Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Camus, Zidane and the Absurdity of Football


File:Panorama-tizi ouzou.JPG

Yes, I played for several years at the University of Algiers. It seems to me like yesterday. But when, in 1940, I put on my boots again, I realized that it was not yesterday. Before the end of the first half, my tongue was hanging out like those kabyles dogs one comes across at two o'clock in the afternoon at Tizi-Ouzou. It was a long while ago then, from 1928 onwards, I believe. I made my début with Montpensier sport club. God knows why, since I lived at Belcourt, and the Belcourt-Mustapha team is Gallia-Sports. But I had a friend, a shaggy fellow, who swam in the port with me and played water polo for Montpensier. That's how one's life is determined. Montpensier often played at the Manoeuvre Grounds, for no apparent reason. The ground was bumpier than the shin of a visiting centre-forward at the Alenda Stadium, Oran. Quickly I learned that the ball never came to you where you expected it. This helped me in life, above all in the metropolis, where people are not always wholly straightforward. But after a year of bumps and Montpensier, they made me ashamed of myself at the lycée: a "university man" ought to play for Algiers University, R.U.A.

Yes, R.U.A. I was very pleased, the important thing for me being to play. I fretted with impatience from Sunday to Thursday, for training day, and from Thursday to Sunday, match day. So I joined the university men. And there I was, goalkeeper of the junior team. Yes, it all seemed quite easy. But I didn't know that I had just established a bond that would endure for years, embracing every stadium in the Department, and which would never come to an end. I did not know then that twenty years after, in the streets of Paris or even Buenos Aires (yes, it happened to me) the words R.U.A. spoken by a friend I met would make my heart beat again as foolishly as could be.

At full-back I had the Big Fellow -- I mean Raymond Couard. He had a tough time of it, if I remember correctly. We used to play hard. Students, their fathers' sons, don't spare themselves. Poor us, in every sense, a good half of us mown down like corn! We had to face up to it. And we had to play "sportingly", because that was the Golden Rule of the R.U.A., and "strongly", because, when all is said and done, a man is a man. Difficult compromise! This cannot have changed, I am sure.

The hardest team was Olympic Hussein Dey. The stadium is beside the cemetery. They made us realize, without mercy, that there was direct access. As for me, poor goalkeeper, they went for my body.

File:Albert Camus2.jpg

Camus was once asked by his friend Charles Poncet which he preferred, football or the theatre -- Camus is said to have replied 'Football, without hesitation.'

Any hopes Camus had of playing serious football were dashed after he contracted TB. There was no cure for the condition at that time and attacks resulted in long and painful periods of bed-rest. Before his illness, Camus played in goal for the Racing Universitaire Algerios (RUA) junior team. Match reports often had high praise for Camus, who played bravely and with passion.

When he was asked, in the fifties, by an alumni sports magazine to write a few words about his time with the RUA his piece included the following words:

"After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA."

People have read more into these words than, perhaps, Camus would want them to. He was referring to a kind of simple morality he wrote about in his early essays, an ethic of sticking up for your friends, of valuing courage and fair-play. Camus believed that the people of politics and religion try to confuse us with convoluted moral systems to make things appear more complicated than they really are, possibly to suit their own agendas. People may do better to look to the simple morality of the football field than to politicians and philosophers.

File:Zinedine zidane wcf 2006.jpg

File:Zidane Paris CdG.png

At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.

Albert Camus

Tizi-Ouzou, panoramic view from Amjudh: photo by Said026, 2009
Albert Camus: What I Owe to Football: from France-Football, 1957
Albert Camus: photo by Robert Edwards, 1957
"Camus was once asked...": from The Albert Camus Society of the UK
Zinedine Zidane, World Cup final, July 9, 2006: photo by David Ruddell, 2006
Zinedine Zidane, Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, February 2004: photo by Gôtô, 2004
"At any street corner....": Albert Camus, from The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942
Albert Camus reading the sport page, n.d.: photo via the Telegraph


Tom said...

....and England v Algeria soon....

Marten said...

Camus the goalkeeper truly explains everything, for me. I need no more education in the philosophy of the absurd than this single biographical footnote, based on my own experience tending goal.

Marten said...

Ps as we speak,as they say, Germany is running riot in the socceroos 18yb, a true theatre of the absurd

Curtis Roberts said...

Thanks. This is delightful, exactly what the Sunday newspaper should be.

leigh tuplin said...

and exactly what Curtis said.

Camus and Zidane. Two of my favourite human beings.

P.S. at the time I immediately forgave that headbutt, and nothing's changed since. It summed up the brilliant man for me - totally unexpected and just reacting to the moment without regard for consequence - as unpredictable as the simple deft touch that left many a fellow professional looking like a schoolboy. Sometimes elegance isn't always wrapped in what you want at a particular moment. I've spoken with French friends about that incident, and once time has healed world cup wounds, they all admit a wry smile growing deeper and wider.

Charlie Vermont said...

everyday this blog is a guide
to culture and to poetics via
the common place computer in your

I'm not sure Camus has much to
teach the average American about
sport, except to say, we are steeped in it and in its purer forms "the morality and the duy of
man" come through.

For those who care, Tom Clark has written a great book about American
culture and sport, The World of
Damon Runyon. Camus and Runyon
were around about the same time but
probably are only known about in the hereafter, together, by Tom Clark.

TC said...

Thanks very much everybody.

There are those who opine that Camus developed his sense of the Absurd while facing the Abyss in the goal mouth.

There are those who opine that ZZ in his noggin statement to Materazzi was acting out not only the Philosophy of the Absurd but the morality of football as defined by Camus, that he was steeped in the works of the latter and that his conduct on July 9, 2006 should be interpreted as comparable with what Meursault, the protagonist of The Stranger, might have done in a comparable circumstance.

Dunno about any of that.

Do know, though, as proven by an Absurdist act of witnessing an intermittent Colombian pirate feed in the deep darkness of my eighth consecutive year without sleep (dating from the 02 Copa), that ZZ was to be seen in the glassed-in dignitary VIP seats high above the Algeria/Slovenia agony, enduring the intolerable unceasing honking and buzzing of the plastic/ fantastic zuzuvelas as well as some of the worst football ever seen, with remarkable and admirable patience.

As doubtless Meursault would have done.

ZZ was back up in the VIPs just now to observe the Dutch seeing off the Danes without overmuch difficulty. Expressionless and cool as The Stranger.

Would like to believe Damon Runyon would have appreciated him. What touch. Of class.

Marten said...

The Guardian features an article that features Camus the goalkeeper. I thought it was pretty funny:

TC said...

Thanks Ryan. It is a wonderful time to be a bad goalie, Robert Green's career has just been made.

The mistake by the Algerian keeper will prove far more costly as it pretty much ruined any chance of qualification for his side.

And I find the fate of Algeria to be a bit more deserving of sympathy than that of England. England if worth their mettle should have picked up Green's back. After all this is England, the once proud.

About literary goalkeepers, check out Vladimir Nabokov: Keeper of a Secret.