How not to talk about soccer

We recorder players are always delighted to find someone who knows about the mere existence of our instrument outside the scope of our small world of connoisseurs.

The most famous “outsider” ever was Umberto Eco. A professor of semiotics that became very popular when his best-selling fiction book “The name of the Rose” was made into a movie.

Eco was an amateur recorder player and a big fan of our original repertoire and amongst his preferred authors van Eyck and Telemann stand out. Maybe his taste for early music originated during his studies of medieval aesthetics.

Eco died recently and left an important legacy of writings. He talked about the recorder in many occasions but did not write about it except in a humorous and witty essay that is part of a collection published in 1994 under the title “Il secondo Diario Minimo”. This collection appeared in English as “How to travel with a salmon and other essays”.

How not to talk about soccer

I have nothing against soccer. I don’t go to stadiums, for the same reason that I wouldn’t go and spend the night in the basement of the Main Railroad Station in Milan (or stroll in Central Park in New York after six in the afternoon), but if the occasion arises I watch a good game on TV with interest and pleasure, because I recognize and appreciate all the merits of this noble sport. I don’t hate soccer. I hate soccer fans.

Please don’t misunderstand me. My feelings towards fans are exactly those that xenophobes of the Lombard League feel towards immigrants from the Third World. “I’m not a racist, so long as they stay home.” By “home” here I mean both the places where they like to gather during the week (bars, living rooms, clubs) and the stadiums, where I am not interested in what happens. And for me it’s a plus if the Liverpool fans arrive, because then I can amuse myself reading the news reports: if we must have circenses, some blood at least should be spilled.

I don’t like the soccer fan, because he has a strange defect: he cannot understand why you are not a fan yourself, and he insists on talking to you as if you were. To convey my meaning I will give you an analogy. I play the recorder (worse and worse, according to a public statement by Luciano Berio, but to be followed so closely by a Great Master is a satisfaction). Now let’s suppose that I am in a train compartment and, to strike up a conversation, I ask the gentleman sitting opposite me,

“Have you heard Frans Brüggen’s latest CD?”

“What? Eh?”

“I’m talking about the Pavane Lachrymae. If you ask me, he takes the opening bars too slowly.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“I’m talking about Van Eyck, of course, [slowly and distinctly] The Blockflöte”

“Look, I’m not…. Do you play it with a bow?”

“Oh, I understand, you aren’t—”


“That’s funny. Did you know that, for a custom-made Coolsma, there’s a three-year waiting list? So an ebony Moeck is better. It’s the best, at least of those on the market. Galway says the same thing. Tell me something: do you go as far as the fifth variation of Derdre Doen Daphne D’Over?”

“Actually, I’m getting off at Parma.”

“Oh, I see. You prefer to play in F rather than in C. It’s more satisfying in some ways, I know. Mind you, I’ve discovered a sonata by Loeillet that—”

“Lay who?”

“But I’d like to hear you in the Fantasias of Telemann. Can you manage them? Don’t tell me you use the German fingering?”

“Look, when it comes to the Germans, I…. Granted, the BMW is a great car, and I respect them, but—”

“I get it. You use the baroque fingering. Right. Though the St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields bunch—”

There. You understand my point, I’m sure. And you will sympathize with my hapless traveling companion if he pulls the alarm cord. But the same thing happens with the soccer fan. And the situation is particularly difficult when the fan is also your taxi driver:

“So what about Vialli, eh?”

“I must have missed that.”

“But you’re going to watch the game tonight, aren’t you?”

“No, I have to work on Book Z of the Metaphysics, you know? The Stagirite.”

“Okay. You watch it and you’ll see if I’m right or not. I say Van Basten might be the new Maradona. What do you think? But I’d keep an eye on Aldaiz, all the same.”

And so on and on. Like talking to a wall. It isn’t that he doesn’t care a fig that I don’t care a fig. It’s that he can’t conceive that anyone could exist and not care a fig. He wouldn’t understand it even if I had three eyes and a pair of antennae emerging from the green scales of my nape. He has no notion of the diversity, the variety, the incomparability of the various possible worlds. I have used the taxi driver as an example, but the situation is the same when the interlocutor belongs to the managerial class. It’s like ulcers: they strike rich and poor alike. It is curious, however, that creatures so adamantine in their conviction that all humans are the same are ready to bash in the head of the fan who comes from the neighboring province. This ecumenical chauvinism wrings roars of admiration from me. It’s as if the members of the Lombard League were to say:

“Suffer the Africans to come unto us. So we can kick their ass.”


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