The Ring Of Fire

6 Feb

“Heat cannot be separated from fire or beauty from the Eternal,” the Italian poet Dante Alighieri told us back in the Middle Ages. His masterwork, The Divine Comedy, inextricably binds him with the image of fire as a means of suffering and purification that so many people of religious persuasion perceive to be the conventional depiction of hell.

Judging by the manner in which Fernando Torres’ departure from Anfield to Stamford Bridge was greeted by some Liverpool fans on transfer deadline day, you would think that the Spaniard had already been condemned to an eternity of wailing and gnashing in the pit of Hades. Most Liverpool fans were understandably upset about Torres’ decision to seek new employment but managed to show an admirable sense of perspective when weighing up what their ‘Nando’ had given them during his stay at the club. The beauty of the memories he had given them was, as our friend Dante suggested, indeed eternal.

Torres, like any other employee in any other line of work, had the right to move on if he deemed it in his interest that he had further means of advancement in his career elsewhere. It had been evident for months that he had grown jaded with life in Liverpool. However upsetting it might be to the young fan who had idolised him for several years, his transfer need not have been the platform for some fans to ‘spontaneously’ display their ire by burning the number nine shirt that had borne his name outside Anfield on Monday night.

In the end, their protests descended into a shambolic pantomime that was purely symbolic in meaning. After all, Torres’ presence was immediately consigned to memory as soon as Luis Suarez came off the bench to score on his debut against Stoke on Wednesday night. In the revolving-door culture that football has always been party to, the Kop had found a new hero to adore. As it had when the likes of Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush came and went like so many before them.

Taking an aerosol to a cheaply manufactured piece of polyester leisurewear did not change anything. And why should it? The protests were innocuous by the very nature of the transitory reality that dictates that players will indeed, come and go. There was no ideology behind the gesture. No pent-up outpouring of a justified grievance with the status quo. In many respects, it was merely an act of mindless vandalism.

Contrast that with how the people of Egypt are taking to the streets with the legitimate weight of years of corruption, repression and despotism under the tinpot regime of President Hosni Mubarak, motivating them. Cairo itself currently resembles the apocalyptic visions that Dante imagined with such vividness hundreds of years ago. If we are to ascribe a hierarchy of ‘protest by degree’ here, what is happening in Egypt immediately, decisively and clinically relegates the actions of a few camera-craving individuals in Merseyside to a mere speck of insignificance. What are being torched here are the symbols of repression, enacted by the collective mass of the people finally taking their destinies into their own hands. The Egyptian peoples’ act of aggression is not targeting another human being per se. It is attacking the very apparatus in which a whole society is run. However, like those Liverpool fans, their resistance is being conducted within the parameters of a mass outcry. Safety in numbers, as it were. There are risks involved with such a strategy but it is nothing when you compare that to an individual who is prepared to sacrifice his or her very own existence for the sake of a cause or a belief.

Such was the case in 1963 when the Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, famously executed an act of self-immolation on a busy street in Saigon. His aim was to highlight and condemn the persecution of his brethren under another regime propped up with Western collusion like Egypt’s; that of Ngo Dinh Diem. The photos of his self-sacrifice have subsequently passed into the iconography of the twentieth century but at the time, they succeeded in making the world aware of the horrors taking place in South Vietnam. If a man is prepared to burn himself alive, then clearly he has great cause to. Now that’s truly having the courage of your own convictions.

The act of burning, of course, can also be seen as a cleansing ritual. Hence Dante’s depictions of purgatory, the ascendancy of cremation as a means of committing ourselves back to whence we came and in its most benign sense, the process of domestic cooking. Perhaps, in their subconscious, those Liverpool fans were merely saying goodbye to the hero they had once so revered? Then again… perhaps not.

What’s all this got to do with football, you might ask? Not very much, is perhaps the honest answer. Today is my birthday. I am thirty-three years old. February 6th though also marks the anniversary of the Munich air disaster that tragically extinguished some of the brightest talents and potential greats the English game had ever produced. Manchester United players like Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Roger Byrne. Whilst the same date twenty years later brought so much joy to my small family, elsewhere it will always be remembered by millions for the loss of boys who never lived to celebrate the age that I have reached today.

That other great Anfield demigod, Bill Shankly is attributed with saying that football was more important than life and death. How trivial it sometimes feels when in the week when a player leaves one football club for another, the future of a country is being fought out in front of the world’s watching eyes and we remember those who never had the chance to see it.


Further reading: In Memoriam – Dispatch: 5th September

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

3 Responses to “The Ring Of Fire”

  1. SpursSimon February 6, 2011 at 17:16 #

    Excellent as always Greg – and Happy Birthday

  2. joel priest February 7, 2011 at 20:26 #

    Its funny how fans react. In Newcastle they seemed to accept that Carroll was leaving and deep down new that £35 million for a relatively unproven player was too good to refuse.

    What Liverpool fans should have been doing as dancing in the street. £50 million for a guy who has been nothing but average for the last 18 months is ridiculous. Even after his World Cup exploits David Villa was still only worth £35 million. Since then he has scored 14 goals in 18 games for Barcelona and surely joined one of the greatest teams of the last 20 years (personal opinion).

    Torres on the other hand joins Chelsea at a time when they are in disarray. They worst record of any Chelsea team under Abramovichs reign at present and what if Torres doesn’t produce this term?

    Drogba is about to turn 33, Anelka 30, Lampard 32, even the once young Cole is into the tail end of his career and its not as if Torres has years to develop at 27 years old!

  3. mark February 10, 2011 at 20:07 #

    Great insights yet again Greg!

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