My Decadent Saturday Afternoon With Jeff Stelling

(or How Football Made Me A Happy Idiot)

So, I’m immersed in the popular philosophical writings of Michael Foley. He’s wittily dissecting the Age of Absurdity and expertly imploring his readers that they should all be Embracing the Ordinary in their lives. He’s doing this by using passages of prose by James Joyce and as I read, I’m getting the revelatory impression that I’m understanding most of what Joyce was going on about.

On Friday, I take down the dust-covered copy of Ulysses, that has sat on the top shelf of my bookcase for nearly three years, unopened and menacing in its heftiness. Lofty by location. Lofty by reputation. I convince myself I’m ready to take on the literary giant. I’ve reached intellectual enlightenment; what Joyce himself labelled an epiphany. I read five pages. Ten. Twenty. The thought gradually drips into my consciousness that I haven’t the faintest idea about what’s going on. Apparently, there’s no plot. It successfully captures life in that way, I’m told by the introduction. I’m bored. I put the novel to one side and pick up this month’s When Saturday Comes and read an article on Laurie Cunningham’s time at Real Madrid. I am clearly not as clever as I think I am. I have neither the time nor the patience to persist with books, films, music that I painfully willed myself to endure when I was younger and desperate to prove that I was some kind of Orson Welles prodigy. Now, I just enjoy willfully wallowing in my own ignorant stink.

It’s Saturday now. Ten o’clock in the morning. I switch the television on and flick the channel-turner onto Soccer AM. I spend the next two hours despairing at the paucity of wit, the indulging in sycophancy, the wanton disregard for the English language and the pandering to the lumpen lowest common denominator in the football fraternity by the show’s hosts, producers and coterie of hangers-on. I howl in protest. I sneer with incandescence. I point and accuse while Nina chooses to ignore my ire by pottering in the garden. I do this every week. But today, I realise why. We all need differentials, you see. And by mocking these philistines, I’m making myself feel superior. It’s not big and it’s not clever, but paradoxically I am.

Lunchtime now and I allow myself a brief hiatus to ponder over this revelation whilst chewing on a tuna mayonnaise sandwich. What exactly am I? A Renaissance Man, surrounded by and soaker-up of knowledge and culture or Mud Wallowing philistine, gleefully gambolling in the dumbness of my own existence? I spent three years at University reluctantly sitting through ‘arty’ films such as that of a solo camera in an empty room zooming into a television screen for nearly an hour or artists literally bleeding onto stages as their self-indulgent comment on the world. I listened to many of my peers fill seminar rooms with hot air, clamouring to tell lecturers what they wanted to hear whilst puffing up their meagre egos and proving their intellectual chops. I rarely spoke knowing I’d always derived more pleasure from watching a giant marshmallow man wantonly destroy New York City. I’ve grown weary of being told that a light-switch being turned on and off is high art by those ‘in the know’ when dogs playing pool is infinitely more skilful and influential as an artwork. I have come to know more classical pieces of music through football montages and terrace chants than any over-priced concert I’ve ever been to.

All the books and all the art and all the talk can never substitute the experience of being alive. Like a bearded (the beard adds intellectual gravitas) Robin Williams tells cocky bookworm Good Will Hunting: “I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel”.

At three o’clock, like most other Saturdays, I watch five middle-aged men watching television screens and speaking at breakneck pace and my musings from less than an hour ago are proven redundant. I am not ashamed to admit that I adore Soccer Saturday. But by losing myself in their mundane chitter-chatter and cosy bonhomie, I am denying myself the life-affirming experience of a football match seen at first hand. Is this a problem? My visual senses are deprived and by doing so, I am reliant on my capacity to imagine over a hundred narratives unravelling, within the same format of ninety minutes but each one as unique as the snowflake the settles on the tarmac outside your driveway every winter.

“O-ow-o-gowwwwwl,” yelps Matt Le Tissier as Jeff Stelling breaks off from his impressively autistic listing of Huddersfield Town’s greatest ever scorers. Cut to Matt, slightly paunchier than he used to be but still resembling the player many of a certain era fondly remember and eulogise. And when I see him, I say “Pppppppffffffff!” to Joyce and thumb my nose at Proust. In front of me, is a true instinctive genius. What a player he was! Lazy and laboured but with the ability to do things on a football pitch many bigger names could only dream of. And he inhabits our screens every week with his crooked teeth; a living reminder of the randomness of genius and the decaying of youth.

The evening bleeds into the night and at ten-thirty, (for four generations of football-watchers), the familiar chords parp out of my television. “Pa-pa-pa-pa, Da-da-da-da-da, Pa-pa, Da, da, da, dum”.  And when I hear the strains of Match of the Day, I become the little boy again, who having picked up a musty, wrinkly, coffee-stained outdated history of the World Cup from a cub scout jumble sale in the Methodist Church headquarters of the 6th Edmonton troop earlier that day, hungrily devoured the images and prose from under his bedsheets after that Saturday’s edition. In that moment, I plunge into my very own Proustian Memory. But seriously, do I really need a college professor or a reclusive novelist to tell me what I and everybody else already know? That the most insignificant of things can unlock a treasure trove of forgotten memories.

One of Bob Dylan’s greatest lyrics was: “Even the President of the United States must sometimes have to stand naked”. And when you think about it, whatever our intellect, our delusions of grandeur, our insecurities and pretentions, when we’re all stripped and looking at ourselves in front of the mirror, we’re all equal in our own naked absurdity. It doesn’t matter if you’ve walked on the moon or eaten pot noodles all your life. For all we know, Neil Armstrong did both.

I’ve either written the closest thing to a perfect post or completely lost the plot with this Dispatch. Then again, if highbrow Joyce and lowbrow Soccer AM can both refrain from such a device as plotting, being somewhere in the middle, so can I. I’ve probably contradicted myself in numerous ways too. Don’t hold it against me, mind. You probably do the same from one day to the next.

So, this was my day. Not quite a wonderous wander through the streets of Dublin but you can only work with what you’ve got. Still, Sunday Supplement is on in a few hours. Once more into the abyss, dear friends. Once more into the abyss!

Further reading: The ‘Conquest’ Of Happiness: Why Football Fans Should Cheer Up & Taking The Mick: The Ignorance of Football Pundits 

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @Sofalife



8 Responses to My Decadent Saturday Afternoon With Jeff Stelling

  1. aidan ellis September 2, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Try Finnegans Wake!

  2. Chris September 2, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    It’s close to perfect. Thanks for posting it.

  3. Andrew September 2, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    Thanks for writing this mate.

    I read your articles and always think, bloody hell this guy is much much smarter than me, and as a writer I am a million miles away. But I guess there are people you probably think the same about too.

    Everyone has appear of some kind, I always hope that people enjoy what I write and that the subject matter is what makes it interesting. Whereas you write about watching Soccer Saturday and make it a masterpiece haha.

    Keep it up mate!

  4. Jim Dimond September 3, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Really enjoyed this and sums up how I feel when saturday comes around!

  5. Joss Murdoch September 3, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Spectacular piece of writing mate, thanks for providing :-)

  6. Adam September 4, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

    If your words did taste as good as they sound I would surely eat them with gravy sir. Bravo

  7. mal.costelloe September 8, 2012 at 3:51 am #

    sorry not for me this week, mind you being an avb, spurs fan i was looking for something uplifting and unfortunately it was not to be. Just like Spurs, So Far!!
    Al the bestmy friend you and yours still in me heart. thanks.

  8. Olly September 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    Brilliant. Pretty much my Saturday too.

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