Saturday, March 31, 2007

Footballers: Old Romantics at Heart

After Ian Pierce snatched Fulham's late equaliser against Portsmouth earlier today, Soccer Saturday sage Jeff Stelling opined on how the journey-man centre back's intervention on behalf of the Cottagers would have spoiled Harry Redknapp's fifth anniversary as Portsmouth manager - sidelining in this post-nuptial calculation Our 'Arry's "brief sojourn" (Jeff's words) over the road at Southampton.

Now, I'm no marital guidance councillor, despite having read my fair share of Dear Miriams, but I'd wager a Robert or two that spending the best part of a year lodging apart from your loved-one - not only with another partner, but the bitterest enemy of your current missus - is rarely termed in the business a 'sojourn'.

Whatever Relate's best advice is for couples dealing with an affair, referring to said infidelity in the same manner as one would perhaps describe a trip to Provence, or possibly a spell in a Swiss sanatorium, is probably not it. But in Stelling's blithe air-brushing of Redknapp's less than salubrious extra-marital dalliances, there is a salutary lesson to be learned for us lovers of joga bonito.

Yes, when it comes to affairs of the heart, football fans know that it is better to forgive and forget. A star player's youthful concupiscence is often overlooked once his errant career move(s) leads to that moment of recognition; i.e. his one true love was who he was with in the first place. This revelatory clarity was known to the ancient Greeks as anagnorisis; but may perhaps be better understood in modern day footballing parlance as the knowledge of 'never-bloody-having-it-so-good'.

Robbie Fowler, revered in the Kop end as 'God', did his best fallen deity impression whilst embarking upon a passage of peripatetic poaching around England's northern climes - but no sooner did Rafa Benitez realise that an ailing thirty-something goal-hanger who could barely run was just what his strikeforce needed, than Anfield opened its arms wide for another passionate embrace with its former beau. Doubtless the obituaries will describe Fowler as a one-club man.

Like star-crossed lovers, certain players/managers are inseparably entwined with their club, and even a bit of hanky-panky on the side cannot (and indeed must not) shake the convictions of the faithful. The footballing public is often done a disservice in descriptions that lean heavily toward the binge-drinking, lairy-chanting, couldn't-set-off-a-firework-in-a-match-factory variety, but clearly the unstinting knowledge that some relationships are just meant to be displays no small degree of classical learning. Tristan and Iseult is perhaps the best analogue for our modern day 'When Harry met Pompey' tear-jerker, with both hero and heroine marrying other partners in spite of their eternal bond. The fact that they were buried side-by-side should not be mistaken for the looming threat of relegation here, as going down is usually only a problem in unsuccessful liaisons.

Similarly, when Clinton Morrison scuttled back to Selhurst Park after three somewhat barren years with Birmingham, the Palace support immediately forgave him for scoring with someone else (perhaps because largely he didn't). Graham Taylor, surely a man only a mother could truly love, seems to be a beacon for polygamous enduring affection, with both Watford and Aston Villa eager to welcome ol' turnip 'ead back for another roll in the hay. One would not be surprised were the Lilywhites to fall for Sol Campbell's charms once again, despite the ritual cutting up of the wardrobe, throwing out of cherished photo albums, and burning of crudely constructed effigies that followed his (admittedly somewhat brazen) move across the block to Arsenal. Hate is, after all, the flip side on the coin of love.

So, far be it from me to correct the learned utterances of Stelling. My initial suspicion that he was merely searching for a schmaltzy soundbite, and didn't mind trampling roughshod over history to get it, was on reflection a touch disingenuous. Clearly, despite the superficial trappings which adorn the contemporary kickabout, a soft-centred goo still resides beneath the sickly exterior. And next time I have to sing 'You're not fit to wear the shirt', it'll be with the sweet flush of affection warming my insides. That or a meat pasty, of course.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home