By Tony Attwood
There is a Marina Hyde article in the Guardian today about the sexual abuse of footballers. It is an article which is so powerful, so insightful, and so very much getting to the key point, that if it would not be a breach of copyright I would reproduce it here. Instead, here is the link. I would urge you to read it. If you don’t have time to do both, stop reading this and read that.
But if you do have a little more time, here’s the rest of my piece…
With the historic sex abuse case numbers rising daily in football, with stories now emerging about covering up the issue with at least in one case with a gagging agreement in return for money, with the police declining to investigate, and now the FA being in charge of an investigation, I’ve found this an issue I simply don’t know how to write about.
To suggest that of all organisations the FA is the least suitable to investigate anything, is surely obvious, but to raise the issue seems disrespectful to those who have suffered. I don’t want to do any point scoring – there are enough people out there doing it already.
So for a moment I turn to matters Arsenal, and what did strike me this morning is that Mr Wenger was very critical of his team last night. The last time I remember him being this critical was after the exit from the League Cup at Sheffield Wednesday 13 months ago, when he spoke about not one of the youngsters being ready for first team football. This time he spoke about the lack of urgency in the team.
We can be reconciled that how the team does in the League Cup has little to do with how it does in the other competitions – but that still doesn’t satisfy some people who continue to take each defeat (well, perhaps I should say both defeats this season) as a personal insult and a sign that Arsenal are now in the terminal decline they have been predicting for the last 10 years. Any minute now we’ll be told that this is going to be the season Arsenal will drop out of the top four.
But these two trains of thought – the awful revelations about abuse in football clubs and a poor performance by Arsenal last night – made me wonder why some people seem to be so miserable all the time. I mean, as I try to suggest in my opening comments, there is a lot to be miserable about, in relation to British society and the way some people behave within it. There is also a lot to be miserable about in terms of how some people have behaved during my lifetime, and how others have sought to cover it up or ignore it. (See Marina Hyde’s comment on how Peter Rippon shelved the BBC programme on Jimmy Savile if you want evidence of the most awful everyday attitudes).
Yet does that mean we have to be miserable all the time? Indeed I have wondered what on earth the evolutionary benefit could be that keeps people who are totally negative and miserable surviving and presumably breeding.
Of course you can take positivity to a ludicrous position (“there is no problem with my sticking my fingers in this electrical socket because nothing bad ever happens to me” isn’t really the best way to avoid getting a shock) but we all know that the more we smile the more fun we have and the more friends we get. Being a miserable git tends to lead towards more illness (for there is a strong link between the physical and the psychological) and fewer friends.
So yes I am desperate about the unfolding young player abuse revelations, desperate that I have paid what by now must be a fairly large amount of money through my lifetime interest in football, in supporting an industry which has harboured and covered up such iniquity.
And yes I am very sad that we have been knocked out of the League Cup at home through a complete lack of urgency among the playing team. And I’ve even thought that this was in part my fault having written what turned out to be a wholly inaccurate preview of the game which stressed how poor Southampton were away, and how good we are at home. I can’t believe people at Arsenal read Untold’s previews, but that didn’t stop me thinking along these rather silly lines.
But still in the face of the most recent revelations and in the face of an unexpected home defeat, overall I try and maintain a fairly positive disposition, if for no other reason than that it makes me feel better and makes it easier for me to get through the day.
Of course I am depressed by such headlines as “Chelsea’s secret pay-off in child sex abuse claim may have broken Premier League rules” from the Telegraph today. I really don’t give a toss about PL league rules at this point; it’s about being decent and moral and human and humane, not rule 93 (4) vii b or whatever it is.
However me getting miserable in the midst of all this doesn’t help anyone, and just makes me, sort of, miserable. So somehow I still need to keep smiling, because smiling is better than being sour and downcast.
While I was in Spain I saw a large man shouting abuse at his partner because her phone had rung in the hotel lobby. Along with the people around me I looked, and then did nothing. I guess a thousand reasons for doing nothing flipped through my head: he was much bigger than me, I don’t speak Spanish, I am not sure that an intervention then would have made any positive difference in the longer run and could have angered the man even more… I’m quite good at excuses for inaction.
But I did nothing, which was not very good. I can do nothing about the historic sex abuse cases either. On an infinitely more trivial level I can do nothing to encourage Arsenal to put more energy into a game. But there are a few things out there which I can try and do a little bit about, so that has to be it.
And smiling a bit along the way seems to help. Sometimes.