Arsenal fans are more spiritual than everyone? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Arsenal fans are more spiritual than everyone?

To quote Steve Martin from one of his earlier albums, “You Americans are so naive.”  You know, back when he was funny, to quote Dennis Pennis.

Take what Pele (Edison Arantes do Nascimento) called “The beautiful game” which, to the rest of the world means football, the game you play with your feet, which you refer to as “soccer. ” You will never get it. Not in a million years.

Pelé fighting for a ball against the Swedish goalkeeper Kalle Svensson during the 1958 World Cup final. (Wikipedia Commons)

A legendary former manager of Liverpool FC, a certain Bill Shankly when once questioned about the rivalry between fans of Liverpool and Everton, both of whom play in Liverpool, said,

“Someone said to me ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ and I said ‘Listen, it’s more important than that.”

In a sport not renowned for moderation, Scotsman Shankly was a teetotaller, renowned for a pithy phrase or two, many which have joined the list of legendary football sayings, but this perhaps came closest to providing a flavour of how he, and the fans of his beloved Liverpool, felt about their tribal allegiances.

English naturalist and anthropologist Desmond Morris once wrote a whole book on the subject of tribal allegiances in football, “The Soccer Tribe” which went some way to explaining in scientific terms the highly unscientific world of the behaviour of the football fan in Britain of the 1980’s.

The blind men and the elephant. (Wikipedia Commons)

Idries Shas in his work, “The Sufis” also had a stab at explaining some of its tribal and indeed mystical significance. Unfortunately for both of them, naturalist and Sufi author, they both ended up acting out the famous Sufi story of the blind men and the elephant each grasping his part of the story while failing to grasp the whole.

Meanwhile, back in the real world (that of the football fan) there are many, many stories of the importance of football to its followers. Here is mine. I know a married couple, one of whom is an Arsenal fan, and the other a Liverpool fan. They were to be married in 1989. To fully understand the significance of what transpired you must first follow and read this hyperlink.

Now, having read this, and perhaps even looked at a couple of Youtube videos of the match itself, you might understand, not only why Nick Hornby chose to write “Fever Pitch” – a film which you naive Americans tried to ruin – but why, for a period of some 48 hours after the end of the match, the wedding between the aforementioned football fans, was off.

More important than life or death indeed. Worry not, they have now been married for 23 years and have two lovely daughters, one of whom supports, no, we shan’t go down that route.

In the 1970’s in Liverpool a block of flats was built that overlooked Anfield – the ground where Liverpool play. As the local authority filled it with tenants, it became clear that some of them were Everton fans, when windows overlooking the ground began to be painted over.

Have you got an idea now of how deeply this whole football fan thing works? I’m using shorter sentences, as per my editorial instructions to accommodate the modern reading media.

And now we shall see how the spirituality aspect fits in.

Before we do, my editor commented on my last piece that Kerouac would have been less popular today as a result of this modern media craze. Longer sentences and rambling prose and all that doesn’t play well on the Net. By that token, I am expecting a meteoric rise in the popularity of Shakespeare any minute now.

“To be or not to be?”

Can’t get more succinct and modern media friendly than that. Start the clock.

I suppose we first have to ask the question,

“What is spirituality?”

Emirates Stadium (Wikipedia Commons)

Now, I have heard this particular question asked before, and I have also heard people repeat it parrot fashion to a variety of people without the slightest idea of why they are doing so, other than to imitate blindly the man who first asked it.

If I tell you the person I remember asking this question is Japanese and of a spiritual bent himself, you might be able to discern that this question might have been one of those Zen rhetorical issues, designed to cause the person of whom it was asked to think over the question and through this process have an answer appear rather than try to answer it “in a one-r” as you would the question, “How are you?”

So, after my period of reflection, my response is that spirituality, has nothing to do with dogma or organized religious activity, or even religion in its widest form, but has to do with the state of “doing” , or rather , the state one is in when one is doing. What happens when a potter pots, or a painter paints, or a carpenter carps.

I have a brace of small tattoos one on each arm which I had done when I completed my Training as a Shiatsu Practitioner some years ago. Both are Japanese characters, one reading “Sho-shin” meaning beginners mind, and the other “Mu-shin” meaning empty mind. They represented (to me) the two ends of a journey through Shiatsu. The start when anything and everything is possible (to the mind which has not as yet acquired any restrictions) to the “end” when the mind has acquired and disposed of the restrictions and which can now “do” freely.

I hope that these two ideas of states of learning/being are applicable to many other areas of endeavour. Staring to work with a medium – wood, clay, paint, whatever – you see examples of work produced by others which please and astound. Starting to work with them yourself trial, error, failure and frustration are the steps you must take on the gradual improvement of your skills. Don’t do this, it’s better of you do that, try not to do this, and if you do this you will definitely be fucked.

Keep on with your work and maybe, some years down the line you will begin to produce something that not only pleases you, but others as well. And when they ask you how you did it, you might just be able to say, “I have no idea.”

Now you’re getting it.

This state of not knowing but doing is for me, the definition of what “spirituality” is, and all that needs to be said. All and any words in addition to these are just feeding the brains desire for a running commentary on life.

So, having thrown in my two pennyworth of what I think this is, how does this relate to supporters of Arsenal FC?

Well, I only know a couple, and although we have never broken the metaphorical bread of football together by attending the same match at the Emirates Stadium we have shared many, many footballing moments, accompanied by the only real pre-requisite to such events, namely beer. In such occasions I find that although the rational, deductive functions of the mind may be impaired, the intuitive side of the brains function does become somewhat enhanced.

I feel it takes a couple of beers to deactivate the bullshit tolerance facility, which is standard issue in the western brain, and reach the state where questioning of the assumed can take place without fear and the answers (which we all have already) can flow freely.

So how has this increased “spirituality” manifested itself? By noticing a change in others, you know, having enough of a general all round awareness to be able to spare a bit to note what is happening in the world outside of oneself. And both of these “Gooners” have been kind enough to share their views that my journey through Shiatsu – and the accompanying stages of life lived whilst doing so – have had a changing effect on me.

Thanks guys. See you on the next vardo.

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  1. Pete K says:

    Wow – using sectariansim in football to Shiatsu and back to the oligarchal stadium of the emirates, via a bit of Shakespeare. Sheer genius. Give this guy a go, he sounds better then Mitt

  2. Jonny A says:

    Enlightenment? It’s up for grabs now!

  3. Dorothy says:

    I can’t comment because I’ve never watched a “football” game in my life. I just like reading Rob’s coloum. Bet I spelled that wrong and too lazy right now to go look it up. Must blame it on the enchiladas I ate.

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