People will know that I am no fan of Dickens. I have only ever read Dickens under sufferance and with great distress. I'm not even much in favour of TV adaptations or films based on his books.
Nevertheless, I confess to having watched Bleak House when it was on the BBC in 2005. I watched. I even became mildly interested. I even got the book from the library and read a bit of it. It did not elicit any lasting appreciation of Dickens writing.
Fortunately, Dickens is not really the subject of this rant.
So, where's the connection? Easy – so much gloup is written about football that it resembles nothing so much as the fixation with the Wards in Jarndyce - the glue which holds the Bleak House narrative structure together for Dickens.
Recent events bear this out. Let's focus on just two.
The Glasgow Celtic – Glasgow Rangers is, some people decry, a special case. The excuses for poor behaviour amongst supporters is mired in sectarian prejudice and violence. Somehow this is used to “excuse” the excesses and simplify the situation.
Now we have the Celtic manager, Mr Lennon, being sent letter bombs along with other prominent supporters. The killer for me was a responsible police spokesman describing the situation as “nothing to do with football” Therein lies the mistake.
It is everything to do with football. In a era when sectarian conflict has almost been eradicated in Northern Ireland, how is it that responsible journalists and others can pretend that football has no role in perpetuating the problem.
Ask yourself: would the mindless prejudice and violence continue if there was no Rangers – Celtic match to provide the focus? I think not. The bigots would still exist, true. Perhaps they might migrate to Murrayfield and start a riot when Scotland play Ireland? Seems more that unlikely. Why?
The fact is the pea-brained bigots who perpetrate the violence just would not get the idea of a sporting rivalry – one that recognises that both teams are trying to win and are worthy of respect for their endeavours. Likewise the fans. Fans of the opposing team are not degenerate sub-humans but genuine supporters who want to see their team do well but recognise that the other team may win if they play better.
No, football, uniquely, has the capacity to engender mindless optimism and even more mindless degeneracy.
Personally, I'm fed up with people who, whilst seemingly stable and reasonable, insist on believing that that opponents and their fans are “scum” - which seems to be the only term of abuse they know. Comment on that mental capacity if you will.
It's even worse in East Anglia. Normal, responsible, educated and personable friends lose all mental perspective when a Norwich – Ipswich game approaches. The try to outdo each other in their vitriol towards their neighbours. Their version of trying to wish their team well and support the player's efforts consists of name-calling and foul abuse. This is not supporting their team – it's simply showing how loutish and vile they have become.
My suggestion: Rangers and Celtic should be relegated – one to the Highland League and one to the League of Ireland. They should not be allowed tickets to away games at all. They should have to stay their for a minimum of 3 seasons and if any trouble ensues – extend their exile to five years for each occasion. Even the troglodytes on the terraces should be able to understand this.
As for the East Anglian brethren, simply require anyone who really, truly believes that the team down the road is vile and their supporters are epsilon minus morons ( which may, or may not be accurate ) is deported to their city focus of hate and made to go to every home game and cheer their rivals on.
Maybe deport them.