Taking The Mick

19 Sep

Here’s an oft-cited philosophical question for you to mull over: is it it better to live a life in blissful ignorance rather than have the instinctive thirst for knowledge, with all its attendant futility and soul-searching weighing heavy upon your burdened shoulders? After all, does a passing understanding of the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian dispute or a being able to offer an intricate analysis of Wittgenstein’s oeuvre really have any bearing upon one’s day-to-day life? Is it more preferable to switch one’s mind off in front of the television and feed your soul a daily soup of Phil Mitchell’s battle with crack addiction or whether Paris Hilton has resolved her dispute with Lindsey Lohan via Twitter? In the end, isn’t our opinion so crowded out amongst the din that if we take the time out to care, all we do is just get bogged down with worry? It’s quite telling that Americans have a guaranteed entitlement to the ‘pursuit of happiness’ written into the Declaration of Independence with the operative word being ‘pursuit’. If you’re ignorant and happy is it far better than being informed and depressed?

Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, has always struck me as being firmly entrenched in the ‘ignorance is bliss’ camp. While he is of course entitled to project such an image, it is slightly worrying that his straight-talking, ‘down-to-earth’ persona during interviews and commentary is so widely celebrated among his media colleagues and fellow managers. This is a man who during his World Cup commentaries made it abundantly clear that he was unwilling to make any attempt to pronounce the names of players who had the temerity not to possess Anglo-Saxon names, reducing their individuality to generalisations such as ‘the little fella’ or ‘the number 7’ (see The Numbers Game). McCarthy is by no means the only culprit. Nevertheless, he is emblematic of a certain type of person who views the world in very simplistic terms and is unwilling to acknowledge the fact that cultures, individuals and footballing approaches are far more varied and blurred than he would have you believe. He was bemoaning the fact on Match of the Day yesterday that his team have received a negative rap from the press recently due to their rugged approach to games. He was quick to point out that of course Tottenham were a Champions’ League side, so his team in the end were up against it. All this serves to demonstrate is that McCarthy is devoid of any kind of ambition and his record as a manager does little to prove otherwise. Of course, Wolves cannot compete with teams of Spurs’ calibre, but McCarthy has spent much of his managerial career expounding a policy of survival over anything else. There is no attempt by him ever to embrace the more cosmopolitan outlooks of managers such as Arsene Wenger or Roy Hodgson. McCarthy seems to occupy a quasi-reality in which the brutality and overtly masculine worlds of the 1950s through to the mid-1980s never really went away. This is a world in which players could knock back pint after pint and still put in a winning performance the next day; a world in which women were ‘birds’ and went and did their hair on a Saturday afternoon rather than go down the football; a world in which a tackle from behind was a gentle tap. I’d hazard a guess that Life on Mars was his favourite tv show of the last five years, if in fact he understands the concept of time travel itself. In interviews he always seems to be at odds with the modern game, disdainfully dismissing players as preening and protected. You can almost hear the brass bands of the local mine playing in the background as flat-capped urchins deliver papers on their rounds and Mrs Arkwright invites the whistling milkman in for a cup of tea.

Of course, he is entitled to this worldview, but what remains irksome is that he is portrayed by his media chums as a straight-talking man of sense. This highlights an all-enveloping attitude amongst pundits of a certain age (take a bow Alan Shearer, Andy Gray) that somehow the world is simple and all this talk of formations, advanced training regimes and fashion statements are symptoms of a game gone wrong.

Players who have shown any degree of intelligence have always been treated with suspicion within the game and generally are given the epithet of ‘The Professor’. Graeme Le Saux was vilified on the terraces and openly mocked by his fellow professionals (most notably by Robbie Fowler) in the 1990s for having the temerity to read a newspaper which wasn’t a redtop. And because of that, he was labelled as gay? The argument from these people might be that the game is a working-class pursuit and should remember its roots but I wasn’t under the impression that working-class people were expressly forbidden from taking an active interest in the world at large or having the capacity for articulate, cogent discourse.

The Brazilian legend, Socrates goes a long way to dispelling the notion that football-folk are all lumpen proles more at home talking about creosoting (encore Mr Shearer). This is a man who is a practising doctor in his local village, holds a PhD, regularly commentates and is currently writing a novel. His thoughts on the game are radically oppositional to how McCarthy and his friends regard it:

“To win is not the most important thing, football is an art and should be showing creativity. If [painters] Vincent van Gogh and Edgar Degas had known when they were doing their work the level of recognition that they were going to have, they would not have done them the same. You have to enjoy doing the art and not think ‘will I win?'”.

There are erudite, sophisticated people in football (Martin O’Neill, Roy Hodgson, Eric Cantona). The problem is they’re drowned out by people who have made a name out of being inoffensive, bland and ignorant. And if these people continue to remain in managerial and broadcasting positions, what message does that send out to the many millions enthralled by this game of ours? Don’t challenge, don’t think, don’t question. Be scared to try something new and revel in your own ignorance, masking it as common sense talk. Knowledge may be a curse. But I assure you, ignorance is so much worse. I’m sure Mick’d give me a slap for saying that.

Further Reading:

BBC Sport – The Wisdom of Socrates

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