When I was younger, so much younger than today, my party piece was… no… not a Beatles song, but… If I Were A Rich Man (from Fiddler On The Roof). Well, being rich never happened – not yet, anyway. But I realise now that I could have been extremely well off. It’s just that I was 30 or 40 years too early.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of football (soccer) on our screens at the moment. I enjoy watching the beautiful game, and just now, my World Cup runneth over. Because of the human-rights situation in Qatar, I have mixed feelings about the tournament. But given that one of our cats is called Pelé, it’s obvious that I’d have an interest in it. (Our other cat is Pelé’s little sister. She’s not named after a footballer – although once, after she’d yet again trashed one of our rooms… without thinking, I really did say to her “Oh, you are messy!”)
So, what’s all this about timing? Well, if you’ve watched any professional football recently, you’ll have noticed that the players may be very skilful but they’re terrible actors. If they get a little nudge, they roll around on the ground as if they’ve been shot. Even if they’re genuinely fouled, they still feel they have to fall with an amateurish flourish in order to convince the referee to give them a free kick or a penalty – some players even to try to get opponents wrongly sent off. They keep doing this because half the time, the refs are taken in by these pathetic antics. I used to play as an amateur, and back in those days, it was a matter of honour not to show that you’d been hurt by an opponent. The thing is that during that same time period, I was training to be… and then working as… an actor! If only that were the case now! I, too could be earning £200,000 or more a week – just like the pantomime artists who play professional football these days.
I bet if today’s players were miked up (yes, I know it’s not spelt that way!) we’d hear them shouting “He’s behind you, he’s behind you!” And the opposing team would be yelling “Oh no, he’s not!” And 50,000 people in the crowd could shriek “Oh yes he is!”
The way pro football’s heading (pun intended), it’s only one step away from WWE wrestling. For the next World Cup, we’ll probably have opposing teams rehearsing together before each match, which will be a game of two rounds.
Just imagine some of the acting stars of the past being footballers instead. If he were still alive, the great Konstantin Stanislavski (Stan to his friends) who was the inspiration behind method acting, could rewrite his famous book as An Overactor Prepares, or even A Footballer Prepares. He’d have been a great manager – although he’d have to work on his skills of chewing gum with his mouth open. Lord Laurence Olivier would have been a marvellous captain of England: “Once more onto the pitch, dear friends, once more!” And Sir John Goalgood… yes!… would have been way ahead of Wayne Rooney’s scoring record.
The irony is that now, footballers are much more protected from violent play than years ago. In the 1966 World Cup, Pelé (not our cat, the other one) was so hacked about by the Portugal players that he could hardly walk, never mind run! If that had taken place in 2022, half of them would have been sent off.
And how might I have fitted into all this? I like to think that I was an actor capable of great subtlety; but when I was with the Mercury Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand, one of my less successful roles was as a character in a comedy where I had to find a glass of water hidden in a room. I suggested to the director that I could use a small branch of a tree as a divining rod to locate it. He loved the idea – the audiences… well, not so much. It hardly got a laugh all season! At our end-of-year Christmas party, there was a presentation ceremony. I received the Golden Twig Award for overacting. I was mortified! But I realise that if I were a professional footballer now, my below-average ball skills would be more than made up for by my ability to feign death if an opponent so much as looked at me.