The Beautiful Game

“Football is not a matter of life and death,” said the legendary Bill Shankley, manager of Liverpool FC in the 1960’s, ” It is far more important than that.”

When I was a kid growing up in the industrial city of Stoke-on-Trent, my local football team was Port Vale. They were rubbish. The stadium had no roof and you had to stand while it rained into your cup of weak tea. The field was a mudbath and every year Port Vale struggled to stay in the Fourth Division. It was magic.

The greatest misunderstanding of all time is that football is a business. Compared to this the Japenese Imperial Army’s misunderstanding of American intentions just before Hiroshima pales into insignificance. Football is not business. It never was. Football is a working class sport. The reason why the Spanish Football League is facing the biggest crisis in its history is because businessmen think you can buy glory and passion. You can’t. You can only sell its imitation. Look at Hollywood.

Go to the cinema time and time again and Terminator will always be back, Harry Potter will always beat Voldemort and Julie Andrews will still be running down the Alps into the arms of Captain Von Trapp. That’s fine.

But it’s not ‘footy’.

Manchester United’s stadium is called ‘the theatre of dreams’. Athletic Bilbao play in ‘the cathedral’. When did you last speak of your local cinema in those terms? Be honest.

When you go to your local football stadium, you don’t know what will happen. Football history is littered with fallen Goliaths and daring Davids. There have been characters like Jesus Gil (everyone’s favourite gangster), Javier Clemente (as snappy as a crocodile) and Cristiano Ronaldo (a narcissistic doyen).

There is poignancy.

Dennis Law was a Manchester United legend. In the twilight of his career he played for Manchester City. In his last game he scored the goal that put Manchester United into the second division in 1969. He refused to celebrate the goal. He walked silently, head bowed back to his position.

There is nobility.

A few years ago in the English League the referee awarded a penalty against Liverpool. The Arsenal player who fell in the penalty area ran to the referee and admitted he had not been fouled! The referee insisted he take the penalty. He did. He missed deliberately.

Look at the final of the Spanish Football League this season. As I write this Real Madrid ( the galactic multimillionaires) can not afford to not win La Liga, the King’s Cup and the Champions’ League. Real Sociedad (the humble gents from the North) are heroes for trying to get out of the second division. All that Madrid money, that immense quantity of economic muscle has not (yet) been able to conquer the human values of spirit, couarge and solidarity of the poor Gipuzkoans. Real Sociedad is a football team.

I support Real Sociedad and if we come close to getting out of the second Division I will still think we have been successful. I have shared the games with fellow ‘txuri-urdins’. I have enjoyed the ride.

But for Real Madrid to come second will be a failure. Why?

Because it’s bad for business. Aranburu is a hero. Kaka is an asset. Football belongs to working class people and when the Euopean Football Leagues shatter (as they will in the next two or three years), football will go back to the true owners of the beautiful game. Men and women like you and me.

“The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share in the rewards. It’s the way I see the game, the way I see life.” – Bill Shankley

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