In memory of Richard Briers, who I’m sure we all recall for his startling portrayal of Malvolio in the Renaissance Theatre Company production of Twelfth Night, I thought I’d watch a couple of old episodes of The Good Life. OK OK so it maybe it wasn’t Malvolio. I’ll admit it, the first thing we all thought of when we heard Briers had finally succumbed to fags and shuffled off this mortal coil was his King Lear at Stratford. Wasn’t it? No?
I mention this world renowned thespian who’s career spanned several decades of radio, stage and screen roles and all you lot can think of is a cartoon dog. That’s like remembering Pat Rice for his glasses. For shame. So anyway, I’m watching the Good Life and I’ve made it through to episode two of the first series and I’m struck pretty forcibly by how much time has elapsed since Tom, Barbara, Margo and Jerry first burst into our living rooms with their cutting edge comedy. I can’t help but realise just how much the world had altered without me noticing. I had thought when I downloaded the torrent that it would be a timeless treat like Hancock, Fawlty Towers or Blackadder. Humour doesn’t change, I reasoned, even if the sets and the lighting have improved since the mid seventies.
But when they tried introducing the cockerel to the chickens and it refused to leave it’s crate, Tom turned to Barbara and asked “Do think he’s queer?” and she didn’t bat an eyelid. Sweet, cherubic little Felicity Kendall just let the casual homophobia slip passed her without losing her impish grin and it dawned on me not just how much things had changed without me noticing, but how I had missed the precise moment when the wheels of life had turned and taken us down a more enlightened road.
I’ve been pondering on how and why a similar evolution has overtaken so many of us where international football is concerned. As recently as 2002 I was following the story of David Beckham’s metatarsal through the sports pages of the Guardian as if it was the most natural thing in the world about which to give a fig. His free kick against Greece was to me as important a goal as I’d seen that season, and the listless capitulation to Brazil in the quarter final left me with an empty despair I couldn’t put into words. Whereas, in stark contrast, this week, while I am of course aware that there have been international matches played, I have no idea who England were pitted against nor what the score might have been. I honestly could not care any less if I tried.
I always used to feel slightly embarrassed festooning my bar with union jack bunting and felt the need to apologise to the non football and non nationalistic customers during any major tournament, so buying into the whole flag waving jingoistic bollocks that went with it never sat that easily with me. But I did wear the replica shirt and while you would still get a punch in the mouth for racism in my pub any amount of chest beating, flag waving, patriotic nonsense was (until the quarter finals) acceptable. Nowadays I regard the internationals as an opportunity to watch as our players, carefully nurtured by the greatest coach any of them will ever know, lovingly taught the beautiful game in the best possible surroundings and among the finest squad ever assembled, are suddenly plunged into teams alongside Wayne Rooney, Lord Bale Of Nazareth the Patron Saint of Stupid Journalists, and (God spare me) James fucking Milner. And I just cannot stomach it. Just the thought of watching Theo as he is hugged by Ashley Cole and Stevie G is enough to drive me back to drink. So how did this change come about?
I know I’m not alone in having undergone this transmutation. I also know that many of you never gave a damn about the British national teams in the first place and given that you live on entirely different continents, I can’t say I blame you. Some people have suggested that the presence of more Arsenal players in the England line up might help but I’m not so sure that putting Humpty together again is ever going to be that simple. As long as they schedule these stupid games right in the middle of our season I can’t ever imagine being anything other than hostile. What did Arsene say about cars? Actually I think he may have been quoting Gérard Houllier, either way it went something like “what the national coaches are doing is like taking the car from my garage without even asking permission. They will then use the car for ten days and abandon it in a field without any petrol left in the tank. We then have to recover it, but it is broken down. Then a month later they will come to take your car again, and for good measure you’re expected to be nice about it.” and really that is the size of it. When you consider the financial restrictions that we have had to struggle to overcome in recent years and then factor in the unimaginable and totally unprecedented levels of injuries with which our necessarily slender squad has been faced, then any first choice player going off and getting hospitalised playing for some team other than the Arsenal is unacceptable. Unforgivable in fact. And be honest we’ve certainly had more than our fair share of Fifa casualties.
So maybe that’s it, perhaps I’ve learned to associate the internationals with an interruption to the main event and a chance for someone to break my team. But I also wonder if the advent of the internet and Sly Sports money hasn’t played it’s part. Back when there was less football on TV the internationals were, like the cup final, a big deal. A chance to actually see foreign players you otherwise only read about with their nasty diving, cheating, skilful ways. There was also a sense that it’s what we as football fans did. We came together when the English champions played in Europe and we came together behind the English national team when they played Johnny foreigner. But just as my views outside of football developed and became less those of my father’s generation and closer to something a reasonable human being could be comfortable with, so my attitude to international football changed. Of course the increasingly cosmopolitan make up of Arsenal’s playing staff assisted in this process and being able to watch these exotic players week in week out on my laptop was the final nail in the coffin for the old ways.
I can no more laugh at Tom and Barbara and their queer cock jokes than I can wrap myself in a St George’s flag and cheer for Scott Parker. It isn’t 1977 any more and even if I can still enjoy the Sex Pistols and even if the English national team still play to the same tactical methods that were already out of date back then, there are some things I suppose we just grow out of. Why would I need to watch England, Holland or Germany once in a blue moon when I can watch Arsenal, Ajax and Dortmund any time I want just by typing them into a search engine?
Do I miss it? Like I miss wobbly sets, bad stereotypes and 3:4 aspect ratios.