Reasons to hate football and Manchester United

Eric Cantona, who can probably make a strong claim to being Manchester United’s finest ever player, once said, ‘I have never, and will never, find the difference between the pass from Pele to Carlos Alberto in the World Cup of 1970 and the poetry of the young Rimbaud.’

It’s a fine pass, if perhaps a pass for those who think of themselves as football connoisseurs. But in my eyes it can’t hold a candle to Megan Rapinoe’s stupendous cross, under huge pressure, to Abby Wambach in the very last seconds of the US match with Brazil in the 2011 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal.

Cantona has always been a strong exponent of football as The Beautiful Game. He has certainly scored some amazing goals (including this one, that captures Cantona’s unintentionally hilarious goal celebration) and, with Manchester United’s manager Alex Ferguson, was largely responsible for United’s resurgence in the 1990s.

Arguing that art involves spontaneity, Cantona drew an equivalence with football, contributing to football’s (and art’s) fantasy of itself as a transcendent, sublime activity, and its practitioners as divinely inspired. Artistic transcendence is probably a concept that only the madly romantic or the very naive could subscribe to. Cantona, I think, falls into the latter category.

Growing up in a working-class mill-town in Lancashire, England, I was a fanatical Manchester United fan from the age of six. My parents once allowed me to stay up late after they’d gone to bed so I could watch United demolish the ace Portuguese side Benfica in the European Cup Final, an epic nail-biting game that featured a star turn and a game-changing goal from my childhood hero George Best, who it was then my ambition to become.

It was a significant game in many ways, as this United team was not only the first English side to win the European Cup, but was also the side that the manager, Matt Busby, had rebuilt after his young and supremely talented United team, the ‘Busby Babes’, were destroyed in a plane crash in Munich a decade earlier.

Football was for a long time a working-class sport with working-class loyalties. Toffs in private schools played rugger and polo and rowed and did other weird stuff. Street urchins like me played football. Football seemed to really matter. The legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously said, ‘Football isn’t life or death. It’s much more important than that.’

If only football were really like that. If only it really were the transcendental but quotidian activity available to all, and watching Pele’s pass to Carlos Alberto a kind of satori. But football is not about football anymore than art is really about art. The only thing more important than life and death is, apparently, money. Football is a branch of the entertainment industry, an activity engaged in by the super-rich and watched enviously by everybody else.

English football means huge, obscene, gobsmacking amounts of money, more than any other team sport across the world. To be one of the twenty teams in the English Premier League (EPL) means you benefit massively from TV rights as well as brand promotion. And ditto if you are one of the top four finishers each year who are automatically given entry to the elite and highly lucrative Champions League competition in Europe.

Football has become notorious for its racism, misogyny and homophobia and for the often blatant cheating by its players. World football’s governing body, FIFA, has levels of mendacity and lust for cash and power that is staggering. During the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa, FIFA famously bullied Nelson Mandela into attendance while also demanding – and getting – the right to have their own judicial system and their own courts in which anyone who broke FIFA’s marketing rules was tried and sentenced. And jailed.

The English Football Association, the FA, has been under considerable pressure to take action on racism, a call they have been usually content to pay the most minimal lip service too. Last year’s inept handling by the FA of the cases of Chelsea player John Terry and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, both eventually found guilty of racially abusing other players, laid bare the truth of both EPL clubs and the FA’s complete unwillingness to acknowledge the endemic racism in football.

In the past decade there have been a couple of scathing parliamentary inquiries into the conduct of the FA and the cash cow that is the EPL, the recommendations of which the FA and EPL have completely ignored. Even the Tories have had to admit that football is ‘the worst governed sport in the country’.

In late 2012 the chair of the UK Society of Black Lawyers, Peter Herbert, called the FA ‘institutionally racist’ and pointed out that the FA hadn’t even adopted the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry on reporting racial incidents. Herbert went on to say:

The FA have a dreadful record of indifference on hate crime generally; failing to challenge anti-Semitism at Tottenham Hotspur and at other grounds; eventually finding John Terry made a racist remark but remarkably found him not to be a ‘racist’; whilst the derisory penalty of a four- or eight-match ban [for Luis Suárez] is believed to be a suitable punishment for what in any other industry would be summary dismissal for gross misconduct.

But racism is just one of the problems that the FA and the EPL refuse to face up to. Speaking out against misogynist rape-culture, homophobia and cheating remains completely off-limits. Anyone watching a football match might be excused for thinking that the scoring of a goal is actually an excuse for sanctioned displays of homoeroticism, but the story of Justin Fashanu is an object lesson for any gay footballer who thinks of coming out.

Fashanu, a talented striker who was football’s first million-pound black player, and came out in 1990, killed himself in 1998 after years of persecution, innuendo, and marginalisation. US player Robbie Rogers recently came out and immediately retired even though he is only 25 and a US international. He spoke of the difficulty of enduring years of secrecy and the locker room culture in football of homophobic slurs and banter.

Women’s football is a different story. Megan Rapinoe came out last year – by no means the first women’s football player to do so – is at the peak of her career and actively speaks out against homophobia.

In England, many football clubs started life a century or more ago as workplace clubs, owned by railway companies or whatnot in which one could buy shares. Supported by workers, with teams composed of working-class players, they were rarely owned by workers. They were leisure activities for working men. It was the model of industrial benevolence that very few saw fit to challenge. There were masters and servants, and servants and dogs.

The traditions in English football, such as they were, were exterminated along with Thatcher’s crushing of the working class. The clubs of the EPL formed their own elite league in the early 1990s, largely so they wouldn’t have to share the wealth poured over them by Murdoch’s Sky with the lower leagues. And they don’t. Working class supporters were rapidly priced out of attending games, with the deliberate and aggressive cultivation of an affluent middle-class audience. After all, wasn’t it those ghastly lower classes that were responsible for football’s hooligan reputation anyway?

Club loyalty among players and managers has largely vanished. Investment groups and plutocrats want results. They want money and glory. So they compete to buy and sell the world’s most expensive players, and change underachieving managers like socks. Players have a market value, just like houses and are bought and sold as investments.

The player with the current highest market value in the EPL is Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, who comes in at 65 million euros. Rooney might be paid thousands of pounds a week, but as far as the club is concerned he’s still a disposable object, a piece of meat that can do tricks. In that sense he’s more working-class than my family ever was.

Once neoliberalism really got its teeth into English life, the most successful football teams of the working class were hived off as potential gold mines for a few individuals, and the towns and cities that produced those teams eviscerated and left to rot. Football clubs became brands to be promoted to Thatcher and Blair’s vaunted middle classes. Manchester United is now probably the most famous sporting brand in the world. But being a United fan in the twenty-first century is like barracking for a corporation. It has as much meaning as being a fan of Apple.

Like the game of Australian Rules Football in Melbourne (not the same game as ‘soccer’) the structure of English football was once maintained by the structure of the working class, by loyalties of location and workplace. The supporting of one’s local football club constituted a social bond. But even those social bonds, as tenuous as they were, were atomised, commodified and sold off during the long destruction of British civil life that began with Thatcher, and her demonisation and brutalisation of the working class. As far as football is concerned Manchester United have been one of the ringleaders in the neoliberalisation of football.

Manchester United was floated on the London Stock Exchange as a public limited company in 1991, amid much controversy and vociferous objections from fans. This effectively meant that the club directors and owners suddenly found themselves sitting on shitloads of shares worth a mint, shares they were happy to begin to dispose of, turning a working-class club into an investors wet dream.

Manchester United is now owned by the odious Glazer family from the US, who loaded the club up with mind-boggling amounts of debt and essentially used its huge earning capacity to leverage their own borrowing potential. United is no longer a football club. It’s a tool for the wealthy to manage their stratospheric debt, disguised as a football club.

A few years ago Manchester’s other club, United’s poor cousin Manchester City, was bought by the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Mansour. After having a billion pounds invested in the club, City then went on to win the 2012 Premiership with their clutch of new hyper-expensive players. Mansour bought the club off Thaksin Shinawatra, the ex-prime minister of Thailand whose original purchase went ahead despite protests from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, protests the English football authorities chose to completely ignore.

EPL clubs have become investment and fashion items for the super-rich, who will be quite happy to live in gated communities and cruise the world in mega-yachts while the rest of the planet drowns or burns. The dream of most fans of English teams is that one of these appalling individuals will step in and buy their club. Ethics, politics and criminality matter not a jot as long as you’ve got the cash.

The German football league, the Bundesliga, is an interesting contrast to the EPL. Bundesliga clubs are still owned by their members, not by rapacious plutocrats. There are strict rules governing a club’s financial viability, attendances are greater than in the EPL and tickets are cheaper. Bundesliga clubs are fierce competitors in the Champions League, and the German national team is always a serious contender for the World Cup. There’s been a recent push for Bundesliga clubs to be allowed the kind of corporate ownership that has seen EPL clubs strip-mined by super-rich scumbags but the Bundesliga has strenuously resisted.

The invasion of football by the sociopathic practices of capitalism hasn’t been limited to the working class of the UK. Where the Germans have resisted the Spanish have caved in and enthusiastically rented their souls out to banks. Currently the world’s most successful club is FC Barcelona, whose players also comprise the bulk of the current World and European Champions, Spain. Barcelona, like Bundesliga clubs, is also owned by its members, but that hasn’t stopped it entering into an unholy alliance with Spanish banks.

FC Barcelona is regarded as having a model footballing organisation, and even pioneered and developed in their youth academy a unique style of play, tika-taka, a game of rapid intricate short passes and movements, that has won Barcelona truckloads of trophies and made them the 2009 and 2011 Champions League winners.

Barcelona is also a team strongly associated with Catalan identity. When the legendary Dutch player Johan Cruyff, who was once famously nutmegged by George Best, joined Barcelona in the 1970s he made himself instantly popular by making it very clear that he had chosen Barcelona over its rival Real Madrid, because of Madrid’s historical association with Franco.

But these days Barcelona is a city where the old Communist Party HQ has become the Apple shop, a potent image for the twenty-first century. The memory of the Civil War and the anarchist revolt of 1936 and the anti-fascist People’s Olympiad is now apparently marked only by a walking tour conducted by an Englishman. Catalan nationalism looks like it has become the lodestone of Catalan radicalism.

Spain’s corrupt and bloated banks have granted Barcelona extraordinary leeway in managing their stratospheric debts. If Team Barcelona were a suburban family they’d be living in a McMansion with Ferraris in the garage, the kids in private schools and with everything from the dog’s vet bills to the kids iPods financed by a bank that refuses to bother them about such a distasteful subject as the unpaid mortgage as long as the star kids keep bringing home the school trophies and Dad plays golf each week with the bank’s manager. Nobody wants to be seen to be damaging brand Barcelona, the most lucrative sporting brand in the world after Manchester United. Barcelona and their arch rivals Real Madrid gobble up more than half of the Spanish TV revenues between them and the Spanish football championship is essentially a two horse race.

If Spain’s banks go belly up so does FC Barcelona. The banks and Barcelona’s financial managers are on the same page. Youth unemployment is nearly 50 per cent, the Indignados are out on the streets of Catalonia, and FC Barcelona, wallowing in bankers largesse, last year paid their star player Lionel Messi thirteen million euros.

Now of course, as the financial structures collapse across Europe, so do major English football clubs groan under their weight of debt, with rapacious organisational structures designed to make as much money as possible so they can win as much as possible in order to make as much money as possible.

When we watch sport we are watching millionaires at play. It’s hard to generate any enthusiasm for that. To pay someone 200,000 quid a week because they are very good at kicking a ball seems criminal to me whether they come from Man U or from Barcelona. Similarly, when I consider going to see a Hollywood blockbuster I think, ‘Christian Bale is getting paid millions to dress up like a giant bat. Why should I even care?’

When I was six I cared a whole lot about Manchester United and what they did. And at age six, I think it was okay to do so. These days, as English football teams become the playthings of plutocrats and thugs, I think I’m entirely justified in not giving a fuck whether United win, lose or are devoured by ravening carnivorous space lizards in the middle of a Champions League Final. At least then I’d have something to cheer.


Stephen Wright

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. In 2017, he won the Viva La Novella Prize. His winning novel, A Second Life, was published by Seizure, and also won the Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Fiction.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Hey Stephen,

    Brilliant article.

    I’m from the UK, and like you – a United fan since I was a child. I lived a mile away from OT back home.

    I think I might actually be the only person in the UK who vehemently disagrees with the general consensus about footballers being greedy thugs earning too much money blablabla.

    Yes they do earn too much money but that is not their fault. They are the mere symptoms (not the cause) of the wider issues that you discuss in the article. People seem to conveniently forget that footballers are – as you so perfectly put it- ‘disposable pieces of meat’.

    Wayne Rooney grew up in one of the most socially deprived areas of the UK – Croxteth, Merseyside. I worked there for a year and trust me, it’s one of the most depressing places you’ll ever go. No opportunities, no jobs, no amenities, no hope. These are the people stuck in Cameron’s ‘generations of dependency’.

    These lads dream of being footballers and aspiring for a better life; being famous; having money- this is the only way out.

    So, as in Rooney’s case, if they achieve it -they have millions of pounds thrown at them at a very young age. How on earth are they supposed to know what to do with it? How do you reconcile a suddenly having all this money; journalists following your every move and then twisting your words as they see fit the next morning in the paper to a global audience etcetc with growing up on a council estate having nothing.

    Yes, Terry’s racist, and Rooney would be in jail if he wasn’t a footballer but I think it’s important to remember where a lot of these lads came from. And – there IS something intrinsically valuable about their skill: ie there is more to the game of football than just ‘kicking a ball around the place’. Throughout his childhood Beckham’s Dad used to have him at the park, military style all weekend from light to dark – practising those free kicks. It’s about passion, practice, dedication, determination.

    The passion you see at a football match from players like Rooney, Terry etc is actually a joy to experience. These guys LOVE what they do, and it means something deep down.

    This is why I will never hate football, nor Manchester United!

    Thanks for such a great read.

    1. I grew up in a working class town, and I love what I do as well, Niamh, but no-one pays me 200,000 quid a week to do it. Terry’s racism is a problem for him and for his club. However, the FA, the clubs, and the managers routinely ignore any racist actions. Witness Kenny Dalglish’s appalling support for Luis Suarez last year. Terry should have been booted out of the game.
      And I didn’t even get started on football’s rape culture.

      1. And I meant to add that the reason that football can seem like the ‘only way out’ for kids like Rooney is because Thatcherism destroyed the working class towns of the north in way that is hard to comprehend. And last time I counted there were only 11 players in a United side, so the chances of getting into it for a Manchester kid would be infinitesimally small. Not much of a ‘way out.’

        1. Stephen I don’t disagree with you- I’m merely pointing out that the majority of people shine the light of blame on ‘greedy footballers’ when they aren’t the ones pulling the strings.

          All these ‘I wish I was on $200K a week for kicking a ball around’ arguments are based on the very misguided premises that money in utter excess should a) be what everyone should aspire to, and aim for in life and b) make you happy. Neither true!

          We don’t suffer the 24/7 media obsessesion and intrusion into every aspect of our lives that comes with being a footballer. We don’t get the estrangement from where we’ve come from because we’ve ‘made it’ and our lives are now a million miles apart from where we came from.

          I’m sure if any of us ‘normal’ people were granted the life of a footballer for a day we’d probably want our everyday lives back immediately.

          As you say – the chances of kids ‘making it’ ARE near impossible – and it’s for this exact reason why the whole thing is pretty sad.

          Agreed with everything you say re racism etc.

  2. Stephen, I really liked some of the facts and anecdotes in this piece that really illustrate what football under capitalism means and I think Man U is a great example. I have a loathing for them because it’s the team everyone goes for and it’s worshipped like a brand, and gobbles up the competition, but I still love football. I love the game, not necessarily how its run and in whose interests. And still think we ought to support players when they fight for a larger share of the pie.

    The Bundesliga is a good example of the direction it could go in and the recent controversy over the appointment of Di Canio as the manager of Sunderland show how fans don’t often just blindly support their club, but can react in progressive ways.

    Also, I don’t know if you saw but I wrote an article about the Australian league and the new Western Sydney club, the Wanderers and how they are very different as they have a really identity with Western Sydney, a predominantly working-class and migrant area. I later found out the members had a say about the new team, the colours, the name, where they played and although that feeling of control might be in part an allusion as it’s owned by the FFA, I think it is still inspiring and moving the way the West has come together under this club and team.

    And the game is still an art to watch, we just need to take control of it again like many great things created by human kind but are tainted and corporatised.

    1. Getting control back from plutocrats is one thing. But it’s not nearly enough. When I see some action taken against racism, homophobia and rape-culture I’ll get interested again.

  3. Great article summing up sentiments that I hear constantly when discussing the game with fellow fans – particularly those who’ve been around for a while (I’ve only been following the Premier League since about ’92).

    In a way, in the good old days things weren’t that different.

    Star footballers still stood to make orders of magnitude more money than their peers, and before the oil autocrats, Russian mobsters and Wal-Mart billionaires there were other cashed-up owners.

    It’s a little disappointing that you managed to get all the way through it with barely a mention of the actual football.

      1. Is one paragraph enough for Pele and Rapinoe?

        I just felt your article moves on from musing about Cantona’s stretch about Rimbaud and Pele to a lengthy and searching enquiry into the sordid money-making and human trafficking of modern football – without returning to acknowledge that it’s the sport and what happens on the pitch that drives it.

        Rugby league not football, but what do you think of This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson’s 1963 film)? Gerald Weaver is an early fictional model of an Abramovich …

        1. What happens on the pitch is driven by neoliberal politics. EPL clubs routine sacking of managers as soon as they fail to deliver a trophy, means that clubs no longer get to build styles of play or cultures of football thinking. And there are only a very limited number of managers to go round – most of them useless, so they are recycled from club to club, each seeking the cash to import players from outside the UK. The EPL no longer gives much money to the lower leagues, as a result of which they are starved of funds and consequently football itself suffers on and off the filed.
          I haven’t seen Anderson’s film, but might track it down, so thanks for the tip.

  4. Stephen,
    At the risk of being a pedant and a dupe, I think you need to make clear that you are writing about professional football. There is a big difference between the football you describe, and the one that I think about when I coach a bunch of kids, or play 3 and in with my son.

    Yes, there is much to dislike about the professional game, its governance, salary levels, players’ attitudes… but head out to a park any afternoon, or down to your local club on a Saturday morning and watch kids play. Sure, many of them turn up sporting replica shirts with the latest star’s name emblazoned on the back, but when they run out to play, you will see what the game really means to them. It might even stir something in you, to remember what it was that resonated with you beyond the veneer of the professional game.

    Or come and watch my old codgers league, where a bunch of unfit hasbeens and neverweres play for nothing more than a simple, shared, love of the game.

    And then please write about that.

    1. I think it was reasonably clear I’m writing about professional football not about a particular rule-based game. I still enjoy kicking a ball around, and it even has the Man U logo, but I don’t confuse the two experiences. We’d like to believe that the football we see in the various leagues and championships is The Beautiful Game. But it’s not. It’s become a vehicle for racism and misogyny and neoliberal politics. (And the amount of cheating that takes place wouldn’t be tolerated for a minute in a backyard game.)

      1. Why do you title your piece ‘reasons to hate football’ and not ‘reasons to hate professional football’ to make it abundantly clear? Perhaps this wasn’t your choice, but it is clearly designed to be inflammatory and to attract attention.

        I do think that consciously or not you are confusing the two experiences by failing to make a distinction. Why don’t you write something about what the other experience means to you?

        1. Well of course it’s a title designed to attract attention. It’s a blog. On the Internet. I’m not sure I’d agree it’s inflammatory though. An inflammatory title would be something like ‘Why Luis Suarez is clearly mentally ill.’
          Perhaps I will write something about football as a generic idea and as a backyard experience. I’m not sure Overland is the place for it though. Musing on my back yard juggling with a ball is probably of limited interest to people.

          1. You’re asking a lot of me to give up 15 minutes of my time to watch something on football. I still think you’re musreading me and cvan’t separate out your love of an abstract game from the neoliberal corporate lovefest it has become. Of course local clubs can do interesting grassroots things or not. But grassroots events and renewals are political events. They still have to be able to address racism, homophobia, misogyny and so on. They don’t exist in a football-lovin’ vacuum. Just as I wouldn’t support a local club that ignored those things, why should I support clubs and institutions that do? Local football is not apolitical.
            When I see a goal scored by Luis Suarez greeted with silence, then I’ll allow that football is making progress.

  5. Has any ball game at club, league, association level ever been about running around the ground rather that what happens in the boardroom? Not in my experience. Were racism, homophobia and rape-culture any less pronounced in the good old working class soccer days? Probably not. Not too much has changed then since the days of medieval jousts and tournaments where knights ran amok.

    1. and another point, vis-avis cantona’s transference from pele to the young rimbaud, this post is more like the later rimbaud:

      I can no more, bathed in your langours, O waves,
      Sail in the wake of the carriers of cottons,
      Nor undergo the pride of the flags and pennants,
      Nor pull past the horrible eyes of the hulks.

  6. Stephen,

    While I don’t necessary agree with all you say, it is nonetheless refreshing to see a nuanced and well thought out argument on modern day sport, a million miles away from the uninformed, protectionist hatchet-jobs on soccer/football that regularly appear in this country’s media. I enjoy watching the A-League at its present stage of development as everything happens a bit more slowly, it is not (yet) dominated by 2 or 3 money-bloated giants, and (for now) supporter bases have to be nurtured, as opposed to bled dry (as we see in England). I would only add that the outrage most Westerners expressed at the drone of the vuvuzelas at 2010 World Cup – threatening as it did to drown out all of the marketing noise – added to the racist overtones of the event …

    1. That’s true isn’t it, about the vuvuzelas? The unsurprising thing about the SA World Cup was how racism kept appearing, not least in the bullying of Mandela.

  7. And if Pele is Rimbaud then Megan Rapinoe is probably Ezra Pound. But without the fascism and madness of course.

    1. Possibly:

      I don’t quite see the brilliance of the Rapinoe cross; maybe you like it due to the stage of the game, the pressure, and the instinctive collaborativeness, whereas the Cantona goal was as an individual effort; Cantona was under the pressure of an individual perceived to have failing powers, but surely there has never been a more indefensible goal, summed up and struck with such sureness of precision.

      Anyway, here’s a Rapinoe / Pound transference:

      Gods of the winged shoe!
      With them the silver hounds
      Sniffing the trace of air!

      ah, see the tentative
      Movements, and the slow feet,
      The trouble in the pace and the uncertain

      Haie! Haie!

      1. I wasn’t comparing Rapinoe’s pass to Cantona’s goal, but her pass to Pele’s pass that Cantona praised. Rapinoe’s pass and Cantona’s goal are very different events. To compare the two is probably to make a category error,
        But as to the wonderfulness of Rapinoe, allow me to elaborate: Even though the US defender Carli Lloyd has done brilliantly to shake off a Brazilian challenge, the pass to Rapinoe is a little too soft, most likely because the US are down a woman, the match has been going for two hours and Lloyd is probably exhausted. Rapinoe loses a few very valuable seconds waiting for the ball, and now has no time to move closer to the Brazilian goal area. It also gives two Brazilian players the chance to catch up with her and close her down. A few seconds ago Rapinoe had tons of space and a break looked on. Now she has none. Rapinoe looks up and sees Wambach moving toward the far side of the Brazilian six-yard box. When Rapinoe strikes the ball I’d guess that she and Wambach are about 38 metres apart.
        There are a ton of Brazilians defending around Wambach and the only spot where she can probably receive the ball is about the size of the ball itself and a metre above her head. That invisible spot will also be just an inch or two beyond the outstretched fingertips of the Brazilian keeper but between Wambach and the nearest Brazilian defender. As well as that, the only route into that space is from a high trajectory, which means the ball will be travelling a lot further than 38 metres. It also has to travel fast, as a slow ball, even an accurate one, will be no use as it will give the Brazilian defence plenty of time to work out where it’s going. But a fast high ball that a player really has to thump is very, very difficult to place accurately never mind within a couple of inches. On top of that the pressure is immense. The whistle for full-time will go any second, the USA are 2-1 down and if they lose it will be their earliest exit ever from a World Cup. On top of THAT Rapinoe is dominantly right-footed but has to make the cross with her left foot despite knowing full well, as she later said, that even in training she would struggle to send a ball at speed nearly 40 metres with any accuracy with her left foot.
        Three seconds elapse from the moment Rapinoe receives the ball to the moment she sends it on its way to Wambach who absolutely hammers it.
        Pele forty-one years earlier was under no pressure at all. His team were already winning 3-1, couldn’t possibly lose and were about to take home the World Cup. He also happened to be the best player in the world, playing on the best team. He has received the ball at the end of a fluid and nonchalant passing movement that has again demoralised the Italians. The two Italian defenders facing him are both paralysed and seem to be thinking, ‘Holy fuck! Pele! What are we going to do?’ So Pele has plenty of time to just stand there and hang onto the ball and wait for Carlos Alberto who he has seen charging up the right wing.

        1. Oh, and thanks for the poetic elaboration. In future all comments will be required to be constructed in lyric poetry. One week we’ll do it in the style of Donne, the next in that of Stevens and so on,

          1. Okay, I have a fuller picture and context now, and so a much higher regard the Rapinoe cross. Thanks.

            I was aware of the category mistake – Pele’s pass was a doddle: agreed – however a goal was the end result of all three – which seems to be the point of most games, unfortunately – and to me the Cantona goal remains the most bizarre and unfussed piece of play I have ever seen, all accomplished with a air of eerie nonchalance.

            All reasons to love football I guess.

      2. The Rapinoe cross is perfect. If you can’t see that, I feel pity for you. Well, actually contempt, but let’s call it pity. (-:

        I love the Americans for the way they cherish women’s football.

        I love the way these people think with their bodies, too. (Footballers, not specifically Americans.) They don’t need a few thousand words to explain something…Though there’s nothing wrong with that. We can’t all be angels.

        1. Ouch! I’m an emoticon as well as a soccer dunce, but a left-handed smile? It’s not as though I never learnt to admire the Rapinoe cross. My lament was more about ends justifying means in ball games: racism, misogyny and homophobia included; or in this case, goals underlining and highlighting great pieces of play which would be forgotten or never noticed and reflected upon otherwise, the Rapinoe cross included.

  8. Wow, what a wide-ranging, interesting and enjoyable read. I don’t know where to start. Firstly, it’s heartening to read a blog about football as in real football, as in the World Game in an otherwise literary and political journal (and of course, football is just as political as any other social domain).
    Secondly, the elite structures/institutions (individual clubs, representative organisation like the FA, among others) are exemplars of neo-liberal capitalism. I suspect that most fans/supporters live ambivalently with their support and love of the game, aware of the acute differences between the EPL, local Australian clubs and so on I could say more here, but this will do).
    Thirdly, it is refreshing to read about Sunderland. One of the reasons I chose to support them back in the late-1990s was that they are not Man U, Chelsea or one of the other big British Clubs. Another was the clubs history and connections with working class origins which now, of course, are historically more tenuous. The recent employment of di Canio? I feel ambivalent about his appointment. I’m aware of some politically progressive local reactions to his appointment and probable connections to fascistic elements in Italy (was it with the Lazio Club? My memory falters on this particular point). I still feel ambivalent about this, but still love the club.
    Fourthly (and this is for Stephen), I play with the Nimbin Headers Soccer Club and have done for 13 years as an openly gay man. Yes, Stephen, this is your local club. Do you come and watch our games? This Saturday we’re playing Casino. If you do come down, I’m No. 3. Introduce yourself. In the early years, I experienced homophobia from the younger players. Individually, this was very hurtful and difficult for me. I chose to suffer in silence. The older players/supporters were and are always great. Friendly, supportive and accepting. My being there as an openly gay man was political enough without complaining about any discrimination. These younger players got a few years older and eventually moved away from the area and/or went to other clubs. I’m still there at age 56 running around on the park. Recently, we had an issue around age of which I was a part of. This was dealt with within the club satisfactorily. That’s enough for now. Thank you everybody for your contributions.

    1. Di Canio’s appointment has been interesting to watch. It’s not just that he is an admitted fascist (though I suspect that he’s not terrifically well-informed as to what that historically means) but that the club didn’t think his fascist identification would be a problem, and still doesn’t. ELP managers have a habit of turning their gaze away from racist or neo-nazi behaviours, pretending they didn’t hear or see it, or preferring to ‘focus on the game’ so it’s unsurprising that a fascist manager is perceived to be a problem.
      Re your Nimbin experiences: that’s distressing to hear, especially as Nimbin has a strong LGBT presence in the community. The homophobia isn’t a surprise, particularly as it seems to be usually expressed by young men, a small proportion of the village’s population but as you are no doubt aware source of many problematic behaviours.
      Good luck against Casino. I don’t get time to watch any Headers games, but do actually follow the various teams progress in the local paper.

  9. Stephen mentioned lots of reasons to despise modern football. Then there is one vital thing we should never forget: the end of terrace football culture. Closing terraces (not only in UK but mostly in Europe too and trend is increasing globally) the atmosphere has become more boring, more middle class. Perhaps this was the real purpose: to root out all rebellion attitude on in stands. Closing terraces was important move to castrate football fan culture. Corporates don’t care about singing and chanting, they care about consumers.

    These are one of the reasons why i have stopped watching EPL, most European clubs playing and especially UEFA CL. Nowadays i followed more likely Argentinian football where grass roots football culture is still living (though with serious problems with transfers draining clubs).

    1. Mmm, I wonder how the average female football fan feels about terraces disappearing. Personally, I think that my chances of ever standing in the terraces were fairly remote.

      There’s a difference between ‘boring…middle class’ and not wanting to stand amongst men urinating. Call me fussy.

      I love the way that this zombie thread has popped up again as we move closer to the World Cup*


      1. That’s a very good point. I’m not arguing that terraces should have been maintained. There are a lot of ways in which football could be made more friendly for women, and pre-premier league football attendance was very much a male activity. But the shift in football promotion and attendance in the past 2 decades has been very much about pricing out large sections of the population.

        1. AFL attracts large numbers of women, and the prices aren’t too bad.

          Mind you, that is for Greater Western Sydney when they are in Canberra, so ‘large’ is a bit of an exaggeration.

          They are the team in orange that invented partial football…

  10. The disappearance of the terraces coincided with attacks on the working class generally, who have been priced out of the game they used to be the main supporters of. The recent demise of David Moyes as manager at Man United has thrown up some interesting points of view. United had a conceit that they were different from other clubs, despite the rapacity of the Glazers, mostly because they had a UK manager with working-class roots and their success of the past 2 decades was partly on the backs of the Class of 92., ie: working class kids that came thru the club’s youth teams. But the crowing about United’s failed season from supporters of other teams has often been on the lines ‘you’re not special, you’re just like us.’ Which is true, but a strange thing to rejoice about.

  11. I was born near Newcastle, my dad and grandfather had no interest in the game, I had no interest in playing it and couldn’t. so never bothered. Moved out of the area at a young age and now, except for England in the World Cup, don’t give a damn. There are millions of men who don’t like the game, but feel forced to like it to fit in because of where they live.

    1. I suspect there’s a strong element of dominant styles of masculinity that have historically affected this too. Men are supposed to like sport and be knowledgeable about it, and not being interested in sport is seen as effeminate. It’s still the case in Australia that male politicians routinely identify themselves as rabid supporters of a specific team as a way of badging their ordinary blokey-ness. I can’t think of one who has ever said they have no interest in sport, or criticised its collusion with violence-supporting masculinities (domestic violence spikes when major football events are televised).

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