Football and Flint

So tonight the big news is the arrival of Manchester United. You couldn’t move at my sons’ school for Cambridge United scarves yesterday (and the odd half-and-half). Here, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal assesses his team’s chances. He sounds a bit fearful if you ask me.

These are the games that people remember. I was visited a few years ago by a financial representative of some bank or other who was advising on pensions or mortgages or something probably quite important; but we mostly just talked about football, and about the time Chelsea sent a team up to play Cambridge United pre-season (in 1970, I think) as part of the deal that took Iain Hutchinson to Chelsea, from Cambridge. No doubt he will be at the game tonight. 

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For those who don’t get football, it is worth recalling that for countless years there was no such thing. Who knows how primitive hominids amused themselves? Perhaps amusement, per se, is a response to our lack of precariousness – we have no daily danger to confront, no regular critical shortfall of food, no rival tribes to beat off, no predatory big cats. You have to assume that for most of hominid history all energy was directed towards some end or other.

This is not to say that there would not have been subtle satisfactions, beyond the satisfaction of another meal provided, another winter seen out. Take, for example, flint knapping, which has always struck me as the root of all sculptural process – the satisfaction of knocking lumps off and shaping and sharpening stone must be profound when your survival depends on it. Here a colourful Will Lord demonstrates how to make an arrowhead from flint.

For the curious and the football averse, there is a wide collection of flint objects and other prehistoric implements at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, including flints from the Olduvai Gorge discovered by Louis Leakie, some of the oldest human tools in existence.

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