Baby I’m Bored

20 02 2017

A slightly different version of this post appeared in an Australian fanzine edited by a nice man called Geoff Briggs.

I’ll come out and say it at the beginning, I’ve gone off the Welsh Premier League.

I feel a little naughty for admitting this in public. When you’re even slightly involved in this league there’s unsubtle pressure to support the league through its thick and thin. You’ve got help put the league on the map and so on. I can’t live this lie any longer, I have reached the end of my tether with the competition. I’m not trying to be a clickbait contrarian, it’s just how I feel.

At the start of September a freelance journalist came to our north Walean hinterland to see if we’d felt any “bounce” from Euro 2016. Aside from the anecdotes poured over agog audiences there was absolutely no connection between Bangor City and Euro 2016.

The only possible connections between the Welsh Premier League (WPL) and Euro 2016 were the rules of football and the word “Wales“. The European Championships were a passing manifestation of divine brilliance and the WPL is a moribund entity that’s evaporated my enthusiasm for leaving the house on a Saturday afternoon, or Friday evening, or Sunday afternoon.

This feeling didn’t emerge overnight, I’ve experienced five seasons of ebbing joie de vivre, I lost the last few traces of it in the gap between the magnificent Euros and cold stark reality. A combination of three things – The WPL’s nature, brainwaves and the unforeseen effects of the club licensing process – have caused the joy drain.

Firstly, “the WPL” should be re-initialised as “the BIP” (Boredom In Perpetuity). We meet the same clubs and visit the same grounds so the same club can win the title. The WPL contained eighteen clubs until the advent of 2010’s “Super Twelve”, a competition that divides into hermetically sealed sections after twenty two matches. Now there’s a top half that ends with European play offs and a bottom half that may end in relegation. Every August I dread another existential slog.

Playing clubs at least four times during a season is bad enough but during a recent season cup matches and European play-offs meant that we played Rhyl, our fierce local rivals, seven times. Even the fiercest rivalries becomes anaemic through unrelenting contact.

A run of decent league results normally allows an unlikely side to challenge for a league title but the WPL provides erstwhile pacesetters with two extra matches to catch uppity interlopers. The clubs coasting along are merely saddled with bothersome pacesetters they can’t catch. Repetition has bred so much contempt that some clubs have welcomed relegation and others have denied themselves promotion.

I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, success and near relegation, so I have experienced the full spectrum of boredom. The spectre of relegation is humiliating in any system but in the super twelve you stand to be punished by players that you’ve faced countless times on the WPL roundabout.

When you’re title challengers there’s no light relief. The relief of a win evaporates when you realise there’s another match next week and every defeat has two simultaneous effects; you miss out on points and any advantage you enjoyed is slightly eroded by the baying mob at your heels.

When you’re “enjoying success” there’s a horrible melange of stress, a flowchart of stress if you will; Expectation stress > spectating stress > defeat aftermath stress > realising that other sides have won stress > missing UEFA prize money stress > losing players that would bring you glory next season stress. Our championship winning season of 2010-’11 contained ten absolutely awful dread-stained weeks.

Club licensing has generally had a positive effect on the WPL in terms of facility development, rule application and ensuring that clubs are sustainable but it’s also inadvertently diluted the anticipation I used to feel.

Last summer Port Talbot Town, our friends in the south, were relegated and Caernarfon Town, our local rivals, were denied promotion. In both instances there were valid reasons for the decisions but the crumbs of comfort I doggedly put my faith in – the potential visits in a new season – had been hoovered up.

Lastly, the brainwaves. Aside from the Super Twelve, we’ve had the 3G pitch football community hubs and Sunday matches. The desire to create local community football hubs based around 3G pitches may sound laudable – an all-weather pitch that can be used by the local community – but what if an area already has a local council operated all weather pitch? Isn’t the competition risking local authority employment during our times of cynically manufactured austerity? Where’s the sense of community in that?

3G pitches aren’t without their problems either; recent research has shown that 3G pitches may have worrying health effects. There’s nothing wrong with a grass pitch if it’s looked after. The FAW could fund the annual salaries of highly qualified groundsmen for each club for less than the cost of one 3G pitch.

When they came up with Sunday matches last summer it was almost my final straw. Who in the UK prefers going to a football match on a Sunday? How are you meant to relax when Monday morning’s work is clearly visible on the horizon? What about the semi-pro players that work on Mondays? We all need a day off from football.

At the start of the season I scanned the fixture list in anticipation of away days to come and discovered that all of the away games that can involve a good day out – Rhyl, Newtown, Aberystwyth – were scheduled on days other than Saturdays. Then I noticed we were scheduled to visit Cardiff Met, the only ground I hadn’t visited, on a Sunday. Thankfully they’ve relented over Sunday matches but my enthusiasm remains comatose.

There are only two sensible options; return to an eighteen club league or change the course of the future with time travel. Based on the latest news –  the clubs seems unwilling to change the nature of the league – the latter option seems the one most likely to happen.

We could back to the 1880s and set Wales on the same process of development as Scotland; a league based around one area – the Glasgow – Edinburgh Central belt – that eventually spreads over the whole country.

We could go to 1992 instead. We could convince Cardiff, Wrexham and Swansea and the rest to do the decent thing and join the League of Wales. This isn’t fanciful, Dynamo Kiev joined the Ukrainian league, Dynamo Minsk joined the Belarussian league and Hajduk Split joined the Croatian League. If it’s good enough for Eastern Europe it’s good enough for Wales!

Even with the obvious caveats – the geography of Wales prevented the development of a proper national league and the prospect of Football League promotion was always too persuasive – the only realistic prospect of pleasant change is using Doc Brown’s DeLorean.

I once owned a Manic Streets Preachers’ t-shirt that was emblazoned with the legend; “Baby, I’m Bored”, it’s a shame that I lost it ages ago because it feels rather apt. I’m not asking for much, some enjoyment is all I want, they seem to have enjoyment in the Cymru Alliance.

I’m sure that every point in this post can be refuted but my boredom feels tangible. I know change won’t happen, I’ll just have to concentrate and enjoy those conversations about films and comedy instead. Going to local football because of an almost perverse sense of duty may be the way forward.

What’s enjoyment anyway? A fleeting glimpse of a good thing that warps reality by causing unrealistic expectations.





“The angry people” by a big snowflake

11 02 2017

A very odd paradox appears to have developed in football.

Years ago many clubs were able to win trophies and people were philosophical about their club’s failure to win trophies.

Today a cynically created elite has a virtual stranglehold on success and people seem unable to deal with their club’s failure to win trophies.

In other words, people have become more intolerant of failure when there’s less chance of experiencing success. It’s all very weird.

It would seem that football and Iceland now share the same physical geography; plentiful hot eruptions. Some people are not only far from embarrassed about appearing to be dead angry they truly believe that we all need to know that they’re dead angry. Some people evidently dwell under the delusion that they deserve happiness more than others.

Anger, anger, anger, it’s everywhere!

Booing abounds and banners soon follow. Social media often hums with you tube videos of FAN TV ranters. Managers blast everything, commentators become incredulous, pundits simmer and tabloids bark. It’s lucky that we’re not living in the New York of Ghostbusters 2 otherwise the flowing molten anger would coalesce into something supernatural and foreboding.

Obviously the situation is not this simple. It only feels like everyone is permanently angry because shouting irritants are more noticeable. I imagine that the majority of football fans are similar; hopeful of witnessing something fantastic but willing to accept the mediocre and the mundane out of habit.

Football does that to you, as soon as you discover it’s creases childlike innocence is washed away. Players aren’t perfect, other fans are boring, managers are annoying and analysts are irritating. For the majority of fans good moments are like occasional day trips to fantastic destinations; gleaming memories to be cherished.

Those interested in football obviously connect with it on an emotional level. Despite the implication of their bellowing shouting irritants don’t care more than quiet people, every football fan cares about football otherwise they wouldn’t be interested in it. You wouldn’t apply the same logic to other areas of life. I may passionately care about recycling but I’m not going to start shouting and balling on You Tube about my council’s policy on refuse collection.

Emotions are intrinsic and private until expressed. Most people can choose whether or not to externalise their emotions. Some situations require externalisation – a danger lurking nearby, someone causing grave offence – but most of the time it isn’t required. Why do some people feel the need to draw others into their self-referential soap opera by sharing momentary football frustrations?

Thinking about how you express yourself in public is as much about common courtesy as protecting dignity. While not all football fans rant and rave, there is an angry fog in football’s climate. We can’t blame football for the fog’s existence, expressing emotional “LOOK AT ME, ME, ME!” anger seems to be a societal issue.

Some people have carved out political commentator profiles based on this type of angry you tube commentary, people film other people when they’re angry so they can tweet clips and Laura Keunssberg makes people really angry. Everyone is angry.

Anger by itself isn’t the problem. For example righteous anger as a force for good, as in John Lydon’s famous lyrics “Anger is an energy”, motivates you to try and improve something. The problem is solipsistic nihilistic anger and its corrosive effect upon society.

Take the EU Referendum. The result was partly attributable to solipsistic nihilistic anger; the anger of “a forgotten underclass“, the anger about the “EU’s undemocracy” and the anger about “immigration“.

Enter the Voice of Reason;

“I’m not sure about that, you’re just a bad loser!”

Fair enough, let’s look at an example from north Wales. Dissatisfied voters in the constituency that contains north Wales’ biggest employer, the Airbus plant, were so angry about the EU they voted Leave. You don’t need to be a bitter remoaner to consider the potential problems created by this display of anger.

By helping Leave to win they may have started a chain of events that leads to the end of the Airbus production in north Wales. The clues are there; Airbus, a European consortium formed to compete with American companies, wouldn’t exist without the EU and major hints have already been dropped about possible future plans. I imagine that Airbus’ potential closure would cause great upset.

The victory enjoyed by the Leave campaign happened partly because ranting populist politicians were given free rein to cynically ferment anger before the referendum. These self-declared anti-politicians took the situation – our cynical government’s unnecessary austerity – and played on justifiable fears by bending their old rhetoric to suit their goals, you know like any old politician does.

Naturally some people were stirred into anger by the general atmosphere and seductive rhetoric of a certain point of view. Consequently a change in the UK’s relationship with the EU became the panacea for all our problems.

During the horrible referendum campaign we saw the normalisation of intolerance and the belittling of justified concerns in debates. A common tactic – something known as “whataboutery” – was used to cloud debate. various non-sequiturs were added and many spurious “Well what about them?” comparisons were made.

If you doubt the logic of all this consider the following question, would Leave have won if the angry ranters had not been granted a normalising volume of exposure? Three years ago a possible EU referendum just wasn’t on the political radar.

It’s difficult to say what will happen know, at best we’ll suffer the retrograde fantasy of a “Global Britain”, at worst we’ll endure years of traversing through a quagmire of labyrinthine negotiations to end up in an even more inward-looking unfriendly society.

The Voice of reason chimes in;

“Come on, you’ve got to “GET OVER IT!!!” The referendum happened and democracy won!”

Yeah but it’s like this voice of reason mate. We didn’t see the righteous anger of 1945, the anger that created a better society with a practical version of a better country. Last June voters were motivated by the nebulous fantasy of a better country and solipsistic nihilistic anger. I’m amazed that some people honestly thought that by voting leave a fairer Britain would automatically rise from our austere environment?

I have two main issues with the referendum result. Firstly, the “democratic will”. How are we meant to respect a result caused by the 37% of the eligible electorate (or 27% of the total population). Call me a stickler for details but I’ve always thought a majority had to be at least 50.1%. Secondly, a generational political decision of seismic significance took place in a fetid atmosphere of rancour and bluster without the requisite thought..

Is our present course of action the safest course to take? Can we trust this result?

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“You’re just an anti-democratic clown looking down your nose at your inferiors.”

It’s not that simple. Consider the people that may have changed their minds once they realised what their choice entailed. Consider the people with morning after regrets on the 24th June. Consider Leave voting farmers that still want EU funding, Consider Leave voting areas that rely on EU funding. Consider the interviewees that said “What’s the EU ever done for this area?” as they were interviewed in front of a community assets that only exist because of EU funding. Consider the Question Time audience members that had changed their voting intention because they’d seen the EU’s apocryphal straight bananas in a supermarket. Consider the interviewees that said they voted out “for the adventure” as though they was picking that month’s city break.

How do these people feel now? We are about to undertake the biggest constitutional upheaval in a generation on the basis of this? How are we to respect this result so meekly and so blithely?

Prudence demands that the potential consequences for British society AS A WHOLE are considered thoroughly before any action is taken, whether people are belligerent remoaners or an easily pleased patriots everybody will reap the outcome. Have we considered the potential consequences thoroughly? I’d suggest that we still haven’t and the vote happened eight months ago.

The tone of the debate is shown by a single example. When the spectre of defeat loomed large the arch anti-politician Farage claimed there should be a rerun in the event of a 48%-52% remain victory, now that he has enjoyed his own 52%- 48% victory Farage is strangely reticent about offering us a chance to eliminate the doubt enshrined in a narrow victory.

It’s odd that that some people decided to subject us all to irreversible major social upheaval without going through a long thought process. The referendum was a once in a generation choice, rather than a general election that can be reversed the next time around. If people had thought about the issue a bit more instead of becoming automatically angry at the sound of two vowels we may have gained another result.

The electorate are ostensibly rational human beings not helpless simpletons. Yet some were wilfully unconcerned about the potential problems that would result from a certain choice. To put it another way, some chose to saddle everybody with the outcomes of a decision they couldn’t be bothered to research properly. These people chose the view of the angry populists spewing easy solutions for complex problems and we’re all about to pay the price.

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“See I told you, you’re just an anti-democratic clown looking down your nose at your inferiors.”

Go on then, we’ve all get to “GET OVER IT!” so everything’s alright.

On the other hand……….The campaign may have been short of practical information but that’s no excuse. It’s our duty to become informed citizens. There has always been information available about the EU and there were calmly explained you tube videos explaining the pitfalls of choosing Leave before the referendum. The videos were shared extensively on social media.

The EU is certainly not perfect and it never has been but if you look at the EU with the dispassionate mind of someone weighing up the best course of action you might see something different from the harsh words of populism.

You might see an institution that was conceived by people who had experienced the effects of two viciously destructive world wars, people who naturally thought that it might be better to work together on issues than restart old enmities. You don’t have to be an expert historian to know that the competition between nation states caused two world wars.

When viewed in this way the EU could be seen as an attempt to find a better way of doing things rather than living through the endless repetition of old mistakes.  That sounds pretty sensible to me and it is still the EU’s main motivating emotion, peaceful relations are still better than war.

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“Yeah but what about the out of touch Euro-bureau-crats! Brussels Dictatorship imposing laws upon Britain!”

Yeah whatever. Any political body can formulate bad laws but what’s worse? A British government pursuing pernicious welfare reforms or the EU trying to harmonise high production standards in European factories? The EU’s government is no better or worse than any other government.

In terms of decision making all EU members have say in terms of the council of ministers because it is composed of nominations from the member states. Seeing as some issues are bigger than the borders of countries perhaps it’s often sensible to deal with certain matters on an international level. For example pollution doesn’t respect national borders.

Thankfully the UK is no longer the centre of a constantly sunlit empire, we’re a collection of relatively small land masses off the northern coast of Europe. Consequently it’s more sensible to have narrower aspirations than our stridently bellicose past. The UK is part of Europe so it makes sense to become involved with the countries that are close by. Surely it’s more sensible to work with those close at hand?

The Voice of Reason again

“Yeah but we didn’t have a vote then, so we need a vote now. WE DIDN’T WANT BRITAIN TO CHANGE”

Change is not to be feared, society does not remain in aspic because various process make change inevitable. Jarring changes cease to jar eventually; my grandparents’ generation struggled with decimalisation yet my generation knows nothing else. It’s the same with Britain membership of the EU. Positive change should be embraced, a good idea from there, a better way of doing things from over there etc. Change does not have to result in the automatic loss of culture, culture adapts.

The EU has not destroyed national culture, Italy, Germany, France and Holland have been members of the various pan-European organisations since the beginning and no sane person would claim that they have become homogenised into a single area. Italy is still unmistakably Italian, Germany is still unmistakably German etc.

Is immigration the tangible problem that it’s made to be? People mentioned the pressure placed on education, housing stock and the NHS but our central government could solve those issues if they were so inclined. People say they’ve come to steal our jobs and steal our benefits but they can’t do both.

A collection of disparate migrants hasn’t got enough collective economic power to influence wage levels. The “market economy”, or rich people, do that. People mentioned the loss or dilution of our culture but in the past politicians like Enoch Powell made similar inflammatory claims and so-called British culture quite clearly didn’t die. In short Enoch hasn’t been proven correct, immigrants have greatly enriched British society.

The Voice of Reason

“BUT BRITAIN WILL BE BETTER OFF OUTSIDE THE EU, THAT’S OBVIOUS!!!”

Well, no political decision exists in a vacuum and most of them have unintended effects. Can a sovereign Britain demand to be respected by other countries simply on the basis of a few politicians saying “Of course Mercedes will continue sell us their cars or French and Italian vineyards will continue to sell us their wine. They won’t walk away from this market!”?  How can anyone say with clarity what is going to happen? Do all divorces end well? The EU will impose post-Brexit tariffs so European producers could just easily as abandon Britain as keep trading with us.

The post referendum revelry reminds me of something I experienced in Year 10. Our PE teachers divided our two classes into Team A and Team B. Team A were considered to be the cream of the crop, more luminously skilled, more windswept and interesting etc. Naturally I scraped into Team A by the skin of my teeth.

For some reason we decided to carry the Team A and Team B scenario into our lunchtime game instead of picking mixed sides. Team B won the lunchtime match 1-0 thanks to the jammiest goal you’d ever see. To them went the spoils, to us went the bruised egos. They wouldn’t countenance a rematch despite our frenzied attempts at negotiation. ”We won, that’s all that matters”. Luckily this was the time before conversation stoppers like “End of.” I don’t mean to belittle the victory of the Leave side but when I think of their gloating the pettiness of smug teenage logic comes to mind. Sadly the situation is a bit more serious than the petty trifles of my salad days.

This is the problem with acting on solipsistic nihilistic anger, whether it’s football, politics or whatever else it tends to cloud things. With the referendum we’ve let a single vote, in a period of almost extreme public agitation, determine our future because too many people believed the easy words of the populists.

It’s not so much that we lost, I can take losing; I’ve only “won” three general elections in my life. The problem is that we lost because enough people didn’t think it was necessary to consider the issue properly. Tweeting “GET OVER IT REMOANER!!” simply isn’t enough for our democratic health. We deserve better than that.

We deserve to have properly informed political debates. We deserve better than elected politicians using fantasy aspirations to guide us. We deserve better than a British Prime Minister venturing cap in hand to unsavoury leaders.

The Voice of Reason ejaculates again;

WE WANT A “GLOBAL BRITAIN”?

But we already had twenty seven partners in the EU and we’re part of the commonwealth.

The Voice of Reason….

“IF YOU LIKE THE EU SO MUCH WHY DON’T YOU GO AND LIVE THERE!”

If I had the chance and the means I’d be off before you could say “Begone snowflake bad loser, disrespecter of the 37%”.

I know the words you’ve just read are the bitter words of impotence and that “there’s no use crying now”. We have to accept and GET OVER IT because we can’t change the democratic will of 37% of the British electorate.

I realise that I’m a treasonous traitorous snowflake for having an opinion, so be it, hollow name-calling is the least of my worries. The country I have lived in for the entirety of my life no longer feels like home.

I have spoken to friends from Europe since June and none of them understand why, or how, Leave won the referendum. It was like a mania swept the country and it doesn’t exactly make you hopeful about what may happen around the metaphorical corner.

So, I may be a treasonous traitorous snowflake and I may no longer have a country but it matters not, I have books to read. quality music to listen to and a Sopranos boxset to devour. It may not look like it but I have also partly disengaged from a situation that was expertly depicted by The Simpsons years before it happened in Britain.

This was the referendum campaign

This is my attitude now, on the days that I’m not in shock or annoyed by the outcome.

We may have unleashed a society of perpetual moaning about garden fence heights, encroaching conifers and the sort of people from Number 26, “See I told you they were weird when they moved in dear!” As far as I’m concerned the Leave voters can have the cesspit of mean-spirited pettiness they have created.

Consequently it’s back to football.

There are too many angry people claiming an interest in football. It’s odd that these people are never angry enough to consider giving up the cause of the anger. It’s baffling that so many people seem unable to deal with the basic facts of football. There are only three possible outcomes of a match and you’ll never win all matches. When you think about it, in the present context football doesn’t really matter a great deal at the end of the day Clive.

When you analyse the process that leads to the so called undying love for a football club it begins with a simple choice; the choice to become interested in a particular club and that is all. Why are individual capable of free-thinking and unburdened by predestination unable to stop their behaviour in an area they’ve chosen to become interested in? Why become angry about a choice you made? You can change your mind, unlike the EU Referendum.





Happy New Year, same as the last

22 01 2017

I love festive football. There’s a chill in the air, a cheer in voices and you’re unsure which day it is. It’s lucky that the Radio Times adds the day to the edge of the page.

Films, tangerines, nuts and football, what a time of the year! You don’t even notice Mrs. Brown’s Boy’s insultingly odious sentimentality or Eastenders’ needlessly depressive fug. I always think back to the joyous time when you could round off a Christmas Day’s TV with The Untouchables or Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I love Christmas because I loved Christmas. I love festive football.

It’s a time of wonderful sensations; the feel of new socks on cold feet, the disappointment caused by the misleading garment specifications on the website that provided your new coat and the sound of a joke with someone you haven’t seen since the last New Year’s Day match.

A Boxing Day match is served to me and it feels relatively good. The rough edges have been smoothed by Christmas cheer. By the final whistle I’ve realised that it’s no better or worse than usual. New Coats, New Socks, same feeling.

The result is immaterial. I’ve still got days off and a trip to Derby the next day. It’s cold but my cold nose reminded me I was alive. What a victory I’d seen well, well I’d seen a victory.

A Piers Morgan tweet about Aaron Ramsey floated out to my timeline. I thought I’d muted the arrogant popinjay. Here comes the block!

It’s Derby on an extra bank holiday. I broke my journey to buy some wax for my new coat in Birmingham. Derby’s an ok place to visit, I suspect that I could call it home. The away fans’ pub offers a welcome toilet break and a quizzical stare or two. It would seem that Birmingham fans have shamelessly ripped off FC United’s songbook.

The ground is better than TV had led you to believe. A middle aged away fan sat in front of me, he wore his jaunty scarf like a World War One fighter ace. There was a flag for every home fan. The match was cold, there was little to stir the soul but it didn’t matter, I still had days off and I’d finally seen a match in Derbyshire. I reached the station in time to get the train home. I may have found a technique to hurry along with cold feet.

The year draws to a close, it is a chance to end a chapter and draw a line in red pen. It’s a natural end to a unit of temporal resolution.

It may be the natural end to a unit of temporal resolution that may have included the death of your mother, political devastation through wilful ignorance and an ominous takeover of your football club.

You may be glad to see the back of the year but you’re nothing special. You’re merely an insect riding a spinning sphere of rock in the infinite void we call space. Nobody cares what you think or feel.

Anyway it’s out with the old in with the new ya miserable get!!! Cheer up and get the drinks in!

New Year’s Day always has the same feel, quiet contemplation. I try to open myself up to waves of hope, what will the new year bring? Positivity rears its head from the undergrowth. A new year, a new unit of temporal resolution, a new chapter in life’s story, new tales for your memoirs.

Stillness lends the first day of the year the air of a prelude to something good, a pregnant pause before the ascent to a better existence, a better life. This year you’ll do it right. The diet, the outlook, the holiday.

As you stand with your mates at the away match in your hometown you know that  this year we’ll do it right, we’ll win the title, we’ll get to Europe,, we’ll win the play-offs, we’ll avoid relegation, we’ll sign some decent players in the transfer window, we’ll keep the same form, we’ll beat teams again.. We’ve had good days since August, we’ll have good days again.

Then you watch Llandudno score a goal that looked preventable. There’s the familiar lurch in your stomach, whereupon the pangs of disappointment neatly segue way to the familiarity of acceptance. Everyone wears a Spirit of ’58 hat.

It turns out the new year is just the same as the previous years in which you’ve existed.

2016 – Watch Football in Cold weather, feel bored, can’t feel fingers.

2017 – Watch Football in Cold weather, feel bored, can’t feel fingers.

I’ll miss more Wales matches, Bangor won’t win the league and Farage’s face will be on the news every day.

You’re still a mere insect on a spinning sphere in the infinite void we call space and still nobody will care what you think or feel.

At least there’ll be new trainers to buy, and more festive football to look forward to.





My absolute favourites

31 12 2016

After the recent searching and posting I decided to choose a top three photos what I’ve taken.

The top three became a top five, a top ten, then a top seven, so here’s my eight most favourite photos.

West Kirby v Bangor City, 2007

Glan Conwy v Llanberis, 2006

Bangor City v Prestatyn Town, 2009CNV00064

Llanrug v Bangor City, 2006ricky

Farrar Road, 2005OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wales v England, 2011mar26 095

My top three

Bangor City Welsh Champions, 2011april30b 110

Bangor City had just won the league on the last day of a hopeful season that had veered into a less sunlit place. I took the photo from inside a celebratory pitch invasion that was caused by an understandable emotional explosion.

It was the greatest of great days. The ground shook under my feet when the solitary goal was scored and I floated around on a feeling of happiness. Given the right circumstances I can still bask in the sun of that late April evening and see all the smiles. I missed all post-match public transport so I had to get a taxi home. I didn’t care. True happiness was in my soul, mine eyes had seen the glory.

The person in the middle is my close personal friend Mash. You don’t need to gild this particular lily, the outstretched arms are eloquence personified.

Bangor City v Prestatyn Town, 2011Dec 27 167

This was the last ever match at Farrar Road, my last ever photo of a match at Farrar Road.

There are only seven months between this photo and the one above but the emotions contained with the images are polar opposites, the yin to the yang. I wanted a dark photo to reflect the general mood so I took the photo at about 7:30pm on a December evening. I was able to use the light conditions for literal and metaphorical reasons. Life does imitate art sometimes.

For years we’d waded knee deep in a sense of social history you could smell and on this particular day we all said a long lingering goodbye to our lovely uneven tarmac, it was the most poignant day I ever spent with Bangor City. There was another joyous pitch invasion. I encased the footwear I wore in formaldehyde to preserve the muddy remains of real football.

The people in the gateway are Dick and Anora, more close personal friends of mine.

Now for my favourite picture.

Porthmadog v Bangor City, 20082008_1012new80048

This photo emotes the kind of emotion that screams football.

Patient people waiting. Years of experience etched on patient faces. People with stories, hopes, dreams waiting patiently.

A group of people huddled together in the British weather, calmly waiting, hoping, believing that something exciting could happen at any moment.

Hope and stoical acceptance, that’s football.

The person closest to the lens is Les, another close friend of mine.





“Fun, fun, fun” as the Housemartins used to sing

29 12 2016

I went to watch Derby County v Birmingham on Tuesday, it was bank holiday and I’d never been to Derby if it’s any of your business. I sat in the home end, close to a middle aged Birmingham fan that subtly wore his Birmingham scarf like a jaunty Oxbridge undergraduate.

As I became used to the feel of my new coat in the cold I wondered if the players relished missing out on Christmas Day. I wondered if they thought that enacting a game plan that bored cold people to tears was worth the satisfaction of missing a ordinary Christmas.

I remembered something that I wrote a few years ago. Here’s a reworking for the Banter generation….

…If you asked someone to name their dream job it would not be a surprise if you heard them say “footballer”. It was my dream job until I was about 15.

Slipping through the net a couple of decades ago helped me to deal with the fact that my dream existence had become a ridiculous daydream. Unlike Tim Lovejoy the celebrity bellend I have no regrets, reading books

Three of these books in particular – “The Keeper of Dreams”  by Ronald Reng (KoD), “My Father and other Working Class Pros”  by Gary Imlach (MF), “Soccer at War: 1939-’45”  by Jack Rollin (SaW) – caused all hints of residual desire to evaporate.

This post is a bit of a hodge podge, a bit of  a book review, partly a defence of footballers against the complacent criticism of incoherently angry phone-in callers but mostly another representation of my disillusionment with football.

This post developed for two reasons. The first was the image of footballers. The media bombards us with an image of glamour, glamour, glamour; non-stop parties and premieres, starry marriages and crystal encrusted wheelbarrows for their wages.

As with most things written in tabloids that are not written by Paul Foot or John Pilger this cynically created image is mostly bollocks. This kind of footballers’ life is the clichéd exaggeration of tabloid culture. When you apply this exaggeration to the total number of professional footballers it can‘t be anything but bollocks. While it’s undeniable that they earn more than the average wage, with some at a disgusting level of difference, the life of each footballer probably isn’t that glamorous.

Each book covers a different era but there are common themes; dealing with January mud and psychotic opponents and having to bow and scrape before notable members of a local community. These common themes do three things; they tell us football hasn’t changed in certain fundamental respects, they totally refute the clichéd tabloid image of footballers and they make you wonder if glamour has ever truly existed in football.

The second reason was that I realised the common themes in those three books were present in some of the other football books; “Woody & Nord” by Gareth Southgate and Andy Woodman (W & N), “Only a Game?” by Eamon Dunphy  (O a G?), “Kickups, Hiccups, Lockups“  by Mickey Thomas (K, H, L), ”Kicking & Screaming”  by Rogan Taylor and Andrew Ward (K & S) as well as some of the columns written by the anonymous Footballer in Four Four Two magazine.

Altogether the reading material covers nearly every era of professional football in Britain so I was able to see that the relationship between footballers and their sport, as well as the character of football, hasn’t changed much over the years. I began to pity the position in which footballers have always found themselves.

My disillusionment began with my personal experience of playing. In the past I vaguely remember claiming that playing football should be fun. At the time I thought I was right because most people seemed to feel the same way; they always say that football is the most popular sport in the world. Hindsight is a wonderful thing for reflection. I may have been a little hasty with my pronouncement; I started to find playing football less than enjoyable in 2010.

It’s not too difficult to work out why people play football; it’s the basic joy that playing sport provides. It’s a joy that comes in many forms; physical achievement, communal joy, keeping fit, having a laugh with your mates whilst keeping fit, being part of a flowing move, catching the ball perfectly, seeing the ball make the net ripple after you’ve had a shot, the joy of just being in the open air. Let’s call this “the spirit of football”.  When I say that I didn’t find football enjoyable any more what I really meant was “I had been unable to feel “the spirit of football” for a long time”.

Two thought processes led to my disillusionment with playing football. The first began amongst the boring details of the nagging aches that plague my sleep. A Tuesday just wasn’t a Tuesday without a dull throbbing ache.

The process accelerated thanks to my position; goalkeeper. This vantage point allowed me time and space to see the full gamut of needless human behaviour. Mondays (excluding bank holidays of course) became an exhausting procession of twats and their inexcusable behaviour; it’s was a cavalcade of simpletons, show boaters and loudmouth gobshites.

Everything was so different in the golden ’90s. Back then you could actually chat with opponents as you left the pitch together, in the unforgiving 2010s the past was an entirely different continent.

The worst thing I noticed in Llandudno’s minor, minor league was the rise in aggression. Obviously there were some hotheads in my day but people generally seemed calmer. People used to take defeat, or even being tackled, as part of the game, by 2010 it had become easier to lash out than accept the simple facts of football.

Someone I knew explained this problem succinctly; there’s often a gap between the perception of technique and the actual technique. A lot of people filled the gap with aggression.

These fuckers, these twats, these malodorous recidivists, ruined my favourite physical activity. An anthropologist would have a field day studying their display, the loudness, the cockiness, the loud cockiness, the posing in the style of the anointed rulers of civilisation. They strutted around as if they’ve earned the right to sneer at those living by more civilised values.

If I spared a moment’s thought about Mondays towards the end of my involvement the sap rose like lava. I had reached my very elastic limit and I could stand the sneers of the Philistines no longer. Football had allowed their base values to flourish so I now hated playing football

The second process happened through reading numerous books. I started to wonder whether I really liked football in general. Should I encourage something that puts so much pressure on my fellow human beings, especially as the only reason for me to act like that was the fact these highly skilled performers were wearing “the right colour” of polyester. I wondered whether professional footballers are also disillusioned, did they miss the “the spirit of football”?

Footballers are thought to have dream job but there seems to be precious little joy, aside from a thin veneer, in the autobiographies I’ve read. Even with all their money (Footballers have always been relatively well-off in comparison to the rest of the working population) and fame I’m not sure I would like to be a player; their work environment doesn’t seem very appealing.

Let’s consider the idea that football is somehow glamorous. The kind of glamour associated with football is not real glamour in the traditional sense. There isn’t much glamour in the Christmas morning training sessions.

Footballers are people. In fact they are just like the people who fawn over them, the only difference is that they have better balance. They have foibles, bad days and problems with their neighbours. Why would someone automatically become more glamorous because they sweat on TV for a living?

The glamour that’s attached to football a hollow and shallow version of glamour. It’s the kind of glamour that requires a sponsor to exist, rather than the glamour of Hollywood or the Pyramid Stage.

The idea of glamour in general has taken a bit of a nose dive in recent years. Film stars used to be glamorous but that was due to their image on the screen. People like Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich exuded glamour, they may have had their peccadilloes but we manage to remember their work more than their “little problems”. As for today’s film stars, Mel Gibson doesn’t seem to work much now. The main reason for the faded glamour is the media. They may have had muckrakers but they didn’t have Perez Hilton.

Football is the same. The last time there was true glamour was the 1950s and 1960s, with hushed reverence for Puskas, Di Stefano, Eusebio et al. Glamour was allowed to develop then, a lack of exposure allowed a charming mystique to develop.

The thing about the creation of today’s cynical glamour is that it can be dispensed with if there are tabloid front pages to fill. Ironically the same tabloids are complicit in the cynical creation of glamorous footballers, footballers that are kindly brought to you by Gilette, Nike and McDonalds. This cynically created glamour is utterly shallow and bares no relation to the reality of football.

Reality is not the image that footballers are judged by. Even though footballers generally earn above average wages this is rather unfair, why should they be judged on something that’s not of their making? We should be judging market capitalism for creating this situation.

After reading everything I wondered if there was ever a time in which you could say football has been truly glamorous. As a general rule footballers seem more concerned about worries than parties. Their pressure-filled work environment isn’t very healthy and certainly isn’t glamorous.

You don’t need to read books to realise the tabloid glamour version of football isn’t really that truthful. The vast majority of pro footballers do not exist in the constant glare of glamour and publicity. Have you ever seen the tabloid exclusives featuring Brad Friedel and Darren Fletcher?

“Only A Game?” shows us a side of football that is a million miles from glamour. The book paints a picture of football as a constant stream of worries; getting in the team, staying in the team, a suspicion of team-mates who seem to be fakers, malingerers or show-offs, the need to fit in even if they your team mates are objectionable bastards.

As Brian Glanville put it in the intro “The pro footballer’s endemic paranoia….“  A footballers’ world is a world where there’s no loyalty to a team per se because the team only worries about you when you’re useful to them. They don’t care when you’re not in the team. It’s world where your only real loyalty is towards your bank account. There’s no glamour.

Dunphy dedicates his book to “The Good Pro”. This player is “a trier….. Accepts responsibility ………. Often rescue you ……… makes himself available for the ball all the time …… He will make that run, get that vital touch in the box, go for a return pass instead of holding back …….. Never on the missing list”  You sense that there aren’t enough “Good Pros” in the game for Dunphy.

Dunphy frets about moral issues continually; “Ethics matter everywhere, but in sport they matter more than anywhere else …….. (Sport is) a place where virtue is rewarded and cheating exposed” Again you get the sense that not all footballers, or people, have these values for Dunphy.

In this world worries are never far from the surface, here’s a taste of that life;

25 July; “People are always happy to come back…… You don’t really think about the season today”

26 July: “The first day is always hard but it is not the hardest ……….. And you are really knackered”

27 July; “But this lad was completely unabashed; “I’ve only come here for first team football” he said ………. Oh well we’d better watch out, then. Because he meant it.

3 August; “One is conscious of little things – the apprentices begin to seem absurdly young, you call them ‘son’ now, it doesn’t seem so long since older players addressed you in the same way……………… You begin to wonder what is coming from the friend’s Provident fund, about a testimonial……… about retirement ……….. How much longer will you spend your summers in this idyllic way, dreaming of glory? ………. It’s a shock to realise how rapid the descent is from pinnacle to valley”

13 August; “We always feel quite hard done by at Millwall over close-season tours. Orient went to the Bahamas; even Hendon went to Spain; and we come to Bournemouth!”

14 August; “You could see him measuring himself against us, seeing if he was still as fit as he had been. Seeing if he still had it”

24 August; “Tomorrow is the first game. I am confident. Not certain, for that is impossible ……….. For nine months our lives are committed to the business of winning games.”

31 August: “When they sign a new player who plays in your position it is not funny. Everyone is delighted they’ve signed a new player, but you know it is you who is going to be left out…….”

18 September: “We’re on our way. Only four points behind the top side now, two wins in a row setting us up…..”

1 October: “……… and I looked around ……… ‘I’m Dropped’ ……… No! But I am ……… I could not believe it. I could not think for a minute ………….”

2 October: “Being dropped is something everyone in the game has to face. Manchester United dropped Bobby Charlton once. How do you face it? Yesterday I came home and I just cried. But it’s eating into you the whole time. You can’t think about anything else for one minute. You go home and you are restless, edgy………”

27 October: “Today we got found out. The chickens came home to roost……”

29 October: “A failed football club in October. A depressing place. Already with seven months to go, the morning becomes a dread”

3 November: “Going as twelfth or thirteenth man is a drag. The thirteenth man is the one who normally gets the worst of it. You are in effect skip-boy”

7 November : “Back in the bloody Midweek League again. It’s an unbelievable sensation going to play at Orient on a Wednesday Afternoon in November. There is no one there, absolutely nothing at stake, except your own pride. You don’t feel like it at all”

15 November: “……But he has got absolutely no chance of making it. He really is the butt of everything”

20 November; “Playing in the Midweek League football is futile enough at the best of times. But playing Midweek League football at the Valley really tells you how futile the whole thing is. The biggest ground in London and there was no-one there. No one at all….”

27 November: “I got very worried because it suddenly dawned on me that I am living in a Millwall house, and that this house, which I regard as my own, isn’t mine at all”

This football classic treats us to the whole of unvarnished football life; Ups and downs, winning runs and failures. Even though it was written nearly 40 years ago it still resonates because it could be any season. A hope-filled pre-season followed by hope’s autumnal graveyard.

The worries Dunphy articulated are still universal  – you can be dropped, your teammates may be tossers and you can worry about unfulfilled hopes – so if football was unglamorous then it remains unglamorous today. The training depicted in the book seems tough and even though football has become more scientific, with plush new training facilities and Sports Science, one basic point still motivates training; you need an awful lot of strenuous physical activity.

Even though “Only a Game?” highlights a lack of glamour this doesn’t turn football into horrible career by itself – most of a film star’s jet set life is spent in draughty studios but this doesn’t make Hollywood appear unglamorous – it merely disproves the tabloid glamour. Having said that the book makes you question whether the footballers life is all it’s cracked up to be. A footballers’ job is certainly not a dream job.

 

The Second World War should have seriously affected organised football but there was a vibrant football scene. (SaW) Theoretically the total mobilisation of Britain should have ruined organised football as a spectacle – clubs had to fulfill fixtures with scratch teams and players were forced to develop a “have boots will travel” attitude – but it didn’t.

The threat of death permeated life so the privations connected to wartime football were mere trifles. The players obviously didn’t mind their situation for that reason. Younger players didn’t mind as they were given chances they wouldn’t have been offered normally. The fans didn’t mind either as clubs were able to see superstars in their clubs’ shirt; they may have been stationed nearby.

Instead of ruining organised football the Second World War may have been the only time when organised football was as enjoyable as it was in the good old amateur days. It may have been the only time that playing professional football felt like the football matches you played as a child; playing for fun, playing without pressure. Football soon reverted to type after the Second World War and the problems for footballers soon returned.

The literature has allowed me to notice eleven problems the job of “footballer”.

1) The constant threat of injury

Injuries are an inevitable problem when a physical activity involves competing groups. A mistimed tackle can cause a broken leg, a shot can cause broken fingers and misplaced enthusiasm can cause a mass punch up. The problem of injuries is eternal. For example Norah Bell tells us what happened to her husband Jack in the 1930s;

“When he finished at Luton, he injured his foot and couldn’t play properly anymore and they didn’t give a damn. If you finished football, you finished, and that was that…” (K & S)

Anne Savage said this of her husband;

“He couldn’t run anymore and he was told he’d have arthritis in that leg for the rest of his life as long as he lived, and that leg used to go black up to the knee and he had very bad sleepless nights with it…” (K & S)

They shoot horses don’t they? Violence-related injuries were still common between 1960s and ‘80s because the omnipresent “hard man” stalked the land. Bobby Keetch illustrates this era;

“I’ve got about eight stitches in my leg here, from a particularly savage encounter with Johnny Giles.“ (K & S)

Today our tolerance of violence is so low that players are sent off for sarcastically clapping and most of today’s “mass brawls” would fail the Trade Descriptions Act (They should be re-christened “Immature pushing and shoving”.) This environment means that players are no longer victims of full-frontal assaults.

However, football may be softer and cuddlier now but this doesn’t mean that mindless aggression has ended. Irritating mouthy buggers are still with us so the potential for a short sharp return is always there.

Hard men, clumsy opponents and advertising hoardings are not always required to cause injuries. Metatarsals (A bone discovered in 2002) are broken by sharp turns in fluorescent boots. There was certain brutal nobility to being chopped by a hardman but player getting injured because they’re wearing ridiculous footwear isn’t football as far as I’m concern.

The threat of injury exists even before footballers set foot in a stadium because footballers have a lot of spare time. This means they will spend a lot of time at home and a home becomes hazardous to your health with inanimate objects like ironing boards, aftershave bottles and condiment jars lying around. Driving a selection of high powered cars may result in strained ligaments.

You don’t usually sustain injuries whilst having a chat by the water cooler or filing papers.

2) The historic lack of glamour

Has there ever been any glamour in football? Was there even glamour in the 1950s, the so-called “age of glamour”? A players’ existence wasn’t much different from the rest of the working population back then. As the true cliché states, they may have even caught the same buses and trams to matches. Players may have drawn an extra look from an adoring fan so they weren’t glamour-less but the extra look was all they drew.

Most players also had to take other jobs to help make ends. A particularly well-known example is the international superstar plumber Tom Finney.

Players were also taught to know their place. Stanley Matthews recalled an experience when he was an international and claiming expenses;

“They gave you a little card and it says ‘from Stoke to London’. Well we had to put this down and Tommy Lawton put an extra sixpence on his travel fare , you see, and Mr Huband (the treasurer) also had the prices and he said, “Lawton, you’ve overcharged” so he crossed out the sixpence out”  (K & S)

Tom Finney has a similar recollection;

“I got a very Curt note back; ‘Dear Finney, we’re returning your expenses sheet. Herewith enclosed a new one to make out and for your information the third-class fare from Preston to Liverpool is x shillings and you didn’t have any meal because you only travelled from Liverpool to us” (K & S)

There was no freedom of movement either thanks to the retain and transfer system as George Hardwick relates;

“At the end of every season it was the wail all round the dressing room; ‘I wonder what I’ll get next season?’’ I wonder what they‘ll offer me for next season?’ ‘Am I going to be retained or are they going to kick me out?’….. You were truly slaves” (K & S)

Stuart Imlach’s biography tells us that this attitude continued until the 1960s. Players were paid slaves to be seen and not heard. The relationship between players and clubs may have changed considerably in the present epoch of plutocratic ownership the players are still kept at arm’s length by plutocrats.

3) The effect upon your family

Stuart Imlach’s career straddled the border of change; he began in the serfdom of the 1950s and finished in the relative freedom of the 1960s. This relative freedom wasn’t all it was cracked up to be as it inadvertently led to other problems. For example a player may change clubs more easily but how would his family feel about moving around the country?

Various reason could motivate a move; wages, the possibility of first team football, a change of scene, improving your situation or seeeing injuries hold you back like Stuart Imlach. A player may have felt the need to move several times. The clubs involved in a move could be at the opposite ends of the country, would this sort of move be fair on your family? Could you concentrate with a disgruntled family? The same worries and problems exist today.

Today we can wonder how a family is affected by having a family member constantly in the public eye. How do they feel about seeing a family member suffer vehement public criticism? Do the children of footballers draw extra grief in school? Their families can certainly draw grief on social media.

4) The bright lights of football fame don’t always shine brightly

Lars Leese highlights a few examples;

“And in the dressing room he was welcomed with a grunt by the kitman ‘What have we here, another new boy? More kit for me to wash?” Actually Lars wasn’t imagining that one …….. Welcome to the world of professional football” (K o D)

“………..At Leverkusen he threw himself at the strikers’ feet, just as he had been doing for years in amateur football, and saw with surprise that they didn’t just shoot, they waited until he was on the ground then casually lobbed it over him or dribbled around him. They called it ‘goalie-watching’” (K o D)

“The box of 3,000 Lars Leeses was on the passenger seat. “I’ve got autograph cards. How fantastic is that?” ……. And then he started writing. He wrote Lars Leese in a black art pen, very carefully, very formally. After 30 minutes he was writing only L. Leese, after an hour Leese, and later just Le___ with a long tail that could, with a little effort, be interpreted as se. He spent two evenings at the sitting room table. Now and then he would curse”  (K o D)

5) A footballer is surrounded by Alpha males

Most male football squads are like any other groups of males, they will indulge in exaggerated hyper-masculine behaviour to prove how great they are. Most groups of males are led by an Alpha male and he sets the tone and runs the show. He’ll be a narcissistic egomaniac with an attitude problem, or to be put it more succintly, he’s a complete prick, Most of the world’s bullshit flows from the actions of Alpha males.

Would you actually want to spend your working life in the company of people constantly displaying exaggerated masculine behaviour?

If you weren’t an Alpha male but you found the attraction of professional football too tantalising to resist you’d have to develop two mental attitudes to survive. Firstly, you need the moral cowardice to hide within a group, as Andy Woodman tells us;

“At sixteen you don’t know a lot. I thought it best to accept responsibility for the goals that went past me……… (Then) Everything becomes your fault ………….. Of course the lads liked it when I owned up. How can you defend properly with a crap goalkeeper? “ (W & N)

Dunphy highlights this attitude too;

28 August: The tendency after a defeat is to look for scapegoats ……….. In that sense Brownie, in our eyes, pays the penalty for being young……”       (O a G?)

I remember this sort of bullshit from my own time. Everybody looks to blame someone else. I’ve been called “a prick”, “a wanker” “fucking useless” at various times because I had the temerity to make an honest mistake, well apart from the occasions I wanted to annoy the alpha fuckers.

Secondly, you’d have to become immune to the relentless, and often vicious, mickey taking, as Gareth Southgate tells us;

“Fashion had never crossed my mind …….. All the guys at Palace had their Adidas tracksuits and Lacoste jumpers …… they were cool south Londoners, I was a bumpkin from the country ………. One day I walked into the apprentices dressing room and Chris Powell was dancing across the floor a là Fred Astaire. Everyone was keeled over laughing and then I twigged why, Chris was wearing my grey Hush Puppies ……… Larking about with Dave Stephens I said something half smart to him. “Hark at Leo Gemelli” he said, referring to the brand name of my jumper . ………. “Hark at Leo Gemelli” was all Dave had to say and the boys were falling about laughing and banging the floor” (W & N)

Then there’s the joke played on Andy Woodman because he was released in 1994;

“The Club had supplied us with t-shirts with the word “Champions” printed on the front. (Palace had won the First Division title). On the back of mine one of the lads had used a felt pen to scribble: “For Sale. One Careful Owner. Offers considered”  (W & N)

As I know from experience this can cross into downright obnoxiousness, something highlighted by Four Four Two’s anonymous “Player”;

“Footballers can abuse their fame; …………. I saw girl one night …….. I told her my girlfriend was going away for a year and that we needed a carer to look after the kids ………… I offered her £22,000 a year. I pulled her that night ………. Four days after she turned up at my front door. She told me she had quit her job ……… I lied and told her there’d been a problem with visas …….. I’m not a bad lad”

One mate shouted (at people in a queue at a club); “Fuck off paying Public” (As he got in for nothing frantically grasping the coattails of the sainted player)

One team-mate had cancer and he didn’t even escape. When he refused to come on a night out, another player said; “Why not. You’ve only got a month to live” ……..

“Do you love your new bird? He asked. “Yes” replied the player sheepishly. “Could she be the one for you?” “yeah” “So how do you feel that he’s shagged her, so has he, so has he!” He was crushed and cried in front of all of us”

I’ve never fully understood why this level of cruel humour is necessary to mould pro athletes into a team but then I’m not an alpha male. Could you stand working with immature morons?

6) The cold-heartedly blunt attitude of the professional

This is how the some players dealt with Andy Woodman’s misfortunate release in 1994;

“We then had training and I could tell from their reactions that the lads already knew. Alan had told Gareth and Gareth had told the lads to go easy on me. I was unbelievably angry, I played a blinder in training and Eric Young, the centre back, who was a cold, blunt bastard but not a bad bloke, said to me: ‘Woody, too little, too late son. Too little too late’ As cool and callous as that. But he was right. The misery was only beginning…..” (W & N)

7) Unemployment is a perpetual risk

Imagine if you were an unemployed footballer; you’d obviously want to become an employed footballer as soon as possible. You’d probably exhaust every avenue trying to get back into football. You’d probably try your old contracts, you might try your old teammates. You may even try a new agent.

If you tried to find a new agent you might find that there a load of crap agents; the sort of people that offer to help but don’t really care. Even if you found an enthusiastic agent you still may have to go through the indignity of hawking yourself around clubs like a resentful teenager trawling for a summer job. This all happened to Lars Leese;

“Thus in February and March 2000 Waldorf Mannheim, 1860 Munich, Alemania Aachen, Rot-Weiss Essen, Kickers Stuttgart, Fortuna Cologne and FC St. Pauli all received faxes from Holgar Wacker (Leese’s agent)………….” (K o D)

Leese waited months for non-existent replies.

Apart from the genuine superstars nobody truly feels that their job is secure. A player only needs to have a couple of shaky games and the pressure starts to mounts. Doubts will be formed in peoples’ minds and the questions begin to form; “Can he really do it?”….. “Can he hack it?”……… “Is he up to it?” The precariousness of  football as a career is illustrated when  Leese posed one question before signing for Barnsley;

“So this contract is valid for both Premier League and First Division?” (K o D)

Even if you don’t suffer a career ending knee injury your career can still end very suddenly, as Leese found out;

“Professional footballer? It seemed like another life (his life only a year before). Now at half-past five in the morning he was standing in one of the business parks in Gelnhausen, selling sandwiches.” (K o D)

For the vast majority of footballer there is the real risk of this happening. The list of released players can be very large; 123 players were released by Premier League clubs in one summer.

For another good view of the stark issues faced by players read Ben Smith’s “Journeyman”.

8) The pressure placed on players

Mickey Thomas tells us what it’s like to play for Manchester United;

“My pressure was appearing in front of those fans. My pressure was getting and keeping my place in the team. My pressure was putting in the kind of performance those thousands expected every week. That was the pressure for me. They only saw Mickey Thomas the footballer. They didn’t see me as a fragile human being who couldn’t handle my footballing life.

They didn’t understand the problems I was going through mentally. Howe could they when the mask never slipped outwardly? Back inside Old Trafford I became adept at hiding my feelings. We would all sit around as a group, as a team . Different characters. Different Mind Sets. Some Strong. Some lacking confidence. Some, like me, unable to cope with the pressure.

We all had our problems. Some were bigger than others. Many couldn’t handle theirs. I was one individual who just couldn’t hack it in that particular phase of my often troubled life. Mentally I was distressed but no one knew. I kept myself to myself. I didn’t confides in anyone.

Everyone assumed I was Mickey, the happy-go-lucky, cheeky chappie. A cocky little guy without a care in the world who loved his job. Far from it. I had so many demons in my head and I couldn’t kick them out. It was literally doing my head in.”

Even George Best felt pressurised sometimes;

“When you’re flavour of the month they come to you…… I couldn’t hide, and I tried. That’s why I disappeared so many times. I kept packing in just to get away from it all, trying to find havens to disappear to, and I couldn’t” (K & S)

It doesn’t look like you can have a normal existence even with all your money. For example you can’t go out and just have a good time;

“Once they went dancing in the Barnsley nightclub, Hedonism. It was the last time. ……….. (Lars) Finally fled with her to the dance floor (away from questioning fans). Everyone else immediately stopped dancing. They stood around the couple in a circle ‘and stared at us though Frank Sinatra had shown up in the club’ Daniela recalled.” (K o D)

This example sounds like a scene from the nightclub scene in “This Sporting Life”. You may remember the trouble Steven Gerrard had on a normal night out a few years ago..

9) Footballers are judged by exacting standards

Footballers seem to exist under the highest possible level of scrutiny. The scrutiny is one of the main things that put me off the life of a footballer.

I don’t have a problem with the role of “role model” as it’s an easy role for anyone to accomplish – it basically involves not breaking the law and being polite. In other words “Don’t act like a prize tosser.”

What I’m talking about the perceived public accountability of footballers. Footballers seem to have been allotted a major social role in contemporary British society and most of this role seems to involve becoming a  lightning rod for criticism

If you were a “Footballer” you would occupy a role and perform a job that few people can adequately fulfil. To be a “Footballer” requires several things. At first you need a high degree of specialised skills that marks you out as more suitable for the job than others. Then you need to make it through continual sifting progress that ensures only the best players make it. Then you need to make it through training by constantly prove that you’ve still got what it takes to judgemental coaches. Lastly, you need to work like a Trojan all the time.

Even though a “Footballer” has to pass through all those hoops in order to remain as a “footballer” some people still criticise them for being crap and lazy. Even though they are the best people suited to the job they’re paid to do they are still criticised.

The critics would have a point if the clubs let just anybody become a footballer but clubs don’t, they pick competent people through several sifting processess. If footballers weren’t able to make it through the stages of development they wouldn’t be footballers.

The fact criticism of players exists tells you that some people feel the job is easy. If the job was as easy as these people seem to claim there would be ten of thousands of professional clubs in Britain rather than about 130. Criticising footballers with impunity is rather unfair, as Dunphy puts rather well;

“The cheats or simple inadequates of other walks of life could come to the Den and apply to our work a set of judgemental criteria they wouldn’t dreamed applying on Monday morning” (O a G?)

It would be interesting to ask these critics how they would feel if their work was judged in the same way that they judge footballers, how would they feel if their work was pulled apart on live TV in front of millions? Would they like faceless nobodies to phone up radio stations in order to complain about them and the standard of their work? I sense these critics wouldn’t like it.

The situation is now worse than the one Dunphy describes as the criticism is now a lot stronger. The ridiculous pressure applied by some fans – A lot of fans seem to think that the game owes them success and glory –  must be horrible and I’d hate to work in this environment of criticism.

People can criticise but they should be aware that the criticism is only a collection of words connected by an angry person.

10) Players can become tools of the PR Industry

The spotlight on players is made worse by the commercial pressures exerted by sponsors. Footballers have been hoisted up society’s flag pole of attention as examples to us all, this allows sponsors to think they can take advantage of a footballers’ position by offering them endorsements.

It seems that both sides win out of this arrangement; the company gets some sporting stardust and the sportsman gets a lot of money. Yes, everybody looks like a winner in this situation.

However the sportsman only remains a winner until they transgress the spurious moral code dreamt up by the company. When the sportsman transgresses the scrap heap awaits. The sportsman no longer fits in with the company’s wholesome image. The footballers’ private life is informally controlled by the sponsors and the media.

The Public Relations industry’s bullshit has infected football by clouding the minds of football’s administrators. The people under the spell of PR bullshit have created a type of football where TV dictates to football, where companies dictate to clubs and where Bullshit PR teams have decided that player interviews are best brought to you by the good people over at Company X, Company Y and Company Z.

The people spouting PR bullshit think they are bestowing glamour. They think that a company logo on a polo shirt collar automatically bestows glamour. The pressure to become spokespeople for horrible companies by proxy is degrading.

11) The people making astronomical sums of money out of football are not the players

Billions in profit are made from football. The sport allows chairmen, shareholders, administrators, sportswear companies and the sponsors to make obscene profits. The simple act of 22 players playing a sport on a pitch allows this to happen. Everything else grew from this simple act; the grounds, the chairman, the administrators, the sponsors they have all come after the game.

Without the 22 players there would be nothing, no profit, no flash suits, no HD TV coverage, no third-party ownership of contracts. Yet the players only see a fraction of the money that’s the result of their labour. They’re kept down, prevented from mixing with the owners, made to feel their place by the gilded plutocrats.

If you add these eleven points together playing professional football simply isn’t a dream job, it seems more like a waking nightmare.





The past is a seductive little country

26 12 2016

My friend Bruce tweeted a video of Hibs winning the 1991 Skol Cup a few months ago (I originally planned to write something then).

I nostalgically recalled Shoot’s pictures of John Burridge holding the cup in the Sunday evening murk. I liked that Hibs kit, I’m sure I asked for it that Christmas.

The clip joined some mental dots. Shoot, 90 Minutes magazine, adidas kits with proper stripes, proper footballs with Tango shaped branding, £4 tickets, Elton Welsby, Brian Moore, Jean-Pierre Papin, the Cup Winners’ Cup on ITV, Alexei Sayle on telly, Neil Kinnock shouting “ALRIGHTT!!!!!!” on a stage. What a great time it was, we were young and we had mates that didn’t like football.

Imagine that! Twenty five years ago there were people that didn’t like football! ….and you had to make do with one live match a week… and you could just turn up and pay cash at a turnstile. It’s not difficult to imagine, I remember it all.

I miss 1992, I knew where I was then. I wasn’t cool but then football wasn’t cool in my milleu. I not only had mates that weren’t interested football, I knew people that hated football. Nirvana was cool, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes weren’t. Soundgarden were cool, an encyclopaedic knowledge of football grounds and club nicknames wasn’t. A member of my form class tried to claim that football fans were closet homosexuals because we liked to watch men running around whilst wearing shorts.

I was forced to reside in the leaden cultural hinterland represented by football, the raised eyebrows of our cultural gatekeepers blocked visas to the Land Of Cool. I was made to feel that music wasn’t for the likes of me, I wish I had possessed enough self-confidence to disregard their powerful eyebrows but I was clueless.

There was no way I could have acted differently. How could I have possibly known where to get the clothes? I didn’t feel able to have a hairstyle so popping to the barbers with a photo of Ian Brown never occurred to me. How could I have asked for help? I didn’t know how to communicate with a sneer.

If only I’d known what I know now. That my cultural gatekeepers had only made a simple decision to like music. That music isn’t an arcane labyrinthine world with secret passwords, that it’s a noise you like the sound of, a joyful emotional state. Luckily I’m not that bitter about my lost years of music appreciation thanks to my sneer imposed cultural cringe.

If I had my time again I’d offer my betters some withering thoughts and buy the music I didn’t feel confident enough to buy until a few years later. I felt so uncool I was probably cool but I’m not bitter about that. I had Ian Rush and Jean Pierre Papin, bitter moi? The very idea! I had polyester clothing to keep me company. BITTER? NOT ME, NO SIREE!

The weirdest volte-face has happened since my shellsuit years. The ones that decried our interest in football are now season ticket holders on the banter bus network whereas I’m the one that regards nearly every aspect of football as irritating.

Why does everyone have a football opinion these days? Why does everyone have to voice their football opinion these days? There are better things to get angry about, there are better things to care about. I pity these Johnny come latelys with their inclination to use disposable incomes, football was miles better in 1992.

Zola, Bergkamp and Murdoch had yet to civilise the league but you could pay £6 to use a terrace and ignore the sport entirely. Everything felt fresher and less polished. No banter industry, no Super Sundays, no Red Mondays, no Exceedingly Good Every Other Thursdays, no official pharmaceutical partners in Korea and Vietnam.

The corporate football we’re subjected to at the moment felt implausible, pitchside adverts were still bespoke and regionalised. Sky may have been circling, with Alan Sugar baiting the traps, but the full implication of all that wasn’t clear to a north Walian teenager that had only just started to read When Saturday Comes. We had free to air league football rather than this situation;

“A nine-month subscription costs £396 and a season ticket at my football club costs £300. That is a very, very easy decision in my eyes.” Anonymous

“Sky Sports and BT Sport costs £90 or more per month – £1,000 a year – they are kidding themselves if they don’t think this market is price sensitive…..”? Dr Feelgood

When I was a lad you could take or leave football but now we’re lost in the mire of irate opinion and surrounded by the choking fog of impatient analysis. We live in a place where nobody is allowed to forget about football. There’s too much of everything; too much money, too much coverage, too much analysis, too many opinions. We’ve polish the excrement so often Mr. Sheen may need to step up his production targets.

Everyone’s too busy being a “footy die-hard” these days, even though most of them manage to avoid making a connection with the social history that created the aura they buy into.

They’re too busy bluffing their way around something they know they don’t really get. They choose a club as though it’s matter of genetic predestination, replace an erstwhile season ticket holder once a month, read newspapers, scour message boards, read tweets, reply to a few, get on the banter bus, bluff their way around twitter, tweet an outraged opinion that someone else has already expressed, do an “acca” then cash out, share pisspoor jokes with their fellow bluffers. You’re not a proper lad in 2016 unless you bluff with a cringe-free air of self-confidence.

I was stood behind a load of bluffers at the recent Super Furry Animals gig in Llandudno. They turned up five minutes before the light show started and destroyed the carefully constructed anticipation with pure buffoonery. It’s one thing to stand in the way by acting like a Smartphone Kubrick, it’s another to get in the way singing a horrendously out of time “Don’t Take Me Home”. Beware the disciples of “It’s Gotta Be Done Fella”.

I’m not bitter because I didn’t go to Euro 2016.

I don’t want to notice these people but they propel themselves into my consciousness. You can’t turn a blind eye when they’re scratching a nail down your mental blackboard.

Once upon a time you were able to visit shops without seeing football merchandise. There were magazines and football stickers in newsagents, and possibly books in bookshops, but that was it. Unless you lived near a club shop you had to go to proper sports shops with glass counters to buy football merchandise.

If you’ve got a spare 21st century hour you can pop to a supermarket and buy an officially licensed generic celebration cake then stand next to a cardboard display featuring official champions league beer and official champions league crisps as you wait to pay. Then you can go to the bank and gaze at the official premier league branding as you wait then visit the greeting card shop to buy an officially licensed birthday card. Then you can travel home listening to radio adverts about the footy. When you arrive home you can watch adverts about the footy. When are we allowed to switch off?

I used to pore over the kit adverts in magazines. I was transfixed by the new adverts in the summer and loved the adverts that offered really expensive foreign shirts.

shirts

Those extortionately prized curiosities were placed tantalisingly out of reach, I was never blessed by a thoughtful relative returning from abroad.

Not everybody wanted a replica shirt in 1992 but those bloody things are everywhere in 2016. Why are people so keen to to wear glorified adverts for globalised corporate interests? It’s worse because absolutely no effort is required to get one, any clown can walk into a polyester coated warehouse in order to make a pledge of solemn allegiance to “their” favourites. The shirt of their European favourites are available for more insipid gestures freed of context.

In 1992 European football still retained a mysterious allure, all we had was the odd live match, Sgorio and some highlights on Sportsnight or Saint & Greavsie. You had to record it all because you’d never see it again, but then if you forgot to record it, or recorded over something you wanted  to keep, it didn’t matter a great deal.

I eagerly anticipated tournaments and various European Cup Finals, it was all so exotic with glamorously skillful purveyors of beautiful football wearing noticeably different kits. If you wanted to develop your interest you had to make an effort and search. World Soccer was there but it’s was a “niche publication”. There were no citizen experts. I loved the evocative team posters on the back of World Soccer, those kits, those kits.

European glamour now suffers from pre-packaged ubiquity. Corporate interests provide the sparkle and glamour, historic football clubs are sacrificed in the name of market share and key demographics lap up the glorious social Darwinism. “Thursday Night!!!!!!!!” they chant derisively. A no effort required decadence has set in, we can watch any match from anywhere and marvel at all the showboating.

I’m no luddite decrying the technological progress that we’ve lived through, I welcome the idea of being able to watch football all day in principle. My problem is that I hardly ever feel like doing that because I can’t enjoy it.

In 1992 you could walk away from irritants but now they haunt your existence with their stupid tweets and childish facebook memes. They’re at the grounds, in the pubs, in the shops, on your street. They’re on your TV, in the papers and they’re the stars of adverts. They’ve developed their own fan TV you tube channels, when the Fan TV Gifs enter my twitter consciousness Brexit feels slightly less incomprehensible.

You can attempt to erect barriers by limiting contact to your direct social media circle but the high tide of aural diarrhoea continually laps at your attention. Is peace and quiet too much to ask for?

My unflattering comparison between 2016 and 1992 may be taken as mournful pining for a lost youth but it doesn’t really matter what it is, I will always prefer 1992’s version of football to 2016’s, back then we just got on with it, or we didn’t, and nobody cared.

Football’s mystique has vanished. Like the Wizard of Oz football’s impressive public image is undermined when you look more closely, you see the clay feet. Football is over promoted, over exposed, over analysed. I long for the serenity of 1992, when you could take football, or more importantly, leave it.





Yet more of the photos what I’ve taken

25 12 2016

This is the final part of a five part festive trilogy.

christmas

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