Another week, another lie exposed. After Europol revealed on Monday that 380 matches across Europe had been fixed, the concept of spoilers in match previews is becoming a genuine concern. I wrote about the lies—oh! the lies!—a few months ago, in relation to Uefa’s doctoring some of its EURO 2012 footage but if anything that piece now looks hopelessly naïve in its approach to the issue of lies and damn lies and damn damn lies. I said that “everything in football is now open to doubt,” but that didn’t even come close to covering the current predicament. If only we had doubt to cling to now, man. Remember the doubt? It was well sweet.
What we have now instead is not so much a footballing culture of multiple, competing truths—Derrida, anyone?—but of multiple, competing lies. Which lie do you choose to believe: that the matches aren’t fixed down to the number of times Theo Walcott will fluff a one-on-one, or that the players aren’t all performing the literally impossible, via a little help from your friend and mine, performance enhancing drugs? Because, as people are starting to realise, that’s the next thing to come out: cycling, baseball and athletics have had their scandals, but football has been on the brink of its own for a while.
Cycling and athletics are finding cheats because they’re looking for them, not because those are the only sports in which cheating goes. The doctor who helped Lance Armstrong cheat his way to those Tour de France title has admitted to working with footballers, Real Sociedad’s former president has admitted to hiring the same guy to make “strange medicines” and Barcelona have unconvincingly denied working with another guy in the same business.
It is, I’m afraid, all going to come out. None of it’s real and Bruce Willis was a ghost all along and ghosts don’t even exist and psychics are lying. Things are so bad that talking about diving these days actually feels anachronistic: that was duplicity from a simpler time, when you could at least watch the cheating go on and decide for yourself, then shout some abuse at the television and feel better about it. You can still shout abuse at the television, but now you wonder if even that is a lie: images broadcast across the world? It feels a little unlikley.
Diving, it turns out, was just a nice distraction from all of the real lying that’s been going on. Like when my friends told me the front of my hair looked great, all the time ignoring that I’d somehow ended up with a mullet at the back and that they weren’t my friends at all. Or a bit like when people in football moaned about diving instead of all the drug-taking and match-fixing. Exactly like that second one, in fact. A little too much like that second one…dontcha think?
Think about what the drugs and the fixing (probably, if it can be proven…) means. The players we’re watching are artificially enhanced, the competition is even more unfair than when we thought it was just unfair because of the whole money thing, and some of the matches are decided—literally decided, instead of just being predictable—before they’re ever played. Worse than any of that, we’ve been tricked. All of that entertainment we’ve enjoyed needs to be posthumously reassessed to take into account the lies: that win wasn’t great, it was achieved through cheating, and the captains sold the result for a few million a day before kick-off. I imagine that’s how it works, anyway.
We shouldn’t be surprised, exactly. When you celebrate a win-at-all-costs mentality, the Henry Russell Sanders “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” school, you’re also encouraging cheating under the same banner, and when you allow a sport to become money-obsessed, some match-fixing is probably the least you should expect. This is partly our own fault, mainly yours: fans have pumped money in when they should have stopped, even if that was a hard thing to do, and they’ve accepted and bought into the win at all costs mentality. They’ve not been interested enough in the drugs cheating, preferring to make a fuss of diving and not much else. Public opinion isn’t worth much, but it can shift the agenda of what’s being spoken about if it’s coherent in standing against something, and in football that hasn’t happened with the ol’ druggy drug drug drugs.
So, the lying and cheating has already happened now (allegedly, allegedly, allegedly); where do we go from here? How do you respond to the existential punch in the face? Confronted with increasing uncertainty, some fans have turned to drugs: fair enough. Others have turned to statistics, something real and solid in the face of football news that is fake and wonky: not fair enough. These people are, evidently, kidding themselves* and need to be the first to go when the revolution happens, because what do the numbers really do except reinforce the lies? Look at all those statistical records broken in late-nineties baseball that everyone was delighted to accept, like Rocky being any good after the first one or money from the tooth fairy: they meant nothing in the end.
As I see it, there are two legitimate options for reacting to the news that everything in football is a lie, which it is, because I took two examples and came to that conclusion. The first is complete denial, nothing as half-hearted as statistical analysis. Embrace the lies fully with this conclusion: football is already massively unfair because of the money some teams have and other teams don’t, so introducing drugs only made it more unfair, and the cheating that went on was allowed to go on in part by wilful ignorance, which means fans were never really tricked, so everything’s fine. EVERYTHING’S FINE, say it with me.
The second option is to breakdown. To throw your hands into the air, not as though you just don’t care, but in fact in completely the opposite manner: as though you care a lot, thus releasing the tension. Then start to cry, because everything you thought you knew about football was a story concocted in a lab or a board room or Dan Tan’s kitchen. Everything you watched meant something completely different to what you thought it did, so you just let go and weep into the night. The breakdown is my preferred option, in this and every other instance. Whichever you choose, spoilers in match previews are coming, so be on your guard.
*Only joking. Statistics are fun loads of the time, they’re just an easy target because there is yet to be one recorded case of a statistic fighting back in an argument.