Despite the millions of the flags waved and however pints of beer are drunk, it ultimately means Nothing .Do you really think that in the grand scheme of the world, how far England gets in this World Cup or not makes any bloody difference, when we're about to have a nuclear war in the far east? I can see the headlines of the Sun right now – on the frontpage it’ll say “BECKHAM SCORES” and in small print on page 5, “Nuclear war in Pakistan, 12 million dead”.
Don’t agree? Read on, and then tell me what you think. That’s what the comments section is there for. Now that might be a controversial statement, but lets take this in the context of something Karl Marx once said ; ”Religion is the Opiate of the Masses”. If you take the concept of Opiate for the Masses as being a drug which makes people conform to a form of behaviour or lifestyle, then given that far less than 10% of the UK population attend church every weekend, there must be something else taking up their energy. Doesn’t sport, and football in particular, follow the exact description of an activity that makes people conform to a form or behaviour of lifestyle? One whereby vast amounts of money and adulation are involved, - in overpriced shirt merchandising, in overpriced tickets, in pay-per-view matches, and – just like in religions - in worshipping idols from afar? Whereas we used to have a spiritual leader such as Christ to aspire to, now we have Becks; a man so well known, he doesn’t even need a proper name. Anyone with a dream of succeeding can attain the same goals as Becks, no matter how poorly educated. How many of us grow up wanting to be famous footballers?
In 1967, New York Times columnist Russell Baker wrote ”It is sport that is the opiate of the masses” , a view which is controversial, unpopular, but indubitably, based in observation - so much so that the movie Rollerball followed a few years later, whereby the mass population are placated and distracted from questioning who is really pulling the strings (in this case, major corporations) of their lives by a simple game. It seems oddly prophetic now , because nowadays, in football, thousands and thousands of people go to stadiums to express their support to a group of physically superior people , flanked by viewscreens, loudspeakers; all the attention of the thousands of people focused on ONE person. And this is recorded, broadcast to millions around the country. It doesn’t so much matter what the event is as such, but the adulation, the worship, the idea of a morally superior person leading us into competition, into victory is an essentially fascistic ideal.
That person could be a sports personality – or it could just as much be a despot. The above description fits a world cup match as much as it does Hitler’s 1938 Hamburg Rallies – the parallels are uncanny. It’s the ugly face of nationalism again, disguised under sport, all polished under a veneer of ‘sport’ , national pride and bullshit that most football supporters would rather blindly believe than question; as can be seen from the increased and continual influence and infiltration of hooligan gangs (like in Oldham, which was reported here) by far-right nationalist extremists such as Combat 18, who prey on these feeling of community and division to stir up racial hatred and violence. Such acts are only the extreme edge of the undercurrent of nationalism and xenophobia that pits one nation against another in the name of a so-called “Beautiful game”. No wonder that popular pro-footie anthem "Three Lions" includes a line about being "ready for war"(though excised from the recorded version at the FIFA's insistence, thats the original lyric@: and how Skinner sang it on Top of the Pops).And if you want more detail on Football hooliganism and its links to right-wing fascism, you might want to look here).
However, in terms of nationalism, The World cup is no different. Millions of people around the country, and around the globe, wave their national flags and cheer as we once again prove our national superiority over others, much as they would on VE day, or when a jubilee celebrates 50 years of national oppression by some doddering old pensioner. Nowadays we don’t do it on the battlefield, we do it on the sports field. We win our wars with footballs, not fireballs ; Where artificial divisions between nations and towns are exploited, to stir up rivalry, to keep those predisposed to violence from directing these urges into anti-capitalism, but into skirmishes whereby the ruling classes and capitalist interests are not in harms way. For one example, Bangor has two seperate home stands: they have to seperate the fans from holyhead and Bangor apart becuase otherwise fans of the same team would be fighting on the terraces amongst each other. Research from Searchlight magazine, which has in the past revealed consider evidence that both the extreme left and the extreme right are supported and staffed with numbers of governments agents to ensure that they fight only amongst themselves, discrediting political alternatives to the two-party system and ensuring that they are politically neutered. With the links of the extreme political organisations such as C18 to the football 'firms', it doesn;t take a genius to realise that it’s the old adage of ‘divide and conquer’.
With the increasingly temporary nature of employment and the lack of Primary industry, with the majority of jobs in the Uk being created in tertiary service industries – the traditional working class interests of sport have often been priced out of the market. Now , we can watch them all on Sky sports, , for a mere £14.99 a month. As Terry Mornington once wrote at this site “Sport was helping in the creation of an identity as well as providing its people with a common bond and so a sense of nationhood; essential in a society that was divided by long established tribal and cultural differences.” He was writing about the popularity of football in Kenya, but its as true there as it is here : sport has been utilised and often manipulated to further social policy implementation and reinforce social control. Few countries could argue that the support given to sports programmes by national and local government agencies is not in part prompted by these goals.
The use of sports and spectacles as a distraction from real, major political issues of the day is nothing new – It dates back to Roman times. The current obsession with sports is the concept of ”Bread and Circuses”, as it is known, whereby the spectators were thrown food and entertained with spectacle, to keep their mind off the slightly more important issues of say, poor sanitation, war mongering leaders, political corruption. It’s no different nowadays, only now it comes replete with the cult of personality, the cult of celebrity, and adverts every 15 minutes advertising the latest luxury goods.
Perhaps it was best when a 1986 report quote it thus: "Do we have the right to offer sport for all when we still do not have bread for all and work for all? Do we have the right to play and dance and to take seriously the measuring of our physical strength and the exercise of our physical skills so long as economic penury and illiteracy exists?"
Of course they do. There’s no better way of placating millions from their own socio-economic problems by giving them a singular front to feel united by, to paper over the social cracks of the vast differences between rich and poor, the have and have-nots, by appealing to some abstract idea of unity, of nation. Hitler did the same in the 1930’s when he came to power, by appealing to the base instinct of national pride in the fractured post-Weimar republic.
But as long as millions remain politically unmotivated and distracted by the latest sideshow, no wonder political corruption is largely uncared for in our apathetic society. Why should most people care when we can divert our attentions from the business of social and urban deprivation, the fact that the government underwrites arms deals to countries such as India (the UK has sold £64.5 millions worth of arms in the past 12 months, as reported by John Pilger ), Pakistan (£6million in the past 12 months), Iran (£12 million in the past twelve months), and Turkey (£188 million), despite the fact that the latter still illegally invaded Cyprus in 1974 and refuses to withdraw, and the others are on the verge of war?
Problem is though, Most people don’t necessarily want to live in a better world, just a better moment. Instant gratification and instant enjoyment. Football, and sport, provides that instant gratification , and is ultimately a meaningless waste of time; and by clinging to outdated, vague notions of national pride, thrives on ugly nationalism disguised as sport. There’s nothing more ugly to me than keeping the corpse of nationalism, imperialism and fascism alive in the means of supposedly harmless entertainment. Flag waving in the name of football , the queen or a war is still nationalism, the artificial division of humanity by some arbitary geographical boundary into 'us and them'.An entertainment that promotes national divisions, feeds violence and hooliganism (see the recent way that Cardiff city owner spurred on hooliganism?, as the BBC documented). Not such a Beautiful Game after all, especially given the mass and rampant commercialism which makes what was once a simple mode of pleasure into nothing more than a cash-cow that neuters and distracts a potentially politically active form of resistance.
In the meantime, the average person watches 4 hours of TV everyday, and less than 10% of the population read books daily. When Isaac Asimov wrote “Congratulations gentleman, you’ve just created the worlds biggest waste of time” about the invention of the television set, think of that over the next two weeks while you tune frantically into every England game. With a distraction like that, why would people want to worry about the bigger things in the world, the things that really matter, things that really make a difference to their lives, when they’ve got things like Beck’s Metatarsal injury to worry about? Think about that ugly subtext of nationalism and racism, hidden unquestioningly behind the veneer of football next time you cheer an England goal. If you just want to see how much difference there is between people expressing their support for British Football, and people at a BNP rally, take a look here. its uncanny....
If you think that the idea of football as a method of social control is insane, preposterous, bordering on X-Files territory, think again : can you tell me why that idea is studied in universities as part of sociology courses.....? which can be found here.If so, is it really so far fetched to believe that governments would want to pacify the population, not by violence, but by their own willingness to be subdued ? Well, later in the year, there’s a remake of “RollerBall” coming out, which shows the world controlled by a number of large corporations using sport as a means of pacifying the population. That’s Oddly more prophetic, given that 51 out of the worlds 100 largest economic entities are….transnational companies, not countries. Mmmm.
In the meantime, I’d be bloody glad when the World Cup is over, maybe the nation will wake up from its self-induced self-obsession with David Beckham’s feet, and maybe pay attention to the world outside its own national obsession again.
Of course, if you dont agree with any of that, theres the comments box below...