From the Coffee House to the Pub

What impact does environment have on style? With a suggested view that'll take in 'Der Papierene', John Terry & L.S. Lowry, here's Paul Gleeson...

Public houses have long been a strong hold for patriarchy, a place where the working class can convene to discuss the dynamics of everyday existence. My local is called the Village Inn. The word Inn conjures notions of rustic-chic décor; of horse-brasses, oak beams and roaring fires. Banish these. The walls of this particular pub are adorned with a variety of ephemera relating to the two local clubs; one side with Liverpool clutter and the other with Everton tit-tat. Amongst the discussions flitting in and out of earshot, the talk is resolutely of football, tits or a combination of the two.  Conversations rarely err to socio-politics.

My friends and I like to consider ourselves fairly learned – we are, you could say, a quasi-intellectual group. However, in the pub, repartee rarely strays beyond the exchange of idle local gossip. Were we to attempt a meeting of our book club in our local – currently up for discussion is atmospheric Seventies-set self-slaughter-fest The Virgin Suicides – conversation would, no doubt, follow this curve:

‘What did you think of the book?’

‘It was good, yeah. Which of the Lisbon’s do you reckon is the hottest?’

‘Erm, probably Lux…speaking of Lisbon, Everton have just signed a lad from their academy, Eric Dier.’

By contrast, the coffeehouses of early 20th century Vienna, though, resonated with the nattering of intelligentsia, pouring, no doubt, over the latest highbrow topics and social theorems of the day. Vienna’s coffeehouse culture poster boy, however, was no member of the bourgeois, nor was he one amongst the throngs of bespectacled, bearded intellectuals. Matthias Sindelar was, instead, star of FK Austria Vienna and fulcrum of the Austrian Wunderteam.

For a culture so enraptured by the trifolium of politics, bohemia and bourgeois rhetoric, Der Papierene is about a peculiar choice for a poster boy as Rooney would be for a pro-fidelity campaign. In pre-Anschluss Vienna though, very much the Shoreditch or Williamsburg of its time, his style of football was comparable only to the beauty of great art. He was more than a mere working-class ball-kicker; he was an artist, a poet, a director, a figure of overwhelming cultural capital in a city flooded with intellectuals only too pleased to wax lyrical about his prowess.

Sindelar was revered. His on-pitch performance was not simply football, but as the theatre critic Alfred Polgar put it, was a perfect symphony. When he scored it wasn’t just a goal, it was a punch-line, it was “the ending that made it possible to understand and appreciate the perfect composition of the story, the crowning of which it represented." In football’s modern incarnation it is rare to find a player who so wholly encompasses a singular culture, like the coffeehouse, with players increasingly being seen to represent a much broader socio-political-economic context.

Monsieurs Rooney and Messi, for instance, are often allegorised as representing the last strain of the street footballer – an unreconstructed prole who plays football with the unbridled joy of a child, without the exponential pressures of modernity inflicting damage upon their pure style of play. Meanwhile in Brazil, each sublimely skilled footballer churned off the conveyor belt - in what used to  exist in the common imagination used  as a magical land of samba dancers with a fantastic sea view - is placed in a cardboard box marked ‘made in the favela’, such is the social and cultural influence of the country’s slums.

A coffeehouse player though, must be of poise and intellect. He must pass, move, pass – see the move before it has even entered the brain of his opponents, perhaps even team mates. He’s best discerned as a classic number 10 – the creative hub of the team. Sindelar was all this and more (it possibly helped that the man owned his own coffeehouse). He also looked intelligent, with his slicked-back hair and blade-sharp cheekbones. Throw in a typewriter and a folded zeitung and you would not discern him from the gaggles of intelligentsia flitting about the city.

If environment were a pre cursor for style, then, what Frankenstein’s monster would the pub give birth to? A slovenly beast; his arse-crack perpetually hanging out of his jeans, a rueful expression on his face as he laps up the last watery dregs of that Carling Black Label? Maybe. But this, of course, undersells the poor creatures. If the coffeehouse is intellect, then the pub is industry, graft and hard work. If Sindelar is the last brush stroke of a Klimt, the pub player is the last oily smudge of a Lowry.

If the coffeehouse is the playmaker, the pub is the dogged defender, or the workmanlike midfielder – all grit and no guile. He not only doesn’t see the intricate through ball, he decimates it, hoofing the ball as far as is humanely possible away from himself, like a stick of cartoon dynamite.  Emancipated from his working class roots, he desperately seeks to appease those who say he’s changed; the money has gone to his head. He does this through masculine gestures – tough tackles and a plethora of Tarzan-esq chest thumps and yodels.

And of course the pub-player will perform this way – if he does not he is the subject of aspirations. Not against his skill, but against his own patriotic pride. ‘You don’t get anywhere without passion’ is the mantra of British punditry, every time the continental skill-conquistadors trample over the English (we invented the game! How dare they!) it was the fault of pub-player X. He was lacking in patriotism; the three lions were on his shirt but never in his heart. Where is their pride, the commentator’s cry, the bulldog-like tenacity necessary to pull off a victory against a bunch of pirouetting foreigners. Stevie Gerrard is a common target for this sort criticism – captain fantastic for Liverpool but a deadweight in the national squad. Must be a lack of passion, they growl.

Seeking to rally his team mates out of their post-Ray Wilkins slumber, a player like John Terry enacts the character of a pub-player almost weekly. Chelsea should just ‘man up’ or ‘play hard’, he insists, using argot befitting of the bar room, to overcome their poor run of form. Where a coffeehouse player may study theorems or tactical analysis, the pub player sees elevated masculinity as the solution to all what ails.

For all the eulogies, awards and bedpost notches, Terry is still a brick-wall, blood-on-shirt, Terry Butcher-style of defender. Perhaps he sees himself as a reincarnation of Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, who he’d no doubt refer to as a ‘proper defender’, rather than the hatchet man he was. It is precisely this worshiping of the working-class-hero, aligned with his own enactment of it that endows Terry with the title of pub player supreme. He might sip Costa lattes with his girlfriend but JT is as pub as a hairy pork scratching floating in the bottom of pint glass.

To read more from Paul & see his quite brilliant artwork, visit his excellent site here