After the bitching and moaning of the first paragraph, I get to the real point: Education, Education, Education...
So, it's Euro 2012 time, and if you think that this is some form of monetary currency convention between Europe's great economic powers, then clearly we don't inhabit the same planet. It is a football (soccer) competition, and is what gets people through the four long years between World Cups, for those who worship at the altar of the one true religion, namely: the Beautiful Game. Anyway, as I currently live in footaballing exile (i.e. outside of a country that knows how to appreciate the game), I am sentenced to death by idiocy - that is to say, I have to put up with Israeli commentary on football matches. This is truly painful. It seems that the broadcasters actually cast around to find the most non-sensical idiotic morons available to comment upon and give analysis of these games. I often watch the games on mute - my wife thinks it is because I am being considerate and making sure I don't wake our gorgeous son sleeping next door - this is a fantastic win-win situation. Occasionally I put the sound on to be able to hear the crowd but make sure it is too low to hear the idiocy coming through. So I was slightly in shock recently when I actually watched some English commentary and analysis, and found to my horror that they are just as bad, if not worse. The inane chatter and supposed joking around seems to cover the fact that these people know nothing about anything and do not have the ability to talk intelligently about the one thing they are meant to know something about. It is hard to believe they are getting paid for this.
So - it is one thing to complain - but one has to ask - why is this the case? Why are football commentators almost universally stupid in the two places where I watch football. Well, first of all, I was forced to ask the question whether it is universal. After a tiny amount of anecdotal research, I find out that, while other countries do have some idiots behind the mic, as a general rule, it is not true of most European countries. Not only this, but it seems to be particularly true of football, as opposed to other sports. And moreover - it is not just commentators - everyone involved in English football, barring a small minority seem to have difficulty expressing themselves in a reasoned and intelligent manner. What's going on? Now of course this is a ridiculously unfair generalisation - and I really do apologise. It isn't true - there are plenty of intelligent footballers, coaches, managers and commentators, in England, Israel and around the world, but, still, there is a sense that those involved in football in England lack the ability to analyse the game and speak eloquently about it. Now - I can see good reason for that to be the case with regard to footballers themselves. When someone says of a footballer, his brains are in his feet, it is meant as a compliment, but it also comes across as a back-handed insult. If his brains are in his feet - they aren't in his head. And I also am happy to admit there are lots of different types of intelligence and it is narrow thinking to concentrate on eloquence as a defining characteristic of intelligence - and of course there are many ways on the pitch that footballers show how aware of the world they can be and how quick they can think. Nevertheless - there still remains a sense that elevated intellectual thinking is not a necessary requirement for success in the footballing field. But coaches? Commentators? What's going on? And is it really fair to believe that somehow footballers are not as smart as others? Wasn't the last pope a semi-professional standard goalkeeper? Albert Camus? Didn't he play a bit? So once again - I ask - what is going on?
So here are some of my observations, and then some conclusions, primarily relevant to the English case, but I am sure also to the Israeli case:
1) Most commentators and most coaches are ex-footballers themselves. So essentially the question is about the footballers themselves.
2) There is a culture that surrounds football (all good religions develop cultural elements to them).
3) The culture of football has become anti-elitist, anti-intellectual and to some extent - anti-learning.
4) To become a top-flight footballer these days, one has to basically commit the majority of one's energy to achieving such a goal from the age of about 8, meaning that one's priority is to develop one's footballing skills, rather than to develop one's overall mind.
5) As noted - non-British, European players, coaches and commentators seem to come across as more cultured, more educated and more intelligent than British players, coaches and commentators.
6) Football is a working class sport in the UK, and the vast majority of players have a working class education.
7) The vast majority of people who try and make it as a footballer do not end up earning their salary for the majority of their life from the sport.
8) MOST IMPORTANTLY - these people are actually just as intelligent as anyone else. This is not about intelligence. This is about sounding eloquent. This is about sounding informed and engaged.
So - some conclusions:
1) British footballers are uneducated, because they have been encouraged to believe they do not need an education to be a footballer. This is short term thinking. Even if they are good enough to make it as a footballer (the tiny minority who start on the journey), they remain uneducated after finishing their relatively short career as a footballer. It seems that in other countries, people who end up being footballers, also have a general, rounded education.
2) This is about class and power - there is a reason why footballers are encouraged to be well paid but poorly educated. They are more manipulable as such.
3) It is self-defeating. England has enough resources to be better than Italy, Spain, France and Holland at football, and yet it has never reached the success at major tournaments that those countries have. I believe this is because of poor coaching and poor attitudes of players. This is an educational issue.
In short, the UK seems to be happy to allow its footballers to lack an education. This may be all well and good if really the issue were footballers (or coaches, or commentators, or winning trophies by developing smart coaches), but actually what is important about the UK football education dearth is what it says about the UK's educational system - that if you come from the working class in the UK - no-one has an interested in making sure you will receive a good education.