Dude looks like a lady
January 4, 2011 § 8 Comments
When dealing with a question this stupid it is crucial that the mind remain clear and focused. There is a temptation, sweet and seductive, to give in to the anger: slam your forehead into the table, my child, let the blessed blackness claim you.
But this would be irresponsible. Crusaders for truth must sublimate the rage, place it to one side. Perhaps it only appears pointless; perhaps there is an insight here somewhere, lurking behind the banality. It is with this in mind that Twisted Blood turns to the most important question to arise from the last couple of months of football in England: why the fuck did everyone keep banging on about snoods?
Rarely can so insignificant an accessory have provoked such spluttering amusement, such pervasive snickering, such sudden blanket infiltration of the discourse of the national game. Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes have banned them. Arsène Wenger has explained that they have medical value. Colin Murray has laughed at them, and dragged the entire journalistic staff of 5live along with him. Meanwhile, poor shrinking violet Mario Balotelli has desperately tried to draw attention away from his own snoody habits by donning the greatest hat in the history of all the world.
Are they, perhaps, performance-enhancing? Is any given footballer better with snood than without? The answer, intuitively and obviously, is no: (a) it’s just a scarf; (b) they’d all be at it; (c) it’s just a sodding scarf. Similarly, it is hard to maintain with any coherence that they somehow diminish performance, when the standout players from the teams second and third in the Premier League — Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez and Arsenal’s Samir Nasri — are snood boys both.
Instead, the snood is simply the latest in a long line of footballing ephemera seized upon by the reactionary elements of the English sporting press, and used as a dog-whistle for the underlying terror that our game — England’s game — is being feminised, emasculated, taken over by the girly men. Before the snood it was gloves, at least until Wayne Rooney started wearing them; before that, briefly, Nicklas Bendtner’s pink boots. Way back in the mists of time it was the suggestion that players be prevented from hacking one another about the shins. Consider the following, from Paul Wilson’s report of Everton’s defeat at Manchester City:
Everton don’t put on snoods either. Not only did they sport short sleeves at Eastlands on one of the coldest nights of the year, there were 11 bare necks, which makes them even more deserving of some kind of award from the campaign for real football. Or perhaps real men.
And that was in the Observer, a paper as left-sided and liberal with its positioning as Patrice Evra. Fans of consistent journalism may like to note that there does not appear to be any reference to “the triumph of the irreal men” or “the conquest of the pseudo-men” (or even “the kumquat dreamscapes of the surreal men”) in any Observer report of a snood-inspired City win.
David Winner’s fascinating Those Feet devotes its first chapter to the importance of ‘manliness’ in the development of the English game, tracing football’s origins from the anti-masturbation panics of Victorian society. Games were a key part of the war against the sin of self-indulgence, and it was understood that in order to achieve this, the games needed to be physically demanding, even to a point beyond what might be considered healthy. Winner quotes Arthur Conan Doyle:
Better that our sports should be a little too rough that we should run a risk of effeminacy.
It is perhaps not too much of a stretch to draw parallels between the need for rough games to scour young men of their impure urges, and the Catholic rituals of the mortification of the flesh. Both involve at their heart the suggestion that physical discomfort is not only required but desirable, to prevent the soul becoming besmirched. And while English sporting culture no longer forces young men to go and run around in the cold in fear that they might otherwise self-abuse themselves into Hell, it has retained the suspicion that to seek a higher degree of comfort than that which God intended a footballer to have is somehow a demonstration of masculine inadequacy. Real men put up with the cold. Real men are real men because they put up with the cold. Real men, it has to be said, are kind of stupid.
For what is the benefit of such slavish devotion to the cold neck cilice? To return to an earlier point, while a snood in itself cannot make a footballer better, it seems intuitive that a footballer will play better if he is comfortable in himself and his surroundings. If that means a snood, then fine; if it means ostentatiously not wearing a snood, equally so. The alternative suggestion is that the footballing will to win is inversely proportional to physical contentment, a palpably laughable idea.
But like all good exercises in dog-whistle politics, the snood-as-code-for-girly-men comes out of fear, and it’s a fear that the traditional English footballing man — barenecked, barehanded, hard as nails — is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Modern football, in all its ridiculous multicultural glory, is crammed with footballers who are simultaneously (a) brilliant and (b) perfectly happy to wear snoods, wax their legs, carry man-bags and maybe even — oh, whisper it — have sex with other men. Can such feminised behaviour be consistent with sporting excellence? It has to be, since the alternative is a stunted conception of masculinity that permits Observer journalists to impugn the cojones of a man born and raised in Buenos Aires’ Fuerte Apache.
It has long been apparent that it is unnecessary to subscribe to English notions of manliness to excel at football, even football in England. There are as many definitons of manliness as there are cultures in the world, and none of them are perfectly identical with footballing excellence; some of them include a willingness to wear sponsored knitwear. So it goes. Trying to assess footballing ability on the basis of conformity to an irrelevant archetype of manliness is like trying to play tennis with a wok: you’ll fail, and you’ll sound stupid doing it.