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Uruguay, who famously fought their way to the semis thanks to the “hand of God” – or rather, the hand of Suarez – that kept the ball out of their net in the last minute of play?

The Netherlands, who quietly and efficiently disposed of all comers, including, to everyone’s amazement, Brazil?

Spain, those fancy-passing superstars?

Or Germany, who have now thrashed overconfident England and Argentina and sent them back home with their tails between their legs?

Dreaming of glory. And bratwurst.

If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Germany. Their clinical finishing and youthful exuberance appear at this point unstoppable. They are creative and cohesive and very team-like. Yay Germany.

But it’s not so bad for England!

Amidst the handwringing over England’s woefully poor performance, one bright ray of light seldom is mentioned. The hooligans didn’t rip apart South Africa! It used to be that England fans would travel to the host country, spend a week or so drinking themselves collectively into a surly stupor, stumble about smashing things, picking fights with locals, and getting themselves arrested or stabbed.

This year it didn’t happen! Has a new era of peace dawned over the white cliffs of Dover? Or are the hooligans not affluent enough to travel to the southern tip of Africa? Or were they all kept under police surveillance and refused permission to leave old Blighty?

Whatever it is, England had no fight either on or off the pitch. That’s unprecedented!

And speaking of England, wots goin’ on ‘ere?

From the giddy smiles on their faces, I'd say they've already won a very special World Cup of their own!

Literary theorist Terry Eagleton has written in The Guardian that football – i.e. the sport currently galvanizing the attention of billions of the world’s population – should be abolished. That’s right. Abolished! Because this is Eagleton, it’s an entertaining read, but one that I disagree with. In fact, I think he might have scored an own goal.

Terry Eagleton. Not watching the World Cup, I assume.

Eagleton writes:

If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football. No finer way of resolving the problems of capitalism has been dreamed up…

This reminds me of arguments Noam Chomsky made many moons ago in Manufacturing Consent. But OK, football is topical right now, so let’s give Eagleton our attention!

Modern societies deny men and women the experience of solidarity, which football provides to the point of collective delirium… Like a jazz band or drama company, football blends dazzling individual talent with selfless teamwork, thus solving a problem over which sociologists have long agonised. Co-operation and competition are cunningly balanced.

I agree with all of this. Surely few societies have fragmented their populations into such atomized and lonely units as those in western capitalism. However, the latter evocation of football’s blend of individuality and teamwork obscures the object of Eagleton’s ire. Is it the sport we watch on TV or the game that large numbers of people actually play that he hates? Or both? Without making a distinction between the two, Eagleton goes on to pay homage to one of Marx’s most famous phrases: “…football these days is the opium of the people, not to speak of their crack cocaine.”

To which a rather witty commentator responded at the end of the article:

Well back in the good old days it wasn’t the opiate of the people, you had to be really committed. Watching twenty-two blokes booting a casey over the gasworks in the pouring rain for ninety minutes had nothing to do with entertainment and was a more a kind of existentialist trial of the will.

Eagleton’s final point, made with the gusto of somebody who has never shied away from controversy, is this: “Nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished.”

Hmmm.

Perhaps here we can see an example of how leftists earn their reputation of being rather dour killjoys who want everyone to dress in hemp sackcloth and eat alfafa sprouts. The world after the longed-for revolt against capitalism would NOT INCLUDE football? Jeepers, it looks like our cause just shed a couple of billion possible recruits. It would be nice if sometimes the Left made the post-Capitalist world seem nicer and more exciting than the one we currently live in. If socialists of Eagleton’s ilk are coming to take away our football, what else are they going to abolish? Beer? Fart jokes?

While I agree that spectator sports have a terrible knack of distracting everyone from other more meaningful forms of mass social expression, let’s just think of all the things that football has to contribute to someone with a more socialist frame of mind.

As Eagleton notes, you play the sport as an individual and as part of a collective. The balance between the two is just the kind of thing I’d like to see in a socialist utopia! And everyone more or less can find their place in football, which makes it very inclusive. Most of us won’t make the World Cup or England’s Premiership, but even kicking around a ball with a handful of other leaden-footed no-hopers is enormously edifying. Name any other occupation in a capitalist economy that offers such fulfillment to losers. Moreover, football can instill such passion into its adherents that they’re prepared to keep toiling away – sweating, kicking, swearing, falling down, getting hurt, getting back up again – even in the face of failure! Football gives ownership of its wealth to every member of the roster; all enjoy the spoils of victory and all suffer the ignominy of defeat. Moreover, the enterprise is inherently healthy for mind and body! Which cannot be said about sitting in front of a computer all day.

In short, when I lose myself in playing football, I truly enjoy a rare glimpse into what true dedication to a collective cause is all about. If more of life were like playing football, I’d be happier!

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