We welcome passion, for the mind is briefly let off duty
Although well into middle-age I still receive a little childish thrill every time I receive an email. It doesn’t matter that many of them are subscriptions I’ve retained solely in order accomplish this reward, the frisson of excitement is just the same each time I hear the chime on my inbox – or trill from the dog and bone. And so it is when the postman pushes something through the mailbox – subconsciously an invitation from Domino’s Pizza to enjoy free boneless ribs with any stuffed crust retains the small but significant soupçon of intoxication I enjoyed from birthdays cards as a six-year-old.
Every other Wednesday the joy is doubled as my subscription to Private Eye flutters into the porch. Having the failings of corporate and political governance demonstrated in black and white keeps me on my toes. Of course my adherence to the brand is in no way diminished by bagging myself a mention in only the second Pseudo Names list. Somebody once said the joy of music is a balanced combination of the expected and unexpected and so it is with Lord Gnome’s finest. A case in point is the running gag of readers requesting ever more ridiculous if relevant excuses to get Ian Hislop to reprint a picture of Andrew Neil sporting a baseball cap and threadbare vest while cuddled up to former Miss India Pamella Bordes.
One of my favourite occasional features is the Solutions item which details the lengths (mainly) small businesses will go to appear contemporary and urbane via the simple technique of describing their business as a solution – usually to a problem which never existed in the first place. As an example while walking through Wanstead a few days ago I spotted a van proclaiming “Mobile Refreshment Solutions”. Phew! What a relief – a sandwich vendor right here and now solving ALL of my cold lunch requirements – even if you can’t spit out your chewing gum in E11 without hitting a snack bar.
If solutions are a waning fashion – hence the decreasing prominence in The Eye – then perhaps they might take up today’s catch-all buzzword – passion. Unlike solutions which ascribe mythical attributes to vulgar operations, passion lowers the status of intangibles such as ability or aptitude and insists perspiration to be an acceptable substitute for inspiration. I used to work for a firm one of whose corporate values (in itself a debatable concept) was a passion to excel – or in common English, a seeming imprecation to work hard rather than work well.
So pernicious, so all-encompassing is the trend it has spread to football where any meaning it once had has so long departed I use it as a flag to denote the user hasn’t a clue what they’re talking about. As US journo Mignon McLaughlin said, “We welcome passion, for the mind is briefly let off duty.” That’s not to say I cast any judgement on the person concerned – there are plenty of people playing the game, never mind watching it, unable to comprehend which tactics are being employed or why. No, when it comes to blame for the passion fashion I reckon I need to look much closer to home. Sports journalists are trained to pick and write a story and with some notable exceptions have little understanding of the game they cover. And to be honest they don’t need to – editors want headlines not information.
Nonetheless, I retain the right to criticise those paid vast sums to appear on Match of the Day as they fall some way short of Lord Reith’s claim the BBC’s remit is to educate, inform and entertain. When Mark Lawrenson is given full reign to offer the opinion the next English manager should display passion he’s displaying none of those qualities. Especially when Kevin Keegan – the most passionate of recent men at the Three Lions’ helm – was embarrassingly short of aptitude. You’ll already be tired of my appreciation for Roland Barthes but when he claimed, “What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself” he could easily have been talking about a permed striker from Doncaster.
Even before 1953 when goalkeeper captain Gyula Grosics led his Mighty Magyars onto the Wembley turf and proceeded to trounce England 6-3 there’s been a steadfast media belief (ironically reinforced by failure) that states English passion can make up for and conquer foreign artistry. That despite Hungary’s abject lesson reinforced by a 7-1 victory in Budapest a year later. No matter Alf Ramsey – an England full-back that November evening – learned the lessons so well his tactical innovation of removing wingers in a subsequent role as manager led to victory in a World Cup just 13 years later. Of course he was slated by the English press for doing so. No matter either, a throwback to a Victorian ethos of Captain Scott bungling his way into two Antarctic expeditions has led to the England football team in specific and English football in general metaphorically choosing horses over dogs.
As flies to dung the England passionistas will look to players such as John Terry and Scott Parker as best representing the up-and-at-em values of a colonial past. And what could be more apt given these two particular players so obviously belong to a game played decades ago. Brutally exposed without a centre-half of athleticism and defensive quality alongside him Terry’s fist-waving ebullience is alleged to make up for his lack of aptitude. But while good defenders make the game look easy JT relentlessly ensures it appears heroic.
Parker too, adheres to the judgement of Manchester United’s former defender Jaap Stam who while no shrinking violet himself was so incredulous at the dominance of work ethic over ability he famously referred to Gary and Phil Neville (solid pros both) as “busy cunts”. I can’t think of a better description for the type of player most revered in this country. Despite a very good first touch and love for a tackle Parker can barely pass a ball 15 yards and struggles to adapt tactically or technically to any instruction beyond, “Go out and play your game son.” Yet the midfielder was adored at Upton Park and bought by England manager-elect Harry Redknapp as a linchpin for his Tottenham side.
Theologically The Passion refers to the privations of Christ up to and including his execution. Appropriate then the game in England should suffer so badly on the cross of those who desire passion above aptitude.