The musings of Mr Monkeysized


England is Europe’s team by monkeysized
July 2, 2010, 11:21
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Yes, yes, I know the sods are already out of the competition, and that they’re a disgrace to humanity for whom the black death is too light a punishment. But England are Europe’s team.

I don’t just mean that they have been controlled by a shadowy network of Italians, imposing barely translated strictures upon a superstitious and fearful body of players – that would just draw comparisons with the Vatican.

England are (were) the only team at the WC to represent something other than that outdated concept, the Nation State. It’s a sub-national grouping, that indeed in the past has brought extra-national members (for instance Le Tissier and Le Saux from the Channel Islands, even Owen Hargreaves from Canada via Germany) into the fold. You can therefore see it as some kind of EU-like regional voice within a larger transnational grouping (UEFA/FIFA).

And then, just like in the EU, it’s clear that: 1. There is nominal equality between the members of said transnational grouping, that in practice extends little beyond lip-service, with economic might and the bullying power of strident members distorting equality; 2. Within the transnational grouping a certain amount of scorn is reserved for England/Britain and its outdated approach, alongside wary respect for its economic power; 3. The leadership of said international groupings tends to open itself rather too easily to accusations of arrogance, lack of responsiveness to the wider community, being on a gravy train, and believing that they are running a project with as much of a will-to-power as the drang nach Ostern.

The idea that England is Europe’s team is strengthened by other parallels. It has a belief in itself, harking back to a golden age when it either laid down the patterns of the modern world or visibly sat astride its summit, that is undermined by current realities. It has economic might (although this might be imperceptibly slipping) that might just be covering up for a lack of competitiveness in a world that has moved on. Much of its current economic system can even be seen to be derived from the talent of foreign workers. However it still carries a surprising amount of soft power across the world that belies its current situation, let alone the future, if tough reforms aren’t faced up to.

In short, England is Europe’s team at this World Cup. We should get behind it, support it, glory in it, and then realise that it’s not just no longer in the race for the top prize – it’s no longer even lining up alongside the other competitors.

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Footballing nationalism and footballing Nationalism by monkeysized
June 30, 2010, 14:31
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There’s something missing at the World Cup. And no, I’m not talking about the English team, sent home after a performance that warranted mass wearing of red noses and clown shoes. Or the ludicrous French, misfiring Italians or stulifying Portugese. I’m talking about something rather more essential.

I mean, what is it for?

Let me suggest something: It’s a cup competition held once every four years for national teams.

Nothing there about best teams winning, or anything that trite (the best team rarely wins, as everyone knows). Nothing there about measuring players or teams beyond the performances in what soon becomes a cup competition, with all the thrills and spills implied.

Here in England there’s a debate over the culpability of the Italian manager, a martinet by the name of Fabio Capello, who seems to have underperformed by the standards of woeful old England. On one side there are those who blame his rigid tactics, his bullying and his disciplinarian bent for a frigid and limp performance by overpaid superstars. On the other side there are those who instinctively see foreignness as short hand for sophistication in the footster world, and that his trophy-laden past suggests a colossus let down by trying to build on such damnably marshy ground as English players.

My view is simple: the World Cup is a fantastic little cup competition for national teams. There’s a place for hope, despair and wonder. Ultimately the England team has a way of playing and a particular culture that is fundamentally different from Brazil, from Holland, from Norway, from Italy, from Spain, from Uruguay, from Qatar, from Cameroon. It might not win World Cups, but that isn’t the point. Pick eleven Englishmen, stick an Englishman in charge, and let them fail or triumph on their own terms in a competition that is no more or no less than it should be.

If the ‘national’ team of a country becomes more than the vehicle for that nation’s own little ups and downs, perhaps some kind of project that demands shaping into some kind of uber-project of footballing majesty with attached marketing opportunities, then it badly needs monkeysizing down to earth.

Here’s to jumpers for goalposts and failing the English way.



Toxoplasmosis and hoping the French lose at the World Cup by monkeysized
June 9, 2010, 09:44
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At last! Scientific reasoning comes to the aid of our grudges and ill-considered prejudices, just in time for the World Cup. The Economist’s science section introduces us to toxoplasmosis, with the aid of this little picture:

In short, it’s about a parasite that lives in cats and mice at different stages of development. To complete the cycle, when in a mouse it makes the little fellow more vulnerable to being eaten by a cat, making it a little bit dim and courting feline violence. The parasite then moves back into the cat via its stomach.

The interesting bit, however, is that it also affects humans, and makes some of them – how can I put this – more French. Maybe I’m paraphrasing and drawing on my prejudices, but this is World Cup season after all. To quote from the article’s discussion of a researcher’s findings:

The places he looked at ranged from phlegmatic Britain, with a neuroticism score of -0.8 and a Toxoplasma infection rate of 6.6%, to hot-blooded France, which scored 1.8 and had an infection rate of 45%. Cross-Channel prejudices, then, may have an unexpected origin.

In short we can now merrily conflate toxoplasmosis infection rates with everything from simple measures of ‘Frenchness’ through to tendencies to cheat at football, be underhand in general matters and to have women with hairy armpits. Horrible stuff, but at least we can now measure in advance and be forewarned. Soon we’ll be able to apply it to imponderables like suitability as marriage material, likelihood to break fiscal governance rules within the €, and potential for nicking one’s totty while smoking Gitanes and surrendering to the Germans.

For if being monkeysized means anything, it means being able to surrender to our prejudices, at least for the duration of the World Cup.