Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Work in progress

Until comparatively recently it must be admitted that I knew very little about football.  Even now, although my knowledge has expanded considerably, there are still deep pools of total ignorance.  But, coming to football later in life has meant that, like a stranger in a strange land, you ask basic questions.

I was taken aback by the fierce loyalties of football team supporters, and by the degree of commitment a supporter gives to his team.  However, I was also puzzled by a more basic question . . . what is it that constitutes a team?

Professional football players are commercial commodities, they frequently find themselves playing against the same team that they represented only the season before.  So, if that's the case, it can't be the players who constitute the team.
In much the same way, the manager of the team is on a slippery slope if his team loses too often.  With a few well-known exceptions, managers come and managers go.
Could it be said that the owners are their team?  I don't think so.  For all their power to hire and fire managers they, too, are no more than a transitory part of the long-term structure.

Then, what is the answer?  What is a football team?

Thinking about this, I was reminded of a story of a famous cricketer.  With great pride he would recount the story of his treasured bat.  It was, he said, an historic bat.  It had been his staunch ally during many Test Matches and yet was still in use.  True, he agreed, it had had four new handles, and, true, the blade had been replaced on several occasions, but there was no denying that his was an historic bat.

If the cricket bat didn't constitute its parts, and a football team doesn't constitute its owner, its manager, or its players . . . how can we make sense of such a conundrum?

It struck me that we human beings fall into this same problematic category.  We are not the food we eat, nor the air we breathe, and our cells are in a constant state of replenishment and renewal.  In physical terms, I am no more the child I once was than that cricket bat could be mistaken for its youthful counterpart.

So what is it . . . what is a football team . . . what is an historic cricket bat . . . what am I?

I don't know how you would answer this question, but I came to the conclusion that it all rests in the name . . .  the essence.

Surely it is the name of the football team that endows it with its unique character?  It doesn't imply anything fixed, but, whilst remaining constant itself, allows ample room for change, growth and improvement.

When a player joins a football club he takes on all that the name of the club implies, he absorbs its essence, he grows with it.
In much the same way, if I cut my finger the cells will rush to repair the damage, repairing it with cells for the finger, not cells for an ear-lobe by mistake.

We are all of us, whether a football team, a cricket bat, or you and I, no more and no less than a work in progress.
We are a work in progress contained within a name . . . and I'm sure that's a concept with which any fervent football fan would whole-heartedly agree!