Tag Archives: simplicity

Seduced by simplicity, a slave to the complex I now am

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Darts World Championship 2009
Alexandra Palace (and Lakeside), January 4th, 2009

Is darts the best game ever? Does sport get any better than a bunch of invariably fat (or fattening) guys throwing tiny arrows at a board as a crowd of pissed old-timers, fancy-dressed larrikins, pseudo-WAG chicks, dignified parents and B-grade celebs hold up signs with things like ‘I am The Stig’written on them and singing the darts song, all while going mental as a guy on a microphone shouts out ‘wuuuuuuuuuun-huuuundreddd-aaaand-aayyyyyteeeee!’?

Possibly not.

I recently posted an article on 10,000 Weekends that was written by an entrant in The Guardian’s Big Blogger 2008 competition. Blogger D’s treatise on the beauty of darts lay in the idea that darts, like life, is devastatingly simple: you’re either throwing good darts or bad darts. Sport is not some grand Rushdie-esque metaphor for life, but a rather more simple exposition. ‘The rest,’ as Blogger D points out, ‘is just window-dressing.’

And having spent the last three days glued to the telly, watching the action at both Lakeside and Alexandra Palace, I now know what Blogger D was really talking about.

In darts, unlike any other sport, there is simply nothing to talk about but the points. Leg by leg, set by set. Just the points. That’s it. The  pundits can’t rely on talking about different tactical formations, managerial mistakes, the strengths of kicking over running, beating a world record time, or any of the myriad other details other sports are predicated on. At one point during the Lakeside coverage, the commentators resorted to commentating on rugby  when they spotted some members of the Gloucester club side in the audience, particularly on how Wales are a very real possibility of doing the Grand Slam in the Six Nations this year. Then of course, there are moments like this that the commentators must dream of.

But back to the action. In darts you either ‘play well’ or ‘play badly.’ The analysis, if you were to call it that, only goes so far as discussing efficiency in the checkout and whether they could hit what they needed to hit. For example, when Raymond ‘Barney’ van Barneveld needed a double top to take a leg, and missed, the commentator sagely noted ‘he needed that.’ It was as refreshing as it was absurd.

(On a side note, if Roy Keane does get involved in sport again any time soon, I hope it’s in darts commentary. It seems custom-made for him. You can just hear Keano now: ‘he missed that because he’s a hack.’) 

But this is where I diverge from Blogger D, and from Martin Kelner writing on the Guardian Sportblog today. They argue that darts is simple. But they have been seduced by darts’ simplicity into thinking it is simple. Simplicity and simple-ness are two very different things. Simple means no substance; flimsiness; a ruthless reduction. 1 + 1 = 2 is simple. It is what it is.

Simplicity is divine. Simplicity is the art of somehow squeezing an endless complex of information and ideas and effort and skill into a bite-sized chunk. E = mC2 is simplicity. Yet the theorem invites exploration and proof and challenge, again and again, forever, with new results and ideas yielding themselves to the explorers time after time.

Of course darts is about getting to zero before the other guy. But the audience sits behind you. And they’re loud. And drunk. It’s like performing an appendectomy while your nurses sing karaoke. They say in football that when you take a spot kick the goal shrinks. But that’s nothing compared to those improbably small spaces on that improbably small board, which must feel leagues away from the oche.  Its complexity defies belief. But hey, it’s still just about getting to zero before the other guy, right?

Van Barneveld went from throwing a nine-dart finish in the quarter finals to being demolished by Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor in the final. His assessment? ‘Clearly practising 10 hours a day is not enough.’ What? Practising anything for 10 hours a day is bound to make you a millionaire at that thing. But such is the nature of darts that the seemingly simple act of throwing a metal pin into a bristle board is but the next exploration of the theorem. And some theorems elude and defy the best practitioners going around forever. Well, at least a year. Roll on Alexandra Palace 2010 for yet another attempt at cracking it.

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Fuckin’ beautiful, that ball-kicking game is

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Arsenal 1 – 1 Liverpool
Emirates Stadium, December 21st, 2008

On the hour mark, this game got stained with hate. It actually took me surprise, how beastly football fans can be. I have never heard the word ‘cunt’ said so many times in quick succession (about a hundred times in a minute, to be precise), with so much venom behind each hard ‘c’ and each hard ‘t’.

It was because of Emmanuel Adebayor’s sending off that hatred became the hallmark emotion of this contest in north London. On that incident, the crowd morphed from your garden variety, well-heeled London football fans – they were even funny, the highlight of their pompous London middle-class humour being the chant ‘feed the Scousers/Do they know it’s Christmas time?’ – into something else altogether more disheartening.

What they turned into was nothing short of savage. In the flash of Adebayor’s studs and elbow, the Emirates Stadium became William Golding’s island. The public school boys became spear-wielding, monster-hunting savages, their normally Meridew personas giving way to the face-paint of Jack. The referee Howard Webb was cast as the hapless Piggy, ruthlessly pursued on all fronts as without his figurative glasses, he groped the air in front of him to feel his way through the last half-hour of the match.

Beauty becomes savage when it is set beside savagery. That aphorism rang clear in my mind as I sunk lower and lower into my seat, dismayed at the darker side of football fandom. The beauty of Robin Van Persie’s run, chested control and powerful right-foot finish, and of Robbie Keane’s perfectly struck half-volley in response, were rendered savage by the crowd’s incessant abuse of Webb, Keane (his years at Tottenham never to be forgotten, of course), Alvaro Arbeloa (adjudged to have milked Adebayor’s elbow to his face), and in way, of the match itself.

What is wrong with football fans? Why do we pay 30, 40, 50 quid to go and hate other human beings for their endeavour, season after season? That old argument about the working classes venting a week’s worth of frustration at the footy just doesn’t seem to fly anymore, given that if you can afford a season ticket, you’re probably not that working class. Likewise, the idea that because we are paying customers, we expect a satisfactory (read: three points for our mob, humiliation for theirs) service to be provided by players and officials alike gets shaky when you realise that we’re the mugs who’ve been paying for them to cock things up weekly for decades and yet we still pay, so we can’t get angry now, can we?

So what is it? Why is football fandom always teetering precariously on the precipice of savagery? The irony that the sport known as the ‘beautiful game’ enjoys the most barbarous of fan bases is delicious, but maybe not so complicated to figure out.

Football is primeval. If a meteor hurtled into earth this minute and the grand evolutionary act were to play out all over again, my money is on footy being the first game that would be played. It requires a vaguely spherical object and your foot. It has no apparatus, no complicated rules, no class bias, no judging panel, no odd scoring system.

Football’s simplicity is the source of its beauty. But it is also the source of its savagery. If you kick the vaguely spherical object between two other objects you get a ‘1’. If you miss, you don’t. And back in the day, if your Neanderthal friend was watching, he probably thought ‘how the fuck did he miss that? Even I could’ve scored that!’ Then he may have thrown a rock at you. Not much has changed it seems. Today, if a player misses a good chance, the Homo sapiens watching are likely to think ‘how the fuck did he miss that? Even I could’ve scored that!’ Then they throw abuse at him.

And boom, we’re back in Neanderthal man mode. We’re back to being savages. We’re wielding spears and hunting, but now we’re hunting refs and players. We have never forgotten, through our crazy evolutionary journey, that the simplicity of the game is not beyond any of us. We can all kick the bloody thing. And that’s why we still think and act the same way.

So maybe there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with football fans at all. Maybe all we’re doing is just being human: flitting between beauty and savagery, between applause and abuse and always reminding the illustrious players of the beautiful game that we could fuckin’ come down there and kick the round thing into the goal all by ourselves, you wankers. Ah, the beauty of it.

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