April 2010

Orwell United

I was and remain a huge Smiths fan and like any wide-eyed zealot I would look to shoehorn in references to my idol’s lyrics and ideas where none already existed and to use any passing similarity, no matter how oblique, to justify the universality of their brilliance. Using any excuse to slip their lyrics into everyday conversation was seized with the brutality of a Middle Eastern dictator – “I wear black on the outside cos black is how I feel on the inside” was a token and not entirely accurate response to “how are you?” and luckily I never did meet anybody called Mr. Shankly as they would have thought I had some kind of Tourette’s variant with constant use of the word frankly. In a similar way that early Simpson’s zeitgeist demanded that you used quotes from the series in everyday conversation quite unironically: “That’s Unpossible”; “I Didn’t Do It” and “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Democracy just doesn’t work.”

One of my previous bosses had never seen the Simpsons so he treated me like so kind of mental patient in waiting whereas my hipper colleagues tittered along. I kept waiting for an exchange not dissimilar from the great Peter Cook/Dudley Moore film Bedazzled: “You’re a nutcase! A bleedin’ nutcase!” – “Ah but they said that of Jesus Christ, Freud and Galileo” – “Yeah, they also said it about a lot of nutcases too.”

So with a constant eye on obscure references where there are none, imagine my delight this week when I realized that all of this week’s events on planet football are uniquely linked and prove that the ghost of George Orwell has been directing events from beyond the grave! The references and similarities between his works are unquestionable.

The last time Arsenal met Barcelona they were down and out in Paris and London but this week it was a complete Homage to Catalonia as Messi became the footballing equivalent of Big Brother – omnipotent, irresistible, victorious. “Wenger gazed up at the smiling face. Sixty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath his thin lips. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Messi.”

Also, five trophy less years despite playing some of the best football seen in these Islands is a prime example of Doublethink in action. Doublethink – The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. The better and purer our football, the less successful we are. Defeat is victory. Let’s hope Arsenal can keep the Aspidistra flying when they take the road to Wigan Pier in 10 days.

The unquestionable master of doublethink, Sir Alex Ferguson, added another chapter to his lexicon on Wednesday blaming “Typical Germans” for Rafael’s deserved red card. Whenever negativity surrounding Germany is invoked in England then you back to the War – and Orwell again – “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus the shooting.” Cynics may argue that if United’s shooting was more accurate on Wednesday then they would have been home free but reading that passage again, specifically the middle sentence – it sounds like a Ferguson team to me. They are still licking their wounds from their defeat against Chelsea on Sunday. Another classic encounter between North and South, which might have had more of The Sporting Spirit from United’s point of view if they hadn’t given Drogba the Freedom of the Park to score the winner.

I will refrain from pointing out the obvious Animal Farm references to Chelsea save the quote “Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” And once again I’ll invite you to add your own punch line.

So as Orwell dominates football subconsciously, what does he predict for the future, specifically the World Cup? I pored through his works for mention but none was forthcoming until I asked aloud “George, how will the United States do in South Africa?” The book landed face down and as I opened it to the pages it had landed on the first line was thus: “Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.”

No truer summation of the life of a football fan was ever written. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to watch Newcastle’s promotion party from earlier in the week as they hauled their bloated, Zebra-like carcass back into the Premiership. It’s time for the two-minute hate.

Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at guy@yanksarecoming.com.

Guy Bailey