Who remembers Jossy’s Giants, the 1980s CBBC series about the Glipton Giants boys’ football team and their enthusiastic manager Josswell ‘Jossy’ Blair? Well, not me, for starters. I’ve had to look all that up on Wikipedia just now. Plus, I was convinced up till a moment ago that Jossy had been played by Jimmy Nail (on the basis that there can only have been one adult male Geordie actor throughout the whole of the 1980s; for a Germanist, my knowledge of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet! is woeful). Anyhow, one thing I do remember is the theme tune. It told us that, while not yet included in the EBacc, football was ‘just a branch of science’, and it also included the following classic verse:
Girlfriends cause distraction
Jossy wants more soccer action
Bring them here and the girls can cheer:
Actually, that last line was really ‘Jossy’s Giants’. My friend Jenny came up with the above variation when we were 11. It is much better than the original, I think you will agree. Anyhow, enough about Jossy’s Giants (given that, according to Wikipedia, I’ve no idea what I’m talking about). I just wanted to use that verse to illustrate the use of football in popular culture and discourse as a means of excluding or trivialising women (and that’s not pretentious at all, is it?).
I’ve nothing against football per se, just as I’ve nothing against shoes. However, I do think these have, in their own way, become the key symbols in an exceptionally rubbish Battle of the Sexes, a battle currently summed up by the Euro 2012 window display in Republic where I live. On the left: female mannequin in girly pink dress and heels. Message on window: Balls to football! (cos I’ve got my totally empowering heels and am off out with the girls to titter at stuff!! *flounce*). On the right: male mannequin in sporty gear (the type you wear for sitting around drinking beer). Message on window: Game on! (f-you, girlies! We’re taking over the TV, getting off our faces and partying like it’s 1996! *manly air-punch*). Gah! Is it worth getting annoyed over this? Is it all just substandard witty banter? It’s not like you have to play along, right? I’m not so sure.
From a feminist perspective, there’s masses to hate about football culture. It’s not just the obvious, the violence, the xenophobia, the rape apologism and the fact that roasting is no longer merely a way of making parsnips edible. It’s the way in which it’s used to justify a tribal laddishness which, in any other context, would look plainly ridiculous. It’s a way in which priviliged middle-class males claim to take the weight of the working classes on their shoulders. It’s a conduit for white male self-pity (I’ll give you “thirty years of hurt”, matey). It’s all kinds of crap and I’m having none of it.
And yet, some of the time, I quite like football itself. My partner and I got together during Euro 2000 and bonded while sat in front of his black and white TV, chanting “Shea-rer! Shea-rer! Princess of Power!” (that last bit may possibly have been added by me). When I lived in Cambridge I attended a Cambridge vs Carlisle match and was genuinely impressed at how many people had traveled all the way from Carlisle to attend it. It warmed my cockles and I felt oddly proud of where I came from (so much so, I joined the Botchergate Separatists Party the very next day). We lost the match due to the team being unfit (we started off really well but lost the ability to run in the second half). Still, even that made me oddly proud; it was like we were saying “we’re from Carlisle and we could be good but we just can’t be arsed”. Go us!
Having said that, I do get incredibly stressed watching football. I’m one of those people who decides they’re responsible for the entire match. If I go to the loo and our team scores a goal, I have to spend the rest of the game on the loo, just in case that was what did it. I usually get it wrong, though, and focus on the wrong things. If only I could work out the precise rules for loo-going and tea-making, England could win the World Cup from now until the end of my days (and then, on my deathbed, I’ll pass on the rules to my sons. We could be sorted for generations!).
Of course, it’s all different these days. Growing up in Bolton in the 1940s and 50s, my dad lived not far from the footballer Nat Lofthouse, who played for Bolton Wanderers and was also capped 33 times for England (thanks, Wikipedia). Obviously living near an England footballer is mega cool, so when Nat and his wife had their first baby, my dad and his mates called round to ask it they could take the baby out to show it off round town. Unbelievably, the Lofthouses said yes! I’m pretty sure my dad is telling the truth about this. He uses it as an example of how football has changed and “you’d never see the Beckhams doing something like that”. Indeed, but I’m not famous and I’m not about to hand my children over to a bunch of random teenagers for the afternoon, either. Perhaps, I don’t know, the Lofthouses were incredibly sleep-deprived and didn’t know what they were doing. Anyhow, by all accounts, my dad and his friends had an excellent time with status-symbol Baby Lofthouse and no ill came of him/her. I find this story amusing not least because of the bizarre gender symbolism. We’re so into footie we’ve got a screaming baby for the afternoon! It was, truly, another world.
And now I shall end my football musings with what is the best football song ever. No, not England / New Order* – it’s Adam and Joe! Written at the height of 1990s laddishness, the Footie Song offers a perfect puncturing of Three Lions pomposity. It shall be my theme for the whole of this tournament:
* I am a massive New Order fan, but am not so sure about World in Motion. “We ain’t no hooligans, this ain’t a football song”? Yes it sodding well is! That’s the whole reason why it got to number one, as opposed to the far more deserving True Faith …