This Saturday, something more incredible happened than a standard day in the life of Mario Balotelli or all the £50 million transfers and Rooney bicycle kicks put together; notorious dickhead (and sometime professional footballer) Joey Barton retweeted a Nietzsche quote. I shit you not. The quote in question was: ‘whoever feels predestined to see and not to believe will find all believers too noisy and pushy: he guards against them’. Indeed, the quote, which warns against dogmatic belief, is actually rather sophisticated; not one of the many philosophy ‘rent-a-quote’ that abound. This is especially so for it being so axiomatic to those (like myself) who see that Joey Barton has Tweeted a Nietzsche quote, but don’t quite believe it. Maybe Barton is aware of this and using the logic of the quote itself to prove itself. Yes, retweeting is simple, but it suggests he must have had at least a vague knowledge and/or interest of Nietzsche to follow the page in the first place. Further research into his Twitter activity reveals that he allows follows and re-tweets ‘Philosophy quotes’. Maybe the philosophy graduate side of me is reading too much into it, but why can’t one be fanciful.
An unusually thoughtful Joey Barton
Maybe this not only marks a positive turning point in Barton’s life (at last!), but heralds a new zeitgeist in football culture; a vision infamously satirised by Monty Python, where the self-examination reaches greater philosophical depths than clichéd at-the-end-of-the-days. TAY envisions this by taking a prophetic look back at the philosophical musings on the season that will be (don’t worry, all will make sense)….
The epistemology of officials’ decisions
In January’s top-of-the-table clash between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium, Alex Ferguson was unusually sanguine about the decision to play over the already excessive five minutes of stoppage time – time that ultimately proved United’s undoing as Arsenal scored a last-minute winner from a dubious penalty. He claimed: “though, as I experienced it, sufficient time had expired to warrant the blowing of the final whistle, I would venture that we cannot be objectively certain of this. O.K. in the past, I have been known to get rather impertinent about stoppage time, but I have done some research on the philosophy of time and perception and come to think time is not necessarily as concrete as I hitherto perceived it to be. For I am just one entity receiving particular, potentially fallible, sense experience datum. It is the classic problem in the epistemology of perception isn’t it? How do I know that what I see as the red of our great club’s shirt, you do not see as blue which you have merely been socially conditioned to acknowledge as ‘red’. I can’t know this for sure. Indeed, greats such as Ayer and Russell have, with the argument from illusion amongst others, exposed the flaws of this view appositely deemed naive realism.”
Despite the TAY interviewer’s gestures hinting that he needed to wrap things up, Fergie was well and truly off on one: “furthermore, what is time? Because we have always lived with it and have no reference points, so to speak, we accept the absolute, inevitable uniformity of time as a certainty. But this is not necessarily accurate. In his discourse with Newton (who expounded the accepted view), great German thinker Gottfried Leibniz postulated some very interesting points in opposition to this view. He espoused a ‘relational’ view of time, which I am very taken by, whereby time is merely a contingent, human ordering upon actual objects. So, in answer to your question, yes, I thought there was a lot of time, but I am liable to error.”
A pensive Alex Ferguson
Elsewhere, forthright Neil Warnock and Ferguson’s one-time player Steve Bruce have also been far more considered in their critique of officials’ performances this season. In one interview following a match in which Malbranque was harshly sent for an early bath, Bruce even sympathetically (if a little patronisingly) accounted for the referee’s supposed poor judgement by comparing him to one of the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave; consigned to believe mere shadows of real life are real life.
A discourse of justice in football
Wolves’ midfield enforcer Karl Henry, infamous for making Joey Barton look rather cuddly, was also oddly philosophical about his seventh red card of the season against Villa in late January. “Yes, regretfully, it was a poor, reckless challenge for what was, with the wonderful benefit of hindsight, a 20/80 ball in a not particularly dangerous area of the pitch. I should have heeded the great Ray Wilkins’ advice to ‘stay on my feet’, but this is easier said than done. For, in the words of the great Hume I believe, ‘reason is the slave of the passions’. I’d venture that nowhere is this more true than when you’re out there, fans singing their hearts out, blood curdling in your veins, heart beating at 100mph, literally and figuratively behind the beloved club badge. I saw a flash of the ball and passion overcame me. Should this one transgression with no malice merit such a draconian sentence in our supposedly compassionate, forgiving, big, if you will, society? I don’t think it should. Arguably, it even reduces the punishers to the level of the punished and thus perpetuates the cycle of transgression. For one, it hasn’t work on me this season. I am a strong advocate of rehabilitative, not punitive, measures for those who have transgressed, such as education, community service, apology and general reintegration into society. I believe this should and could be effectively translated into football, with sin-bins, enforced apologies and equivalents to community service in having to help the opposition. For example, helping with the water-bottles and half-time oranges or even playing for the other team. Football should be about sportsmanship, redemption and general human virtue, no?”. To which the perplexed TAY reporter said “errr…yeh. Thanks, Karl”.
Self and society
After a typically perfunctory performance, right-back Luke Young gave a brilliantly abstract – and scathingly honest – appraisal of his role in the Aston Villa win against Sunderland (and indeed, in the grander scheme of things). “Yeh I thought I put in a decent shift today, but the right’s back role is not one of the most prestigious in the game. Us full-back’s are, along with the other defenders and the keeper, somewhat analogous to the ‘productive’ or workers caste Plato outlined in his masterpiece, The Republic. We are just the allegorical abdomen. Yes, we have moderation inherent to the whole system and the ‘appetite’ to win the ball, but it is the ‘spirit’ of midfielders who, like the ‘protective’ caste, are strong, brave and adventurous to do the more creative work. And it is the strikers who represent the head of the system; they have the wisdom and decisiveness to make the important decisions which translate into collective virtue. So, yeah, at the end of the day, I thought I had a pretty good game, but it was a team performance.”
Discourse of Aristotelian purpose in football
What came as most surprising though was how deeply pensive Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand (two hitherto not particularly known for their intellect) were in their April defeat to Chelsea which ultimately lost them the title:
Rooney: “Yes, of course, I’m disappointed, especially because I skied the penalty. But when the chips are down, football is, on the surface at least, just a bunch of athletic people with extremely co-ordinated feet attempting to shepherd a bit of leather into an outdoor cupboard. It doesn’t come close to matching in import some of the huge issues that are unfortunately plaguing the world we inhabit today. To name but a few; global warming, institutional corruption, political injustice, the reality of the Pareto principle, lack of clean water, infant mortality, insufficient education and, perhaps most importantly, widespread ignorance of and indifference to these problems. I love football, but its purpose is not easily explicable, not least by Aristotle’s notorious four causes; in my humble opinion, a cornerstone of classical philosophy. Thus, I am left to conceive of football as ‘just a game’, as the age-old cliché goes.”
Ferdinand: “Interesting thoughts, Wayne. The problems in the world that you note are indeed very real and worrying, but I think football can be in harmony with, not in opposition to, these issues as it has a huge effect on millions of lives, tangible and abstract. Tangibly, it brings people together, helps a healthy lifestyle and promotes fair play, co-operation and team-work. And, as testified by the foundations and trusts we are part of, football can also be a great vehicle for positive societal and cultural change. See, for one, the hugely positive role the ‘Let’s Kick it Out’ campaign had on race relations in Britain. I for one can now, thankfully, play football free from the malicious chanting and banana-throwing which so blighted the careers of some of my heroes’ such as John Barnes.”
Rooney: “Yes all valid points, Rio, but I find this vision rather idealistic and utopian. Just as there are many who are inspired by us to take up football, many are sadly content to merely gaze for hours at screens, watching live games or playing the litany of football-based videogames – ironically causing obesity somewhat. And, yes, football can be a force for change, but with all due respect I think you overstate how much it is. In addition to commendably promoting many a human virtue, football also brings out much of the worse in humanity; prospering only through cheating or deceit in the frequent diving and histrionics evident in top-level football, lack of respect in the demonisation of officials and undue aggression in foul-tempered outbursts. I must concede culpability for the latter two, for which I again apologise profusely.
Ferdinand: “*patting Rooney on the back* It’s o.k., Wayne, and it is very admirable of you to admit to your shortcomings, in addition to the other ills that unfortunately blight the beautiful game. I think that football does, though, offer a very important sense of cultural and regional identity, even ‘hope’, which Obama showed to be such a powerful motivator.
Rooney: “Yes, but footballers are so divorced from those they represent. It’s bizarre; very few players actually grow up supporting the team they now play for, even kiss the badge of, yet the fans imbue such a sense of community purpose in to them. Furthermore, up until around 20 years ago, players would have a real connection with the fans; having a pint with them in the pub after the game. But now players and clubs are so rootless; divorced from those who idolise them in geography, lifestyle, even language and, perhaps most importantly, finance. I, and I daresay you too my dear friend, must admit we are prime examples of this; growing up Everton and West Ham fans and living in our mock-tudor mansions in gated communities….
Ferdinand: Hmmm…Lady Gaga is absolutely nutty I should say, but she is one of the most popular figures on the planet at the moment. Undoubtedly, the culture surrounding football has transformed from a gritty, ‘sporting’ affair to one that is a heady maelstrom of commerce, business, entertainment… and sport. I don’t know that this is such a bad thing, though. Much of the rest of popular culture offers utopian escapism, so why shouldn’t football? The fact remains that we are worshipped by millions worldwide, particularly in this country.
Rooney: Granted, Rio; we are, but I’m still postulating as to quite why we are…
Ferdinand: …well, Wayne, the great Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx, both whom I know you are familiar with *Rooney nods in agreement*, successfully illustrated how powerful and socially cohesive the forces of religion and industry can be, regardless, or even in spite of, their opinions of these forces. In the post-structuralist, post-industrialised, heterogenous, secular society (and to an extent, world) that we undoubtedly live in today, football has for me somewhat assumed the role that religion and vocation used to largely fulfil. People literally live for the game. Arguably, it has even become a new Marxian ‘opiate of the masses’….”
And with that, Rooney and Ferdinand ambled back to the changing room, index finger and thumb on chin, continuing their deep discussion on the ultimate purpose of football (if any), leaving the TAY interviewer, quite frankly, completely befuddled.
A philosophical Wayne Rooney