Published: Sept 18th 1999
rather worrying trend
- The Devil May Care
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.
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.
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".
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
but............it shouldn't be at the expense of the hard core
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.
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.
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.
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