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July 2021

Philosophy for football fans – a doctor writes (part one in a series..possibly)

Philosophy for football fans – a doctor writes (part one in a series..possibly)

By Blacksheep

The life of a committed football fan (which, it’s worth remembering, is shorthand for ‘fanatic’) is a troubled one and, as we lurch towards the opening of new campaign, it might be useful to see what philosophy can offer to help us all cope.

Thomas Hobbes, that great pessimist, would probably urge us all to do something other than nail our colours to a particular club for therein lies a lifetime of pain. Hobbes famously described Dennis Wise as ‘nasty, brutish and short’ and the epithet could equally be applied to several current footballers (a Mr Barton springs to mind).

A Hobbesian take on football would be that we should just stop hoping that our team will be successful because it probably won’t and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. Instead we should trust in our leaders and leave it in the hands of God to decide what happens.

Jeremy Bentham believed a lot less in the intervention of any almighty benefactor (he lived in an age before the invention of Russian Oligarchs or oil-rich Saudi princes) but had almost as little faith in man as Hobbes. Bentham’s utilitarianism (the greatest good for the greatest number*) means that it is best to sacrifice the happiness of a few for the greater good of the many.

In football terms this means small teams turning up to the Emirates should not ‘park the bus’ but instead roll over and let Santi, Theo et al delight us with a goalscoring masterclass. A few thousand people will go home grumpy while close to 58,000 will be delirious.

The Buddha preached 4 noble truths:

Life is suffering

Suffering involves a chain of causes

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Suffering can cease

There is a path to such cessation

However the Buddha never played top flight football (he did turn out for Kathmandu Rovers twice in non-competitive matches but was subbed both times). His philosophy if applied to football would probably go something like this:

Watching Arsenal is suffering

Suffering involves last minute goals, ridiculous referee decisions and Didier Drogba

Suffering can cease (in May but just temporarily)

At least we’re not spurs

Finally, for this week at least, let us consider the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein the erstwhile under 18s coach at Rapid Vienna between 1925 and his untimely death in 1951.

Wittgenstein made many observations on life and the state of man. In the Tractatus he opined that the world consists of a variety of interacting objects, all of which are affected by each other. These can be both positive and negative. The trick is to analyse them and apply ruthless logic. In effect what Wittgenstein is saying is ‘this is how things are’ deal with it.

The application for football fans is therefore fairly straightforward: instead of endlessly discussing why Howard Webb didn’t give a penalty when 59,000 people saw Evra’s blatant foul on the Ox in the box we should just accept that the man in black (or yellow or green or pink or..) is a cheat in the pay of dark forces.**

So there you have it, what philosophy teaches us it that there’s nothing whatsoever you can do about anything at all when it comes to football except turn up, cheer for the team, hope (or not), and come back and do it all over again a few days later.

Tune in next week for Descartes, Stoicism and Anselm of Canterbury


* excluding spurs, obviously

** based largely in the north west of England

Songwriter Paul Simon, and the Professor of Philosophy, University of Frinton on Sea, discuss the game with Her Majesty the Queen

Arsenal Anniversaries: 6 August

The books…


29 comments to Philosophy for football fans – a doctor writes (part one in a series..possibly)

  • Edu

    enough of the a trophy or two,otherwise you become the supporting cast in the league or cups and others are the main attraction..

  • para

    Yeah, but where is the fun in that? This must apply to those who get TOO heated and want to start a WAR or get nasty. For all the others, a little bit of banter and rivalry adds to the fun of the game, and the way the game seems to be going we do need it too.

  • Good read – enjoyed it!

    I seem to practice the Confucianist strand of Arsenal supporting…

    Btw, you haven’t seen Monty Python’s Philosophers Football recently, have you??

  • Brian Hertz


    It should’ve been you…
    It should’ve been you…
    Not Vilanova…
    It should’ve been you…
    Oik approved!
  • dude

    hopefully you will write one about thomas aquinas, ovid and the bloke who sits near me who hated eboue but loved him on sunday

  • Bootoomee


    Love it!

    We need stuff like this for a chuckle every now and then. It is only a game and its role in our lives should primarily be for entertainment.

    Please keep the series going.

  • Bootoomee


    You couldn’t even let a humorous and tongue in cheek post go without bringing the usual whine about trophies.

    Just sad.

  • Brian Hertz I have published your first post, but not the utterly repulsive second one. No matter who anyone is writing about I would never publish such a thing.

  • Tony – Brian Hertz’s first post is still pretty offensive and wildly off topic… I would have put him on the blacklist for that – alas I am the lord of censorship and the defiler of basic moral decency that crushes these creative flowers of ‘free speech’, that wish terminal illness upon a fellow human being, just like Stalin or Kim Jong-Il probably did/do on a regular basis.

    You however ooze liberal tolerance – well done you!


    I did enjoy the article though – thanks for that Blacksheep, more please!

  • nicky

    Your thoughtful article reminds me very much of my Uncle Farouk who, during WW2, studied medicine in India and finished up with the letters MD (Bombay)(Failed) after his name.
    He told the story of later playing footer against East African Regiments whose teams didn’t wear boots.
    After the war, he decided to emigrate to Kenya, became a chiropodist and made a fortune.

  • Bootoomee


    Isn’t Tony the epitome of tolerance and fortitude?

    Hell, not me. Like you I wouldn’t allow most of the offensive and baselessly antagonistic tirades that many of those ‘non-AAA’ 🙂 type post on here. But then with my rather combative approach, I wouldn’t have a website with with 500,000 visits per month.

    They come in attacking the articles and the writers without any cogent, coherent or even contextual point. All they see is a site that isn’t parrotting the common wisdom and they just wish it’ll disappear.

    Yet, they are the first to whine about being censored and all that crap about right to free speech – on a PRIVATE blog! I would laugh at their ignorance but for the knowledge of people living under actual dictatorships.

    While it’s mostly repetitive stuff, authors and commenters on this site engage the contrarians as long as they present coherent arguments; even if it is on a topic that has been discussed a million times over.

  • Doofus

    Boo – only way you could be more sanctimonious would be if you were pope…

  • colario

    @ Doofus. I confess. He is!

  • Bootoomee


    I know must have hurt your feelings but don’t take it personal 🙂


    When am I getting my hat, gown and mansions? I don’tmind being the pope but I must have the full regalia and all the perks of the office!

    I’m loving this!

  • blacksheep63

    thanks all for the kind remarks, given that philosophy seems increasingly to be being written out of university programmes its nice to use it a little more here. Stay tuned Dude, Aquinas can certainly feature – triffic player (says ‘Arry)

    love the Python football match, thanks for the reminder D S-C. Nicky on the lack of footwear point the British Library’s current exhibitions has a poster of the Empire Games with Roger Bannister in a singlet etc and a Nigerian runner with no shoes!

  • OMGArsenal

    Dooface………Boo is Pope and you have now been excommunicated from the Arsenal Communion but speaking of sanctimonius sermonizers, you make Boo look absolutely parochial in comparison. If he is the Pope, you are the Poop!

  • Doofus

    Omg – ta!

  • nicky

    Your mention of Nigeria reminds me of the story making the rounds among UK troops in Burma during WW2.
    Soldiers from Nigeria formed part of the 81st West African Division. Huge in stature and always smiling, they were a popular set of comrades.
    In 1944/5, they were operating in an area known as the Kaladan Valley, as the Allied forces began to drive the Japs south out of Burma.
    The Divisional Command was puzzled over the fact that the Japs facing the West Africans, were fleeing rather than fighting, a most unusual situation.
    The West Africans were ordered to slow down their advance and asked to explain the reason why so little opposition was being encountered.
    The story was that a Company of WA had captured 3 Japs and had taken them back to their camp where there were 2 large cooking pots. In one was the carcass of a bullock boiling away with bones sticking out in all directions. The other pot was full of water.
    Through sign language, the Japs were led to believe that they were destined for the pot like their colleagues before them, whose bones they could see.
    The terrified Japs were then allowed to escape back to their lines to tell the tale about these black cannibals.
    Presumably they didn’t mind dying for the Emperor but objected to being eaten by savages afterwards!
    Hope you found this off topic of interest.

  • robl

    @ Tony, as you have Brian Hertz’s email can you please forward it on to the police as I, and I’m sure many others find it morally repugnant and deeply offensive.


  • Bootoomee


    I love that story, especially the line:

    “Presumably they didn’t mind dying for the Emperor but objected to being eaten by savages afterwards!”

    I have got tears in my eyes!

  • Bootoomee


    I find it funny that you have no problem with the vile commenter, Brian Hertz, but you get to whine about me being ‘sanctimonious’ for calling his type out.

    Should I also call you sanctimonious for always moaning about lack of trophies and the need to splash the cash to get some? We have different beliefs on how Arsenal can move forward. You present yours and I defend mine.

    Your whine about me being ‘sanctimonious’ is the stuff of sore losers. If you can’t win the argument, call the winners names.

  • elkieno

    Nicky: classic story but I wonder if its true, man I hope it is cos its funny stuff!
    New day upon us I wonder what has happened in the Arsensl world.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Nicky ,Blacksheep – very nice . That is why I love to haunt this blog !
    Just ignore the trools and it all becomes sweeter !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Sometimes they just misunderstand , or do they ?


    “G’day mate, Aussie Helpline…What’s the problem cobber?”

    “I’m in Darwin with my sheila and she’s been stung on the minge by a wasp, and now her pussy has completely closed up.”

    “Bummer mate!”

    “Thanks mate, G’Day!!!!! I hadn’t thought of that, Bye.”

  • Brickfields Gunners

    1)Ups and down in life are very important to keep us going,
    because a straight line ,even in an ECG means we are not alive .

    2)None can destroy iron but its own rust can ! Likewise none can destroy a person , but his mindset can.
    Ratan Tata .

    Take risks in your life .
    If you win ,you can lead .
    If you lose , you can guide !
    Swami Vivekananda

    Before you pray – Believe .
    Before you speak – Listen .
    Before you spend – Earn
    Before you quit – Try &
    Before you die – Live !!!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Medical alert sent to medical division of UA for your perusal .

    New Diseases In Malaysia

    The Malaysia Ministry of Health is now asking the public to be on the lookout for symptoms of the following new contagious diseases.

    Severe rashes around the mouth caused by kissing too
    many asses. The number-one disease in Malaysia amongst
    civil service

    Uncontrollable urge to continually dial friends on
    mobile phone to share with them such important
    information as ‘I’m now on the monorail’ or ‘I’m
    walking towards the car.’ Victims can be recognized
    by large, twitching thumb.

    Blotchy skin condition caused by eating too many
    packets of instant noodles (known locally as (mee or meehoon )

    Affliction whereby victims make frequent trips to
    Vietnam,Thailand,Indonesia, and China to take on
    additional brides. Middle-aged men are at significant risk.

    Compulsion to date Asian females. Very common
    affliction amongst foreign celebrities and Caucasian
    expatriates working in Malaysia. Also known as
    Pinkerton’s Disease.

    Flushed complexion, high blood pressure and
    sometimes depression on finding out one has not
    won any gaming numbers and lotteries.(Ekor is local slang for 4 digit lottery )

    Excessively large breasts. This disease comes in
    several variant strains…. Heavytitis C; Heavytitis D;
    Heavytitis DD, and sometimes Heavytitis F…or even G.

    Feelings of stress and panic caused by lack of
    internet access.

    A compulsive need to colour one’s hair. Reddish
    brown tints are the most common symptom, but health
    authorities have reported a new strain of blond highlights.

    Victims exhibit a great need to tokkok. Highly contagious.
    Spread by ordinary conversation, and may be exacerbated
    by good food and alcohol. Politicians and lawyers are
    especially susceptible. Incurable. ( Talking kok/cock or poppycock )

    The urge in some men after reaching 40 to go for young chicks.
    This disease spreads fast among those with money and position and cuts across both government and business people. Beware of those who take trips out under the pretext of duty or business.
    This is a dangerous symptom that the disease may already have taken hold…..

  • sukebe

    @bricksfield gunners

    Where is the six ethics of life comes from?

    It amazes me,,,

  • Pat

    Funny article.

    Looking forward to Part 2.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Sukebe – Sorry missed you comment .It was in an e-mail sent
    with the other quotes but not sure of the source .