Scary Soccer

'Too many watch the game, too few play it. The situation is comparable to the gladiatorial days of the Roman Empire, except that it is the spectators now who give their blood and not the participants. The crowds that jostle - flock is only appropriate when we consider the sheepheadedness of many - seeking to have their aggressive instincts whipped by the thrill of contest are vast and capable of control only by an armed militia.

There is something wrong with a society that is forced to become scared of a mere game. In ancient Greece thousands filled the amphitheaters to watch Aeschylus and Sophocles. They watched games, too, but with something like the dispassionate interest they would bring to an art. At least, so we like to believe. But in Britain we have watched a progressive deterioration of spectator manners allied to a manic augmentation of spectators' numbers.

With a major game - semifinal or cup final - one always expects disaster of some sort and breathes with disbelief when it does not happen. One feels like saying: The game has had its day; let it join the other discarded perils of history. But for soccer to be banned by Government fiat would provoke a bloodier revolution than France knew just 200 years ago.

Shall it be, as it is already for millions, a mere television spectacle? No, for there is no great thrill in watching a gladiatorial combat on a small screen. One needs the curiously heady feeling of abandoning the burden of one's week-day personality in order to assume the irresponsibility of being a mere cell in a primitive collective. Television sport is a kind of fiction; one mistrusts those colored images; the shifting eyes of the cameras are not human eyes.'

- Anthony Burgess, 'Circus Maximus, Birtish Style'.


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