Loving Football

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     Oh Joey Garner!

     You are the love of my life,

     Oh Joey Garner!

     I’d let you shag my wife,

     Oh Joey Garner

     I want ginger hair too

     (Sung to the tune of Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)

Chances are if you’re one of the few-thousand supporters that have loyally packed out Preston North End games this season, you’ll have heard these lines. As is usually the case when football fans adapt pop songs to their own ends, the chant has also appeared mutatis mutandis at clubs across the country, with the line about shagging a constant. What is it that this song is trying to say and, perhaps more importantly, what is it trying not to say?

In Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick puts forward the assertion that there is a sliding scale between what she terms “homosociality” (men mixing with other men) and outright homosexuality. In Sedgwick’s words, ‘For a man to be a man’s man is separated only by an invisible, carefully blurred, always-already-crossed line from being “interested in men.”’ One needn’t reach far to find examples from mainstream culture that would back up Sedgwick’s argument. From the Lad Culture staple of drunken group nudity depicted in shows such as BBC Three’s Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents to the bromantic refrain of “I love you, man”, to the abdominal phantasmagoria of 300, homo-eroticism is one of the characteristic forces of the homosocial domain. But the interest of this argument for present purposes is not merely to say “you know how I know you’re gay” to football crowds, which would in any case do these crowds the disservice of assuming that they are homogenously male and avowedly straight. Rather, Sedgwick’s words help to bring into focus the constitution and mechanics of homophobic acts, among whose number we might count the lyrics reproduced above. 

At first glance the lyrics might merely appear sexist – the fourth line depicts women as so much chattel to be traded between men, bypassing any suggestion of individual agency or subjectivity – but Sedgwick’s argument enables us to read this line in a more sensitive way. When Joe Garner scored what many have dubbed the “goal of the season” against Rotherham May 10th, it was all-but inevitable that the act would come to be dressed up, through its dissemination on social media, in terms that leaned heavily on the erotic. This goal was “beautiful”, “moan-inducing”; it gave Twitter users “semis”, or inspired them to watch replays “in a dark room with some tissues and prepare for a mess”. If there’s arousal in the way Garner controls and strikes a ball, is it such a stretch to imagine that some of this might transfer to the figure of the player himself?

The chant certainly seems to suggest so. Only, it doesn’t quite go all the way. For what often accompanies that sliding back and forth across the always-already-crossed line between homosociality and homosexuality is an energetic disavowal, a generalised stance of homophobia balanced against a sense that all that drunken group nudity is just “banter”. Since clear barriers do not exist between being a man’s man and being interested in men, a not-necessarily-conscious homophobic defensiveness requires that they be invented. And so we (male, avowedly straight) Preston fans repeat and repeat the strange hybrid sentiment buried in the song’s fourth line, admitting that our admiration of this season’s top scorer is coloured with eroticism, but insisting on introducing the proxy of our real or imagined wife into the picture to fulfil this vague longing for us. By moderating the articulation of the chant in this way, we distance ourselves from a desire which still barely dare speak its name in the structurally homophobic world of professional men’s football.

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