We have known, for a while, that the good people of England have little or no interest left in football. A startling development for a bunch that appear, on the face of it, to talk of little else.
But the everyday rudiments and mechanics of the game; the mundane pursuit of glory – much of that is lost to them now. Now, all they talk of is, as they call it, ‘controvassy’. They have grown hopelessly addicted to controvassy. And if they can’t find controvassy in all the usual places, they will seek it out, hunt it down and settle down to upset themselves over it.
Ordinarily, they don’t have to look very far. Perhaps it was their media that first nourished this unslakeable thirst for devilment – like ours did rugby – but once a demand was established, it became a self-sustaining industry of its own.
So-and-so slammed whatshisname. Such-and-such ‘hit back’. Will your man shake hands with the other fella? Did you hear what that geezer is supposed to have said?
And Balotelli, of course. Balotelli is a self-sustaining industry all by himself.
Even Lawro – who has never registered genuine interest in football since the day he laced his boots for the last time, and maybe not before – shows small, almost perceptible, signs of life if Gary Lineker feeds him the magic words; ‘a hint of controvassy.’
Sure, there are occasional exceptions when an actual incident on the field of play briefly exercises them; specifically when a ball crosses a goalline and is mistakenly adjudged not to have done. At such moments, they grow angry and conclude that controvassy is killing the game.
But it has become the game; the only game in town.
After a couple of weeks when they gorged on the stuff, mostly courtesy of Chelsea – the spiritual home of controvassy – last weekend was a relatively quiet one. They had to dig a little, like a cat after a poo.
And they found what they wanted at Old Trafford, where the monotonous business of Manchester United returning to the top of the table otherwise held little fascination for them.
Mercifully, a big-boned Brazilian footballer dallied – seemingly his default setting – at half-time to collect some ‘rememorabilia’ – as Tony Cascarino would have it – from a former colleague. Soon, people who had reacted with equanimity to word, earlier this year, that our cuddly friend had ploughed frantically through their streets at 140mph, presumably because his dinner was on the table, were now demanding that he never play for Arsenal again.
Later, Alan Shearer put on the record his horror. Alan Hansen, who probably has someone to dress him so may not have handled a shirt in many years, insisted he had never seen anything like it.
Andre Santos’s wife took to Twitter in an attempt to placate the mob. The old saver ‘cultural differences’ was suggested; the first refuge of racists and the inappropriately friendly.
Of course, this latest sideshow tells us some interesting things about our neighbours.
For a start; the rage of the jilted at van Persie suggests they are still a step or two behind our more evolved football supporters this side of the water. Our people have long moved on from investing emotionally in footballers. As far back as the days when it was always Movember in the League of Ireland, the player merry-go-round was an accepted reality.
Alright, maybe Pat Morley copped some grief, but that might have been the height of it.
Instead, many fans are now investing financially in their football clubs and are becoming their football clubs. An option mostly not available to our English friends, who remain customers – once of millionaire owners, now of billionaires.
And if your billionaire doesn’t want to deplete his fortune in pursuit of glory, it could be quite easy to see yourself as a voiceless revenue stream in a never-ending cycle of mediocrity. No wonder so many of them are frustrated, disillusioned controvassy addicts.
The one thing that kept them going, the one thing they loved, was the hate. As recently as the last decade, foreign men would mix with the locals and respectfully observe traditional hatreds. There would be rancour, scuffling and the odd pizza thrown.
Now, in a cruel blow, it seems that they may have lost that too. As Spandau Ballet warned, around the time they were playing for Melchester Rovers, people are making their love through the barricades. Hate is out of date. Controvassy is all they have left.
First published in the Irish Examiner