Football versus Art

Hello. An interesting article recently in The Telegraph, one of Britain’s main Conservative broadsheets. Michael Deacon, the Telegraph’s TV Features Editor, asserts that “Footballers have it harder than modern artists”…

In summary, he argues (in response to criticisms of footballers’ pay and celebration) that sportsmen have to have talent, skill, relevant aptitude etc. to “make it”. In comparison, contemporary artists (he cites Tracy Emin and Damien Hurst as examples) merely need to sell themselves, convince the right people they are talented rather than actually having talent themselves. Sport, with its rules and records is, Deacon believes, far more objectifiable than Art.

Deacon makes a good point, one which I have a lot of sympathy with. But is it entirely true?

I shall tentatively offer two areas that I believe cloud this issue. Firstly, there are subjective factors that cause disparity within Deacon’s objectively deserving elite sportsmen. I suggest that the various aesthetic attributes of a number of sportsmen place them in higher cultural regard and a stronger economic bargaining position than objectively compareble contemporaries: i.e. David Beckham & Cristiano Ronaldo’s good looks (compared to Paul Scholes & Lionel Messi), Usain Bolt’s charismatic exuberance (compared to the far dourer Tyson Gay), Ronaldinho’s (circa 2004-06) comic book-esque style of play etc.

Secondly, the idea of knowing, impressing and convincing The Right People, which Deacon correctly identifies in the artworld, reminds me very much of my experiences of youth football…

Youth football is  a world full of bizarre patterns, mindblowing cultural meaning and exists precariously at the very edge of human psychology. Yes, that sounds absolutely OTT, but it most definitely is not.

I have gained a brief insight to this crazy world through my ex-fiance’s son, Loreaz, who is very good at football, and plays for the Centre of Excellence of his local professional football club Plymouth Argyle. Most Sundays, the various age groups play against other teams, usually from the same south-west of England region. Because this area is hardly a hotbed of footballing success, the Argyle youngsters play against similarly smaller clubs, such as Exeter City, Yeovil Town, Oxford United etc.

Argyle’s youth development has in recent years, under Head Coach Mike Pejic and the brilliantly-named Head of Youth Gordon Bennett, been quite forward thinking. Young players have been “sourced” based on skill, technique and intelligence. It is a footballing philosophy reminiscent of FC Barcelona, who often field as many as seven “home grown” players in their first XI. Indeed, Pejic has said to me his aim is to play in the tiki-taka short-passing possession style of Barça.

It is a shift away from what may be called the typical British attitude of picking players predominantly on strength, size, speed and the ability to powerfully hoof a ball. However, many of the other south-west professional clubs still adhere to this old fashioned (rather primitive) concept. THUS!! We have the bizarre situation where Barça – a club synonymous with excellent youth development, sporting success and aesthetically mouthwatering football – sign up 8 year olds that would NOT be good enough for… Exeter City! (who are they? Exactly! etc. etc. ad nauseum, ad tedium).

On top of this, I would suggest that the vast majority of children involved in this level of organised youth football (and, to be fair, even at lower levels) tend to come from a particular cultural class of a self-aware, self-elected masculine “working class” that use football as a central cultural form for their expression of a collective sense of self. To not fit in to this loose group is to be very much an outsider. Basically, you need to know the right people, or at least the right social moves and nuances. Just like artists.

This highlights, I believe, at least a little vibrant subjectivity at the very start of organized professional sport production.

Therefore, with these two factors in mind, Deacon’s article whilst largely correct, was not not entirely so. There is subjectivity weaved throughout Sport. Its playful/imaginative interplay with Sport’s objective forms, such as rules, scores, results, is Utterly Delicious!

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