The Philosophy of Football (from The Sports Chronicle)1. On the balcony across from mine a symposium of bald young existentialists are getting themselves drunk. I hear them in the background of my brain, like young Samuel Johnson half observing Sally Ford dancing in the kitchen yard as he does his homework. It concentrates my mind. It’s two years since I heard the great despairing cry of ‘NON’ from La France when they were eliminated from the World Cup for Philosophy by some no account thinkers (homespun Moravians). I was riding through the vines at the back of Banyuls having negative thoughts about Freud, half hearing the commentary leak from the Walkmans of workers scattered all over the hills pruning plants. The ‘non’ was long and hard. Pain segging into stoic acceptance (what’s the Good in despair? And there’s always the Six Nations to look forward to).
The European Cup is on at present. But I know tonight Sartre’s France is playing Socrates’ Greece. The other semi-final tomorrow is between Franscisco Sanches’ Portugal and Kierkegaard’ Denmark, I think. Sanches was chosen as captain against the wishes of the trainer Scolari, a Schoolman to his fingertips.
It has been a thought provoking tournament. The elimination of Spinoza’s Holland and England with its squad of Logical Positivists came as no surprise. But Hegel’s Germany really should have done better (Kant alienated the referee). Italy’s mistake was making Vico rather than Machiavelli the captain, and the Azzurri neo-Communists he picked were in the pocket of the Vatican Mafia who put their money on Beghard’s Bulgaria springing a surprise. And Spain should have taken Gracian’s advise and withdrawn gracefully, and left it to George Santayana, since no pure philospher of note was fit. ‘The body is an instrument, the mind its function’. Know that and you can avoid an own goal.
France went out, I gather, because Pascal and Montaigne appeared to come to blow when Blaise said to Michel ‘You only think about yourself’ (actually Montaigne merely slipped while trying to avoid a confrontation and the ref was out of sight, out of mind). Both were given red cards and Sartre had to call up Voltaire and himself for the penalty shoot out. Vol cynically put it wide with his left foot and J-P of course missed by a mile.
So now my young existentialists are beyond the consolation of Boethius. At regular intervals they emit a long dreadful ‘Aie’, which could be a tribute to the Greek’s superiority, but I think it is more a kneejerk than that. They, under the influence of the ancient Egyptians of Nekhen who averaged ten and half pints a day of beer during the Holocene drought, are reduced to mere reflexes. Vomiting over the side comes next. If the result had been the other way round, Greek youth would have taken hemlock and the pompiers would be coming round to pump out their stomachs. But really I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Philosophy is only a game.
2. A week laterThe Euro final is between Portugal (the hosts) and Greece (where the Olympics take place at the end of the year). So the humanists have triumphed and the promoters, PIGO (Post Industrial Global Oligarchy) and its enemy will both be happy. Perhaps, that’s is what the game of philosophy is all about. Everybody wins like a dodo race. But it’s all port wine and Greek to me. I don’t even know why ‘i-grec’ is ‘Y’ in French.Still Pythagoras said such games with their arenas and crowds are like our lives. Some exercise their minds in order to win glory in the contests. Others bring merchandise there to sell for profit. There are some – and these are not the worst – whose only aim is to listen to how and why everything is thought, and to be spectators of other men’s ideas, in order to judge and regulate their own. I got that from the unfortunate Montaigne. I hope the red card does not mean he misses the Athens Olympics.
3. Finally Nobody watched the final that I could hear. But I gather Greece won (en¬ - zero). An unknown thinker called Charistes used his head in the fifty-seventh minute. The German Idealist coach, Otto Rehhegel (no relation to Georg Wilhelm Friedrick), must be over the moon. And so am I. The Cup is back where it really belongs. Philosophy, after all, is a Greek word.
4. Coda: Dr Socrates Brasieiro Sampaio de Souza Vieiro de Oliveira, the Brazilian football captain in the nineteen eighties, was, unwittingly or not, a Soren Kierkegaard disciple, and encouraged his team to live an idea between the ball and the turf. Burdened by the legacy of Pele’s World Cup winners, the players were over-anxious to impress. When things did not work out, the rabugenta, as they were called, consoled each other with passionate embraces on the ground, which made people talk of godknowswhat. At team-talks Socrates told them to think on their feet. ‘It will help you escape from ‘the mirage of an analogy’ which is the Pele past, and the present impasse. Your future is in playing your own ideas. And if you don’t think you have any, you can borrow mine. Soccer is a team game.’
The Other Socrates wasn’t just a spoiled doctor and a bit of a Soren. As left back, he held the line together while all around him were playing fast and loose. His instructions were that the last word be dropped from the ‘I could do that if’’, and to stop watching others all the time to see how they react (‘Watch yourselves’). So he relaxed his team-mates by example - unhurried, passionate about his idea of slowing down ‘the beautiful game’, smoking two packets of Lucky Strikes a day to put superfit attacks ‘in countenance’, thus setting himself up as a sitting duck to decoy opponents away from his gifted rabugenta. The team went from strength to strength on the back of his smoker’s cough. After leading them to two moral victories (catching the imagination of the world while losing), The Other Socrates put them on the scent, which two World Cups later in 1994 got democracy in Brazil off to a winning start.