There is a strange Stephen King story which a lot of people, even people who like King, have never actually read. It’s a shame too, because it’s a good one. It’s one of the Bachman Books, the novels he published under that pseudonym for various reasons he’s talked about at length and which aren’t really important to the point.
The story is called The Long Walk. It’s about a future where society is ruled by some sort of military junta, and every year a selection of males from across the country compete against one another for a mammoth prize. Since most people live in grinding poverty, and the prize bestows fabulous wealth and fame on the winner, a lot of the contestants are actually volunteers.
In the end, the prize can only go to one of them. The one who can keep on walking until all the rest fall. Sounds like something, right? What’s the catch?
Well the catch is that if you slow down to below four miles per hour you get a warning. Three warnings in any sixty-minute period or if you stop walking for just 90 seconds you get “checked out.” Literally. With a bullet to your head.
The phrase “winner takes all” is pretty apt.
During the story, various characters emerge. The most fascinating, by far, is Stebbins, a skinny kid who at first doesn’t talk much, who walks out on his own and who doesn’t appear interested in making any “friends” along the way. When he finally does talk he shows himself to be a Machiavellian master of psychological warfare.
He has one particularly profound insight that the others are scared by; he tells them that he set out to win, that he can walk the rest of them into the ground and that furthermore he has not the least self-doubt that he’ll do exactly that.
His rationale is simple; he talks about how a mule ploughing a field with no prospect or concept of reward will work until it falls down with exhaustion, whereas a mule that walks behind a dangled carrot on a stick will never get exhausted but “will spend a long time being tired.”
He believes he’ll win because he wants to win the prize, not just the money but the chance to stand in front of the dictator and tell him a terrible secret.
It is this motivation, the motivation to win the prize for its own sake, not simply to survive the event, that will make all the difference, and as one by one those around them fall, when willpower isn’t enough, when the desire to live is exhausted, they start to wonder if he’s right.
Next weekend is the League Cup Final, of course, and the more The Mooch and his players talk the more you realise that this is the only thing they’ve had on their minds for a while.
You know what I think?
They would take more pleasure from stopping us winning it than they would at getting some of that silverware for themselves. It is an obsession with them, to prevent us from making another domestic clean sweep.
They watched us win four of them in a row. They had their one season in the sun, but they know how close we came to a fifth treble in six years. If we win this one, that’s a momentous thing for us and a shattering blow to their sense of self, built as it is on their idea that they are some football super-power and that we are no more than upstarts.
Five trebles and a double in seven years? Five trophies out of six after they thought that they were on top? You can see why their stopping that is maybe more important to them than the mere idea of winning something themselves. They would spontaneously combust if we pulled it off, because it might force even them, for once, to examine reality.
And what is the reality? Why, simply that as Ange has said, we are the bigger club, the stronger club, and that moreover we’re closing in on the only thing that theirs has left to brag about; the titles and trophies of the dead club and which they falsely claim as their own.
See, we can now see in our sights all the records they have staked their existence on.
The whole Survival Lie is built on the backs of those trophies and titles and our objective, as a club now, is to go after those records on the pitch … to make the lie redundant.
For what use to them are those trophies and titles if we’ve eclipsed them anyway?
Their whole toxic sense of supremacy was built on being the self-described “most successful club in the world.” That would be a falsehood now even if we accepted that the tainted titles and trophies were actually theirs by right. All they have left is this notion of being the most successful club in Scotland, and everything they have and are is premised on that.
I think our motivation, to chase that down, but more importantly to win for the sake of winning, to claim the prizes, to eclipse the lie … I think those motivations are stronger, because they are purer and I don’t think the motivation simply to stop that is strong enough to sustain them. That, as much as our superior talent, is why I think we’ll win and win well.