Why do all grown men insist on pretending that they like football?

I don’t know about you, but if there’s any sight that can lift my spirits it’s that of George Osborne celebrating Chelsea’s Champions League win over Bayern Munich. Osborne and the megabucks Russian oligarch-owned team of multi-millionaire superstars, captained by John Terry. You’d have to be a replicant not to be moved.

Osborne wasn’t the only senior politician celebrating the Blues’ victory on Saturday; David Cameron jumped for joy when Didier Drogba scored the winning penalty, spawning one of those ethereal internet memes.

We’ve been here before; a couple of years ago, after watching England’s 4-1 defeat by Germany, Cameron was derided as too posh to like football by the slightly less posh people who write articles for Left-wing newspapers and magazines. (The “Cameron is too privileged, I know because I went to university with him” brigade.)

I can see Cameron’s problem; we live in a society where proletarian qualities are highly valued, even as the decline in common social norms has reduced social mobility, and so politicians are expected to eschew signs of class and blatant wealth, such as drinking champagne (even though these are the first things poor people who become rich embrace).

The Prime Minister is expected to show that he’s an ordinary bloke who likes football, because otherwise the public might think he’s weird or a paedophile or something. (As Theodore Dalrymple once noted, all 22 members of Tony Blair’s cabinet listed football as an interest in Who’s Who. He wasn’t sure what was more worrying – that they genuinely liked it, or were pretending to.)

The result is that we have the sight of the heir to Disraeli and Churchill jumping up and down over a sports game at a conference where the world’s leaders are trying to stop humanity sliding into a 1930s-style depression.

It wasn’t always like this. During the 1980s the Conservative government positively hated football fans, and the feeling was mutual. As a kid at the time I loved football, even while being vaguely aware it was slightly uncool in London; American Football was even briefly the most popular sport at our school, during the season following the Heysel and Bradford disasters.

In my teens interest slightly dimmed; by this stage football had long become not just fashionable, but almost mandatory. The big turning points were Italia 90, even though that tournament featured some of the most boring games in history, and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch in 1992 and, the same year, the start of the Premier League. Most of all, hooliganism declined due to a mixture of stricter policing, CCTv, higher prices, the return of families and, some say, the abundance of ecstasy being taken at games (I can’t say for sure).

Then in my mid-20s the love just died. I suppose it was working in men’s magazines where I had to not only write about football in a “banterish” way, but also listen to conversations about football in the office, on a daily basis. Eventually, my eyes glazing over, I came to wonder why on earth a group of intelligent, university-educated men who appreciated literature and politics were discussing a sports game.

Who cares? The dominance of football is infantilising, as displayed by the ubiquity of grown men dressed in football tops. Come on, chaps, I don’t walk around in my Spider-Man costume from when I was six.

In fact I used to love Marvel comics as a child, but if I was to ask someone in a conversation who their favourite Marvel superhero was they’d assume I was some sort of savant. Yet even politicians are expected to have a favourite football team, something many people have just grown out or who don’t think matters.

I wish that just one politician, just one, would break this tyranny, so that when asked who he supported, replied: “You know what? I couldn’t give a s***. I have too many things to worry about, what with a job and a family, and what little spare time I have I’d rather spend constructively, but, hey, if you idiots want to spend £40 a pop watching some guys who make more in a week what you make in four years, be my guest! Anyway, vote for me.”

This article was published at Telegraph Blogs

Comments so far

  1. Garry Abram says

    I agree football is mind numbingly boring .Watching 22 morons kick a bag of wind around , earning huge sums of money.
    Football has become a substitute for religion. Not liking is like a form of heresy.

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