Recently, whilst helping him paint a room white to be used as a personal gallery space, I conversed with an artist about the subject of rebellion within Sport.
Given that his artwork seems to represent romance, ecstasy, drama and a tangible sense of having something brilliant to share, and that he admires the challenging heterodoxies of J.G.Ballard and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I sought to canvass his opinion on some fledgling ideas of Sporting rebellion: What follows is an (admittedly dramatised) account of the debate… (the identity of The Artist remains anonymous to protect the innocent from my ex post facto revisionism)
I narrowed my eyes, focusing in on The Artist. What’s he got inside?! I readied myself…
“In the name of symbolic rebellion,” I began, gulping through the chemical paint fumes. “What if… I found ten other like-minded people to enter a Sunday League football competition with me, as a team of eleven, but upon kick-off we all stood still in formation, refusing to move as our opponents played (and presumably scored)?”
I asked this question with an immediate sense that this was an interesting and rebellious idea. The Artist nodded slowly, processing the scenario. “I think that would end in violence,” he said, sagely, and somewhat protectively. He was clearly far from convinced.
“Yes!” I squealed. “Violence, yes. But why would they be violent?”
“Because you’d be flaunting your inability to play football in their faces…”
“Hmmm… perhaps.” I felt the raw excitement of an intelligent person fundamentally disagreeing with an idea surge inside. At times like these it is tempting to argue for argument’s sake. The thrill of the chase, the hunt, the struggle. But not this time. Let’s build, constructively.
“…And I fail to see what ‘meaning’ of this is supposed to be…” continued The Artist.
“The meaning?! The meaning is to raise questions, challenge established ways of assumed thinking. To make them question what football is.”
“I think that meaning loses a lot by the fact you’d be a bunch of chancers who wouldn’t stand a chance of winning.”
“So you think that sporting success and/or capability gives authenticity and authority.”
“Yes I do.”
“I think you’re right. Which says something very interesting about what Sport is.”
The Artist carried on with another line of doubt: “I also believe you’re targeting the wrong people. I see no point in doing this to a Sunday League team. All you will do is piss off a small number of people to whom their weekend football is a source of enjoyment, relaxation from the moribund rigours of day-to-day life.”
“Fuck those weasels…” I muttered under my breath. “Oh god, not this kinda sob story!” I exclaimed audibly. “We’d be giving them a Gift.”
“Yes, the gift of a cultural challenge, a chance to look at things differently. They wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth would they?” I said, half-laughing.
“They might very well punch a gift horse in the mouth…” We both roarsomely sniggered.
“It’s a match they’d remember all their lives, and that is a Gift.” I furthered.
“Yes, they’d remember it as the time a bunch of arseholes turned up to play a game of football but at the last minute decided they couldn’t be bothered to play and so acted like a bunch of prats. This would be so much better if it was Manchester United, or some other professional team. It would be more of a statement, though I’m still unsure of what, and at least it is their paid work, handsomely paid work, so you wouldn’t be ruining some miserable office worker’s weekly fun.”
“Oh god!” I threw my arms up. “Of course it would be better if it were Manchester United or Liverpool or whoever! Please tell me how on Earth I get a Premier League team under my control, or signed up to my heterodox beliefs… Until then, practicality demands I strike at a lower level…”
“The lowest level,” corrected The Artist.
“Okay… okay… I accept there’s some ethical ambiguity about this vague idea of mine. If we should be aiming for bigger targets, what about this rebellion…?”
“Isn’t this ruining football, spoiling the match? Devaluing something that you profess to enjoy, and love?” asked The Artist.
“No, it has a role in football.”
“But how? Sports have defined rules, systems of measurements. The things you’re suggesting have no role in that.”
“But they do. Sport is a spectacle. Sport needs the spectacular. The interplay between things that fit in and outside elements, and between objective rules and subjective values, is wonderful, delightful… Exciting!”
“But you are alone in your strangeness. Most people will just want to see a normal match.”
“Isn’t this just a little like J.G.Ballard’s pooing in swimming pools miniature rebellion in Cocaine Nights that you are so enthusiastic about?”
“But you must realise you are odd in this context.”
“Am I so strange? I honestly don’t think so. For example, football crowds love streakers – and before you interject, sir, yes, even the cock/thigh-slapping male streakers! – which has No Place in the semi-imagined Object-Rule sport orthodoxy. They love the surprise, they love the break from the formulaic. They love its interplay with formula. A little dose of chaos within the predictable.”
“I’m not sure…” hesitated The Artist.
I then explained to The Artist that most profound sporting memory from my youth, the Sports Day where two geeks were inches away from winning a long distance race before running backwards, away from the finishing line and away from objective victory.
“That’s amazing,” said The Artist, his genuine admiration generously palpable. “That’s really great. That’s a real two-fingers up against virtually everyone, especially the teachers and the sporty kids. What gives it the authenticity is that, even though they were geeky kids, Outsiders, they won the race -”
“- Effectively won the race…” I quickly interjected.
“Effectively won the race, earning authenticity, but upon gaining The Prize of sporting success, and some small recognition, they instead took The Bigger Prize, more glorious albeit controversial and divisive, by rejecting the existing order, by refusing membership of a temporary elite, by saying ‘we could be part of this, we have earned it, but we don’t want it’. They chose not to win.”
“They chose to remain Outsiders. Which you’re not. And I believe your Insider status devalues your attempts at rebellion. People are likely to think of you, ultimately, as a sulky failed footballer,” concluded The Artist.
“I can understand that. Indeed, there is perhaps some truth. But I would describe myself as an extreme reformist. By understanding the importance of subjectivity, drama, surprise, controversy etc. in football I am in a position to campaign for its embrace of such things, and thus its improvement. I consume Sport. I’d like to aid its production…”
We continued painting the gallery space.