Friday 11 June 2010


Oh all right. As you are no doubt agonisingly aware, an emergency meeting of illiterate millionaires has been convened in South Africa.

The bountiful game is a subject of dispute amongst the literati. Albert Camus said "Everything I know about mortality I learnt from football". Camus played in goal and one of the most vivid moments in The Plague is the nostalgia felt for the prepestilential football matches:

...the once familiar smell of embrocation in the dressing-rooms, the stands crowded with people, the coloured shirts of the players against the tawny soil, the half-time lemons or bottled lemonade that titillated parched throats with a thousand refreshing pin-pricks.

Shakespeare mentions the game only once, with the insult "You base football player."

Football has donated many phrases to English. Some are old and venerable: kick off, play into touch, score an own goal and move the goal posts. Some are new and telling: roasting and handbags. But what, I hear American readers cry, is Dogberry talking about?


And the word soccer was invented by the decadent poet Ernest Dowson. Obviously, the word derives from a syllable of Association Football. But the first citation in the OED is Dowson writing in 1889 "I absolutely decline to see socca' matches."

Dowson also wrote:

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Dowson contemplating injury time

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