Comment: The Opiate of the Masses
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April 19, 2004-'What would you expect from a knacker?' was the bitchy remark from a well-heeled middle aged woman just before the broadcast of one of the Republic of Ireland's games at the FIFA World Cup 2002. The overheard remark in a Dublin pub was in reference to Roy Keane who had left the team squad for home following a dispute with the team coach. Roy Keane is a temperamental person but that shouldn't eclipse his personal achievement in having had the dedication to scale the heights of his sport from a base in the poorest area of his native Cork City.
The week of the announcement of Roy Keane's planned return to the Republic of Ireland football squad was also dominated by the media focus on the sex life of David Beckham, captain of the English football team. In recent years money has made top footballers part of the 'celebrity' class and it was always going to be a matter of time before the 'Becks and Posh' show would have its inevitable downside in a media world which fuelled it in the first place. Take this for a sample of the pap from female columnists in UK newspapers as recounted by David Aaronovitch in the Guardian: A Virginia Blackburn wrote in the Express that, "If there is one person in the entire world you would have thought would have been faithful to his wife, it's David Beckham." And other women columnists blamed Victoria for the alleged affairs on the basis that she was "greedy, grafting and graceless" (Amanda Platell, Mail), or a "part-time wife" (Sue Carroll, Mirror). Platell's suggestion is that had Victoria been more attentive and matronly, then her husband could never have been seduced by any of the succession of gorgeous models he bumped into during the course of his life.
Whether Virginia Blackburn is an idiot or she thinks that her readers are idiots is beside the point, because fantasy and reality are often blurred in the modern football world. Recently two London teams Arsenal and Chelsea played each other in the Champions' League quarter final. The majority of the players on the field were not English; both clubs are managed by foreign coaches and one club is owned by a Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. This week the purchase of Chelsea Football Club has given him the recognition in the West that he clearly craves. Abramovich heads up what the Sunday Times calls its 'Rich List' of 'Britain's richest people.' : Roman Abramovich, 37, the Russian tycoon who bought Chelsea football club last summer and now has homes in London’s Belgravia and West Sussex, is at number one on the list — and by a long way. With a fortune put at £7.5 billion, his wealth is increasing at a rate of £441.2m a year, equivalent to more than £50,000 an hour. “He is not a bean counter,” said his spokesman in Moscow last week. “He figures out how much he is worth from what you guys say he is worth.” The £140m which Abramovich paid for Chelsea would have been a big help to a club in the country where he had built his wealth from the giveaway privatisations during the Yeltsin era.
In an April interview in the Spanish sports daily Marca, Chelsea Manager Claudio Ranieri said that Abramovich, who took over in July, had little understanding of the work he had done the previous season when he steered Chelsea to fourth place in the Premiership. "Abramovich knows nothing about football," said Ranieri. "That's the real shame. If he had understood what my side had achieved that season he would have valued me more highly. We did it all without any money."
Abramovich has spent £110m on new players this season. Ranieri said Abramovich had no appreciation of how difficult it would be to make the team gel. "It was a very tough job to sign so many players and get them to play together. Abramovich didn't realise that. He thought I'll sign that one and that one and then we will win."
It may be just as well that loyal club fans appear to be blind to the big changes underway in their sport. Last winter at the first Manchester United-Fulham game following the transfer of French player Louis Saha, some Fulham supporters hoisted a sign with the word 'traitor' on it! It's akin to music fans believing that their idols are in the business for the betterment of humanity. Irish football fans can also be irrational. Many who support English teams would cheer for any team in the world that was playing England. The bragging and gloating (rarer) of English pundits and commentators gets up their noses- who forces anyone of them to watch British TV or read their newspapers?
Sport has replaced religion as the opiate of the masses and across every sector of male society in particular, there are the enthusiasts and the others who feel compelled to keep abreast of what's happening. It is interesting to observe the type who will never bother attending a club game on a damp afternoon but will go to great efforts to get a ticket for a final. The brag factor is worth a lot in particular in the succeeding week. 'Were you at the match?' can be a great ice breaker with a business contact on the phone. Whether x or y player was good or bad is a matter of opinion that has none of the risks of issues like Iraq, race etc may have.
Finally, for some light relief, we finish with Malaysian-born Sarah Marbeck, 29, who released a statement which claimed her relationship with David Beckham had changed her life forever.
"In response to many questions about my motives, the reason I decided to go public with details of my relationship with David Beckham is because for two years my life was on hold while I waited for him," she said in the statement released by Melbourne-based lawyer Michael Brereton.
"He said he loved me and I slept with the phone by my bed waiting for it to ring," she said.
We can only wait for the book!
- Michael Hennigan
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