Posting this a little (ok a lot) later than the actual World Cup, as it took a while to write, and initially came out all bile! Enjoy!
I have a real issue with the world cup.
And I’m not going to apologise for it.
Every time the world cup comes around, I inwardly sigh. OK, so I’m not exactly a SPORTSFAN. Surprise, surprise. Feminist, writer, actress. Woman. I suppose it’s obvious that I wouldn’t like football.
But I have genuinely good memories of watching the world cup as a child. I remember recording the match scores on those paper charts, staying up late to watch games, and peering through the windows of the houses on my paper round when I was missing an England match. I used to watch the world cup with my whole family, and I remember really enjoying it, us all shouting at the ref and rooting for our team.
Then my little brother came along, and his (slightly cultivated by my dad) interest way outshone mine. I gradually became less interested in football, and then started to resent it, as my dad decided he would coach my brother’s football team and kick a ball around with him at absolutely any opportunity. I was jealous of my dad’s attention, I was jealous of the father/son set up that I couldn’t have. I also became aware that football was essentially (Whisper this bit), quite boring.
Next, I became more politically aware, and more aware also of racism and sexism. I realised I didn’t like the behaviour of a lot of the footballers, and that women’s football never seemed to be televised. I noticed insults like ‘you kick like a girl’. I noticed the adverts scrolling across the barriers between pitch and stands. I resented football even more. I noticed the teamwork and skill in my brother’s own children’s football matches, but I noticed the sly shin kicks, shouting, and parents screaming at their kids from the sidelines more.
Later, doing a theatre degree, I became fascinated with ritual – triggered by reading Johan Huizinga’s wonderful book on Play: Homo Ludens. Ritual is defined as: “A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order” – http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ritual (Stay with me, I’ll get back to football in a minute)
Ancient Greek theatre was a theatre of ritual, and in my opinion, a lot of the best theatre is ritualistic in its urgency and ecstasy. Even on a very basic level, theatre generally involves a ‘sacred’ playspace, or stage, costumes, set and memorised text. (again, stay with me)
The proscribed rites of religious services are the most obvious way in which rituals are practised, with their group prayer and song, call and response memorised text, formal costumes and ritualised dining.
In our increasingly atheistic world, fewer and fewer people go to places of worship regularly, and, sadly for me and other theatre professionals, even less people go to the theatre regularly. But watching sport, with its proscribed customs of clothing, behaviour, food & drink, call & response and audience interaction, is the most commonly-practised form of ritual that we carry out today.
So I understand the popularity of football, even though it’s not my thing, even though (in my opinion), it promotes racist, sexist, patriarchal and violent attitudes and behaviour.
And I understand why, now when I watch ‘the game’ with my family, my failing to pick a side or make the obligatory comments about how blind the ref is can be met with harsh, even angry responses. I’m not following the ritual of watching a football match.
Someone watching a football match and, instead of criticising the other side, or a particular player for his (lack of) ball skills, criticising the game as a concept or the players for their indiscretions off-pitch, can be akin to someone coming to your temple or mosque and saying that they think the decorations or costumes are stupid. I understand how people could be offended by someone challenging the game that they follow ritually, like a religion.
But in the past few years, I’ve become more and more political. And more and more feminist. And as a feminist, being forced to worship at the ultimate altar of the patriarchy while knowing about the slave labour that went into building the stadium, the ridiculous salaries given to the players, and the commonality of adultery, battery and sexual assault they commit is actually pretty offensive.
Even sitting down and watching ‘the game’ with my family over dinner almost amounts to an ordeal. When the football is on, anything I say is irrelevant and wrong. Criticising football or even making a joke about one of the players is ‘spoiling the game’.
Pointing out that one of the players cheated on his wife with a prostitute is just a no-no, not to mention completely irrelevant, and pointing out that another player who has bitten people several times should have gone to prison for it is bordering on offensive.
To top it up, I’m asked patronisingly if I understand the offside rule – a rule that was taught to me when I was a young child, and which I never forgot, mainly because it’s incredibly simple to understand (just like every other aspect of football)!
I really can’t win when ‘the game’ is on. If I don’t watch ‘the game’ I’m sulking or being antisocial and if I do and comment along with everyone else my comments are unwelcome. I’m itching to point out to them that domestic violence goes up by 25% during the world cup (and even more so when England wins/loses), but that would be inexcusably offensive to them. Never mind that it’s inexcusably offensive to me to that there are women all over the country, cowering in the kitchen until ‘the game’ is over, bringing their men beers and praying that England win so that they won’t be beaten up that night. I’ve realised the only acceptable way for me to watch football with them is basically in silence.
It’s not just when ‘the game’ is actually on, either. Whenever I talk about the negative side to football it’s always the wrong time. It’s not the wrong time, though, people just don’t want to hear it, full stop. They’ve chosen to turn a blind eye to any issues in football and if you point them out, you’re going to make enemies. Because football is the chosen ritual of our modern times, and insulting peoples’ rituals hugely insults them. But, just as I believe that it’s right to challenge other areas of the status quo, like religions and ingrained political beliefs, I don’t think it’s ok to take the ritual of football lying down. So I’m making a bitchy blog post about it to substitute for standing up to my family 🙂
So I, for one, am glad that the World Cup is over anyway. I much prefer less violent sports, like Total War. Or The Sims.