In Memoriam

5 Sep

An old man died on Monday and it would be fair to assume that many of us would not have even the faintest idea of who Francisco Varallo was. With his passing at the age of one hundred years and six months however, the football world lost one of the last remaining links with the game in its formative years and for that we should all feel a little sad. Varallo was on the defeated Argentine side that succumbed to Uruguay in the inaugural World Cup Final in 1930 and with his death, the curtain came down on the pioneers who ensured that the game of football would be elevated to the globe-conquering heights it has subsequently reached.

It’s sad to think that Varallo’s life is consigned to a footnote. But without the modern benefits of visual media that record and document significant events for posterity, the endeavours of Varallo and all those other men that took to the field of play in Montevideo, the World Cup’s early history relies upon the spoken recollections from those who were there and however much we may try not to, we humans are prone to the occasional embellishment and exaggeration with every re-telling. And if those stories stop being told, what’s worse is that those events merely recede and all we are left with are cold, historical facts which can never truly capture the essence of experience. One would think that the World Cup began in 1966 with the advent of colour and English triumph but for those of a more inquisitive disposition, the stories of the tournament’s early years is equally as enthralling whether that be how fascism hijacked the 1938 games (see individuals-united)  or the tale of the West Germany’s rejuvenation and re-acceptance within the family of nations with its triumph in 1954.

I’ve always been fascinated by just what images and sensations choose to lodge themselves into my brain. Seemingly innocuous incidents seem to sear themselves into my consciousness whilst what might seem like significant events seem to be more readily discarded when it comes to creating the fabric of what embodies me as a human being. For instance, my earliest footballing recollection was of a live match between West Ham and Liverpool (I think…) in which West Ham’s Alan Devonshire was left with a huge gaping gash on his forehead after a clash of heads with another player. The injury was so horrific that Devonshire’s forehead had split into two flaps of skin as he stood on the sidelines and was apparently stitched up. As disturbing as the image was, I was also magnetised by Devonshire’s permed mullet and his moustache and by the fact that he wasn’t shedding any tears; a mixture of the grotesque theatre and machismo. I can’t remember anything else from the match. Similarly, a non-football memory I have dates back to the time I decided to take my first foray into the philosophical musings of Albert Camus, in his novel, The Outsider. Sitting on the tube, engrossed in his world of existential angst, a passenger sitting next to me coughed open-mouthed in my direction and as a result of not shielding his cavity with his hand, a globule of spit landed neatly on page 39. In one involuntary, tiny act, said existential angst was perfectly encapsulated and I have been revulsed by the book ever since, unable to recount the basic thrust of Camus’ narrative if and when asked.

What I’m trying to articulate in divulging such personal and almost autistic incidences is that a life is more than the biographies that would be written about an individual. Christopher Nolan’s Inception has left many cinema-goers infuriated with its reluctance to provide a one-dimensional reality within the realms of its world. Reliant on multi-layered abstractions of the subconscious, we are provided with an intricate narrative which requires us to allow the images to imprint themselves on our minds in order for a sense of understanding to be made apparent by the film’s end. This has evidently challenged a populus programmed to consume media in linear structures, where images merely wash over the viewer and no detailed thought process is required. However, the film is far closer to a sense of our own realities than any number of Hollywood star vehicles.

Our subconsciousness is not so neatly packaged. When our day-to-day perception is intermingled within the metaphysical corkscrew of memories, dreams, fabrications, exaggerations and natural decay, it is increasingly harder to maintain a truly consistent presentation of ourselves; we are all walking contradictions and rather than this being something we should turn away from, we should learn to accept and embrace it. Such a willingness to acquiesce towards a more fragmented state of being is not without its dangers though…

One of the greatest exponents of this theory is Tony Blair who came out of his self-imposed exile this week to promote his memoirs in an interview with Andrew Marr on the BBC. When the subject of his legacy in Iraq was brought up, he was adamant in his reasons for embarking upon the action that would forever haunt and taint his reputation. WMD were the case for war and always were, we were repeatedly told. However, I seem to recall that this reason was discarded the moment it became apparent to the watching world that the intelligence was false and said WMD were simply non-existent. So with his credibility on the line, the argument for war was then manipulated and massaged to centre around the need for ‘regime change’; a policy which would have evidently been roundly rejected by the United Nations. Mr Blair argued his defence over this policy u-turn when pressed by Marr, with so much conviction that for the first time I was inclined to believe that Blair had performed the ultimate act in Orwellian doublethink by persuading himself to believe something despite all the accumulated and recorded evidence suggesting otherwise in 2002/3. His warnings towards Iran were almost symptomatic of The Party’s switching of enemies and allies in 1984. “Today we are at war with Iran,” you could almost imagine him saying. “We have always been at war with Iran. Iraq are our allies”. Such self-deception among our political masters is filled with danger and it is for these reasons that the scrutiny and recording with which the tools of our modernity can be used to our advantage when these people’s decisions and personalities hold so many lives in the balance.

Francisco Varallo’s story ended last week in La Plata. What memories he took away with him of that day in 1930, I will never know. But I am glad that even after his passing, I have re-connected with a link in the chain that has encompassed so many, from Pele to Beckham to a little boy watching a grown man’s bleeding forehead on the telly. Preserve your memories. No matter what. Because they’re all that’s left you.

Further reading:

Hasta El Gol Siempre: Obituary for Francisco Varallo

Orwells Dreams

Robert Fisk on the Blair Interview

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