Forasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls, from which many evils may arise, which God forbid, we command and forbid on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in future. – Edward II, Royal proclamation, banning football from the streets of London.
The latest acquisition to pegamequemegusta’s unrivalled collection of antiques, you will be pleased to know, oh dear handsome readers, is a 9th century chair, a sedia stercoraria. Desist from beating your children and/or yourselves for a few moments and let me tell you its story, for apart from being loin-burningly spicy, it’s the rusty hinge on which this whole post turns.
Before the papacy became a retirement home for failed footballers and deluded cranks, it was an institution that prized learning higher than it could toss a cactus. This thirst for knowledge had its downsides, however, for such was their philosophic zeal that circa 855 they overlooked their dearly held misogyny and the crucial fact that the brilliant, erudite, and not at all suspiciously smooth-faced papal secretary, Johannes Anglicus, was in fact a woman when they made her Pope. She took the name Benedict III or John VIII, but she is commonly referred to as the Popess Joan, or as the much more lyrical Spanish has it, Juana la Papisa. All went well for a few years as the deception went unnoticed.
However, unlike our own times, where the vow of chastity is scrupulously observed and the words ‘scandal’ and ‘church’ are less likely to be seen walking hand in hand than Ray-Ray Domenech and Jebus, in those days no-one even batted an eye when the Gillette-baiting Pontiff’s belly began to swell and his mornings were punctuated by bouts of vomiting. “The Pope is just hungry for God, yea,” was the official line, after some were perturbed by a clearly ravenous Holy Father noisily wolfing down some roast chicken in the pulpit.
Just as with pegamequemegusta’s short-lived career as a surgeon, however, the lie couldn’t go on forever. One day as Juana took part in a procession from St Peter’s to the Lateran Palace, she went into labour in front of the faithful Christians who had come out to see the Swollen Father. Matters came to a head quite literally as the Popess gave birth in a side street near the Coliseum. Replaying the incident seven million times on Sky News was not necessary: the outraged crowd stoned Juana and her ambassador lover on the spot.
The heretofore sleepy Vatican officials sprang into life and resolved that such a farce would never occur again. Records were altered and over the centuries the story was gradually dismissed as anti-Papist satire. First it was attributed to the dogs in Constantinople, jealous of Roman power, and later on unholy Protestants were blamed for propagating the fiction.
The most significant innovation, all the same, was the creation of a new rite that all new Popes would have to to sit and pass in order to avoid such a frail, deceitful creature ascending to the seat of Saint Peter ever again. A new chair was designed, the infamous ‘pierced chair’. In appearance it resembles a commode yet as Peter Stanford says in his unfortunately titled, The Legend of Pope Joan, the reclining design of the throne means that “any practical bodily movement” would be severely impeded. Despite its name, which literally translates as ‘dung chair, the antique that has recently come into pegamequemegusta’s possession was not intended for defecatory convenience.
Rather, it formed the centre piece of the new ritual whereby all new Popes would have their nether regions examined by a young cardinal. He would pass his hands up through the front of the throne to grope the Pope’s testicles. Upon locating the dangling proof of the candidate’s divine right to explain the ways of God to man, the young man would exclaim Duos habet et bene pendentes – or ‘He’s got two and they hang well!’South Africa and the ‘Dung Chair’
Of course when it comes to football, the sedia stercoraria has, as far as we know, never been used. If it had, there would have been no chance of that England team taking the field yesterday. The American, Cameroonian and Danish players, on the contrary, would have required a cardinal/FIFA official with enormous hands in order to be able to cup their enormous appendages.
In general, though, in football we content ourselves with determining the gonadular capacity of a team by their commitment, their tackling and their persistence, whether it be by pressing towards goal and/or withstanding attacks when the other team roars like a squirrel with its nuts in a vice. In fact, unlike the Pontiff, we tend to demand that all teams’ balls are continually on show – whether we want them to win or not.
The first few days of this World Cup looked like like scissors day in a harem. In tune with the much-tweeted metrosexuality of our times, many teams seemed to have deliberately castrated themselves, playing an insipid excuse for counter-attacking football but without, of course, the payoff of a notable improvement in their singing voices or a worryless crack at their master’s missus. Argentina were the only team who looked even remotely capable of overcoming the wave of erectile dysfunction that seemed to be sweeping the continent, but even they were firing blanks.
As predicted by pegamequemegusta, it was only with the arrival of Bielsa’s hueveones that teams remembered they too had all their bits intact and needn’t sit at home crying on Saturday nights just cause they’d missed Hale-Bopp. It’s safe to say that attack-attack-attack was in Maradona’s plans as soon as he got the group together in Baires last month and realised what Kurt Russel-like, bone-munching monsters he had at his disposal up front. For the rest of the teams, however, we insist that although in these parts it is the English who are commonly referred to as pirates, it was only with the cutlass-wielding Chileans setting up camp in the Honduran half that this World Cup got under way. Of course they only won one-nil and might well go out on goal difference as a result, but the insurgency’s flame had been lit.
The Spaniards, oh the irony, the colonial oppressors whose viceroyalty was overthrown by many of the Central and South American countries 200 sun revolutions ago this year, were in action too soon after the Chile game to realise the course history was taking. Like a lisping collective of Eoin MacNeills, they failed to recognise a revolution was underway. Spain are apparently so good now that they don’t even need to win. They were rightly punished for playing two more or less holding midfielders and playing fourty yards from the opponent’s goal.
The men from the Banda Oriental, on the other hand, duly lined up with three goal-hungry beasts up front and trounced a shell-shocked South Africa 3-0. Paraguay adopted a similar approach this morning and denied Slovakia so much as a kick of the ball. Even teams like Greece, the USA, Cameroon and whose seabags had but recently been filled, started throwing themselves forward as if Ares, the “many-faced monster” himself, were mastering the field. ¡Viva la revolución!
In all the discussions (good one here) so far on why the Central and South American teams have been leading the revolution, many reasons have been put forth. Some say it has to do with better technique, better teamwork, better managers, that they’re used to playing at altitude, that they’re more used to travelling, that their qualifying is more competitive, etc. Pegamequemegusta isn’t qualified to answer the altitude question but none of the others are too convincing. Maradona himself put forward the last reason today but to me it’s irrelevant. The fact that Argentina qualified at all after not winning for a year and then losing four out of five games in row wasn’t an advertisement for sumptuous yet brutally attritional football. Rather, it just exposed how awfully inconsistent and tactically naive they were, as all the teams that did qualify, with the exception of Paraguay, were trounced by Brazil at home: Argentina lost 3-1 in Rosario, Chile 3-0 in Santiago and Uruguay 4-0 in Montevideo. The only serious argument is that upon arrival in South Africa, these teams imbibed a Bilardonic tonic that facilitated the growth of a Godzilla-like pair… of… balls.
A bit of an aside/a sideswipe without using the word ‘balls’
Going back to our attack on defensive football, we’d like to point out it’s not that we’re just slavish unsophisticated goal-worshippers. This being one of the most pretentious blogs on the net, we would never accept such a charge. For example, we totally reject an article by the usually awesome Terry Eagleton that was in the Guardian the other day. He embarrassed himself with a naive piece speaking about how football was thwarting socialist revolution by taking the place of nationalism and religion, etc.as the opiate of the people:
Modern societies deny men and women the experience of solidarity, which football provides to the point of collective delirium. Most car mechanics and shop assistants feel shut out by high culture; but once a week they bear witness to displays of sublime artistry by men for whom the word genius is sometimes no mere hype. Like a jazz band or drama company, football blends dazzling individual talent with selfless teamwork, thus solving a problem over which sociologists have long agonised.
Besides the fact that football is basically just another feather in telly’s bow rather than an extension of its power or, God forbid, a replacement for it, he forgot that most football is awful. Most of us who while away our lives consuming it, “even those of us for whom Rimbaud is a cinematic strongman”, consider most football to be pretty rubbish. While we never had the good fortune to be a crackhead, pegamequemgusta nevertheless reckons that the highs and lows of a full-on drug addiction come nothing close to the dull murmuring that is the lot of your average football ‘fan’. Maybe you disagree, but we’re pretty satisfied with a minimum flash of the teams’ ball sacks now and again. (No, not like this, you filthy bugger).
Highlights packages, general marketing hype and the possibility to see many of the world’s best players all together in one team add to this idea that football is all about stars and purse-emptying gangs of galácticos. Yet while we don’t wish to trot out the tired old underdog theme, if you support a team like Ireland or Racing, a team that has little or no chance of ever winning anything worthwhile, or like a lost table leg you don’t support anyone at all, you’ll probably agree that the one indispensable element, the one thing that makes the never-ending circus even remotely bearable, is balls.
Goals are often overrated, excitement, too. Skill is great whenever it appears, but balls are the totemic centre piece of the gathering. All the other shit has about as much to do with football as Budweiser has to do with beer, or Michael Jackson’s nose does Off the Wall.
One man who’s sworn by his own balls more times than pegamequemegusta has been politely asked to leave Burger King, is el Diego. Having committed every possible error in his first year and half in charge, it now appears the novice manager can do nothing wrong. Exuding a lucidity that would make Euclid blush, Maradona has got precious little wrong thus far.
Fine, playing Jonás at right back has not led to Hiroshimic tweet clouds of praise. In fact, it hasn’t even benefitted the attack much. It’s not like having a slightly dodgy Dani Alves or Roberto Carlos there: at least you can count on them to rip open the opposing team’s left flank as if they were hiding a big jar of jam next to their left kidney. But Jonás’s spidey sense has been so off kilter that it looks like he’s even lost confidence to get forward. Pegamequemegusta can’t remember one goal or decent chance for Argentina created by a marauding Peter Parker.
Jonás’s suspension for the final group game against Greece means he’ll be replaced by Otamendi, in a return to the flat back four. One of the many aspects of Maradona’s world cup reign that has earned him gushing praise has been his man management. Unlike the qualifiers, he has chosen to give his players the benefit of the doubt rather than hauling them off and never calling them up again (step forward Enzo Perez, Dátolo and a dude ranch full of defenders) a [la] Capello. It takes big balls to make a virtue out of stubbornness, and it clearly worked on the players, too: Higuaín, Tevez and Di María all had much improved performances against South Korea.
Tevez’s performance, in particular, was so barnstorming even the police cavalry horses averted their eyes discretely. Now we’ve always known this about Tevez, but as he freely admitted in the months before this World Cup, he had lost his place in the first eleven on merit. Maradona needed a big pair of brass ones to put him back in, and that faith is now being repayed.
For that very reason, nonetheless, pegamequemegusta was positively apoplectic when Carlitos was taken off with 15 minutes to go. It was during Korea’s best spell of the game. More than a spell, indeed, it came after a 25 minute period which had seen three reckless Argentina defenders booked. Yet Maradona, who before arriving in South Africa had never been distinguished as a particularly attack-minded coach, rejected the idea of putting on a holding midfielder or a proper right back. Instead he gave el Kun Agüero his World Cup debut in order to push for a third. The expression on our face at that moment was not akun to happiness. And yet within a minute he’d laid one on for Messi, who in turn smacked one off the post, allowing Higuaín to score his second. What golden nuggets he has.
What the balls is going on at this World Cup?
What on earth is going on at this World Cup? Capello is being told what to do by EBJT, Vicente ‘I am the Walrus’ Del Bosque looks like he’d starve to death on a fish farm and Maradona, until recently the worst manager in the world since Stan’s reign of terror, feels comfortable enough to make a mid-game homage to Marcelo Lippi circa 2006. Of course the circumstances were different; it wasn’t a semi-final and it was Korea, not Germany playing at home. Still, the plums on the man would make a jam worthy of gracing Zidane’s toast.
What is going on at this World Cup? Pegamequemegusta has the low-down: it’s been a crushing victory for old-fashioned John Wayne-style machismo that has seen fey, effeminate, metrosexual, glib, glasses-wearing nonces trounced over and over again: Sven, Lippi, Capello and Domenech have been spanked with such violence there’s not enough arse cream in the world to get them back into a normal sitting position. By who? By real men, by rugged [probably] sexist South Americans such as Maradona, Bielsa, Martino, Tabarez, Aguirre & Co.
Beckham sits awkwardly in an impeccable suit on the English bench for no reason whatsoever. Is it because he’s so universally loved by the players that his mere presence, his faultless career and legendary oratorical ability will be able to coax a performance out of the inhibited millionaires? Who knows… What we do know is that on the Argentina bench we have a real man, who has no problem motivating his players or making them as comfortable as possible in order to allow them to display their mostly unquestioned talent; an old-school man who was never meant to wear a suit, a man who, indeed, looks desperately uncomfortable doing so; a man who triumphed in spite of his physique, not because of it; a man, in short, with balls so potent they make Chuck Norris look like a pale, emasculated blogger.
All this is terrible new for feminists, of course. If the Central and South American teams continue to do well in South Africa, it could set the women’s rights movement back a hundred years. It would be frighteningly wonderful to see Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina in the semi-finals. The amount of groin-clutching and macho fist-pumping would make for a delightful contrast to 2006, when Zizou made his spectacular exit defending a woman’s honour.
Of course, with this much testosterone flying around, an outlet is needed; and not everyone has been convinced. The effusiveness of Maradona’s public displays of affection for his players raised an eyebrow or two before the Korea game. Despite the much-publicised permission to spend quality time with their WAGS, el Diego ensured that his players’ hearts were full of love as they walked out onto the pitch, planting as he did a Tango ad smooch on each of them. When a cheeky BBC journalist brought up the matter in the post-match press conference, the Argentina manager was quick to dismiss all accusations of wimpiness: “I like women ok,” he insisted, with the kind of look on his face one would usually reserve for seeing a duck swallowing an elephant in one gulp:
The Popess’s balls
Balls or no, though, all of this gung-ho, attacking, Randy Savage football will have been as useless as a Jack’s proverbial man tits if Argentina get done by a succession of defensive blunders. The damage was already done in the squad selection: the error in omitting Zanetti is well known (after all, other players were offered chances to redeem themselves) but pegamequemegusta would have loved to have seen Nico Pareja get an opportunity, and Burdisso should have more games under his belt at centre-half. He will play there on Tuesday against Greece, and it will be extremely interesting to see whether Maradona’s balls indicate sticking or switching is the braver move.
If Burdisso plays well, why drop him again? Who cares if Demichelis’s confidence is shook if someone else proves they’re more accomplished? Likewise, although Maradona apparently considers Jonás an untouchable, if Otamendi has a great game at right back, or, less likely, Clemente on the left, the difficulty of the decision is weighted evenly.
As we discussed last week, Maradona has brought excellent man management to the World Cup where before his reign had been characterised by a shockingly ruthless attitude to his players. As long as he can keep the group together, the World Cup makes the decisions somewhat easier, in theory at least, since anything is justified as long as it achieves the next result.
Just like the Papacy, however, pegamequemegusta struggles with the idea of living one’s life by faith alone. Oh yes, we put up a front and quote Kierkegaard with the rest of the boys down the docks, 70,000 fathoms and all that, but really, deep down in our rotten little heart, we wonder, we doubt, we want to know whether the exquisitely produced Demichelis, the pony-tailed, arse-botoxed Tyson of Bavaria is indeed another Papisa Juana. But unless the AFA heed this cry, our latest acquisition, our glorious sedia stercoraria, our dung chair, will remain a mere antique. Maradona’s balls could yet end up but a freak of nature, pleasing aesthetically but practically useless, like Jamie Redknapp, and the feminists and metrosexuals will once more return to dictate the terms of our sorry lives’ favourite spectacle.