Ah yes, the World Cup. It's impossible to avoid - and it seems to have drawn out the worst in some people.
Writing about her reasons for hating the World Cup, Laurie Penny in the New Statesman has written perhaps the worst comment piece I have seen so far on the contest in South Africa. Even she is obviously aware of the derision that her article would likely elicit: she attempts to pre-empt it by calling herself a "humourless, paranoid, liberal, feminist pansy" before diving like the Italian centre-forward of stereotypical legend into an attack on the way football excludes women, is dominated by marketing and, in England at least, is only inches away from the off-side trap of association with racism.
Laurie Penny is usually an interesting writer, but the problem with her piece is not the writer's humourlessness, much of which could be just as easily directed at any communal activity that isn't concerned with the fascinating subject of working out who the next Labour Party leader might be. Let's face it, the Glastonbury Festival is a distraction from the budget deficit too, is it not? No, it's the shaky arguments she presents. Frankly, there is so much that is wrong with her piece, so much that demonstrates the rule that you should never write about a subject you know absolutely nothing about, that it bears comparison with the stunning ignorance of today's hilarious New York Post front page (above).
I haven't the time to fisk the entire article, as I'm writing this while watching the Germany v Australia game, but lets briefly address a couple of issues. Penny says:
The idea that football has abandoned completely its working class roots and surrendered to what Roy Keane famously called "the prawn sandwich brigade" has at least a grain of truth, but only if you believe that the Premier League is the only football that matters (as a non-fan like Penny might, for instance). But there are 72 professional football clubs in the Football League and not that many middle-class liberals who fashionably turn out every week to support the likes of Doncaster Rovers or Hartlepool United.
"Football is no longer the people's sport. Just look at the brutal contempt that the police reserve for fans, or count the number of working-class Britons who can afford to attend home matches, much less the festivities in South Africa".
That's even more true when it comes to the tens of thousands of fans, predominantly working class, who support teams in the Conference National and amateur leagues, teams like Barrow or Mansfield Town, which takes the kind of commitment that few middle-class, fairweather fans could ever muster. Fair enough, there may have been a few prawn sandwiches for a match between AFC Wimbledon (who I support) and Crawley Town (my brother's team), but the genuine Dons are also far from being "wealthy misogynist jocks tossing a ball around" (that should be kicking, surely) - the club is run as an Industrial and Provident Society, exactly the kind of mutual ownership that any lefty should applaud.
As for the policing of football diminishing it as a working-class game, it is precisely because football fans aren't seen by the police as the kind of people who might pop up at Henley or Glyndebourne that they are treated so badly on occasion. It doesn't matter that the vast majority of fans have no intention of causing public disorder - the state's fear of the working-class crowd means that football fans are stereotyped just as automatically as Penny's "boozy, borderline misogynist" slur chooses to paint them.
When it comes to shamefully downgrading women's football, look at the figures: according to the FA, 260,000 women and 1.1 million girls play some form of football in England, there are over 16,000 women who have successfully attained FA coaching qualifications and 1,300 women referees. How many other weekly collective activities can say the same? Once again, the idea that women's involvement in football is nothing more than the demeaning role of the WAGs shows another fundamental ignorance about the sport. Moreover, like the men's Football League and the Conference, women's football is played not for the huge financial rewards but for something more important - just a real passion of the game.
There are, of course, many important concerns that need raising about the World Cup in South Africa, not least the ruinous expense and the way that thousands living in informal townships have been treated. Penny hasn't touched on any of these. And as for the welter of England flags, perhaps I'm lucky - living in one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country, I can choose to support Cameroon against Holland or this week, the Ivory Coast against Portugal, surrounded by football-mad Africans.
That's really why I love the World Cup. It's not because of England, whose fortunes I could care less about. It's because of the tournament's ability to make the rest of the world, represented so comprehensively in London, start to talk to each other.
And even if the conversation is about the impact of Michael Essien's knee injury on the fortunes of the Black Stars, it's still got to be more interesting than discussing the relative merits of Labour's Monobland brothers.