New new Wembley, 2066. Eighth quarter of the BeckhamCorp World Cup Final™. AlanBall-o-matic passes to Hurst-o-tron – Hurst-o-tron swivels, and shoots! Russian-made linebot TofikBakhramo v2.0 hesitates… and says – or, rather, displays on a flashing kilometre-wide holo-screen – No Goal!
Yes, the linebot’s spotted some hurly-burly at a molecular level. The ball’s bounced down from the crossbar, and, as it’s hit the line, what’s happened is, some of the atoms’ve strayed into a position of quantum indeterminacy – remember, under the latest rule clarifications issued by Deep Blatter (the supercomputer formed in 2054 from a merger of FIFA and the CERN particle-collider), the whole of the ball must occupy a specific point in Einsteinian space-time.
Needless to say, all hell breaks loose. Hurst-o-tron protests that the wavefunction had already collapsed by the time the ball bounced clear. Defender Wolfgang WebBrowser flashes up a furious Error Message querying Hurst-o-tron’s grasp of the Copenhagen interpretation. But the goal is ruled out, and all England weeps…
…awake, in 2008, from cheese-fuelled vision of dystopian future. What a nightmare (especially that WebBrowser pun). Consider briefly the feasibility of an actual FIFA-CERN merger – they’re both in Geneva, they both secretly crave dominion over reality itself, why shouldn’t they hot-desk? – and then switch on television:
Burton-shirted Pundit wants video technology introduced; this will take the element of chance out of the game.
…sink head despondently in hands.
The idea of justice, of deserving something (as in, “We deserved something from the match”), is tied up tightly with the idea of intent. So, when a ball is flayed wildly towards a goal from thirty yards out, the flayer’s vague intent is for it to end up somewhere in the back of the net. What he doesn’t do is aim to make the ball bounce down off the crossbar, three inches over the goal-line, and out again. If he does that, it’s what’s called an accident – so, model-professional RespectBot that he is, he’ll just shrug, and allow himself an embarrassed smile, and be grateful for a lucky goal – and, should the ref call it wrong, he’ll still just shrug, because after all it was nothing but a fluke in the first place.
Only he won’t, of course, because he’s a big nappy-wetting baby, and neither will the fans, because they’re all big nappy-wetting babies too. What he’ll do, if it’s given, is run roaring around the pitch like a toddler that’s just been given an e-number enema, and, if it’s not, he’ll whine and sob and rail at the bitter-as-the-cud injustice of it all.
What’s most galling about such pathetic behaviour is that we accept it. If we’re not trotting out the laissez faire nihilist’s catch-all of choice – “Human nature, innit?” – we’re producing pitiful videos like this, in which various panto-grade celebs seek to demonstrate that, without the supervision of a referee, footballers will invariably and inevitably act like contemptible, cheating vermin.
Respecting the ref is fine, but wouldn’t it be better if we tried to get players to respect the rules first?
Animals, Sir Alf called the Argentines back in ’66 when they, let’s say, took issue with some of referee Kreitlein’s decisions in their match with England – by which he meant, in his cuddly way, that they showed no self-control, no self-discipline. The rights and wrongs of that incident are by-the-by: the point is that the term Ramsay used isn’t a bad one. Self-control, perspective, rational thought – decency, even: these are the things that make us human (you could say that Ronnie O’Sullivan and Adam Gilchrist are atypical humans in many ways, but do we really want to start classifying sportsmanship as an aberrant and alien condition?).
The point is that many things that happen in sport happen at random: lucky goals, freak mis-hits, snooker flukes. In the circumstances, it’s insane to pretend – or, rather, to insist (pretending is what we all do, from time to time) – that it all really matters, that it’s worth tearing your hair and gnashing your teeth about, that it’s more than a game.
I’ll be told, I’m sure, that I don’t Get It. Well, if this and this is the price you pay for Getting It, I’m not sure I Want It.