Aviva Stadium, 2nd November 2014
In Hans Kellers’s 1975 treatise on individualism, Music, Closed Societies & Football, he devotes the entire final chapter to his observations on the state of (then) contemporary football. His take on the English game makes for rather amusing reading as he mourns its distrust of individual genius and the emphasis it places on physicality and hard work. Basically he’s saying the same thing that people are saying about English football now, almost 40 years later. However he is more bitter and more vehement in his criticism as he opines that the victory of England in the 1966 World Cup prompted a global decline of artistry in football. Lesser teams learned that the way to beat superior opposition was through a collective effort focused on preventing their more talented adversaries from playing. Soon the better teams found that they could cover their losses by taking a similar approach and sacrificing genius for effort. And this, he suggests, marked the beginning of the gradual marginalisation of creative play in football. The English preference for mediocrity over genius disgusts him and he sees the English favaouring of the FA Cup over the league as one of the main symptoms of this phenomenon. He decries this English preference for the pageantry of the cup final over the league as evidence of the English embrace of mediocrity.
This point about the cup does seem rather quaint now given the annual handwringing in British football writing concerning the ever diminishing prestige of the FA Cup. But the complete lack of sentimentality in Keller’s writing on football is interesting. He is unmoved by the notion of the collective effort of the underdog overcoming more talented opponents. And he also finds the idea of clubs falling back on “History”, or “Folklore” as he terms it, as a means to justify their greatness as sentimental nonsense. Ultimate judgement should be passed on the evidence of what goes on on the field. This is an interesting contrast to much of the best contemporary writing on football, which often repurposes the purpose of football as a means of social interaction and collective identification. Not for Keller it isn’t. For him, football is ultimately a forum for self-expression and brilliance.
Whether you agree with this or not, it is worth remembering that there is a game at play. A game that is at its best when skill and intelligence reign supreme. It doesn’t always have to function as a surrogate Workers’ Party meeting. And it doesn’t have to be discussed as a theoretical tactical construct to be appreciated. Nor does it need to be treated like a spreadsheet, with statistics to support all arguments. And it definitely isn’t as a conduit to chin-stroking pop-psychology discussions. And it certainly should never be spoken about in the way that the wankers on The Sunday Supplement do.
Anyway to the match where, unfortunately, Forrester, the one true artist on the field, just couldn’t get going. The best performance in the game came, by some distance, from Keith Fahey. He produced probably the match’s only moment of absolute brilliance when he picked up the ball on a counter attack following a Derry City corner and carried it half the length of the field before playing a beautiful pass through to Fagan who, sadly, screwed it wide. Fahey is a supremely talented midfielder who just gets on with the job. In fact, he’s a bit like me in Fantasy Football. I try to stay away from the limelight and the trash talking and the politics and just let my Fantasy Football do the talking. However, while I feel that I am at the peak of my career, Fahey is perhaps not quite at the same standard he was at six years ago when, as a young playmaker, he completely outplayed the midfielders of Hertha Berlin in a UEFA Cup tie. So perhaps now, for great displays of individualism we should look elsewhere.
It’s hard to know what Hans Keller would have made of Killian Brennan, who was up to his old tricks, showing off elaborate superfluous flicks and winding up the Derry City fans. He is undoubtedly a purveyor of individualism on the field and one who embraces his heel status in a stylish, elegant fashion. However, I think that one needs a sense of irony to truly appreciate Brennan, one that I’m not sure Keller necessarily had. Irony and football are strange bedfellows. I never liked Tony Cascarino until I developed a sense of irony in my mid-teens and could appreciate the humour in this clumsy target-man being given a hero’s welcome every time he came off the bench for Ireland. League of Ireland football (when you are something of a newcomer and not necessarily a die-hard fan) does require some sort of a materially overdetermined reading to both appreciate the artistry on display while also recognising that it’s of a lower quality to most of the football that you see on TV. As recent debates in the Irish media have shown, it’s pointless comparing the league with top-level English football. However, by embracing its individuals, its cult heroes and its villains it’s one of the most enjoyable leagues to follow.
Also, St. Pat’s won 2-0.