Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Football Match: The Epic Showdown Between the Greeks & Germans (1972)

Last year, we wit­nessed a very tense, unpleas­ant show­down between Ger­many and Greece as the top­most nation in the Euro­pean Union drove its most indebt­ed coun­try to make painful, per­haps pun­ish­ing com­pro­mis­es. In one analy­sis of this hard-to-watch eco­nom­ic humiliation—for Greece, that is—The Wash­ing­ton Post made use of a much more light­heart­ed con­test between the two coun­tries, one in which Greece emerged the vic­tor after scor­ing the only goal of the match.

The soc­cer match, that is, or, if you must, football—played between Ger­man and Greek philoso­phers in 1972 and staged by Mon­ty Python. On one side, Hegel, Leib­niz, Kant, Marx, Niet­zsche, Wittgen­stein, and more (includ­ing actu­al foot­baller Franz Beck­en­bauer, a “sur­prise inclu­sion”)… on the oth­er, Socrates, Archimedes, Her­a­cli­tus, Pla­to, Dem­ocri­tus, Epicte­tus, etc…. On the side­lines of this show­down between West­ern schools of thought, Con­fu­cius served as the ref­er­ee. Even after that sin­gle goal, scored after two full halves of mean­der­ing, the two teams came into conflict—in heat­ed argu­ments about the nature of exis­tence….

I won’t con­tin­ue to bore you by explain­ing the gags—watch the sketch above. It’s great fun, if by some chance you haven’t seen it, and great fun to watch again if you have.

Filmed at the Grün­walder Sta­dion in Munich (pre­sum­ably giv­ing the Ger­mans home field advan­tage), the sketch, Ter­ry Jones recalled many years lat­er, is about the “clash of oppo­sites.” No, not the two Euro­pean coun­tries, but the oppo­sites of sports and intel­lec­tu­al exer­cise. “You can’t think about foot­ball too much,” said Jones, “you just have to do it.” This proves chal­leng­ing for our deep thinkers.

Why foot­ball? Because it’s “a team activ­i­ty,” Jones answered, “which phi­los­o­phy, as a gen­er­al rule, isn’t.” Well, most­ly. The Pythons weren’t the first to make the “incon­gru­ous” con­nec­tion. Albert Camus played the game, as a goal­keep­er, and played it quite well by all accounts. He once wrote, “all I know most sure­ly about moral­i­ty and oblig­a­tions, I owe to foot­ball.”

The injunc­tion to “just do it” wouldn’t present too much of a chal­lenge for an exis­ten­tial­ist, one would think. Philoso­pher Julian Bag­gi­ni puts the Pythons firm­ly in that school of thought, their take on it a “coher­ent, Anglo-Sax­on” one. Indeed, like Camus, the British come­di­ans rec­og­nized the absur­di­ty of life, and showed us that “the right response is to laugh at it.” They also showed us that phi­los­o­phy could be hilar­i­ous, and made a clas­sic sketch aca­d­e­mics could use to refute charges they’re a dour, humor­less lot.

It should come as no sur­prise that the Python “most inter­est­ed in the sub­ject” of phi­los­o­phy and com­e­dy was John Cleese—whom we’ve fea­tured here many times for his tal­ents in com­bin­ing the two. Cleese, writes Bag­gi­ni, is “on record as say­ing that com­e­dy and deep thought can go hand in hand. ‘You and I could talk about the mean­ing of life, or edu­ca­tion, or mar­riage,’ Cleese once told a jour­nal­ist, ‘and we could be laugh­ing a lot, and it doesn’t mean that what we’re talk­ing about isn’t seri­ous.’”

Inspired by the Pythons’ serio-com­ic love of learn­ing, Bag­gi­ni, and oth­er philoso­phers like A.C. Grayling and Nigel War­bur­ton, along with come­di­ans, his­to­ri­ans, and jour­nal­ists, decid­ed to restage the Ger­many-Greek match in 2010. Where the Pythons indi­rect­ly boost­ed intel­lec­tu­al pur­suits in the course of mock­ing them, the par­tic­i­pants in this “game”—such as it was—explicitly sought to pro­mote “Rea­son­ing,” the “fourth R” in “Read­ing, W®iting, and A®ithmetic.”

See them bum­ble around on the pitch here and gen­er­al­ly have a good time mak­ing philo­soph­i­cal fools of them­selves to the strains of Mon­ty Python’s row­dy anthem “The Philoso­pher’s Song.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mon­ty Python Sings “The Philosopher’s Song,” Reveal­ing the Drink­ing Habits of Great Euro­pean Thinkers

John Cleese Touts the Val­ue of Phi­los­o­phy in 22 Pub­lic Ser­vice Announce­ments for the Amer­i­can Philo­soph­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion

Mon­ty Python and the Holy Grail Re-Imag­ined as an Epic, Main­stream Hol­ly­wood Film

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.