Does no one enjoy football anymore? Given the spectacle of top class football nowadays, how can they not?
I know we live in an increasingly sensationalist society. Part of the rationale of our tabloid led, compensatory-culture saturated Zeitgeist sometimes leads me to ponder on the following question – Does no one enjoy football anymore?
Given the spectacle of top class football nowadays, how can they not?
I don’t know about you, but I seem to have been reading lately an inordinate number of articles from people who have nothing good to say about “The Beautiful Game”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written myself about the shortcomings and problems on occasion….. Pierre91.Blogspot.com – but surely it’s not the case that we’re going through some sort of Jurassic Era, especially with the game more immediately available and enjoyable than it’s ever been.
How long have you been a Football supporter? You’re probably a fan of a particular club. The bulk of the global football audience is. Although there may be some people around who profess to just love the game, and have no particular allegiance to any side in any football contest they see, I have my doubts.
If you ARE one of these fabled beings, someone I’d call a “Fan” as opposed to a fan, would you please ask yourself this.
If you were a Scot, and, whilst on a visit to your local hostelry on the way to the bar you caught a glimpse of the Scotland v England fixture in a European Championship play-off qualifier on the TV and you saw Wayne Rooney line up a penalty against the Scots,- wouldn’t you just wish he’d slip and shank it into the Stands? What, not even a teensy bit?
Or you’re an impeccably dressed Italian citizen at a Neapolitan Trattoria ,and, whilst ordering another Cappucino, you get a sneaky glance at Sky Italia showing Edinson Cavani one on one with the keeper- don’t you want him to just slot it? Particularly as the opponents are Meeee-Lan, with their Berlusconi-backed loadsa’ Lire.
Go on. Admit it. You DO, really. ‘Cos if you don’t then you must be some sort of Automaton- and a particularly well designed one, since your control over your emotions is ABSOLUTE.
But these people DO exist. Honestly. Or so I’m told. I’ve never yet met one in real life, particularly when, if I did, I’d sit them down and engage them in a long, convoluted inquisition of How on earth do they do it?
Don’t they know this is Planet Football, and we’re living through the best years yet??
I say this without fear of contradiction. Let me explain why.
I come to this, as some will know, as a Swansea City fan. Lower West G120 since you ask. Have done since the Liberty, (that’s our Nirvana and where we play our Home games), opened in August 2005. As I’ve said before, my first live match was in 1964 (see “Divided Loyalties” on my blog as above) and I’ve seen Football evolve over the years since.
It was then a totally different game. How can I explain to someone more lately come to the Sport that the pitches alone were very different to today’s, with the immaculate turf that graces every PL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga et al, Club?
Anyone remember The Baseball Ground? With it’s knee deep mud in Winter, which froze and rutted hard if the temperature dropped, Derby County managed to win Division 1 (the pre-cursor of the Premier League) playing football which would have pleased Guardiola.
Or Stamford Bridge, once covered by 100′s of tons of sand that Morecambe Beach would die for. And George Best gliding and skimming, almost floating, over this surface before overcoming a Ron “Chopper” Harris attempted tackle out of the Manual for Jiu-Jitsu enthusiasts. He went on to score… see it here at 3m 45 seconds. And while you’re at it, watch the rest of the video. You’ll love it.
Anyway, enough nostalgia, let’s get to the nitty gritty- how, and why, has football changed for the better. Here’s a list of some of the reasons…… I’m sure you can come up with more.
Have you seen any Football League 2 lately? Or FL Div 1? It’s an eye opener. Tune in to any weekend highlights show (if you don’t see it live it’s likely to be your only glimpse). You will see the bulk of the teams playing a standard and quality of football that makes the game from the past look like a different sport. Players are fitter, faster, technically proficient and far more “game savvy”. Gone are the days when a Harry Cripps could put a young winger into the stands and earn the crowd’s approval (home at the Den) or hatred (perm 1 from 91 others). Yes that’s a good thing- watch Southend, Shrewsbury or Swindon even- or go one tier up and delight in Charlton, Huddersfield or MK Dons and you’ll see pass and move to attract.
And then you get to the teams in the Leagues above that level. I really don’t need to take it further. But if you want me to I will. Have a gander at Southampton nowadays. The club that brought us the sublime Matt Le Tissier has Adam Lallana and a gaggle of others to gorge on. Further down the coast, Gus Poyet’s Brighton nowadays include Vicente Rodríguez Guillén , commonly known by his patronymic, Vicente, a player who was surely the blueprint for Juan Mata of Chelsea. Just enjoy, while you can.
I’ve alluded to FL grounds we’ve all seen or been to. You have to admit that post-Taylor, and the game’s urgent need to make it both safe and accessible for the many, it’s far more pleasant nowadays to go watch a game. Whether you go to the PL all-seater stadiums or the Bundesliga’s equivalent with safe standing areas, the game’s the thing.
No longer welcomed by a trial-by-bladder, the rest of the (non-male) human race are welcomed, and catered for.
I, too, have heard the argument that grounds have lost the atmosphere of years ago, and, if you like uncomfortable, inaccessible ,and downright dangerous then you may be shocked. I speak as a Swansea City supporter, who, when we were a town, and personally living at the time in Knebworth, travelled the 8 miles to Luton to watch us in a Division 2 fixture (1979/80 season). Whilst making my way back to my car in the side streets around Kenilworth Rd I found myself forced into a terraced front garden just to avoid the bricks. My sin? Wearing a Swansea City scarf. The outcome? Cuts and bruises to the face, aching ribs(for a month), and a fortunate escape because the swamping Luton kickees found a more enticing target of about a dozen Swans fans further down the road and left me to bleed in peace. On getting home, my wife made the illuminating comment…”and this is Football?” She was right. It was. Or the following year (1980/81) season) when, because I’m a football fan, I returned to Kenilworth Rd, not to see my beloved Swans but to watch the Home Counties outfit entertain Chelsea, because I thought it looked like an interesting fixture. What’s more my wife at the time decided she’d come with me.And so we went.To be herded and corralled and crushed and downright terrified as the Police gave an Eighties example of the modern technique of “kettling”, but in a smaller space (a football terrace) and with similar terrifying results. People falling, and crushed, and walked on just because they were the so-called “Away” fans. Although people were hurt, it NEVER made the press. That was to come later, and elsewhere, with truly tragic consequences. My wife of the time has never been to another football match. I can understand why.
3) Social Attitude
I’ve been in grounds where the appearance of any player (or spectator) not from a WASP background was the routine for the start of abuse by a large section of the crowd. This didn’t begin to change until both and all, the Clubs, the FA and individuals began to confront the issue. To our eternal shame, some people still don’t get it! The recent occurrence of both hate-filled and troglodyte chants at Man Utd, Leeds, Tottenham are just a few examples of the distance still to travel. I’ve intervened in the past (and would do again) when it’s occurred near me. It’s called taking responsibility- I’m not proud and I’m not smug either. But it does need doing, by ALL of us. It’s too easy to blame the Clubs and the authorities. The Government is always ready to use our sport to its advantage. The current farrago over it’s suggestion that the football regulatory authorities organise themselves more appropriately does scream the words POT, KETTLE, BLACK. It took an e-petition to get the Commons to belatedly agree to the release of all Hillsborough documents. Shameful.
Have you seen Lionel Messi and his Barca team recently? Have you seen Christiano Ronaldo and the other Galacticos at Madrid? Aguero and Silva At City? Rooney and Nani at Utd? Cavani, Sjneider, and Pirlo in Serie A? Joe Cole and Hazzard at Lille? Muller, Schweinsteiger and Gomez at Bayern? Need I go on? Football, nowadays, is played at a high tempo with concomitant skills and a demand from us fans that it please the eye. And that means that people prefer Cezanne to Damian Hirst. Picasso to Tracey Emin. They’ve got good taste. It’s about talent and skill, not marketing expertise and trendiness, surprisingly. As Ian Eyre found out amongst other things. The modern game is a real feast of style allied with substance. Watch the theatre of a packed top-flight fixture, home or abroad, live or on TV, and tell me you don’t get a buzz. You MUST do. Otherwise, check your pulse.
5) Memory and Reality
I’ve seen some truly great players live, not on TV. I was at the Vetch Field for a Wales v N Ireland International fixture when the home Internationals meant something. At that game, I stood on the North bank and saw Welsh fans in their thousands taunt George Best with chants that included “Georgie, Georgie, where’s your handbag?” presumably because he wore his hair long and their sexual innuendo was meant to put him off. NI won the game 1-0- Best was indescribable (think of everything good you’ve seen Messi do in the last 10 games and double it) – by half time those self same Wales fans were clapping spontaneously at the quality of his tricks and flicks. It was life affirming. You know what I mean.
I’ve seen Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, Johann Cruyff and players of equal quality. And it just keeps getting better. I don’t quite get that quality live every week. but, on Planet Football, the reality is that this now happens almost every week. It may be because Football is now everywhere- Print and Social Media, TV/Radio, as well as what you see at your club. You can’t fail to have a “George Best moment” every weekend. And why not? You deserve it. And it leads us to….
Last Saturday, I watched Swansea City away at Wolves. Despite bossing the game with a display that confirmed our ability to the watching TV audience, and a 2-0 lead that could have 3,4 or 5 even, we were dragged back to a 2-2 result by a Wolves team that was performing through the vocal dissent of their own crowd, from elation to despair in a heartbeat. The previous week I watched the team at Norwich despite being 322 miles to the west of the actual match. I picked it up off an internet stream on my laptop and as I hadn’t been able to travel, it was a godsend. But it’s not unusual (as Tom Jones might say) for this to be the case. ANY Premier League match, with ANY club, on a Saturday, is likely to be available. No, let’s be fair, it’s not LIKELY, it IS available.
Coupled with my home season ticket, and my desire to travel to the away fixtures that I can manage, this means that I can watch every single one of my club’s first season in the Premier League. I’m made up about that. I’m conscious of the fact also that this is so because Swansea City are now part of the Premier League elite. It may well be more difficult at the moment to see Huddersfield v MK Dons on the same basis- but, I’ll wager that this may not be the case for much longer. Eventually, it’ll come to all. When you see Sky’s progress, to mention but one broadcaster, you KNOW it’ll be so.
As I say, I watched the Swans begin to charm a national audience as they set about subduing Wolves at Molineux in Sky’s early kick off game for the Premier League weekend. Let me say it again, 2-0 up and coasting, they were dragged back to a 2-2 draw. I’ve written in more detail about the game elsewhere but hey- I was there- in spirit if not body. And it was wonderful.
7) Supporter Involvement
I’m one of the first to criticise TalkSport Radio and its many equivalents on differing wavebands and its TV brothers but I’m also honest enough to admit that I love it, really. I’ll happily spend the weekend surfing the ether to take in all the football available. Couple that with the reality of the live experience and I’m a happy pixie. Gone are the days of travelling to the game on the same bus as Ted Drake or Dixie Dean but I do get to go to regular fans forums and social evenings, all of which will be enhanced by the appearance of both management and playing staff of Swansea City FC. It’s good to talk, and there’s a ten-pin bowling evening next month that I’ll enjoy too.
I’ve also just enjoyed the fantastic weekend that saw Man City, those “noisy neighbours”, make Sir Alex Ferguson go more red faced by the goal in a 6-1 reversal that saw David Silva, particularly, confirm that there’s beauty in the patterns and flow of the modern “Beautiful Game”.
Despite all the hype- media trumpeting and all- it’s well worth watching.
So, in summary, it’s a brand new day.
Embrace it, enjoy it, take part in it, experience it, talk about it, buy it.