::: Today we welcome a guestpost from Russell Berrisford, who you may remember from such gaily flickering difference engine lanterns as the Vancouver Sun and Soccer Report Extra :::
It is a sadly neglected aspect of Immanuel Kant’s life that, during what scholars have come to refer to as his ‘silent decade’, he was controversially made head coach of Prussian Premier League side FC Königsberg. The appointment caused consternation amongst the Königsberg fans but extensive research has revealed that Kant spent so much time trying to explain the nature of beauty to the clubs owner that he was eventually put in charge “just to shut him up”.
Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime
Those who have studied that particular period of Prussian soccer will know that Kant’s stay at the helm was a rollercoaster ride combining both great football and tragic farce (often in the same game). His tenure began in typical controversy when, at his first press conference, he announced that he would not seek to keep the majority of fans happy but rather “seek the support of few, and number not their voices; but weigh them.” From that day on, sections of the crowd were never to grant him their full backing.
Contemporary records also show that the Königsberg players were initially sceptical about his coaching style; in his hilarious autobiography “Kick and Prush” the right-back Ernst Hoffman remembers his first encounter with Kant:
“He told us that time and space were vital on the field’ says Hoffman “but that they didn’t exist in the external world, only as a pure form of intuition. The gaffer then tried to explain the nature of objects using training cones but we were all baffled.”
What Is Enlightenment?
Despite this early setback, Kant’s innovative style of play made Königsberg the most watchable team in the league. “It’s like a Copernican revolution from a tactical point of view” said a rival manager after seeing his side taken apart by Königsberg’s free-flowing football, “It’s almost transcendental” he added. Kant himself was particularly proud of the way his players were performing as a group; “They have a priori footballing brains” he grinned “whilst the rest of the league are stuck with a posteriori thinking.”
Sadly controversy was never far away and, after a spurious offside decision denied his team a late winner, he accused the officials of having “Minds worse than noumena, since I cannot even postulate their existence from what I observe”.
Thus began one of his many touchline bans and, some say, the gradual decline from the pinnacle of his coaching career.
Critique of Pure Reason
Kant’s final season descended into farce when he implemented his “categorical imperative” style of football in which he instructed his players to play as though their actions were to become a universal law and, whilst this approach won much praise for his side’s lack of fouls or simulation, other outcomes were less welcome:
“We were over thinking things” recalls Hoffman “I would look to make an easy pass but then wonder what would happen if everybody simply made easy passes. Would anybody ever score? Before I knew what was happening the opposition had stolen the ball and scored passed our goalkeeper who refused to save anything as he thought that if all shots were saved nobody would ever play the game again. Whilst this was going on Kant was standing in the technical area arguing about the nature of duty with the fourth official.”
Unsurprisingly FC Königsberg went on to have the worst season in their history.”‘Get Rid of the Kant!” screamed the Königsberg daily in a typically lurid headline and indeed he was soon gone, not just from Königsberg, but from football forever.
Of course the sports loss was philosophy’s gain but one cannot help but wonder what might have been had he actually been allowed to develop his theories to full effect. Certainly he always maintained that another season of categorical imperative football would have produced the finest team to ever play the game but sadly we will never know, and I will leave the last word to the man himself who when, in later life, was asked to reflect on his time at FC Königsberg simply said:
“There can be no doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience, and my time at FC Königsberg was definitely an experience.” The game will probably never see his like again.