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Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Park
Our columnist recalls the elegant prose of literary craftsmen and footballer Percy M. Young. Plus: The unlamented resignation of EU commissioner Rocco Butiglione and why the American public is perhaps more radical than the recent election results indicated.
Eamonn McCann, 23 Nov 2004
There are two problems with the relationship between half-backs and violas.
First, hardly anybody now knows what a half-back is. Second, hardly anybody ever knew the dimensions of a viola.
The half-back line comprised a centre half and two wing-halfs. As in the legendary Brolly-Curran-Smyth.
I was an attacking right-half myself. Useless. But, in football at least, I knew my position.
Will Buckley in the Observer reminded me of half-backs and violas, with an elegant piece on Percy M. Young. Buckley, himself too whippersnapperish for personal recall of half-backs, celebrated Young’s love of Bach, Handel, Schuman and Wolverhampton Wanderers, but missed out on the Irish connection: Young’s first job was as director of music at Stranmillis College, Belfast; his primary degree was from Trinity. He was a regular at the Oval during his sojourn in Belfast, whence his insightful observation that, “If you want to know what a viola sounds like, say, ‘Danny Blanchflower went from Glentoran to Barnsley.’”
Young’s thesis was that defences were bass instruments, forward lines treble, and half-backs the violas of the orchestral line-out. Difficult to put across on a damp Saturday morning at the Daisy Field, true. But makes a lot more sense than Jimmy Magee. Of course, most things do.
Young was also author of the second-best all-time footballing philippic, after Man in the Know’s subtle dissection of the aesthetic contrast between Rangers and Celtic supporters at an Ibrox game in the early 1920s. And Young’s has the advantage of proper targetting, of the ref:
“Of all the blear-eyed nincompoops that ever appeared in spindle-shanks on the turf in the guise of a referee, the cachinatory cough-drop who attempted the job on Saturday was the worst we have ever seen. His asinine imbecility was only equalled by his mountebank costume, and his general appearance and get-up reminded one more of a baked frog than a man. No worse tub-thumping, pot-bellied, jerry-built jackass ever tried to perform as a referee. His lugubrious tenebrousness and his monotonous squeaking on the whistle were a trial to the soul. Encased in a dull psychological envelopment of weird chaotic misunderstandings of the rules, he gyrated in a ludicrously painful manner up and down the field, and his addle-headed, flat-chested, splay-footed, cross-eyed, unkempt, unshaven, bow-legged, humpbacked, lop-eared, scraggy and idiotic decision when he ruled Jone’s second goal offside filled the audience, players and spectators with disgust.”
It will be gathered that, had Jones’s second goal stood, Wolves would have won.
Of course, “The referee’s a cachinatory cough-drop” doesn’t quite scan, terrace chant-wise. Doesn’t have the easy rhythm of “There’s only one Djemba Djemba.”
And we have to keep fairly in mind the view of rock and roll philosopher Robbie Brennan on viola dimensions: “The key difference between a viola and a violin has nothing to do with football. It’s that a viola burns longer.”
It was only when I read Buckley’s piece that I realised Percy M. had died, aged 91, still set at amber. I don’t know if he’ll be remembered for his books on Bach. But for as long as we savour orchestral manoeuvres in the park, his rant against refs.will live on.
Rocco Buttiglione (pictured), who was forced to step down from the European Commission after bilious statements about homosexuality and the role of women, is to embark on a European tour “to better explain the view I represent.”
Buttiglione’s rejection was reported almost exclusively in terms of attitudes within the EU. Were orthodox Catholic beliefs now impermissible, and did this amount to intolerance? Nowhere did I read an account of the Catholic Church’s activities in and around the EU.
In 1970, the Holy See informed the Common Market that its nuncio to Belgium was henceforth to be regarded also as ambassador to the Community. (It is the Holy See, “the spiritual and temporal government of the Church worldwide,” and not Vatican City, which is represented in diplomatic affairs.) Ten years later, John Paul II formed the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, comprising representatives of the national conferences of each member State. No other institution, secular or religious, marks the EU in such a structured and elaborate way.
The Holy See’s main gripe has concerned the EU’s generally progressive approach to sexual rights and reproductive health. At the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development and the 1995 International Women’s Conference in Beijing, the EU helped redefine the relationships between women’s rights, sexuality and development. The Holy See—-ludicrously granted full delegation rights on account of its accredition to the UN—-formed alliances with countries including Iran, Libya and Sudan to hold back the tide. The efforts proved futile, John Paul’s operatives have been campaigning since to overturn the EU consensus.
Herein lay the significance of Buttiglione’s frank admission that, in office, he would be guided by “my own conscientious views, the views of my Church.” This was reasonably interpreted by many to mean that he’d act as an agent of the Holy See at the heart of the Commission, rather than representing the general interests of EU citizens.
It’s remarkable that the hyper-active presence of the Holy See at the EU and the UN attracts so little coverage. Why should the Catholic Church alone enjoy this status? Why not Hinduism or Islam? Why not the global trade union movement?
One reason for the silence is that interest groups ostensibly hostile to the Holy See whole-heartedly agree with John Paul on the issues his acolytes prioritise. When it comes to gay rights or the right to choose, hard-line Islamists, US evangelicals and John Paul II band together as brothers.
This is the relevant perspective in which to examine the Buttiglione affair. His rejection wasn’t rooted in intolerance of Catholic beliefs but in determination to resist the intolerant imposition of Catholic beliefs.
The Anybody But Bush crowd now argues that Kerry was thumped because he didn’t relate sufficiently closely to the putative conservative heartland of the US. This is baloney.
Only one US Senator voted against the war and against the Patriot Act—-Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. He had scraped in by less than one percent last time. Throughout this year’s campaign, he was the target of vituperative abuse from Republicans, and was effectively disowned by the Democrats. The Democratic Leadership Council publicly declared him “out of touch with the American people.” Kerry steered clear of him, for fear of contamination.
On November 2nd, Kerry took Wisconsin’s 10 electoral college votes by a whisker – 49.8 to 49.4 percent. Feingold romped home, 55 to 44.
And here’s another thing. Cynthia McKinney, driven from Congress in a blitzkrieg of bigotry in 2002 after she’d denounced Bush for using 9/11 as a pretext for war and an assault on civil liberties, stood again in Georgia’s 4th District, making it plain that, “I stand by every position I took up.” She was returned to Washington, triumphant.
McKinney and Feingold could be just the ticket in 2008. But they won’t be. The indomitable pessimism of the mildly progressive will win out again. Already, we are told that Democratic nomination will be a shoo-in for the venal hypocrite Hilary Clinton. Tweedledumb versus Tweedledumber yet again. If we live that long.