In the whole scheme of life, what has happened in Paris this week shows up the the insignificancies of football for what they really are.
Embarrassingly for me, last week’s column on the “tragedies” that befall many in cup football couldn’t have been more ill-timed with the losses of ex-Sunderland keeper Marton Fulop and ex-QPR keeper Tommaso Trani, and the unfathomable events that unfolded in front of our very eyes in Paris on Friday evening.
Even though I was just playing with words and the context in which the term was simply placed within the boundaries of the game, I still felt an acute unease at the juxtaposition of my self-promoting tweets alongside those paying their respects to the lives of two footballers cut far too short.
Tragedies in actual footballing terms don’t encompass defeats. Heysel was a tragedy. Hillsborough was a tragedy. The death of Marc Vivien Foe on the pitch at the Stade de Garland in Lyon whilst he represented his country was a tragedy. The events in Paris last Friday evening was a tragedy. Sporting defeats don’t even come close.
After the decision to play the friendly against the French at Wembley was made so soon after the event, I couldn’t help question the rationale behind it.
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall during that meeting to see the priority to each reason and how many were financially related. I make no apologies for my world weary, cynical view here but it just kicks in automatically, especially when I see David Cameron standing within camera-shot, behind Prince William at the start of the game.
I can understand the reasons given, the show of solidarity and defiance in honour of those who lost their lives, but why should football be used to as a moral shield when it’s our politicians who should be showing solidarity with us by not selling weapons to the kinds of people who eventually use them against us, or better still, by not jumping into the bed with the wealthy countries who fund these organisations at every opportunity. It’s the merry-go-round of war, fuelled by the greed of the powerful that betrays us all.
I tried to put myself in the position of someone like Hugo Lloris and can honestly say I don’t think I could have played that game on Tuesday night.
These players weren’t just a part of a match interrupted by an incidents around the stadium, it was only due to the bravery of a few heroic souls who averted a disaster on a mass scale by confronting the assailant as he attempted to enter, they were mere minutes from perhaps becoming victims of the acts of atrocities themselves.
God only knows the emotions flooding through Lassana Diarra’s body during the minute’s silence due to the loss of his cousin but despite the seriousness and solemnity of the occasion, I just didn’t feel holding this game would produce any tangible worth.
It was clear, to me anyway, that the players simply didn’t want to be there. Why should they? Where would you want to be three days after being so close to these abhorrent events, as the world sat watched from afar, agog at what they witnessed? I know the only place I’d want to be is tucked up on the sofa at home, clutching those I loved and appreciating every second I could spend with them.
Every other occasion our Prime Minister sticks his nose in to comment on our game is to pontificate and condemn the negative actions of footballers and blame the ills of today’s society on them, just like many others do.
These footballers, who everyone looks down their noses at, the very players every Tom, Dick and Harriet asked of them “Why can’t they be like our athletes?’ during London 2012, the man-boys who are criticised for not being good role models to our children, but now, suddenly now, they’re deemed good enough to be used as symbols of unity, showing terrorist organisations they won’t stop us from carrying on our everyday lives?
After I tweeted that I thought the game shouldn’t have gone ahead, I had a few replies saying “If we cancel the game, then that means they’ve won”, as if armed police on every street corner in Wembley and the fear already instilled inside every fan traveling on public transport meant they hadn’t already.
The Belgium v Spain game was rightly postponed because of security concerns – does that mean they won on Monday too or were their authorities just taking sensible precautions and dealing with the situation correctly?
I didn’t really feel like commenting on what had happened over the weekend at the time because nothing I said could have added any worth to what had gone on. I think the world would carry on fine without me professing my sadness or sending my condolences out there in the collective public outpouring.
I’d like to assume all people with an ounce of decency were of the same train of thought that night. It’s not that I’m a heartless tough nut, it’s just a personal preference.
I saw a message posted on social media that responses to the terrorist attacks was becoming a little like a game of grief Top Trumps and that’s how it feels to me. The people affected have my thoughts and prayers, I just don’t want make it about me.
I’ve strayed from my point somewhat here but I’ve found it frustrating that football DOES bring people together; it does break down barriers, despite the insistence we’re still a hinderance in banishing racism, sexism and homophobia from the game but in this instance it feels as if footballers and the football community have been used.
Perhaps it’s the chip-on-the-shoulder-working-class-boy coming out of me but it felt like the guys on the pitch, the lads who have had similar upbringing to myself, have just been used as pawns to front some kind of propaganda to feed the fight against ISIS, when really, they were actually putting ourselves in the firing line.
Look at the situation in Hannover. That could easily have been Wembley on Tuesday night. All it takes is a misplaced rucksack, a few fear-induced whispers by wanting to add fuel to the fire and you’ve got yourself into a situation which was wholly avoidable.
We, the players, the fans, the officials, aren’t the ones at war. We didn’t bring the violence to our streets, our governments did. So why do we have to be the ones who have to show defiance? Why are footballers told to show the terrorists they won’t win when one of them was only seconds away from scarring these players for life by detonating his explosives inside the stadium?
If we want to use footballers for good, take players of ethnicities to school and educate them on the wrongs of racism. Take straight footballers to teach the acceptance of those of a different sexuality. Educate young footballers and make them poster boys promoting safe sex and responsible attitudes towards women.
Don’t just use them as a sticking plaster over the wounds originally opened up by those in higher places of power, especially when they’re still willing to kiss the same hands that feed the ones who want to kill us.
So, no, I wouldn’t have wanted to have played on Tuesday night; not out of disrespect for the victims or in fear of handing victory to the “enemy” but out of protest against our own government, knowing they are far from blameless for the problems they have brought to our shores.
“We” are never at war, “we” are never at fault for financial crises, yet strangely enough, it’s always us that ends up paying the price in the end.