You might be familiar with C.S.Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles; you might indeed be sufficiently conversant with them to know the plot of the final book, The Last Battle. While I don’t find myself sympathising with its teleological* narrative, it is nonetheless one of the great works of children’s literature, allegorical yet readable, and it kicks J.K.Rowling’s expensively toned butt into the remaindered authors section of Waterstones (other remaindered authors sections are available).
Why am I wittering on about Narnia when I should be drooling over Drogba’s right boot? Because, my friend, it deals brilliantly with the theosophical conflict brought out by the question of whether people can do good things for bad reasons, and whether salvation is still available to those who – from an accident of geography – believe in the wrong god. Why else but for reasons of ontology** can we applaud the footballer who – for reasons of money or geography – plays for the wrong team?
Also, if you remember, as we left part 1 of this blog we were still in Hell. But this Hell is populated by descendants of the Ottomans (and the Calormenes in the book are clearly Ottoman in Pauline Bailey’s wonderful illustrations), they worship Aslan (can you imagine my delight when I found that Galatasaray’s nickname is ‘Aslan’ – ‘the Lion’?), and Hell, being calorific, is clearly inhabited by Calormen. How many more coincidences do you want? We are in Hell, we are in Narnia.
We return to the match. 3-1 to Galatasaray. Gloria Gaynor has spoken three times, Drogba has scored twice, Elaziğspor have upset the party once. Three, two, one, go.
The second half had the quality of 22 professionals doing what they’re paid to do, but without particular enthusiasm or commitment. Good intentions paved their way to hell, no doubt, but were then of little use to them. To be fair, Elaziğspor tried to make a game of it, but quality told.
As the match wore on, the whistling became more of an issue. This, apparently, is what makes for the hostile atmosphere. Two years ago it recorded 132 decibels – the loudest crowd noise at a sport stadium according to Guinness World Records, and past the threshold of pain. Aslan’s roar is rather high-pitched yet nonetheless effective.
I became fascinated by Drogba. He’s a mighty big fellow, very muscular, yet capable of being blown over by the slightest breeze, should there be a possibility of the referee giving a foul. He has plied his trade in 5 countries and failed to come to terms with the gravitational pull in any of them. He sauntered – there is no other word for it – casually around the pitch until the ball came anywhere near him, at which a transformation of Jeckyll and Hyde type magnitude came over him.
It was quite remarkable. He became bullish, balletic in his feet, and hypnotic in his movements. He is old for a footballer playing at the highest level – 35 – but the competitive instinct clearly remains long after the physical stamina starts to diminish. How much fidelity can he really feel for the club? He is, in his latter years, become a journeyman footballer, playing for the highest bidder (and for those of you who care about such things, he is a UN ambassador for goodwill, gave £3 million to build a hospital in Abidjan in his native Sierra Leone, and almost single-handedly brought about a ceasefire in the civil war. What a guy).
Does he put himself through this for the money? He is paid more per week than the average Turkish worker will earn in 5 years.
And yet there is some fire that burns bright whenever a football is placed at his feet, and it is this that marks out the football geniuses from the merely talented. His performance is like watching top quality improvisation. Whilst he has a fund of physical tropes on which to draw, I doubt whether even he knows exactly what will happen once the ball lands at his feet.
The cauldron of hell has its own dramatis personae. At either end of the stadium, immediately behind each goal, a man stood atop a podium. In the entire 90 minutes of football, I think there were 204 people who saw nothing of the match. 2 linesmen – oops, showing my age, I mean referee’s assistants – 200 stewards, and these two choirleaders.
All they did, from beginning to end, was orchestrate the crowd. There was a wonderful moment towards the end, where somehow, telepathically, we became a four part antiphonal chorus, delivering a chant that ran round the ground in a way that would have reduced Gabrieli to tears (Gabrieli the composer, not Gabrieli the goalkeeper for Italian club Casale. Although he might have cried, too).
The stewards stood in their fetching orange jackets from beginning to end, watching the crowd. And they were good; very good. Only once or twice did I see one turning round to watch the football. The linesmen… damn… referee’s officials have the most thankless task of all. I watched during several attacks. He runs parallel to the rearmost defender, looking along the line for any attackers who are goalside when the ball is kicked.
How can he tell when the ball is kicked? Amongst 130 decibels of Helmholtz resonance, how do you tell the single thwack of Nike on faux-leather? And then decide a) whether the player is ‘interfering with play’ (as Bill Nicholson said, if he’s not interfering with play then he shouldn’t be on the pitch), b) whether the ball arrived there deflected off a defender, and c) whether the attacker was making his way back from an offside position. Oh yes, and look at 90 degrees along the line in case the ball goes out of play, and he’s required to adjudicate on who last touched the ball.
The crowd, of course, saw it all perfectly, and are generous in their opinions. In the seat next to me, an elderly Turkish man spent the whole match advising the officials and the Galatasaray manager on the interpretations of rules, tactics, and the quality of the play. At one point I turned to Gülden; ‘what did he say?’ I asked innocently. ‘He knows everything,’ she replied coquettishly, ‘but it’s just a lot of rude words, one after another.’
Towards the end of the match, rather incongruously, someone in a nearby seat brought out a sanitising hand spray and passed it round. Even in hell, it seems, sanitary protection matters.
The match completed, Gülden directed me back to the coach. To her chagrin, Osman, Giray and Bulent were on another coach. Once again, I wondered if the imps were matchmaking. Fortunately for my marriage vows, but sadly for the narrative, Gülden told me many things on the coach back that, alas, must remain between us. Suffice it to say that no amount of matchmaking or the famed Brannick charm would break down this she-devil’s resolve. Not that I would want to, of course. Never date an apostle of Beelzebub, my mother always told me.
I’m sure you’re also worried for my penknife; dear reader, it was returned the following Monday.
*Have you any idea how smug I feel, having shoe-horned the word ‘teleological’ into a blog? And having used it correctly? I can barely type for smuggitude.
**Ditto. I’m nearly Will Self, me.