MY GIRLFRIEND IS OBSESSED WITH ALAN RICKMAN. So great is her infatuation with the late actor that she once loitered in the shadows long after Rickman had departed a Q&A session at the Glasgow Film Theatre in order to swipe the plastic water bottle that he had been sipping from.
Satisfied with this daring procurement of the precious saliva, she smuggled the mixture out and kept Rickman’s DNA in her room for six long months until one morning, hungover, dazed and confused, she grabbed the nearest receptacle to quench her raging thirst. The shrine had been despoiled.
I know what you’re thinking, my girlfriend is clearly a woman of refined taste. She ensures me that it is Rickman’s charm, wit and sensitivity – delivered with impeccable classical acting chops – that enamours her so, but I’m not so sure. Call me cynical, but I suspect that it’s not the clean-cut allure of characters like the Pablo Neruda quoting, Jamie in the heart-wrenching Truly, Madly, Deeply that really get the sparks flying.
Rickman was also a master at playing the villain. His portrayal of Hans Gruber, the debonair mastermind behind the slick crew of turtle-neck sporting Euro-art-terrorists in Die Hard remains the industry standard for the genre. His hilariously camped-up pantomime take on the Sheriff of Nottingham provided a dastardly tour de force that is easily the best thing about Kevin Costner’s otherwise forgettable Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
You can’t help but find a part of yourself rooting for these archetypal bad guys, the anti-heroes that force you to question what it is exactly about a murderous adulterer that makes Tony Soprano so damn loveable. I’ve always felt that it is those that deny themselves this guilty pleasure, the kind of people that boo the entrance of Captain Hook with just a little too much gusto, that are the very self-appointed avatars of moral purity that you need to keep an eye on. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
It is this timeless dichotomy – Good vs Evil – that lies at the heart of the great tales of morality. It provides the narrative lens through which we observe the actions of the protagonists as they posture, joust and compete to see who will ultimately triumph. The stories simply do not work without this dynamic – imagine Luke without Darth Vader, Simba without Scar or Abel without Cain. The two forces are inexorably linked, light and dark, heaven and hell, bound by their eternal presence within the heart of every human as we struggle to calibrate our own moral compass, torn this way and that amidst the endless chatter of the angels and demons perched upon our shoulders.
And if we pay attention to the nature of these characters we will see that what makes for the most intoxicating personalities is an embodiment of exactly this – a blend of good and evil. It is often the case that the hero of the piece is marred by a tainting of their persona. We see it in the scar on Harry Potter’s forehead which contains part of Voldemort’s soul, the burden bestowed upon Frodo that he must bear The Ring of Power and the nightmarish truth behind the bloodline of Luke Skywalker. Morality is a game of two halves.
It seems to me patently obvious that the villains of these parables should not be considered by fainting-couch puritans as role-models (won’t somebody please think of the children!), they are merely examples of humanity gone awry, depictions of what can happen when we surrender too much ground to our shadow, give in to the temptations afforded by the dark side of the force. And it is through our engagement with these great struggles that we learn what might constitute the good, how it might be that we should act and decide upon the lessons that we might deem of value for our children to learn.
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I consider football too to be a drama. A drama acted out on a grassy stage, playing to packed houses in classic auditoriums and state of the art modern theatres across the world, night after night, week after week, year after year. It is the greatest show on earth and football is by far and away the most popular game ever devised across the entirety of human history – and humanity has devised a lot of games.
In my view, it is football’s unparalleled, almost alchemical ability to continually conjure rich, real-time narrative dramas from a remarkably sparse script – the 13 original technical directives laid out in 1863’s The Laws of the Game – that transcends it far beyond the domain of sport. Granted there have been numerous amendments to the original constitution, but the nature of the game remains untrammelled and its performance still exhibits the same intoxicating blend of technical skill, chess-like strategic daring and raw human drama that have propelled it to its rightful place at the very pinnacle of cultural importance.
So, if football is a drama, then what of its characters? We may not think it, but we know them well: there are heroes, villains, rebels, outlaws, magicians, clowns, fools, hermits, wise men, kings, warriors and everymen. It is a kaleidoscopic cast of fantastic personae whom we first meet as children on our wide-eyed initial adventures into the magical world that football creates, and whose virtues we debate long into adulthood whether it be on the terraces, down the pub or on a talkSPORT phone-in show. Each of these characters plays their part, and each of us – largely dependent on the make-up of our individual temperaments – will identify with many across our football-watching lives.
Given this analysis, it would seem to me that it is a matter of existential importance to the continued well-being of the beautiful game that we must always strive to maintain a role for all types of character regardless of how ugly they may initially appear to be. Any attempt to write-out certain human characteristics from the fabric of the footballing narrative will result in a diluted, sanitized version of a game that has been, up until this point, a medium through which the most profound human emotions have been distilled.
So, when José Mourinho – that great exhibitor of resentment and bitterness in defeat – stirs up a milk-throwing fracas in the aftermath of yet another humiliating defeat at the hands of his Catalan nemesis, let us not condemn him too harshly. Sure, we may not want our kids to react like José when they lose, but the behaviour of your kids is not Mourinho’s concern.
It may be of greater value to look closer to home and towards the modern tendency to coddle and shelter the young from the very real evils that exist in the world. If you are concerned with teaching your kid how to lose then it might be of greater value to question the bewildering notion that everyone in the school sports day race deserves a winner’s medal.
Mourinho and his dastardly ilk provide the necessary counterpoint to all that is pure and good in football. He provides contrast. And let’s not try too hard to pretend that we don’t actually enjoy it, that we haven’t indulged in the odd moment of bolshiness in defeat – after all, it can be dangerous to forge too cordial a relationship with failure – or an instance of touchline-sprinting self-aggrandizement in victory. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Moral grandstanding is an unbecoming trait, and there’s a lot of it about. We are human, all too human, and none of us are cleansed so pure as not to benefit from the occasional encounter with our dark side. For me, Mourinho dons this mask of villainy with a Rickman-like suaveness. He plays the part perfectly and the question of to what degree his footballing persona blurs into the reality of his everyday life is, thankfully, not our concern