Theo Walcott ate my hamster

The Tim Stillman column - Arseblog

It’s summertime and the season of subterfuge is well and truly upon us. This week has provided a neat encapsulation as to why I always try to remain remote in the off season. For a start, particularly at Arsenal in recent times, the focus always tends to be on individuals. June and July always serve to remind me of exactly where the game seems to have lost its purpose. I guess I find it slightly distasteful that a team sport is reduced to a soap opera played out against the pivot of sole protagonists.

The back pages dictate conversation and conversation fastens itself to the malleable frame of a single player. Wednesday evening of this week was a perfect encapsulation of this maelstrom of madness. One minute Robin van Persie has signed a new contract on the dubious say so of Boris Becker, the next he’s definitely being sold to Manchester United on the basis that Alex Ferguson slurred his intentions to “pals.” (Does Ferguson strike you as the kind of guy that has “pals”? Minions? Maybe. Flying helper monkeys that smite unsympathetic referees? Definitely. But pals? Pssssht).

I took a sunshine sabbatical this weekend passed with infrequent access to wifi. It’s fascinating how quickly rumour and innuendo move on. At one glance, Theo Walcott is definitely being sold to Liverpool, but when you check back seven or eight hours later, it’s already passed into the darker recesses of our hard-drives. There used to be a saying that today’s headlines are tomorrow’s chip paper, but nowadays you couldn’t even nuke one of those suspicious looking cartons of McCain’s microwave chips in the time it takes for our emotions to be all of a tizz.

Being a football fan is an emotionally irrational pass time anyway. In the absence of the rollercoaster of élan one experiences in the battlefield of a competitive game or a league season, it is possibly displacement therapy to feed off this never ending theatre of deception. I’m not going to wax philosophical on the instant nature of social media because it’s been said by many an internet sage already. Nor do I seek simply to tell you how boring I find transfer speculation, because if there is one thing more genuinely tedious than bullshit rumours, it’s someone wibbling on about how boring they find bullshit rumours.

My point is that the game used to be a sport that was entertaining. Now it’s a branch of the entertainment industry that happens to be a sport. The parallels with the tawdry world of celebrity are endless. For statements about contracts on personal websites, read Las Vegas weddings and quickie divorces. For every player that is “flattered” by the interest of another club, see a Heat magazine spread on who’s fucking who and who’s getting fat. Is Theo Walcott getting cellulite? WE SIMPLY MUST KNOW!

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Perhaps I should just accept that this is all simply another branch added to a game that’s very addictiveness relies on its unpredictability and lack of grounding in the real world. In any case, I know many people who become just as weary about the subject of football finance, but this is an area I’ve tried to embrace and educate myself in – especially since Kroenke and Usmanov parked their boots under our bed.

But I’m troubled because of who it is that’s powering this asinine shite. I think we are all well versed enough in the machinations of the media to feel suitably cynical about them. Yet they are not unaided in this coterie of camouflage. Slick haired, shiny shoed, multi blackberry wielding agents pull the strings like crazed puppeteers. Planting stories, drafting statements “for the fans” etc, etc. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this isn’t for us. None of it is for us. Its purpose is simply to grease the palms of individuals and we should communally and emphatically withdraw our emotional interest from it at once.

As a man that spends around 20% of his annual wage watching a cadre of strangers run around a field, I’m probably in no position to dish out lectures on emotional intelligence. But is it really any wonder that footballers become such cosseted ego maniacs when we invest so readily in the mini dramas that dance around them? I am minded of an old situationist saying. I contribute. You contribute. We contribute. They profit.

Theo Walcott’s contract is important. Robin van Persie’s contract is important. Arsenal’s contract policy at large is very important. But only because of what they mean for the club. That so many have their bellies tickled by agents, journalists and washed up tennis pros is evidence of a game gone sick to the guts. Anything that doesn’t emanate directly from an involved party’s mouth on record ought to be ignored. Otherwise we are merely contributing to celebrity status and the ego accessories that come with it.

The players play for the team, not vice versa. Nothing will kill the neon flames of this sorry fandango like our cold, naked indifference. We have to take our share of the blame for inflating the egos of these people that are meant to be pawns in a team sport. We live in an age where a grown man- with grey hair that suggests his advancement in years- thinks nothing of standing outside a courthouse with a life-size cardboard cut-out of John Terry. What an apposite symbol of how fucked we all are.

And we are. Like I said, maybe it’s a symptom of being a football fan, but our emotional incontinence is a contributory factor. It’s not just the jargon of agents that skews football’s lexicon in the summer months, where terms such as “ambition”, “direction” and “boyhood dream” become synonyms for something darker. There never was any loyalty in the sport; the opportunities for movement are simply greater due to looser contract legislation. But players are discouraged from being honest not just out of boardroom brinkmanship, but fear of emotive backlash. (We are just as disloyal to players as they are to us in any case. Johan Djourou is our longest serving player and a lot of people seem to genuinely hate him for some reason).

It’s a terrifying concoction of the footballer’s hubris and the football fan’s ready sense of emotional turmoil that leads, just as a hypothetical example, a club captain into releasing a statement questioning a club’s direction on his personal website. Of course he is advised to entitle this missive “update for the fans.” Don’t worry kids, the Easter bunny IS real. I think this piece sums it up rather nicely, but footballers patronise us and speak to us like children that need protecting because that is how we behave.

I’ve lost count of the amount of people I have seen say something like, “You know, I would respect player x much more if he just admitted he was doing it for the money.” And I always doubt the veracity of that. I would imagine that a lot of people wouldn’t bat much of an eyelid, but a very large, squealy-voiced proportion of football fans just wouldn’t have the maturity to deal with it. It’s one of our great tragedies I guess. We ask for the truth, but really, we can’t handle the truth. Especially when we allow ourselves to become so invested in the lies. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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