Disclaimer – No football analysis contained within; you may wait for the first of my candidates for Ngonge Awards, due soon.
As time, and Times, go on, I’m growing progressively fond of Simon Barnes’ writing in the Times. Indeed, frequently his pieces rival those of Gabriele Marcotti for the most satisfying read in Monday’s edition. He wrote, this week, of the Grand National, and I think his sentiments echo mine – I was going to write before the race, but decided not to.
It was held last Saturday afternoon, and I’ve absolutely no idea who won (though have since discovered the horse is trained near Bingley) it. The news, happily, that all the horses and jockeys returned alive and well, was the only thing I cared to hear. That that is the case feels at a complete juxtaposition with the notion of sport as an entity. I can thrill, equally, at the performance of a Federer, of a Usain Bolt, even of an Kanaeva at times. At no stage do I fear those competitors will lose their lives. I watch road cycling, where riders have died, but don’t fear it happening every day; precautions are taken enough to keep the sport safe. Even at the higher speeds of Formula 1, which I might put on if I’ve finished washing my hair, year on year, the increase in car performance is always metered by a need to keep the sport as safe as it can be.
Thus, the news, excitedly reported, of zero fatalities during the race is a good thing, but only in that specific contest. It would need that statement to be so routine as to be unnecessary before I would feel comfortable with the Grand National. Don’t get me wrong, I have no fundamental problem with humans on horseback challenging one another to be the most rapid over a previously arranged length of terrain. I have a problem with an inevitability that a number of participants will be fatally injured doing it, and any acceptance of that fact. So, yes, it was happy news that every competitor lived after the Grand National. It would be happier news, ten years from now, to be able to say the same of the next 10 incarnations of the race.
It would be happy news to report, too, that the Derby della Capitale, between Lazio and Roma, had brought with it a sum total of zero stabbings. Pie in the sky stuff at the moment. The last count I saw was of three stabbings before Monday’s game; and its not even the first time Lazio have had such problems this season. Lazio chairman Lotito sought to play down the issue, which reared its head in clashes before Lazio’s games with both Borussia Moenchengladbach and Tottenham Hotspur this season. There was an inference after visiting the Spurs fan in hospital (there was some truly horrific photographs around at that time) that it was possibly Roma fans getting involved with the violence but claiming to be doing it under the pretence of Lazio. That patently is not the case with the derby match on Sunday.
So, action needs to be taken. Lotito himself has, at least publically, condemned the culture of stabbing that seems to surround Roman football. I’ve been pondering this, and there’s arguments for points penalties, for banning from European competition, for all sorts of sanctions to be brought into play. However, to threaten either Roma, or Lazio, with a sanction would only serve to give further credence (should any other incidents occur) that the ‘other’ fans were acting to bring about punishment for their rivals. Any punishment, then, has to be able to enacted upon those who are doing it, be they Roma, or Lazio.
I have an idea. Next season, don’t have a Derby della Capitale. Call it off. Instead of playing the game, giving both teams the opportunity of gaining three points, giving both teams any possibility of matchday revenue, don’t play it. Perhaps award a ceremonial draw – two points each, to cover both games – and then move on, the boards of both clubs aggrieved they didn’t get chance to play the games – maybe that would sting them into taking some sort of affirmative action against those people who conduct themselves so abhorrently. If that precedent is set, then it can be used again should the problem recur, or elsewhere. It isn’t ‘letting the hooligans win’, its ‘not letting them have their playground’. Football fans are people. The great many of them are decent, peaceful people, who are appalled at supporters of another club being stabbed simply for daring to be in a certain place. To punish those supporters is a little Draconian, perhaps, but drastic problems sometimes need a drastic solution.
A lot has been written recently about how Margaret Thatcher ‘tackled’ Britain’s hooligan problem. It’s a nonsense, of course, she did nothing of the sort. The ID card scheme that was mooted was shelved, and the changes in football themselves came about as a result of the Taylor Report, the progressive switch to all-seater stadia and, a gradual seachange in society that made football a more middle-class sport. The argument from the FA at the time was that they were society’s hooligans latched onto football. That’s why football is not commemorating her death – her politics made little imprint on the sport.
The ID cards were just one of many aspects of Thatcher’s politics I would disagree with. I grew up in the North of England, in the 1980s, and times were hard there. I am, resolutely, not a Thatcherite. However, upon news of her death, I did not get up and dance. I did not punch the air. Why would I? An old, frail, probably very confused, woman had passed away. That isn’t to say those who did so were wrong, just to say that to do so isn’t something I would feel comfortable doing.
To celebrate her death because of actions she took in a position she held around 25 years and more ago, it all felt faintly medieval. The spectre of her politics, yes, I could understand celebration at its demise. Even her tearful departure from office, I can see cause for rejoice. I just couldn’t marry up my feeling that, in the whole echelon of the UK, Margaret Thatcher’s light had long since burned out; but then I’ve always put little stock in idols and figureheads.
I was hopeful that we might see fresh impetus in people’s interest in politics. Younger people might see the reaction on the differing side of the coins and learn how much those stuck-up people in Whitehall can, very easily, affect their entire lives. Early in the piece, I’m not seeing great signs of that happening, though there does seem a lot of anger from people too young to remember the Thatcher Years; people who have latched onto somebody they think serves as a national hate figure.
I don’t see it that way. The UK once again has a Conservative Party in government doing things that are widely unpopular with great swathes of the population. The death of Margaret Thatcher does not change that in any way. David Cameron will not lower his flag and retreat. The current government is the current problem – you can’t win battles in the past, only the future. To paraphrase a proverb; it was not the head of the snake that died, and as such, the sense of ‘victory’ that it brought felt a little almost as if people were going back to the days of putting a head on a stick at the gate of the town. Which brings us full circle. Public tastes change. We no longer have lynchings and public hangings. People express their dissatisfaction in other ways now.
I was worried – I am worried about posting this. I don’t write about my personal views on things a lot. I tend to report things that have, undeniably, happened. As such, I’m wary of any feedback I might receive. If you agree or disagree, I’d be interested to hear, not just that you do, but more why. The subjects I have written about, and my views on them, are not cast in stone – they’re based on my experience, and my feelings. Conversation; the ability to impart complex ideas from one human brain to another is one of the finest achievements in the history of mankind. Feel free to try it.