Sport’s Fr Jack HackettBy Larry Ryan - Saturday, August 18, 2012
We have known for a long time now that football cannot die.
We know because it has been killed many times before but remains resolutely undead.
It is the Fr Jack Hackett of sport.
English football is king of the zombies. Of its countless deaths, Manchester United’s holiday from the FA Cup in 2000 came closest to proving terminal, although that time Noel Gallagher and the fella from Kasabian conducted a cup draw also prompted a lengthy spell in the morgue.
Somehow, the game always pulls through.
Yet, despite the futility of each expiration, English football died twice this week alone.
It drew its last breath at Wembley FC last Saturday, when, in a heady fusion of reality television, advertising, sport and codology, Budweiser hired Ray Parlour, Graeme Le Saux, Claudio Caniggia and more of yesterday’s men to turn out in an FA Cup preliminary round.
In case football survived that, ‘Bud United’ slopped the cream head of Terry Venables on top of this weak brew.
ESPN, thrilled with the innovative cross-promotion, screened it live, constantly pestering the players to engage in banter with Craig Burley — the station’s Head of Banter.
And with this scheme to refit the oldest cup competition as a marketing campaign for beer, the corpse of Wembley — a once-proud semi-professional club formed in 1946, with a now-ironic motto ‘A Posse Ad Esse’ (From Possibility To Reality) — slumped lifeless on the ground. Football fell on top of it, rattling of death.
Resilient as ever, it was alive again when I popped into a shop on Thursday afternoon and copped a young fella, eight maybe, or 10 at a push, in an Arsenal shirt, dithering over his selection of crisps like he was trying to walk the money into the cash register.
"Van Persie, wha?" I ventured, drawing eloquently on the trade’s tools of interrogation, as much to hurry him on as anything.
The reply was chilling. "It’s good money for a 29-year-old with his injury record."
As that same sad — no, pitiful — justification echoed around the media and the internet this week, no doubt trickling — no, oozing — toxically into the minds of many more eight-year-olds, the glory game shut its eyes, flickered them open briefly to note Joey Barton might be Marseille-bound on loan, then flatlined once more.
Same human being. Different shirt. Boooooo!
Jerry Seinfeld, a man who is right about a lot, but not everything, couldn’t understand the passion fans hold for sports teams, since players come and go.
"You’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get down to it. You are standing and cheering that your clothes beat the clothes from another city."
But this emotional idolatry of the badge is a dignified business compared with the cold rationalisation we’ve seen from Arsenal apologists this week.
Michael Lewis, and his blasted Moneyball, has much to answer for.
At times like this, it is men like Alex Ferguson who cradle football gently back to life.
No doubt Ferguson is well aware of the price of most things, certainly as far as it affects his own pocket. But he knows the value of glory better.
When Martin Edwards once picked his brains before negotiating a new contract for Eric Cantona, Ferguson’s advice was straightforward. "Whatever Eric wants, give it to him."
Just as he knew Roy Keane was the man to ensure that first brush with real glory in ’93 wouldn’t be fleeting and put a record fee on Forest’s table. Just as he knew United were in a real fight in ’95 and threw the pot after Andy Cole’s goals.
Ferguson wasn’t fretting, this week, about van Persie’s resale value in four years.
He didn’t look through glass ankles to calculate return on investment.
Nor, you hope, will eight-year-old boys wearing the gingham dishcloth United are now sporting.
Ferguson won’t be looking beyond this season. Beyond climbing back on that perch. Beyond getting the goals to do so. And his glee this week should shame the man who once looked him in the eye and sometimes made him blink.
Arsene, like the eight-year-old whose mind he has warped, has been in justification mode. Letting his board hide behind him again. Explaining why. And as they say in politics; if you’re explaining, you’re losing.
That’s what Arsenal have been doing for many years now. And if you’re not putting a team together to win, you might as well put one together to sell beer. What’s the difference?