3 August 2022

"Only a game"

 When I was in my teens, an England cricket captain, Len Hutton, was made a Knight Bachelor. I well recall the heavy disdain in my Father's reaction to this announcement:

"It's only a game."

Since then, Sport has received an ever heavier emphasis in our public life. I have no doubt that honours galore, like muck being shovelled off the back of a lorry, will be onloaded onto everybody associated with "our" most recent Triumph: the winning by England of the European Women's Footie Championship. Important pigeonholes in Sports Personalityy Of The Year competitions are, one imagines, already booked. Who would dare ... ...

Much of the current hysteria, I quite simply fail to understand. The defeat of Germany by England, we are told, was an immense victory for Women and Girls. I presume these words are intended to mean something objective in the real world: but since both teams were composed exclusively of women, presumably ... whoever won ... it would have equally been a 'triumph for women' ... and ... Freddy Ayer, he say ... what cannot be falsified can hardly be safely affirmed.

And there were oddities ... such as this: one goal-scorer yanked off her shirt and ran around waving it (she was weaing a "sports bra"). A daft commentator expressed enormous pleasure because "She is doing exactly what the men do". I say no more.

But my main point is to ask what this hysteria for Sport really betokens.

What does it replace? 

What cultural phenomena does it express?

What is it hiding? 

10 comments:

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

I am as one with your father.

The secondary amusing thing, of course, is that you clearly watch all this in some detail, to glean these sad anecdotes. You thereby prove, were proof needed, that you are far from one of these Conservatives (as I sadly am) who burrow down into our little world like a Hobbit, as described in the article “Ten Principles of Conservative Activism” by Sebastian Morello in The European Conservative. (See FrZ's post today for the link.) No! You are what is needed in our world, a fighter! - Si vis pacem para bellum!

As the late historian Desmond Seward would have said, "all strength to your elbow!"

wonastow said...

Isn't the point of competitive team games a ritualisation of conflict resulting in the loser's humiliation rather than his annihilation? That seems to have been the case in mediaeval Tuscany where the opposing City States often employed mercenaries who had no wish to slaughter each other. In modern times the opponents are tribes (clubs) or nations and the game affords a relief of tensions that might otherwise result in violence.

Protasius said...

In a way, sports has become a parallel religion for many. The superficial similarities between football and Catholic are manifold: players and referees = clergy and servers; going to the stadium = pilgrimage; cult of players = cult of the saints; ritual chanting of the fans/the faithful; some even compare the cup of championships to a chalice or a monstrance, or speak of the football field as hallowed ground. Instead of salvation, there are cups and championship titles; when doing bad, instead of purgatory a club descends to a lower league, as if doing penance. These are externals, of course, and the last comparisons would most likely qualify as blasphemous, if taken seriously; but I cannot avoid to notice that even religious vocabulary is sometimes used by football commentators, going so far as to speak of a God of Football.

Also, at least in my home country, many local sport clubs have their games on Sunday morning, making it difficult for the players to attend church services (which somewhat reminds me of the gatherings of the Hitler youth in the 1930s in Germany, which were also often held on Sunday mornings for obvious reasons). I certainly do not equate those games with HJ gatherings, but the devil is cunning, and making it impossible for youth to attend services is obviously in his best interests. I have seen young people dropping from altar service, because their football/tennis/volleyball club had its games on Sunday morning.

There is certainly nothing intrinsically wrong with sports, but using it as a para-religion cannot be good. After all, as your late father so wisely remarked, «It's only a game.»

John Patrick said...

"A daft commentator expressed enormous pleasure because "She is doing exactly what the men do"."

Because one of the unintended consequences of the Women's Movement is that women are only valued to the extent they can do things that men do, as opposed to those things they are uniquely qualified for such as raising children.

I assume that in this recent sport victory there were no men masquerading as women on the team, unlike a recent swim tournament here in the US won by such an impostor. If so at least we can be thankful of that.

vetusta ecclesia said...


The sad thing that in almost every way ( not perhaps on- pitch theatricals) the women’s game is a clone of the men”s: the same hysterical style of commentary and post game fatuities in terms of journalists’ questions and players’ replies

Gaius said...

What does it replace?

What cultural phenomena does it express?

What is it hiding?


For many people, sports matches are the only time they get to feel a sense of civic or national pride.

william arthurs said...

The Wikipedia article on chariot racing states that, in Byzantium "It has been proposed, and disputed, that each faction was associated with particular theological perspectives and allegiances; the Greens with Monophysitism and the Blues with Chalcedonianism." I shall allude to this as historical perspective, the next time I dust off the old joke about the Pope signing for Glasgow Rangers.

PM said...

Protasius' analogy reminds me of a quip someone (I cannot remember who) made about the liturgy: the Usus Recentior is to the Usus Antiquior as fifty-over cricket is to a test match.

I am also reminded of the choice observation by the great all-rounder and World War II fighter pilot Keith Miller. When an interviewer started talking about the pressure faced by modern sportsmen, Miller shot back (in words slightly edited for decorum) 'a Messerschmitt up your tail at three thousand feet is pressure. A game of cricket is not.'

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

In America, we will soon be watching The NFL games and so it does a fella well to remember that it was you folks - people from England- who brought us this sport.

In "Albion's Seed," David Hackett Fischer" tells us about how y'all used to have football games on New Year's Day or Shrove Tuesday or Easter Monday (beginning on page 148) that involved men and women competing to see which town/team could move a ball from one end of the town to another and it was a contest that involved violence.

Now in America we have, of course, made it a professional sport and many men get drunk as Puritans as they watch the game (See page 115).

Drunk as Puritans, I think we should popularise that phrase.

wonastow said...

I have received an email in response to my comment (supra) -

"Well said, Wonastow!

Apropos, once as I was watching the Welsh get beaten by the Saffers [South Africans]on the big screen in the Welsh Centre [in London], a little Welshman took exception to a smug comment from a gigantic Boer at the bar and tried to have a go. As the Welshman was restrained by his friends, the Saffer compounded the insult by saying "come on man, it's only a game." To which the Welshman's furious response: "It's not a f*****g game, it's the only f*****g thing we do!"

And that's why the only people we really care to beat are the English."