Football’s future will be played out in empty stadia.
Its superstars will be clones shorn of personality who go through a succession of computer-simulated motions in readiness for the stack of cash that awaits them at the end of the match. The individual who was once referred to as the ‘supporter’ but has since been branded the ‘consumer’ will half-heartedly flick his/her attention-frazzled eyes from a high definition big screen and back towards the scrolling, smudgy small screen stuck to his/her palm, umming and ahhing over the next witty response that can be furiously pinged into the webby void before anybody else gets there first.
Inevitably, goals will be missed. Who cares? He/she will replay it later when it’s snapshatted into an easily digestible fifteen-second clipette. Why bother sitting through 90 minutes anyway when you’ve got whatever it is that you do to do?
We will do (are doing) this willingly and cough up another subscription fee for the pleasure. And we’ll marvel at it for good measure. I know all this to be true because Nike told me it would be like this in their fabric-hawking extravaganza before the last World Cup. Clever, eh? If you strained your ears enough, you could faintly hear the hacking cackles of the advertising execs coughing tarry-phlegm into their caffeine-substitute bevs backslapping themselves over the genius high concept that simpletons would lap up their manufactured dystopia with all the enthusiasm of innocent babes walking blindly into a den of ravenous wolves.
“Ha! They can’t even tell it’s the world we’ve created for them! The fools! How much are we fleecing them for the latest Brazil jersey, Erroll?”
Are we really doing this again? Sitting back and watching the season morph into yet another vintage mass of gloopy and sticky overblown, diversionary hysteria? Another nine months of re-packaged, reformed and reconstituted horseshit served to us on a platter of sneering disregard by people who clearly hold us in the very utmost of contempt whilst happily counting the cash we voluntarily bolster their off-shore accounts with.
Aren’t you bored of all this by now?
Roy Keane’s flogging bitterness and retribution for twenty pounds a pop for a second time, even going so far as to mock us with his unoriginality by calling his book ‘The Second Half’ – more of the same but, y’know different, with added Roddy Doyle. Ha ha ha. Is Harry Redknapp talking up that great bloke, Harry Redknapp again? Carry on as you are. Here’s a shocker! Players don’t want to play for England any more. Has anyone mentioned the German model yet?
Meanwhile, the Premier League stealthily re-introduces the idea of an overseas fixture and this time around we’re all too jaded and distracted by another extra slo-mo of Jose smouldering, to even bother putting up much of a fight. This time, they’ll get what they want because they have the advantages of time, money and Jim White on their side. The BBC publish their yearly statement of the obvious, the one about how football is too expensive, everyone has a grumble, Gary Lineker gets morally haughty about it but is immediately undermined by his chum Robbie Savage who (probably) truthfully tells us players couldn’t care less about the financial burdens placed on those who buy pies to watch them.
Isn’t it obvious that either Chelsea or Manchester City will win the League? Can you honestly tell me though the difference between them? Maybe in locality and personnel but as corporate ideologies, the differences are as wafer thin as those that seemingly separate our political masters. So, why bother?
This is the part where I get branded a ‘Brandite’ or maybe even a “bumhole” – but regardless of what you think of Russell Brand’s ‘Revolution’ there’s a lot to be said for old Russ’ attempts to shine a light on the failings of our current systems and his willingness to encourage self-determination in others. You really don’t have to accept things for what they are just because that’s the way they’ve always apparently been done. You’ll be told of course that football is better than it’s ever been. Perhaps it is and I don’t particularly prescribe to the idea that things were somehow better in the past but nevertheless it can’t be doubted that there is a growing sense of disillusionment amongst many seasoned football supporters. And if you think that’s the case, change it. It’s really that simple.
It’s funny how Brand’s (and I mean this in a positive way) not particularly original ideas have somehow stirred the ire of the establishment. Have you noticed how they’re queuing up to dismiss him and put him in his place? How dare this upstart comedian who once found himself addicted to drugs and fame, who married a pop star and is a bit flouncy have the temerity to tell us all that we’re all a bit crap?
The usual sneerers have been out in force. After all, we now live in a culture dominated by the silencing of dissent in whichever form it takes by dissecting character flaws rather than ideas. If you don’t like someone these days, just issue them with a twitter fatwa and they’ll soon get the idea that the angry and fatted won’t be messed with. But it’s revealing how the system appropriates that which was once dangerous to do its bidding. How emasculated has John Lydon become when all he can do is call someone rude names (next question?) and then promote voting as a meaningful act when we all know it’s nothing but a futile charade to give us, the little people, a sense that we somehow matter. And don’t forget the butter ads.
So it follows that those who disagree with me will label me a fantasist, a miserablist, a cynic and perhaps worse.
I’ll be told that I’m taking football far too seriously. That it’s only a game and if I don’t like it, I can sod off and take up origami or something equally esoteric. But here’s the thing. I may be all those but to assume that football does not act as a reflection of who we are as a culture would be very naïve. Football can be all things to all people. And I get the sense that more and more people don’t want it to be a certain way and I, for one, refuse to abandon it to those who are happy with a culture that fosters individualism over collective will. Getting angry in forums or on twitter or, and I appreciate the irony, on blogs is futile. It’s getting to a point where we’ve actually got to start doing something.
Stop accepting things that you can change. Amidst all the homespun anecdotes and caricaturing of Daniel Levy, that’s all I’ve essentially really said over the years. “Ha! Got you! You’re just re-writing the same old pony you’ve always inflicted us with!” Guilty as charged but I never said I was original or revolutionary. Hell, I’m not even Russell Brand. Doesn’t mean to say that what I’m getting at is less valid because of a running theme throughout my body of work.
Nobody at the top of football is going to advocate real change because it’s not in their interests to have their cosy worlds recalibrated. Do you really believe the FA when it appoints yet another taskforce to change football? It won’t because the big clubs couldn’t care less. And when the Labour Party starts mooting the idea of greater representation of supporters on boards, excuse me for detecting the distinct whiff of impending election sulphur in the air.
“What’s it going to be then, eh?” is how Anthony Burgess kicks off each of the three parts of A Clockwork Orange. Forget all the sensationalism, that book is really about the choices we make of our own free will hence the recurrent rhetorical question.
When something so joyously exuberant and natural as football is reduced to being borne out of the blue skies of the advertiser/agent/television executive’s glass citadel then “what’s it going to be then, eh?” should be the question we’re all asking ourselves as lovers of football.
I don’t want to live in a dystopia of their creation. One that I have somehow passively allowed to ascend to dominance because I gave more credence to a player swapping shirts at half-time instead of holding FIFA to account for yet another snuffle at the money trough.
Like Burgess’ Alex, I guess all this really is about, is growing up. No more reminiscing about headers and volleys in the park and Panini silver stickers. And no more accepting of the words of great men being diluted into nothing more than marketing slogans emblazoned in carefully selected fonts by focus groups onto my club’s stands. The game is about glory? It’s been a while since I saw any evidence of that at White Hart Lane. I don’t even know who these people wearing the shirt are any more.
We all know about the watersheds that led to the Premier League’s creation. There needs to be a spark that similarly generates the change that is so badly needed. How many more clubs need to go bankrupt before we realise that this current incarnation of football simply isn’t working for the vast majority? Maybe there needs to be a mass implosion for everything to start again. Dare I call it a revolution? Deary me, I’ve gone all Russell and there’s no mistake. Fetch the tight trousers and release Polly Toynbee on me. If you can’t get her, someone at talkSPORT berating me for my insolence’ll do. So, what’s it going to be then, eh? Because when Nike’s docu-vert comes to pass, we’ll have nobody to blame but ourselves.
And now back to another heat-map brought to you by our good friends over at Squawka. Alternatively, you can read the latest column of wisdom as dispensed by award-winning football journalist Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail. Your choice.