Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Myth-match for the understrappers
One last - I promise - glance back at the World Cup, if only because I have read some of the press since, particularly the press on the English referee, Howard Webb.
It seems both the Dutch team and the Spanish team are angry at him for being too soft on the other side. The Dutch were awful and were lucky to be left with ten men on the pitch instead of eight. That is what the Spanish regret.
What the Dutch regret is that Iniesta, the best Spanish player on the night, might well have been sent off for retaliation, and the referee might possibly have awarded the Dutch a dubious penalty, not to mention the Dutch corner that was not given just before the Spanish - thank heaven - scored.
Seeing that both sides accuse Webb of bias towards the other I think we can treat his performance as even-handed.
Oh yes, and Webb was (have I mentioned this?) English. The Guardian reporter got his retaliation in before anyone even ventured near displays of vainglorious national pride, not that anyone did because The English press was not in the mood for whooping it up.
But why let that get in the way? The minute-by-minute reporter galloped on with happy self-satisfaction, showering Webb with ironic epithets from the start. A Guardian man must keep flashing his credentials otherwise people might think he was entirely the wrong sort...
There is little more loathsome in life than the flashing of credentials. In literary terms it is what Larkin called 'the talk of literary understrappers letting you see they know the right people.' He was talking - wrong-headedly I think - about what he termed the 'myth-kitty' that is, the use of Classical allusion and the quoting of other poems.
The football writer's myth-kitty is a lot less interesting than the one Larkin was dismissing, of course, but it does exist in a number of varieties not altogether detached from life outside football. Outside of the 'tabs', The Guardian is the place to go for it. It is the home of perfectly-pitched understrapping: the author of this particular minute-by-minute piece is the understrapper of understrappers.
Webb made one mistake that I saw: the corner. Otherwise he tried the best he could to keep the occasion going by not sending people off, especially since some of the most violent incidents happened early in the game. At this he was successful. The occasion did keep going. As for the spectacle, that never got started. Whether he was English or not Webb was perfectly competent.
And the Dutch, of course, have no right to complain about anything. Complaining compounds the disgraceful thuggishness and negativity of their display. It was definitely not like watching Brazil. Especially since they beat Brazil to get to the final.