If you have football in your bones yet feel disenfranchised with the modern game then Theatre Of Silence: The Lost Soul Of Football by Matthew Bazell will read like 315 pages of truth and testimony.
Covering a broad range of ills that have brought about the “death of the People’s Game” Bazell casts a damning eye on the absence of atmosphere in grounds, exorbitant ticket prices, 24/7 fixtures, poor engagement between club and fan, right down to those grubby little chancers the player’s agents.
It is a comprehensive condemnation of all that is wrong with our national sport today written in a conversational tone that is far more impactful than a dry academic text. You think the poor atmosphere at Arsenal was a result of leaving Highbury? “That’s bullshit!”
As a lifelong Gooner the author saves much of his ire for his own club’s failings – at one point describing the Emirates as a ‘over-priced corporate bowl’ – and his personal tale of feeling increasingly disconnected with his local team, of becoming a customer rather than a supporter very much against his will, is genuinely effecting and will strike a chord with most.
It is an exasperating situation of being over-charged and under-appreciated that we all share and Bazell nails the mixture of anger and despondency that comes with it. Yet the inescapable doom and gloom that pervades this book is always undercut with a healthy dose of sarcasm and wry humour – his ‘resignation’ letter from Arsenal’s Membership Scheme includes a warning that, should he ever become a billionaire, his first task would be to buy the club and sack the board.
Elsewhere, a chapter on stewarding provoked genuine wrath from this reader as each example of totalitarian chastisement by those in yellow bibs is laid bare. Supporters being thrown out of grounds for stumbling over advertising boards or admonished for walking in a drunk fashion in an arena that sells booze only exacerbates the notion that we are regarded as naughty children these days. Sit still, don’t get excited, and behave. Extending upon this Bazell lays out a wonderfully comic comparison of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s World Cup final commentary if uttered today.
“Some people are on the pitch….England have won the World Cup but I’m afraid it’s been marred by these ugly scenes”.
Detailing the wrongs in modern football is an onerous challenge due to how so very much is wrong with it. Yet Bazell does a commendable job in providing forensic and calm reason on each aspect and perhaps this book’s greatest achievement is that, despite it being essentially a polemic, so much jumps off the page as incontestable.
It should be noted too that this is not a romantic yearning for a past utopia but rather a want for balance. Like a crazed plastic surgeon the make-over the game patently needed has become a botox-frenzy, making something we so loved now unrecognisable and unable even to emit a smile.
Feeling that we are reaching a tipping point with supporter disenfranchisement in the game the Cutter wrote on this subject recently which led us to discovering this superb gem of a read that comes highly recommended. The foreword by Rod Liddle is fantastic in itself, as too is the guest chapter penned by Johnny Lydon, but it is Bazell’s writing that both entertains and educates that makes this a must-read.
Theatre of Silence may be a dissection of a sport that has sold its heart and soul to the highest bidders merged with a personal tale of disillusionment yet amidst the depressing stats, facts, and anecdotal castigation I found myself uplifted. Because this is also an erudite, well mapped-out call to arms; a reminder that we have the power to make or break the ‘product’. We remain integral.
It’s still not too late to include Theatre of Silence on your wish list to Santa. Though perhaps you may not find it in your club’s shop at the next home game.
You can buy Matthew’s book here