I don’t have many friends who I genuinely admire and look up to.
Don’t get me wrong, I have very many excellent friends but I consider them my equals, people I can share a pint and a laugh with on equal terms. I do, however, have a couple of acquaintances who I look up to as my peers, who’s intellect and opinion I consider very valuable indeed, and when they speak I shut up and listen.
One of these friends, I’ll call him George, spoke this weekend and what he said happened to be caught on film, so I naturally listened.
Yes, George did a rather stupid thing. In the film he is seen walking away from a football match where his beloved Chelsea have just taken a stinging defeat at the hands of one of their numerous arch rivals, Liverpool. This defeat was one of many recent defeats, and after last year’s string of incredible victories it is plain to see that your average Chelsea fan is feeling rather hurt and vulnerable at the moment. From a year in the sun to the shadow of relegation must be a bitter pill to swallow for any fan of the so-called beautiful game.
So in this film a roving reporter for a digital sports channel pops his microphone under George’s nose and asks for his opinion. George gives it. The reporter plays Devil’s Advocate and offers George a contrary view.
The blue touch paper is lit. Poor old George turns an unhealthy shade of crimson and explodes.
What follows is a rather painful rant aimed at various football governing bodies, the referees and the fan of other teams, specifically the fans of Liverpool who George rather alarmingly describes as ‘Scum’. He goes on to suggest there is a conspiracy against Chelsea and their manager, Jose Mourinho, a conspiracy that goes to the very top of world football.
Now, we all know that there is some dirty business going on at FIFA at the moment and I am possibly the least qualified person on the planet to comment on such things, but what saddened me about George’s tirade was the vitriol he aimed at the Liverpool fans. He calls them ‘Scouse Scum’ and urges them to ‘crawl back to their horrible Merseyside homes’.
As I said earlier, oh George.
I was rather late to the party and I was dismayed to see that some 94,000 people had already viewed this film before me, and many had chosen to leave their views in the comments section.
George had gone viral.
The thing is, the person described in the comments certainly isn’t the George I know.
Then again, the George on screen isn’t the George I know either.
So what had happened?
In the various reports that followed in the tabloid news it is revealed that George is an award winning lawyer, one of the finest in his field, which happens to be insurance and re-insurance. If you’re like me and don’t have a clue what the hell re-insurance is, then I’ll tell you what I found when I looked it up. Basically (I think!) re-insurance is where small, high risk insurance policies are sold on to larger insurance firms who agree to take part of the risk of these policies, allowing small companies or people in third world countries to take out some form of cover and ensure their future livelihoods.
I know that insurance companies don’t do these things out of the kindness of their hearts, but I’ve spoken to George at length about this subject and he comes across as almost evangelical in his enthusiasm for the altruistic side of this transaction. He is supplying a service to the poor and vulnerable, and if their is war or fire or some other calamity, these small businesses will not be left destitute.
So why would a man with such strong views on fairness describe Liverpudlians as ‘Scum’? Why would he snarl about their ‘horrible Merseyside homes’?
I think I have the answer.
George succumbed to passion.
In France they say that a person can be let off a terrible crime if it is seen as a ‘crime passionnel’, a crime of passion. In the heat of the moment a man or woman might temporarily lose their heads, give in to a darker side of the psyche and commit a terrible act. The French can see that a perfectly sane person is capable of temporary acts of madness and may be pardoned.
Quite often the catalyst for such an act is love. In this case, a love of the sport, a love of his team. Sometimes it is loyalty. Again, nothing seems to stir up loyalty more than sport, except perhaps war, and in some cases the two are interchangeable – Take the 1969 Football War between Honduras and El Salvador, for example.
In the case of my friend George I can see clear elements of love and loyalty being involved in his actions, but I think the greatest culprit is that of of tribalism, where the perpetrator is swept along in some form of violence against one group while being part of an opposing group.
As a person who has absolutely no interest in football I find it hard to understand the mindset of a loyal fan. Indeed, I find it difficult to understand what drives any group, or even the need to be part of a group. All my life I have been an outsider, not by my own choosing really but because most groups didn’t want me for one reason or another.
Sad, I know.
While this can be rather isolating, it does allow a person to observe The Group from the outside and comment on it without being influenced by the distorting fog of passion.
To be part of something is to be accepted, to feel a common surge of camaraderie. To be ‘one of the gang’ is to never be alone, indeed, to quote the dread Liverpudlians, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
No-one wants to be alone, not really, and those who say otherwise are probably lying. I am comfortable with solitude but love the company of others – where I am slightly different is that by never having being part of the gang I do not crave that role, I have no need for it in my life. Most of my writing is from a solitary perspective, being outside, looking in. Observing.
There is a truly gifted writer who goes by the name of Walter Otton. He writes firmly from within The Group, a member of the gang, and it is a position I find sometimes find baffling when I read his work. He writes predominantly from the viewpoint of a football fan, a fan of Chelsea FC, as it happens. What Makes Otton different from a lot of writers is his ability to capture that feeling of being part of the whole, almost as if Otton the individual is secondary to him. I remember a short story he wrote about a business meeting he was going to attend, an informal thing in a pub. He sat with his beer in a pub, waiting to meet his client, when his attention was caught by a group of young men, chatting excitedly.
In the story, the sound of their voices cause the hackles to rise on Otton’s neck. They have Northern accents, Leeds accents. There is Otton, alone in the pub with a mob of Leeds fans. The sweat drips down his collar and Otton has to fight the urge to grind his pint glass into the face of the nearest Northerner.
Why is that? I found this story to be a strange one, to say the least. Here is an intelligent man, a fluent writer, and just because he hears a voice from a few miles up the road, the voice of people who live on the same island as him, he feels an urge to fight.
This is the tribalism coming out. Here is Otton, isolated from his tribe, his beloved Chelsea, and suddenly he is confronted by a rival tribe, Dirty Leeds.
Now, I am from Leeds. I also know that if I arranged to meet Walter Otton he would greet me like a brother, even though we have never met. If I told him I’d lost my wallet on the train he would buy me beers all night and let me kip on his couch. Why do I know this? Because that’s the sort of bloke Walter is. But under certain circumstances the red mist can descend and he has the potential to act irrationally, passionately.
Tribe against tribe both Walter Otton and my friend George have the ability to generalise, to put a region into the class of a common enemy, whereas they are generous and courteous to the individual. I’m sure if they met a Liverpudlian in dire need they would help him out without a second thought, but put him in a red scarf with a dozen other of their tribe then the Chelsea would come out in them both and have them howling like dogs.
But look at the reaction to George’s interview. Look at the hate poured out in the comments section. Vicious generalisations, angry rantings about City lawyers sneering at the poor, death threats, mob howls for revenge against a person they’ve seen in a three minute video.
More tribalism, this time class-based tribalism. There’s nothing the country likes to hate more these days than a posh accent and a plump bank account. How many Guys on the fires tonight will be Fat Cat city types?
I am firmly of the opinion that these tribal divides suit the present government’s needs rather nicely. A country divided is weakened. North hates South and South hates North, poor hate rich and rich hate poor, city hates city, street hates street. I used to live in a town where there were two cricket clubs and they were bitter rivals, referring to each other as the ‘Top Enders’ and the ‘Bottom Enders’. If the true name of the respective pubs was ever uttered within the opposing club house then the member would be fined, having to put a fiver in the swear box on the bar.
Tribalism creates love within the tribe and hate outside the tribe. To succumb to tribalism at the cost of reason is to succumb to stupidity.
I am afraid to say this is what happened to my friend George. One of the finest minds in the country momentarily succumbed to stupidity. A stupidity that came of passion for his tribe, Chelsea.
A Crime Passionnel.
Now, my friend George has the benefit of a superior education, coupled, in my opinion, with a superior intellect. This should allow him to be rational in all things but clearly this is not the case. Passion overrules. His love for the sport, for the team, his loyalty to Mourinho, and to the club, his fierce reaction as a member of a tribe, all these things conspired to make George act foolishly.
But there is one aspect of this I find interesting.
My friend George is from Irish stock, as am I.
Just about every Irish immigrant seeking a new life on these shores first set foot on British soil in one place – Liverpool. The Irish have been coming here for decades, fleeing poverty, seeking a better life. George’s father was among them, and he eventually came to settle in London and joined the police force, steadily rising through the ranks until he became a celebrated detective. His hard work and diligence allowed him to pay for a superior education for his son who took this excellent opportunity and ran with it, just as his father had, only George followed law in a slightly different direction.
You see, George’s father made some good choices, and as such he was able to load the dice slightly for young George, let it come up sixes more than it did twos or threes.
But just think, what if George’s father decided to join the constabulary where he first landed, just walked across the dock and signed up at the nearest police force to hand? What if he had never moved, and what if he hadn’t worked quite so hard, only rising to the position of Sergeant, perhaps? There would have been no superior education and the opportunities of London would not be there. I am sure that George would make a success of himself no matter where he landed, but just how big a success is to be wondered.
And as for tribe, which would he choose?
It wouldn’t be Chelsea, that’s for sure.
There would be every chance that our George would be hurrying along on a Saturday beneath the shadow of dockyard cranes with a red scarf proudly around his neck, anxious to see his team kick the arses of the Blues, and he would sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ alongside the rest of his tribe, and it would be some other poor bloke who got interviewed on the internet last Saturday when his team got beaten and he allowed all his love and loyalty and passion to spill out and be recorded for the delectation of the masses.
There but for the grace of God…
But all passion is foolish.
Great men have acted foolishly in the pursuit of the woman they love, atrocities are committed in the name of political parties, tribes of Israel seek to destroy tribes of Palestine.
All passionate, all foolish.
But who amongst us hasn’t acted foolishly? I know I have, more times than I care to remember.
Passion drives foolishness but it can also drive good.
Without passion there would have been no Live Aid. Without passion there would be no art, no music, no writing. I’ve not sat here tapping these keys for the last couple of hours for the good of my bloody health. I’ve done it because I feel passionately about a decent man being portrayed as something he’s not. Three minutes at the end of a football match doesn’t portray the man. It doesn’t show the father, the husband, the wit or the humanity. It doesn’t show the friend.
It’s alright to feel passion for football but never let it cloud your judgement, never let the love of a game create hatred against others.
So here’s a novelty. Lucifer quoting Jesus.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
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