Friday, 11 March 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson and the sound of silence

The headline is Ferguson’s silence was music to the ears. Simon Barnes (referencing Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness as only this sports writer can) explains, “Sir Alex Ferguson (the manager of Manchester United) is giving a press conference today...After Manchester United’s defeat by Liverpool, Ferguson had spread a blanket of silence over his team. But now, alas, to the dismay of us all, he is talking to the world again. The horror! The horror!”

Ferguson’s monastic silence meant that there were “none of the usual claims about referees and how their incompetence cost his side the game...No rants against the media...No exclusion of journos who dare to suggest that United’s players and coaching staff are not all living pointed little sulks and vendettas against the BBC and others who had inspired his wrath...”

Silence, Barnes argues, would allow us to concentrate on what was really important – the football. “We’d have to talk about the players on the pitch instead of the personalities of the managers. We’d have to discuss the manager’s tactical abilities rather than his skills at verbal sniping. We’d have to deal with sport rather than soap opera.”

The whitenoise of meaningless, trivial, superficial words – the chattering of the commentating classes - makes us deaf to what is essential. Whether it is the person in front of the television or down the pub or in the office – we have convinced ourselves that we all have something of importance to say. There are those who do have something to say and then there is the majority, those legions of wagging tongues, who create a cacophony of discordant opinion.

Only silence provides us with an eloquence worth listening to. As the poet, R.S.Thomas puts it, "the silence holds with its gloved hand the wild hawk of the mind." Silence alone can hew that which is sublime and truthful from language. As in the prophet Isaiah, the seraph must touch our unclean lips with a glowing coal in order to purify them of all the inane banter, bigotry and innuendo. Perhaps, it is not a press conference that Sir Alex needs but a seraph's touch?

Simon Barnes also sees this silence as leading to “the eloquence of perfect action.” He ends with this riff and a delightful nod to John Keats:

I’m talking about the eloquence of perfect action: Dirk Kuyt’s goals against Manchester United, Tiger Woods at his best, Barcelona in full song, Jessica Ennis in full flight, Rebecca Adlington’s finish, Graeme Swann’s off break, Chris Ashton’s support play, Jonny Wilkinson’s tackling, Usain Bolt’s speed.

In sport, truth is action and action is truth. Perhaps in life as well. The rest is silence.

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