17 December 2009 ~ If there was only one thing to take from the puffed up and self-congratulatory ceremony that is the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show, it was surely the affirmation of that age-old truism that despite their fabulous wealth, athleticism and natural talent, most footballers are inherently dull. While Ryan Giggs's glittering career is, of course, worthy of nothing less than our full admiration, his lacklustre and faltering effort at an acceptance speech nevertheless made something of a mockery of the personality element of the award. Viewers gained little insight into the inner-workings of the man himself.
In fact, it is fair to say that much of his success can actually be attributed to his innate blandness. Practically teetotal, domesticated and a yoga enthusiast, Giggs himself admitted in a recent interview that he "leads a bit of a boring life". This is, of course, the time of year when such lifestyle differences really come to the fore. For while the rest of the nation splits its time between spending too much, eating too much and drinking too much, the modern footballer has to train harder than ever. Whereas most continental leagues now afford their players a break, Boxing Day and New Year's Day fixtures mean that for the Premier League star the festive period is essentially a write off. Long periods are spent away from families and friends in impersonal hotel rooms. Strict dieting and training regimes are adhered to. Moreover, the recent crackdown on the customary Christmas party by managers fearful of bad publicity has even deprived them of the right to dress up, harass strippers and stub cigars out in one another's eyes.
Yet the significance of this lies in more than the fact that we get to slob out in front of the television and indulge in more mince pies than the standard Premier League footballer. Such festivities provide us with the opportunity to escape, at least temporarily, the grinding and mundane reality that is everyday life. As the prominent Russian anthropologist Mikhail Bakhtin saw it, such occasions were nothing less than the realisation of an alternate way of life, "organised on the basis of laughter". Social conventions that shackle us in day-to-day life can be thrown off, as we indulge in the customary festive silliness. We forget the demands that our bosses make of us. We temporarily put out of our mind those unpaid bills. Instead, we are provided a brief opportunity to indulge in an "atmosphere of freedom, frankness and familiarity".
At such moments we are able to step outside of the humdrum routines that normally order our daily existence. We experience different sensations. We establish new friendships. We let ourselves relax. So in this season of goodwill and merriment let us revel in the fact that despite all their wealth, fame and glory, the modern professional footballer is truly much less well off than us at this time of year. It affirms once and for all that money really can't buy you everything (or at least not a personality). Matthew Hollow