“My sense of duty requires me to arrive unwelcomed”
Avital Ronell

.01. “He missed short putts because of the uproar of the butterflies in the adjoining meadows”[1]

Fernando Torres’ “transfer” from Liverpool FC to Chelsea FC was not just a transaction, it was a transition, a transportation, a non-transitory translation – indeed, it was a transformation. Avital Ronell once said that Derrida’s reading of Hermann Cohen was an exercise intended to “put the protest back in Protestantism” by means of the hypothetical imperative. Here, I mean to suggest that Torres has put the miss back in transmission. Here, I hope to make transparent the nature of the causal relationship between Fernando Torres’ “transfer” and what has been called his “reduced ability in front of goal”, exploring, in detail, the concept of miss.[2]

We must understand that, for the striker at least, to score is to succeed. The striker’s position is defined by this mission of glorified scoreboard addition – she is the always-already intended goalscorer par excellence. As such, extended periods of goallessness typically draw widespread criticism from the footballing establishment. Hansen et. al. react with rage at squandered opportunities, shots gone wide, Wilde, “deeds ill done”.[3]  But it is partly because of the disparity between Torres’ pre-Chelsea and post-Chelsea goal conversion figures (65 goals in 102 league games vs. 7 in 46, respectively), as Dennis Wise has argued, that he has been subject to a particularly brutal media onslaught.

These figures betray the extent of the transfer’s influence on Torres’ ability to convert. Conversion, from the Latin “convertere”, is, literally, to “transform”, its first syllable originating from “com”, meaning “together”. These associations are important. To convert is to metamorphosize (or, of course, to be the causally responsible initiator of metamorphosis) in the Ovidian sense, but it is also to merge together, to be together, to come together.[4]  We can conclude through careful statistical analysis that Torres’ transfer is not only a factor but very likely the key causal factor in his decreased ability to convert CoGs (or, chances on goal) to Gs (or, goals).

Can Torres, then, be likened to the Derridean utterance, the Manian allegory or the Heideggerian Dasein – that is to say, has Torres recognised his own finititude, his own inability to score the transcendental goal? What is it about this coming-apart that has left Torres unable to put-together? Why is his own transformation causally responsible for his inability to transform? Frustrated by his state of fixity, his inability to embrace malleability, utterances like “£50million flop” have become commonplace. Is Torres the Wodehousian golfer noted above, distracted by the external, overwhelmed by the elsewhere?

.02. “The Spaniard is Kafka’s Abraham, answering the non-specific call of the other with an assuredness that says: maybe he meant it”

The Ovidian approach to goal-conversion, characterised by its temporality, might suggest for its alternative (namely, goal-aversion) staticity or fixity as a typical characteristic. Yet it is here that we recognise quite how analogous the grassy matrix is to our struggles outside the field of play, off the pitch, back on the training ground. The grassy matrix, perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it is itself a man-made construct, serves to reflect, both literally and analogously, the phallogocentric, eurocentric pursuit of meaning and the associated hierarchical conditions of “play”.

Yet both “on and off the pitch”, it is true that to fail to convert is, in some sense, to avoid, and to reject conversion is to accept aversion – to enter the area where indecency beckons and dwells. And whether welcome or unwelcome, we cannot deny that such an entrance is still an entrance. It may well be the conclusion of a journey without a cause, but like the French situationists of the 1950s, whose attempts at tearing down the edifices of capitalist society through aimless Parisian dérive seem almost paradoxically teleological in their deontology, Torres’ aversion is a conversion on its own terms. Torres has found the area that Nietzsche once ushered us towards, hoping that we might embrace it, tremble with it, become it. Like the dunce in Kafka, Torres submerges himself in this wasteland. Statistically, April was the cruellest month.[5]  His transfer from Anfield was a journey towards the unknowable, a hearing of the other’s call that may or may not have been intended for him. We must not forget that this is the psychoanalytical process – the question on the tip of the psychoanalytic tongue: where does it hurt? Where do we carry our history, and how is it? Why and what are we repressing? When? Torres’ missing is a vomiting, an excretive healing process – we might even speak of Nietzsche as the vomiting philosopher (in many ways medicine and philosophy are in complicity by virtue of their mutual attempts to name “the conditions for wholesomeness”). Every bildungsprocess, or educational pedagogical narrative, is about conversion and the associated mastery of conversion; as we observe Torres, it becomes obvious that so often this serves to undermine the significance of the inhospitable domain. Yet it is so closely bound up with it that, to some, it has become indistinguishable.[6] We cannot pretend at ignorance, nor dismiss in disbelief – the limits of our own agency simply do not permit us this luxury. Lyotard calls this limitation the “mainmaise”, a grip so tight that we are not even aware that we are under its thumb, the thumb – under my thumb.[7] This is the difficulty of the situation the modern footballeur finds herself in. And yet here is Torres, missing the mark, the opportunity – indeed, missing the goal – but in missing, like the first Turks’ self-inoculation against smallpox, Torres finds the disease that cures him.

Plenty is at stake when we negotiate with the concept of Torres. Issues of scoring, assisting, mastering. Issues of welcoming, unwelcoming, spectatorship, committing. Issues of conversion, aversion, inversion. When we speak of conversion, we are speaking of, about, behind Fernando Torres . Such has been his overriding influence on utterances which refer (or defer) to modern notions of goal conversion. Ronell speaks of how every scenario evidences the incursion of the master, but here we speak of the incursion of the conversion and, indeed, the necessary incursion of the inverted aversion to conversion. Fernando Torres seeks to miss. And to miss, as we all know, is to realize. To miss is to avert rather than convert. The incursion of conversion is, through inversion, an aversion. In missing, Fernando Torres is, like Nietzsche, then, urging us towards the area of unintelligibility and indecency. Like Oskar Schindler, Torres is undermining the goals of hierarchical power structures from the inside, continually “missing” his target. Manquante est aimer.

.03: “On the evening of 9/11, W, after hours in hiding, came out to say, ‘This was a test.’”

Like the lived world of the religious, then, can the pitch be considered a glorified, aesthetically pleasing test lab? If God can be said to have a taste for anything, then it may well be in the incontrovertible necessity of the test. If God is the divine tester, then, in the arena of football, “PLATINI IS GOD” (MrPodridox 3 months ago). Kant, not long after completing his Third Critique, wondered whether we might test the faith of theology students. Is it the essence of faith to refuse the test? Is Fernando Torres failing the test, or refusing the test? Would a shot constitute an attempt at the test, or would his aiming-elsewhere excuse it of this categorisation? Can we logically fail if we do not try?

These are the questions that Fernando Torres asks of us. Like Gregory House, he prefers not to “think of this life as just a test”.[8]  And he is paid for the privilege. How could his employers adopt grim when his discount rate is so staggering that they are left stupefied? Desperate times call for extrema remedia. Torres, hands reaching, gestures to an open space. He runs into it, receives the pass, and, with outstretched fingers, he touches the face of God.


I always think about what I missed, and I think that was my driving force
    Thierry Henry

[1] “The Clicking of Cuthbert”, P.G. Wodehouse, Arrow (2008)

[2] (even in passing references which presuppose the assent of the     readership) – “Game-in-hand: Heidegger and The Footballing Dasein”, David Foot, Cambridge University Press (2011)

[3] Act IV, Scene II of King John, William Shakespeare

[4] “Come Together”, The Beatles


[6] “Einsteinian Relativity and the Concept of Extra-Time”, William K. Redford, Oxford University Press (2010)

[7] “Under My Thumb”, The Rolling Stones

[8] Gregory House


Part one in our serialisation of:

“They Could Have Been Three-­Nil Up Inside The First Half”: An Enquiry Into Footballing Modality by Dez Quartz

1: Against Spalletti’s Deflationism and the Wilsonian Analysis of Tactical Modality.

Since the 2006/­7 season at the Stadio Olimpico, where Spalletti first developed a theory of the position that would come to be known as the ‘false nine’ [1], those amongst us of a philosophical bent have been (for better or worse) quite sceptical of his metaphysics. Our concerns are twofold: is his position truly the false nine? If so, is it necessarily false or only contingently false?

Assume that the match unfolds within a single light cone. We derive nine-­falsity by means of a novel Boolean transformation [2] of the traditional nine, such that he, in the folk parlance, ‘drops into midfield’, rather than leading the line in the manner of a conventional forward. While consistency with ordinary language is no doubt a theoretical virtue, we should conceive of the position more formally as a sum of temporal parts occupying the definite region of Minkowski space­time between the central midfielders (relative to the goalkeeper’s inertial frame of reference, I hardly need point out). Note that while the position can be rendered consistent with neo-­Lorentzian space­time [3], I will not be vexed here by that particular conundrum.

An initial worry: truth is a property only of propositions, and by all accounts 9 is not a proposition. Plausibly, 9 is a number [4]. How then can a number be true or false?

I am not alone in supposing that Spalletti himself held a deflationary theory of truth, indeed, this assumption accords quite well with certain of his remarks in Four­Four­Two, Wiley Journals, Q3, 1998. In brief, the deflationist school holds that the proposition ‘X is true’ is nothing other than a reassertion of ‘X’. That is, if one can competently assert some proposition, one need take on no further metaphysical baggage in asserting the truth of that proposition.

Now, as will become clear, I do not think that the deflationist theory can solve the modal question at issue, but pace Spalletti, I make the further claim that it cannot even account for the truth of ‘true nine’, the position defended by Andrew Thomas Carroll, Chair of Bayesian epistemology at Liverpool FC. That position requires a more robust theory of truth, in particular a coherentist one, according to which a proposition is true if it is consistent with some non­maximal set of wider ordinary language propositions. In this way “Andy Carroll is a true nine” coheres unproblematically with “Andy Carroll is an old­-fashioned English centre­forward” and “Andy Carroll is dangerous in the air”. The first because “old-­fashioned English centre­forward” is co­extensional with ‘true nine’, and the second because Andy Carroll has been accused of plotting drone strikes in the Kashmir.

So the deflationist theory of truth cannot help us here: we speak of the false nine, and, this minimalist solution (i.e. “the false nine is true”) leads us into the sort of gross semantic paradox I have seen only twice before, in 1974, 1988, and 2005.

But this argument is not a knock down objection, nor even an objection on the half volley. Spalletti’s innovation merits sustained inquiry, and since I cannot countenance a foray into eliminativism, I must therefore take the falsity of ‘false nine’ as a brute fact of the universe. To be clear, there can be no fruitful reduction of that term, and so we must regard it as a conceptual primitive.

I therefore say that the false nine really is false, though our toils are not ended with that admission. Metaphysics is a game of two halves (more properly, a collection of simples arranged two halves­wise), and at the end of the day, Geoff, just as the keeper is made to work by the unexpectedly flighted corner, so I am made to work by the unexpectedly fraught nature of what I have come to think of as Spalletti’s Question [5].

The nine is false. I have said that we must take this as a brute fact of the universe. But is it necessarily false? Or is it only contingently false? The distinction is an important one in the present context, for if the false nine is necessarily false, I can see no method of reasoning from its negation.


S1: if he (the false nine) is playing as a nine then Hobbes will have been amazed [6]

S2: if the triangle had four sides then Hobbes would have been amazed

If the false nine is false necessarily, we shall have to regard sentences of the kind S1 as being utterly unintelligible, and yet, since no-­one is prepared to give up the practice of constructing counterfactual conditionals relating singular propositions about wholly past objects with those about tactical formations (and why should they be?), we had better find a plausible defense of contingent nine­-falsity.

The question, then, is whether there are any false nine counterparts [7] which are not false. In effect, whether ‘false nine’ is a Kripkean rigid designator. That is, whether ‘false nine’ picks out the same referent in each world where it refers. If ‘false nine’ is not rigid in this sense, then our problem is only a conceptual one: the ontological status of the false nine is not troubling, all we are left with is the issue of deciding the appropriate rules for ascriptions of nine­-falsity.

But how confident can we be that ‘false nine’ is not a Kripkean rigid designator? The canonical defense of that claim is found in Wilson’s uncommonly lucid Why Are Teams So Tentative About False Nines?:

P1: “They were not false nines so much as orthodox 10s”­   The Guardian (October 27th, 2009)

If Wilson’s radical premise is true, if false nines really are only orthodox tens, then the metaphysical problem is dissolved at a stroke, and all we are left with is the conceptual one. In other words, there will be no mystery about how false nines exist, insofar as they are identical to orthodox tens. Nine-­falsity becomes, as it were, ontologically unremarkable.

Nonetheless, I remain unconvinced. Wilson’s proposal is unsatisfactory, in particular, he displays quite a profound ignorance of events since the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. I must be clear, I do not say that some of the false nines were not Orthodox 10s, indeed I am sure that a few of them must have been, but it is patently absurd to hold, as Wilson seems to, that all of them were. Cantona himself often railed against the diaphysite consensus of the Eastern Communion, and very plausibly would have counted himself among the membership of the monophysite Assyrian Church; the Antiochene rite was well observed by Bergkamp in his time at Arsenal, as evidenced by his reluctance to travel by air (air being the holiest of gases); and it is not so outlandish to suppose that Zola and certain of his teammates congregated with the Old Believers, divided in the raskol of 1666 over both the number of Prosphorae in the Liturgy and the direction of procession.

The last point is fatal. Ignorance of the theology of the Eastern Church has done for this defense of contingent nine­-falsity (as it will surely do for others). Whether a defense is in principle available is a matter on which, prudently, I shall reserve judgement. Suffice to say that this one has failed, and so the vexed question of tactical modality remains bereft of satisfactory resolution.

Dez Quartz,


 June 2012

[1] Not to be confused with the ‘false nein’, of course, a gambit which, though once popular in the GDR, has since fallen out of favour.

[2] We substitute the standard modal operators of Kripke semantics for their Boolean equivalents in the usual way, first by constructing the appropriate Ramsey­-Lewis sentence and then by informing the fourth official.

[3] See ST. Blayney’s 2001 paper, They Think It’s All Over, But It’s Still Happening Somewhere In The Block Universe. 

[4] Nombre, in the original French.

[5] Distinct of course from Fermi’s Question: “Where are they?”; and Balotelli’s question: “Why always me?” (“Me Quid Semper?” in the original Latin).

[6] An absurdity, though a prima facie meaningful one.

[7] I use the Lewisian modal framework (extreme realism, as Stalnaker calls it, though in which direction its extremity lies I do not know):

1. The modal operators ‘possibly’ and ‘necessarily’ will be taken as quantifiers over possible worlds. 2. Possible worlds are concrete, spatiotemporally isolated entities. 3. Any object spatiotemporally related to a world W is part of W. 4. To avoid violations of the isolation constraint, modality in the de re case will be analysed in terms of the counterpart relation: a counterpart of A in W1 is an object in W1 relevantly similar to A, and more similar to A than any other object in W1

introduced by Arthur Ben Arfa (Director of Football, Cornell)

At the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, France recorded their worst performance at a major finals, departing at the group stage with only one point, having failed to score a single goal. That year’s national side, however – known colloquially as les philosophes (‘football team’) – while disappointing on the field, won many admirers, both within France and in the Anglo-American academy, for their commitment to head coach Roger Lemerre’s postmodernist praxis.

Originally faithful to the management style of Aime Jacquet (who had won the 1998 World Cup in Paris), Lemerre had led France to victory at the UEFA Championships in 2000. Two years later however, Lemerre had radically rejected the notion of “winning” as the object of footballing exploration. Rejecting the totalising philosophy of the Dutch, les philosophes offered a deconstructive approach to the game. Here the influence was the manager’s, and while it will be old ground for those well versed in the ‘New Football’, a little detail will be required for the uninitiated.

Lemerre had come to consider that when encountering what he called a “classical footballing opposition”, one never encounters “peaceful coexistence” of the two opposing teams, but rather a “violent hierarchy”, where “one of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand.”[1] In order to begin the deconstruction, one must break the link between the two opposing concepts. “To deconstruct the opposition, first of all,” he maintained, “is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment.” Second, that the teams should not be “synthesised in opposition,” but that their dissimilitude, interplay and star strikers be continually marked.[2]

After what had become a humiliating success in 2000, Lemerre’s later sides were ever-vigilant in working to ensure that all teams within (and on) the field remained separate and non-hierarchical, and it was only the stubborn intransigence of Senegal, Uruguay and Denmark on these matters in 2002 that led to France’s early exit.

Now, ten years later, we have been offered a unique personal insight into one of the most exciting schools of footballing thought of the early twenty-first century. Following the career-ending injury to winger Vincent Lazare last year (his death), his estate has made public the player’s own private diaries and correspondence spanning the period of his involvement with the national team, beginning and ending with the 2002 World Cup.

Selected by Lemerre less for his on-the-ball skills than for his perplexing, and often bizarre, sociological and linguistic insights, the Le Havre playmaker,[3] was, as these extracts demonstrate, central in 2002, both to the overall Lemerrian project and to team morale within the French camp. The Lazare diaries offer an informative and at times extremely intimate look at this remarkable period in footballing history, allowing us to explore new perspectives, both on the most intellectually promising, politically exciting, and competitively unsuccessful French team of the post-war era, and on the human relationships – and tensions – within its ranks.[4]


31 May 2002, France 0 – 1 Senegal

These are exciting times, and the atmosphere is thick with a sense of patriotic expectation that the manager and I have been doing our best to disperse, though air fresheners here are few. The newspapers at home predict another French “victory”, and even seem to desire such an outcome. How easily our compatriots fall back into their same old reactionary narratives…

Trailing at half-time, I find myself drawn into discussion with Dugarry, and am forced to remind him that it is not the Senegalese team in itself, but the operation of football more generally against which resistance must be directed. His pretended ignorance as to who I am betrays a recognition of his naive rationalism’s inherent limitations.

The final result, however, is encouraging, and Lemerre, though inscrutable as always, seems pleased not only with the nature of the defeat, but with the nature of defeat in general. I watch, cautiously contented, from the bench.


6 June 2002, France 0 – 0 Uruguay

Tensions are beginning to emerge now within the dressing room, yet Lemerre’s unwavering confidence in our project is a source of continuing inspiration.

Trezeguet persists in his refusal to refuse to take penalties, insisting that the spot-kick exists merely to obscure the fact that all football is punitive. He worries about a potential second-round clash with Paraguay, but I assure him it will not come to this.

On the other side of the dressing-room, Petit continues to frustrate many of his own teammates with his tired Hegelianism. He prattles obscurely on about the “unity of football,” and the possibility of “winning,” and against the Uruguayans is only denied by a combination of post and keeper. I keep the irony to myself, although the poignancy, I feel, does not escape Henry, whose sending-off early in the first half remains the most provocative statement of the tournament so far. What Lineker will make of it we await anxiously.

Much to the chagrin of the coach and myself, Wiltord continues to hold (with not a little support) that the number of goals scored in relation to the opposing team can be a true index of footballing achievement (and that a higher number on one’s own side is preferable!). Truly he is the defensive wall at the eighteen-yard line of the bourgeoisie. I remain, in more ways than one, an unused substitute.


11 June 2002, Denmark 2 – 0 France[5]

Once the most celebrated of footballers, Frank Lebœuf had, until quite recently, almost faded from view. He was already being attacked for his “blindness” about Soviet offside traps shortly after joining Laval in the 1980s, and even his remarkable distribution from the back was once ridiculed for its optimism, voluntarism and sheer energetic reach. Lebœuf’s whole career was offensive to the so-called Fédération Internationale de Football Association (whose mediocre attainments had only a fervid opposition to goal-line technology to attract any attention), and to the “post-structuralists” and “crossbar-modernists” who, with few exceptions, had lapsed into a morose formalism deeply at odds with Lebœuf’s populism and barnstorming ventures out of defence.

Yet into the nineties, Lebœuf’s brand of humanist Existentialism seemed to repel more people than it attracted. (Who can forget the cruel rejoinder of the then AS Monaco coach, Jean Tigana, ‘Je veux un footballeur, pas une Existentialiste humaniste’?) The courageous positions Lebœuf had taken against the United States and Israel (left-back and holding midfielder, respectively) were forgotten. So were his work on behalf of the oppressed, his gutsy appearance as a Maoist radical during the 1968 European Championships,[6] and not least his cultured central-defensive play and set-piece creativity. He had become a maligned ex-celebrity, except in the Anglo-American world, where he had never been taken seriously as a footballer, and was always seen during his time at Chelsea, somewhat condescendingly, as a quaint occasional centre-back, insufficiently anti-Communist, not quite as chic and compelling as (the far less talented) Desailly.

It is only in more recent years that Lebœuf has (superficially at least) begun to be accorded the status he deserves, and today’s match should forever stand as a monument to his radical footballing outlook. His resistance to authority has never been more mischievously overt. His refusal to mark Tomasson for the Danes’ second goal, for example, entailing an elaborate subversion of the notion of the panoptical back four, the defensive gaze directed anywhere but at the “offensive” player. In this respect, also, I am inclined to expect more great things of our goalkeeper.[7]

The tournament (in the ontological sense), for us, is over, yet Lebœuf gives us faith that the struggle will continue. But it is upon younger heads – the Cissés and Christanvals of this world – upon whom responsibilities must now weigh most heavily. We return to Paris tomorrow where further work awaits us all. The rest of the team left the hotel this evening with the assurance that they would “meet me at the airport,” their raucous laughter expressing a sense – if not of a job well done – at least of a project gratefully embarked upon.

A glance over the evening edition of L’Équipe verifies that not everyone in France will share our vision, and there is much talk, indeed, of “failure.” Sometimes, I will admit, when I am faced with the sum of our “experiences”, represented, albeit unrealistically, in the quasi-scientific and hierarchical structure of the tableau de la ligue [Fig. 1], it is hard not to feel that, had we scored more goals, we might have accrued more points, but I am comforted by the fact that it is irrelevant.[8]

Fig. 1

Team Pld W
Denmark 3 2 1 0 5 2 +3 7
Senegal 3 1 2 0 5 4 +1 5
Uruguay 3 0 2 1 4 5 -1 2
France 3 0 1 2 0 3 -3 1

[1] Lemerre, Positions, p. 11

[2] Lemerre, Of Soccerology, p. 442

[3] We speak of ‘play’ here in the Derridean sense. Lazare was never selected to play professional football.

[4] For a critical analysis of France’s 2002 campaign see Lebovits, Goal Différance: Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Footballing Sciences (2003), ch. 3, ‘A critical analysis of France’s 2002 campaign’

[5] Here Lazare, as France’s tournament draws to a close, reflects on the public career of the most senior member of the squad, his former mentor and friend, Frank Lebœuf. This was to be Lebœuf’s last World Cup with France.

[6] While Lebœuf did make a stand at the UEFA Euro 1968 tournament in Italy, France having failed to qualify, this was reacted to by many with confusion, and caused some resentment in Paris. Moreover, some have argued (Chiles, Tyldesley et al.,1997) that public perceptions of Lebœuf at the time as a ‘small child’ to a large extent obscured his radical Maoist message.

[7] See Barthez, Mythologiez (2006)

[8] Vincent Lazare: The World Cup Diaries, Vol. 1, May-June 2002 (ed. Ben Arfa, 2012) is published by Djemba & Djemba (£29.99, 606pp.)

by Thorlac St John Macclesfield, Syracuse University, NY

In the year of our Lord 923, the village of Wantage in Wessex witnessed a savage enactment of what most contemporaries would have held to be God’s justice. Wantage was the birthplace of the monarch of the day, Edward the Elder, and was particularly fervent in its adherence to the shire reeves (or ‘Sheriffs’) whom Edward had officially endorsed with a central diktat only three years earlier:

I will that each reeve have a gemot always once in four weeks, and so do that every man be worthy of folk-right; and that every suit have an end, and a term when it shall be brought forward. If that any one disregard, let him make bot as we before ordained.[1]

Sheriffs now had a backbone with which to structure their individual interpretations of justice according to England’s Roman Christian orthodoxy. Wantage was divided over the case of John Arn Rhys, a notorious, red-headed, Welsh thief who was accused of stealing baked goods from two separate families. The Sherriff in charge, Edmund St. Mark Clattenbook had a difficult task ahead in calming the incensed community, and, ‘thinking on his own two feet’, decided on an ordeal.

Ordeals are the theoretical obverse of modern retributive punishments. They were designed specifically to determine guilt or innocence. They deferred justice, in order to wait a divinely ordained sign. If, for instance, a man was ordered to carry hot coals, his innocence was not proved in his ability to stand their heat; of course, a righteous man would call upon God’s power and would overcome. However, the polymorphous momentum of the ordeal lasted for weeks after: if the man’s burns became infected and swollen at any stage, this was enough to prove his guilt. In Wantage, Clattenbook decided that Rhys was to be castrated. The deliberative process of this particular ordeal is obscure, as it is unclear what positive reaction was to be expected of Rhys if he was indeed righteous. Indeed, it was uncommon that the nuances of each ordeal were recorded in detail.

Very little has been published in soccerological research on the remarkable and suggestive historical analogy between the professionalization of the ‘English’ legal system before the Norman conquest and the trends visible since the dawn of professional football. The parallels to be drawn are numerous and the field from which may be drawn moral precepts for the benefit of the ‘modern game’ is fertile. Nothing shows the interface between the two more clearly than the case of John Arn Rhys. The second phase of Clattenbook’s ordeal was informal and coalescent: the witnesses to the ordeal seized upon Rhys’ detached testicles and began two parallel games of football. Without goals, the ‘strikers’ aimed instead to disgust the young females present, ‘whho schirken maedishely aforthh’.[2] Football and the ordeal ran smoothly and playfully into one. Rhys’ disassembled masculinity does disgust the maidens and their reactions provide rebounds to which the strikers respond with ever more daring attacks. In other words, Justice responds to a transgression by initializing a social competition, the logic of which proves or disproves guilt or innocence.

As the centuries progressed, disparate and loco-specific legal practices were soon reconciled not only by the formalization of legal practice in centralized and written (‘Common’) law, but were also formed obversely by the informalization of the law into an amorphous and ludic improvisation that arguably provides a social urtext for the game of modern football. Football, then, should not be theorized as a monolithic analogy of modern society, where crime and punishment are meted out according to a rigid, centralized legal text. The legal cruxes that are laid bare on the football pitch (a referee’s ‘howler’ or a player’s simulation of a foul) must simultaneously be considered according modern law’s primitive obverse: the Anglo-Saxon delimitation of justice through  ordeals.

This obverse in often implicit in commentary (it ‘naturally’ arises from Football’s basic reliance on Medieval justice systems) but is suppressed by the bourgeois institutionalization of ‘sportsmanship’ in public discourse on Football. A instance of this public neurotic suppression was brought to a head by the businessman and presenter of Channel 4’s Countdown¸ Nick Hewer when he appeared on Frank Skinner’s Room 101.[3] That the show was hosted by a noble socialist, justly venerated as a hero for his ‘Three Lions on the Shirt’, a highly Medieval gesture of support for English forces that recalled the Second Crusade, only made for a bitter clash. The bourgeois capitalist Hewer complained of commentators in their phraseological movement towards what he considers to be ‘bad’ sportsmanship, when they say that a player has ‘won’ a penalty. Hewer implied that a player should be given a penalty if he is victimized: in his world, being awarded a penalty is a recompense for an unjust defeat.

In this itchy middle-class footballing metalanguage that dominates public discourse, the Medieval logic of footballing justice is totally ignored. Commentators sense that a penalty has been ‘won’, because a twelve yard in itself operates exactly like an ordeal. God’s justice is seen to be (de)served by the infinite moments and divine signals in which the awarding of the penalty is only the first infinitesimal step. Like a sheriff, the referee has not determined the guilt or innocence of the alleged transgressor; he has simply opened up the texture of the contest to more readily demarcate a divine intimation that gradually directs the righteous away from the damned as the apocalyptic progression 90 minutes brings us quantifiably and incrementally closer to God’s final judgement.

This divine text is read by the guardians of the Word. Commentators, like priests, show their understanding of God’s esoteria, which is particularly legible in the building up to and aftermath of a twelve yard kick. If a player has won a penalty ‘unfairly’, and the kick misses or is blocked by the goalkeeper,  a commentator instinctively, in the manner of divine revelation,  utters the sacred words: ‘Well, that’s justice been served there, in a way’. In heathen Hewer’s bourgeois sensibility this Medieval sacrality would be entirely sacrilegious. The lack of ‘faith’ in modern  football is not, as many would hold,  a result of the decline in ‘sportsmanship’. Sportsmanship is a modern and irreligious suture to cover up a gaping spiritual wound. The oft-cited lack of ‘faith’ in modern football is a direct corollary of the endemic and general lack of ‘faith’ in God himself which has resulted in the cultural amnesia which refuses to recognise football as a Medieval instrument of God’s justice that has served English society for over a millennium.

[2] The Anglo Saxon Chronicle Manuscript D: Cotton Tiberius B.iv 923 (

[3] Series 12 Episode 3

by Djibril Ponte-Veccio

Ryan Giggs (Apps: 638, Goals: 112) is the figure of the unnameable, the figure of the sublime, the overloading supplement that exceeds all referents. He exists both within the public sphere – his sexual exploits laid bare for all to see, there they are, there! Look there![1] – and permanently outside-the-law. His superinjunction, tweeted, retweeted, circumscribed by the indefinite, jagged hashtags of the blogosphere (or blog-elipse?), until drained of all secrecy, becomes a supra-injunction, underneath the law, behind the decrees of a monomaniacal phallogocentric culture.

Giggs exists both along and beyond this legal tightrope, through his initial inability to control the yearning demands of the phallus. Through the superinjunction, Giggs denames himself to apologise for, and evade the actions of his phallus – the exceeding phallus, in the wife of a brother, which enacts an incestuous inversion and dissolution of the footballing culture founded on so many spurting misnomers, the empty signifiers of rugged machismo, that come – le petit mort! – before him. The call to unname, to de-name, to prevent de-fame, exists within the future perfect tense, much like Giggs’ own on/offfield jeu – always anticipating, always already latching onto the stray ball, beating the man before he has even arrived:

Giggs… a rather weary run from Viera… Giggs… past Viera, past Dixon, goes back on him… it’s a wonderful run from GIGGS!’[2]

Qu’est ce qu’un goal. Whereas Parsons[3] stresses the goal’s self-negating quality, the unstable on/offfield imbalance within the ball rupturing the topos of the jeu at the moment of the net’s ruffling, the futurity of the goal here precludes a world of pure potentiality rather than blunt negativity. Giggs, extending his mazy dribble beyond the letter of the law, disappears and reappears in Tyler’s analysis three times across the course of his run. He disappears into the names of his interlocutors surrounding him. “Viera” is forced to fold back on himself, repeated twice by Tyler, reduced to the level of empty pleonasm. The box-to-box Gunners talisman is revealed as the originator of the future goal – the source of the lank pass and weary trackback which disappears at the feet of the unnameable. The sublime winger pounces on the ball, turning it into an orb of sublime ridicule, an objet-petit-à. When Viera reappears a second time, he has been emptied out of himself – he exists in the ‘past’ as Giggs moves ‘past’ him. Dixon too is swept into pastness in one movement – at this point the runner, the agent himself (or herself), has disappeared. Dixon’s dispossession is precluded within Viera, it emerges out of Viera – the superinjoined winger is nowhere to be seen, he has always already moved past them. If anything, it is Viera who scores the goal. Giggs himself only reappears in the back of the net. Giggs’ arrival, Giggs’ coming (Giggs-is-coming) supervenes onto the moment of the goal, marked, grafted onto the field of jeu by Tyler’s voice cracking like so many nuts. The sublime appearance of the impossible name, Wales’ answer to the tetragrammaton, in Tyler’s scream from the back of the net, the end of the field, marks both the conclusion of Viera and Dixon’s retroanticipated goal, and the reappearance of the winger who never was.

The coming of the goal in Seaman’s net, the coming of the unnamed winger’s semen, lapped up by the press and its fame-thirsty concubines. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But Giggs’ supra-discursive in-game swerve, away from both Tylerian linguistic structures, and the defensive quadrology of Dixon, Keown, Adams and Winterburn (Das Dixeowdamicwinterbernheit),[4] evades the norms of legal discourse required for the superinjunction to take place. The unnamed winger who disappears in-game and keeps a low profile off the field refuses existence. As the goal’s moment of rupture is Viera’s, occurring not in the back of the net but within the stray pass to nobody, to the empty space that itself is superinjoined, the act of adultery that cannot arrive without an agent requires the agent’s cancellation for the superinjunction’s erasure of the act. The muffling motion of the law is one that necessary silences itself, blocking its own legitimacy, enforcing nothing in the name of nobody. This is classic Giggs.[5]

Giggs’ endless redrawing of the law’s circumference with the uncertain foundation of his own compass-phallus forces the law to let him off the hook. And if Tyler is to be believed, it is not Giggs who committed adultery, but Viera. As the culprit speeds away with the ball at his feet, the only guilty party in sight is the figure who attempts to impede and infringe upon Giggs’ culprithood. Viera the policeman, Giggs the naughty robber – but as is so often the case (a case closed, no less) the robber unveils the inefficacy of the crimefighter. The lawgiver chases after an absent presence that enables the crime, the goalgifter chases down and tries to tackle (in both senses) the winger who must score (in both senses) because he has allowed it to be so.

And what of Seaman? His sealing of Arsenal’s exit from the tournament is a dissemination, a scattering of the seeds of defeat – not just missing the goal but enacting Arsenal’s defeat into being. Typologically, it is near-identical to Giggs’ own supra-legal sexual escapades – just as the moment of insemination seals the law’s need to make its subject unnameable, Seaman sows the seeds and spills the beans of Viera’s culpability. So within the idea of the adultery and the goal both being Viera’s,  they are both – in their being, and in their bothness – Seaman’s. Seaman is spilt, and Seaman spills it. ‘It’ – the act,(s) the perpetual marking of the unnameable – is spilt, and is a self-generative self-spilling – the will-to-spill itself. This inseparability of agency and self-generation brings us to what we knew all along – that both ‘Giggs’’ goal, and ‘Giggs’’ adultery, were always already the same thing. Viera’s backpass and  the legal decree of the superinjunction – both exceeded and circumscribed within Seaman, were and are redundant repetitions of the possibility of a decree and a goal that had to happen. However, this redundancy, the failure to defend either a tabloid smear or a leggy dribble, were essentially offensive, on the attack. They were part of the same attack conducted by the nameless winger who not only performed both acts, but disappeared and disseminated himself in the act of performance. Viera and Seaman beat themselves to win United the F.A. Cup. Giggs runs away, into the beyond. The papers would, over a decade later, enforce this beyondness in their silence, where the actions of his tackle could not be tackled – Giggs keeps running. Still Giggs, PFA player of the year, a different man to the one in the papers, nowhere to be seen. Giggs… Giggs! … Giggs!!   …


[1] Shakespeare, W. King Lear, V.3.325 (Arden, 1998)

[2] Tyler, M. FA Cup Semi Final Replay: Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2, (Palgrave Macmillan, 14th April 1999), 110min

[3] Parsons, A. Who, Et All-the-pies? Crowd Mentality and the Rise of Ginsters in La Liga (Routledge, 1992)

[4] Kant, I. Critique of Pure Dixon, trns. Lovenkrantz & Floyd-Hasselbaink, (Oxford, 1982)

[5] For more on Classic Giggs, c.f. Crumb, H. Metamorphosis and Dissonance in Ovid, Virgil and Giggs (Continuum, 1998)