IT’S MONDAY so there will be issues. Football always has issues on a Monday. And to make the issue look worse, someone will say it. Someone will write it. They will use that phrase.
How about we stop? The opportunity is upon us. Let’s seize the chance and end the lunacy. Football isn’t “the beautiful game” so let’s stop pretending otherwise. Banish that godforsaken phrase to the bin. Delete it from the dictionaries, wipe it from the web. No longer should it linger on the lips of the commentator or creep into copy of the match-day reporter. It belongs in Room 101. And not the Frank Skinner version; the George Orwell original — the evil torture chamber where the Party subjects the prisoner to their own worse nightmare. This is my nightmare. A recurring one every weekend of the football season. And every Monday. It slaps you in the face when you open a newspaper, springs from the web when you read online, assaults your ears when you listen to a match and sparks a primal scream when you watch a game on the box.
The beautiful game, the beautiful game, the beautiful game…. WHAT’S SO BEAUTIFUL ABOUT IT?
It’s a good game, a brilliant one even. It’s drug like in its allure and it’s hard to kick the habit. It’s an integral part of life for many fans, all-consuming for others. But beautiful? Do me a favour. It was never was, isn’t now and never will be. So let’s take that three-word combination to a memory hole, pop it in safe in the knowledge it is heading for a furnace, and move on with the phrase expunged. We’ll all be better for it. It has as much meaning, purpose and truth in it as ‘We’re All In This Together’.
So why the hate for this particular piece of over-romantic tosh? Well start with the phrase itself. Overused, unoriginal, meaningless and clichéd. Everyone perpetuating its use needs to up their game. A Google search for ‘The Beautiful Game’ elicits 422 million results. Write something else. A rummage in Google News shows the phrase has largely been used in recent times to throw bricks at the sport we love — ‘Racist Chelsea fans in Paris: The Beautiful Game?’; ‘The Beautiful Game has an ugly problem (misogynistic abuse)’; it’s also used to discuss diving, spitting, pitch invasions and it’s used by regional papers, national papers, Sky Sports, Eurosport and Football 365 among others.
How many football fans truly think the game in all its forms is beautiful? Some of it is. Some of it most definitely isn’t.
The Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘beautiful’ is: “Pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically.” Mistreated migrant workers dying at an alarming rate while building the infrastructure for Qatar 2022? Richard Scudamore claiming it’s not clubs’ responsibility to pay staff the living wage? It doesn’t please my mind.
Even the origins of the phrase are questionable.
It’s commonly accepted Pele first coined it and whether he did or he didn’t he called his autobiography that anyway. So that’s a done deal then because ‘Brand Pele’ is the self-proclaimed best player ever, right?
“In music there is Beethoven and the rest. In football there is Pele and the rest.” He said that himself. No really.
Never mind all those players that are arguably better – Ronaldo, Messi, Maradona, Zidane…take your pick. Yes, he scored 1,283 goals in his career. Beautiful. But the ugly fact to run alongside is that 77 were for Brazil and only 12 were in the World Cup. Of course he was brilliant, it would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise. But let’s have the context. Many of those goals were in friendlies and exhibition matches. He was the first player to grab box office status with both hands and he still makes the most of it to this day. Best player ever? Why? Many Brazilians don’t regard him as the best player to ever play for Brazil.
“I believe that Pele knows nothing about football,” said Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2002. That being the case, maybe a man living in Pele world is not the best person to be determining whether the sport is beautiful or not. There’s certainly little beautiful about the aggressive endorsements that clang from his person at every opportunity.
Another theory for the crowbarring of this phrase into the national lexicon was offered by none other than sex offender Stuart Hall. “The player I fell in love with and who inspired me to coin the phrase ‘the beautiful game’ was Peter Doherty, an inside forward, my first hero,” the paedophile ex-BBC presenter told The Guardian in 2003.
His is a body of work now best avoided, I’d suggest.
All that said football obviously provides moments that meet said criteria; that are beautiful: the smile on the face of a kid at his first game; the knockabout in No Man’s Land during the Christmas Truce; the 18-pass move; the sweetly struck volley. Most people reading this will love the game. I love it, too. But I don’t need beauty at every turn. Step out of the supporter bubble for a moment and think about it. Those moments are few and far between in the grand scheme of things, mere shooting stars in a chilly night sky.
And to witness those magic moments think what you have to endure for the privilege: rip-off tickets, crap food, traffic jams, engineering works, air fares that rocket seconds after the draw, minging hotels, flat beer, stupid kick-off times, a lack of loyalty, player stockpiling, ineffective FFP rules, crap atmospheres, fans booing their own players, an excruciating incident driven 24-7 media circus, bullshit club PR, ‘banter’ from opposition fans and cringe worthy websites, shit weather, cheating, racism, sexism, capitalism, cronyism, boardroom bellends, The FA, FIFA, UEFA, Jim White, Robbie Savage, Roy Hodgson, dying amateur leagues, disbanding junior teams and bankrupt clubs.
And that’s just off the top of my head.
This isn’t intended to be a modern football rant. There was plenty ugly about the game before its supposed rebirth with the advent of the Premier League. Dilapidated and unsafe stadiums, fences, over-zealous policing and stewarding, hooliganism, even more racism, even more sexism.
A lot of that has changed for the better. But then like now much of what is truly beautiful about football has little do with the game itself. It’s more to do with what football facilitates. The friendships and camaraderie, the family moments of joy, the laughs, the songs, the sense of belonging and feeling of purpose. The primeval territorial urge that drives us to make sacrifices to watch 11 millionaires kicking a ball in the name of your city. That’s special. That’s beautiful.
But the good and bad of football run hand and hand — they’re not mutually exclusive so why pretend otherwise? Why judge it against criteria that has never been achieved? To again borrow from George Orwell, football requires Doublethink. It’s not The Beautiful Game. It’s The Beautiful Game AND The Ugly Game. The national sport and a corporate rip off. Top quality entertainment and unashamed exploitation.
The game has issues which need to be addressed with urgency: ticket prices, grassroots football, governance rules, the age of people attending games and the quality of coaching among them. Issues deemed ‘ugly’ and too easily ignored by those peddling brand Beautiful Game. Look at this big shiny TV deal over here. That? Oh that? Forget that.
The perfect world — ‘The Beautiful Game’ painted by the Premier League is something ‘the Party’ in Orwell’s 1984 would have been proud of. That Barclays advert with the old fella going the match is classic propaganda too. How many pensioners can afford to watch top division football at circa 50 quid a week?
So can we just stop calling it that. It is what it is. We love it. But it isn’t beautiful.
And all the PR, all the fluff, all the bullshit ? Well this, Mr Scudamore, Mr Blatter, Mr Dyke, Mr Platini and the rest. This is for you.
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’.” – George Orwell, 1984
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda
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Was that written after the Blackburn game?
I thought the game was shit as well.
It’s a way of deflecting us from the grim, exploitative present to an imagined past in which all problems are erased. When I was younger I used to go the local with my dad, Sunday lunchtime without fail. It was one of those old-fashioned occasions, grandather, father and son would get a bit dressed-up and meet friend with their dads and grandads. I only mention this as I got to know an old fella who played for Bolton in the 1930s. He’d have laughed in your face if you mentioned ‘the beautiful game’. It was full of bruisers who’d break your leg as soon as look at you, who commenced each game with a threat to do so should you deign to go past them. Little black books and all. Not a good time to be an attacking player.
Football is just a reflection of society really. I don’t think there’s any other area of life where we see all the social ills so clearly displayed. Greed, exploitation, vile people with vile views, division and worst of all hypocrisy.
I think the arm chair viewer is more important to the people at the top than the match goer now. I don’t see prices falling or any of the things we all want to see changed changing. The football fans who want to see change are no longer needed and if anything are just a burden on the footballing authorities.
I didn’t agree with the Villa fans going on the pitch before the final whistle but I’m not that bothered about a pitch invasion. As a young lad I was involved in loads but all good natured. The last one I was in was 2 years ago. I took my kids football team to watch Chester get promoted. They were unsure whether to run on so to set an example I lead the way. It felt pretty pathetic actually, a man of my age running on when the whistle went. I stopped running once the kids had overtaken me and walked over to the celebration. The kids loved it though. The club, the players and the police were all fine with it too. It was just a happy moment, no need for any disgust from anyone. Certainly no goading the opposition fans or any pantomime, just people celebrating a good moment for their club.
Unfortunately Robin it’s called the market place. But something tells me that the next two world cups will shake up the wold system quite a bit. I think it may become the final straw for a lot of regular fans. Take away my winter, and Christmas football and I’ll find something else to do and may never go back.
Haha, even though I don’t know you mate my first thought when reading your conclusion was ‘as if’. They’ve got us by the balls mate. It’s too addictive. I don’t actually like football that much. I don’t class myself as a football fan. When it comes to Liverpool though I can’t get enough. Even my local club, I’m not that bothered. If they win I think ‘get in’ and I take my lad now and again but I don’t feel it. It bores me a bit. Liverpool consumes me. If I was gonna attempt to be pragmatic I’d say I agree about the market driving the way football’s becoming. I’m not against the club exploiting the brand if that’s what they have to do for success. Where I see the battle is how the club see’s the fans. As in, do they see us like Tesco see their customers, a commodity or do they see us as part of the fabric of the club bearing in mind that the reality is there’s always someone else to fill the void and someone who’ll pay the asking price. I’ll give you an example, my mate pays for his season ticket every year by missing a few games. Last year he got £1000 for his Newcastle home and this year he’s been offered a grand for Palace as it’s Gerrards last home game. What’s worse is, he’s sold them to a tout so what’s he getting? I think any concessions the club makes to fans over the next few years will be appeasement and nothing else, maybe a few 30p off vouchers from a loyalty card scheme, through the post.
I actually think in the end it’ll be the market that drives the change. I can’t help thinking this ‘the beautiful game’ thing has become a marketing tool almost. Murdoch probably loves it but the other side is, football on tv will get so good that you’ll almost feel like you’re there. On a cold winter night a lot of people will choose the tv. I know what people are like. Money talks and the ability to screen all the matches live will happen at some point. It’ll be in the interests of both the club and the broadcaster. If nothing else, the amount of internet streams will leave the clubs with little alternative. Like I say, the armchair market based on a ppv is worth enough for the clubs to take the gamble. Teams will have 60k stadiums that they can’t fill. That’s when they’ll start listening for real. I’m a great believer in things going in circles or cycles. Soon we’ll be winning the league again every year and we’ll all be there, standing behind the goal singing, still with enough change in our pockets for the bus fare home.
It’s the ineffable game. Can’t explain why.
The game was poor yesterday, and it gave me plenty of time to contemplate on why I go, but then I saw a meteorite on the way home which I wouldn’t have seen if I’d stayed in and watched MOTD. And that was pretty spectacular.
I wonder if its an age thing?
I find myself reflecting a lot on why I still go, what is it that still pulls me in? But I reflect on life more now anyway. More and more it has become to do with meeting up with my mates, having a laugh and a good day out. But then, I look back on last year and that was genuinely exciting at times and uplifting and sad but very worthwhile for the emotions that you dont get in the normal week.
This season was hard to start with but perversely made me more determined to support the cub and argue its cause. Now, even including yesterday, I am enjoying watching this team grow up before us.
I agree with so much in the article but my biggest worry is the grass roots – I help coach a team and the reduction in atmosphere caused by the ageing, gentrifying crowd at Anfield. A way must be found to let kids in at a cheaper rate and to take on the idea expressed here and elsewhere of sitting/standing where you want.
Oh Gareth! Now you’ve trying to be Orwell! “Whoever controls the past”
Just think about that for a minute………The past was a beautiful game.Played by good footballers who were paid not much more the honest to goodness working men who watched them.
The present is all about psychobabble and statistics proving who scored how many goals and when to add some kind of credence to an obscure and frankly ill informed point of view.
But that’s the name of the game now isn’t it?To get some knob-head like me to sign up and help you generate some more income from some sponsored strand by publishing a daft and delibrately outrageous point of view.
No Gareth football was always the beautiful game.Maybe less so now that the cynics and bandwagon jumpers are looking to try and find a new angle to make a name for themselves.
And maybe the potential for another sponsorship opportunity doesn’t help either.
Anyway,I understand you have point of view and I respect that.Maybe you could tackle these issues when you have another 5 or 6 years experience of the real world of football and football history?
I’m alright with my experience thanks, Brian. I’m not trying to be Orwell either. Just my opinion. And to suggest everything about the past was rosy, well sorry, nah, it wasn’t.
Another good article Gareth, about the game we love. It makes you think, with all the negatives you have listed and many more. Why do so many love the game? Why will we love this game for the rest of our lives. Many of us couldn’t imagine a life without football. Wether we live in Anfield, America or Australia. The beautiful game filled many ugly moments, ugly people, (not talking about Luke Chadwick either), ugly incidents occurring on a weekly basis! Without out sounding philosophical. Maybe, just maybe this is what makes it the beautiful (ugly) game.
ahhh literal killjoy. The game played well is beautiful…everything else, just as messed up as everything else in society.
Please critique Eden Hazard some time, the guy is an amazing Belgian goblin… Why is no referee or commentator aware of his antics? Fact 1: he has superb control over his body. Fact 2: flailing your legs into defenders & going to ground is a yellow card… The time wasting t*** shouldn’t make it through one game.
& Thank you PSG !!! It was better than watching “the reckoning” in Tombstone… Love to see the law catch up to those horrendous c***s. Fabergas– my little friend, so sad.
Lastly, I implore the Kop to a new Chelsea chant…
FAKERS, C***S, FAKERS…
C***S, FAKERS, FAKERS, C***S !!
Nice article Gareth, I’m getting your point. Yes, in countries where football coverage is saturated in the mainstream press – hearing “The Beautiful Game” eulogised between Pele Viagra commercials and Stan Collymore Prawn crisps – you’d be reaching for toothpicks to pummel through your eyes and ears.
Try living in a country where AFL (Australian Rules Football) and NRL (Rugby League) vie for code dominance with Rugby Union in the National psyche.
Football truly is the beautiful game then mate!
Internationally – “The Beautiful Game” encapsulates the majesty of the world game and sets it apart from the US scorescorescore! sports and egg chasers.
Maybe slap an “export only” order on all instances of “The Beautiful Game” in the UK?