Another hobbytastic use for football.

28 12 2017

After I launched the phenomenon known as “Stickers on Street Furniture” the stickers literally made me the toast of Llandudno’s notoriously judgemental Cultural Quarter but I’m not one for resting on laurels.

This is very lucky because my mind is literally a continual artistic maelstrom and I’m continually formulating yet more artistic departures. My latest masterpiece is entitled…………Feet at the Football”.

The purpose of this continually expanding piece is to point out the continuity of the circumstances in which the self finds itself. In life the context around the self changes but the continuity remains the same. In short, we are all united by the presence of feet at football.

It doesn’t matter what sort of football you watch, or which level, or your location, there will always be a common detail; feet will be in contact with a surface, and it doesn’t matter whether the surface is natural or man made either. Let that sink in mate. Let that sink in.

Anyway, you can follow the action here.

Here’s a sneak preview of what will be on offer;

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Well I wasn’t expecting that!

27 12 2017

Let’s imagine that people once predicted football results without the warming embrace of the thrusting venture science of looking at football-related numbers.

Honest guvnor it happened just like that, we didn’t have no venture science to fall back on, you can trust me on that guvnor.

People like me Nan predicted football results for forty years trying to strike it rich on the pools, even your humble narrator and his equally humble friends predicted football results on a fixed odds coupon from time to time, and none of us had no venture science.

Back then everybody predicted them results without no venture science.

It’s mad ain’t it guvnor, we still gave it a go even without them numbers of science behind us. 

You couldn’t keep us down guvnor, we was happy go lucky we was. We was all in the gutter but some of us was looking at the stars

Consider two things that happened in the last few weeks.

The first was the production of this tweet; “Arsenal Expected Goals 5.01 Man Utd Expected Goals 1.82″. I didn’t discover the tweet after the match but I still had the following thought “That’s uncanny!!! The final score was Arsenal 5.01 Manchester United 1.82. If only I could go back in time and put £100 on the result”. If only I could go back in time!

The second was the resumption of the social media debate between the proper football Neanderthals and the thrusting venture scientists that look at football related numbers. It was all Jeff Stelling’s fault because he had the unmitigated gall, if not sheer audacity, to be one of them typical proper football Neanderthal types. He doubted the efficacy of the concept/phrase called “Expected Goals” in a particular context.

Naturally like all other proper football Neanderthals I was aware that a concept/phrase called “Expected Goals” existed. I naturally presumed, like all other proper football Neanderthals, that it referred to the number of goals that one expected to see in a particular match. Presumptions get you nowhere so I fired up google’s banter engine.

It seems that Expected goals is……

“…a metric which assesses every chance, essentially answering the question of whether a player should have scored from a certain opportunity.

Put simply, it is a way of assigning a “quality” value (xG) to every attempt based on what we know about it. The higher the xG – with 1 being the maximum – the more likelihood of the opportunity being taken.

So if a chance is 0.5xG, it should be scored 50% of the time.”

Unless I have grasped the wrong end of the metric stick “Expected Goals” appears to be more than just a method of determining the number of goals that one expects to see in a particular match, it also involves the scientific knowledge of knowing whether a player should score when they find themselves in a position that appears to be a goalscoring position. What a breakthrough!

For a century and a half we proper football Neanderthals have been lumbering around in the dark distinctly unable to tell whether a chance should, or should not, have been scored. Now it seems that we had better pipe down because society finally has a scientific way of determining whether someone should have scored or not from a particular goalscoring position.

Mate, mate, mate, let that sink in, proper football Neanderthals have been quite literally wandering around in the literal darkness of literal football ignorance. Yeah mate let that fact literally sink in.

AND LO they did tweet “THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY” and other social media phrases. AND LO, it did sink in.

For the last century and a half us proper football Neanderthals have allowed players to blithely run around without the correct knowledge, we simply have not been able to tell whether a goal should have been scored or not in a given situation.

Well begone thy darkness, begone!

For now we can see the light!! Rejoice!! Rejoice!!

If I weren’t a proper football Neanderthal I would be really, really angry at those bloody proper football Neanderthals for subjecting us all to the terror of their deeply unscientific football. If only they had been furnished with simple understanding, if only they had been able to assess whether a player has the ability to score goals or not.

I think I need to let that sink in a bit more mate, all those wasted years mate, all those years, wasted! WASTED! I definitely need to let that sink in a bit more mate.

I am telepathic so I know what you’re thinking

“Mate mate mate what do you expect from your proper football Neanderthals? Decisions have never been part of their job descriptions. They’ve literally NEVER had to make decisions about players based on a comparison.

They’ve literally never had to look into the eyes of young hopeful and literally say “I’m sorry Son but you just haven’t quite got it. We wish you all the best for the future.”

You start to ask yourself how could they literally be like that, then you literally remember that they are proper football Neanderthals and they literally can’t tell which players literally haven’t quite got the skills required for a career as a professional footballer.”

Do you know something mate? You’d be correct. Your proper football Neanderthal can’t make decisions based on judgement because they’ve only gained a lifetime’s craft knowledge in the specialised employment sector called association football.

Praise Be!

It’s only thanks to the scientists from the thrusting venture science of looking at football related numbers that we can now predict football results with any level of scientific rigour.

I look back at the time before scientific rigour and shudder. How did we have the audacity to try and predict results? How did we have the audacity to enter betting shops with just the hope of future riches to guide us? It fair makes my blood run cold. How did we cope with that darkest of dark places?

Predicting football outcomes!!! What a breakthrough!

Let us gaze at the glorious idea of “Expected Goals” and hail the breakthrough!

Let us hail all of them science type people mate!!

LET US ALL LET THAT SINK IN TOGETHER!!

AND LO they did tweet “THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY” and other social media phrases. AND LO, it did sink in.

Having said all that, knowledge in this area would be extremely useful for coaching staff, as the BBC article says

“To the naked eye they were struggling, but xG was identifying a team that would improve soon,” said Duncan Alexander, Opta’s chief data analyst.

“Lo and behold, around matchday 12, their fortunes changed, with the team starting to score at – and above – the expected rate. This led to them actually performing better than their xG said they should have in their eventual stroll to the title.”

The concept of “Expected Goals” could help player development. For example it could provide the pictorial tools to support coaching like “Have you thought about standing here instead of there?”. It’s an obvious thing to say but performance in a particular match situation could be improved by thinking about that particular match situation, especially when you may be able to call on data.

I can see how the data may inform tactical thinking. It is extremely difficult to control every aspect of a match but individual incidents in specific regions of the pitch, i.e. the penalty area, can help to determine a result. Relevant data about those regions of the pitch may provide insights.

While data is useful within the work environment of football but I am not sure it is much use outside that environment. Coaches have to analyse options and possibilities dispassionately but fans only need to hope for the best, in other words coaches can directly affect match situations but fans cannot.

Concepts such as “Expected Goals” have been sold as part of an analytical approach that will provide layman with a more refined understanding of football. On a fundamental level this idea has potential. The understanding gained through study allows human society to evolve, everybody is capable of understanding society through study, therefore everybody is capable of understanding football by studying it.

The academic study of football would probably require a level of time and effort that most people would be unable to devote but fans wouldn’t actually need to produce data because the media would probably digest and present research.

Therefore in principle the process of study would allow fans to understand more about football. I can see the potential in debunking commonly held attitudes about typical terrace scapegoats. Before we move on too quickly it’s worth considering whether the information provided data concepts actually adds anything worthwhile to a layman’s understanding of football, can fans benefit from data concepts?

Imagine your side lost 2-0. It won’t matter how much detail the stats convey, or how many times you look at them, your side would still have lost 2-0. The scoreline, and perhaps a brief match report, will tell you all that you need to know. There’s a choice to make; accept the score or howl at the moon as an appeal to the deity of football fairness on the basis of favourable match stats. Football has never been concerned about the fairness of outcome, somebody has to lose after all (unless there’s a draw).

Concepts like “Expected Goals” gild a lily that doesn’t need to be there. Aside from providing a slightly clearer view for betting purposes fans cannot do anything practical with the statistical knowledge.

Knowledge about what could, or even should, happen becomes pointless when a match ends with a different scoreline. The fact that scorelines often differ from predictions immediately calls the utility of a metric such as “Expected Goals” into question.

If the concept of “Expected Goals” had never been conceived it would not matter in the slightest, most fans do not need extravagant methodology to prove what they can recall from memory. Let us look at the following quote from the BBC article;

“So if your team is performing above or below expectations at the start of the new season, a look at their expected goals difference could tell you whether that run is likely to last.

And it may also be something worth thinking about the next time your striker misses what you always thought of as an easy chance.”

Fans will already know when their team plays well, whether a season has been below expectations, which players make a difference and which sides are the strongest in their division. These ideas are hardly new, they’ve been around since the 19th century foundation of association football. It’s not hard to pick theses insights up, you just have to follow football,

OOOOH SCIENTIFIC “Expected Goals”!!!!!! Get you, with your magical powers!!!!!

I’ve managed to notice that fans are also able to recognise what happens in individual situations, I haven’t done any research like, I have just noticed by looking.

Let’s imagine that a particular striker is standing in their typical sort of position, a similar position from which you’ve seen him score many times. You know that when the ball is crossed you could be milliseconds away from seeing a goal. You can picture him striking the ball cleanly and the ball flying past the keeper. The football dopamine factory is in full effect during the milliseconds of anticipation between the crosser’s leg moving backwards and the ball flying through the air.

Now imagine that just before the perfect cross lands on the proverbial pre-decimal coin the striker slightly loses his footing in the slippery conditions, so when he connects with the ball he scuffs it well wide of the goal. You don’t need an expert venture scientist to explain why the striker missed because you saw the striker slip. QED or something.

The naked eye can see the effect of a momentary loss of concentration, or when crosses are slightly too fast, or defenders are marking too tightly, or when strikers stumble slightly. Surely we don’t need a complicated theory to explain what we already know. Like I said earlier I haven’t done any research, make of that what you will.

LET THAT SINK IN MATE.

I appear to have been light years ahead of the curve, I already knew that van Nistelrooy would score more than Gary Neville and Ian Rush would score more than Alan Hansen and Ian Wright would score more than Steve Bould. If I wasn’t so humble I’d ask the Nobel committee to consider my thesis entitled “Expected Passes That Set Up Goals” for next year’s Nobel prize in the thrusting venture science that looks at football related numbers.

I don’t want to blow my own trumpet here but I would be a shoe-in for the award for I doth have a PhD in thinking up stuff what is bleeding obvious. As part of my submission I will tell the Nobel committee about the people of Llandudno; they often crowd around me in order to touch the hem of my garments and tell me that they would love to have the level of intelligence and sophistication like what I have got.

Greater knowledge can lead to greater enjoyment but bare statistics only explain so much. A misplaced pass has the same statistical worth whether it happens just outside a penalty area or near the halfway line. Stats can tell us that a side with 75.4% possession lost a match by conceding injury time goals but they can’t tell us why did that happened, which is the most interesting bit.

The concept of “Expected Goals” appears to have more explanatory power than bare statistics but it still lacks utility for fans.

There are two main reasons, firstly it’s pointless to expect something in football because uncertainty lies at the heart of the sport and secondly, people are attracted to football by emotion not logic.

You can roughly predict general outcomes but it would take a genius with preternatural abilities to continually make correct predictions. A friend that regularly bets on horse racing once told me that football’s inherent uncertainty is the reason he didn’t bet on football results, there are just too many things that can go wrong.

The flow of matches is dictated by the fluid interaction of single events that can alter the course of a match in a split second. A player could slip, someone could pass the ball to the wrong player, a player could stand in the wrong place, a goalkeeper might fumble a cross, a defender’s concentration may wander momentarily. Football’s nature means that similar mistakes don’t always lead to goals.

Uncertainty sounds messy and random but the uncertainty created by football’s inherent drama is the thing that draws people to football, can you imagine how boring it would be if all matches ended in the predicted score?

The proponents of ideas like “Expected Goals” imply that greater enjoyment will come from greater enlightenment but an attachment to football’s vibrant culture is something that people feel on an emotional level and I doubt whether it is possible to explain an emotional attachment with data.

We know what we feel when we see flowing moves, superb skill, precision shooting, great comebacks, unexpected goals. Fans can get behind their side and roar them on, or make the opposition wilt, and we don’t need a detailed scientific outlook to do that.

We all know what it feels like to long for a result, or to taste the glory, or to feel mesmerised by history, or to feel a sense of belonging, or to enjoy the camaraderie, or to hear the stories. We know that the match will probably be dull but there’s always the hope that we could see something fantastic. A recording of a memorable match can enable you to relive the feelings, looking at data won’t elicit the same response.

Let us consider Wales in Euro 2016.

Let’s start with the data perspective. Ladies and gentlemen may I present the minutes in which goals were scored in Wales’ matches between September 2014 and July 2016.

Euro 2016 Qualifiers

Wales – 13, 22, 23, 26, 45, 50, 50, 77, 81, 82, 86
Opponents – 6, 36, 71, 90
 

Euro 2016

Wales – 10, 11, 20, 31, 42, 56, 67, 75, 81, 86
Opponents – 13, 50, 53, 56, 61, 90

Now let us turn to idea of an average score, the “Expected Goals” if you will, from those matches;

  • In the qualifiers the average score was Wales 1.1, Opponent 0.4 (10 matches, 11 goals for, 4 goals against).
  • In Euro 2016 the average score was Wales 1.6, Opponents 1 (6 matches, 10 goals for, 6 goals against).

According to the Venture Science of Looking At Football Related Numbers we should have been able to take the knowledge indicated by the above information and prepare ourselves for the unexpected joy dans la belle France, the average scorelines have a degree of similarity do they not?

The fact that we obviously didn’t know what was going to happen shows the limitations of concepts like “Expected Goals”.

Even a cursory analysis of the data tells us that most predictions would have been wrong; during the tournament Wales were not only more potent, playing four fewer matches but only scoring one goal fewer, they also conceded more second half goals. This impression is also reflected in the average scorelines.

All data has limitations, in football it is more useful as an indication of what happened rather than as a signpost of what will happen. But then football results of the past have never determined future football results.

In terms of Wales at Euro 2016 bare statistics cannot even begin to explain what happened because they cannot begin to explain what it felt like to witness the events. Watching Wales play in Euro 2016 was the sort of fantastically bewildering experience that any football fan would enjoy.

The utter joy of qualification did not transfer into expectation. Not even the most positive Welsh fan would have even been able to conceptualise what actually happened in France, and that includes those that bought follow my team tickets.

Data was useless for mental preparation. Wales’ pre-tournament form guide told us that they lost their last four matches, and one of those was a week before the first match yet they reached the semi-final. Hopes, dreams and general football knowledge would have been as reliable an indicator as the data. The only thing we could have expressed with any degree of certainty is the idea that Wales might score and they might concede.

Not even the simple knowledge what happened when Wales play against the same sides helped. The qualifiers against Belgium yielded an aggregate score Wales 1 Belgium 0, when the sides met in the Quarter Final Wales beat Belgium 3-1 in one of the most memorable matches Wales has ever played. The first two matches are unable to explain the third. I still feel warm and fuzzy when I picture Hal’s Cruyff turn.

Data can’t explain what it felt like to see Ashley Williams’ equaliser, or Hal Robson-Kanu’s skilful finish, or Sam Vokes’ late header and it certainly can’t explain the once-in-a-lifetime experience for those in Lille or the open mouthed joy for those that watched on TV.

To underline the point further let’s consider qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup as well. From Euro 2016 to Euro 2016 to World Cup 2018 qualifiers the average score only changed slightly; from Wales 1.1, Opponent 0.4 to Wales 1.6, Opponents 1 to Wales 1.3, Opponents 0.6. 

The similar average scores suggest a similar experience yet the three stages caused distinctly different emotions. The first stage had the glory of an historical qualification, the second stage had the glory of an unprecedented semi-final, the third stage had a very irritating defeat caused by Ireland in the most important match.

In other words the knowledge from the Euro 2016 qualifiers didn’t prepare us for didn’t prepare us for Euro 2016 and the knowledge from Euro 2016 didn’t prepare us for the World Cup 2018 Qualifiers.

I may believe that facts and stats don’t really add to a fan’s enjoyment of football but in our gossamer skinned times people actually enjoy using stats on social media to prolong pointless arguments. I quote verbatim;

“Mate mate mate, you can’t challenge me for I have the right to free speech. THAT’S “ME”, YES ME.  I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH. I’m entitled to my opinion mate and it happens to be better than your opinion mate. You know sod all about football. Get over it SNOWFLAKE. LET THAT LITERALLY SINK IN MATE”

Verbatim and ad nauseum, the reduction of football to a never-ending struggle to finally prove which judgement based opinion is the bestest ever mate. They’ll use anything in these social media spats; Net Spend, Shots, Possession. Look at me, Look at me, Look at me.

It’s like some people have forgotten that data does not predetermine the future. A player can play against the same club twice and play well in one match but play poorly in the other, or they can eradicate the mistakes from the first match by the time they play the second, confidence can be regained in the intervening period.

Anybody with a semblance of football knowledge can make rough predictions, fans don’t need data. Knowing that a side has error-prone keeper from watching Match Of The Day highlights is as enlightening as a set of data. Emotions and experience prepare fans for football outcomes rather than data.

If somebody wants to interact with football on the basis of a statistical relationship that’s fine and dandy, it’s between them, their conscience and their free time, it matters not a jot. I just wish they’d keep it to themselves. The thrusting venture science of looking at football numbers has become yet another example of football’s imperialistic tendencies.

Football should be a hugely enjoyable diverting pastime that’s reasonably important to those that are interested but it seems to have developed an extreme sense of self-importance.

I try to ignore the tedious flotsam and jetsam but other people won’t allow me and football continually encroaches too far into my peace of mind. Take last weekend, I was getting ready to go to Rotherham when I caught the short BBC Breakfast News report about the previous night’s Arsenal 3 Liverpool 3 match. The reporter told us about culpability, mistakes and pressure rather than a “clearly exciting and pleasant way to spend a couple of hours”. It was as if somebody needed to be held accountable and punished

As Thom Yorke once sang, I’m a reasonable man get off my case.

I read “Expected Goals” and foresee a new stick to beat a team with.

“I know mate, won 2-0 but our xG was 4.2. That’s not good enough mate! He’s gotta go!”

I foresee the whimpering of data acolytes.

“Mate, Mate, Mate, It’s not my fault the cretin scored in the 83th minute instead of the 9th minute. He’s a proper football man at heart and didn’t know that most of his own goals come from the 8.4-11.7 minute window within the hidden trapezium of max. goal scoritude.

Stats don’t lie mate. Stats don’t lie. He’s just a proper football Neanderthal mate, he’s basically a performing monkey, a lab rat.”

Mate mate mate football doesn’t really matter.

Isn’t it enough to know that football runs by the internal logic of its own nature? It’s like the man on the When Saturday Comes message board implied, you don’t need to know the serial number of pantones to be affected by the beauty of art.

LET THAT SINK IN m7.





It’s cliched to be cynical at Christmas

24 12 2017

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a half season ticket for MK Dons.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. tickets for a match where both sides wear away kits.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me….three dog-eared protest placards written in felt tip.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. four deeply serious pundits around a deeply serious table.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….FIVE banter bus companies.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. six hundred people willing to buy the season ticket I relinquished in protest.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. seven thousand clichés.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. eight players tag team fouling.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. nine insipid newbuilds.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. ten showboaters engineering contact.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. eleven hours of build up.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….twelve away fans in identical baseball caps and khaki polyester coats doing the provocative outstetched arms dance they learnt from that you tube.

On the thirteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. attention fatigue.

On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. fourteen angry phone in radio shows.

On the fifteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. fifteen hours of build up.

On the sixteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. sixteen rearranged matches.

On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. seventeen thousand tweets already tweeted.

On the eighteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a club with eighteen players out on loan.

On the nineteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. nineteen HD views of a foul that wasn’t a foul.

On the twentieth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. twenty hours of build up.

On the twenty first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. twenty one needlessly judgemental commentators.

On the twenty second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a book about films.

That’s the thing about soul mates, they know exactly what you like.





Did you know that it’s been 27 and a half years since Italia ’90?

7 12 2017

Italia ’90 is probably my favourite world cup, read on to find out why.

My interest in tournament football began with inconsequential Espana ’82 details; the kit colour diagrams in Ladybird’s World Cup ’82 book, the multi-lingualism of Panini’s sticker album and the photos in the BBC’s preview guide. The page devoted to Chile contained a photo of footballers standing in front of the snow-capped Andes and it was one of the most strikingly exotic images I’d ever seen. I must add that I was unaware of Pinochet when I was five.

I say “my interest began” but I don’t remember much before 1990. There are fragments of Espana ’82; the draw’s metal cages and Czechoslovakians with badges in the middle of their shirts. There are larger lumps of Mexico ’86; Italy v Bulgaria’s vague outline, edited highlights of Maradona, Luis Fernandez’s shootout winning penalty against Brazil and our playground captain telling me that I was Jose Luis Brown the day after the final. Euro ’88 is in relative high definition; England v Ireland, England v Holland, the USSR v Holland group match but I still didn’t watch the final. I’m sure the increasing clarity had something to do with getting older.

Italia ’90 was the first tournament to entrance me. I suppose it came at the right time, I was the right age and most of it was on telly at a reasonable hour. I had also watched Hero, the official film of Mexico ’86, so many times the line “The day the dazzling Danes finally ran out of steam!” has a Harry Lime on the Prater Ferris Wheel resonance.

I was so besotted by anticipation I felt a frisson of excitement whenever I saw Ciao the stick man mascot. It could have been a Mars bar wrapper, a can of coke or a magazine advert for Fujifilm. Somebody brought an Italia ’90 coca cola miniball to school and we played with it every lunchtime until the synthetic green, red and white leather panels fell off. I knew I had to get one. In hindsight I may have been a willing dupe of the marketing industry.

I can’t say that there weren’t little disappointments like Ladybird’s decision to replace the charming utilitarian air of their world cup guides with the word processor chic of paragraphs at funny angles but little joys like the Orbis “World Cup ’90” binder restored my karmic balance.

The binder brought together a partwork and a sticker album. The different sections – famous goals, famous matches, world cup heroes, a history of previous world cup and a run down on the tournament’s organisation – were a treasure trove for the likes of me. It was exciting enough to see the grounds and other photos and visualise the historic goals from the diagrams but the stickers added a joy of their own.

The logical way they organised the group matches caught my eye. Each group was based around two grounds, the top seeds played all their matches in the biggest ground of the pair while all of the other matches were played in the other ground. I always remembered the pairings; Milan / Bologna, Turin / Genoa, Rome / Florence, Naples / Bari, Cagliari / Palermo and Verona / Udine. This system has the nice side effect of allowing locals to adopt a second team. It’s harder to do that with today’s random ground selection.

I was well briefed about the pundits’ potential dark horses and players of the tournament because I bought a few guides, I had hoped for posters and memorabilia but they were bereft. I knew that a hero would come from the pantheon of familiar names; Lineker, Barnes, Maradona, van Basten, Hagi, Careca, Butragueno.

In the time before Sky TV, you tube and the thrusting venture science of looking at football statistics “foreign players” were little more than names and photos. Even famous players were mostly known by reputation only. The lack of concrete proof wasn’t a problem because the atmosphere was far less oppressive.

Predictions could be taken at face value, opinion could remain unexpressed and you weren’t expected to feel personally let down. You could interact with football on the basis of the hope that moments of great skill would just happen. Looking back I’d say that everybody knew that it was more palatable to imagine than to know but I’m sure that a lot of people were more jaundiced than that, I was probably too young to have discovered cynicism.

For football experts and the forensic analysts from our football content creating milieu Italia ’90 is not exactly a classic world cup, these people are hardened cynics. Before we become bogged down in their semantics there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Firstly, words are just like, someone else’s opinion man. Secondly, football may have always looked backwards to a golden era that didn’t exist. Contemporary reviews of world cups, and official world cup films, often contain disparaging comments about “that modern football these days”, matches are now less thrilling, teams are now too defensive and the general style has become less attractive etc etc.

If football is about anything it’s about two teams trying to stop the other scoring, therefore it has always been largely humdrum, and that includes the supposed pinnacle called the world cup. For every Brazil ’70, Holland ’74 or Brazil ’82 there’s a Germany ’82, Bulgaria ’86 or Greece ’94. Don’t deliberately misunderstand or misquote your humble narrator here, I love to perpetually watch beautiful football as much as the next man but romance wilts when professionalism matters, it’s better to accept that beautiful football is a blip to be savoured.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked Italia ’90. I’m no iconoclast or arbiter of taste but I know what I felt and I trust my memories and feelings more than I trust than accepted opinion. In fact I didn’t just like Italia ’90 I loved everything about it.  It was the first tournament that I felt part of and I can recall virtually every detail with fondness. You can’t stop me having memories baby.

Wales had failed to qualify again but my friends and I still looked forward to the tournament. Before the tournament Pete, one of my Dad’s friends, came to our house, noticed the World Cup ’90 binder and proclaimed that he always supported Brazil. I noted the pedagogical tone in his voice but said nothing. I didn’t identify with Brazil, I’d wanted France to beat them in the last world cup.

My friends and I hadn’t thought about picking a side until we noticed the copy of William Hill’s world cup guide near the goal on The Oval (The Oval is a big field in the middle of Llandudno). We’d been playing football with some older lads, as was our want, so I reasoned that one of them had left it behind. Leaving something behind was a common experience as our pre-football routine usually involved chucking unwanted clothes on the ground as quickly as you could to get on with the game.

I flicked through the guide and saw that the older lads had chosen one of the six favourites, Paul suggested that we do the same and picked Argentina, Mark picked Brazil and I picked Germany. I knew Wales had been knocked out by Germany but so what, you couldn’t live in the past daddio. Stephen upset the flow of the idea by picking Ireland on account of his Irish dad, and Irish replica shirt. So we had sides to follow.

I loved the grounds. The photos made them look fantastic so they were the kind of location you could daydream about. The designs looked both futuristic and traditional. There was symmetry, curves, angular edges, arches, intricate steel work, giant girders, glass walls and above all pristine concrete. I didn’t know about the day to day problems – inconvenient locations, bad sightlines, glass screens obscuring the view – I just marvelled at the minds that designed them. I wondered why Britain didn’t have grounds that looked like that but I was too young to understand the machinations behind stadium construction.

Most of the kits looked great, especially the Adidas ones. There were some jazzy elements but it was mostly symmetry and diagonal lines. We were well used to seeing the shirts of the popular sides because there had been plenty of mail order adverts in Shoot and Match. I can still see the adverts featuring England, Scotland, Holland, Argentina, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, USSR and USA’s blue kit. Kit purists would have noticed a few problems with the advertised kits, Argentina’s kit was slightly different from the one they actually wore, the USSR didn’t wear the paint splattered design you could buy and the USA’s home kit was actually white.

Paul and I received the respective shirts but it was harder to source the replica shirts from outside the promoted world cup few so Mark didn’t bother with Brazil’s. I remember Llandudno’s sport shops selling the shirts, one even stocked that blue USA shirt, so I suppose that was where we got them. As already noted Stephen had the Ireland shirt, I don’t know why it was sponsored by Opel.

When I started to watch the world cup I quickly realised that I preferred the adidas designs that you couldn’t buy; Argentina away, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, USSR (Without CCCP). Romania, Cameroon, Egypt, Colombia. In 1990 a side could turn up in an unseen kit because there were no slow marketing reveals or November launches.  It felt exciting to see a kit on TV for the first time and it’s a shame that you can’t be surprised like that now. I could have taken all of them but Llandudno never saw kits like that, the closest I got was stroking the extortionately priced USSR kits in a Liverpool sport shop a few months after the world cup.

The less than stylish outfield kits were very much in the minority, the only one I didn’t take to was Scotland’s apparent tri-coloured tribute to a Breton shirt. The goalkeepers’ kits were a different matter, many of them were gaudy but the most heinous was Austria’s fluorescent stripiness, even the shorts were stripy.

Adidas had evidentially put all their style eggs in their outfield basket because most of their goalkeeping kits evoked the air of Campri’s dayglo ski wear, which was popular in my school at the time. Rene Higuita’s kit was a particularly abomination, it was so bad I can’t even begin to describe it. Having said that honourable mentions should go to the Jackson Pollack tribute worn by Czechoslovakia / Yugoslavia / USSR / USA and the colour panel design favoured by Michel Preud’homme, Thomas N’Kono and Thomas Ravelli.

The sides with the smartest kits were undoubtedly Italy and Brazil. They wore simple designs with classic styling, Zenga in Grey, Vialli in Blue, Taffarel in Green, Careca in Yellow. Continuity may have been key because Italy wore virtually the same design as they had in Mexico, a v necked / polo collar without manufacturer’s logos, and the only change from Brazil’s Mexico outfit was a collar change. I also liked the fact that shorts appeared to be getting baggier.

If I had been Biff Tannen, and foreseen the market for retro football shirts, I could be charging £300 for pristine examples of German or Argentinian shirts on e-bay but I am not, c’est la vie.

For years sportswear and equipment had exerted a fascination, the stylings, the marketing posters in sport shops, the packaging, the look of the labels, the embroidered logos, and the Italia ’90 equipment was very evocative too. Everything about the ball felt perfect. The Tango-esque design meant that it was going to look great flying through the air. The name, Etrusco Unico, seemed exotic, Adidas took the name and design elements from the pre-Roman Etruscan civilisation. Even the packaging was great, the usual blue and white Adidas creation. They were out of my price range but I already had a nice Tango so it didn’t really matter.

The ball had a namesake in a stylish revelation of a boot. It was one of the first boots that looked a bit different because the three stripes continued around the sole of the boot. While a lot of the top players seemed to wear them Puma Kings were also popular and a lot of the German side wore more traditional looking adidas boots.

I thought the adidas tracksuits looked great with their zig zagging lines. I looked at them from afar, like the shirts and balls I knew I’d never own something like that. Umbro advertised entire leisure wear ranges and both England and Scotland had bespoke collections that included shellsuits, Bermuda shorts, traning shirts, t-shirts. I remember the 5-IN-A-ROW Scotland T-shirt. I didn’t really want to own the stuff I could buy. I liked adidas’ Coppa Del Mundo jumper because it epitomised ’90s chic but I lacked the confidence to think about wearing it.

I found the football engrossing. I didn’t notice the lack of style or lack of quality but I wasn’t looking for faults and I was too busy rushing home to watch matches. The first three days set the tone. The Friday teatime opener, Argentina v Cameroon, took place in the San Siro. Apart from a general sense of excitement about the world cup finally starting Pumpido’s mistake and Caniggia getting cleaned out twice as he tried to hurdle Cameroonian fouls are the two things that stand out. I remember laughing at Paul because his team had lost.

On the second day Romania surprised the USSR in Bari and I dug football on a Saturday. Romania wore red, the USSR didn’t wear CCCP, Lacatus scored twice and the pundits felt sorry for Dasayev. I remember the Romanian fans waved flags that contained massive holes where Ceaucescu’s Neo-Stalinist symbol used to be. There was a metaphorical avalanche of matches in the first three days, Brazil v Sweden, Czechoslovakia v USA, Ireland v England, Scotland v Costa Rica, and the flow continued like that across the group stage. It was fantastic.

There were great stories like Cameroon’s fantastic run to the quarter final, everyone in my year enjoyed Milla’s celebrations and even Higuita seemed to want them to go through, sadly their run was ended by England on the Sunny Sunday evening I flitted between my house and Paul’s. Costa Rica was another of the surprises. USSR and Holland the biggest disappointments. I blame the guides, they told me van Basten was going to be a star, they forgot to tell me that he was injured, although they probably did and I just didn’t notice.

I remember feeling disappointed for Scotland, and especially for Jim Leighton, when they were narrowly defeated, and knocked out, by Brazil. I liked Skuhravy’s hatrick against Costa Rica and the balletic quality to David Platt’s swivelling volley. I remember hoping Ireland would win on penalties and feeling disappointed that Italy knocked them out in the quarter final.

My Germany were great. A great victory over Yugoslavia, a big victory over the UAE in the rain and a draw that allowed Colombia to qualify. A second round victory over Holland with some good goals, a comfortable 1-0 quarter final victory over the Czechs then the famous semi-final shootout with England. I may have been the only person cheering for Germany that night.

Paul’s Argentina were doing ok, a slip up against Cameroon then a win over the USSR and a draw with Romania. I missed Argentina’s victory over Brazil but I managed to watch their quarter final victory over Yugoslavia that featured what my Dad’s mate called the worst penalty shootout he ever saw, then another penalties victory over Italy.

So it was Argentina v Germany in the final. Me v Paul. Paul v Me.  I remember the morning of the final because I was watching a friend playing football when I overheard smug fat man opine; “Oh Argentina will just soak up the pressure”.

This may have been the split second that I decided to take against any and all football opinion smugness. I wanted to put him straight but I didn’t have the confidence. I don’t know why I took umbrage because Germany was only a passing crush. How can you say anything with confidence in football? Needless to say I had the last laugh after a soft penalty and Argentinian red cards. I had managed to pick a winner, and the rest as they say is history.

The matches return easily to my mind but I can’t recall much about the players. I can remember the glory boys like the scorers – Schilachi, Milla, Skuhravy, Careca, Brolin – and the thrilling runners – Matthaus, Caniggia or Baggio – and others that stuck – Cameroon’s Makanaky, Argentina’s Goycochea, USA’s Windischmann – but I don’t remember stellar performers standing out.

I can see glimpses of greatness – Prosinecki trying to belittle an Argentinian defender, Stojkovic’s deftness against Spain and one typical Maradona dribble against Brazil – but that’s it.  I don’t think I had the eye for that kind of detail but our galaxy of stars existed in a less heavenly environment. Football wasn’t massively important in 1990, there was no football PR industry turning footballers into gargantuan merchandise sellers and pundits didn’t forensically pore over minutiae from ten high definition angles. Then again I may not have been looking closely enough.

The world cup story didn’t end there. I bought official videos (highlights and every goal) as soon as they came out and shared them around my friendship group. Brain Moore added the commentary and one phrase; “The X-Factor was a cheeky backheel by Jara” became our phrase of choice for a bit.

In August we took our first family holiday abroad; Amsterdam by ferry from Harwich. We had to change in Liverpool Street and while we were waiting I bought World Soccer’s review of Italia ’90. It was filled by the stuff I liked, stats, photos and the chance to buy a porcelain statuette of Maradona flying over Harald Schumacher. I liked Amsterdam a lot, even if I had to settle for a Ruud Gullit postcard instead of an AC Milan shirt. I wore the German shirt on the way home and an angry ferry passenger shouted “ACHTUNG MESSERSCHMITT, PISS OFF!!!!!!!!” at me. My mum wasn’t amused but I was.

I have two abiding memories of Italia ‘90. The first was the feeling that every matchday was exciting, we didn’t know what would happen, we didn’t know if we’d see great goals. There were always things to say the day after; “Did you see that last night?”, “I’m Matthaus today”, “I’m Roger Milla today”.

The second is the feel of watching matches with a stylish backdrop. By the end of the world cup I could name each unique ground within seconds by the landmarks or the way the seats looked. There was Bologna’s tower, Udine’s arch, Genoa’s combination of terraces and red cubism, the Olympic Stadium’s running track, the subterranean corridor behinds the San Siro goals and the grassy areas behind the goals in Florence. My favourite was Genoa, I desperately wanted to go there. A couple of years ago the opportunity to visit arose and everything was just as I hoped it would be.

For me Italia ’90 feels like it was part of a golden period of football. Cynics could say that I only feel like that because I’m wallowing in the nostalgia of being a responsibility free teenager. They could quite reasonably point out that Havelange and his ideas had been in control of FIFA for 16 years so there was a long list of multinational sponsors connected to FIFA and the world cup.

While that’s all true Italia ’90 still has a watershed quality. It was the last old style world cup, the last tournament without names on the back of shirts and numbers on the front, the last world cup without whooshing logos in expensively designed bespoke fonts. We made do with 1 to 22 and the graphics that RAI used for Serie A matches.

Italia ’90 was also the last tournament to feature nation states from the Europe created by the October Revolution and post-World War One peace treaties. By the next world cup the multi-national nation states of Eastern Europe had broken up. Welsh fans have seen this effect at close hand, over the last three decades Wales have been losing to gradually shrinking countries; from Yugoslavia to Serbia & Montenegro to Montenegro (plus Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia for good measure).

The entire year had a watershed quality; we had entered the last decade of the twentieth century and the Cold War had ended. The triumphalism connected to victory over the “evil empire” produced the “End of History” thesis, which provided the intellectual legitimacy for the onward march of market capitalism.  Craven governments propagated the gospel of market economics under the benign guise of democratisation and liberalisation and lo, multinational companies did brazenly pursue their selfish economic interests. It’s difficult to deny the effect of this process on football.

I can’t help but miss 1990, football just wasn’t the bloated epidemic that we are now forced to tolerate. The Likely lads’ theme was right, the only thing to look forward to is the past.





That would be an ecumenical matter

15 11 2017

Once upon a time I took a binary view of certain sides. Negative experiences were the key, as soon as I witnessed the fans of a particular side doing something offensive or cringeworthy they were beyond the pale.

My time at university led to a real dislike of the England side. My preconceptions about academia unravelled as soon as I discovered that students preferred buying cheap posters to discussing higher matters over a few beers but the most dispiriting discovery was the atmosphere around football matches and the air that surrounded tournaments.

I like to think that my Celtic periphery chippiness had nothing to with it because I witnessed plenty of annoying incidents; groups of lads singing songs about the IRA or German bombers, university football team drunks using karaoke equipment to abuse Irish people, university football team drunks abusing French students for celebrating a goal, the very heated discussion between my Brazilian friend Carlos and someone that said “Yeah, but he’s saying WE cheated.” as if I’d naturally agree, two loud specimens using the composition of World War Two’s alliances to decide which side they should get behind in a particular match. I could go on, and on, and on.

I knew I could minimise opportunities for annoyance by avoiding certain places at certain times, hence I stayed in to watch the England v Germany match in Euro 2000, but I couldn’t hide from the cloying tournament atmosphere that transformed my fellow students into football supporter clichés.

The clichés were loud in 2002’s Leicester University. I may have felt differently if interest had been limited to the people I’d befriended that year; a group of us decent souls had congregated in The Ratcliffe Bar, or “Rat Bar”, to watch football.

We were from all over place; Greece, Jordan, London, Coventry, Manchester, Ireland, Belfast, Switzerland, Brazil, Scotland, Merseyside, even Wales. I liked this time a lot, it was communal and convivial and nobody was ever angry about a result, I remember striking up a friendship with an Arsenal fan from Islington. The crucial England v Greece qualifier may not have been popular but the joy locusts arrived for the world cup and occupied every square centimetre.

I despised the easily led for encroaching on our preserve. I despised their shrieking and shouting, their ersatz excitement and fake disappointment. I despised their fashionable emotional tension and spirit crushing breeziness “Well you had to go and support them didn’t you”. I despised their arch postmodern jingoism and irritating look at me behaviour. I despised the likes of Chris Evans for popularising that sort of thing.

On one hand I caused my own discomfort because I kept going to the Rat Bar. On the other I wanted to watch as much of the world cup as possible. My options were limited by simple facts; I didn’t have a television in my room, we were miles from the rest of the university and the Rat Bar was part of our halls of residence. The only choice was limited to the unwelcoming TV Lounge or the palatial Rat Bar. I didn’t see why I should miss out because of the irritating people, if I managed to see Japan v Russia on a wet Sunday I was going to watch England v Denmark, I mean who were these interlopers to deny my human rights?

I already disliked Chelsea because of the political affiliations I’d seen their fans display on documentaries but I had to wait until December 2003 to see Chelsea fans at close quarters. During the afterglow of Aston Villa’s League Cup Quarter Final victory over Chelsea one of the Chelsea fans adressed “You ain’t ever been to the San Siro mate……….What’s that?………… That weren’t even in English mate” to nobody in particular. A couple of others reminded us that Chelsea had recently been purchased by a rich person by singing “Shall we buy a team for you?”.

Chelsea may not have won the league for forty nine years and Villa may have been Champions of Europe but what did such “details” matter to missionaries from the centre of civilisation? And lo! They did they spread the gospel of plutocracy to the heathen areas what only did make the industrial revolution. And lo! They only gone and seen their team get beat guvnor! All hail the centre of civilisation and its ability to attract plutocrats!

I already disliked Rangers for the same reason I already disliked Chelsea. When I visited Ibrox I found tangibly hostile environs; scowls, scarves that demanded a disbelieving second look and less than subtle use of language on flags. For they are “THE PEE-PUL”, and some other people just aren’t “THE PEE-PUL”.

I disliked Halifax Town after their fans visited north Wales. On both occasions inflatable sheep were thought to be just the witticism for an area with a relatively low population density. They was much pride, pride in inflatable animals, pride in a joke that upwards of three hundred strangers will see, pride in a pub discussion, “EEEEEEEE that’s dead funny that is son. That’s A REAL Bobby Dazzler of an idea son. Let’s get t’ sheep from t’shop on’t way to north Wales………..Martin ‘ave yer heard about Colin’s idea? It’s a real Bobby Dazzler!!!!!!” Something told me that they “only say it like it is”.

In the ‘80s my Dad used to take me to Llandudno Rugby Club on Sunday afternoons.  I still fondly remember the details; the smell, the brickwork, the tables with dimpled copper effect tops, the Proustian sounds of the pool table; the coin mechanism’s metallic push, the release of the ball rack, the collision of balls as they rolled and the cue ball’s high pitched thud as it returned to the back of the table. They had an ever-changing selection of crisps and their glasses of coke tasted better than the usual.

It would have been utterly blissful apart from one small issue; an opinionated Leeds fan was often there. Years later another opinionated Leeds fan reminded of these rugby club Sundays when he held court in the pub I liked; “I’ll tell you why Emile Heskey is the worst ever striker to play for England mate”. Mate. Mate, maaaaaate, I do not want to know.

I disliked Rhyl and Caernarfon because of their fans’ Bangor hatred. When I arrived in Wolverhampton I took an almost instant dislike to Wolves because there was an irritating fan on my course. When I was in Leicester I wanted Spurs to lose every match because of some annoyingly loud people that watched football in the Rat Bar. I disliked Real Madrid as soon as I became aware of their history but it wasn’t until I watched 2000’s champions league final with a haughty fan in my friend Mikes’ house in Wolverhampton that the dislike became notable. I disliked Lazio for the same reasons I disliked Chelsea and Rangers.

That was all then baby. Hate is out. Dislike is yesterday’s news baby. Don’t hit me with them negative vibes!

I have returned to a more pleasant era, a less judgemental paradigm. I can say with some certainty that I never truly disliked anyone because of their football allegiance in the halcyon ‘80s.

By secondary school I looked and sounded like a football obsessed kid. I followed Liverpool’s fortunes on account of the sew-on patch I bought from a toy shop when I was about four. I talked about football, I had the kits, I went to matches, but I never really hated Everton or Manchester United. I remember hoping Liverpool would win rather than wish defeats on others. Other kids may have given the impression that they felt strongly but I’m not sure they actually did.

I wish I could have expressed myself better, or given a different impression, but adolescence is supposed to be an uncomfortable time as you find your feet. Some of us only felt confident speaking about football and even then we lacked the expressive skill to go much beyond (Insert Name Here) must be crap because he doesn’t play for us”. I may have taken some defeats personally and offered the odd barbed comment but the words were hollow and I didn’t mean anything by my tone of voice. I knew that the supporters of other clubs were my friends. Any badinage was probably as much about the social mores of adolescents as anything else.

I don’t remember vitriol or visceral loathing but then there was no pressure to get involved. We weren’t surrounded by football, there were no “Superficial Saturdays” or pull-out football sections in newspapers and you had to visit a bookies to place bets. You were lucky to find interesting football magazines.

I received a few comments when I wore a replica shirt so a sense of rivalry existed. In the summer of 1985 an Everton supporting family friend called the eight year old me “murderer”, in jest of course, because I was wearing a Liverpool shirt.

A more pleasant example occurred in 1989 when I went to work with my Dad on the Monday morning after Liverpool had lost 4-1 away at The Dell, I forget the reason why. I was wearing a Liverpool shirt so one of his workmates spent part of their lunch hour gleefully repeating the scoreline. I didn’t react and he noticed that I didn’t react. Thank god for shyness, as without that little mental distance afforded by low self-confidence my life may have taken a different path; if I had seen the attraction of responding to comments I could be driving the banter bus by now.

I’m sure there were irritating football fans, the rugby club Leeds fan for example, but they were less noticeable (at least to me). I can see how proximity to away fans enabled match going fans to develop an ill-feeling towards certain fans but there was no way that non-match going fans could develop intense hatreds. Social media didn’t exist and if you saw fans of other clubs in your home area they’d probably be just like you.

Everything seemed quieter. You couldn’t create an impression of fanaticism and the bluffers’ social media shorthand didn’t exist. There were no giant car window stickers or other look at me merchandise and you couldn’t share knowing jokes or memes within seconds of match incidents. Imagine not being able to visualise the banter bus.

The tabloids may have discovered the joys of lampooning England managers by the late ‘80s but the media’s general tone was more relaxed, for example television covered less football in a calmer manner. If you look back at old clips of Match of The Day or The Big Match you’re immediately struck by the sedate pace and calm delivery.

My Dad’s instinctive dislike of ITV must have clouded my view of Brian Moore’s turn of phrase because when I watch repeats of The Big Match he seems to be the antithesis of our continual cacophony of hyperbolic adjectives. “So United had a day to forget…Now it’s over to White Hart Lane for today’s second match, your commentator is Martin Tyler….”  Sometimes the highlights programmes didn’t even feature pundits. Football without opinions! I could live with that.

The coverage may only exude sepia-tinged goodness because there was less football on TV. If we were re-immersed in that time we may find the coverage more annoying, the more switched on fanzine writers certainly noticed things were rather staid. However we can’t deny that this old style of coverage transmits a quaint charm when compared to our time. The closest the late ‘80s-early ‘90s got to the hyperbolic path was Elton “Live and Exclusive” Welsby but that looks disarmingly warm on you tube. An untelevised football competitions is now an anomaly.

Aside from my unfortunate forays into binary territory football has always been more of an ecumenical matter for me and it feels good to have finally returned to that way of thought. Reality isn’t the same as the evidence that causes snap judgements so naturally my once steadfast views have changed.

I have developed a soft spot for Wolves and long realised that I don’t really care about Halifax or Spurs and  I don’t mind Rhyl FC these day. When I went to watch Chelsea their fans seemed to be just like every other club’s fans. I’ve been to watch England twice since university and noticed that the majority of England fans were the same sort of people that went to watch Wales. I was a Welsh fan in the home end for one of the matches and the Geordie that sat next to me twigged that I wasn’t supporting England, consequently we spent the match chatting. He could have been my dad.

I go to enough matches to get a feel for things and I’ve realised that I see the same sort of people everywhere. I hear the same patter, I see the same styles of clothing and footwear. The same things happen everywhere; people laughing, people sheltering, people rushing to the ground, people leaving early to catch trains, people queuing. The only changes are the colours of scarves and designs of replica shirts.

I see people chatting everywhere. They could be childhood friends or university friends, work colleagues or season ticket holders thrown together by fate, they could even be people that first met on a bus to an away match. Whatever the reason one thing is clear; there’s a tangible sense of humanity. There are obviously years of friendship in the conversations. When I went to watch QPR’s League Cup match in August I was surrounded by people that had actually missed each other since the end of the previous season.

Most football fans are the same, in the same way that most people are the same. Therefore it’s individuals, rather than clubs or the associations people have with clubs, that present a problem. No club is immune from attracting individuals you’d prefer to avoid. I do my best to avoid the following archetypes.

The obvious morons. Even with a padlocked twitter account their outpourings always find me. You name it I see it; inane drivel, sexist crap, racist rubbish, godawful political views, stupid tweets, casual crassness. Why do they advertise? Ignore, block, block, mute, block, ignore.

The loud people. They’re everywhere; Trains, pubs, buses, on the street, in the barbers, in the pub, in work. Loudness on the way to football is to be expected and you can walk on by or change carriages. You can’t ignore match based loudness as you’re stuck with the “Look at me!!!! I’m so passionate!!” person for two hours. We all care baby, that’s why we’re here. Thankfully you only see them every other Saturday.

The bluffers. Why do some people stand around in a Super Sunday pub pretending to laugh at an alpha male’s comedy stylings? Why do some people pretend that they understand football? Why do some people claim to have a better insight that mere mortals? There’s no shame in admitting that you’d rather be doing something else.

The attention-seekers. Somebody recently labelled Manchester City as “Shark Team”. Whether this was a little embroidery or a linguistic device from a non-British journalist the phrase should not have led to fans parading around in shark-shaped inflatable headwear. We can do better than a lot of fans thinking “I’m a joker me, I’ll play along with the media’s idea of what it is to be a football fan!!”. We can do better than creating demand for the next great marketing scam. We can do better than holding a homemade sign for the cameras. Twitter has a lot to answer for.

Those that get involved with “working class street movements”. Their assertion of moral leadership is completely false because they clearly don’t realise that everybody, even scruffy leftard snowflakes, abhors the end result of terrorism. If they were really bothered about “standing up for the working class” they’d be marching against austerity or helping to organise a general strike. Mate, mate, mate you’re not saying it like is at all.

The poppy people. “Look mate all I’m saying is, if he don’t mind earning his money in a country that’s overcome by a mania to be seen to commemorate something rather than actually think about the historical event itself and the historical conditions that caused it, then why don’t he go back to where he came from mate? Am I right? I’m only saying it like it is mate”. It’s hard to think of an autumnal football period without thinking of people booing James McClean for his democratic wish not to have a heat pressed symbol of cynically engineered social pressure that doesn’t inhibit athletic performance applied to his shirt. Luckily I’m old to remember the time when players could get away without wearing them, well I am older than eight years of age.

The judgemental premier league fans of north Wales. I remember one of them at a birthday party I went to. He had just got in from a Liverpool away game. I had his number, I could read his face, I could see that he was judging us; “You haven’t been to the match today therefore I am considerably better than you”. Mate, mate, mate anybody can buy football tickets.

I still dislike certain clubs, Rangers, Real Madrid, Lazio, anything with a connection to Swiss energy drinks or blue sky corporate thinking, anything that’s become a self-worshipping monolith. I still want them to lose instantly but I try not to generalise about their supporters.

Irritating people are not club specific, they are everywhere. It is pointless to hate a club because they have irritating fans because it’s highly probable that your club also has irritating fans. Imagine that irritating people are drawn to the same football club as you, embrace enlightenment.





Opine, opine, opine

14 10 2017

Words, words, words, we’ve all got ‘em.

We’ve all got ‘em in our heads mate.

We must get our words out there mate!!!!!!!

We must get our football related words out there mate!!!!!!!!!!!!

Express them now mate!!!!!!!!!!!!

DON’T WAIT, DO IT NOW MATE!!!!!!!!!!!

QUICK!!!!!!!!

QUICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MATE MATE MATE QUICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you’re speaking about things on a football highlights programme, just relax mate.

All you have to do is get those footy words out there mate.

“He managed to shoot into Row Z…..”

It doesn’t matter that the ball actually bounced off the pole that holds the net up and actually ended up in front of Row A. You have to editorialise these days mate. You have to sound like you could do better than that mate. You have to make people feel that they could all do better than that mate. You have to become part of the knowing chorus mate.

See that footballer what done something wrong, we can all do better than that can’t we mate?

Yes mate, all of us are capable of doing better than that mate. ALL. OF. US.

Now tell all of your colleagues to keep riding that cliché horse mate.

(Insert team name here) can’t buy a goal at the moment!”

“Buy Goals” is it? If clubs could actually buy goals pointed questions would soon be asked. I’ll tell you what mate just keep editorialising with your clichéd opinions about the footy, that’s all consumerist slugs like us deserve mate. Just keep getting them footy words out there, we’re all part of the banter nexus mate.

Keep on with those banter based knowing attitudes as you introduce highlights of footballers doing stuff mate.  Nothing adds quality to football highlights like a banter based comment mate, apart from a banter based intro piece to camera, or a banter based chat with an ex-pro. The best thing is when someone makes light of an ex-pro analyst’s gambling problems with banter based commentage.

Banter, banter, banter, banter. We all love it.

WE LIVE FOR THE BANTER MATE, LIVE. FOR. IT. Absolutely live for it mate, love it mate. LOVE. IT.

Love the banter life. You. Can’t. Beat. It. Mate. Mate you can’t beat it.

Words, words, words.

Opinions, opinions, opinions.

Opinions, opinions, opinions, we’ve all got ‘em.

We’ve all got them in our heads. We must get them out there mate.

Don’t keep them opinions in mate, you’ll explode mate.

QUICK, QUICK, QUICK MATE, call a deejay type mate.

Get your opinion type words aired mate.

DO IT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

…….so I gets to thinking “Oooooh I’m a little bit angry. I’ll call up a phone-in deejay and let the nation know just what a character I am, my phone call will really change matters, just you wait and see.” then I phones him up…..“It’s a circus at the moment mate and he’s the biggest clown of the lot mate you build a team from the back mate I’ve been waiting 25 years for us to win the league mate he’s got a worse record than Brendan Rodgers mate if we’d have won the league I would have been the most proudest Liverpool fan in the world mate”.

The nation listens, the nation wonders, wonders why someone is that bothered about a football club that’s at the other end of the country from their hometown.

“You don’t have to be that interested mate!”

You’ve got to get your opinion on the telly. You’ve got to show them how your munificence is a wonderful antidote to all of the others. You still have to demand that some definitive action is taken because SOMETHING’S GOT TO BE DONE.

SOMETHING’S got to be done mate.

Just get your opinion words out there mate, they’ve created an unnecessary gap between the highlights that needs filling with unnecessary opinion based words. Go on mate speak thy brains!!!!!!!!!!

“Mate I’ve been really really supportive of our manager this season, but mate it’s time for a change. We drew today mate and we’ve had 8 games already mate. Time for a change I think mate.”

You have to get your opinion out there mate, you can’t just do nothing mate. We need something to take us to the next level mate. I know we need someone to take us to the next level mate. You know we need someone to take us to the next level mate. Everybody knows we need someone to take us to the next level mate. If we don’t get to the next level how are we gonna have a dream come true?

You’ve got to televise your opinion mate, it will help things to happen mate, honestly it will, honest mate, get your words out there mate.

Mate mate mate there’s a camera over there!

Get your words out mate!

Proper fans shout at cameras mate.

“COOMMMME OOOOONNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!”

They’re still shouting words at a camera? Why? Mate mate mate, I’d hate to think that you’re only doing it because everybody else does it. What’s wrong with a cheery wave or better yet, ignoring the camera?………… This country! tsk, tsk, tsk.

Are you “all about” those photos of away fans at a matches? You’ve got to get your opinion out there mate!

“Fantastic turn out for the Football Lads Alliance march in London this afternoon.”

The subject of your tweet doesn’t matter mate, the implication of your tweet doesn’t matter mate and the context in which your tweet exists doesn’t matter just comment and comment now mate.

Don’t question the Football Lads Alliance just get a tweet out there mate. I know you’ve “GOT THIS” mate.

Don’t wonder about them, don’t question them, just get you opinion out there. You’ve seen “Football” and you’ve seen “Lads” and that’s all you need to know.

Yeah they’re holding floral wreaths mate! They can’t be too bad can they?

Whatever you do don’t send the Football Lads Alliance a tweet that says “I see you’re interested in working class politics. When’s the march against Austerity? Are you helping to organise a general strike or what?” Don’t bother with that mate, they’re into “Football” and they’re “Lads”, WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED MATE?

Are you a SOLID GOLD FOOTY BANTER LEGEND? You’ve got to get the banter out there mate.

Is your team playing another team in a few Earth days?

You’ve got to drop another of them SOLID GOLD FOOTY BANTER LEGEND type moves mate.

“Literally bale and 10 sheep.”

BIFF!

BLAMMO!

KAZAAAAAM!

Another banter target despatched by the DEEPLY AMAZING BANTERMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The funny thing is that on Monday evening Wales literally decided to literally pick 10 farm animals instead of human beings against Ireland. They literally did, they literally picked farm animals instead of human footballers. They literally did. Literally true story that mate.

Has your team just lost mate? You need someone to blame mate.

Let’s all play the blame game!

BLAME GAME!!!!!!!!!

BLAME GAME!!!!!!!!!

LET’S ALL BLAME THE BLAME GAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Get on Twitter and tell that scapegoat what you think of them mate.

GET ON TWITTER NOW!!!!!!!!!!!

“Ashley Williams is an absolute disgrace, 20k disappointed Welshmen in that stadium and he goes straight down the tunnel. Disgusting.”

And here is another!

“Agreed. Understand that he would feel down but as a captain you step up. Seen him him for years and he’s sadly slipping away now imo.”

I’ll bet they made exactly the same comments about Ashley Williams 30 milliseconds after the Euro 2016 Quarter Final finished. But then you’re hurting after a football defeat, people have to know just how much YOU hurt.

It’s all about YOU and YOUR hurt feelings mate.

Aaaaaaaaaaaah Hurt Feelings.

Words, words, words everywhere

Nothing changes.

Results still happen, trophies are still presented, clubs are still relegated and clubs still narrowly miss out on glory.

Words, words, words.

Words ad nauseum.

Words infinitum.

Quo vadis? Quo vadis?

Caveat emptor mate, caveat emptor.

That’s good mate, I’m afraid I’m not really in the market for anything at the moment mate.

Angry football noise, the pointless end of silence.

Angry football words, the pointless filling of space.

Results are merely the end point of an event chain created by random coincidence mate.

Those sodding opinion merchants are never silent.

Football would be alright if it wasn’t for the bloody words.

A few defeats and it’s universal chuntering through the medium of cliché.

“Don’t get me wrong, he’s done a good job but he’s slowly losing the dressing room and we need fresh blood to take us to the next level”

As soon you fail to lead 2-0 within ten minutes it’s………..

Why’s he still playing? Oh My God mate I can’t believe it. See I told you the manager’s clueless mate……….. Yeah Oh My God Mate, he’s playing him out of position again!

These words are hackneyed even within football’s comatose thesaurus of superlatives mate.

Words, bloody words. Words that sound the same, words that are the same. Identical bloody words. You hear them a thousand times a Saturday, identical bloody words spoken, every channel covered.

The world’s full of bloody experts with “sack the manager” as a default reaction.

Welcome to the land of hubris, home to the delusions of experts without expertise.

A manager spends their entire working day pondering how to tackle problems but our passionate experts always wonder “Yeah but what do they actually know?”

Our experts without expertise can always do better.

“Yeah he don’t know he’s doing that one. He needs to play a different system he does. It’s obvious the defence is pushing up too high, you can’t do that these days, he’s obviously behind the times.”

While it’s possible to gain an understanding of tactics, individual roles and patterns of play through study a layman can’t join the dots like someone steeped in football’s work culture. Some coaches are abrasive and some use outdated methods but they will still have an understanding of the football’s work environment that fans won’t have.

Football management is a tough occupation.There’s an omnipresent pressure to deliver results from your board, the fans and the media. You have to devise tactics and training plans. You have to motivate fellow humans. Then the capricious fates thrust unforeseen mistakes, injuries and own goals into your plans. Could a fan cope adequately with this situation?

In fact would a fan be able to perform any of a manager’s complex roles satisfactorily? To function efficiently within a work environment you have to understand it. Managers implicitly understand football’s rhythms because they have gained highly specialised craft knowledge from working within a specialised employment sector for decades,. Rather obviously fans won’t have similar career paths.

Why would a time served pro listen to the tactical advice of a fan? A fan can’t adequately conceptualise the experience of being a professional footballer but managers generally can because they were often pro footballers. How could a fan motivate time served pros? You can’t just repeat platitudes about doing it for the shirt, putting your shoulders through the grindstone and getting your late tackles in early.

Most players wouldn’t dream of entering a fan’s workplace to offer a forceful critique, why is the reverse tolerated?  Possessing a loud voice and turning up at the ground every other week doesn’t bestow coaching expertise.

Sometimes adequate knowledge can only be gained through experience, sometimes bluffers are easily found out.

That’s life that is.

Experts without expertise opining without responsibility, that’s football that is.

Football, that’s your life’s passion that is, that’s the thing that used to make you happy that was.

Let’s keep looking at life’s rich tapestry.

Your team has lost.

You’re angry.

You’re upset.

Your hopes have been dashed and you won’t be getting involved in the excited rush to make travel arrangements.

So you’re angry, so you’re upset. Join the queue baby!

To comment or not to comment? That is the question.

How does one express themselves?

Well, you’re not exactly commenting from a calm perspective, the hurt and anger is still coursing through your mind.

How about a you tube rant? That’s the new fashion for look at me legend types.

A you tube rant may feel good as you destroy your enemies with a point by point dissection and you may entertain hipster for thirty nine seconds but then what? Your team still lost and you found internet infamy.

Is providing internet entertainment whilst looking slightly unhinged a decent aspiration for GENERATION B(anter)

“I’VE PAID THROUGH THE NOSE FOR THIS THOUGH.” isn’t an adequate reason. You chose to pay, you didn’t have to choose to watch players that don’t have “half your passion”.

You’re angry. you’re upset, boo hoo.

You’re a self-described SOLID GOLD FOOTY BANTER LEGEND.

Great, so you’re a funny guy, a funny funny funny funny funny guy. You’re THE MOST FUNNIEST GUY IN THE HISTORY OF COMEDY.

WHAT DO YOU THINK LIFE IS? A TEAM WRITTEN COMEDY PROGRAMME WHERE EVERY LINE IS A FINELY HONED ZINGER? Mate, mate, mate, it ain’t.

Funny, funny, funny? No. Bor-ring, bor-ring, bor-ring. Nobody cares.

The day before your heart-breaking defeat another team lost. You felt great with your jokes and twitter memes. There was no way you were going to lose was there mate?

Then you lost, how do you react?

You could carry on with the jokes about your rivals’ misfortune because they lost as well. At least they were knocked out before you were, and you had more points than them and the ref was awful and everything.

The jokes won’t feel the same now. Making memes about another team won’t change the result.

You could get angry but the referee’s still missed that incident and your captain still miskicked it. Getting angry won’t change the result.

You could insult everybody. Those words will soothe for a few seconds but then what? You have demeaned yourself and your target because your feelings have been slightly bruised. You know that you only feel hurt because you know that you’d feel exactly the same as your target if your team had won. Insulting people won’t change the result.

You could hold your breath until you’re sick and that will make historical events change. Holding your breath is as likely to change things as the above, it won’t change the result.

You could just accept matters, embrace your feelings and achieve full emotional development you absolute SOLID GOLD BANTER LOOK AT ME LEGEND OF THE HIGHEST ORDER.

In other words, just be quiet, then do that more often.

Your words change nothing. The event has happened. Embrace disappointment.





US and THEM

8 10 2017

US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

I’ve never been able to work out why people refer to their football club as “us” or “we”. I’ve always felt a bit silly whenever I’ve referred to Bangor City like that but I’m the sort of person that’s jarred by internal questions; “Why did I use such a word?…… Do other people forensically question the precision of their language?”

I tried my damnedest not to refer to Bangor as “us” or “we” when I’ve been Radio Bangor’s co-commentator (The fan-controlled broadcasting service) but the white hot excitement of the Welsh premier league causes some acute mental shuddering.

I feel part of a “we” when I watch Bangor with my friends because I feel emotionally involved. I was born in the city and I’ve been going to watch City for nearly a quarter of a century. I look at the transitory players and it feels absurd to use “we“. Most of them have different feelings, they celebrate but they don’t feel like we do, they value trophies but they don’t look at glory like we do. I prefer it that way, feeling separated saves missing them when they’re gone.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

I’m amazed that people feel they can refer to clubs as if they’re personally part of them “We Won!…….We Lost!…….Who are you playing today?….. I see you lost again on Saturday”. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, people aren’t afraid to self-confidently elbow their way into conversations.

“Oh aye, I used to go all the time………Blah blah’s great isn’t he!……. So do you think blah blah will make a difference as manager?……… Blah blah was great though wasn’t he, they don’t make them like him anymore do they! ……….. How much would he be worth today?”

If only this kind of thing was confined to the post-Chester Races trains that drunk people use to get home.

The matey shroud that surrounds the opening jousts of these conversations evaporates when the conversation’s nature becomes clear, one protagonist emits earnest football chatter while the other humours a child. Thoughts are visible; “We’ve got another one here, someone else that thinks they’re integral, someone else filling the air for the sake of it. Actually fella, I’d rather be left alone”.

I was on my way to the recent West Brom v West Ham match when I alighted in Wolverhampton. I yearned to ride the tram to The Hawthorns so I went to the terminus. When I got there it was clear that the tram wasn’t running because of long-term engineering works, I quickly realised why Wolverhampton hadn’t been listed as the last stop when I had checked the timetable the previous day.

I stood as an unmistakable visitor so naturally a bloke walked up to me. I listened to the typically hospitable local explain precisely which bus services I needed to reach the temporary terminus in Priestfield. His words transported me back to my academic salad days, the time when anything within reason felt possible. I thanked the bloke, realised everything sounded too complicated and trudged disconsolately back to the station.

The next train to Birmingham was full of loud men discussing Tottenham Hotspur’s prospects. I presumed they were going to the early evening match as “we” was used extensively. Judging by the accents, and the fact that it was an Arriva Train Wales train, the men were from Shropshire. I wondered how they felt a connection with Tottenham.

The other week a dead passionate Liverpool fan from daaaahn saaarrrf was on 6-0-6 and his call was so memorable they made a feature out of it on the BBC website. It was pure stream of angry consciousness;

“It’s a circus at the moment mate and he’s the biggest clown of the lot mate you build a team from the back mate I’ve been waiting 25 years for us to win the league mate he’s got a worse record than Brendan Rodgers mate if we’d have won the league I would have been the most proudest Liverpool fan in the world mate”.

There are better things to be angry about than a football club that plays two hundred miles away from the place you’ve always called home.

I’ve don’t understood why those that only watch televised matches become angry when their team loses, they’ve only bought a polyester shirt. I don’t understand how a passing interest can be maintained in a premier league club. It takes astronomical sums of money and military-style planning to gain access then you’re obliged and encouraged to feel personally hard done by. Surely it’s cheaper and easier to be interested in a club that’s physically closer, especially when they will probably need your help in some way.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

It’s an obvious thing to say but there’s an essential link between a football club and the place in which it exists. Those that live nearby, those exiled by work relocation and those that adopt a club after moving to an area are able to view clubs as a “we” because they are being represented. I don’t understand how someone can feel truly part of an “we” by buying a piece of clothing that lots of other people have bought, anyone can buy a piece of clothing.

Take me and FC United. From the outside I may look part of it, I’m a co-owner, I go to as many matches as I can and I try to spend or donate as much as I can in the ground, but while I’m a part of it I’m apart from it. I’m separated from the “us” by a simple fact; I’m not from Greater Manchester.

I feel an affinity with the area because my Grandma used to live there and see Lowry painting on the streets of Salford but I’m not a local. I think I get FC United, I appreciate the club’s culture and I like the idea that it’s an expression of streetwise fortitude that’s part of Manchester’s rich historical tapestry of defiance but I’m not a local.

FCUM is an inclusive club but I feel like an interloper because I only became a member after I watched Looking For Eric. I can understand everything but I can’t truly feel it like a local does. I may be part of it but it’s an infinitesimally small part. I can’t kid myself along, I’m merely a fellow traveller.

I’ve developed an affinity with several clubs over the years for a variety of reasons, Port Talbot Town, Saint Etienne, Livorno, Hibs, Celtic. While I take an interest in each of them, and hope they do well, I’m a mere tourist. The only team I feel that I can manage a weak expression of “we” is the Welsh national team but even then I haven’t been to see them for years so I don’t really feel part of the “we” as much as I once did.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

Imagine three imaginary places in the same BBC region; the large town of Milltown and the reasonably large cities of Hillingdon and Athenwell. They are all about an hour apart so they form a triangle on a map.

Milltown has Milltown United. Hillingdon has Hillingdon Rovers and Hillingdon Athletic and Athenwell has Athenwell FC and West End. There’s a noted football rivalry between Hillingdon and Athenwell. There’s no such ill feeling between the Milltown and the other places because their football paths have seldom crossed in the previous four decades.

Now imagine that two people from Milltown are having a football conversation on the phone. Anyone listening could assume three things; they are Milltown area denizens, they both support clubs from Hillingdon (one Rovers, the other Athletic) and they both detest Athenwell FC.

If you were to ask them they have nothing against the city of Athenwell itself, they like nights out there, the shopping and that. It’s Athenwell FC and their fans that they can’t stand. They’ve always been full of themselves that lot, even their Athenwell supporting friends from Milltown are like that, they’re all living in the past mate.

Naturally they hope that one hundred and twenty two year old Milltown United do well but their eyes are on starrier sights, that glamourous elite aren’t going to watch themselves. The antipathy towards Athenwell FC shows that they’re full of modern football’s annoying unspoken assumption; “I support Team X therefore I should automatically hate Team Y”, in short they have adopted the behaviours of the local followers of “their” clubs,

A keen rivalry is extremely palatable as it adds a frisson to matchday but the idea of hating somebody else purely on the basis that they follow a different football club is absurd. Other fans live in the same sort of houses, work in the same sort of places and use the same sort of shops. Disliking a group of people simply because you’ve chosen to become involved in big glamourous football club is beyond pointless, expressing this rubbish publicly is beyond tedious.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

People make these choices in real life. The other week I was travelling home from Curzon Ashton v FC United by train. I had to go via to Crewe because of engineering work.

It was the same day that Manchester City beat Liverpool 5-0 so I was sat by a table full of understandably delighted City fans. It turns out they were from Crewe (we all alighted there). At some point between Stockport and Nantwich one of them related the phone conversation he’d just had with his Manchester United supporting friend;

“….So he says to me; ‘I’ll let you off that today ‘cause you beat the Scousers for us”.

They’re from Crewe but

“….So he says to me…..

….’I’ll let you off that today ’cause….

….YOU beat the SCOUSERS for US.”

Let that sink in, as the twitter cool cats say.

They like football and Crewe has its own football club.

Crewe Alex probably requires a little care and attention from the citizens of Crewe.

They choose to follow a rich club that doesn’t need their help/

They choose to self-identify as part of the “we”. 

When you view football like this there’s always a “them” to be judgemental about, Other people fall down the social order, players are always awful and everything’s crap or fantastic.

“Mate mate mate If you can’t be judgemental about things based on a purely arbitrary choice made when you’re younger mate, what’s the point in being a footy fan mate?”

It’s nonsensical to put so much store in an arbitrary choice made about incidental leisure time. I don’t know why it  happens? Is it the psychological need to belong? Is it the dislocation of a free market economy? Is it the alienation created by capitalism? Is it the premier league’s cultural imperialism?

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

I’ve noticed a different tone to the conversation when it involves someone that’s from the “we”. Let’s return to the day of West Brom v West Ham.

My phone had told me that I needed to catch the 16.52 train from The Hawthorns. I ended up missing it because they closed The Hawthorns’ station footbridge “It happens all the time when the football’s on mate, you’ll have to go around to the front of the station mate”. This meant a train towards Birmingham with the away fans rather than a train towards Crewe with the home fans.

As I left the stationside footpath I bumped into some West Ham fans that were going the wrong way. I told them that the footbridge was closed etcetera etcetera. They thanked me and naturally I became part of the conversation “They think they treat us like C**** just ‘coz we’re football fans don’t they”. I smiled in agreement. I continued to smile as they chatted about old away trips. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the stultified match that we’d all just seen. There was an unspoken recognisance that witnessing a dull match was just one of those things that happens to a person that goes to football.

I ended up next to some different West Ham fans on the train. One of them was hectoring his bored looking friend, it was clear that he didn’t like the idea of paying good money to watch a scoreless draw; “I don’t rate him, or him, or him, to get to the next level you need defenders that can play and those three clearly can’t. How do we get to the next level?” I didn’t want to listen, I didn’t want to be aware of his opinion, but I had to listen.

Given the choice it’s more palatable to listen to someone with a story than someone trying to prove how much they care by airing a loud opinion that somebody else has already expressed.

Maybe it was only fate that had placed me near a moaner at the exact time he was getting a lament out of his system, maybe he stopped speaking about football the minute he left Snow Hill station. Maybe the moaner was an experienced away day veteran and maybe the first group were Johnny Come Latelys relating second hand stories. It doesn’t really matter they are illustrative examples about the way different groups relate to football. There are groups to avoid.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

I know that I’m not vital to the world of football, I could stop taking an interest tomorrow and nobody would care. I know my place in the universe; I’m a speck of dust.

I wonder whether the people that worship premier league clubs from afar feel the same, or do they feel a sense of entitlement, do they feel vital to everything? Let’s consider a few stats about three “football hotbeds”;

Greater Manchester Inhabitants – 2.25 million,  combined capacity of the six biggest grounds – 223,000

Liverpool–Birkenhead Metropolitan Area  Inhabitants  – 2.25 million, combined capacity of the three biggest grounds – 112,000

Glasgow Metropolitan Area  Inhabitants – 1.4 million, combined capacity of the four biggest grounds – 170,000

The implication is clear, nobody outside of those metropolitan areas is required to take an interest in that area’s  football clubs. In fact only 5-10% of each area’s residents need to attend to ensure full houses. The idea that at least 10% of each area’s population would be interested in watching football is plausible.

On the other hand, what do my thoughts matter? Nobody’s committing a crime, people are only interacting with football in their own way. Some people may have no compunction about taking advantage of the prevailing conditions in football – Traditional fans may have been priced out, or lost heart, or may no longer feel welcome – but so what?

People are only interacting with happy shiny world of football while they watch look at me home made protest banners on a Splendiferous Saturday Lunchtime™. I don’t suppose it matters really, people are only doing something with their free time. I’m probably just jealous or something.

Sod all that.

Mate, mate, mate, take an interest by all means mate, buy the shirt if you have to mate, just don’t pretend you’re a massive fan and more importantly, don’t go on about it mate. Everyone’s got interests. I could bore you with Ken Loach Minutiae or Czech New Wave banter. Do you fancy that mate?”

There’s nothing wrong with being drawn to a particular club, people are drawn to a variety of clubs for a variety of reasons. We all have soft spots for this club or that club, one day I will go to watch Livorno, but a passing attraction is nothing more than a passing attraction.

Mate mate mate if you’re going to treat football like a delicacy from the great leisure time smorgasbord at least use some imagination. My friend Gerry knows somebody that has season tickets for Inter Milan and Blackburn. This kind of situation is an ideal 21st Century situation. Why not access top quality European football on a monthly basis via a relatively cheap season ticket and cheap flights?

Then again why not simply go and watch your local club, they could probably do with your help.

I like to think that we don’t need to submerge ourselves in the bravado of a group, or submit to football’s PR industry. Call me a dreamer.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US








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