The Queen died, don't know if you heard?
Welcome to the latest edition of SSWOS, the Sick, Sad World of Sports, where sports is the mechanism by which we learn about the depths of shithousery and assholery and dipshittery of the human soul.
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I also write exclusively about rugby league on pythagonrl.com and @pythagonrl.
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David Graeber observed in an essay that has turned out not to be particularly prescient that “the historical defeat and humiliation of the British working classes is now the island’s primary export product”. In his essay, he spoke of how the class system, entrenched by centuries of tradition, and Britain’s status as a former imperial power offered something very specific, very appealing and extremely de-humanising to the wealthy international caste that occupies London. I internalised and expanded his pointto “Britain’s main export is its Britishness”, the brand being singularly attractive and the setup of the country being particularly accommodating to those same oligarchs.
Britain’s empire began dissolve after the War. Non-white nations began to assert their sovereignty and Britain was unwilling and unable to resist their assertions, having sacrificed their own manpower and industry to fight the Nazis. Former colonies became their own states, some charitably retaining the royal family at arm’s length for no reason other than they probably couldn’t work out a better alternative.
The British economy, built on plundering the periphery and sending the proceeds to the metropole, became decreasingly viable as the available periphery shrank. Britain began to search for new sources of revenue and, like all desperate people without an income, they ended up at the pawn shop, selling whatever they could find a buyer for. It turned out there was a market for fine British goods. For example:
the sale of the House of Fraser in 1985 to the decidedly not Anglo Al-Fayeds
Mini, Range Rover and Jaguar were sold to BMW, then the latter two were on-sold to Ford and then to India’s Tata since 2008
the privatisation of British Aerospace, British Gas, British Rail and probably other nationally named and nationally owned companies, now shared by pension funds and City of London/Wall Street chuds
any high end real estate you care to think of
Perhaps most obviously for this audience, the sale of football clubs to smartass Americans and wealthy oil states looking to park their money and bask in some reflected glow, are as much a part of this imperial garage sale as British Airways. The result has been to subject the United Kingdom’s citizenry to the mercurial whims of global capitaland left a gap in the economy that's been filled with financial services, i.e. largely pointless, almost entirely parasitic busywork.
The empire’s decline has almost entirely overlapped with Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Last week, she died and no one really seemed to know what to do with that information. Not only has it been 70 years since the last iteration of rituals were carried out for a dead monarch and the coronation of their replacement, the rituals themselves - and the respect and attention we loyal subjects seem expected to give them - seem hopelessly antiquated.
An extended period of mourning is extremely at odds with the parts of the Commonwealth that were actively celebrating the Queen’s death on social media. What does mourning even look like for someone you have nothing in common with nor any strong feelings towards and has had no impact on your life, other than a distant ceremonial existence at the end of a long chain of dipshits that actually run the place? Am I supposed to just sit around at home, being sad? What do I do with my hands?
Let’s throw to the PNG Courier:
“In Poppyland, competitive mourning is the national sport.”
Australia seemed happy to settle for flags at half mast, a moment’s silencebefore events and a public holiday next week, all of which seems about right for what mainstream Australia would tolerate. Choosing to pay any sort of tribute over and above this seems to be the preserve primarily of the elderley Anglo population, people who can perhaps remember a time when the Royal Family was more influential on the national character, rather than an ongoing source of embarrassment and a direct assault of Australia’s self-characterisation as egalitarian.
In England though, there seems to be an understanding that all of this can be true but it’s not what’s done, so they’re going to line up for hours to see a box, because that's what you do to show respect to someone who is, not to unnecessarily labour the point, dead.
Having been afforded the novel freedom by the British government to make their own decisions about how to acknowledge the occassion, sports took different courses in response. Let’s do a brief survey:
Rugby union postponed a match on the Friday but otherwise proceeded as is
Rugby league didn’t even bother with that, as Friday’s match was in France and unlikely to be rescheduled for the death of a foreign royal in a country that cut the heads off their own, and then kept going
Cricket called off a day’s play mid-Test
Soccer ground to a complete halt
Most of these responses could be explained by time and money and more specifically, the desire of organisers to not give any up because an old woman we had been expected to die at some point in the last decade or two finally became an ex-parrot, but I found the latter particularly interesting.
I think we’re seeing the instutition of English soccer, including (maybe even especially) the Premier League, evolve into a quango. Following the Super League fiasco of 2021, the Tory government has announced its intention to create a football regulator. The same government bailed out out the sub-league clubs during the pandemic. There was substantial government intervention in the sale of Chelsea, with the Tories leaning on a philosophy of Too Big To Fail, rather than letting market forces go to work within their sanctions.
There has been a shift in perception that these clubs are no longer to be considered the financial playthings of the rich but cultural institutions that, radically, belong to their communities. Consequently, they require government protection from the mercurial whims of global capital. The Tories, continuing to eschew any sense of ideology in the chase for the votes of Little Britain, are only too happy to oblige.
It seems then that the Premier League, an intensely greedy and rapacious symbol of globalisation, is now subject to the whims of the government of Poppyland. In this role, the institution of football is expected to toe the line for the status quo, i.e. postponing fixtures to observe the death of the monarch. In return, football is woven more closely into the national fabric, becoming a made man within the mafia of Britain’s power structure. It’s a stunning reversal of fortunes and one that I can’t imagine the oligarchs that own the professional clubs are entirely unhappy with.
One of the contributing factors that saw soccer cancelled while others did not, was the availability of police. Police are required to ensure that hooliganism is kept away from middle class spectators. Police are also required to arrest anyone that reminds Prince Andrew that he is a nonce where he might hear it. The police can’t be coralling the poors and suppressing free speech at the same time, so one has to give.
There’s something extremely ghoulish about this. The national sport is competitive mourning and football gladly won that competition out of all sports. Worse still, any public expression that isn’t mourning is punished with arrest and disturbing the peace charges. Worse still again, because of this commitment to enforcing sadness on the population, the masses have to forgo one of their preferred entertainment formatsbecause there simply aren’t enough cops to go around to make sure things don't get out of hand.
After all the shit everyone has had to endure over the last two decades - terrorism, financial precarity, austerity, disease, climate disasters and an overwhelming sense that nothing will ever meaningfully improve for the vast majority of people - you couldn’t even enjoy yourself last weekend because the powerful coalesced to insist that you be sad that one of them died.
I find this really disturbing. Is it any better that soccer be a symbol of England's prowess on the world stage, working hand-in-glove with government to embrace a parochial and austere vision for what it means to be English, than a financial plaything for multinational billionaire oligarchs? How can police logisitics and the death of a person severely removed from ordinary people, result in the restrictions of an activity as innocuous as football? How can this be the way that it is?
The revolution that died with Super League is having its counter-revolution and it turns out that too might have some issues we have yet to come to grips with.
The grace, the beauty of sports
I don’t have a lot else to offer at the moment, other than some extremely basic American football takes. I mostly wanted to post to remind you it was here. My spare attention has recently been taken by the end of the rugby league season and the upcoming World Cup, and so this newsletter has taken a position on the sideline. Maybe it will be more of an off-season project moving forward.
If you’d like more stuff from me, I wrote a long piece about a whole bunch of things, including salary caps, pro-rel and the stupidity of the people who run rugby league, that would likely appeal to readers here, provided that you mentally substitute the bit about English rugby league with something like the A-League and the bit about the NRL with the AFL to generalise the point somewhat.
I’ve also been working through club reviews of both men’s and women’s seasons - thread here - and a piece that probably required a bit more polish about the gap between Australian and English rugby league as personified by the domination of Brodie Croft.
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I’d done the same to this quote:
They naively assumed creativity was basically a middle-class phenomenon, the product of people like themselves. In fact, almost everything worthwhile that has come out of British culture for the last century, from music hall, to street kebabs, to standup comedy, rock ‘n’ roll, and the rave scene, has been primarily a working-class phenomenon. Essentially, these were the things the working class created when they weren’t actually working. The sprouting of British popular culture in the sixties was entirely a product of the United Kingdom’s then very generous welfare state.
To “everything cool comes out of the working class”, something that definitely happens but does not adequately describe the full gamut of where culture originates. Sport, for example, began with folksy traditions but what we think of as sport today originated at private schools in the UK and US that exclusively catered to the wealthy. The working class managed to co-opt this into modern professional sports.
Somehwat ironic given that the mercurial whims of global capital forced their hand in the first instance. Also, most of what’s been written in the preceding paragraphs is a gross oversimplification that I do not have the expertise to comment on but this isn’t an academic economics paper, it’s a free sports newsletter that is largely for entertainment purposes.
It is hilarious to me that while Elizabeth reigned over the dissolution of the empire, Charles will likely reign over the dissolution of Britain itself.
What we needed, after several years of avoiding a plague, were more reasons to stay at home.
It’s a magnificent piece of writing that I wish I had the talent to replicate both the style and content.
People can’t be trusted with a full minute.
Would the powers that be risk anything happening to body of Elizabeth by allowing the public any sort of access to it? Could you imagine the fallout if something did happen? That’s something a collaboration between Armando Iannucci and Charlie Brooker could flesh it out.
Also consider all of the TV programming that’s been pulled for round-the-clock coverage of the funerary and coronation preparations, peppered with endless retrospectives to pump up the nostalgia and patriotism.
Compare: the jingoistic militarism of flyovers at the Super Bowl.