Seriöus Business

Good day to you fine ladies, and to you fine gentlemen also.  I hope that your week has been prosperous.  Now, a single subject has dominated the national dialogue recently, and it seems almost inevitable that I address it:

Transfer Deadline Day, for the uninitiated, is like a giant game of musical chairs where all of the nation’s football clubs (and indeed, those of a smattering of other nations) race around getting rid of the players they don’t want and getting in the players they do.  I imagine that those of you that despise this sport find it all extremely boring.  Well, let me assure you all, it is all extremely boring.  But it’s also extremely compelling.  Indeed, these words are very difficult to write, because it’s difficult to write things while compulsively checking Twitter to see if there’s been any movement.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing we’re talking about:  Yesterday, Gareth Bale (a footballer) was confirmed as a player of Real Madrid (a football club) and presented as such in the Santiago Bernabéu (a football stadium, belonging to the aforementioned football club).  His employment contract with Tottenham Hotspur (another football club) was terminated, allowing him to sign a new one at Real Madrid (I’ve already done them).  As compensation for this termination, Real Madrid paid around €100 million (around £86 million) to Tottenham Hotspur.  Mr Bale’s new contract is six years long, and will entitle him to a weekly wage of around £300,000 per week.

Now, in a sane world, the situation I’ve just described would be regarded as laughably impossible.  But football does not operate in a sane world.  It operates a mental football world, whose insanity is all the more disturbing because it is a logical extension of the perfectly rational world that we mortals mostly inhabit.

Yesterday morning saw Real Madrid tweet a picture of Bale gurning from a hospital bed, his naked torso festooned with those little sucker things (the sort that action-movie heroes are prone to tearing off once they realise that they’ve been abducted by paedophile aliens or whatever, and need to scarper quick-sharp). This phase of the transfer ritual is known as the ‘medical’, where the receiving club ensures that the goods are all as they should be, and the selling club isn’t trying to offload a player whose leg might fall off at any moment.

Following this comes a ceremony known as the ‘unveiling’.  Around twenty thousand people attended the unveiling of Bale, which, while piddling compared to the eighty-thousand that turned up for the unveiling of Ronaldo (another footballer), is pretty impressive for a Monday.  Until you remember that this is Spain, where youth unemployment is at 56%.  The perfect backdrop against which to parade an astonishingly extravagant purchase!

I watched the unveiling.  A hundred thousand other people watched it.  People who have no interest in Gareth Bale or Real Madrid tuned in, their curiosity excited by the media machine hysterically shrieking about this transaction.  We all want to experience the bizarre theatre of the hundred-million euro man-monkey.  We all want to see what the fuss is about.

It was underwhelming.  They showed a bunch of photos of his old school, and then some pictures of teenage Gareth Bale at his house, and then playing football with Southampton (another football club).  This montage is accompanied by some truly execrable music by someone called Passenger.  Is this what the Spanish think of the British?  God, is that our ‘thing’ now?  The Spanish have maracas and chorizo and sunshine, and we have bland food and bland music and bland weather?  How fucking depressing.  I can only hope that music doesn’t reflect Spanish opinion of the British.  I can only hope that it was Gareth Bale’s choice, and that he inflicted it onto the Spanish as a sort of passive-aggressive retort to any implication that he might not be worth £86 million.

I ended up utterly numbed by all of this.  I just stared drooling at the screen, my mind vacant of everything except a vague hope that they’d taken adequate precautions to ensure that Bale doesn’t escape his cage, kidnap the nice Spanish presenter lady* and carry her to the top of the tallest building in Madrid only to be shot down by Spanish helicopters.

This ritual seems to be a Spanish thing, because no British club seems to engage in this sort of bullshit.  They just wait all day long and then stick a post on their website saying ‘we bought so and so, he’s quite good, here’s a picture of him’ and then it’s done.

The fee is, of course, ridiculous.  It’s difficult, especially for someone who doesn’t follow football, to comprehend that someone is willing to pay money for someone to kick a ball around.  It’s even more difficult when it’s enough money to buy a fucking fighter jet or a yacht.  It’s fucking outrageous.  But Real Madrid know this.  In fact, the ridiculousness of the fee benefits them in a roundabout way, because a ridiculous fee generates a ridiculous amount of publicity, which will then translate into a ridiculous amount of shirt sales and a ridiculous television audience and general furtherance of Real Madrid as a ridiculous brand.

This plan will be ridiculously successful, since currently everyone wants to fucking talk about it:

“Have you seen?  Parliament voted against a motion to intervene in the Syrian…”

“Have you seen how much they’re going to pay Gareth Bale?”

“They will pay him three hundred thousand pounds per week!”

“That’s errr…forty-two thousand eight hundred and fifty-seven pounds per day!”

“That’s a rather a lot!”

“It’s one thousand seven hundred and eighty-five pounds an hour!”

“Twenty-nine pounds a minute!”

“Forty-eight pence a second!”

“Except every third second…”

“Of course.  I was rounding down for ease of clarity, old bean; obviously he’d earn a round forty-nine pence every third second.”

“How much do you suppose he’d earn in the time we’ve been talking?”

“Enough to buy this round of fine ale, I’d warrant!”

“I’ve stuck my spoon in my eye, and now I’m bleeding!”

So yes, the fee itself serves as a sort of obscene marketing tool.  Some argue that this sort of thing is morally offensive.  They make comments of the following gist:

“A soldier earns £27k a year; Bale earns 300k a week!  DISGRACE!”

While such a statement might put forward a perceived problem, I am not sure that it proposes any real solution.  I am sure that we can’t pay soldiers (or any other public servant, for that matter) the same money Real Madrid have decided to pay Gareth Bale; I can’t give you precise figures but I’m assured that the effect on the structural deficit would be quite catastrophic.

I suppose instead we’re supposed to aspire in the other direction, toward a world where Bale is paid the same £27k that a soldier or a nurse or a street sweeper.  How would this be accomplished?  There are bat-shit crazy solutions, like a switching to mass communism and seizing control of all of the football clubs with some unimaginable display of force.  I’d discount those as unworkable.  But there are other options.  Everyone would have to stop watching so much football, or at least stop paying to watch it.  They would simply need convincing.

When I consider this, I realise that the communist dictatorship scenario is more plausible than the ‘let’s persuade people that football doesn’t matter’ scenario.  It’s often said that religion will never be eradicated, such is the grisly extent of the boner people have for it.  Well, if that’s true of religion, then it’s even truer of football.

Yes, much like any religion, there are people that utterly despise football, and there are those that love it.  There are those that obsess over it and will watch it at literally every opportunity.  They will get into furious blistering arguments whenever someone criticises a player or manager that they happen to love, or defends a player or manager they happen to hate.  They have unbelievable opinions which they impart with unbelievable passion, usually from the stands of a football ground (where there exists some strange social licence to say whatever you damn well please, so long as it’s not racist).  The resulting vitriol is of a sort that normally comes from the mouths of religious zealots or unstable ex-girlfriends:

“I must say I don’t consider this four-five-one to be particularly effective; our midfield is rather congested, and our high defensive line will surely leave us vulnerable to a counter attack.  SORT IT OUT NOW <manager name> YOU STUPID FUCKING CUNT!”

“I must say – oh, what a marvellous tackle that was!  Won the ball cleanly, and he had to as well since – OH MY FUCKING GOD YOU CUNT ARE YOU BLIND?  HE’S FUCKING DONE YOU THERE REF!  YOU CUNT!”

Of course, the media organisations responsible for reporting the events of deadline day are aware of this insane passion.  They thrive on it. They’ve learned to take any minor controversy and wring every drop of drama from it.  Sky Sports News are the undisputed champions of this.  The coverage culminated, as it always does, with a close up of the clock face of Westminster, as Big Ben tolled to signal the end of the transfer window.  Pretty excessive, you might think.  But they won’t stop there.  Over coming years they’ll dial up the melodrama an additional notch.  Then another and another, until we reach the level of pantomime.  A herald might scream the names of those whose transfers have not been completed in time:

“Fabio Coentrao!  THE BELL TOLLS FOR THEE!”

I am convinced that future generations will hold Transfer Deadline Day in far higher esteem than New Year’s Day.  I am convinced that future calendars will be based around it.  It’s already common to hear people say ‘happy transfer deadline day’, all the while thinking they’re being ironic.  Well it’s only a matter of time before all irony is squeezed from that statement by sheer force of repetition.  A hundred years from now, this day will have assumed the same cultural weight as religious holidays like Christmas and Ramadan and that Hindu thing with the lights.

This process seems to be well underway, since, while the churches are emptying, the football stadia are quite full.  People still enjoy a weekend spent congregating in giant buildings, spontaneously breaking into songs designed to venerate their nominated idols and denigrate the infidels who, in their idiocy, support the team from down the road.  Theirs will surely be a fiery torment or, worse, an inferior league position.

So yes, God is dead, and yes, we have killed him.  But we’ve replaced him: with protracted media circuses, outrageous amounts of money, and a smattering of actual sport.  Hallelujah!

Long may it continue!

*she has a name, and it’s Celia Ramirez

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