May 15, 2006

Sport as social atavism

We were robbed.

A dozen or so men in coloured shirts have run around a field for a couple of hours, challenging another group of men in different coloured shirts for control of a spherical artificial pig bladder while the greater part of the nation looked on. A little while later, one group of men were deemed the victors and took possession of an overgrown piece of crockery. Somehow it's not about the men, the bladder or the crockery any more, it's about us. We were robbed.

So who are we? We don't necessarily look the same, talk the same, have the same beliefs, work in the same job, eat the same food, read the same newspaper, go on holiday to the same place, or make racist jokes about the same stereotypes. Instead we are people who choose, voluntarily, to be associated with the same symbols.

With the same symbols? With the same group of bladder–chasing young men, surely? Actually, no. The young men swap red shirt for blue shirt for purple shirt at the drop of a hat, or rather a heavily stuffed wallet: at the end of a game they can all come together and shake hands, blurring into one hive, but we, oh no we can shake hands but it's always us, the imitation-purple-shirt wearers, shaking hands with them, the imitation–red–shirt wearers, pure and unadulterated in our heraldry.

So why do I make this choice? Even in the purest of cases, when two of us imitation–red–shirt wearers went to the same school, sleep with the same girls, give money to the same charity, phone in to the same radio station, buy the same colour mod kits for our cars, and reject the same developments in literary theory; even then, why should we choose two to care what happens to a bunch of rich kids and a ball, and why should I care what a dissolute bunch of fellow imitation–red–shirt wearers who may have nothing in common with me think about the kids and the ball? Because I want to belong to something greater. We don't have tribes any more, and nations? Give me a break. The whole country's swamped with immigrants who take our jobs and our unemployment benefits, kids who don't respect their elders, old men stuck in the past, yobs who don't respect the law, and an Establishment that thinks Big Brother didn't go far enough. No, what I want is to be in a group whose diversities are secondary to that one great unifying feature – willingness to display the same colour uniform at appropriate intervals, and believe, really, really believe, that what matters on some strip of artificially cultivated pseudo–turf at the other end of the country to a bunch of kids I'd probably hate if I had to spend more than thirty second elevator ride with actually matters to us.

Maybe I was dropped on my head as a kid. Maybe I'm taking out my masculine aggression. Maybe I'm fundamentally insecure in the modern world. Maybe I was born under a penumbral lunar eclipse. Maybe it's down to the flows of chi in my house. Maybe I'm not getting enough sex. Maybe I was toilet trained too early. Who cares? I'm happy to voluntarily renounce not only my intellectual judgement but even a little bit of what constitutes my own identity as me. I might even start jumping on whatever bandwagon happens along, because, really, deep inside of me, I suspect I'm looking to join a posse.

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