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The Sunday Papers: Thatcher, WWE and John Barnes – the week’s best writing

Get on it.

Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

1. “St. John pushes his opponent into the mat. “Ride him like a dog!” Gable yells. The first two periods pass. Sometimes Gable just mouths words, intense, forgetting to speak. St. John is tied with 48 seconds left.
 The Penn State fans in the next suite are peeking over at the red-faced, bald man losing his shit. At rest, Gable looks like a retired math teacher, but under the influence of anger and adrenaline, he transforms. His eyes seem to shift from a soft hazel to a dull black, the colour of an alien, subterranean element. Given the right stimuli, like a vital Iowa match, he seems a good sweat from his final wrestling weight of 149. The eruption arrives. Watching Gable melt down is like watching Picasso paint. He shakes and strains, a rocket on the pad. The flying spit and sudden fits of decorum, like “Jiminy Christmas!” — Tourette’s in reverse — are followed by growling, intense curses.

“SONOFABITCH!” he roars down into the fulcrum of noise.”

We could have a piece by ESPN’s Wright Thompson every week. This long read about one of American wrestling’s icons is worth the time.

2. There is a power relations dynamic here: if the Manchester United fan is derided as a barstooler by a Cork City fan, does it really mean that much? The Man Utd fan has blanket media coverage and a broad Irish footballing consensus that sees them as normal or valued. The Cork City fan has little wide scale media coverage, and in addition, occasional digs from the press that he or she is in fact the problem that is holding back their team or league. He or she will be asked who they support and when they answer “Cork City”, will usually be met with a confused stare or at best a follow up question: “No, who do you really support? In England?”

There was plenty of good stuff written in the wake of the Dublin Decider recently; here Gerry Farrell responds to some of it on BackPageFootball.

3.There is a tendency in English football to judge players on their consistency over many years. Players such as Bobby Moore, Bryan Robson and Gary Lineker are looked on favourably for their ability to maintain high standards over a long period of time. But it’s easy to assess performance when you have simplistic, almost binary, expectations of a footballer. Moore stopped attacks, Robson roared and Lineker scored goals. Do these things and earn praise. Easy.

But sometimes a player comes along who doesn’t fit the mould. English football in the 1980s and 1990s wasn’t ready for John Barnes.”

The Guardian’s Gregg Bakowski takes a look at the former England and Liverpool winger in their On Second Thoughts series.

4. “Vince has this saying, and I hate when I quote him because it makes me feel like he’s right, but everything we do is storytelling. You can’t keep people way up here the whole time. You’ve got to sit people down to make them stand back up. Otherwise they get tired of just standing up. There’s a reason there was a popcorn matchup during intermission during the old days, to get people back in their seats. It’s crowd interaction. When you don’t have that, when you give them a match where they are physically screaming for 30 minutes, you can’t keep it going. They have to exhale at some point. And if you don’t give them that, you hurt the overall flow of the show. Nothing we do exists by itself.”

WWE’s sport, right? This Grantland interview with HHH is worth a read anyway.

5. “One of the more preposterous claims put forward by Thatcherites after the passing of their heroine was the notion that she had been football’s saviour. According to Jeff Powell, back in the 1980s the then prime minister “took up arms against the mob who were killing the game”. Where would soccer be now, the veteran Daily Mail sports writer wondered, if she had allowed it “to wither on the vine of feral violence and tribal hooliganism”?

As any fool knows, the baroness hated the sport. Indeed, she hated sport in general. Left-wing critics are keen to point out how such loathing (Kenneth Clarke has described how Thatcher considered football fans, like the miners, to be the enemy within) was symptomatic of her own – and more generally the right’s – disdain for popular culture. And yet, historically, the left has been no less disdainful. “Bourgeois sport has a single clearcut purpose,” wrote Maxim Gorky: “to make men even more stupid than they are.”

Anthony Clavane writes that Margaret Thatcher’s legacy was to turn a generation of football writers onto their sport’s wider significance.

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