Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The flipside of Dominic Lawson

At my last football match, I noticed that all the fans had the complexion and the body-scent of a cheese and onion crisp, and the eyes of pitbulls.

Martin Amis, 1991.

...but then, most football fans do not have a criminal record, or carry knives, or urinate in pockets, or get up to any of the things that they are all supposed to...

Whose game is it anyway? Some random phrases from Martin Amis's review of
Among the Thugs, by Bill Buford: "a love of ugliness"; "pitbull eyes"; "the complexion and body scent of a cheese-and-onion crisp". These phrases are intended to build up a composite picture of the typical fan, and typical fans know this picture is wrong...

...the truth — that "pitbull eyes" are few and far between, and often hidden behind specs, and that the stands are full of actors and publicity girls and teachers and accountants and doctors and nurses, as well as salt-of-the-earth working-class men in caps and loud-mouthed thugs.

Nick Hornby, 1992.

Professional football in this country is the debased summit of a debased culture.

Daily Mail, 2014.

Last week, a nasty and ignorant article appeared in the Daily Mail. This, in itself, may not constitute a novelty.

However, the target on that particular day wasn't immigrants, or poor people, or any of the Mail's usual shooting-gallery. It was football. The people who play it, the people who watch it, the people who like it. It's been a long time since I read anything so unpleasant on that particular topic - not since the 1991 Martin Amis hate piece referenced above, in fact.

Now why this should be of any importance to a chess blog is something we'll get on to below, after a couple more quotes from the piece and some comment.
The fact remains that there is something particular to football — among all sports — in their loutishness
the brutish nature of what is depressingly called "our national game"
Brutish nature. Ugh.

Still, everybody's entitled to their opinion, so how was this particular opinion formed? On a basis of profound and considered knowledge, painfully acquired over a number of years' extensive research?

Good Lord no. The author is:
a non-attender at football matches for almost my entire adult life.
Now personally, if I were going to write something quite so unpleasant about another group of people, I wouldn't go out of my way to make it clear just how ignorant I was about them, in case it laid me open to the charge of having no idea what I was talking about. But maybe they see things differently at the Daily Mail.

Mind you, if I were going to use the phrase "the debased summit of a debased culture", I wouldn't use it in the Daily Mail, in case somebody asked whether it wouldn't be better applied to the place where I was writing.

As it happens, in contrast to the author of the piece, I have been a regular attender at professional football matches for my entire adult life. I even wrote a book about it once. And I have managed to pass that whole time without feeling I was engaged in barbarity or surrounded by barbarians. As opposed to, for instance, understanding that there are occasional aspects of the game which I find tiresome or unpleasant, as there are in the world of chess. Or, for that matter, in the world of newspapers.

This is because the sole significant difference between people who like football and people who do not is that the first group likes football.

That's a statement of the obvious, by the way. So I have no intention of debating with the article. I'm not going to debate the proposition of the piece, either here or in the comments box. Nor do I particularly care what process of projection gave birth to it, except to observe that pieces like this are projection, projection of one's own fears and hatreds on to other people.

So why mention it at all?

There's a couple of reasons. One is that the two things on which I have spent most time in my life are, work aside, chess and football. They're part of my life to such a degree that in some ways I don't even regard them as separate things, but different and connected aspects of myself. I am not one person in the tournament hall and another at the football ground.

I am not remotely alone in this. Many chess people are also football people. And as chess people, we know, or really ought to know, how often we are spoken and written about in ignorant terms. We're all nerds, chess brings on madness, it's boring, you know the routine.

Now I don't much care for pig-ignorant and prejudiced trash about chess from people who know next to nothing about it. I treat it with contempt.

Curiously enough, nor do I much care for pig-ignorant and prejudiced trash about football from people who know next to nothing about it.

So one reason for calling attention to the article - which, as it happens, invokes chess in its war on football* - is on the simple principle, explained to many a primary-school child, that you don't do it if you don't want other people to do it to you. I like people to treat chess with respect. I'd like chess to treat other people with respect.

This is a problem, because the author of the Daily Mail piece was Dominic Lawson - and Dominic Lawson has just been nominated as the next President of the English Chess Federation. As our figurehead and spokesperson.

So if you're a football person as well as a chessplayer, it's worth asking why you would want a President who holds the views expressed in the Mail. A President who holds those views about you.

If you're not a football person, it's worth asking whether the figurehead and spokesperson for chess - somebody who we are hoping will try and popularise chess - should be somebody who will speak about the world's most popular sport, and the people who follow it, like that. What is going to happen, do you think, when he gets asked about it?

Do we not already have an image of being snobbish and elitist, in the worst sense of that latter word? Do we really want to make that image a reality? How can we explain that chess is for everybody if our figurehead speaks with such ill-informed loathing of the people's game?

Last point. If Dominic Lawson thinks that's an appropriate way to speak about other groups of people, what other groups of people is the prospective ECF President going to speak about like that? Who else is he going to insult?

We'll have a possible answer to that tomorrow.

[* Compare this piece (behind paywallby Matthew Syed defending footballers, which sees no need to insult chessplayers in doing so.]

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