On Passion in Football

Paul Dickov; passion in footballWith the former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger, and then Gainsborough Trinity’s Liam Davies, bravely taking the decision to publically state their homosexuality last week there was much subsequent mumbling about how the macho, laddish world of football would handle the news. The fear was that most footballers and football fans simply wouldn’t be able to handle the concept of there being someone in their midst who wouldn’t sit in the corner of the changing rooms flicking through a copy of Nuts magazine pointing at the pages grunting “Bang that… and that”.

The thing is though men’s football is already one of the most metro-sexual environments there is. Don’t believe me, let me explain why in one word; ‘passion’. Though those of us who watch the game may be painted as cave-woman clubbing Neanderthals who think etiquette is a type of vegetable, the truth is no-one else pursues and demands passion – this intense emotion, this compelling desire – with the vigour of us football fans.

Beyond a failing relationship there is nowhere else where a lack of passion is so openly lamented as it is within football. We will tell all that we are in “desperate need for some bloody passion”. We will yell at the field for people to “just show some passion for Christ’s sake”, and ultimately we’ll stick the knife in and decree that those we care for are “showing no passion, no fight, no desire”. Out of context we sound like a monologue spoken by a suburban housewife in a Victoria Wood sketch.

Of course if it really were passion in the truest sense that we were calling up football phone-ins to deplore a lack of then that would be a truly beautiful thing to enjoy.
“Dave from Moorends is on the line calling for more passion from the manager, what do you want to see from Paul Dickov Dave?”
“Aye that’s right, I want to see passion. I want to see a longing look in his eyes that shows he really cares. I want to see him lightly caressing the neck of the fourth official. I want to see him smashing up an art studio. I want to see him in black and white, backed by piano music, running across a rain soaked bridge towards a desperate embrace with Brian Horton against a backdrop of a monochrome New York night. So, I s’pose it’s a grumble really Rob.”

Of course footballers don’t deliver passion in such a romantic manner. If the tabloids have taught us anything it is that when it comes to matters of the opposite sex (or indeed the same sex… Thomas, Liam) footballers don’t do passion. They do romps. Usually with a ‘busty beauty’ and occasionally with commentary from Chris Brown. Would you be able to deliver passion with a six foot Teesider chuntering away in the corner of the room whilst you’re in the act? No, and neither can they. So they stick to romps.

So what do we mean by passion, and how do we quantify it? In a managerial sense it is an easier trait to determine; you just need to run through the names of managers that are lauded for showing passion on the side-line – Martin O’Neil, Alan Pardew, Paulo Di Canio – and the answer becomes plainly obvious, they basically need to act like a bit of a cock.

You can be as technically proficient and as tactically astute as you like, but at the end of the day (another phrase favoured by those who call up phone-ins) if you’re not displaying the signs of oncoming mental illness in front of your dugout then you’re just not passionate enough. At some point in our lives we’ve all crossed the street, or got off the bus a few stops earlier than normal to avoid a person who we, though we may not be neurological experts, determine to be not of sound mind. All the characteristics that this borderline psychopath will have displayed to force you to turn and head in another direction, are the same aspects that constitute ‘passion’ in a football manager. Shouting and swearing. Pointing at nothing in particular with fierce insistence. A belief in an underhand conspiracy against them and everything connected with them. Hurling inanimate objects about. Berating any type of official in earshot. And then duly pleading ignorance and disbelief that they have actually done anything untoward. It’ll get you kicked out the first bar you set foot in on a Saturday night, but it’ll win you much support as a football manager.

In players it is much harder to determine, firstly because they will insist on running about all the time, and secondly because they are much further away from the stands. I’ve seen people say of players on messageboards “he showed more passion this week”. How can you tell? Is it in his stance? Did he have an erection? Is it in the facial expression; does he play each pass with a look on his face that suggests he’s at the vinegar strokes? It could be any of those things, it’s probably none. No, your passionate players it seems are those who point and yell a lot, and they get extra marks if they gurn to the South Stand imploring for noise by either beating their chest or waving their arms about.

Interestingly passion doesn’t win titles, that’s still down to stuff like ‘ability’ and ‘skill’ and the like, but passion can supposedly prove the difference between staying up or being relegated.  It is as if tactics and actual footballing ability lose all significance once you get to say fourteenth position in a league table; an arbitrary cut-off point at which actual determinable physical traits cease to matter so much and instead buzz-wordy unquantifiable aspects like ‘belief’ and ‘passion’ gain added significance.

So there we have it. Forget your solid banks of four, your false 9s and your tika-taka, and let’s be honest, you may as well use that UEFA A license as a coaster for now. If we’re going to stay in this division what we need is for Paul Dickov to be sectioned shortly after fielding eleven shaven headed ‘warriors’ clutching the crest on their shirt whilst screaming “Come on then, let’s have it!” at the South Stand. How’s that for passion? How can we possibly fail?

Glen Wilson

This piece by popular STAND editor Glen Wilson initially appeared in issue 68 of the print fanzine. Copies of issue 68 are still available, get in touch if you would wish to secure one.