Saturday, 29 June 2013

Friday Philosophy Football

                         Seuls dans l'univers,
                         comme au point de penalty -
                         angoisse existentielle.

The inspiration for today's senryū is my colleague The Philosopher Poet.  Well, his t-shirt actually; the one that says: "Sartre" and "10" on the back and "'In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team' Jean-Paul Sartre" on the front.

It's just one the great dress-down Friday t-shirts that he got from the guys over at Philosophy Football (the name of the company is inspired by the Monty Python sketch: The Philosophers' Football Match).

There are many, many great quotations to be found on the site, but, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the zillions of Manchester United supporters out there, I am going to blog my favourites from one of the (other) great football managers to have come out of the west of Scotland, Bill Shankly:

"This city has two great teams: Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves."

"Football is a simple game made complicated by people who should know better."

"If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain advantage, then he should be."

"If you are first you are first.  If you are second you are nothing."

My personal favourite is:

"The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards.  It's the way I see football, the way I see life."

And of course, there is there the one you will all know:

"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death.  I am very disappointed with that attitude.  I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

In a similar vein to the last, and also from the Philosophy Football site, is this quotation from Stan Cullis: "You only have the one life, and I gave mine to Wolves".

Though I followed Wolves as a boy, and though I was proud as punch the day Derek Dougan sought me out and apologised in person for nearly taking my head off with a shot that went wide, I didn't give my life to Wolves.

I never fell in love with football and struggle to understand the fanaticism that some people - usually men - have for the game.  With hindsight it's easy to see that I never had that passion: if I had I would remember the missed shot, not the ensuing attention from the striker.

Whilst researching this entry I came across a brilliant, blackly humorous poem by Don Paterson called: Nil Nil - which - along with the Bill Shankly quotes above - shall be today's recommendation to you.

The titular poem from Paterson's first collection addresses "those ignoble lines of succession that end in neither triumph nor disaster, but merely plunge on into deeper and deeper obscurity" through the tale of the unrelenting descent of a Scottish football team "From the top, then, the zenith, the silent footage" to "stud-harrowed pitches with one-in-five inclines, grim fathers and perverts with Old English Sheepdogs lining the touch", and beyond.

The poem is a wonderfully dour Scottish tale: every bit as humorously nostalgic, but so grimly a "far cry from small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts" as can possibly imagined.  So much more Tommy Stein than Ron Manager

Notable for so much more than making me laugh out loud every time I read it (and for teaching me the word "Irenicon") this poem transcends it's apparent subject-matter to become the perfect companion to Friday Philosophy Football.  Buy a copy of the book, read the wonderful combination of the mundane and the mystical, the surreal and the simply disquieting that permeates the whole book, and, as you finish that final poem, whilst considering whether Socrates was indeed offsideponder whether "per ardua ad astra" or, like all that remains of the unfortunate fighter-pilot in the last stanza, we are: "anchored between the steel bars of a stank* that looks to be biting the bullet in this one".

It's getting late, and my capacity for rational thought is clearly slipping, so I will sign off, with Don Patterson's fine, fine words: "this is where you get off, reader; I'll continue on alone, on foot, in the failing light...  ...the plot thinning down to a point so refined that not even the angels could dance on it.  Goodbye."

                         Alone in the universe,
                         as at the penalty spot -
                         existential angst.

* "Stank" is the Dundonian word for a storm-drain.

"Nil Nil" Copyright © Don Patterson (1993).  Extracts from "Nil Nil" used under the principle of "Fair Dealing".

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