July 16, 2016
Most modern football players have no personal connection to the town or city in which they play; they will change their single worthless shirt sooner than any mercenary soldier will change his army; but the fools who watch them at their new “club,” or money-laundering operation, regard them as one of us.
In my childhood I too participated in that pseudo-communion that professional sport provides for millions of people: I “supported” a football team. In those days, at least in England, the stadiums were grim and ramshackle, but entry was so cheap that football was still a proletarian sport (and not the sport of the middle classes pretending to be proletarian that it is today), and the behavior of the crowds was orderly; the pitches were often seas of mud and the ball became so heavy and sodden in the rain that some players eventually suffered from traumatic dementia from heading it. In those days, also, players were not well”let alone fabulously”paid; indeed, they were provided a maximum wage approximately equal to that, say, of a factory foreman. Nor did anyone know much about them once they had left the field, and they returned home by bus like any other worker. Their only claim to celebrity was that their faces appeared on cigarette cards that children like me collected, a full set of which was the summit of our ambition.
In regard to football, at least, those days were saner than ours. For a brief period we had made an advance over Pliny’s time, but I suppose regression to the stupid was inevitable. And in a strange way, reading Pliny’s letter is reassuring. If human folly has remained much the same and taken a similar form over two millennia, then one finds it easier to accept it just as it is, as inevitable, and to feel no duty to reform or enlighten it. And”let us be frank”one has follies of one’s own.