The cuddly side of football
It wasn’t only Manchester United who were given a shock last week by Athletic, the team from Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. There was inevitably an enjoyable sense of schadenfreude for much of the British football world in seeing Manchester United knocked out of yet one more competition this season, but they were also clearly stirred by Athletic’s creative, positive and ultimately winning style of play. Perhaps even more unexpected was the behaviour of Athletic’s supporters: they did unprecedented things, like rapturously acclaiming Wayne Rooney’s dazzling consolation goal; giving an appreciative ovation to United’s substituted players, even though they’d been crap…. They even applauded the rare passages of good play by United which the cynic in me assumed was mere sarcasm, but I have to concede this was unlikely. I remember being told by someone I know, who had worked in Bilbao for a while, that in so far as you can generalise about these things, the Basques were the sincerest and most generous people he’d ever met. Sarcasm would not sit comfortably with such a national character.
Miraculously, some of this humanistic football philosophy seems to have entered like quicksilver into the slipstream of British football attitudes. Immediately after their win over Manchester United many British football supporters were proclaiming Athletic as their new second favourite team. Then at the weekend, a young Bolton player, Fabrice Muamba, collapsed with heart failure in the middle of a game, and both sets of players and supporters, where once they might have just stared gormlessly at the scene, were clearly distressed and concerned about Muamba. And when Fernando Torres managed to score his first goal for Chelsea in 100 games (I might have got that figure slightly wrong, but it has certainly been a long time), and his sad clown’s face broke into a beaming grin, the supporters of the team he had just scored against were applauding just as enthusiastically as those of his own team.
|(Image from RECORD)|
But this new friendly football philosophy seems to be getting a bit creepy now, with a mass praying campaign for Fabrice visible everywhere – on banners, on shirts, and on Twitter. He now seems to be recovering thank goodness, but evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins must be gnashing his teeth in frustration that this will no doubt lead some credulous souls to believe that praying is a more effective way to save lives than prompt and excellent medical care. He must be wishing fervently that it had happened to John Terry instead. A much less appealing character than Fabrice Muamba – it's unlikely that many would have prayed for him.