The Flailing Flops of Football

“The Beautiful Game.”

The civilised English game, of now international and unrivalled fame, has a popularity which is as unquestioned on the playground as on the telly.

Like all popular sport, it creates a space in which short-lived moments can echo into eternity. Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in 1966 to secure England the World Cup. Diego Maradona’s Hand of God. And, “Agueroooooo!”

Football, like all sports, can be an ecstatic, outside-yourself kind of experience to watch, to behold, to feel part of.

I wasn’t watching football in 2011, when that Premier League cliffhanger was clinched by Aguero’s goal in the dying moments to the game. However, it still registered, to me, a self-declared footiephobe.

With all due context – this goal was the final play of the final seconds of the final game of the Premier League, in which Aguero’s team Man City were about to finish second behind Man Utd, were it not for his last-gasp goal – this is a beautiful and eternal moment in football and in sport.

A beautiful moment? Undoubtedly, yes.

The beautiful game?


Football has descended into an undignified and disgraceful showcase of a disregard for manners, class, self-respect, and respect for authority.

Sports inculcate values.

Perseverance, team work, responsibility; these and many more values are learned through sport. Very hard things to teach effectively to young kids, especially if you’ve only words and a classroom to teach with. Kids who do not get outside and play and playfight and play sport do not develop as well as kids who do. I’m not going to cite a paper or scholar or argue the point, here. That’s just how it is.

All sports, to varying degrees, teach personal responsibility, and all team sports teach team work and collective responsibility. They teach the value of dedication, concentration, endurance and bravery; they teach that winning and losing is a fact of life; and by winning or losing sports show us that there are things more important than winning and losing, but few things more important than commitment, camaraderie and perseverance.

Now, observe. A couple of minutes is more than enough, anymore may be hazardous to one’s health.

Where are to be found those lofty words, like responsibility and bravery, that I wrote above?

All I can see is a pathetic and preened gang of undignified and unscrupulous, disrespectful and deplorable, infantile and unsportsmanlike twerps.

Not one of those words is unfounded. They are accurate descriptors. They just so happen to have taken the form of a florid insult.

Pathetic, one and all.

My favourite twerps are those who collapse spontaneously, and quite convincingly, as if struck down from a distance by an assassin, a sniper who is never seen, never heard, certainly never felt, and rarely caught.

Who is this assassin? A spectre of unsportsmanlike conduct, haunting this sport, tainting its character, stalking its players, tainting their characters, and successfully soiling football’s status as the beautiful game. The spectre will continue to strike game after game, season after season, making already-weak men even more flaccid, until the unsportsmanlike outnumber those who do believe in a spirit of sportsmanship, of respect and (this one’s crucial) self-respect.

It is undeniably hilarious, though. The collapsing, the rolling, the clutching. The grimaces, the howls. But then, the execrable icing over the cake, is the inevitable abuse directed at the referee when a decision is made. If FIFA had any sense they would arm those unenviable sods with riot gear. I vote to arm them with whips, marinated in salt and vinegar.

Right, quite enough from me on football. But first, humour me for one more moment, as I wrap up this meditation on how some footballers have created a deviant spirit of sportsmanship, better described as a spectre of winning-at-all-costs.

Here is the takeaway – consume whilst hot.

I actually quite like watching football. Some of my family and friends watch it, love it, or are all but obsessed by it. I quite respect that, because the game can be quite beautiful, as all our all-too-flawed sports can be. I don’t forgive or ignore the flaws of sports I do watch, like rugby, boxing, MMA; but their flaws don’t obstruct an appreciation of the epic parts being played by the would-be-warriors who go onto the pitch, under the ropes, into the cage.

They do tend to cause death at a higher rate than football, for example.

But do you know what they don’t cause? Grown men to flop on the floor, and roll, and cry, and scream, and pretend to be hurt, and shout at the Devil, “Here! Take my self-respect, I’ll happily trade this priceless and eternal commodity in an attempt to deceive this referee and perhaps contribute toward some ill-gotten glory, and therefore more money.”

How can one respect a sport whose players have no respect for the sport – or themselves?

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