Saturday, June 27, 2009

Football, Footballing and the Meaning of Life

I suppose reading Fever Pitch (1992) by Nick Hornby should be de rigueur for any self-respecting Arsenal fan (De rigueur being particularly apropos given the enormous influence of the French manager and French players over the last 13 years). But I only got round to it this year and I've just finished reading it: It's a delightful, idiosyncratic, funny book and should be part of the intellectual furniture of any football fan. It's theme could be described as "Football as a mirror" (for life, living and much else), or more grandioslely, perhaps, as "Football, Footballing and the Meaning of Life".

There are hilarious bits on virtually every page of the book, but in keeping with the ongoing "Say No to Racism" campaign by FIFA I'll focus on a section entitled "Bananas". "Racism? Funny?" you say. Oh yes, funny in the way only all absurd ideas can be. So, back to "Bananas": On 15 August 1987, John Barnes, one of the most talented footballers of his and probably any generation, made his debut for Liverpool in a game against Arsenal at Highbury. Nick Hornby, aged 30 at the time, was in the stands. Before kick-off, Liverpool fans hurled bananas on to the pitch to welcome their new black player. In the interests of fairness, we should note that today John Barnes is one of the best-loved Liverpool players, affectionately known as "Digger" Barnes by Liverpool fans after a character from the 1980s soap opera Dallas. But here's the funniest bit of the "Bananas" section:
You can still, even now, occasionally hear idiots who jeer the black players on opposing teams. (One night I turned round angrily to confront an Arsenal fan making monkey noises at Manchester United's Paul Ince, and found I was abusing a blind man. A blind racist!)
It doesn't get any more absurd than that.

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