by Elias Blum
People think that I’m a portly, tweedy, bookish sort of fellow, who is happier stroking his wild beard in the obscure corners of the library than getting muddy on the sports field – and they would be entirely right. It is true that I don’t like sports, as a general rule, and that I especially don’t like those that involve a lot of tribal shouting, shoving and dashing about.
But there are some sports that I did enjoy participating in when I was younger, such as rowing, sailing, fencing and shooting, and I can still appreciate these. Cricket – if played in a sedate and leisurely manner, and not in some horrific 20/20 format – is still a pleasant diversion, and I will very happily punctuate slow summer days by tuning in to Test Match Special.
The only other sport that can capture my attention, though, is one that few suspect, because it seems so decidedly out of character: American Football.
I know, as a good lefty European with communitarian socialistic tendencies, I should abhor this game. I know it represents, in its crass commercialisation, mindless tribal patriotism and wanton violence, all that is worst in the civilisation of the United States.
And it is true that the Americans don’t get many things right: no universal healthcare, absence of workers’ rights, grotesque levels of poverty and economic inequality, unhealthy overprocessed food because of the commercialisation of agriculture, a barbaric criminal justice policy, systemic political corruption, warmongering imperialism, widespread police brutality, institutional racism, and crazy religious fundamentalism.
But they do at least have a form of football that makes sense. They also have sweet pretty alt.country neo-folk bluegrass fusion music, NASA, and the concept of bacon-with-pancakes, but all of that is another story.
American Football makes sense to me because I am enough of an amateur classicist to see American Football for what it really is: a slightly stylised simulation of Greek hoplite warfare. And Greek hoplite warfare, which represents the triumph of the cooperative solidarity of democratic citizens over the slavish luxuries of monarchic despotism, is a surely proper subject for good left-wing Europeans of a beardy bookish nature to study.
Unlike ‘soccer’, which is all about kicking and passing the ball, in American Football the ball is almost incidental. The essence of the game is gaining and holding territory through the push and shove of the phalanx: advancing the front line, getting through and getting around. Just as the linemen represent the heavy infantry of the phalanx, the backs and recievers represent the light troops – the slingers and skirmishers, who attack from above and around the side.
I don’t really follow the professional game. The NFL is too hyped-up, too manufactured, for my tastes. Sport is always better in its amateur form – people playing because they enjoy it, not because they are making millions. I do, however, quite enjoy intervarsity American Football, which remains a very niche minority sport on this side of the Atlantic.
Here is a lovely photo of the University of Edinburgh American Football team (the ‘Predators’, in the green and white) playing the University of Glasgow (the ‘Tigers’, in the black and gold).
As a graduate of both Universities, I can cheer for the winner no matter who wins!