Everybody’s welcome

17 12 2018

Technology provides a vast ocean of entertainment for our amusement and we respect the artistic process by deleting entertainment content from our devices in a matter of seconds, even Hollyoaks requires the careful channelling of creative energy to come into being.

There’s no point in complaining about our decadent arrogance because of the inevitable reply; “Mate, mate, maaaate it’s always been like this. There have always been trends, different fashions, different styles of music, different lengths of football shorts etcetera”. They can say all that but they can’t deny that there was a time when you were allowed to keep vinyl albums.

When Stewart Lee complained about “youngsters these days” in Content Provider his words resonated. When I was younger you couldn’t find the collected works of blah blah blah with a search engine, you had to make an effort, and have the right sort of friends with arcane knowledge, to get involved in a musical subculture. I could pity the youngsters these days for missing out on a sense of gratification that took years to mature.

I happened across a football-related example whilst luxuriating on an August pavement outside Llandudno’s luxurious hipster micro pub. I sipped a luxurious drink under clouds of the deepest north Walian summer grey (Pantone 1118) and life felt alright, then three of them modern youngsters turned up to discuss their fantasy league teams with an assured air of authority.

Questions fulminated as I was forced to listen to people discuss the economic value of other people like slave owners. Did these experts know the feel of an icy blast from the Urals in the 64th minute of a humdrum league match? Did they know the stress of arriving 15 minutes into a match because a supposed two hour journey took six hours? Why is it so easy to look and sound like a proper mad football fan these days? Thankfully I had a train to catch.

To return to my salad days, the 1990s were a simpler time of unlocked doors, cheery neighbours and the ERM fiasco. Nobody wanted vulgar displays of ostentatious football analysis so nobody “curated” a “luxury football opinion”. We may not have been able to conceptualise gegenpressing or source artisan retro shirts from the internet but oh how we revelled in the joy of the moment like troglodytes.

Imagine not caring how far Marco van Basten ran in a match, imagine not being able to cash out, imagine not hearing someone add ”mate, mate, maaaaaate” to every tenth sentence. Imagine not taking football quite as seriously.

The beautiful game’s true beauty is that everyone can interact with it in their own way. Take the ex-Brazilian international Adriano. Some of us recognise him from a past world cup, some watched him a lot, some have appreciated his goals on you tube and some would need wikipedia to find out who he is. If we go by his bare statistics (played professionally for 16 years, won titles in Italy and Brazil, 50 international caps) we could conclude that he wasn’t bad, if we could be bothered to have an opinion of course.

In the luxury opinion curation game one simply has to be judgemental so Adriano is lambasted because he wasn’t as good as his avatar on a computer game, and Andrei Shevcheko (17 year international career, over 120 goals in Serie A, European Cup winner) is breezily dismissed as an elite striker whose powers slipped away in a single moment

Decline is it? If I may be permitted to wear my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat for a moment, my informal research into the pressing issue of “football decline” indicates that most players suffer a relative decline in speed, power or skill as time passes, it’s usually called “getting old”.

I will say one positive thing about the luxury opinion curators, at least they don’t stride around grounds brandishing Stone Thailand armpits as they parrot the inane ditties of you tube.

If I may be permitted to tilt my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat to a jaunty angle, my research process has discovered that lots of annoyed people watch football. For example last season a Bangor fan loudly complained that Bangor were “too pedestrian”, after four hours of careful consideration I filed it under “Reflex comments that angry fans use as proof that they care more than we do”.

My next piece of freelance sociology will see me attempt to discover the identity of the group that the shouters are trying to impress.

It is gratifying to know that I am not the only one that has noticed that some people are trying too hard. A wonderful article entitled SUPPORT AS PERFORMANCE – NOT EVERYTHING IS A ‘MENTAL’ has been written. Is there anything more tedious than the knowing LOOK AT ME!!! behaviour of the fan park drink throwers and IKEA store invaders?

I don’t understand the appeal of those “fan parks”? You are already sharing an enclosed public space with people that normally give “the footy” a swerve but went along with “the vibe” because “we’ve sooooo got this mate” then some legend throws the contents of a plastic cup in your general direction.

Fan parks are the epitome of sponsored cynicism, little more than insipid communal experiences for the atomised citizens of market economies. What’s wrong with staying at home or going to a pub?

When I see people displaying knowing LOOK AT ME!!! behaviour I can’t help wondering how they developed an interest in football. In theory sports marketing provides a plausible explanation, football’s original punters fell into decrepit obsolesce years ago and Fabulous Football needs new punters to buy, literally buy, into its world.

The recent history of the Ricoh Arena could be used as a good example of sports marketing’s ability to create demand. Basically speaking cold hard business logic took a dispute with landlords, coupled it to a perceived demand for the rugby product in the midlands, and consequently Coventry City, a relatively big football club with a long history, became the tenants of Wasps, a rugby club that hails from London.

On the surface the Ricoh Arena still seems to be Coventry’s home ground; Coventry play there in front of sky blue seats and there’s a statue of Jimmy Hill and a Coventry City memorial garden outside the ground. If you look more closely you can spot the subtle signs of takeover; the stadium’s superstore only stocks Wasps merchandise and Wasps take credit for organising pre-takeover events.

Sports marketing seems to have worked here; the sporting midlands now has another set of big crowds with lovely disposable incomes and few people seem to mind that Wasps have moved to a more receptive market.

There is a caveat. This is an example drawn from rugby not football and it’s well-known that rugby fans and football fans have differing concerns; rugby fans focus on freshly ironed gilets and getting to the pub for Banter o’clock whereas football fans generally prefer coats. Football is definitely different from rugby, they say that the “build it and they will come” idea would never be tolerated by football fans.

The fact that MK Dons has fans may slightly contradict that stereotype but the concept of franchising is anathema to most fans, MK Dons are an aberration. Whilst franchising lacks widespread support too many football fans tolerate the thin end of the corporate wedge. The gentrification of half-time haute cuisine and £1000 season tickets is accepted, pay TV subscriptions are renewed and plans are made to meet down “The Etihad”, “The Tony Macaroni” and “The Emirates”.

Sports Marketing could be the cause of this acceptance because it seems to be everywhere. I certainly see the beautiful game’s version of sports marketing whenever I wear my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat. For example I came across Sky’s football advert whilst undertaking informal participant observation as a commuter this summer.

The televisual part of the campaign featured people with excited little faces rushing to fill sofas in a gianto-stadium, as soon as I saw it I suspected that it was just the sort of froth that encouraged a certain sort of person to have a go at the old footy.

I developed similar observations after Easter Monday’s unexpected field trip to Macclesfield. To cut a long story short I ended up in Macclesfield because FC United v York was postponed whilst I was in Manchester. Only two local matches had survived the rain; Crewe v Port Vale and Macclesfield v Chester, Crewe’s match was all-ticket so Hobson’s choice sent me to Macclesfield.

Whilst there I encountered a Carling advert that claimed “Football is never just 11 v 11”.

Even non-“freelance sociologists in trainers” would be able to spot the common tone of the two adverts; “SEE YOU, YOU’RE DEAD IMPORTANT, FOOTBALL IS YOUR SPORT, SO GET INVOLVED WITH THE FOOTBALL AND GIVE US ALL YOUR MONEY”.

Sports marketing seems to encourage people to act in a certain way so it’s tempting to blame it for the behaviour of the easily led, before we join two and two together it is worth bearing in mind that people are never just willing dupes.

The adverts contain such ridiculous stereotypes that it’s difficult to see how people would use them as behavioural advice. Who actually watches football in this sort of ecstatic state?

HE’S HOLDING A BLOODY TEAPOT.

It is amazing that twenty-six years have passed since Sky invented football and they have still to work out how the fans of their sport behave. Fans are not continually on the verge of beatific ecstasy or volcanic rage, nor are we gibbering morons hooked on the buzz of watching televised football in pubs. sadly the stereotyping appears to be contagious.

Simple ideas undermine sports marketing. Firstly, repeatedly saying something is great does not make that something great. The esteem with which the sports marketing industry coats itself isn’t matched by reality. Sports marketing may motivate someone to consider something, or spread the awareness of an event, but it cannot force people to pay attention, or attend something, if people don’t want to do something, they won’t.

Secondly, a carefully crafted image isn’t always a true reflection of reality. Free market propagandists tell us that a free market is the best way of organising society because it “democratises opportunity” but you cannot access the free market if you have insufficient resources. Similarly sports marketing has created an inclusive image for premier league football but poorer fans are unable access the premier league dream.

Sports marketing cannot eradicate football’s earthier qualities. On my way back from Easter Monday’s excursion to Macclesfield I noticed an A4 piece of paper on the door of a Crewe station buffet;

The football world painted by that piece of paper is a place beyond the ken of the sports marketers, a place that smells of the petty regulation of fun, League Two aggression and “No Football Colours Allowed”, 

They can market the glossy premier league jamboree all they like but football is about more than 22 sweaty millionaires, it’s about local affiliation, long coach journeys, sharing stories in the pub, trains with standing room only and other heady things. Some people are actually drawn to football by these earthier qualities, odd no?

So why do some people take an interest in football? I haven’t got a clue but here’s my best speculation. Perhaps some of their workmates only talk about football. Perhaps their friends discovered the japes one can have at the footy. Perhaps they’re following stereotypical behaviour patterns because they adore the intoxicating personalities of alpha males.

Perhaps it’s fashion. Perhaps it’s You Tube. Perhaps they once followed a crowd to see where it was heading. Perhaps they like polyester clothing. Perhaps the world is merely a stage and people are merely playing the role of “football fan”.

If the last point was true I could become north Wales’ very own Lee Strassberg with a downbeat football actor’s studio; “Luke Darling! That was wonderful! But where is your sense of realism? Where’s your true sense of self? Try to be the bored football fan, not act like a bored football fan!”

I realise that you read “everyone can interact with it (football) in their own way” some time ago so most of this post may sound a little illogical (people are only interacting with football in their own way) or misanthropic (none of these people directly impinge upon my life) but I can assure that I am neither illogical nor a full-time misanthrope.

To be honest I don’t really care why other people like football, or how they interact with the sport, because it’s none of my business.  It’s just that I prefer to interpret football’s culture in my own way and I’ve lost count of the occasions when tedious behaviour has shaken me out of a carefully constructed reverie.

For me it’s like the concept of free speech; anybody can speak but nobody is compelled to listen. I wish that other people would stick to their part of the deal that I have just implied. I am only asking for ignorance of irritating details and a bit of peace, is that asking too much?


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