ON THE PLEASURE OF HATING JACK WILSHIRE

ANDREW THOMAS >

Hate, as everybody knows, is a negative pursuit; a destructive approach to the world that serves only to diminish the hater. Haters gonna hate, we tut, pitying those who are so misanthropic in their bearing that they cannot help but bring contempt to the party, to ruin life – and, more importantly, football – with their ceaseless carping, their incessant sniping, with their vicious and vituperative bent. All well and good. What the hate haters won’t tell you, however, is that hating can be healthy. Hating can be good. And hating can be an enormous amount of fun. Illustration: GANT POWELL >

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A couple of conditionals. First, we are not talking about hate in a stupid, hyperpartisan, conspiratorial way. It is important, when hating, not to let your loathing consume and destroy your rationality. If this happens, you are lost. At all times, be fair. It is, as we shall see, perfectly possible to hate a footballer while understanding that he is pretty darned good at the game. Second, it is best to try to hate on a basis that isn’t simply tribal. Not only does this expose you to greater risk of succumbing to hyperpartisan attitudes – becoming nothing more than a vector for hate – but it is, to be frank, boring. Hating a Scouser because you hate Scousers is alright, but it’s not what we’re talking about. Find somebody who evokes

something personal; find a genuine reason to hate that specific Scouser more, and better, than you hate all other Scousers. Or, as in my case, find a young lad from Stevenage, decide that you really can’t stand the sight of him, and run with it. There are rational reasons to hate Jack Wilshere, of course: he’s younger than me, he’s disgustingly talented, and he plays for Arsenal. But there are players both younger and more talented than him that I actively like and there are Arsenal players that I’ve admired, both reluctantly and enthusiastically. I even like Arsène Wenger, despite (or perhaps because of) his intense preciousness, Cyclopean stubbornness,

and barely concealed snobbery. But there is something uniquely repellent about Wilshere; something I’m not sure I quite grasp even as I think about it. Something that seems almost larger than young Jack himself. Hating, of course, is perfectly and fundamentally natural. English essayist William Hazlitt – in his splenetic On the Pleasure of Hating, to which this piece owes more than a little – notes that the human condition is “always to have a quantity of superfluous bile upon the stomach”. It’s what we do. Anybody who doesn’t is either a hippy or high (probably both) and so not to be trusted. And, while dwelling on hate can lead to misery, indulging it from time to time – say, at the weekends – can be a fine vocation.

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It helps that Wilshere is eminently hateworthy, for all kinds of reasons. There’s his face, cocked in a permanent half-pout, half-sneer; an expression that encapsulates all that is bad about Wenger’s latter-day Arsenal, convinced of its own superiority and disdainful of the inadequate world that fails to acknowledge it. He has the features, bearing and self-righteousness of a Young Conservative, a scion of privilege who knows that he will inherit the world because, quite simply, he deserves to. Then there’s his tackling. Wilshere, like plenty of other footballers who like to consider themselves hard but lack that curious blackness of the soul that football’s genuine psychopaths thrive upon, is a nasty little

swine in the challenge. Frequently bricated by official tolerance and tollate, usually high, generally with a erant officiating, so now Wilshere flash of stud, he perpetually presfinds reds becoming yellows, and ents the vice of callousyellows becoming stern ness as the virtue of That’s not words. This is not an accommitment. He is, in Wilshere’s fault, tive conspiracy, but then short, very much “that it doesn’t need to be. It of course, but sort of player”. One red is the simple and natural card in 64 starts may not then neither is consequence of being seem to reflect that, but his face who you are. Players then, of course, who acquire a reputaWilshere is not disciplined or refertion for thuggery will find themeed like other players, as Jermaine selves carded more; players who Pennant will tell you. acquire a reputation as the Great White Hope of English Football will For Wilshere’s is the latest head find that English football itself bearound which can be found the comes more accommodating to their peccadilloes, and their elbows, golden miasma of destiny, the halo and their sharp, flashing cleats. of England. Just as John Terry and Steven Gerrard – and Alan Shearer That’s not Wilshere’s fault, of before them – have found their cacourse, but then neither is his face reers cushioned, smoothed and lu-

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nor his character, so at least we’re being consistent. And there’s more, a million tiny offences against the soul: his persistent, petulant whining; his weirdly nationalist Tweeting; his classlessness in defeat; his classlessness in victory. I even briefly entertained the notion that I hated him because he should have taken Aaron Ramsey’s leg-chopping, the thought being that England churn out decent midfielders all the time, whereas Ramsey is very literally a once-in-a-generation talent for Wales. I abandoned that, though, as being perhaps a touch unsustainable. All the above is, of course, colossally hypocritical. Each and every one of the malign attributes outlined above can be found in plenty of players

that I don’t despise with the same enthusiasm, to say nothing of a few players that I actively adore. What this means is that the hatred doesn’t emerge from these attributes as such; it is not contingent on Wilshere looking like an over-indulged Tory leg-scraper. Instead, I think it’s better to understand the hatred as being sparked by something minor – a late tackle followed by a querulant yelp – but then being sustained and enhanced by the sheer joy of it; hate piling upon hate in a kind of malicious feedback loop, forming a glorious pile of blood-boiling, teeth-gnashing rage, the result of which is I can’t actually look at him without wanting to kick something small and furry and cute. It’s marvellous. Hazlitt writes that

“without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions, of men”. And this is what Jack Wilshere does for me: by being the centre of the loathed universe, he keeps the pool fresh, and thought and action springy. You are not just defined by your loves, but by your hatreds; without knowing what you stand against, as well as for, you are nothing. And the best thing about hating Wilshere like this is that it has nothing (or at least very little) to do with the football. It runs happily concurrent to any assessment of Wilshere’s footballing ability – very good, potentially outstanding, may find de-

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velopment awkward with the tongues of half the Fourth Estate rammed up his back passage – and so doesn’t really affect the game. Instead, it seasons it; gives it spice and tang. That he seems to be a colossally boring man only makes it sweeter. (See? Even when I’m trying not to insult him, I end up insulting him.) In truth, I do not come to bury Wilshere, but to praise him. To praise him for adding a whole new dimension of derision to Arsenal games; for applying a whole new layer of loathing to the England team; and for inspiring a greater love for Ramsey – who may only be his rival in my head, but that’s what counts – than I thought possible. He’s given me a dark heart at the

centre of the universe; the purest avatar of the yin that squats in opposition to all the wondrous yang out there. But, like the yin yang, it’s not truly about good and evil, or about right and wrong. It’s about my centre. If I am to love – and, this being football, I will love, love, and love again – then it stands to reason I must hate in equivalent degree, lest I lose balance and spin away, flailing and discombobulated. I’m not telling you to hate Jack Wilshere. If you do, welcome; if not, that’s your own lookout. But find somebody. Find a player, or manager, or club, or mascot, or badge, or even a groundsman, that rubs you the wrong way, that gets right on your wick and your tits. Gary Neville, I suspect, was a popular

choice for many a year. Stephen Hunt has the right stuff in spades. More obscurely, perhaps Cyril the Swan? The entire population of Stoke? The owl on Oldham Athletic’s badge? As the experience of football gets increasingly sterile, you owe it to yourself to stoke up some fiery loathing. You’ll enjoy yourself. And that’s what this is all about: you, the audience, have found your pantomime villain. Boo. Hiss. He’s behind you! Trust me. It’s a lot of fun. ■

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Andrew Thomas TWISTED BLOOD > @Twisted_Blood > Acerbic, intelligent, inquisitive, unforgiving.  And a  decent  writer,  too.    Look  up  the  brilliant Through Gritted Teeth series and Gardening Leave.

This is an extract from Issue One of Man and Ball magazine: Let Sleeping Gods Lie. This issue introduces Nigel and features stories on German football since reunification, African Arsenal fans, an unsung Dutch legend, and seven other intriguing articles. It can be downloaded in its entirety HERE >

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