The summer transfer window takes up the same two-month space in the footballing calendar every year. It’s one of two periods of time annually in which football clubs are allowed to buy and sell players. It doesn’t sound very exciting on the surface, but it has slowly warped the minds of football fans nationwide and evolved into a huge event. Here’s how and why it makes idiots of seemingly normal members of society.
No one actually knows when the transfer window officially opens, but it’s probably after the final kick of the previous season or sometime in early July. It doesn’t really matter, but a short time after the end of the season Aston Villa will announce the signing of someone who you thought had retired a couple of years ago and the whole transfer window roller-coaster lurches forward.
We all know when it finishes however. On the final day of August, football fans across the country invite Jim White kicking and screaming into their living rooms to hold their collective hands and guide them through the euphoric, twisting, turning, dumbfounding spectacle of anticipation that is Transfer Deadline Day, when the aforementioned preallocated time period finishes exactly when it was previously agreed it would finish.
Jim White, with all the sophistication and subtlety of a rugby player’s stag-do, keeps viewers on tenterhooks with news of whether or not Jack Butland’s loan move can be finalised in time, as a giant countdown timer ticks steadily towards a point in time where Jim is no longer relevant. Big Ben chimes midnight and millions of viewers wake from a revery and wonder what on earth they were doing watching this nothingness until midnight.
As time has progressed since Sky’s invention of modern football in 1992, the expansion of commercialism and coverage in football has increased exponentially. Deadline day’s importance has done something similar, with what should be a sports news channel recapping the day’s clerical events instead resembling rolling coverage of an imminent nuclear attack, complete with its own countdown timer and roving reporters battling masses of the undead in a post apocalyptic Stoke.
This has a profound effect on the modern football fan. No longer content with discovering a signing when he flips over a newspaper at breakfast time, the modern fan moved on to checking Ceefax a few times a week to read who his club is linked to. In 2014, the modern football fan force-refreshes a gossip website to see what fresh nonsense they’ve made up about his club today, fully aware that what he’s reading is fresh nonsense they’ve made up about his club today.
The young modern football fan has also come a long way since 1992. He owns the shirt of a small European team and knew all about Juan Cuadrado before the World Cup even started. He no longer spends July evenings kicking a partially ruptured football about with his friends until the sun goes down; he spends his precious time arguing with strangers on the internet about why one player he’s never seen play is better than another player he’s never seen play. He wants nothing more than to devise a tweet about Lazar Markovic that’s risible enough to draw a shellsuit (that’s the correct collective noun) of irate Liverpool fans to him, shouting about ‘net spend’.
In a reaction to this, media outlets from small blogs to national newspapers want to keep the rumour train milling on day by day. It gets clicks. The public excitedly laps up the news that a World Cup superstar possibly might be interested in thinking about maybe considering joining their club so the media links their club to more superstars, spiralling in what can only be likened to a self-feeding transfer Human Centipede. Fans close the curtains and open their laptops to discuss which of the two teenagers the Mail has linked them to this week they’d rather have in the team, even though both ply their trade in a league that isn’t even on FIFA.
The modern fan no longer spends July evenings kicking a partially ruptured football about with his friends until the sun goes down; he spends his precious time arguing with strangers on the internet
The upshot of this is that no transfer is a surprise any more. Every club that might sign a player (read: every club) and every player that could conceivably switch clubs (read: very nearly every player) have been linked together at some point in the near past at the merest whiff of a potential transfer. In 1978, conversely, Tottenham Hotspur completed the double signing of World Cup winning Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa in a move that stunned the footballing world. The first whiff of this particular transfer was, for many, the headline of the July 11th Daily Express that famously declared that Spurs had scooped the world.
Imagine how that ‘saga’ would’ve played out in the modern day. First appears an article linking World Cup winners to clubs all over Europe. X is interested in signing Y. Y might be interested in a move to Z. Player N drops a huge hint about his future, as he claims he enjoys ENGLISH fish and chips!! Eventually a link between the two players and Spurs emerges and In-The-Know experts come scuttling out of the woodwork with cryptic clues about Daniel Levy’s innermost feelings that they definitely actually have access to.
Now a Twitter user claiming to be a journalist with a vaguely Spanish sounding name becomes a go-to expert on all things Ardiles and Villa, and states that Spurs have made an enquiry into their availability. The English press leap on this: some go a step further and claim contact with a keen player has been made, some put a ridiculous, attention grabbing multi-million pound figure on the players’ value, and some decide the best way to make a story is to say that Spurs have lodged a bid.
That’s “make a story” and not “report factual events”.
Made up news of an official bid is taken much more seriously than other made up news. Fans seem to accept that some transfer stories are “little more than paper talk”, but when news of a bid reaches it must be genuine. Non Spurs fans mock Spurs for placing such a low bid, and Spurs fans bemoan Daniel Levy’s notorious penny pinching, damning him for ‘quibbling over a couple of million’ as if it wasn’t 70x their annual income. Every tweet a beleaguered journalist sends receives dozens of ‘any Ardiles news?!?’ responses.
The poor sap in charge of the Spurs official Twitter account has been harangued by people who seem to think the account is a direct link to Daniel Levy's brain
Next come the opinion articles and blogs. ‘Here’s why Ardiles is the perfect fit for Tottenham’, ‘What system will Spurs play to accommodate Ricky Villa?’, ‘Here’s my statistical analysis of why Spurs should be after Daniel Bertoni instead’. Then come the tacky photoshops in new kit and the ‘Welcome to Spurs’ montages complete with awful techno music. Players have their entire careers condensed into 4 minutes of over-edited, grainy footage, and are judged on how many of the clips are them nearly scoring but not actually scoring.
Now we have rumours of fees being agreed. This fee, this many add ons, 5 year deal, player/club in talks, should be finalised in the coming days, medical, flying out to, squad number, joining up for training and so on. Official club media outlets soldier on trying to sell training gear as if completely oblivious to the fact that Sky Sports News has turned into coverage of footballers in carparks. One Twitter user’s mate was just driven by a cabbie whose cabbie friend just dropped Ardiles off at Spurs lodge. Here’s a photo of Ardiles at an airport. Is it in London? Is it recent? Is he on his holidays? Is Villa with him? Who knows.
By this point we’ve arrived at my favourite point of a modern transfer saga. Awaiting official confirmation. Every morning for the past week, the poor sap in charge of the Spurs official Twitter account has tweeted news about an upcoming friendly and been harangued by people who seem to think the account is a direct link to Daniel Levy’s brain, asking about the whereabouts of one Ben Davies. As though it actually matters. Some people – people who are old enough and intellectually capable of remembering their Twitter password – are apparently legitimately upset that Spurs have not yet announced this transfer, spending a measurable portion of their finite existences to ask @SpursOfficial what the hold up is. Spurs do not play a competitive fixture for four weeks.
This whole media-driven, energy sapping process, from casual newspaper link to player gawping-with-new-shirt-on-a-stepladder results in a big breaking-news story that people are sick to death of hearing about. When the rumours are swilling with increasing intensity for weeks, the actual conformation becomes nothing more than a formality. A big news story is no longer news. When Spurs ‘scooped the world’ Tottenham fans were called at work to see if they’d seen the news. When Barcelona announce the signing of Luis Suarez the first two Twitter responses will be “FINALLY” and “Wow, what a shock!!!!”