Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

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Hello Campers! I’m continuing to develop my thoughts on that thorny topic of  sporno, anti-homophobia and metrosexual-machismo. While I do so I thought I’d show you an apt illustration of the theme.

Last week a professional  footballer came out as gay! Oh. Em. Gee. But before anyone could get the babycham out it was also revealed that he was giving up professional football. According to the Graun,

‘The former Columbus Crew and USA winger Robbie Rogers has announced that he is gay, and that he has decided to “step away” from his career as a professional footballer.’

So, although on  twitter Robbie said he was touched by how supportive everyone was to this ‘news’, and ‘gay academic’ Mark McCormack fitted this event into his thesis about ‘declining homophobia’ especially in sport, I was not so jubilant. It seems a shame to me that a young man coming out does so just as he is leaving the career for which he is well known. He’s not exactly becoming an ‘ambassador’ for gay and bisexual players by putting his boots on the shelf. I’m not blaming him. I believe that football, by its very sweaty, physical, passionate, sexy nature is already ‘well gay’. And until the ‘beautiful game’ ‘fesses up to that fact, out gay or bi players will be few and far between. But before I get down and dirty and grapple with this complex subject, I want to point out something else about Rogers’ announcement that I think is worth a mention.

Apparently,  ‘Rogers is starting a new position with Men’s Health Magazine  in the UK and he is also part of the ownership group for the clothing company Halsey.’ So the side of himself that he is finally openly celebrating is not necessarily his gayness, but rather his metrosexuality!  From what I can see, football is as conflicted about this contemporary tarty display that its stars like to indulge in as it is about sex itself.  Taking your kit off with your  mates and posing for Gay Times is all very well, but if you are actually… you know….gay or bi, it makes the whole exercise a little bit more threatening and destabilises the ‘macho’, ‘heterosexual’, camaraderie of most sports teams.

I am glad Rogers is now free to be himself. But that self, and the culture he inhabits, is a little bit more nuanced than most people will have us believe.

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Lionel Messi showed up at an awards event recently, resplendant in polka dots. Some have said he is following in that 80s pop duo’s footsteps, Strawberry Switchblade. I hate to be a pedant, but I myself once aped those goth-pop beauties at my school disco aged twelve. And I think they were more ‘spotty’ than ‘dotty’.

But dots v spots aside, the question is in 2013 is Messi dressing up to the nines for a do ‘news’? according to metrotastic blogger Grooming Guru we are now in a ‘post metrosexual’ age and men’s grooming and preening habits are nothing to write home about.

I’m not so sure. But I do think we now have quite a substantial contemporary ‘history’ of tarty boys. And so rather than women role models it is quite possible Messi is following in the well heeled footsteps of the King (or queen) of metrosexual display, David Beckham. It was 15 whole years ago that Becks caused a splash with his sarong.

So maybe it’s too late for us to get our spotty knickers in a twist about a few dots…

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This week so far has been all about the men. For once. So I thought I’d share some links to recent articles that examine men and masculinity, not only through the judgemental lens of feminism.

I was delighted to see my favourite writer on men had an article in this week’s Guardian (UK newspaper). He put forward an admirable defence of metrosexual men . The comments below the line, though often quite critical of his ideas, are a good read. And they show to me how a discussion about masculinity is much better quality when it is inspired by a piece of writing by someone who knows what he is talking about (and doesn’t hate men)!

I was also pleased to see the great blog The Spanish Intermission feature a critique of Mark Simpson’s Graun article. Note how he describes me as a ‘pedantic anti-feminist battleship’! I am glad somebody has acknowledged my role in spreading the word about metrosexuality in general, and Simpson’s theories in particular.

Another story that caught my eye this week related to a TV documentary about homosexual men in football. There are still no ‘out’ gay players in British professional football and the reasons for this are complex. Again this is an example of how a sensitive and knowledgeable piece of writing about men and masculinity leads to some intelligent comments BTL.

Then there was the Uni Lads fiasco. A British ‘student’ website sent ripples through the feminist blogosphere when it published some very horrible articles making jokes about rape, disability and men’s sex lives. Of course, the feminasties only focused on the rape jokes. The site took down all its recent content, including some adverts for t-shirts with ‘pro-rape’ slogans on.

But in amongst all the howling and wailing, I noticed a very well argued piece (not about the Uni Lads thing just coincidentally) that criticised the concept of rape culture. It referenced my piece from the Good Men Project on the subject.

All in all, a pretty good week for teh menz!

‘Interest in men is permitted, indeed encouraged, but must always be expressed through the game’.  (Simpson, 1994:72)

The Guardian has reported  the outpouring of love for the lovely Thierry Henri, on his triumphant return to Arsenal. Fans have described their ardour as ‘going gay for Henri’.

The author, Paul Flynn, writes:

‘Maybe I was taking it too literally but the forcefulness of the collective thinking, that no greater compliment could be bestowed on a man than “going gay” for him, felt brand new. I’m not sure how as a gay man you are supposed to react to this outpouring of straight male affection but you would have to look very hard to be offended by it. Personally I found it all simmering with an appealing new texture for the culture around soccer.

The relationship between gay men and football has been a long-standing stumbling block in Britain’s stealthy movement towards liberalisation. When Elton John took over as shareholder of his beloved Watford FC in the 80s he would routinely be comically abused from the terraces, name-calling he took in open, manful good humour. Graeme Le Saux, Freddie Ljungberg and numerous other Premier League stars have since been dealt weekly catcalls speculating on their sexuality. Justin Fashanu‘s heartbreaking early-90s coming out and subsequent suicide has cast a long shadow across the national game.

Yet perhaps there is a change afoot, led by the fans and one that the establishment would be wise to acknowledge. When I interviewed David Beckham for the cover story of the gay magazine Attitude in 2001, at the peak of his Man Utd tenure, he conceded that sooner or later the fractious relationship between the football establishment and homosexuality would have to be broken down. It was just a matter of time. His astute PR move of posing for the cover was a start, at least. He later appeared at the London nightclub G.A.Y, maximising his obvious gay appeal, and was greeted by 2,000 screaming gay fans who had composed their own football-ish chant by way of greeting: “Ditch the bitch, ditch the bitch, ditch the bitch and make the switch!” Straight men no longer had the monopoly on the brutal wit of stadium sloganeering.’

I think Flynn makes some good points. As Mark Simpson has told us a few times now, David Beckham’s courtship of his gay fans has had some impact on the ‘beautiful game’ and its tradition of homophobia and homoanxiety.

However there are different ways of looking at this situation. The author of this article seems to agree with academic Eric Anderson , who writes about ‘declining homophobia’ in arenas such as sports in the context of ‘softening masculinity’. According to Anderson we live in a more tolerant world now, so men do not feel so uptight about saying they are ‘gay for Thierry Henri’.

Mark Simpson sees it another way. In his book, Male Impersonators (1994) he wrote a brilliant chapter called The Anus And Its Goalposts. Basically, Simpson tells us, the homosexual conflicts inherent in football, from the ‘insertion’ of the ball into the net in goals, to male fans hugging each other on the terraces, to violence on and off the pitch, all mean that football itself is well gay.

‘Jones/Gascgoine’s ‘embrace’ ‘expresses, through the grotesque parody of the greatest tenderness between men, the greatest hate. Jones’ face, a portrait of malice, faces away from Gascgoine, but his hand conveys its message, anonymous-and-yet-personal: the very essence of masculine violence. Here there is no fraternity, no equality, this is a triumphal depiction of domination. Vinny Jones, foootball’s ‘Hard Man’, the crew-cut castrator, holds cry-baby Gascgoine’s soft manhood in his hod carrier’s hand. In this tableau from a male morality play, there can be no mistaking the import: in hetero-speak Jones is the ‘fucker’, Gascgoine the ‘fucked’. (Simpson 1994:70).

I of course, agree with Simpson. I think if fans are going gay for Henri, they are only catching up with the game itself and admitting to a small degree, its latent gayness.

I also agree with Simpson that rather than ‘tolerance’ of gay people being a key factor in the ‘gay for Henri’ phenomenon, the main character in this drama is metrosexuality. It is not just gay fans who have ogled Beckham in his undercrackers. And, as Simpson has said, the reason men are more accepting of homosexuality, is because they themselves display homosexual traits such as narcissism more and more these days.

Are you gay for Thierry? I certainly am. But I am not quite as gay as football. And I am not quite as metrosexual as its players and fans.

h/t @How_Upsetting

This comment by arctic jay, under my last post about Strictly Come Dancing, was so good I am reposting it here. Ajay was responding to a feminist blogpost about the X factor, which suggested women are much more ‘objectified’ on TV shows and in culture in general, than men. He said:

‘How can anyone deny at this point that the male chest, especially the pumped up variety, is an eroticized body part?

How can feminist honestly argue that women are more sexualized than men when bare male chests are on display for public consumption approximately 10,000 times more often than bare females chests?

Their only option is try to uphold the canard that male nudity is by default non-sexual, which is the same lie social conservatives promote due to their own homophobia’.

I agree wholeheartedly with Ajay’s comment, and would go further and say that it is not just conservatives and feminists who deny the sexual charge of men’s bodies, and the ubiquity of men’s bodies being shown off these days, but almost everyone. Men’s metrosexual displays have become the great big pink elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Because, as ajay suggested, it would throw the whole applecart over.

I have been talking about it. And recently I have turned my attention to how football in particular, is a flagrant example of both the promotion and selling of metrosexual masculinity, and the denial of what it means, for footballers and fans alike. With footballers as tarty as Ronaldo how can we pretend that part of football’s allure for men,  is not its presentation of fit men’s bodies, to use a phrase by Simpson, ‘literally asking to be fucked’?

This is my piece about a new young metrosexual football starlet, Tom Cleverley:

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The Times Sports Section one recent Saturday had a very pretty pin up on the cover. Serena Williams? No. Sharapova? No. It was Tom Cleverley, a rising star in football, who plays for Manchester Utd and is on his way to becoming a member of the England team.

Tom’s face fills the front page. His blue eyes look directly at the camera. His full lips are parted slightly, a pose all models know how to pull off, so you can imagine yourself slipping something between them – a tongue, a finger, a ….? His hair is short, fashionably sculpted and highlighted. It is not difficult to see the influence of his ‘idol’, David Beckham.

The headline on the cover reads: HE’s GOT THE LOOK! This is taken from Sheena Easton’s song ‘SHE’s got the look’. And the byline calls Tom a ‘starlet’. It might be the introduction to an article about Keira Knightley. The words and the images are feminine.


The article inside is a two-page spread, but most of the space is taken up with another photo of Tom. This time it is a full-length body shot. He is leaning against a wall, dressed casually in jeans and a leather jacket, but he is still looking straight at the camera coquettishly. You can’t take your eyes off me, he seems to be saying.

There is a cartoon inserted into the piece. It features a tattooist in his tattoo parlour, and he is on the phone. The caption reads:

‘Is that Tom Cleverley? I hear you want to be like David Beckham…’

This innocuous little cartoon sums up what The Times are saying about Cleverley: if this rising ‘starlet’ wants to emulate his ‘idol’ Beckham, he will have to match Becks narcissistic act for narcissistic act. Because Beckham is all about ‘the look’.

So has The Times done the unthinkable and ‘outed’ not only Cleverley but also football itself, as the exhibitionist, commodified, metrosexual, spornotastic display that it is? Hold the front page!

Well no, it hasn’t. Because the text of the article itself is a traditional run of the mill ‘macho’ piece of sports journalism. I couldn’t follow it all due to my lack of interest in actual football (as opposed to the imagery and masculine complexities that surround it). But it was full of phrases such as ‘midfielder…transfer…European Championships….goal scoring…early in the season…money… Alex Ferguson…class of ’92….’

There was no mention of Cleverley’s beautiful blue eyes, or the way he parts his lips, or speculation about who his really big signing will be with: Armani? Gucci? Rolex? Because the passive exhibitionism of sports stars is still closeted, even whilst it is used to sell newspapers, and underpants, and watches. The Times use metrosexual imagery, and they even knowingly wink at it, in the form of a humorous cartoon. But they don’t talk about it. That, like if  football fans actually said ‘No Homo’, would give the game away. And we can’t have that.

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