Friday, October 10, 2008

Poor George

A few months ago, I bought Austerity Britain, David Kynaston's "people's history" of Britain in the years following World War II, on the strength of a very compelling review in The Atlantic. I haven't gotten around to it yet, but my girlfriend is currently reading it and I'm peeking over her shoulder from time to time. The book is full of firsthand accounts from the time -- people's diaries, letters, etc -- weaved into a narrative. At one point, Kynaston writes about a tour of the UK in fall 1945 by a championship football team (that's soccer to us Yanks) from Russia. I pick things up there, leading to a letter to the editor that I love:
The ill feeling that characterised at least two of the matches provoked George Orwell, writing just before Christmas in the left-wing magazine Tribune, to launch a full-frontal attack on professional football and its followers: 'People want to see one side on top and the other humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless.' In short, 'serious sport . . . is war minus the shooting.' This was too much for E. S. Fayers of Harrow, Middlesex. 'George Orwell is always interesting,' began his riposte. 'But he does write some bilge.' And after defending football as a game to play, he went on:
As to the spectators, with the greatest possible diffidence, I suggest that George is in danger of falling into the error of intellectual contempt for the 'mob'. These football crowds, if only he got among them, he would find are not great ignorant mobs of sadistic morons. They are a pretty good mixture of just ordinary men. A little puzzled, a little anxious, steady, sceptical, humorous, knowledgeable, having a little fun, hoping for a bit of excitement, and definitely getting quite a lot of enjoyment out of that glorious king of games -- football.
The good-natured rebuke finished unanswerably: 'I'm sorry for George. He's missed a lot of fun in life.'


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