sing “Deutschland , Deutschland über alles …” and hope that Podolski and Müller will represent ME with dignity …
    At the same time , my daughter who was born in France and thus is (automatically) French but is in process to become Argentinian will probably sing “Oíd, mortales, el grito sagrado …” in Buenos Aires and then send me a sarcastic mail telling how insignificant WE were and how glorious THEY were … yes , I ascribe a .9 probability for this statement to be true :)

    However when all is said and done , you are right William , by the end of summer all is forgotten . At least about this specific event . The behaviour is an invariant .

  8. P.S
    La Marseillaise has an history .
    The “Tyranny’s banner” was the Austria-Hungary Empire , Prussia and the Holy Roman Empire in 1792 .
    They grouped to intervene in favor of their relatives Louis XVI King of France and his wife Marie Antoinette daughter of the Austrian emperor who were more or less prisoners of the Revolution but not yet sentenced to death .
    The Revolution scrambled to gather , motivate and transport untrained volunteers to form the “Rhine Army” which had the mission to stop the “ferocious soldiers” of the Coalition at the Rhine .
    One of the volunteer bataillons formed in Marseille and marched to the Rhine sang this song to motivate themselves .
    That’s why the song was called Marseillaise and explains the obviously violent content .
    After the revolution victories against the coalised world which has been in the meantime joined by the UK too , Marseillaise was declared “national chant” .

    It has been quite popular in certain circles through the centuries and became even Soviet anthem in 1917 when the bolcheviks did their own revolution .
    But as it was too connected to France who was the bolchevik’s ennemy , it was replaced by the International a bit later .

  9. Playing at football using a spherical ball un-touched by hands of players is a spin-off subset of the game by the same name played in Australia.

    Maybe you haven’t heard this old one.

    Why are the boulevards in Paris lined by trees?

    Because German Soldiers like to march in shade.

  10. Albert Camus trumps Dalrymple:

    “All that I know surely about morality and the obligations of man, I owe to football.”

    @L Nettles
    Yet despite the apparent randomness of victory only a handful of countries (out of the 200 or so that enter) have won it. And at least the word ‘World’ has some justification in the name of the competition. :-)

  11. Briggs

    2 July 2010 at 9:22 am

    Hmmm, maybe the French anthem wasn’t so bad after all.

    http://www.theonion.com/video/restoration-of-star-spangled-banner-uncovers-horri,17691/

  12. Futbol is duller to watch than chess. It shrieks banality. The only Americans who like futbol are sports-challenged liberal twits, who hate all sports but pretend affection for futbol for PC reasons. Futbol is outdoor rhythmic gymnastics. It has no scoring, and hence no point. Contrary to accepted belief, foreigners prefer American sports, as evidenced by the unbridled enthusiasm for used mitts and bats charitably exported to third world hamlets.

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