FAMOUSLY, or infamously, the first person to stop clapping after a speech by Stalin was liable to a visit from the KGB. This mentality, the determination not to draw – at best – opprobrium down upon oneself has taken a firm hold in, of all places, professional football. Relentlessly, players and officials ‘take the knee’ before matches to ‘show their support for racial equality’, as commentators persistently remind us.
The useful German word Fremdschämen describes the feeling of vicarious embarrassment that must be felt by at least some players and officials, who can’t all seriously believe that this supposed gesture of solidarity with George Floyd hasn’t outstayed its welcome. I can’t be the only fan who has begun watching games two minutes after kick-off to avoid enduring this blatantly ideological statement as a prelude to the football.
Indeed, the first Millwall fans to be allowed back into the ground demonstrated their opinion by booing, for which they were roundly criticised. Wayne Rooney termed them ‘mindless idiots’, an irony so obvious that I won’t even bother making the joke, and Millwall FC cringed and apologised in much the same way as Burnley FC did when a plane hired by supporters flew over the Etihad Stadium in Manchester towing the slogan ‘White Lives Matter’. In every empty stadium, seats are covered by huge banners insisting that BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Quite clearly, ‘taking the knee’ is beyond all criticism. If children are ever again allowed to play football in the playground, that’s probably how they’ll begin. The Premier League, the Professional Footballers’ Association and every related body have, whether or not they have read the Black Lives Matter manifesto, placed themselves in hock to the identitarians and their particular form of emotional blackmail. It can’t be long before booking a black player is regarded as an act of racial aggression.
One wonders who at the Premier League, PFA et al thought this was a good idea. Probably nobody did; as with many movements, what seems most likely is that somebody determined it would happen and nobody felt inclined to object. Given that the chairman of the FA was recently defenestrated for using the word ‘coloured’, this is hardly surprising and is surely the only explanation for the ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign by which professional football carries water for the LBGT organisation Stonewall.
Happily listening to a radio commentary, I was surprised and slightly alarmed to hear Radio 5’s Vicki Sparks, sounding very much as though she were reading from the official press release, suddenly announce that ‘whatever your inclination, or however you identify, a football fan is a football fan’.
This is an ontological statement and, on its own merits, true. But racists and rapists and wife-beaters and paedophiles are also football fans, so the point is evidently not the tautological statement that football fans are football fans, nor that your status as a football fan absolves you from any external criticism, but that you – listener, spectator, moral pygmy – must acknowledge that you have no right to any opinion other than that which Stonewall, supported by the vast resources of the Premier League, deems acceptable.
Professional football doubtless believes, or tells itself, that it is good to throw its vast resources behind a campaign for tolerance, inclusion and diversity. After all, who could argue with that? Professional football, haunted by the ghost of Justin Fashanu, has been desperately trying to shed its image of ‘toxic masculinity’ for years, with some justification and some success. As and when a professional footballer in Britain comes out, he will be instantly deified and become an even richer man than he is.
Putting homosexuality aside, and even putting aside the unregarded point that it actually is significant for a group of men if one of their number is gay because it adds a sexual element, willy-nilly, to their interaction, has the Premier League thought about this? Rhetorical question: of course not, because nobody is allowed to interrogate the ontological difficulties thrown up by the concept of ‘identifying as’. To put it at its most straightforward, to identify as X you must have a set of criteria for X that differentiates it from Y. Ergo, the more you expand the criteria that permit inclusion within X, the less coherent the concept of X becomes. The assertion that it does not matter, so long as the subject really and truly identifies as X, fundamentally undermines the concept of meaningful categories.
This seems obvious. It may be intentional or it may not, but, if we cannot agree on the nature of X, this is the intellectual conclusion of such a commitment to ‘diversity and inclusion’.
But there is more. One is not, except in the demi-serious sense used by most of us, ‘born’ a football fan. One can choose which team to support. The contemporary belief is that those concepts or identities we inherit are at best unimportant and more probably a burden, hence the bizarre use of the phrase ‘sex assigned at birth’ (which, I was sad to see, is used by Tim Spector’s ZOE app for tracking Covid). One is ‘assigned’ a task, a number, a locker, even a name, but one simply is a sex. Undermining the integrity of biology – the science being settled – in favour of choosing a shaky notion of ‘gender’ reverses the correct direction of ontological travel, but it reinforces the insistence that radical autonomy is the locus of meaning and indeed of reality.
It is therefore meaningless if you are either sex; it is meaningful if you identify as a gender (and never mind the intellectual futility of the exercise). It is meaningless if you are born into a certain society; it is meaningful if you reject the conventions of that society. You owe no obligation to anything you did not choose. This is the old adolescent cri de coeur: I didn’t ask to be born! And thus, if you don’t like the world you’re in or the body you’re in, the world and the body should change. Logically, there seems no reason why you shouldn’t reject your parents for others you prefer; after all, it’s only DNA. If I choose to identify as Vicki Sparks, with all that entails, who is to tell me that I can’t? Certainly not Vicki Sparks. This is the Mr Benn theory of human flourishing: if you identify as a knight and wear the costume of a knight, then you are a knight.
My dearest wish for 2021 is that people would stop adding ‘pre’ to words that don’t need it, such as ‘planned’, ‘ordered’, ‘booked’ and ‘loved’. After that, I really, really wish that football would stop acting as a Trojan Horse for radical ideologies and just get back to playing football. Football fans are famously long-suffering, but we may eventually lose patience.