There’s a little patch of grass up the road from where I live, maybe about 20 yards square, and in the middle of it there’s a sign that says, “No Ball Games Permitted”. Which is a shame, because it’s an ideal patch of ground for kids to play football on, even if it does have houses all around it.
I used to spend hours and hours and hours playing football as a kid, on football pitches which had a wall as a goal at one end, and a couple of pullovers or jackets to mark the goal at the other end. We’d start off playing with inflated plastic balls at the beginning of the school term, but these would either get punctured or gradually deflate after a few weeks of intensive use. So we’d usually end up playing football with tennis balls, and some of them would end up either lost or looking like pieces of orange peel. Once somebody found a golf ball, and we played football with that. And, in extremis, we’d even play football using marbles. The balls got progressively smaller and smaller. And the smaller they got, the easier they’d get lost. A lot of football games were spent just looking for the ball.
I read once that Diego Maradona played football that way when he was a boy in Argentina, and developed most of his skills back then. I could well understand why. And also why the Argentinian team won the World Cup. Diego Maradona could probably play football with a marble.
The same was true in Brazil. Beaches like Copacabana beach always had football games being played on them. And playing football on soft, dry sand takes quite a lot of skill. The ball doesn’t bounce much, and it needs to be scooped out of the sand with a special foot action. And there weren’t any signs saying “No Ball Games Permitted” on Copacabana beach. And the result was that Brazil has won the World Cup even more times than Argentina.
England used to be a place where kids could play football almost everywhere. But now it seems to be almost nowhere. And this is probably why English football is so crap, and why England will never win the World Cup again. It’s also why English football clubs increasingly rely on foreign players, from places like Argentina and Brazil. There’s no homegrown talent any more. Because there aren’t kids kicking footballs around on the streets or on patches of ground or in back yards. Instead, they’re all sitting inside with their X-boxes, playing video games and slowly becoming obese. What else is to be expected?
I don’t know why ball games aren’t allowed on the little patch of grass up the road. Maybe it’s because the balls would go in people’s gardens, and they’d need to be fetched out. Or maybe they’d damage the flowers, or frighten the cats. Or maybe the ball might roll onto the road, and the kids might get run over by cars. But most likely it’s that people simply don’t want a bunch of kids running around outside shouting and yelling. They want peace and quiet. And there’s a lot of peace and quiet around here. But the result is that there’s a nice patch of grass that isn’t used for anything at all, as far as I can see.
The smoking ban is just like “No Ball Games Permitted”. The ostensible reason for it is that smoking causes other people harm, a bit like a football might crush a flower or frighten a cat or dirty some washing that’s hung out to dry. It’s not the real reason why smoking is banned though. The real reason is that some people simply don’t like tobacco smoke. And in fact, even that isn’t the real reason. The real reason is that they don’t think people should smoke, and they want to ‘denormalise’ smoking. They want to control what other people do. And now that they’ve managed to get smoking banned more or less everywhere, they want to get drinking banned too. And for much the same fabricated reasons. They want to ‘denormalise’ drinking. And there are plenty of other things that they’d like to ‘denormalise’ and forbid as well.
Now that smoking is banned, I can well imagine that miniskirts might get banned too. The real reason for banning them would be that they’re just too damn sexy. But since the banners never use the real reason, and always dream up some other reason, they’d probably justify it on some fabricated medical grounds. Maybe that the sight of miniskirts raised blood pressure among elderly, “at risk” men, with the concomitant risk of heart attack and “premature death”. They’d carry out studies which showed that male blood pressure and pulse and breathing rate increased linearly with skirt height, and would produce figures showing the likely “projected” mortality. The BMA would release studies showing conclusively that “245 premature deaths are caused by miniskirts every year,” with recommended skirt lengths being at around ankle level. Why not? After all, it’s on the back of such absurd studies and projections that the smoking ban has been launched.
And they’ll do it using the law. They always do. And yet this seems to me to be an abuse of law. I don’t think it’s the purpose of the law to control people or make them behave it prescribed ways. I don’t think it’s any business of the law to tell people what they should eat and drink, or what clothes they should wear. In fact, I think that there should be laws against people making laws like this. The US Constitution seems to have legal restrictions of this sort, so that some laws get struck down for being “unconstitutional”. But it doesn’t seem to have stopped smoking bans multiplying across the USA.
But a lot of people seem to see the law primarily as a way of controlling other people, and making them do what they want them to do. Such people would quite happily ban anything, simply because they didn’t like it. They’d ban cars. They’d ban TV sets. They’d ban pornography. They’d ban lipstick and miniskirts and high heel shoes. They’d ban doughnuts and chocolate chip cookies and hamburgers and sugar and salt and bacon. They’d ban books. And music. And art. And trees.
These people seem to think that they can make any law they like. That if there are enough people who don’t like, say, things that are lime green in colour, it would be perfectly okay to ban anything that colour. And why not? What’s wrong with banning lime green, if enough people want it banned? Or why not ban all words beginning with the letter M? Why shouldn’t people be allowed to make laws like that? Isn’t that what the law is there for? To stop other people doing things you don’t like?
After all, they’d say, the game of football has all sorts of rules (or laws). You’re forbidden from touching the ball with your hand or arm. You’re not allowed to trip up other players. A goal is only scored when the ball goes between two posts, and not if it goes outside them. Football has lots and lots of rules or laws. And it’s the same with chess. Knights can jump over other pieces in ways no other piece can. The rules could have been written differently. They could have had suicide chess pieces that blew up and removed all the pieces near them. Or rocket chess pieces that could jump anywhere on a board just once in a game. The rules of chess and football are the way they are simply because enough people agreed that those were the rules they wanted. What’s different about the law of the land, enacted in parliament? Aren’t all those laws just like the rules of football or chess too? If we want to ban cars or miniskirts or lime green or words beginning with M, there’s absolutely nothing to stop us.
And in fact there isn’t, as far as I can see.