Nik Darlington is a freelance journalist and parliamentary adviser in Westminster. He is the editor of the Tory Reform Group's new blog, Egremont -
“Football is an art more central to our culture than anything the Arts Council deigns to recognise.”
I see where Germaine Greer is coming from. Or I used to see where Germaine Greer was coming from. She wrote it in the Independent nearly fifteen years ago during Euro ‘96, that heady English summer when football was coming home, but was shaken out of its stupor on the doorstep and remembered it still lodged in Germany.
As I was growing up, football was nothing short of an obsession. Merlin sticker books. Championship Manager. Dennis Bergkamp, Ian Wright, David Seaman, David Platt, and Paul Merson. Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch. Historic Wembley’s twin towers. The FA Cup. Exotic names at 4.45pm on a Saturday afternoon: Accrington Stanley and Crewe Alexandra, Port Vale and Plymouth Argyle, Queens Park Rangers and Queen of the South, Stenhousemuir and Sheffield Wednesday. And always Arsenal - a name clipped, robust, militaristic.
Those green senses. The smell of fried onions outside the North Bank. The blisters in August’s new boots. Blades. Then no blades. Doing a ‘Beckham’, on the pitch and in the barber’s. The pain of defeat, but the ecstasy of winning. Steve Bould to Tony Adams (above), 4-0.
But football had become less magical. I have become older, certainly, but football had become more childish, more vagrant, even.
Hooliganism has been around for decades, and actually feels less prevalent today. However, police think it might be on the rise again, and it is true that going to a football match can sometimes leave a bad taste in your mouth, or a foul ringing in your ears. There is no need for ‘family enclosures’ in rugby and cricket grounds.
Yet the behaviour of England fans in the most recent World Cup was mostly exemplary, for instance, and hooliganism is not always the reserve of a thuggish minority of fans. Brian Clough, County and Nottingham Forest, said in 1990, “Football hooligans? Well, there are ninety-two club chairmen for a start.” And as former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson said in 2004, “There is more politics in football than in politics.”