Help! I am falling out of love with football.
The fact you are reading this probably means you have at least a modicum of interest in football. You are probably a fan of a club, have been for some time. You have probably poured a sizeable portion of your wage into that club, the trips away, the programmes, food, a pint or two not to mention the merchandise, the shirt, the kit for your kids. I once tried to calculate how much I had paid into my club, Nottingham Forest over the last twenty years but had to stop as it was beginning to concern me, almost as though I had paid in more than I had earned, (admittedly the first few years were funded by the bank of mum and dad). But is anyone else getting that empty feeling when they head to watch their clubs now? You still love your club, but what you are watching has begun to become a little distasteful, at times leaving a sour taste in the mouth and what I am sure used to be an enjoyable experience for me has begun to become quite a bitter one, something I have trouble reconciling with continuing to pay £400 plus all the other extras listed on my club. Football is beginning to feel too distant, too aloof, and, at times, downright infuriating.
This is written on the back of the Olympics. Perhaps that beautiful, well organised, successful 16 days when I saw into a series of sports that looked so much cleaner than my sport football. Winners congratulating losers was commonplace, when Louis Smith achieved silver despite having the same score as his Hungarian rival, Krisztian Berki, his first reaction was not to chuck his water bottle on the floor, and charge at the judges, veins bulging on his forehead to demand a recount, his first reaction was to smile and stroll over to his rival offering a warm handshake and a hug. Compare that to a few incidents which occurred on Saturday. My own team were playing Bristol City, one of our players Adlene Guedioura, sustained a head injury, the game was stopped and on resumption the Bristol City player Greg Cunningham intimated he was going to give the ball back to our goalkeeper, instead he took the ball and presumed to charge at our goal. Alan Pardew pushed a linesman believing the ball had crossed the line for a throw in, afterwards with a smile on his face he called the incident “ridiculous.” After feeling buoyant following the Olympic Games, the Cunningham incident at the City Ground and the subsequent Pardew push brought me back down to earth. Slightly longer ago we just have to consider the Terry vs Ferdinand fiasco, the Suarez vs Evra incident and Joey Bartons antics in the last game of the season. A lot of the time, gamesmanship in football is put down to the need to win, the need to be successful but I don’t see how being, allegedly, racist (or the abuse they poured at each other which was heard about at the court case) can be put down to that. That comes from not really caring anymore, about having so much money and influence and people massaging their ego’s that they feel above what is considered reasonable behaviour.
The ‘boys club’ attitude of the pundits on Match of the Day also appears to a symptom that football is sick. Again, thinking back to the Olympics the punditry was superb, with people who know and can dissect their sport. On Saturday night I was left with the two Alan’s smugly telling me things which any of my friends could have told me in the pub. MOTD seems to have settled on simply replaying the action with one of the pundits describing exactly what I am seeing, for this Alan Hansen receives a reported £1 million per year. The smugness of the majority of the pundits, has also become to annoy and frustrate me. Listening to 606 with Robbie Savage and Darren Fletcher I am amazed by their hypocrisy. At times Robbie Savage is adamant that you cannot compare ‘normal’ life to the life of a footballer yet, when it suits him he will ask a caller who is ringing in to complain about a footballer leaving his
club for more money whether he would do the same thing. Its hypocrisy and poor punditry and to rely on the ‘I’ve played in the Premier League so I know what I am talking about’ is boring and lacks any adept debating skills. The best sports articles and books I read are written by people who have never played the sport in question at the highest level, Daniel Taylor, James Lawton and David Conn for example. The punditry has turned into ‘jobs for the boys’ and merely serves to emphasise the growing gap between us as supporters and those inside the football industry.
Thinking about the money side of things, the average Premiership wage at the moment is £22,353 per week, which is, before tax, slightly more than I earn in a year, even at Championship level the figure stands at £4,059 per week. This is on the back of a £3 billion pound deal to cover the Premiership between Sky and BT. On top of this season tickets for the fans are generally on the increase. Manchester City, owned by one of the richest families in the world, increased their season ticket prices an average of 9% this season as well as clubs like Everton, Fulham and Tottenham these hikes alongside a Sky package which will cost £300+ should you have the sports package. This is all happening alongside a terrible recession were people are really struggling to pay their mortgage. Surprisingly the Premier League appears to have been able to withstand the recession with stadium occupancy over the season before last remaining at a whopping 92.2%, compared to when the Premier League initially started in the 1992/93 season when average occupancy was only 69.6%. If anything highlights the strange relationship we have with football it is this and I for one, and I am sure many of you reading, can testify to this.
Consider this alongside some examples of players wages like; Wayne Bridge earning an estimated £95K per week, Roque Santa Cruz on £90k per week, Joey Barton earning £70k per week or possibly one of the most sickening stories in recent football history, Winston Bogarde earning £40k per week for years whilst at Chelsea despite playing only 11 games during that period. At my own club we have Ishmael Miller on a reported £15k per week contract and Matthew Derbyshire on something similar. Over the summer, our captain Luke Chambers’ contract expired, with many fans stating quite confidently that he would not find a club willing to offer the wages he had been on whilst at our club, predicting a change in the way wages were being paid. Chambers subsequently managed to double his wages at Ipswich Town. Now these are decent players, certainly better than your Sunday League types such as myself and I have no jealously towards their ability, but are they really worth that amount of money? Meanwhile players like Louis Saha and El Hadji Diouf have been able to earn good deals for themselves keeping up their journeymen routines. Does anybody else find figures like this distasteful particularly when coupled with prices we as fans pay to watch our football clubs?
It is hoped Financial Fair Play will have an impact on this. However I have concerns that if clubs need to cut their cloth, will this not have an impact on fans again with a potential increase in season tickets and match tickets to increase profits and allow club spending to continue? Also how can a manager such as Roberto Mancini be expected to balance his books by shipping players like Bridge, Santa Cruz and Adebayor out when they are demanding similar wages, wages other clubs cannot afford? I think the theory behind FFP is decent but it certainly needs some re-working and possibly re-starting the whole thinking process.
I’d like to not care as much as I do about my team, Nottingham Forest. I like to think of myself as a rational human being with strong desires for the world to be a better place and with my politics falling pretty far on the left of the spectrum. Yet this rational, sensible part of me has gone out the window when it comes to football. Yet I feel the tide turning I really do, I am not sure how much longer I can tolerate seeing all the sickening things I see in football and, as I admitted to, this is in the context of having watched the Olympics. It would be reassuring if there were others out there who feel the same way and feel that supporting their club, and football in general, no longer sits well with them, perhaps we could start some sort of footballers anonymous group?
I do not know what can help me to get back in touch with football, perhaps a more definite movement towards fan ownership through supporters trusts, perhaps a re-designed plan over Financial Fair Play, perhaps going to watch a football club lower down the leagues where there is a little more honesty or perhaps just accepting that this is the way it is for now and stopping my moaning and hope that the football bubble may burst and bring things back down to a level I can appreciate and find easier to continue to attend and pump my money into.