THE BUTLER REPORT
Scrapped early January 2020
While manning the Bandwagon Twitter account, I have noticed a disturbing trend of late. There seems to be a disproportionate correlation between opposition supporters tweeting the official Solihull Moors account to moan about our style of play, and them also being nutjobs retweeting far-right nonsense about Muslims, famous people who dare to come out as not straight, and cheerleading Donald Trump starting a war with Iran. What are they trying to achieve by messaging the social media account of a fifth-tier football club? Why do they feel the need to tell us what they think of the way our team plays football, regardless of the result? Where’s the far-right connection?
I think I get why. I vaguely remember, as a young boy, watching an interview on SMTV with the girl who played Sabrina the Teenage Witch, in which she dramatically told Cat Deeley, Ant and Dec that she wasn’t interested in football because ‘soccer is war in short pants’. I’m sure Ant and Dec, watching such footballing luminaries at the time as Nikos Dabizas and Temuri Ketsbaia, could proudly agree with the sentiment. But it’s true. Was it not Jacques Derrida who said, “beyond the touchline, there is nothing?”
Football being war in short pants was of course the case twice over at the 1998 World Cup – the first international tournament I can remember in any sort of tangible detail – when the USA faced Iran and England faced Argentina. The latter was admittedly less of a grudge match than the 1986 Quarter Final, a performance that summed up Maradona from sublime to subterfuge. Yet, still, there was an element of feeling the ‘dirty tricks’ of an old enemy in the reaction to David Beckham’s (deserved) sending off for lashing out after Diego Simeone’s ugly challenge (which also deserved a red card), and in the despair at Sol Campbell’s winner erroneously being disallowed by the Danish referee. The foreigners were all out to get us, just as always. Or not.
The real bombshell of that World Cup came in the clash between the two basement sides of Group F, Lairy in Lyon, USA vs Iran. A young Swiss referee called Urs Meier – not sure what became of him, but Sol Campbell might know – was trusted to manage the evening’s events within the touchlines, while Iranian apparatchiks went to work beyond them. On the pitch, Hamid Reza Estili and Mehdi Mahdavikia struck to give The Lions of Persia a 2-1 victory, their first at a World Cup. Off the pitch, in a typical display of unimpeachable moral backbone, FIFA colluded with the Ayatollah’s men to prevent an anti-Islamic Republic demonstration in the stands appearing on the TV pictures, and get the activists ejected. Football – and typical football fandom – was the winner. On the streets of Tehran, women defied the head-covering law even more openly than usual, as jubilant supporters delighted in drinking alcohol and partying long beyond dawn.
This is the great irony of both Iran and the United States; the general public are warm, welcoming, and possessed of a fascinating culture, but are unfortunate in both cases to be led by aggressively theocratic-nationalist military regimes. Perhaps the solution to time’s latest flat circle of difficult domestic politics leading an American President to lash out abroad, is a one-off, no-holds-barred football grudge match. War in short pants. President Trump and his select XI vs Ayatollah Khamenei and his select ١١. USA wins, Khamenei has to dismantle the ‘Islamic’ Republic and free all political prisoners. Iran wins, Trump has to dismantle his cosmetic surgery and plead guilty to all those crimes he committed.
It’s a bit like the great Harry Patch’s famous line, “give your leaders each a gun and let them fight it out themselves” – except in this case, barring any injuries, it’s still only the leaders on the chopping block, but they have some leading to do rather than just a test of reactions and mettle in a duel at twenty paces. Can you imagine Trump and Khamenei trying to pick and motivate their teams? Obviously, neither would be drawing from their female talent pool, as the USWNT all seemingly despise Donald Trump, and Iranian women aren’t even allowed into football stadia by a regime that prides itself on having an ever-so-slightly better record on women’s rights than their detested rivals, the Saudis and Gulf States.
What would their approach to management and coaching be? Khamenei uncompromising, taking all credit for success while delegating all actual duties to a panel of domestic experts, who stand to lose their and their family’s freedom if the team loses. Trump surrounded by the greatest experts money can buy. The greatest. Nobody else knows experts like these guys. The best soccerball guys you ever saw. Not liberal snowflakes like that nasty Euro-Mexican, Pep Guardiola. Lock him up! Then, after all that, he’d ignore what they said whenever the whim took him, anyway. While Khamenei’s picks would probably just be an utterly terrified ordinary Iranian ‘Team Melli’, Trump would probably give Messi an American passport, try to pass Jan Oblak off as an American goalkeeper by marriage, and decry nasty, sad bias and jealousy whenever the referee ruled against his team. Then he’d bring himself on as a makeshift striker if they were behind. Oh wait, he can’t. Bone spurs and all that. Sad.
I think this methodology would solve a lot of the world’s problems, all without a shot being fired. Well, not from a gun or a missile installation, anyway. The true beauty is it wouldn’t even really change a lot. Nobody would mess with Germany. Western Europe would be a global power bloc. Cristiano Ronaldo would be the most sought-after man on Earth. Russia would be forced to pump billions of roubles into a national doping program in order to get their athletes up to anything like the competitive strength needed to defend the nation. The only big losers would be China and the USA. And, well, I’m sure we can all live with that.
War in short pants. Give your leaders each a bag of balls (something many of them are compensating for) and a whistle and let them fight it out themselves. Beyond the touchline there is nothing.