My subject today is France’s victory in the World Cup – not the hole-in-ground facilities still widespread all over the country.
The subject is worth covering because football transcends its visible aspect: 22 men running after and kicking a spherical object, swearing at the referee and rolling on the grass after scoring.
Rich countries use football as the circus complementing the bread; others, as its substitute. In either case, football has become the microcosm of life, a concave mirror showing society’s ugly or else silly reflection.
These days one hears calls for banning boxing because it brings out the worst in human nature. On that criterion, football should be not just banned but criminalised – and I’m speaking as someone who likes watching a good match.
For football provides an ideal arena for gladiatorial battles that have nothing to do with the game as such. One such battle is a spill-over from class war.
When political democracy became absolute and unchecked, it eventually penetrated every other area of life. What Tocqueville called ‘the tyranny of the majority’ now reigns supreme, with the majority imposing its despotic rule on the whole society.
Nostalgie de la boue now dominates public tastes: we’re all proles now. And those who really aren’t still try to fall in step.
People who ought to know better sport torn jeans and baseball caps worn backwards, patronise that blend of a Nuremberg rally and an orgy that’s for some unfathomable reason called music, adorn their flesh with tattoos and bits of metal – and become fanatical football fans.
La boue becomes a mire sucking society in, and football is part of that ecological contamination. The football pitch has become a battlefield of class war, and there’s no doubt which side is winning.
The losing side is made up of those who genuinely don’t care about football and snobs who look down on this quintessentially working-class game, while still wearing legible T-shirts and listening to The Urinals, The Wankers or whatever pop groups are called these days.
The winning line-up includes the proles, some real but most merely those aspiring to prolehood. By way of illustration, one can observe the magic phonetic transformation at the stadium turnstiles, for example.
The moment they cross that threshold, reasonably well-spoken public accountants instantly put on phony prole accents to declare their tribal association. They use those accents to communicate mostly in one short vocabule and its various derivatives. The mantra of f-words is their mutual recognition code, their Masonic handshake.
Since pandering to mass tastes is de rigueur for any modern politician, chaps like Tony Blair and Dave Cameron have to profess their passion for football, at least for as long as they campaign for office or stay in it.
You can safely bet that, until they settled on a political career, those public-school boys hadn’t known their reverse pass from a hole in the ground. The playing fields on which the Battle of Waterloo was supposedly won were used for cricket or rugby, not footie.
Regiments of pseuds thus provide encouragement for the indigenous masses who really do see football as the meaning of life. Football teams and their supporters become warring tribes, which is understandable: we’ll all fight for what we regard as the most important thing in life.
Hence regular skirmishes among supporters of different clubs, with fists augmented with razors, bottles, flying chairs and whatever else is on hand. Perfectly European chaps turn into warring tribes, like the Tutsis and the Hutus. They’re ready to kill and be killed for their preferred pattern of football strip.
This can’t fail to attract even broader masses of those who use football as merely a pretext, a thin excuse for sociopathic behaviour. A stadium or sometimes just the area around it is but a gathering point for morons seeking action.
They often use broken bottles to ‘star’ one another (if you don’t know what that means, you aren’t a football fan) without even knowing the score of the match in contention. Never mind the game, feel the pain.
Just as British louts seek an excuse for hooliganism, their French counterparts seek a pretext for rioting. A riot has become the French way of expressing publicly both joy and sadness. After all, what better way to vent deep emotions?
Hence the wave of riots engulfing the country after the French won the World Cup. Amazingly only two people died in the midst of the jubilation: one joyously jumped in a canal and broke his neck, the other celebrated behind the wheel and drove into a tree.
But there was plenty of non-lethal fun.
Even our sleepy village celebrated wildly, if non-violently. Children and some grown-ups draped themselves in French flags and stampeded the narrow streets, screaming: “On à gagné!!!” (We’ve won!!!)My bilingual wife remarked that “Nous avons gagné” would have been a more refined usage, but hey – at least no one got hurt.
Elsewhere things weren’t so harmless. A million revellers gathered in Champs-Élysées and ripped the street apart. Scuffles broke out all over the place, smoke bombs went off, rubbish bins were set on fire, shops were broken into and looted, windows were smashed.
The police responded with tear gas and water cannons – no outburst of public joy in France is ever complete without those. Outside the Périphérique and all over France it was even worse: cars were turned into bonfires, public fountains befouled, children run over – well, you get the picture.
The pseuds did their bit too, as best they could. And the French royal couple, Manny and his foster mother Brigitte, had to lead the way.
That’s why the final between France and Croatia was blessed by the presence of both Manny, with Brigitte in tow, and the Croatian president, her well-publicised jutting assets securely encased in a floral dress. When the final whistle blew, both Manny and Brigitte feigned earth-shattering ecstasy, undeterred by the equally put-on anguish of the comely Croat sitting next to them.
Now, pathetic though this is for a head of state, Manny is a youngish man whose youthful exuberance needs an outlet. But France’s First Foster Mother is 65 years old, an age that ought to confer a certain amount of dignity. Yet Brigitte was jumping up and down like a cross between a demented kangaroo and a teenage groupie on Ecstasy, her facelift in danger of unravelling.
She was trying to leap out of her short skirt revealing a pair of bony knees to her subjects and, alas, the rest of us. That made me regret that Croatia lost: the sight of their president performing similar callisthenics would have had some appeal.
At least the show is over for the next four years. We’ll be spared this particular spectacle, but I’m sure our leaders will think of something else.