The Soothing Banality Of Football

This is not the post I had anticipated writing as my season opener. I had planned to kick it all off again with an essay entitled The Season After The Season Before in which I lamented the unfairness of Spurs’ omission from the Champions League after Chelsea’s elevation to European football’s zenith. At the time I had never experienced anything quite as heartbreaking. I even cried as Bayern Munich continually and wantonly threw away every match-winning chance they were presented with.

Then the Euros came around and the domestic season was by and large forgotten. I was overcome with positivity. Football had once again shown just how united people can be, putting aside any differences in the quest for the sporting ideal. I signed off in my last post in a buoyant mood, marvelling at life’s greatness, eagerly anticipating the summer and making plans for the season ahead.

Things change rapidly. At the end of July, Nina and I lost our unborn second child. Lost. How incongruous a word to describe such an experience. It suggests misplacement, absent-mindedness, neglect. It does not adequately sum up what we have been and are presently going through. Our grief cannot be quantified with words and for somebody who claims to be able to put his thoughts and feelings across by using these means of communication, I am for once bereft.

I had been looking forward to dedicating numerous posts this season to the documenting of our growing family as I had done so with Bonnie. Worrying about, but secretly relishing the possibility of having a split allegiance household or obsessing about the potential of having two girls who showed no interest in football and thus performed the Pantomime of the Remote Control with me every time Spurs were on the television. Sadly, this was not to be. It emphatically proves the point that envisioning futures is ultimately futile and is not conducive to emotional well-being. Whilst we are too busy seeking our Golden Visions, we neglect the mundane here and now at our peril.

As a result of our personal tragedy, I have seriously questioned whether I would be able to dedicate myself to writing weekly posts on a sport that, for all intents and purposes, is as trivial as lost receipts or bus timetables. I cannot believe that I am the same person who got so irate about the BBC’s coverage of the European Championships that I was prompted to write a letter of complaint. Or that I got so enveloped with seething hatred of divisive personalities as insignificant as John Terry or Harry Redknapp that I would criticise and parody them with regularity. Worrying about whether enough people were reading my work whilst obsessively and furtively checking Google Analytics, every time Nina’s back was turned. It just all seems so infantile and irrelevant now.

I’ve made such a big deal over the lifetime of this website of the fact that football is a force that transcends what happens on the pitch. Hence why I have continually searched for narrative strands with links to other aspects of wider culture and society in these posts. Hence why I have always sought to challenge myself with different forms of writing whether that be in the shape of literary homages or mock interviews. I have always considered that those of you who have continued to come back week after week do so because you appreciate the fact that I have tried to do something that is a world away from the deluge of match reports and rants that bloat the internet.

However, in the end I’ve come to the conclusion that football genuinely doesn’t mean anything at all in the great scheme of things. The van Persie saga passed me by with little more than a shrug of indifference. John Terry’s acquittal should have had me spewing bile and venom but it didn’t. Is Joey Barton ranting on Twitter again? So he is. There are some things that are just that much more important to attend to.

This isn’t to say that I have undertaken a path of futilism; that I am turning my back on football and documenting it as I have done so for the last two years. Far from it. What I am trying to say is, that it is absolutely fine that football is as irrelevant and throwaway as bubble gum. It’s fine to lose oneself in the insignificancies of whether van Persie and Wayne Rooney can play together or that the appointment of Redknapp and Mick McCarthy as pundits on Match of the Day could signal the final death knell for a much-cherished national institution in terminal decline. Or why Brendan Rodgers will fail at Liverpool. Or the never-ending mishaps of Mario Balotelli. Or anything else in the ongoing soap opera that is football.

Because like a glamorous soap opera flickering and dazzling on numerous television screens within the Brazilian favelas, football anaesthetises us all, for a short time at least, from the mundanity, frustration, worries and pain we all have to deal with in our day-to-day lives.

As I said, this isn’t the post I had anticipated writing as my season opener. I don’t know whether sharing such intimate information with strangers was a wise thing to do. But if anything, Dispatches is my form of catharsis. And football is its platform. Other people talk to counsellors, some resort to drinking, others bottle it up. I write. And it would have been fraudulent of me to begin the season with some frothy little homespun yarn. The events of the last few weeks in my family’s life didn’t deserve that. So I apologise for the candour but if you’re still reading after all this time, you’d expect nothing less than what’s been on my mind. Luckily, I have an amazing wife and a beautiful daughter who keeps us focused and sane on a daily basis. This is the here and now and I am thankful for this.

Have a good season, whoever you support.

 Follow Dispatches throughout the season on Twitter: @Sofalife


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13 Responses to The Soothing Banality Of Football

  1. MrTinkles August 19, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Bloody hell mate! We (my other half is with me in this one) just wanted to send our best wishes and sympathy. It’s particularly poignant for us as we lost our second child too…

    I don’t remember if football (not bogging or twitter…it was 24 years ago!) helped but I understand what you mean when you describe your blog as catharsis. Football is ultimately silly if you think about it – a bunch of grown men chasing around after an inflated pig’s bladder (I know, I know) and snogging each other when it happens to drift across a painted line. And million of us spend time, energy, emotion and real money on this!

    But it’s the banal things of everyday life that matter even when they don’t, that have been my carthasis when bits of life seem just shit.

    Having said that I have no advice for you on your grief. Not only would I feel that I have no right to as I’m not sure how much two people can really “know” one another when their only communication has been electronic (I have a blog post on that one somewhere inside me) but all I remember thinking at the time was “thanks but f*** off” (in the nicest way, of course) when various friends came with their very well-meaning advice…you’re spot on, you can’t put it into words.

    I hope that you do carry on writing Dispatches. I hope that it continues in its way to bring healing. Selfishly I hope it continues to raise a smile with me and I’m sure many others.

    Anyway, God bless to you and Nina (whether that’s the Muamba type of prayer or not – see what I did there!)…

    Chris (and Sue)

  2. Bluebrain August 19, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Is it ok to use a word like “fabulous” in this situation? I hope so because I’m going to use it anyway.
    What a brave and fabulous article. On a personal note, I hope it doesn’t take too long before you and Nina can look back on your awful experience and in due time see it as something – still terrible – but ultimately creative, ultimately part of something that will make the future Yous stronger.
    As for football, it does pale into insignificance, but it always remains a part of life if you are a football fan. As a Chelsea fan (for over 40 years) I remember Carlo Ancelloti quoting someone or other when he said “Of all the unimportant things in life, football is the most important”. For me, that puts it into perspective.
    And talking of quotes, I loved “envisioning futures is ultimately futile and is not conducive to emotional well-being” – it should be emblazoned on every hoarding at every football ground, on every billboard, on every t-shirt…. Concise and so true.

    Anyway, thanks for an amazing article, and sincere best wishes to you and yours.
    PS You have a convert to your site – if your writing is always this good, I’ll be a regular visitor. Just bookmarked it.

  3. mal.costelloe August 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Thank-you for your continued honesty and bravery. I was wondering why there was nothing from you during the olympics, now I have a glimpse, condolences to all three of you and may joy come flooding back at the least expected moments regularily.

  4. Peter Haine August 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    Football is, after all, a minor diversion from life. Those of us close to it can, without thinking, get immersed in the tribalism, the joy and the pain.

    Maybe a metaphor for life?

    Bill Shankly was wrong. Football is not more important than life or death.

    Live for the day, and remember the past, but don’t dwell on it.

  5. SimonJ68 August 19, 2012 at 7:58 pm #


  6. Nico (Natter Football) August 19, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Sorry for your loss mate. Thoughts are with you and your family. Like you say, football is nowhere near as important as them.

    Hope things become better in time. Hang in there buddy.

    All the best

  7. Alan August 19, 2012 at 10:20 pm #


    My very best wishes to you and your family. Hard times will get better.

    Football deserves to get taken down a peg or two, then it will find its rightful place in the scheme of things. But for what it’s worth, football can be a healer too. Helped me through a time or three. Distraction, outlet, outpouring, consistency in a mixed up shook-up world. Don’t mind sharing that a few of the tears I’ve shed at the Lane over the years weren’t just about the joy of winning a game. Don’t know quite where they came from, but glad they came.

    Take good care,


  8. Howard Hamilton August 20, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    I found this piece through a link by Swiss Ramble. Thanks for reminding us that football — and sport in general — are merely the sweets of life. We can invest a lot of emotion into it, we can even try to build a business in it (like me), but ultimately it’s our relationships with our loved ones and our fellow man that matter.

    I pray that you and your family find comfort in your loss and this difficult time. My thoughts are with you all.

  9. Yasser August 20, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Sorry to hear about your loss, Greg. My thoughts are with you and your family in this difficult time.

  10. Chris August 22, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    I hope that you and your family are doing ok and that you can all mourn – and work through – this sudden trauma

    I’ve been following your blog here and there and I don’t remember ever commenting.

    I just wanted to say that you write with an eloquence and lucidity of thought that I’ve yet to witness from other football bloggers; two characteristics that I am sure will help you work through this difficult time.

  11. joel p August 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    you know my thoughts mate, here for you whenever.

    So glad to see dispatches is back, i looked forward to telling some random idiots where to stick it!

    love you lots.

  12. Laurap August 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    Hey Greg, this is such a brilliant piece of writing and it’s ace to see Dispatches back. You guys have been in my thoughts all summer of course..big big love xx

  13. Joe Sharratt September 15, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    I know this is a month late, but Greg, Nina and Bonnie I’m truly sorry to hear of your loss. This is an incredibly honest, brave and beautiful piece of writing which will stay with me for a long time, and I want to thank you for sharing it. I hope you and your wonderful family find comfort in each other’s love and, though it matters not a jot, the beauty of football. All the best to the Theoharis clan.

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