What if football’s philosophers always had Twitter?
Twitter. As well as boring us with Jay Bothroyd’s plans for the evening (‘Watching Spartacus in bed, gonna have an early night I think’) or Robbie Savage’s Come Dancing insights (‘The wonderful miss Sue Barker loves the waltz she said ” elegant”! Ohhhhhh Miss Barker’) and a sporadic outburst or two by Aston Villa’s Carlos Cuellar (‘Shit!! Shit!!’), it also offers a portal into the minds of Premier League footballers.
This week, for instance, I discovered that Mark Bright agrees with the maxim, ‘it isn’t money that’s the root all of all evil, it’s love of it’ and was very glad of it. But a trip through Twitterland brings us almost inevitably to the man who has made the tweet his own domain; the poet laureate, the soap-box agitator, the undisputed star of post-match social microblogging network, Joey Barton.
Barton’s tweet backlog is a veritable canon. But alongside his constant badgering of the poor Karl Henry and more straightforward divulgences such as ‘ur a massive helmet’, Barton has us caressing our chins with Nietzsche quotes (‘Love your enemies because they bring out the best in you’), stirring Marxist wake-up calls to the oppressed proletariat, criticisms of US foreign policy, and, adding spice to an ongoing dispute with the Newcastle board, references to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, not to mention Aristotle, Virgil and Seneca.
In the process it seems Barton is tweeting his way into an elite group of football’s greatest philosophers. For, he’s not the only one. Take a look at some of football’s other would-be philosophers below. Now, if only they’d had a Twitter account…
“I am searching for abstract ways of expressing reality, abstract ways that will enlighten my own mystery.” So said Manchester United’s legendary No.7, Eric Cantona, of his own, considerable, mystique. “It is enjoyable to make things visible which are invisible.”
On winning, he offered: “I prefer to play and lose rather than win, because I know in advance I’m going to win.” That makes no sense whatsoever, Eric. But we like that stuff about enlightening your own mystery and the bit in Looking For Eric where you go: “I am not a man, I am Cantona.”
If Cantona’s footballing ethos was all about metaphysical speculation, then Liverpool boss Bill Shankly’s was more rooted in humdrum pragmatism. “If you’re not sure what to do with the ball,” said Shankly, “just pop it in the net and we’ll discuss your options afterwards.”
But it was another phrase that earned him his reputation in the pantheon of football’s greatest-ever philosophers. “Football’s not just a matter of life and death,” he railed, “it’s far more important than that.”
Not all footballers view football as the be-all and end-all. In fact, in 1970, at the still-tender age of 25 and after netting 64 goals in 190 appearances, Wolves’ promising attacking midfielder Peter Knowles gave the game up entirely in order to devote his life to something called God.
A sensitive creature, Knowles ruminated on MOTD: “I know that with the personality I am, the flair I’ve got, that one day I could break somebody’s leg.”
Away from Molineux he trundled, bible in hand, to become a Jehovah’s Witness and be immortalized in the Billy Bragg song, God’s Footballer.