Monday, August 31, 2009

The Heart of the Game

Let me know if this sounds familiar - the game isn't what it used to be. There's no connection between players and fans. Clubs are just interested in money. Superstars have both egos and compensation that defy logic. Back in the day, it didn't cost an arm and a leg to take your kid to a game. There's no more passion. Rivalries don't mean anything anymore. It just ain't like it used to be.

Well, insert [sport of your choice] here, I suppose. Slimbo's Shelf readers might assume I'm set to launch into my hobby of obsessing on baseball. But the sentiments above are the grievances of Jimmy Greaves in his football (soccer) book The Heart of the Game. I picked this up when I was travelling through England last summer and I got it specifically because it's not available in the US.

Greaves is considered a national treasure of England. So this book is sort of like listening to Ted Williams (if he were still alive) rattle off everything he doesn't like about the state of the game today. You nod, smile at the old man and accept. It is what it is.

So what is the heart of the game? Well, according to Greaves it's a lot of things that congeal into that intangible magic that exists on a cool damp Saturday afternoon. Two teams take to the pitch and a cracking good show is put on by the lads. Everyone behaves themselves and the two sets of chaps give it there all. It's a working man's paradise.
- OK. Well, that's me pushing it a bit. Greaves is very frank in what he sees as maligning the game - there is a definite lack of Britishness in the English Premier League today. But he longs for a time that no longer exists. I feel for him. When Fox Soccer Channel benevolently shows fourth division teams playing in FA qualifying rounds, games played in wintery mudbaths of backwoods Britain, I cling to each moment. I know what Greaves is talking about. Tea, pies, team scarves, songs, crappy grounds burgeoning with adoring fans.
- I suppose it's fun to remember.
- My biggest takeaway was an observation that certainly echoes the state of sports in America. Greaves provides the following caption on a photograph of a massive joyous crowd from some anonymous team in the 1960's: "When a camera positions itself before fans today what we invariably see are clenched fists and snarling faces. In the early sixties supporters responded to a camera with smiles, laughter and whirling rattles."

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