During last season I finally pretty much stopped caring about Arsenal, the club I’ve supported for more than 30 years. I struggled to get even semi-interested in this England side, while I’m more looking forward to the new season for the fantasy leagues than I am the real ones. So where did it all go wrong?
To start on a tangent, the reason I don’t watch rugby is I don’t like it. I don’t like it because I don’t get it and I don’t get it is because it’s alien to me – I barely played in my youth, got a bad impression of those who do (rugby club dick heads waving their willies in bars) and consequently don’t care.
This can be applied to all sports I don’t watch, from hockey to motorbike racing to basketball: I don’t get it, don’t feel it, don’t care.
Sports I do like, I understand. From playing football and cricket and running at school or college, even to obsessing over computer simulations of American football and motor racing in my youth, I feel an affinity with sports I feel I know and have experienced. But something I never thought would happen has happened: I no longer understand football.
I used to. I ran around, to the best of my ability, heart on my sleeve, dreaming of the winning goal. My team (whether Arsenal, Wealdstone or Harrow Borough, England, or the school – even who ever I’d been picked for up the park at three-a-side) meant everything. And you could see it in the faces of the people playing for those teams too.
Contrast, if you will, the faces of Pearce and Gasgoine – but more importantly those of Southgate and Waddle – to that of Cashley the other night. Southgate and Waddle aren’t overly emotional types, but you could see the pain etched on their faces. Cashley is (allegedly) the type of character who lets emotion take over when he’s in a situation his tiny mind thinks merits it. Clearly missing crucial penalties for England wasn’t one of them – he was too busy trying to look a bit hard (or stupid, or both).
Then there’s club loyalty – but that can be levelled at players, managers, owners – even the fans, who seemingly start booing a new manager the minute their team lets a goal in when he’s been there five minutes (Hodgeson at Liverpool this year sickened me). Money over loyalty is fair enough when you’re talking about many short-term professions, but when a relatively poor player at a weak Premier League club can earn more in a week than I earn in a year or more it becomes something of a moot point.
Next, the way the game is played has changed almost beyond recognition. Freak like athleticism has seen pace and fitness take over the game so that what you see down the park barely resembles what you see on TV, while disrespect for officials has seen cheating practically become part of the rules rather than what they’re designed to prevent.
I enjoyed muddy pitches, snow, fixture congestion; tackling (remember that?), fat blokes; tall strikers who didn’t have a have a great touch; centre backs who couldn’t pass; left backs who scored one goal per career, not 10 a season.
The cost to get in doesn’t help either. While swanky new grounds look great on the TV, with their pristine pitches and floodlights – even comfy-ish chairs – it all somewhat misses the point. Go down the stairs from your posh looking seat and you’ll find yourself in a concrete wasteland filled with overpriced junk food and a few TVs – you’d get more entertainment in an air raid shelter. They take your £50, give you two hours of ‘entertainment’ (most would consider themselves lucky to be actually entertained once every two games, others would see that as a luxury they can only dream of), then shuffle you out the door.
Compare that to a big ‘gig’ nowadays. You’ll get a whole day out, support acts, a good variety of food, maybe even a secondary area with alternative entertainment. Alien concepts to those who run football. I mean, we couldn’t have the pitch a little cut up could we – even by out our own youth teams, or reserves? One of our precious freak Petri dish built football athletes might sprain an ever so expensive ankle while on his twenty third hapless run down the wing.
But this situation, brought on by increasing revenue and thus ridiculous wages, has had an even worse effect – it has filtered down, ruining every level of the game. I used to enjoy going to see lower league games, because while the standard was noticeably lower the prices were significantly affordable. Now, the football is even more noticeably lower and the prices are ridiculous; Cambridge United wants £12 to see a pre-season friendly versus the mighty Wycombe – bargain…
I watched a bit of Six Nations rugby a few months back. It was still stupid, but I could see things in it I likes which had never happened before – for a second, I started to think, “I could get into this”. But then it dawned on me – all I was enjoying were the things I missed in the football: the camaraderie, the passion, the respect, the fact fat blokes can still play and the fact the guy who was man of the tournament earned less in a year than John despicable Terry earns in a week.
So football has changed, as I’m sure I have. We’ve moved apart to a point where I no longer even see an occasional trip to the Emirates being on the cards, while a Sky subscription couldn’t be much further down my list of priorities. The love affair is well and truly over.
And while I may watch a bit more of the Euros, if I’m in and it’s on, I’m much more looking forward to the Olympics. Practically every one of our athletes I see interviewed I want to see do well as they’re just loving it and seem like nice people. In contrast, a penalty miss couldn’t be wished on a more deserving ‘player’ than Cole.
Sour grapes? Sure. Shouldn’t I just walk away, rather than throwing my toys out of the pram as I strop off (taking my ball with me, naturally)? Probably. Although where’s the fun in that? And all that said, that Man City are pretty good and I’ve always looked good in blue…