The Media, Transfer Gossip, and the Soul of Football

Nuns playing footballIt’s not usually my style to criticize the media. Bloggers do too much of that sort of thing already, and frankly, when it comes to the football press, I can’t imagine a better system for keeping up to speed with the inner world of Tony Mowbray. Reporters seem to be everywhere; I honestly don’t think anyone has ever backed anyone else without the press being there to record it.

Half the time, the media actually anticipates my desires: there I’ll be, browsing through the headlines, with no thought of wondering how much muscle Emanuel Adebayor has put on during the past five months, when along comes Sky Sports with a meticulously sourced piece to tell me. Before I read “Adebayor – I’ve Bulked Up,” I was in the dark and I didn’t even know it. After I read “Adebayor – I’ve Bulked Up,” with its thoughtful allusion to yesterday’s Daily Mirror and its carefully placed section break (“Muscles”), my world is a richer place.

I’ve been especially conscious of this over the past few days as, for one reason or another, I’ve been thinking over the question, “What is the soul of football?” Some people will tell you that the soul of football is a solitary child dribbling a ball under a street lamp while his heart fills with left-wing political principles. Others would say that the soul of football is a beautifully executed Johan Cruyff stop-spin leading to a magnificent goal. Still others would argue that the soul of football is a mysterious twinkle which Sepp Blatter keeps hidden in his eye.

But me? I think the soul of football is transfer gossip.

The pope and footballers

Think about this. Where else in the universe of sport do we encounter a realm of such perfect ethereality, such boundless creativity, such unrestrained enthusiasm? Spirituality is to each person what each person believes it to be (™), but isn’t there something spiritual about the thousands of items of transfer gossip that pass by us every day, airy and largely unseen, like angels’ whispers? “Are you a Tottenham fan?” the wind breathes. “Take heart, there’s hope”—and then, murmuring something about “Cardiff’s 18-year-old Welsh international defender Chris Gunter,” the voice is gone. “Do you love Chelsea?” it sighs into someone else’s ear. “Nicolas Anelka thinks he deserves to play for you.” And the wind doesn’t even snicker—not once.

Like the soul, transfer gossip comes into the world—no one knows from where; passes through the world—no one knows how; and departs the world—no one knows why. It can’t be bound by the crude material of fact, or even of sensible opinion. If it wants to say that Ronaldinho is going to Chelsea, it just says so, animating itself insubstantially, like the soul. For some people, it may be “unfounded” or “dishonest” or “impossible to prove.” It may be “unbelievable.” But then, doesn’t faith mean believing in the unbelievable? Isn’t that how we recognize the soul?

Sun bursting through clouds.I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m not going anywhere, most likely, just meandering through the space available: like transfer gossip, like life. If you think, “Wait, what’s the argument?”, well, this is football writing, after all. You had to kill the hours between work and dinner somehow, and you already know about Adebayor’s vitamin regimen.

When the body dies, the soul is the last thing to leave it; one day football too will pass, and when it does, my guess is that the last thing we’ll see, after all the clubs have folded and all the fans have gone home, is not the spirit of youth or the pageantry of national competition, but some twenty-third century newspaper report asserting that Yakubu is being linked with Middlesbrough. It won’t say by whom, and we won’t ask. It will just drift away, rustling, on a rising current of air, while the clouds part, and sun breaks through them.

Brian Phillips is contemplating a £650 move to Partick Thistle at The Run of Play.

Photo credits: (1) Quotidian!; (2) kilastravels; (3) danielygo.

11 thoughts on “The Media, Transfer Gossip, and the Soul of Football

  1. ursus arctos

    Ah, Tom, this new lad can play a bit.

    Transfer gossip is certainly very close to the essence of the poor Italian hack (or “beat reporter” in the US) sense, who is given the very unenviable task of having to fill at least half a page a day on something to do with one with one of the Big Three (a paper like the Gazzetta will have multiple guys assigned to each club; they each have a quota).

    To someone facing the prospect of writing a “Ronaldo is on is way back/erm, no he isn’t/eh, yes he is” story for the 50th time (or its Nerazzuro equivalent in which Ronaldo is replaced with Adriano), the fact that one of the English tabs, Marca, AS, Sport, Mundo Deportivo, A Bola or Record (as the Germans and French tend not to do it) ran a rumour involving his club is manna from heaven. Not only does the story write itself (assuming the hack has a minimal command of the language or access to Babelfish), but it keeps on giving. Because once the Sun writes its Lampard to Milan story, the Gazzetta will write a “the Sun says Lampard to Milan”, and then the Mirror will write a “the Gazzetta says Lampard to Milan”. Instead of watching training for the 100th time this season, the hack can get his editor to fund a trip to the centre to stake out airports and hotels, get free meals and drinks from agents, and, if he is really lucky, get an expense paid trip to the Smoke.

    It’s ace.

    BTW, my sources here say that Cremonese has heard about this Brian character and are looking to pip Partick to his signature.

  2. SpanglyPrincess

    Brian, how very true. Even when you know that a rumour is wholly without foundation, it allows you to dream a bit (facci sognà…)

    So last summer we all got to briefly enjoy Thierry Henry in giallorosso, safe in the knowledge it was impossible and so there was no need to worry about his petulance or the fact he likely wouldn’t work well alongside Totti. Happy days. And as Ursus said, rumour is the very lifeblood of the Italian daily sports press.

    I don’t think Cremonese have the funds, but I’m sure I saw a Standard Liège scout round these parts the other day…

  3. Martha

    Great post, Brian. I always marvel at what a dreamy job it must be to work for Tuttosport, or Marca, or O Jogo, and spend the bulk of your working hours alternately throwing gum at the wall and lying down with your ear to the ground, trying to conjure up the perfect transfer rumor for the moment. If only the rest of us could be so lucky, rather than having to run around picking up their scraps.

  4. Brian

    Martha, no kidding. I can never decide whether it would be the easiest job in the world or the hardest. On the one hand, it must be easy to make that stuff up out of thin air. On the other hand, it must be hard to make it up 6500 times. And if you’re actually waiting for the busboy in the cafe where Roberto de Assis’s personal assistant has lunch to meet you under a bridge at three o’clock in the morning with what passes for a plausible tip… There’s something almost perversely inspiring about the sheer futility of it all.

  5. lorenzo23

    What a question, what is the soul of football? I found mine two weeks ago in the streets of Bury, Lancashire. A wet, dreary winter evening in England. I’d just watched FC United get beat 3-4 against Bradford PA, my mate sent me a text that my other team Manchester United got beaten by Bolton 1-0. Next week I’m back – FC United beat Rossendale United, then watched Manchester United win 2-0 against Fulham. Basically you enjoy the wins and get thru with the bad times.
    P.S. Enjoy your blog, it has perspective.

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