Andy Simpkins is Moderately Vexed by… Mid-Summer Sports Madness

Published: 28th June 2004

"...He's football-crazy, He's football-mad,
The ball, it has taken away the little bit of sense he had,
And it would take a dozen servants,
To wash his clothes and scrub,
Since Joe became a member of that
terrible football club..."

The above line is taken from a very old British Music Hall song that was popular about the late 1880's. This was about the time when the majority of the present Football Association League clubs were first formed and the majority are still here in the present day, albeit in a much altered form and heavily reliant upon corporate sponsorship and the talents of their grossly over-paid star players. This song was gently mocking the supposed Clarion call to all of Great Britain's young men to take up the gentleman's game and kick an inflated pigs bladder around a muddy field for ninety minutes before getting changed and then quaffing numerous gin and tonics in the clubhouse afterwards while talking about our heroic chaps at the Siege of Mafeking and Rourke's Drift.

I am not a football-phobe and I do not shun and abjure the sport. I do like sports and swim, play squash (racquet-ball to our American readers) and badminton on a semi-regular basis. I have also practised martial arts in the form of Tae-Kwon Do and got to a respectable belt level at the expense of a couple of broken toes and some bruises in very interesting places. I am also a keen scuba-diver but, much to my chagrin, I have let it slip due to various stays in hospital over the past couple of years and must get back into it very soon and while the warm weather is with us. However, I must confess that I have not let the game of Association Football grip me in the same way that it has done with the majority of the nation.

Unless you have been living under a stone for the past month or so or have just come back from a Buddhist monastery somewhere in the chilly Himalayas, you will have seen that a collective madness has taken over the nation's psyche and has gently but firmly steered most people in the direction of doing some very strange things indeed, such as wearing garish shirts, painting their faces in the colours of the St. George's flag and fervently listening to awful pop songs recorded especially for the occasion. You know the ones I am talking about: those execrable dirges stating 'how the lads are going to do it...' Local and national radio stations have been playing them almost incessantly and I have had the barely restrained urge to climb a clock-tower clutching an Uzi 9mm and take pot-shots at people from my lofty vantage point, all the meantime giggling hysterically, until radio stations cease their airing of this banal tripe. Much to my dismay, my favourite bunch of living gods;the Mighty Status Quo succumbed to the siren song and reworked one of their old songs;'Burning Bridges' for Manchester United FC in order to promote one of their periodical appearances in the yearly F.A. Cup Final. I will forgive them as they are only Human after all and we are all prone to falls from a state of grace...

At the time of writing this article, the majority of the nations of Europe are in the middle of the Euro 2004 Football Tournament;a soccer competition that takes place every four years and is second only to the World Cup in any self-respecting football fans calendar. On my travels around my home town, I have not failed to notice a plethora of St. George's flags festooned over various buildings and fluttering from the windows of cars and additionally, people of both sexes and of various ages wearing England football shirts. Public houses throughout the UK, armed with widescreen TV's, draw people in like a moth to a flame when England are playing in their matches. At the end of 90 minutes, the clientèle are either bouncing around ecstatically, alcoholic drink in hand and hugging complete strangers, who in normal circumstances, would have given the bearer of such spontaneous affection on any other occasion either at best a very off-coloured glance or at worst, a bunch of fives around the persons face, or are sitting in their chairs nursing an expression that could only be described as crest-fallen, nursing the aforementioned alcoholic drink in a vain attempt to numb the pain of a crushing defeat at the hands of their opponents on the field of battle.

Another example of what I am talking about is the fact that the annual Lawn Tennis tournament that Wimbledon 2004 has just started and we are all placing our hopes on the fact that Tim Henman; so many times the metaphorical bridesmaid to someone else's bride, will pull the metaphorical rabbit out of the hat and will hold his glittering prize aloft at the end of the Men's Singles Tournament to the accompaniment of rapturous applause from the assembled crowds watching.

To get to the crux of the matter, for months on end, tennis courts are standing idle and unoccupied until the Wimbledon fortnight rolls around and then, lo and behold, people are queueing up around the block to emulate their heroes and heroines whilst clad in white shirt, shorts and trainers that they had only just bought the previous day whilst clutching their new carbon-fibre tennis racquet which probably cost the same as the annual gross output amount of a small Third World country.

Another question I must ask all of our readers is:Why the sudden and spontaneous display of flag-waving patriotism?? All of a sudden, supermarkets and newsagents nationwide are virtually thrusting a kit comprising of car-window mounted St. George's flag and a car windscreen sticker to all and sundry in order for one to show their support for our nations soccer team as it girds its loins to do battle on the immaculately tended pitches of Europe. I hate to say this but there was another event that was celebrated just a couple of weeks ago, namely that of the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day landings on the French coast by Allied troops in order to free occupied Europe from the oppressive yolk of Nazi-ism. Apart from a few stickers displayed in house windows stating:'D-Day:60. Thank you.' and the week of daytime celebrations and evening news reports shown on TV, they are pretty much over and forgotten now, only to be swamped by the superficial and trite posturings of a bunch of overpaid prima-donna's who's only claim to fame is how adroitly they can kick a football around. Looking at the assembled masses of 70 and 80 year olds gathered together in a spirit of camaraderie and to remember fallen comrades left me with a lump in my throat. To see all these old men gathered together for many would be the last time, radiating a quiet dignity. They answered a nations call to arms because they felt they had to in order to free another continents people from tyranny. Many of them did not come back from those French beaches but this was a time for former foes to come together in a spirit of reconciliation.

When I was over in the USA a couple of years ago, during my travels around, every other house had The Stars And Bars fixed to a flagpole on the front lawn and every car had a sticker affixed to a window stating that they were 'Proud To Be American.' This was only a year after the tragic events of 9/11 and it showed how much this single event had burned its way into the nations consciousness but I am lead to believe that the American people have a lot to be proud of in their nations achievements and the impact they have made on the world as a whole. Okay, we all know that you Americans like to do things in a big and sometimes brassy manner but the patriotism displayed when I was out in the States only goes to show how a nation can unite in the face of adversity and tragedy. It is something we can do well to learn from but thanks to the poisonous tentacles of Political Correctness worming their way into every facet of our everyday lives, a lot of people are led to believe that to celebrate ones nationality is a heinous crime that is worthy of the so-called 'chattering classes' throwing up their hands in dismay and hastily fanning themselves with a copy of 'The New Statesman' in an anguish of despair at what they perceive as a rampant display of nationalism in order to dispel an oncoming attack of the vapours.

By way of continuing this theme, I can only add that I am proud to be an Englishman and take pride in the effect that our culture, music and literature has had on the civilised world. Regretablly, there are those amongst us who would say that this is all superfluous and can only lead to the ugly face of nationalism rearing its head. There is a very fine line between taking pride in ones home nations achievements on the worlds stage and using the previously mentioned ideals and corrupting them in order to force them upon another nation. Just take a look at what happened in Europe 60 years or so ago...

As you are aware, Gentle Reader, there are other ways to celebrate what is good about your home nation. Indeed, shortly the Staggering Stories Team will be attending the annual 'Proms In The Park' in Crawley. The finale will be, as always, a truly stirring event, with such classics as 'Jerusalem', 'Land Of Hope And Glory' and 'Rule Britannia'. These songs serve as a triumphant paean to what is great about the British Isles and a football tournament pales into insignificance compared to the heartfelt singing and flag-waving that accompanies these songs. Watch this space for a review...

Just remember, Gentle Reader. Be proud of who and what you are and don't let those moaning minnies say otherwise. Whether it is football or just travelling around this ball of rock, soil and water that we call our home planet, keep the flag flying but in a very understated and cheerful way that us English are accustomed to. I have known a few young American ladies to get very giggly at the sound of my accent alone. Just remember, spontaneous patriotism is like having an enema:It gets the job done but it can be very exhausting and can leave you feeling drained afterwards...

Anyway, I am off to shave what is left of my hair off, don my saffron robes and seek sanctuary in the aforementioned Himalayan Buddhist monastery in order to seek a few weeks quiet contemplation until the collective hysteria that has gripped this fair nation of ours has subsided. For all those kindred spirits who are nodding their heads in agreement with me, light up an incense stick, assume the Lotus position whilst facing a statue of The Enlightened One and chant after me:"Oh, Divine Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion... Om Nama Shivaya...Shivaya Nama Om...Status Quo for a Knighthood...Om Rama Krishna......"