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- DMC -

Published: Sept 18th 1999

A rather worrying trend
The Devil May Care -

A rather worrying trend

Some of you may have noticed the other night that our 'friends' down at Stamford Bridge only had one Englishman in their team. No that wasn't Milan, that was Chelsea. In fact I hadn't noticed until a friend pointed it out to me, but there again I didn't even know the result 'til the following morning.

I was listening to the radio today and they were talking about what has become an old chestnut, namely the amount of foreigners in the British game. Several Chelsea supporters rang in to justify their team's stance on this matter saying that Chelsea were playing some of the best football witnessed in this country.

Now that's undoubtedly true as far as they are concerned, but what of the impact on our national game? What about the young British lads and their chances of making the grade in the modern day world of Premiership football? Surely, under these circumstances they have relatively no chance at all. The trouble is they will surely not be encouraged by the Premiership becoming the equivalent to the world trade centre.

Naturally this causes ripples of discontent and concern which undermines confidence and turns potential away, but it's not just the invasion of the foreign legion of mercenaries that has caused an effect.

I have two young kids, both at school, and over the last few years I have noticed a change taking place. Yes, you see the normal array of football tops, but when you ask the kids who are wearing the tops if they have ever been to watch the clubs play, they always say "no". When you ask them if they play football to any degree of seriousness, the vast majority of them also say "no".

So these kids wear the football tops as fashion accessories, not out of any particular allegiance to the teams whose colours they sport. It is probably not a surprise to anyone that the kids don't go and watch football, but it may be a surprise that they don't play it either. The kids gravitate towards United, Arsenal, Chelsea and surprisingly Liverpool and of course they do so because these teams appear more often on television. Television dictates, not local affiliation, in the main part not even parental encouragement, but television.

But the problem goes even deeper than this. The superficiality of TV watching is becoming the norm for these kids. When I was their age and I watched football on TV it was a real treat as it was only on on a Saturday night so if you wanted to watch your team regularly the only way you could do so was to go to the games. Now they can watch all the time if their parents have subscribed to the digital revolution so it means very much less than it ever did.

There's a surplus of football and a surplus of sport in general and the kids are glued to the box and vulnerable to the marketing message. But the message they are receiving is false, it doesn't belong to the world we've been used to - it's dressed up with dross.

These kids I'm taking about range from 9 - 14. They are supposed to be the future of the game in this country and none of them, apart from my own kids, have ever been to watch live football and consequently they have no idea what it is like to support a team. Even my own son first thought Manchester United were called Sharp when he was a very young kid. That really shocked and horrified me, and now all around them their friends are responding to the norm and refer to us as Man U, repeating the message almost parrot fashion. The ABU's are having their way, they are indoctrinating them with their prejudices and the kids think it's normal.

The future of our game under these circumstances dies with us. Our own kids will follow in our footsteps if we can afford to buy them tickets, if we can manage to get them tickets, but gradually the continuity will die out. The OT crowd ages and the diehard's replacement is a Johnny-come-lately who will not be around for more than a match or two especially as the marketers dream fades along with his lilac shirt.

But it seems that the majority of kids are gravitating towards American based sport anyway. Basketball and wrestling are the new wave favourites. Sky in particular, has changed the viewing habits and perceptions of sport forever and it is definitely not for the benefit of live football, or in fact live sport as a whole.

If you have ever watched these sports, wrestling in particular, and I watched a minute or two of the wrestling this morning because my son was glued to it, you will have noticed they are full of hyped up fantasy and US razzmatazz. Standard TV fodder and little to do with UK sport as we have known it. But the kids are hooked on the bizarre US oriented atmosphere generated for television and so the profusion of Sunny Delight basketballs being bounced outside school this last two weeks is only a natural progression born out of the myth that TV has created.

It's the marketers who have created this monster and the marketers at the top clubs have used Manchester United as a benchmark and Manchester United have used the US as their benchmark, but what they seem to have forgotten is that we are two completely different nations. When we go to the States we expect the razzmatazz, here we do not.

The future of our game is at stake. The totally lacklustre and atmosphere-less Old Trafford is symptomatic of the future. It is the marketeer and the television coverage which has changed things and consequently, along with it, peoples' perceptions. Everyone just sits there waiting to be entertained instead of interacting and helping change the game to provoke a better conclusion. The new wave fan has no idea how to do it. They are so used to sitting down on their backsides waiting to be entertained they know nothing else.

Let's look at football as though it were street theatre - in the street you interact with the actors, they expect it, it's all part of the performance and that is what football is all about - causing an effect, interaction, passion for the play. The ironically apt Theatre of Dreams is more akin to watching a symphony concert - pay up and shut up, do not disturb and merely watch the entertainment. The two scenarios are fundamentally different.

At Manchester United we have a situation where we have been lead into a merchandising heaven which provides the kids who adhere to the marketer's dream the chance to buy in and identify. It has provided the club with countless millions, some of which, it has to be said, have been put to work for our advantage, but.......... and it's a big but.......all this so called progress has been at the expense of hard core support and thus, I believe the future of the game.

There has got to be a compromise.

I don't decry all the merchandising because if people buying replica shirts, false Giggsy chest hair and Beckham blond tinted wigs brings money into the coffers then it presumably means we have money to provide better facilities, buy quality players and stock better pies, shouldn't be at the expense of the hard core support.

But it's all short term gain these days isn't it, and there's no planning for the longterm future. So it's necessary for supporters themselves to take action, form pressure groups, write letter and fax campaigns and bombard the clubs with e-mail in the hope that sometime they will see sense and return part of the game to those who really care for it's future.

This short term gain scenario is epitomised by Chelsea and their team of foreigners, their inflated wages, their desperate fans and their bloody Chelsea Village. And when the only Englishman in their team is Denis Wise, that doesn't really count either because everybody knows he's from a different planet.

The only way forward is to try and encourage Martin Edwards to see the future he and his gurus are creating. Show them what Old Trafford will be like within the next ten years when it will become all too obvious we have lost a whole generation and all the generations which would have followed. Can't they see that in the future when we're playing the likes of Wimbledon, the new scoreboard and Stretford Ends will be half empty. And if they think they can get around that problem by opting out and joining a European league I'd like to remind them of last Tuesday night when a few hundred Croats embarrassed 50,000 so called United fans by outsinging them.

Anyone know where we can find the "Ghost of Football Future' so we can encourage him to pay a visit to Martin's plush ensuite?

The Devil May Care - DMC

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