David Beckham Visits China - Day 4

When I heard that some David Beckham fans had been physically hurt (they were of course already emotionally damaged) whilst trying to get close to Becks this week, the first thought I had was that we’re taking football too seriously and it must stop. Well, it was the second thought I had, the first was: oh, I bet I can get an article out of this, that’s another week out of the way, I can get back to sitting around in my pants all day again now. But the point still stands.

The summer, you would think, would be a time where, with less football being played, perhaps we could all take a step back from it and see soccer for what it is: a game played for fun; a cesspit of incompetence, if you will; a horrendous mistake which should never have happened, if you must. Nobody steps back though*. Instead, the serious thoughts about football get even louder with no actual football to drown them out. Like a baby insisting their whining be heard above all else. Stupid babies in the stupid swimming pool changing rooms. Wawawawaa. If I whined like that I’d be thrown out. But I digress.

Right now, you can treat yourself to any of the following examples of football – fans, players, officials, media – assuming that this game is of inherent value.

1. “The company constructing the Etihad Campus have banned workers wearing Manchester City and Manchester United tops in order to ‘stop it getting silly’,” we are told. Grown men (and women?) are unable avoid ‘getting silly’ when wearing football tops. Pillow fights on a construction site, we must assume, all because of football. What madness is this, that football has such power over people?

2. “Fifa has insisted there are no plans to abandon the Confederations Cup despite the ongoing mass public protests in Brazil,” we learn. Fifa is playing out a tournament, and planning a World Cup, against the interests of what seems like a large part of an entire nation. The degree of self-importance required to Keep Calm And Carry On Without Caring About Anything But Yourself is astounding.

3. Gareth Bale has trademarked his celebration. ‘What’s his celebration, Ethan? Does he do a triple somersault into the crowd, whilst stripping off and revealing a full Spiderman suit?’ No, it’s quite hard to explain really: he makes a stupid little heart with his thumbs and index fingers? ‘But why would anyone copyright that?’ I don’t know, really, little Jimmy, you see I chewed off my own ears rather than hear the end of the story. ‘Was it the right decision?’ Well, I stand by it.

My opinion is, and I absolutely respect that this is controversial and won’t be something everyone shares, that once you get to a stage where “At least seven people have been injured in a stampede after fans stormed a stadium gate to get a glimpse of David Beckham at a Chinese university” you’ve gone too far in the taking football seriously stakes. I think, once you’re stampeding, you’ve gone beyond what football should be about. I don’t like being prescriptive, and to all those who have their fun via stampedes I suppose that is exactly what I am being, but mainly I think the aspiration should be towards non-stampede-based fun.

If you are pro-stampede please feel free to address complaints to Richard Whittall, but I’ll continue with this line of argument for the time being. Football should be more fun, less serious. Gareth Bale shouldn’t be trademarking his celebration. I gave a lecture on this idea last week and I’ll quote myself now: “Football, as we all know, is a naturally intense sport and part of the fun comes from that intensity; comes from getting sucked up into it. But I think once you’ve got Fifa, for instance, concentrating on the importance of their tournament above the interests of an entire country, it’s time to re-evaluate priorities.” And I went on like this for two hours. Nobody on the bus seemed to like it. But that wasn’t the point.

The point was that if we continue like this, without being able to step back, the game part is going to be lost to the This Is Important part. Already it’s happening. You can’t enjoy the Confederations Cup being played out now, knowing that all around the stadium you’re watching people are unhappy, and that the football is, in part, actually responsible for that. Or, you can’t watch a great Gareth Bale goal and enjoy it only for what it is once he runs to the crowd and pulls out his money-maker (the trademarked celebration, not his penis.) Somewhere, somehow, the escalation of seriousness needs to be pulled back.

*Nobody steps back, that is, except for one maverick…