So another international break is drifting by, rendered even more insignificant than usual by events in Paris, and the myriad of similar attacks elsewhere around the globe that last Friday night brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness.
Though talking about football may seem a little futile when the match between France and Germany became just one of many targets attacked in the name of a pathetic dark-ages interpretation of a belief structure that primarily preaches avoiding aggression, it is exactly these frivolous mundane activities that these joyless zealots want to destroy. And as such, things like sport, particularly the great global unification force that is football, are to be cherished more than ever. As Lewis Ambrose eloquently wrote on Sunday, football is one of the most powerful forces for finding kinship in the world today, and remarkably English football has somehow become the primary beacon for that global community (along with superclubs like Barca, Real, Bayern & Juve).
There is a reason why inhumane, repressive regimes (often hardline theocracies – mid 17th Century England included) have attacked sport throughout the annuls of history. Any society that seeks to use fear and people’s differences to control them and their destinies will always be at odds with the vast majority of spontaneous cultural output. Because ultimately art, music, theatre, and sport will always contain more individuality and humanity than is palatable to those who would impose conformity of any sort, as all are fundamental expressions of the human soul. Football may not have the intellectual credentials of some of those other areas of cultural expression, but it’s worth is long recognised by free thinkers the world over.
“After many years in which the world has afforded me many experiences, what I know most surely in the long run about morality and obligations, I owe to football.” – Albert Camus, France Football 1957.
Football is more than just a sport almost everywhere across the globe. Brazilian scholars, Ricardo dos Santos and Francisco Texiera, describe football as
“the secular religion of this era with all its myths, rules, and received heroes”.
And those heroes transcend national borders and petty parochial tribalisms. Perhaps it is the endless creation of new heroes or that embraced contradiction of club and country that is impossible to control within people’s imaginations that make it such a threat to ideological autocracy. This is only pronounced further as the game becomes more and more global. Imagine the lack of party line, even at the tabloid media’s behest, if Maradona’s transfer to Arsenal in the early 1980s hadn’t been blocked by the home office, and he had still been at the club at the advent of ‘The Hand of God’. Using the diminutive Diego as a jingoistic justification for the not too distant Falkland’s war wouldn’t have had the same power had he been lighting up the English leagues every week. And perhaps he wouldn’t have felt so able to revel in his cheating with that familiarity.
The key thing is, football inspires feelings that no government, religion, ideology or employer can control. And it offers seemingly endless possibilities for the creation of new heroes and the redemption of fallen ones.
Indeed, in that now tarnished game at the Stade de France, an Arsenal man set a little bit of ultimately meaningless but nevertheless satisfying record. Olivier Giroud became the first player to ever score against Manuel Neuer in three consecutive games. A gallic kryptonite to the teutonic superman. Albeit one spectacularly assisted by the fast-forward development and virtuosity of Anthony Martial. Perhaps Wenger should have tried to force Monaco’s hand before Manchester United did, despite their protestations that their prodigy was not for sale.
That said, there is no doubt that despite disappointing finishing against Spurs, our big Frenchman is bang on form, benefitting from the competition provided by his tactical opposite, Theo Walcott.
The very fact that many English Gooners, all too familiar with big Ollie’s variable confidence levels, will probably want him to keep up his recent goalscoring form at Wembley on Tuesday, is a perfect illustration of how modern football is increasingly the enemy of bigotry, nationalism and prejudice.
The weekend’s fixtures have already thrown up a comparable occurrence, as we saw diminutive Spanish magician Santi Cazorla re-locate his shooting boots with a dreamy finish against a typically earnest but uninspiring collection of England squad players.
Of course there have been some more traditional rivalries playing out with tangible prizes at stake, none more significant than the finely poised European Championship playoff tie between Sweden and Denmark. 1400 years of battling for Scandinavian supremacy is the backdrop, with the Swedes taking a narrow 2-1 lead to their old rivals, a situation when viewed out context could be seen as potentially explosive. But here are two nations who have long reconciled their differences in the light of their many profound similarities. For my own part, I want to see Sweden come out on top, due to a mixture of my own personal loyalties and a desire to see Zlatan’s monumental ego once again try to drag his nation to a position of overachievement on the world stage.
Ultimately though, most of the world will have its eyes on England v France on Tuesday night, and not for any loyalty to Olivier Giroud, Laurent Koscielny, or indeed any of the players in question.
As the FA’s latest chief executive Martin Glenn said with the backdrop of ‘liberte, egalite, fraternite’ on the Wembley stadium screens behind him,
“This is going to have massive global significance – the first major event since Friday – It is a chance to demonstrate terrorism can’t win. We can’t afford to let this act of terror cow us.”
The language is typically politically demonstrative, but the sentiment is hard to argue with. As with the bombings on the tube in London just over a decade ago, the only reaction is to carry on doing the things that matter to us, individually and collectively, and particularly those things that bring us together. And football does that as well as anything else.