New Age health expert Cameron Carter has cast away his CD of rainforest sounds and is here to promote a new route to inner wellness: televised football
We have heard people complaining about football on television. Occasionally I agree with them. Yes, it is true that Ray Stubbs and Mark Lawrenson act out a school play about two men arguing every Saturday lunchtime. I too feel discomfort at the spectacle of Garth Crooks constantly reaching for some higher meaning that poor, simple football and its participants cannot give him.
I am also made nauseous on a regular basis by the combination of the Sky action-replay sound effect and Andy Gray’s unlovely approach to building excitement. Then there’s Jon Champion, a man so out of touch with the views of ordinary people he is actually trying to emulate the work of Barry Davies. Champion’s commentary is the footballing equivalent of the chap next to you on a long train journey vocalising his investigation of the Times crossword. And yet the detractors of the televised game all fail to appreciate what is its crowning achievement – the supremely beneficial effect it has on the human psyche, the healing powers it exercises over body and mind.
I have tried a few of the modern aids to relaxation and health. I had a CD of rainforest sounds once to which I was supposed to unwind in a Parker-Knoll chair, but I just got anxious that I was in a hut in Inca country miles from anywhere and I couldn’t remember where I’d put my passport. I have lain in a flotation tank for half an hour, during which I developed an insidious fear of wasting money.
However, when the Saturday night football is on, the teamsheets for the first game are overlayed on the players warming up and the lead commentator of the day is saying “It’s been eight years since Manchester United were beaten on Tyneside, the scorer of the winner that day was one Peter Beardsley”, I reliably slip into a half-dream of beauty and hush.
What greater time of the week is there for those of us not on a promise? The afternoon has been profitably spent looking at the new computer games in Electronics Boutique, the curtains are drawn against the Saturday night howlers and the lush greenery of a Premiership pitch (whether it be Manchester United or Arsenal) is working its calming powers on the buried soul.
The reason I highlight the beginning of the coverage is the value to one’s general health of pleasurable anticipation, long acknowledged by the medical fraternity. Will Andy Cole miss a sitter and turn his back on the goal like a betrayed lover? Will Jody Morris still look like he’s won a competition to play with the first team? Will Titus Bramble make a rash challenge in the penalty area? All this is, magically, yet to unfold as we settle back with our potato-based snack and bargain lager. The future’s waters have broken – the moment waits to be born. It is at this time of the week that I come nearest to rubbing my hands with glee like an evil professor.
There are other delights in store once the programme is underway. Scientists will soon prove that the chemical secreted in the brain on seeing Ally McCoist in a new suit is more-than-averagely mood-enhancing. There is also the sense of liberation afforded one from bawling abuse at Craig Bellamy, secure in the knowledge that there is no middle-aged do-gooder in the seat in front to turn round and ask you to moderate your language. Furthermore, recent psychological experiments at Stanford University appear to support a hypothesis that a group of people’s enjoyment of a social interaction event is significantly heightened if one of them is wearing shorts.
We can thus extend these findings to conclude that, on a subliminal level, armchair football fans profit from the essentially non-erotic pleasure of watching 22 grown men running around in short trousers in a stylised garden. Of course, this pleasure is increased immeasurably when one of the players has a face on them like Roy Keane.
It’s not just ITV. There is the profound sense of security dispensed by television’s Richard Keys. If some of you were concerned that the human race were evolving too fast, that the acceleration of irreversible genetic change was beyond all compass, Keys regularly provides hope that many of us will still be shopping at Ikea on Saturday afternoons well into the next century. His face and words combine to form the anchor that stays Time’s hand.
You pay a whore’s mortgage to watch a match at the ground and you will get the naked brutality of win, lose or draw. You watch it on Sky Sports with Richard, on the other hand, and, aside from the result, you are left with the unaccountable and civilising feeling that you should invite the nice couple next door round for drinks in the garden. A good presenter reminds us of our rise from the primeval soup. Why do you think Motson kept banging on about crockery being upset when England were playing Argentina? Precisely.
The biggest thing in favour of televised football, though, is what it isn’t. It isn’t Bar Wars, Sex in the City or Robot Wars with Craig Charles. Neither is it The Fattest Women in Britain or Servants. It is, excluding the Sunderland defence, one of the few areas of programming that doesn’t involve ordinary members of the public, and that is defence enough. Not least because it means there is little chance of Davina McCall ever getting involved.
Those who pick and quibble at televised football ought to consider that it is the Christian marriage of the finest sport in the world to the greatest modern invention. And just as at any wedding we all drink too much free wine and become satirical about the participants, we end up feeling we have witnessed something beautiful, eternal and true. Especially when we turn the sound down on Jon Champion.
From WSC 196 June 2003. What was happening this month