Football makes us sick as a parrot

Posted by Alexander Hay

'The People's Game' keeps doing harm to us and our society. Should we blow the final whistle?

The face of modern football - Wayne Rooney in cordial aspect

Was anyone truly surprised by allegations (and let's stress that they are only allegations at this point) that senior FIFA executives take bribes? Football has walked hand-in-hand with scandal for decades now. It simply reminds us of what we ought to have accepted a long time ago - that football is very bad for our moral health.

To begin with, it's a tremendous waste of resources. A season ticket costs around £360 for lower tier Premier League clubs – and around £836 if the fan follows Manchester United. That doesn't include merchandise or  food and drink at the stadium (often shockingly over-priced), nor satellite TV costs. Following your chosen eleven men chase a muddy ball can be extremely expensive - surely there are better things to spend one's money on in a recession?

Needless to say, this distorted sense of priorities breeds the worst kind of decadence. As Wayne Rooney's wage packet reveals, greed and vulgarity seem to be key elements of the modern footballer's character. Is being able to kick a ball really worth more than being able to research a cure for cancer? The market says yes, and so our society follows these often repulsive, venal men as if they were Greek gods. 

Equally as awful is the spin-off phenomenom of the WAG, famous for looking cosmetically attractive and spending someone else's money. They lead young girls and women away from real aspiration and towards a hollow, vacant dream of becoming a kept woman. There's something reactionary and backward about football - it keeps everyone firmly in their gender roles. There are no female football greats and no husbands who live to spend their goal-scoring wives' money. As the WAG proves, money doesn't buy happiness, and it certainly doesn't buy class either. Football keeps people down.

Worse, it is used as a poor substitute for national pride. Britain exports little, its status is fading and our society is in a shambles. Yet this year's World Cup saw the nation drawn to its screens to watch the spectacle of millionaires play badly, even as the country faced terrible cuts and an age of austerity. And does it really matter if England makes it to the semis, or even past the first group? Does it matter if it even qualifies? The world can survive without football.

But whether we can survive with football is a different matter altogether. Football culture breeds a violent, crude and bullying mindset, which demands obedience. While the 'bad old days of football hooliganism are passed, the 'Beautiful Game' still encourages an ugly view of the world. It says very little about us if we choose as our role models the likes of Joey Barton and Stan Collymore. But we do, and so we must be judged with them.

Such a violent culture serves as a convenient hook to hang all sorts of bigotry and hatred from. Scottish football's hideous legacy of sectarianism is a case in point. So too is the English Defence League, which draws its membership as much from the rougher end of football hooliganism as the far right. But even the act of following a team and donning its colours is a divisive act, a way of declaring that you are one of 'us' and not 'them'. No wonder there is so much violence. 

Finally, football instills a sense of mindless conformity - men who don't follow a team or express much interest in the game are often seen as 'wrong', or as outcasts. Ever been the last one picked for a football team at school? There is no inclusiveness in football, no room for the weak, the slow or the different. Football may be about passion, but there is no love about it.

This isn't an argument for banning football, of course. But it is an argument for seeing it for what it is: A game, which has grown far too big and bloated for its own - or our - good. That the response to the BBC's allegations is that it might ruin our chances of hosting the World Cup in 2018, rather than shock at such alleged corruption, says all that need be said about how football has warped our sense of right and wrong. 

Maybe we should deflate the ball, stop using our jumpers for goalposts, go home and reconnect with higher things, like the issues our society faces, our relationships with one another and the harm caused by so many unrealistic dreams. 

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Alexander Hay

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