SATIRE is dead. A saying that both evokes a sense of I got here first, and didn’t someone say that a thousand years ago? Live long enough and you’ll see satire take little cycles round the block: Was it Pythagoras or Aristotle who first said that the earth was round? Well, give or take a couple of hundred years, those ancient Greeks were well ahead of their time. Fast-forward nearly a quarter of human civilisation to today, and in a turn of events even Nostradamus couldn’t have predicted, in the last decade we have witnessed a ballooning of believers in flat-earth theory, proving that satire is, in fact, truly alive and kicking in the 21st century.

When it comes to a cause for this abjection, all fingers must point directly at the internet and social media. Is there any subject that can’t be debated ad infinitum online? Nowhere in human history has there existed a platform that purports to ideals of pious political correctness via a medium of unadulterated “free speech”. Or, as the ancient Greeks called it, bigotry. A paradox, if you like (I think that term belonged to Plato).

While we’re on the subject of debates revolving around spherical objects, football and its many tribes offers a portfolio of such paradoxes. Perhaps none more so than the pearl-clutching on these shores surrounding the staging of last year’s World Cup in Qatar.

Never in the UK, for example, would players be subjected to racist abuse from their own, if we omit the disgraceful reaction to young trio Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford following England’s penalty shooutout defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

Our clubs and supporters reject all forms of discrimination, even if none of the four nations’ top divisions have any openly gay players. You don’t need to be a philosopher to guess why. Can you imagine the abuse they’d receive online if they did?

For more satire, just follow that cycle-path back to the Premier League, which has housed UAE-owned Manchester City, Chelsea under Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, Newcastle with their new Suadi backing, while Manchester United are currently being courted by a Qatari-led bid. Football, it would appear, is a fairly furtive ground for the almost comical contradictions that are slung around online.

But some clubs and pundits have learned to harness this to good effect. Take the social media maelstrom between Rangers manager Michael Beale and former Celtic striker and TV pundit Chris Sutton ahead of this weekend’s Viaplay Cup final. It was take-the-Michael time from top mic-handler Sutton, who happens to be employed by competition sponsors and cup final broadcasters Viaplay for Sunday’s Hampden clash.

The sparring match all started when Sutton praised Beale for ordering his side to let Partick Thistle score a goal in their Scottish Cup clash after Malik Tillman had netted under unsporting circumstances. Then, like an angler sticking a worm on the end of their rod, Sutton subtly dipped a little pay-off into the water, insisting that the Ibrox manager would never have done it against Celtic.

It’s a very simple formula for negotiating the hysterical waters of the internet age, one that Pythagoras could have jotted down on the back of a fag packet: Say what you’re “supposed” to say, then just about say what you mean, then let your opponent fill in the blanks and make a fool of themselves. The result is a Twitter spat, a Facebook face-off, a comment section assault, or, in other words, the pundit in question is trending, the satirist’s job is done, and the company he works for gets a ton of free publicity.

It’s lamentable to witness individuals latching on to that metaphorical worm and believing, while Sutton raises them out of the water with that big grin on his face, that they are somehow winning an argument. It was to my genuine surprise that one of those suckers was Beale himself. In the quagmire of social media, like one of those paintings in horror stories where an individual is trapped inside a portrait, internet-era satire exists inside that meme of Pepe the Frog (before the tragic amphibian was appropriated by alt-right groups) offering a kind of sideways, knowing glance with its finger and thumb held at its chin. You’ve probably seen it or, if you haven’t, just picture Sutton baiting a co-host on TV, or the hapless Beale in this instance, and you’ve pretty much got it. The way some people reacted to the former Celtic forward’s comments, meanwhile, you’d think he’d taken up with some alt-right bigots, too.

Hook, line and sinker, the Rangers manager came thrashing out of the water yelling “comedy act” and giving some bizarre insight into watching boyhood heroes Chelsea with the club’s “worst signing ever” up front. Sutton let it all cool down for a day or so (an epoch on social media) before trying to get another payload from the bealing Beale.

“What is Mick Beale getting his knickers in a twist about? He’s so thin-skinned, isn’t he? What have I said which was wrong?” asked a supposedly stupefied Sutton. “Mick got personal, he started talking about my playing career. I can’t possibly comment on his playing career for obvious reasons [Beale retired from playing in his early 20s].”

So satire is alive and well in 2023. Who’ll get the last laugh? Well, what was the Pythagorean formula again? Faux-praise, faux-insult, faux-outrage. Or is it outrage at faux-insult taken for real insult? Really insulted that faux-insult was met with outrage? Praise that no outrage met with faux-insult? Good grief…

Thankfully, football is a lot more efficient at deciding its winners and losers: when the full-time whistle sounds at Hampden on Sunday afternoon, only the side with their hands on the trophy will be smiling. Oh, and the competition sponsors and broadcasters.