The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 23

April 19, 2010

UNITED IN DIVISION

The Evolution Will Be Televised

Van Morrison frequently uses the phrase “in the days before rock ‘n’ roll” to represent an idealised age of innocence which apparently occurred between the end of World War 2 and the day in 1954 when Elvis Presley entered the Sun studio to uncage the rock beast. It probably wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll which was the destroyer of innocence, though. It was probably television. Life was simpler before the box in the comer brought the global village into your livingroom.

A friend of mine claims that in the pre-television age they used to have ventriloquists on the radio. Your ma and pa would tune in to the Light Programme and be amazed by Ray Allan doing his “Lord Ted” routine. They genuinely couldn’t see his lips move. Even television, in its infancy, tried to preserve a sort of pre-war sense of child-like wonder in its programming. No televised variety show was complete without a plate-spinner, a magician with an entire aviary stuffed inside his jacket, a ventriloquist (whose lips were patently moving), a duck with a hat on, some old bore crooning “Moon River”, and a complete prat with his face blacked up aping Al Jolson. All good wholesome family entertainment.

Nowadays, of course, you’re more likely to see a cyberpunk spinning burning chainsaws rather than plates, goths dressed in Captain America costumes trying to beat the shit out of each other, people having heart attacks while Jeremy Beadle smashes up their houses, hordes of witless Japanese youths writhing in agony as the screaming front-man (copyright – Clive James) pours buckets of squirming reptiles all over them, and some nosey bastard leading a film crew into your living room while you’re sitting in string-vest and Y-fronts cutting your toe-nails. The only way a ventriloquist would now be allowed on would be if he could simultaneously throw his voice and pass a knitting needle up one nostril and down the other.

Television’s capacity for immediate and universal impact means that the experience of one individual instantly becomes the experience of all, and under its influence “Society” generally has become more decadent, more jaded, more cynical. There used to be a whole literary genre devoted to the gradual “loss of innocence”. Nowadays the complete loss of innocence takes place at roughly the same time that you get wired up and plugged into your first Nintendo game. By the age of ten most modem people have lost the capacity for child-like wonder, and are utterly incapable of believing in the human capacity for decency and virtue. (Just what the fuck are you on about? – Ed)

Losing My Religion

I confess that I am a fully-fledged member of the category I’ve just been describing. An unreconstructed cynic. Seen it all, heard it all, don’t believe any of it. However, I have to confess that even I occasionally come across something which really shakes me up a bit and ruffles my carefully cultivated lip-curling cynicism, something which demonstrates that “loss of innocence” is an ongoing process. For example, I assume that many of you “baby-boomers” out there would have been as shocked as I was at the recent disclosures that Captain Pugwash had, through our formative years, contained barely disguised undertones of smut and obscenity. How could we have been so naively entranced by characters with names like “Rodger the Cabin-boy” and “Seaman Staines”?

As if that wasn’t enough, the recent revelations that-the all-conquering Bayern Munich team of the seventies (Yippee -we’ve finally got round to football – Ed) was riven by “personality conflicts” shattered a number of my carefully constructed juvenile illusions once and for all. These skeletons have come rattling out of the cupboard in the wake of Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer’s autobiography in which he claims that Uli Hoeness and Paul Breitner conspired to have him removed from the club. Breitner has responded by claiming that Hoeness was the only friend he had in the team, and that “in the four years I played alongside Beckenbauer, he never spoke twenty words in all to me“.

The naive child part of me finds this utterly inexplicable.


Although adult experience tells me that if you put eleven people in a room they will be at each others throats within half an hour, I pretended to myself that this didn’t apply to football teams. Having been brought up on thousands of photographs depicting “the lads” cavorting happily with each other, all back- slapping and matey-matey male-bonding, and having read countless newspaper articles portraying individual teams as one big happy family, I found it strangely difficult to contemplate the brute reality of the first eleven being a seething mass of back- stabbing vindictiveness.

You know that bit in the Beatles film “Help” where you see the four Fabs entering separate houses in a terrace and the camera pans behind the four doors to reveal that the interior is actually just one enormous single house, thus reinforcing the image that each of “the boys” was only one part of a separate whole. Well, that was the way I liked to think of football teams (I had to block our the distressing knowledge that the moptops ultimately ended up hating each other).

The Affectionate Punch

Now that the scales have fallen from my eyes I see evidence of internal animosity everywhere I look. Now, at last there’s an explanation for those incomprehensible situations when one player fails to pass to an unmarked colleague who is in a goal-scoring position. He’s plainly thinking,
I’m not giving that smug big bastard a chance of glory“, as he chooses the alternative option of scooping the ball into the back of the terracing. Consider also the strange case of the England team. A grovelling interviewer asks, for example, Chris Woods, the standard question, “Chris, tell us what kind of boost Gazza’s presence has given to the squad ?“. Woods grits his teeth, switches on a plastic smile and says, “Yeah, he s quite a character“. Being translated this means, ”He s an annoying fat bastard and I’m well pissed off with his puerile antics and his extendable tongue “.

And can the other Rangers players view Super Sally’s face on TV every night without a tiny bit of jealousy? Don’t they think, “We ‘ve done all the hard work and that greasy bugger picks up all the accolades and plaudits. Christ, even Stuart Slater would get 40 goals a season in this team “.

Tales of wild bouts of internecine fisticuffs have come floating up out of my
subconscious where they’ve lain suppressed for years. I am now able to remember a Wednesday night, some years ago, making my way to Kilbowie Park for the latest instalment in the non-stop Wild West Medicine Show that is Clydebank Football Club. I overheard a couple of characters chatting about the likely absence from the Bankie line-up of one James “Chic” Charnley. It seemed that, during training the previous day, Chic had had a disagreement with one of his comrades, in the course of which a number of “Glasgow kisses” had been exchanged. The manager attempted to break this up, saying, “C’mon now lads, that’s enough, c’mon it’s all over, shake hands and forget it “. While the other participant seemed happy enough to proffer his paw, Chic’s alleged response was, “Like fuck I’ll shake hands, I’ll see you outside ya bastard“. A few minutes later Chic departed clutching his P45, this being the first of a number of curiously similar occurrences in his colourful career.

Then, of course, there’s the famous occasion when Graham Roberts melted Souness one on the kisser. If nothing else, this demonstrated, as had long been suspected, that Roberts was as mad as he looked. That was a P45 job as well. Another notorious, though unconfirmed, punch was the one which Derek Johnstone took the opportunity of landing on Ally McLeod’s chin during the World Cup squad’s relaxing “get-together” at Largs prior to the ill- fated Argentinian adventure.
Far from being told to collect his cards at the door, Big Derek’s “punishment” was simply to be spared the embarrassment of playing in any of the matches. While Derek relaxed at a Cordoba poolside, surrounded by dusky maidens transfusing him with the local file-water, Ally sat in the dug-out wishing that Johnstone had hit him harder.

In more recent times we’ve had newspaper reports of a fracas during a Motherwell training session which resulted in one player being “rushed to hospital with smashed teeth and a badly bruised face” while Colin McNair was later to be found “helping police with their inquiries” in connection with the incident (needless to say, this was another P45 – “musical differences” apparently).

Even as I write, there appears to have been a bout of all-in wrestling at Firhill featuring Ray Farningham, Davie Irons and John Lambie. Of course, it’s all very well for this sort of thing to go on behind closed doors. It takes a special kind of genius to be ordered off for assaulting one of your own teammates during the course of an actual game. This peculiar phenomenon has occurred on a number of occasions but I’m a bit hazy on the details. I’m pretty sure that Gordon McQueen featured heavily in one such incident. Really great. Really really marvellous. Any readers with the full sordid details, please contact TAG.

You’ll Never Fill His Boots

One wonders at the personal popularity of the type of player who is described as “a man of many clubs”. It’s at least possible that he keeps being transferred, not for any tactical or financial reasons, but because he is really anti-social, or just an out-and-out bloody troublemaker. When two such well-travelled titans meet then it is no surprise that you get “Ian McCall shites in Simon Stainrod’s shoes” situations developing.

One also wonders at how players of, ahem, different intellectual abilities or levels of sophistication, get on with each other. For example, do you think that Fergie and Durranty socialised with the likes of Spackman and Wilkins? “Hey. Ray, me an’ Fergie ur goin ‘up the toon tae get blitzed, see if we can pick up a few burds, take in a kebab, batter a few faces, an ‘ then it:s back tae Fergie’s wi’ a kerry-oot fur a bit o’ a swally, if we don’ t get lifted by the polis first. D’ye fancy comin ‘?” I don’t think so.

Much as it pains me to admit it, it would appear that football teams are just like any other collection of individuals. They might play as a unit, but the individuals in that unit are likely to view most of their colleagues with distaste. Writing this article has had therapeutic value for me. I can now consign my childish fantasy of “the team” being “a great bunch of lads” to the bin, and resume my life as a well- adjusted person. Of course, if Mad Mac decides not to use this piece in TAG then he can look forward to getting “Yossered” next time I see him.

First published in TAG 32 – March 1993

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