by Stephen Tudor (Daisy Cutter)
Cast your minds back to the recent past when the story of football and the supporters who breathe life into it was irrefutably accurate.
The narrative went something like this –
Once upon a time football was the working man’s game and men (predominantly) could take their kids each week and treat them to a programme and half-time pie while watching players who didn’t seemingly reside in an alien, gold-plated universe.
The son wants to bring a mate from school? No problem. Get permission from the parents and into the car they go.
Alternatively you could go with your mates; enjoy a few pints and sway and chant on the terraces, deafened by an electric atmosphere that crackled with passion and hatred in equal parts. Amidst the steam rising from the thronged bodies and the faint aroma of piss it was tribal in there. Exhilarating and brilliant.
One day a big bad wolf called Sky came along and threw a great big bag of money at the game thus ruining everything. Players’ wages spiralled into unimaginable lunacy, luring in mercenaries from abroad with little emotional link or loyalty to the club’s shirt. Each club’s bloodline of young local talent was severed forever – doing irreparable damage to the national side – while in the ticket office ‘our Barb’ was replaced by an automated service. These and hundreds of other examples meant the club that was once the sporting heartbeat of a community became, in time, a cold stone and steel edifice with delusions of grandeur.
Games meanwhile were switched from Saturday to Sunday to Monday on a television companies’ whim. That train ticket you purchased in advance for the weekend away hundreds of miles from home? I hope it’s redeemable because now it’s on a week night, necessitating time off work, further extortionate travel costs, not to mention a match ticket that’s a fifth of your weekly wage. All this to sit in a vacuous glorified library sitting on plastic seats surrounded by plastic tourists a few feet below guys in suits standing behind glass who have got in for free because their brother works for Heineken.
At least you get to enjoy a pint of Heineken yourself at half-time. In a plastic cup of course and on the concourse. You want to drink whilst watching the game? What are you, some kind of animal? Oh and that will be six quid please.
Your team loses 1-0 and they screech out ‘Just can’t Get Enough’ over the tannoy when the goal goes in.
Unfortunately there is no happy ever after to this tale as a few days later it starts all over again. The seasoncard that cost you over a grand and sustained grief from your partner is used to watch a player on a hundred times that a week limp off with mild fatigue before leaving the ground in a supercar usually only seen in Fast and Furious 7.
The end? There is no end.
The above has purposely been written as a fairy tale because that is slowly and maliciously how the past twenty-two years is being rebranded. The established narrative for how the beautiful game became the soulless, expensive, distant incarnation we all know it as today is perniciously being distorted as a work of fiction and worst of all it’s the ordinary supporters – the new villains of the piece – who are unintentionally aiding and abetting the outrageous lie.
Let me elaborate.
This week saw yet another example of supporters getting it in the neck as Villa Park saw its lowest attendance since 1999. Firstly stats be damned because sometimes you have to defer to empirical knowledge and I know from a lifetime of eating, shitting and breathing football that Villa fans are right up there with the best and most loyal around. They always take numbers away; the Holte End is a formidable roaring beast; and they cede to few for noise or passion. This despite enduring decades of unfulfilled hope, the complete absence of silverware, and Bosko Balaban.
The attendance for their fixture vs Southampton was 25,311 which, to my mind, represents a respectable return for a Monday night game, during a prolonged spell of poor football and results, a month before Christmas, and when tickets were £40 upwards. The tempting alternative of course was to stay at home, in front of a toasty fire, and watch the game on Sky and the figure suggests to me that all of the die-hards chose the first option while some of the fair-weather fans opted for the latter.
Considering the factors mentioned above who could blame them? Well, disgracefully some portions of the press could and did, along with rival supporters who gleefully scoffed and called them out for disloyalty on social media.
Sky themselves could barely hide their disgust at the empty seats which really is the height of hypocritical sadism and akin to offering someone a warm chocolate fudge cake then making snidey comments as they enjoy it. “Look at you eating that. You disgust us. You know you’re going to get fat right?”
Certainly the lowest attendance for fifteen years by a top flight club warrants some media glare. But surely the angle should have been how and why.
Why we’re sick and tired of being royally ripped off and taken for granted. Being expected to pay four times what fans in Germany do and that’s before you get to the over-priced excuse for a stadium hot dog.
How staging games on a Monday night inevitably lessens atmosphere. We’re not Americans and we’ve never bought into it.
How Sky are fucking killing the game that we love, bombarding us with sanitised, Rooney-obsessed hyperbole.
Instead – disgracefully – it was the supporters who took the blunt of it. Those protesting with their feet over Paul Lambert’s miserable tenure. Those unable to get out of work in time to travel into the congested city centre on a Monday evening. Those who cannot afford tickets in a sustained and cruel recession.
Lock them up and throw away the key I say.
This was only the latest in an increasing trend of fan scapegoating.
Recently we witnessed multi-millionaire Paul Scholes enjoying an all-expenses-paid hospitality-laden trip to the Etihad and wasting no time in laying into the Manchester City supporters for generating too little atmosphere for a Champions League game. Bizarrely this was uttered in his atmospheric monotone voice a half hour BEFORE the game was due to start and as he purveyed a half-empty stadium the former United schemer couldn’t resist having a further dig on City’s supposed lack of attendance.
Meanwhile supporters were busy navigating a gridlocked city centre, sweating on making the TV-friendly kick-off time, with a ticket in their pocket they’ve worried their overdraft to attain.
Over on Twitter Scholes’ ex-team-mate Rio Ferdinand dispensed with feigned serious analysis and openly mocked non-attending Blues. He tweeted “Big CL game and fans would rather Ramsey’s Kitchen”.
Is it only me who finds it somewhat sick when multi-millionaires – fabulously rich from the loyal support and merchandise-purchasing of the paying public – ridicule those who currently don’t have a pot to piss in through a bleak economy? Yet this is fast becoming the norm and is occurring unchallenged in a new narrative where Sky, Murdoch, and the Premier League are no longer the villains of what the sport has become. Rather it is us, the life and blood of the game, who are now apparently to blame for the banality of what passes for modern football.
That City match is particularly pertinent to myself. As a Blue I have travelled the length and breadth of the country watching pre-takeover dross and post-takeover wonderment. On this occasion two simultaneous bills arriving the day before the game meant I had a straightforward choice to make –attend the Roma game or eat that week. How was your pre-match hors d’oeuvres Scholes?
We’ve also recently seen Jose Mourinho turn on his own fans for their apparent lack of atmosphere – presumably they’re too busy reeling from the astronomical price of admission to the Bridge – while Emmanuel Adebayor took matters into the realms of the surreal by chiming in with criticism of Spurs fans.
When a player on £200k a week who is known for putting in the minimum of effort – and only then when the mood takes him – feels he can slag off supporters for enthusiastic shortcomings you just know the game is up.
I’m reluctant to haul the wider frame of politics into this but elsewhere in recent years we’ve witnessed often the sick and twisted strategy of blaming the victim for societies’ ills. While bankers gamble away our economy and spiral us into a 21st century depression and multi-billion corporations refuse to pay their tax it appears that the reason you and I are struggling at present is all the fault of a bloke trying to make ends meet by cleaning windows while on incapacity benefit.
The media relentlessly hound the poor, the ordinary, and anyone whose surname ends in a vowel yet give a free pass to the rich and powerful who are immorally screwing this country into the dust.
It appears this very same macabre master plan is now slowly seeping into football.
Yet, as if this wasn’t distasteful enough, there isn’t even solid grounding to the claims. While the average price of a Premier League matchday ticket has risen 15% since 2011 attendances continue to rise with grounds 96% full last term, an increase of 2.1% from the previous year.
As always we are more than doing our bit. As always we are going above and beyond.
As for atmosphere it is impossible to use statistical data to assess whether it is indeed quieting. But anyone who has attended a PL game in recent years will know all-too-well that everything is stacked against us in this regard.
When clubs threaten you with eviction if you have the temerity to stand – or even shout or become agitated in some cases – it is extremely difficult to rouse an electric atmosphere sitting in the plastic, sterile environment of someone else’s making.
Throughout the years we have been caged like animals, demonised as the scourge of society, baton-charged by foreign police, fleeced stupid, overcharged and under-appreciated. We are not taking the fall for this one.
The next time a club’s fanbase receives criticism for not filling its ground and jumping about wildly at a ludicrously-paid striker going through the motions please refrain from joining in. Stymie your every instinct to ‘bantz’ a rival. Instead consider the source. A manager with a motivational agenda. A deluded player living in a fantasy world. An ex-player pathetically trying to gain a reputation for straight-shooting. A media thoroughly bored of the old narrative. And overall a depressing reversion to assumed type that somehow the supporters are always to blame.