Something that fascinates me about sport is its ability to generate stories and culture about itself. Arguably, no sport does this more than football. Perhaps it’s because of the nigh incessant 24/7 news coverage, articles and commentaries but I can’t remember the last day in my life where I didn’t hear someone mention something about the sport. I’ve sat nonplussed in an office in China and discussed Premier League gossip; I can’t go on a family holiday without my brother harping on about Marcos Reus. Don’t get me wrong: I love it. But what I want to know is what is it that endears us to football so much? And in particular, what is it about football that leads us into such fantasy? Fantasy, you ask? No, I’m not just talking about fantasy football: I mean pure fantasy. I recently discovered Cambridge professor Andy Martin’s blog ‘Becks in Paris’, a thought experiment in which he imagines David Beckham’s internal monologue as he collides with the Parisian intellectual tradition – he calls it the “the glittering surface of a footballing icon cracked open by existentialism. Golden boy deconstructed.” Yes, this is a grown man, a Cambridge professor no less, committing his spare time to pretending to be a pretend version of an enlightened David Beckham.
But who am I to criticise? Upon reading about Beck’s imagined angst, I swiftly found my own mind wondering. The blog reminded me of something I had read about the post-structuralist critic Jacques Derrida: he grew up wanting to become a footballer. This made me think: which theorists and writers would I want in my literary football team? I couldn’t risk Derrida in the midfield, what with his insistence on breaking down the centre and inability to find the middle, but perhaps his reliance on play would be useful out wide? No, it would have to be William Blake providing the imagination and vision in the midfield, paired with Dickens to add work rate. I would need a nice combo up front, a little and large, Defoe and Crouch-esque pairing: John Donne to tie the defence up in tricky paradoxes, Jonathan Swift to hammer home the points. William Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson would be my centre-backs, for their mutual understanding at the back of course, with Will the natural driving force of the team, and Johnson keeping him in check. With his confusing tactics, willingness to try anything, and subversion of the norm Laurence Sterne would be my masterful manager, and for those spiky press conferences after narrow losses, who better than Alexander Pope: he would leave the journos more confused after leaving the room than when he had walked in, unsure whether they had just been complimented or insulted. I could go on for hours: Hunter S. Thompson writing match reports; Jack Kerouac driving the team bus.
I just spoke about 1000 years of literatures greatest writers as if they were footballers: all pure fantasy. What is it about football that does this, why is it that this is the medium so many choose to form their creative output within? Perhaps football’s endless possibilities: Palace beating Liverpool, Southampton’s rise from nowhere… Tottenham, help us comprehend the day to day possibilities of life. Or maybe it is because with so much football going on, and so much written, read and spoken about it, it has truly become the only scope with which to take a sideways, or perhaps more appropriately, side-line, look at the world. Football’s pervasiveness and omnipresence makes it an easy metaphor which which to analyse the world. Now that’s a fantasy I’m happy to live in.