03. 29. 2007. 09:43

Football and sex

József Mélyi

...football never would have become so widespread in England had the higher-ups not seen in it an effective remedy against masturbation in pubescent boys.

In the second half of the 19th century in the developed countries of Europe surprisingly serious intellectual efforts were made to check the spread of masturbation. Both in secular and religious contexts voices were raised against it, threatening adult male society, first and foremost young students, with somatic consequences that today seem quite bewildering. The acme of this dead-end in the history of concepts of mind and body was clearly the „mortal affront” of the infamous composer Richard Wagner, who in 1877 suggested to Nietzsche’s physician that the cause of his patient’s torturous headaches might be his excessive onanism. While in this case the admonishment came at a moment when a fruitful relationship was coming undone, this intention to deter gave a decisive push in the launching of a movement in another field of life, perhaps less intellectually fecund. At least this is the assertion of David Winner, an English historian of football who recently came forward with the remarkable conclusion that football never would have become so widespread in England had the higher-ups not seen in it an effective remedy against masturbation in pubescent boys (David Winner: Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football. Bloomsbury, London, 2005). Winner focuses his examination on the career of a certain Edward Thring, who in his capacity as minister and schoolmaster, urged the use of the legs instead of the hands among students. The author did not forget about his younger brother, J.C. Thring, either, who „carved men out of weaklings.” He contributed to the canonization of the game in a similarly decisive manner. In 1862 he put together the ten fundamental rules of the game and the following year took part in the formation of the football association.
 
Asceticism and football have, ever since, been inseparable: From the philippics of the elder Thring or the stitched-over pockets in the pants of the students of the Harrow School we have come, however, to the voluntary abstinence of the heroes of our day. The sex symbols of the world’s greatest football teams withdraw for as much as weeks at a time away from the enticements of this world to prepare in a somewhat Spartan manner for the most important matches. Such austerity, however, was not the only possible path, indeed the relationship between football and sex (and alcohol and smoking) probably would have shifted once and for all if the Dutch team had won the world championship in 1974. Many feel that the decisive loss could have been avoided with some measure of self-restraint, which was hardly furthered by the presence of naked women, who were captured in the photographic report in the Bild Zeitung, in the team’s quarters. Gerd Müller’s goal in Munich had the consequence that even today many experts can argue for a complete ban on sex. 
 
Naturally neither the sexuality of the Victorian age nor the century or so that has since passed was characterized solely by self-restraint or abstinence, yet we tend to associate the football players of our day – especially in the wake of the serial sex scandals „uncovered” in recent years – with libertinism. Among the Lotharios appear heroes such as Dwight Yorke, who modestly characterized himself as a Sex Machine and, with his colleague Mark Bosnich, filmed an orgy held in his own home from start to finish – the cassette was fished out of the trash by a ”fact finding” journalist. One cannot fail to mention the youngest of the rakes, Wayne Rooney, who, as a multi-millionaire, appeared regularly at a brothel in Liverpool, where he paid forty-five pounds a pop for favors. Naturally he signed autographs in the house of ill repute – perhaps to avoid sensation. To return to Yorke, the one-time forward for Manchester United, however famous he was on the field, was still not recognized by everyone. On one occasion in a late-night bar he told the woman he seduced that he was Brian, the neighborhood postman. ”The people came and went, and everyone greeted him, and he told me it was because he delivered the letters. I believed him” – the young lady later said to the inquisitive reporters.
 
The terms and the connections are extraordinarily many-layered, so to summarize we can only cite Berti Vogts, who, as the captain of the German national team, said: ”With me sex is only forbidden during halftime.” Recently, however, a leading Brazilian player said in an interview that he only creates something enduring in the second half of the game if during halftime... But, of course, we don’t believe that.
 
Translated by Thomas Cooper

Tags: József Mélyi