Whenever I write about nostalgia these days it tends to be with a degree of suspicion, since I feel that in the past five years or so this wistful, sentimental feeling has had a dramatic, self-destructive effect on world politics. People turn to the past in times of economic uncertainty. They pine for a simpler life, which they generally perceive to have exited when they were children, before the burden of responsibility had swept over them. Nostalgia allows them recall their youth in an overwhelmingly positive light—and so, for instance, white Americans who grew up in 1950s may feel that that period was synonymous with mini-skirts, Elvis Presley and economic dominance, rather than, say, brutally enforced racial segregation, the Korean War and McCarthyism.
Football, I’ve long maintained, is a package sport: to enjoy it you have to tolerate everything that comes with it—the constant advertising, corruption, hooliganism, tribalism, racism, offensively inane punditry. As a child I enjoyed football largely, I suspect, because I was not particularly aware of these things. It was only as I got older, when my knowledge of the game developed beyond what was happening on the pitch, that I began to lose interest in following it.