I don’t normally write about football on this blog. (For any translatlantic reader of this blog, I should explain that by “football” I mean what is generally known across the Pond as “soccer”.) This is not because I am not interested in football: I am, and always have been. And, having grown up in Scotland, I remain interested in Scottish football. And anyone who has been following Scottish football will know that momentous events have been happening lately: one of the two dominant teams of Scotland, Rangers, are currently in administration, and possibly heading for liquidation with even the currently confirmed debts well beyond anything they are likely to pay in full. And if the decision of the tribunal goes against them – which, from what I gather, is likely – and they find themselves owing even more in unpaid taxes than they currently do, then a way out seems, to a financial layman such as myself at least, something of an impossibility.
But I do not want to write about this: I know this blog does tend to range quite widely, but finance and football I would like to keep out of bounds – finance because I do not understand its intricacies well enough, and football because even as it is there is no shortage of a cacophony of opinions already on the net – articulate and inarticulate, intelligent and unintelligent, and prejudiced to degrees ranging from the mildly innocuous to the dangerously demented – for me to want to add to it. Yes, I do have opinions on this subject, but I would prefer, I think, to keep these opinions to myself: after all, if a football team thinks it reasonable that taxpayers should subsidise its quest for footballing glory, then why should a mere taxpayer such as myself take exception? Let be, let be.
But I raise this issue here to focus on a point that is perhaps incidental to the main thrust of this story, but which is, for me at least, rather interesting: and this is the part played in all this by the power of symbolism. Now, symbolism is something anyone with even a vague interest in literature has had to grapple with to some degree or other: how can one, after all, pretend to have even the most superficial interest in literature without having at some time or other asked oneself what the white whale symbolises? But, with all due respect, symbolism is not an issue one associates with football supporters (amongst whose ranks, incidentally, I count myself). However, ask any football supporter in Scotland what is signified by “jelly and ice cream”, or by “succulent lamb”, and they will be able to tell you. Those gleeful at the current difficulties of Rangers have long been singing about “having a party”, and enjoying “jelly and ice cream”, when “Rangers die”, and “jelly and ice cream” has now, as a consequence, come to symbolise an uninhibited joy at the current difficulties, or even the possible forthcoming demise, of Rangers: to such an extent, indeed, has this particular piece of symbolism taken root in the psyche of Scottish football fans that stalls have now set up outside Celtic Park selling jelly and ice cream at outrageous prices to enthusiastic customers, while many on the Rangers side of the divide have been known even to deprive their children of this once innocuous dessert because of what it has now come to represent. And “succulent lamb” is the menu item that certain Scottish sports journalists, invited to dinner by Sir David Murray, former chairman of Rangers, had rhapsodised about in what had passed for sports columns, and has now come to symbolise the uncritical and sycophantic commentary that these journalists have, allegedly, indulged in over the years, and continue – again, allegedly – to indulge in even now. Both these items of food, innocent of any association till fairly recently of anything to do with football, have now acquired symbolic resonances to put them on a par even with the white whale. So much for those who think symbolism is no more than an affectation of literary arty-farty types.
We may wonder sometimes why it is that certain writers who make extensive use symbolism should use X to denote Y when they could have used Y in the first place, but thinking in terms of symbols comes to us naturally: few of us, I imagine, will feel comfortable about cutting out the eyes from a photograph of someone we love, even though we know well that it is just ink on photographic paper, and not the real person. Sometimes, the reason we prefer to speak or think in terms of metaphors can be clear: a symbol may represent not merely one thing, but a variety of things that we have learnt to associate together; or a symbol can represent things which we may feel, often feel very deeply, but which our spoken or written language cannot articulate to any satisfactory degree of precision. This, I’d guess, is why symbolism plays so great a part in all our religions. And it is also, I think, the reason why it is so important in our literatures: the finest of our literatures are, after all, attempts to make language express that which is beyond its usual expressive scope.
But there is something about our use of and regard for symbols that goes beyond this. It seems that we humans enjoy symbols purely for their own sake, for some vague aesthetic satisfaction they afford. How else can one explain the jelly and ice cream, and the succulent lamb?