I have just been in Durban, South Africa. Amongst the many interesting stories of life in both the apartheid era and today, I was especially struck by the tale of beer brewing. The blacks were not allowed to brew beer; beer meant money, beer meant control over people’s lives. Of course, blacks were encouraged to drink beer. There was no shortage of beer halls where the black population could spend their time, and their money, under the watchful eye of the government. A beer-sozzled man would not think too hard about his difficult life; he would not question his lowly position in society; he would not think of revolution.
I left Durban on my way to Lesotho, glad that such abuses had gone from the world. But something bothered me. The beer story reminded me of something but I didn’t know what. As I travelled along Lesotho’s dusty roads, through villages with no name that had barely left the stone age, watching kids kicking an old football on grassless “pitches”, it came to me – football, the latest “opiate of the masses”.
There have been many candidates for the title since Karl Marx first awarded it to religion. Probably the top contender today is the smartphone. Research has shown that, on average, smartphone users interact with their devices some 85 times a day. Nearly half of all smartphone users said that they could not live without them.
But football is not far behind. There are any number of major crises in the world, from outright warfare, oil fields ablaze, collapsing democracies and the growing signs of civil war in Trump’s divided United States, but what are the headlines in my newspaper – someone has kicked a football. I turn on my TV, desperate for news of the price of oil and its ramifications for the world economy, what do I get, some non-entity I have never heard of, has kicked a football.
Governments have found a new way of keeping people quiet. A mindless population, totally mesmerised by someone kicking a football, can easily be controlled. Over the years governments have refined and improved this system. Simple people have allowed themselves to be persuaded that the results of football matches that they did not see are important. Now you don’t need to see someone kick a ball, it’s enough to hear that he kicked it.
Seeing that it works with something as trivial with a man kicking a football, governments have taken this crowd control technique to new heights. The gullible public have been persuaded that it is important to follow who bangs a ball harder with a tennis racquet, who kicks a deformed football higher in a rugby match. One of the biggest weapons in the governments arsenal is a cricket match – the people have been persuaded that it is sensible to spend days watching somebody knocking a ball with a chunk of white willow wood that has been treated with raw (unboiled) linseed oil.
If only the unsuspecting public could be treated with linseed oil, perhaps they would harden up and instead of looking at someone kicking a ball they might wake up and kick their controllers out.