Saturday, 26 June 2010

Blog 6 - I am a football snob

I am not frightened of snobbery; either the application of it against myself, or to be seen as a perpetrator in my own right. Most people who know me have probably realised that I don't tend to embarass easily and that I'm comfortable in "letting it all hang out" in public. So if a snob is what I am, in whatever form, I'm happy enough to be known as such.

I've been the victim of snobbery on many occasions. Socio-economic snobbery often kicks in when people find out that I'm not married to the mother of our 4 children, and that we don't own our own house, and that we do actually receive Child Tax Credit to prop up my wages. You see it in smug smiles, or phrases such as "you'll get there in the end". Where, pray tell? To the suburban perfection you obviously assume you've achieved. Well strap me in, that's a thrill ride I just have to get in on. Dick.

But the area of the Arts and snobbery is the one I really want to discuss today. Everyone has their own opinion on items such as music, art, literature, and films. And I'd bet that most wouldn't include football on the same list under the heading "Arts" either, but my blog, my rules. In most areas of the Arts I always seem to be mentally undernourished according to the accepted wisdom of what counts as an enthusiast.

Take music. I like music. I have an i-pod. It has songs on, and some of those even have melody and lyrics rather than smutty limericks or songs derived from barking dogs. My taste however, is almost universally derided by my peers. It seems that McFly and Lily Allen are not what the cool 33 year old father should be listening to. According to my more musically-infatuated friends, scruffy groups of youths hammering guitars and grunting maudlin monosyllables as lyrics make up the only acceptable form of modern music. A look at the acts on view at Glastonbury shows how far out of the loop I appear to be. I have never heard of Vampire Weekend (as a band obviously, as a concept it sounds quite fun...). Couldn't tell you who they are, or name any of their songs. Yet they appear to be a major influence on proceedings. The Gorillaz, I have heard of, and of the 2 songs I know, I thought they were a load of plinky-plonky gubbins for people who like electronic instruments without any story to the song. Not my sort of thing at all. Obviously then, my tastes are not the norm. Most people don't like my music and I don't like theirs. Fine. I can accept, musically I am an outsider. And that's ok. When people at a a party discuss music, I know that my role is to nod politely and never ever reveal what is going on in my head as it will undoubtedly kill both the mood and the conversation. Rhythmically I am an island. And that island is certainly not Ibiza like everybody else.

In terms of literature, again, I'm not normal. I read voraciously. At one point I was reading two or three books a week. But when, on occasion, somebody has attempted to speak to me about literature, I quickly aquiesce into a babbling fool wishing that the other person would bugger off and leave me to my misery. Because I know, and they know within seconds, that I don't like "literature". Jane Austen - Boring. William Shakespeare - Too much effort for too little reward. Any author with two initials followed by their surname - Sod that for a stultifying game of soldiers. Don't know it, haven't read it, not interested. Now if you want to talk about Nick Hornby, Dan Brown or any other lightweight author that has written a book since I've been born then I might have a chance. But it seems that the clarifying status for being someone who can discuss "literature" is that you have to know the oldies. The classics. I don't, so again, I take my position on the fringe of the conversation nodding like Stevie Wonder during an orgasm. I'll let THEM have literature. I like it, or parts of it, but I accept, it's not my thing. I'm not a force of intelligence within the zeitgeist, because I don't fully understand or appreciate it. Fine.

However, when it comes to football, I know my stuff. I've watched and studied the game in all of its minuteia for nearly 30 years. When football is discussed, I go from dormant backbencher to cabinet rabble-rouser in the twinkle of an eye. I'm not on the fringe of the conversation, I lead the conversation. My knowledge of the history of the game, the breadth of the global sport and it's driving forces whether it be political, organizational, financial or sporting mean that I aquiesce to no man. This is MY thing. And I realise that I am not the only person who feels like this. Loads of people are exceptionally knowledgeable about the game. However my problem comes with those that arn't but believe they are. That's where I become the snob.

Most people, when entering a conversation with me will touch upon football, because they know it's MY thing. And I appreciate that they make this effort to remember my interests and engage me accordingly regardless of their own level of interest or knowledge. It's a human kindness and god bless them for it. If they are someone I know is only bringing it up as a pleasantry, I will answer with equal non-committal yet pleasant platitudes, and move onto a more mutual topic of conversation. If I know they are a football fan, then I'll launch in with the full force of a discussion between peers.

The problem lies in the middle. Those people who say they like football, or even go so far as to profess knowledge on the subject, but in actual fact form all their opinions by listening to commentators like Andy Townsend or Paul Merson once every four years at the world cup, and whom any intelligent follower of the game will tell you, are pundits of the worst kind who need regular CAT scans to prove they shouldn't be using special buses.

I was accosted on the morning of the last England match (booked the day off as holiday in January as soon as the fixture was announced to make sure no fairweather bastard in the office beat me to it two weeks before the game) whilst doing the school run by another Dad who has never professed any interest in football before. "Watching the game today then?" he enquired. "Yeah, that's what flex days are for" I replied amiably. A pleasant exchange of conversation with a football outsider.

"It was rubbish the other night" he postulated. Now at this point I would have argued if I thought it was worth it. Yes the previous game had been poor, but I was firmly resolved against the national furore that Uncle Tom Cobley and all had opined, thinking it more symptomatic of a global shift in the pattern of the game which had witnessed many other favoured nations struggling to make progress as well. However, it wasn't worth me launching into this at this point. For one, it was the school run and I didn't have the time or the patience. For two, I knew that this guy didn't know anything about football, at least no more than the average doorpost. Any point that I tried to make woulod be lost in comparison to what he'd read on the back page of the Star about how we should be building pires to set fire to players upon their undoubtedly humiliating return to the country. The laymans knee-jerk reaction. But it was a safe opinion for him to espouse as it was in keeping with the majority. (At this point I was somewhat arrogantly, but self-awaredly in the minority that thinks it knows better than the majority. And I still am.) So I kept things civil, and nodded along. Don't get involved, just let him think he knows it all, bless him. Like when your child starts telling you how the science behind Father Christmas works. Don't spoil it for them, just pretend.

He stretched my credulity and ability to ignore things a step further when he then added "I reckon if we'd got 11 blokes from the forces and sent them out there, they'd have won, because they'd have the passion". And he was serious. This wasn't just idle chat. He actually had this as a real theory and wanted my input.

And thus the snobbery kicked in. I couldn't take part in this conversation any more. I was incapable of pretence. I was Einstein, he was someone who licks windows on the bus to school. My only polite escape was to pretend that I needed to make an urgent departure and leave at haste with just a touch if brusqueness to hide my distaste. My anti-social behaviour might be abhorrent to some, but I find it far ruder when people who have no idea what they are talking about try to despoil my environment with their ridiculous theories. Just as I know enough to stand on the sidelines and let "literature" types bang on about Chaucer or Amis, or when I keep quiet when "Elbow" are heralded as a brave new future for music when I only know them as a ball and socket joint, they should know enough to not try and talk football with me if they're not packing the full armory of knowledge.

There's not a set level of knowledge required and the world of football is very varied. I have a good knowledge of English football and players across all four divisions. Some people only really get involved in the Premiership and Champions League (Again, I regard these with a certain sense of moral superiority - they'll disappear as soon as Sky pulls the financial plug), and there are some fans who have a far greater knowledge of international and foreign football than I (those I doff a reverential cap to in the knowledge stakes). However, I am happy to have a discussion with any of these people, because they've made the effort to expand their knowledge in some way. They haven't just been told what to think by the press or thick mates who know as little as they do.

This is arrogance on my part, I realise. A presumed intelligence for which there is no actual qualification or proof. However I know, with the certainty that literature or music afficianados know when they speak to me, who knows their spuds and who is an unworthy bluffer. And I simply cannot and will not enter a serious conversation with someone like that on MY subject. Arrogant? Certainly. But that's how it is. There's an adults table and a kids table happening here. Know your bloody place.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Guns n Stuff

I flicked through the news channels the other day and got briefly distracted by a Fox News Report on the Cumbrian killings last week.

As you'd expect from the Murdoch subsidiary, it was packed with hyperbole and low on fact or context, and, as is their wont, they discussed with an "expert" the ramifications had the incident occurred in the U.S. instead of the Lake District.

The expert, named Bob, was dressed partially in camoflage and had a beard and sunglasses. And a cap. His qualification for comment was that he ran a local National Rifle Association branch. He postulated that the incident would never have happened in the States because, and I quote, "somebody woulda hadda gun and somebody woulda put the guy down."

To be fair to Bob, he is undoubtedly correct. In America, spree killings (outside of high schools) whilst not-uncommon, are almost always short-lived, precisely because there is always someone to stop the perpetrator. Derek Bird was so deadly because he possessed a weapon that nobody else did. 12 people died here and in the U.S. the probability is that far fewer would.

What Bob, and of course, Fox News, failed to do is address the realities and motives behind the attack, and indeed, spree killings in general. Spree Killings are catagorised as random attacks where the killer acts out of anger and without premeditation and has little thought for the victims identities. The killer traditionally has a mental breakdown or episode and then their anger or rage explodes in a violent, destructive and short-lived burst, which is what appears to have happened here. Certainly the initial victims of Derek Bird were targetted, as he had rowed with his brother over a will dispute and after killing him, he went to the solicitor handling the will and killed him as well. After this however, everything points to randomness. He'd snapped, killed and just killed again, his anger and life imploding upon himself.

The fact is that people have breakdowns of various types and severities all the time, whichever country they live in. A proportion of those will react violently. The difference is that in England, when people have said breakdown and react violently they reach for a knife because only 5% of the population have access to a firearm. Knives, whilst deadly, are less effective because of the physics of having to attack someone up close where they will be able to fight back. In the U.S. where 85% have access to a firearm, when people have a violent breakdown they're far more likely to use a gun, an entirely more lethal, efficient and repetative alternative.

Bob and Fox were postulating for the relaxation of gun laws in our country in the interests of protection. I'd argue that the fact that we only seem to suffer one gun-based spree killing every decade or so (Hungerford and Dunblane being the obvious examples) points to the fact that we've got the balance right, and if anything a tightening of gun laws seems more appropriate. More people may die per spree-killing incident in the UK, but in terms of where you would feel safer to live it is apparantly 1,200x more likely that you will die from a firearms related incident in the U.S. than here. I'll take those odds and leave the guns away from the general population if it's all the same to you.