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Looking for football and not finding it

London | Little did I know we would come to London to get a vacation from football. But that is what has happened.

Had I followed a normal routine, by 7:45 A.M. on Saturday I would have consumed the consecrated orange juice and, thanks to Rupert Murdoch, been enjoying breakfast at Goodison Park. Albeit thousands of miles away, my wife and I would have been transported into the hurly-burly of a Premiership match between Everton and Arsenal.


Hard to bend it in these boots: The Brick Lane market, Spitalfields, 22 January. (Copyright © 2006 Keri Tope)

As it was, I was passed out in a Sloane Square–area flat, feet well elevated, trying to stay semi-conscious for an anticipated phone call concerning misrouted baggage. The match was not on offer on terrestrial TV in the U.K., nor was it available on satellite. In fact, none of the day's matches was available on our flat's TV; later in the day we witnessed the strange spectacle of five men, on BBC1, sitting around identical football-emblazoned laptops mouthing received wisdom about various Premiership clubs. No highlights were on view—the esteemed Match of the Day program would show abridged versions of the Arsenal fixture at 10:30 that evening—and these guys were desperate to fill air time.


Football mad? In an example of reckless extrapolation, we conclude from seeing an empty blacktop pitch along Brick Lane that Londoners have lost all interest in the game.

So, it was time to forage in Chelsea for some of the day's fast-breaking football news. Inside a quickie food store, my Arsenal cap merited a comment from the shopkeeper, who seemed to remember that he had laid a wager on the early game with Everton. Did he know the result? He had no idea, but he was going to get his wife, lurking in the rear, to turn on a television. I suspected, though, that he wouldn't have much luck going that route.

The theme for the first couple of days in Blighty had been struck. Walking the hard London streets with a bunion in remission, I expected that the populace would be sharing my zeal for football reportage. This did not seem to be the case. In some 48 hours, I can report only two signs of demonstrated interest: one being the Arsenal crest on my cap, which seemed to trigger a store keeper's memory, and a man striding yesterday evening toward the Thames along Oakley Street in a blue-and-white scarf redolent of Chelsea. Carefully, we remained on the opposite side.

There have been, of course, media reports of note. Somewhere not far from me, at FA headquarters, England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson continues to fend off flak from the tabloid-staged meeting with a bogus sheikh. At the meeting Eriksson talked as a newspaper commentator or television presenter might, offering lightweight assessments of various England players and the state of the professional game.


Old-time religion: North London side Tottenham has elected to drop the Latin from its team badge.

Two other items, though, seemed worthy of more space; naturally, these nuggets were the least reported. First was the report of a "mass pitch invasion" by mice during an FA Cup replay at Old Trafford on 18 January. "There were loads of them," said Burton Albion's Ryan Austin. A Manchester United spokesman blamed the stadium's proximity to a railway and canal. Of still more curiosity to those lamenting the loss of classroom instruction in the classics is the move by Tottenham Hotspur to drop the Latin signature "Audere est Facere" ("To dare is to do") from its team badge. "The point is that in the 19th century a Latin signature gave status and quality to a club," Peter Jones, joint founder of the charity Friends of Classics, tells the Guardian. "I suspect that football clubs now regard it as an anomaly, not as something that gives a status to it. A logo in another language is something of great importance." Beneath the title "Are Tottenham Losing Their Soul?" Stephen Baker writes with similar distress on www.spurs.vitalfootball.co.uk:

[A]t the age of thirteen when I asked my dad what "Audere est Facere" meant he told me that it meant putting more into your sport and taking a run into the opposition area even if you were going to get the sh*t kicked out of you—risking it if you like. That's the way we learn.

Today more than ever we need to state what we are about. We need to believe in something. Alright so it is in Latin but that's just history. Spurs fans demand a certain kind of football, played in a certain way and we won't give up on that. Those few words mean an awful lot to some people and they make us different from the run of the mill. Sorry boys but you need to put back the heart and soul into what makes Tottenham Hotspur special, call it what you like. The soul comes before the brand.


Facing a fine: Prawn curry at Sweet & Spicy on Brick Lane likely does not feature on Premiership training tables.

To get this football fix, I had to return to the mines: that is, to the cyber-mines, where one could say, in an updated version of George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier, that the traveling is hard and one finds little light. The last 48 hours in fact have provided great instruction in sporting culture. In spite of the arguments (such as those in Andrei Markovits's and Steven Hellerman's Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism) that cultures possess only enough "space" for three or four mass sports, I suggest that the space might be infinite. To find the football culture in London, one must seek it out. The packs of weekend shoppers muscling their way down King's Road, demonstrating the self-belief of any decent Premiership defender, did not seem put out by a full slate of fixtures. Nor did the hagglers at the Brick Lane market on Sunday. In any such metropolis, one has an ample buffet of cultural selection.

But starting this evening, we're taking our search up a notch. Next stop: Green Street.