What we talk about when we talk about love

February 28, 2011 § 8 Comments

If the internet has meant anything to the world of football, it is that (a) there is always a space for you to say whatever it is you have to say, and that (b) there is always somebody who disagrees with you. This is both inevitable and highly desirable: to be told how and why you have erred is to learn. When Socrates (not that one) said that the unexamined life was not worth living, he wasn’t just advocating self-examination. Put your ideas out there. Let people shake their heads, accuse you of bias, recommend you seek medical help, and compare you to Hitler. Like a surprisingly intimate detention with a newly-qualified biology teacher, it’s fun and it’s educational.

Yet while attacks on the content of blogs are nothing new, attacks on a kind of blogging are less common. It is a whole other order of criticism to say: this should not be written about, and yet there is an undercurrent of feeling against one aspect of football blogging — tactical blogging — that has found its most recent advocate here (worth reading for the excellent music joke alone).

In an attempt to understand quite what it is about tactical blogging that so irks, a useful analogy might be drawn with love, and the description of love. There are, of course, as many ways to describe love as there are people willing to have a shot at it, but a useful if approximate division can be drawn between the poetry and the science; love is either like a red, red rose, all newly sprung in June, or it’s an evolutionarily advantageous neurochemical imbalance resulting in a period of increased sexual attraction sufficient to establish a monogamous coupling and so provide a stable structure for the production and nurture of offspring. Both are accurate in their own particular way, and yet could hardly be exchanged, one for another, in any context without significantly altering the overall meaning; either destroying the poem or muddying the science. Football, like love, derives its magnificence and power from being a rational thing experienced irrationally; an inexplicable explicable thing.

The analytical approach can therefore be inappropriate. Telling somebody in the first flush of love that their giddiness is due less to the ineffable vision of perfection they’ve waken up next to, than to their being jacked up on serotonin, is analogous to turning to a delirious Manchester United fan after the 1991 Cup Winners’ Cup final and remarking on the efficacy of Alex Ferguson’s prototypical 4-2-3-1 in quietening Michael Laudrup. It is simultaneously true and beside the point, and you’ll get that special look traditionally reserved for a dilettante uncle who turns up compromised to the christening, then pisses in the font.

(The analogy is imperfect, of course, most notably in that learning about the chemistry, biology and psychology of love probably doesn’t help you get any better at it, whereas tactical knowledge of football probably does. But this does not seem crucial: the illustration is concerned with discussion and analysis, not implementation.)

Tactical analysis, by this understanding, lacks romance. It can tell you why something happened, but it can’t tell you why it matters that it happened. And there is a kernel of truth to this: nobody ever screamed with joy at the successful deployment of a false-9, or burst into tears following the opposition’s exploitation of a poorly-covered inside-left channel, even though, from an analytical perspective, those are the reasons. So, while decrying tactics blogging in and of itself is incoherent (as it is not a fundamentally immoral, irrelevant or idiotic activity), objecting to an increasingly analytical and functional approach to football writing, for which tactical blogging might be held responsible, is a logical suggestion, whether or not the point is conceded. After all, tactical blogging tends by its very nature to be interesting rather than exciting and descriptive rather than provocative, an observation not intended critically, but simply to highlight that those looking for provocative excitement aren’t going to be coming away replete.

But the fallacy here is to assume that analytical understanding diminishes other forms of enjoyment. To know more about anything — Romantic literature, global warming, the decline of the playmaker in Balkan football — is not necessarily to feel less. Blake students still hum Jerusalem, and climate scientists still admire a sunset. Tactical bloggers still swear at the television, and neuroscientists still fall in love.

To return to irritation with blogging, it’s as much about the reader as the writer. The complaint is only legitimate if tactical blogging is noticeably colonising and dimishing football discourse. While there is certainly more than there was, it does not seem tenable to suggest that other writing is being shunted aside or corrupted; it is possible to read about football all day and not encounter a chalkboard. So, while it is a fundamental principle of a free existence that anybody has the right to complain about whatever they (dis)like, complaining about the existence of something easily avoided looks both petty and insecure. The joy of the internet is that the mainstream gets wider, fragments, develops entertaining and distracting meanders. Tactical blogging is simply one current among many, to be dipped into or derided, as you like.

To return to Socrates (still not that one), he once remarked that “there is only one good: knowledge”. If tactical blogging can tell us anything about football — and it clearly can — then it has a reason to exist; beyond that, it’s worth all the time anybody wishes to put into writing or reading it. Knowing more about something is never bad. But if you find the knowledge unremarkable, or the style unpalatable, then find something else to read. There’s plenty.

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§ 8 Responses to What we talk about when we talk about love

  • cjmcdonald83 says:

    Really enjoyable piece this. Nice one.

  • photoshopdaryl says:

    You had me at Socrates….

  • Simon Curtis says:

    But that still doesn’t explain Mario Balotelli

  • Richard says:

    *shakes head* you’re like bloody Hitler….

  • Agreed.

    But I also think its possible to love tactical analysis itself. I wonder if it is actually true that “nobody ever screamed with joy at the successful deployment of a false-9, or burst into tears following the opposition’s exploitation of a poorly-covered inside-left channel”.

    I rather think it is not. I can imagine if one burst into the room at certain points during Arsne Wenger’s 6 hours a day spent watching football you might see him slumped on his chest looking like Hansel at the end of Zoolander mumbling “holy god, its so beautiful”.

    Taking the piss aside I can see how tactics can take the breath away, and can give some all the pleasure and joy that others get from the game itself. Looking at other games this comes across even more strongly: I’d my enjoyment of football is maybe 80% the skill of the players and 20% about the tactics (and I like tactics a lot and football not hugely), in American Football those ratios would be reversed, Rugby’s probably 60-40 for me largely because I know the tactics better and can see when someone is getting outwitted, and I’d say my enjoyment of chess is 99% about the tactics and only 1% about the deft placing of the pieces in the very centre of the square.

    Intetsu Akaboshi played Honinbo Jowa at Go in 1835 to decide who would hold the rank of Meijin. Jowa played an empty triangle – seemingly a mistake – and then used it to launch an attack so perfect that Akaboshi vomited blood over the Go board and was dead within ten days.

    I love tactics.

    • twistedblood says:

      Wenger might well be doing that, but that’s distinct from the moment when he jumps out his chair and does that double-fist pump thing after van Persie lashes it into the top corner.

      Might we perhaps suggest that the absence of a non-tactical aspect is what distinguishes “games” from “sports”? Go, for instance, is as pure an expression of tactics as I can think of. But it ain’t a sport. Chess neither.

      Blood on a Go board must look fantastic. In a gross kind of way, of course, but red splashing over the black and white? Colour-coded heaven.

  • Now that I think about it I think it might have been Mugatu in Zoolander

  • Pooja says:

    But I feel like to fully enjoy a football match you must understand the tactics and be able scream and yell at the TV.
    I am a Barca fan so when I watch them I am up and jumping after that amazing pass from Xavi or that cross from Alves or that goal by Messi. There’s an abundance of hollers and fist pumping (which once lead to a visit from our neighbors checking to see if everything was OK, but that’s besides the point).
    But when it’s been a few days and I’m watching the replays and I know what the score was and when the goals came, I can clearly see the tactics and the runs that lead to each goal. Watching the replays I’m so excited I’m speechless.
    Sometimes I enjoy the replays more than the live matches.
    In my opinion, you need both tactics and excitement to enjoy football. you can’t appreciate football with just one.

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