After Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Leeds United* on Saturday, Benjamin White was in the post match interview space and was asked if he’d been able to see Manchester City’s 4-1 win over Liverpool and what he thought of the game. He replied,
“I don’t watch football so I was just focused on the game today and that was it. There’s a lot of noise going on outside, and everyone is just keeping it very quiet and just getting on with what we are doing.”
White is known for telling journalists that he doesn’t watch football and perhaps there was a bit of cheekyness in his answer but maybe not? Maybe there’s something we could all learn from Benjamin White and his steadfast “meh” towards football.
In 2021, White was in his first season at Arsenal and the Gunners were set to face Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace. Asked if he knew much about the Arsenal legend, White gave a surprising answer.
“Football is so intense. You come in every day giving 100 per cent. All I want to do is go home and not think about it, then come in in the morning fresh and ready to give 100 per cent again. I watch myself for analytical reasons. I watch England, maybe, but I’m always busy doing something. I wouldn’t just sit down and watch a game.
I didn’t ever watch football when I was younger. I still don’t now. I just loved the game, I was always playing it, never watching.
So I don’t know too much about the older generations, but I know Vieira was a very good player. But I don’t know the details.” (emphasis mine)
Many supporters were taken aback. How could anyone not watch as much football as they do? Three to four matches a week is the minimum! Arsene Wenger was famous for watching as much football as he possibly could. Players always talk about which players they idolized, which matches they loved, what got them into the game. And the fan favorites were the players who had “been in the stands” – after all they were “one of them.” Can this dude be serious?
Yes, this dude is very serious. When he was first selected for the English National team he was asked about his favorite World Cup memories and said that he didn’t have any, adding
“Sitting down and watching a 90-minute game after I’ve trained all day and had four or five meetings about football … the last thing I want to do is watch more football.”
When you think about it that way, it makes a lot of sense. He’s simply saying that he wants to have a healthy work-life balance and that in this case, that means, not sitting down to watch City v. Liverpool.
It’s also actually quite a brilliant breakdown of many fans mentality toward players. When players get injured the fans get mad if the player isn’t “being serious” about football and heads off to Ibiza for recuperation. Some folks want football players to be locked in a drafty cell, chained to a chair, and either watching tapes of football games or doing something physical to get themselves ready for when they return.
And who could blame him, really. What could possibly be gained by watching any team coached by Sean Aller Dyche? Especially in the modern era when a player’s club (in this case Arsenal) have an entire team of well-paid nerds to watch the games for him and tell him what to look out for when the two teams go head-to-head? Is Benjamin White better off letting the club’s analysts tell him what to look out for or is he the better analyst himself?
But in the abstract, I have long prescribed more football as the antidote to many of a fans ailments: believe that the refs are against your team? Watch more football and you’ll see that everyone thinks that. Believe that France is a “Farmer’s League”? Watch more football and you’ll see the quality of the players there and why so many Premier League teams are shopping in that league. Believe that the “level of refereeing is poor” in England? Serie A is prescribed to you! Regardless of the ailment, I prescribed more football.
But I’m starting to rethink this. Maybe less football is the answer. Maybe our problem as fans is that we watch too much football? Between the games, the conversations with folks at work or just among friends, the post-match interviews, the blogs, the vlogs, the instant reactions, the tweets, the tik-toks, or the absolute glut of podcasts (almost all saying the same things in the exact same way, almost always with the same three or four people!)… Maybe we consume too much football?
How would I know that Bruno Fernandes pushed aside a ref if I didn’t consume so much football? And what does that knowledge contribute to my mental health? My relationships with others? How am I a better person for knowing that? And how is the football echo-chamber shaping my ideas of what’s good or bad, right or wrong?
I’m starting to think Benjamin White has a good point here. And that he has a healthy outlook on life in general:
“I don’t really look too far ahead,” he says. “I’m a day-to day-person. I wake up, look after that day and try to have the best one ever. I’m not someone that has anything planned for in normal life. If I want to go somewhere for dinner on the day, I’ll be going.”
Maybe when he retires from football (hopefully as a decorated Premier League and Champions League winner) he can open up a mental health clinic to help all of us so hopelessly addicted to football that we’ll watch Manchester United** v. Aston Villa.
*You know why it’s called Leeds United? Because they were forced to disband Leeds City after a financial scandal and the club re-formed as Leeds United.
**You know why it’s called Manchester United? Because they “united” everyone against them from the start by being a pack of dirty cheats.