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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, June 09, 2006
    Don't look back
     
    I've finished reading Those Feet; A Sensual History of English Football by David Winner, just in time for the World Cup. Just in time to be able to 'read' the next month's footy events through different lenses than those mediated by global TV conglomerates.

    Winner's book is a treat for anyone interested in contemplating the character of the English, a delight for those for whom Boys' Own comics, Victorian pulp novels featuring heroes called Royston Keen, Neasden manager Ron Knee (59), The Goons and The Italian Job are all valid signifiers of the national psyche. Which includes me.

    As football and Englishness are often best described in jokes I especially like the chapter in which Winner contrasts the wit of Bill Shankly (arrogantly positive in the cause of his team) with the satire of Neasden F.C. Given the claim that there are just seven stories in the entire world, Winner thinks that 'having two basic types of English football joke - melancholy Nesaden variations and one Happy Shankly Heresy - probably constitutes healthy diversity.'

    We're quite good at laughing at ourselves, he says, but he highlights our ever-present and deeply negative tendency towards looking back at the past and moaning about the present. Characteristics which we apply to football as a metaphor for our wider social life. Characteristics we shall all be invited to share in over the coming four weeks.