Beauty and the Beast

Football is no joke - even in Brazil

Football is no joke – especially in Brazil

Imagine what you could do with a million pounds: yes, £1,000,000. New house, new car, trip around the world? Your life would never quite be the same. Now imagine giving 85 people the same chance of freedom from financial hardship. That’s a lot of very rich people. Or better still, imagine being able to invest £85 million in the education system or health service (that’s more than R$300 million if you’re a Brazilian). New hospitals, new schools, better-paid nurses and teachers. In some countries it could make a huge difference to the welfare of the people.

"It's not a bad life playing footy" Madrid's new god - Gareth Bale

“It’s not a bad life playing footy”  Madrid’s new god – Gareth Bale

Now come slap bang down to earth. One football player has just been bought for the princely sum of…yes, you guessed it, £85 million. Welshman Gareth Bale was sold by Tottenham Hotspur to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Who paid? The fans, of course, some of whom struggle to pay for the latest club T-shirt (£95 pounds-worth of nylon, made in China for about £4). But who cares? Football players have always earned pots of money. It’s all part of the “beautiful game” we know and love.

When I was a kid there were the boys (not girls) who liked football and those who didn’t. That seemed normal. Now if you don’t support a football team and are unable to rattle off the names of this season’s top scorers and the latest transfer news you are boring – a bit weird, actually. And that includes women. They have realised two things: firstly, that knowing a bit about football will get them in with the lads (ie totty) and secondly that footballers themselves are gorgeous specimens of manhood. Well, some of them.

Beauty and the Beast - but which is which?

Beauty and the Beast – but which is which?

Yes, we have to admit football is the new rock ‘n’ roll. But aren’t we becoming blind to what is really happening? The Marxist academic Terry Eagleton said recently that anybody who really cares about political and social change has to agree that football must be abolished. But that’s preposterous I hear you say. It will never happen. Maybe. But to even mention the idea takes some courage. Why?

Football stadiums have become our places of worship. Fans all in blue or red rub shoulders together like members of a tribe, grunting and shouting at their gods like Romans in the amphitheatre. Humans seem to have this need to join a band of brothers and then find another rival band to taunt and leer at. It’s a cultural need. Now that communal rituals have disappeared, we meet the other members of our tribe in the stadium (or rather in the pub beforehand to drink a magic potion and feel the fighting spirit). We also have this need to let out all our natural, instinctive aggression. We used to do it fighting wars to annihilate the enemy and protect our king and country. Now the enemy is the people in green or brown or purple. 

"Listen FIFA - we want hospitals here in Brazil..."

“We want hospitals that are up to FIFA standards”

But all this fun costs money. Poor people used to give their hard-earned cash to the church, believing it might buy them a place in heaven. Now they spend thousands of pounds on season tickets and expensive TV packages so they can pay homage to their new idols. Nobody seems to realise that football clubs are sucking the marrow out of local communities. Fabulously rich football players regularly drive their luxury cars out of the stadium, only to pass streets full of decaying houses where the occupants don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

It's time to stand up and fight

It’s time to stand up and fight

When football began, more than 100 years ago, footballers used to live in the local area, near the ground which served as a kind of community centre. They lived in the same kind of houses as the fans and often drank in the same pubs. Now no footballer would be seen dead in the mean streets where the fans live, unless they were in a blacked-out limousine surrounded by body guards. What does that tell us about the modern game?

In Porto Alegre where I live, one of the local clubs, Grêmio, has just built a magnificent stadium a little way out of town. The aerial view is breathtaking. But the people who live next to the stadium will never be able to go inside. That’s because they are living in squalor; their dwellings are little more than shacks cobbled together from tin and old bricks. When you drive to the stadium the locals stand in a long line next to the road, swinging their arms and urging you to park your car on their patch of litter-strewn scrubland. The saddest thing is their appearance: many look malnourished or deformed. It’s a shocking disgrace.

Grêmio's new stadium in Porto Alegre - a rich spectacle in the midst of abject poverty

Grêmio’s new stadium in Porto Alegre – a rich spectacle in the midst of abject poverty

Thousands of football fans will descend on Porto Alegre for next year’s World Cup. The FIFA promotional video for the city shows a more glamourous side – naturally. Because if tourists saw that an ambitious football club had been allowed to drop a jewel in the middle of a human swamp they would stay away.

Forget the beautiful game: football just got ugly. Or, to put it another way, beauty and the beast are the same thing.

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Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Beauty and the Beast

  1. Ernestina B. O. Mack Filgueiras

    Quite right but Bread & Circus has always been around. Personally, I´ve survived quite well in total ignorance re football. Except for 3 of my English and 1 of my American friends, all the others are not into football – though we might watch a World Cup final, if there´s nothing more exciting to do.
    These zillions are disgusting but then it seems many not very wealthy people are willing to spend most of their income to watch a football game, drink beer and contribute to their churches on Sundays… Sometimes I feel mankind is hopeless.

    • My idea, for what it’s worth, is to pay footballers the same as nurses and teachers. Would they refuse? Hardly, because then they would be out of work. They might also appreciate the very hard work being done all around them as they dive about on the grass pretending to be hurt.
      As my grandad used to say, they need a bloody good hiding some of them – that would learn them!

  2. John

    An excellent piece, Martin. As an Englishman in Brazil who has never understood the allure of football, I still don’t comprehend the fanaticism of supporters here or back home.
    Perhaps your next piece could compare the earnings of football players, Madonna ($125 million last year), SUS doctors, private consultant doctors (I paid R$500 for a 30 minute consultation recently!) and the almost universally hated bankers. Society in general idolizes the performers, is indifferent to the doctors and loathes the bankers.
    I’d love to see a cost/benefit analysis into what each does for society compared to what they earn. That’s something to really get your teeth into!

    • Thanks, John.
      As far as the bankers are concerned, my particular gripe is that old chestnut about the hard work they put in for their £3 million bonus, especially when the bank in question actually lost money! Many of us work very hard for not even 1% of that, so to me that’s total nonsense. The other is that the banker in question will go abroad if we don’t pay him his millions. So, erm, let him go! It’s a no-brainer.

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