I write this as the new year approaches and as Robin van Persie closes in on an utterly spurious and contrived achievement. Two goals against Queen’s Park Rangers tomorrow, and he will become the player to have scored “the most goals in a calendar year in the Premier League”, taking the mantle from Alan “Not As Funny As Harry” Shearer, a man who currently makes a living describing replays, though as he’s not yet ready to do it in sign language he just uses words. Not only is this record idiotic for reasons far too obvious to waste any words on here, but it is symptomatic of a wider and more sinister habit to which the Premier League is utterly addicted: the obsession with records, with the contrivance of meaning where there is none.
It is traditional to view the Premier League as a breakaway organisation; the swines at the top pulling the ladders away for their own benefit, while the FA concentrated intently on the fascinating stitching on the end of their shoes. Look, they’ve done a double line there. And aren’t they shiny? Yet a better analogy might be with a colonising power. If we characterise the takeover of the top of the English football pyramid as an invasion — albeit one by parties already present, which admittedly ruffles the analogy a touch — then the attitude of the Premier League towards records begins to make sense.
A perfect illustration of this comes from the recent celebration of the Twenty Thousandth Premier League Goal. As Marc Albrighton tucked the Twenty Thousandth Premier League Goal away, forever securing his place in pub quiz lore, I wondered: why does the Twenty Thousandth Premier League Goal matter? Well, I answered myself, it’s a round number. And then I added, it’s a big number. And then I triumphantly concluded: well, it’s a big, round number.
For scoring the Twenty Thousandth Premier League Goal, the Premier Legaue donated £20,000 — a pound a goal — to Acorns Childrens Hospice, Aston Villa’s official charity partner. This was, certainly, a Good Thing, in that giving money to organisations that themselves do Good Things is generally a Good Thing, yet the character of such Good Things is, like everything, coloured by the ever-present-yet-usually-overlooked balance of power. If a common-or-garden member of the public donated twenty grand to a charity, it would be a spectacular act of human generosity. Coming from Richard Scudamore and friends it is cake tossed from the carriage of a Bourbon princeling. Unless a donation has a real and measurable impact on the lives not only of those that receive but those that give, then it is made not out of any sense of duty or justice or charity but for its own sake, to daub a little glitter onto the blackened, acquisitive souls of the men responsible. Though of course they don’t like to talk about their charity work.
Who scored the One Hundredth Premier League Goal? Who scored the Ten Thousandth? And — surely we’re there or thereabouts — who scored the One Hundredth Thousandth Goal In Whatever The Top Flight Was Called At The Time? Any organisation with any sense of consistency and self-respect would count back through the record books, contact the individuals or the descendants of the individuals that scored every tenth goal, and donate the appropriate amount of money to their charity of choice. Their refusal to explain their reasons for not doing so leads me to conclude, correctly, that the whole shebang was just an attention seeking gimmick designed to reinforce the notion that English football began with the Premier League.
For this is what colonising powers do: first they conquer the populace, then they go to war with memory. They smash temples and execute priests, burn libraries and topple statues. They reset the dates: this, now, is Year Zero. History begins anew. When the past is forgotten, the present becomes inarguable. The upshot of all of this is that anybody who gives a moment’s credence to any “since the Premier League era began” record is a collaborator and should be taken to a brick wall and offered a final cigarette.
No, hang on, that doesn’t work, does it? Because the Premier League has already won. We need to recalibrate our metaphors into guerilla warfare, for we are the resistance and they are the machinery of state. So … anybody who gives a moment’s credence to any “since the Premier League era began” record is a collaborator and will, when the revolution comes, be stood near a brick wall and offered a final cigarette?
The revolution isn’t coming, is it? Strike the banners, boys. We’ve lost. Whether Robin van Persie does or doesn’t become the GREATEST GOALSCORER SINCE HE OF THE FURROWED BROW AND EMPTY EYES, we’ve lost.
At this point, I fully expect that a few of you are thinking: well, that’s a bit over-the-top, no? It’s a handy dividing line, football’s still football, and anyway, the bloke writing this won’t really remember most of what he’s apparently pining for. To which the only rational, logical, and moral response is: no, no, no, no, no, no, NO. In 1992, football in England was taken over by a small portion of the game that realised that they could keep more money for themselves as long as they gave less to everyone else. This happened. By investing that aggressive takeover with legitimacy, and by entertaining the notion that somehow a record achieved since 1992 is distinct to one achieved before, you are accepting the idea that football can and should be split into the dark times and the light; BC and AD. Richard Scudamore is not the messiah. He is a very greedy boy.
And in any case, I’m not saying that the past was better. I’m saying that the past was the past and should be remembered and retained as such. Of course, there was corruption and mendacity and racism and violence and all manner of wrong then, as there is now, and will be forever more. People are people, and a fair percentage of those people aren’t very nice. C’est la vie. The point is that the Premier League, by interposing its own notion of when everything starts, is delegitimising memory, and this has a pernicious effect. Decouple the present from the past, and you weaken the power of comparison, and that doesn’t just go for the meaningless stuff, like who scored the most while Venus was ascendant in the fourth house. All of a sudden it doesn’t matter that tickets were once within the budgets of working class people. That was then. It doesn’t matter that you were once allowed to stand at a football game. That was then. And then is nowhen.
I should make it clear that the Premier League, to its eternal credit and for legal reasons, hasn’t massacred anyone. There’d be letters. But otherwise, they’re doing what colonial powers have done since time immemorial: burning the sacred spaces, and obscuring the past with the present. Resistance is futile, yes, but it is also honourable. Death to the collaborators. Happy New Year.