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.


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.




One response

31 12 2016
Ben Philliskirk

Here, here. And the same goes for cricket!

1991/92 was probably my favourite year in football. My 13 year old self was playing regular football for the first time in the glamorous environs of Redcar, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool, I watched live matches at Roker Park, the old Ewood Park, the McCain Stadium and the Turnbull Ground (Whitby), and Sunderland reached the FA Cup Final while they were in the Second Division and while every club still wanted to win the competition.

Oh, and the SFA gig in Leeds was refreshingly free of idiots but worryingly full of beards.

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