The Premier League came ‘roaring’ (as we are always told it does by Sky Sports!) back into action last weekend after yet another infuriating and stultifying international break. Normally this is greeted with a huge sense of relief in the Football Nerd household, not solely because we have survived once again, but because it means a return to the normal schedule of our weekend lives, which is planned around Football Focus, Match of the Day and whatever live matches are on for us to savour. However this time it felt different.Having spent the previous two weekends immersed in a kind of non-league sojourn away from the over-hyped, over-sensationalised, money-obsessed Premier League; with trips to Orient (https://football-nerd.org/2017/10/06/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-a-dilemma-of-hopelessness-and-questioned-loyalty/) and Hackney Wick v Clapton (https://football-nerd.org/2017/10/13/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-the-football-obsession-is-getting-worse-an-afternoon-with-the-wick-and-east-london-ultras/); reverting to type however cast the upper echelons of the modern football world in a new light, one that I am not sure either of us were especially happy to re-familiarise ourselves with.
The games and matchday experiences of the previous weekends were refreshing, cathartic almost, a genuine opportunity to enjoy the very essence of being a football fan, rather than being forced to experience them as a ‘customer’ or, worse still, ‘audience member’.
I started writing this blog because I am, and have been since my early childhood, a football obsessive, happy to watch any organised (and some not so organised!) football match, wherever and whenever I am able. For me in many ways, the result and even the standard of play are becoming increasingly irrelevant, what is important is the excitement in planning, going to and being at the identified match, amongst people who I assume are just as obsessed as I am and who are there for exactly the same reasons: because it is what they do, it is where they go and what they understand.
What the last few weekends have taught us is that it doesn’t matter what the level is, it is the shared experience of going and the bond that is built up that matters, and that is exactly what is increasingly being lost by the seemingly never-ending commodification of the game that we all fell in love with. We are football fans not consumers!
It is increasingly well-trodden ground to reference the ills and annoyances with the modern game that fester amongst us football traditionalists: with the overpaid prima donna players with no connection to the club that they play for and are available, mercenary-like, to the highest bidder; with the ludicrously inflated ticket prices to sit in sterile stadiums where traditional fans are increasingly being priced out in favour of tourists all too keen to pay over the top for food, drink and merchandise; and with the seemingly ceaseless eradication of the traditions of the game with which we all grew up.
Beyond even these issues though is the sensationalist hype geared towards ‘entertaining’ those whose football-watching life centres around 24-hour news and Internet comment, creating a kind of reality-based soap opera where even the tiniest morsel of news or seemingly most innocuous of remarks is regurgitated ad nauseum to try to wring some vestige of a story out of it.
Far be it from me to try to reposition myself as some kind of ‘football hipster’, (although rather worryingly I do share certain traits with the stereotypical view of these characters!); instead I prefer to think of it in terms of nostalgia, of missing the way football was before the money men and media got a grip of it and diluted it in the almost inevitable way that all things are once those with a commercial vent realise there is money to be made. On two recent Saturday afternoons I have been transported back to a bygone era, the halcyon days of my youth if you like, where you could simply rock up to a match on the day, pay yourself in at the gate and feel like you were experiencing something real, something that meant something, something that wasn’t necessarily trendy or an event to be seen at, but an away from the mainstream tribal gathering that only those in the know would consider attending.
It is unquestionable that football has changed beyond all recognition since the advent of the Premier League; just as it is impossible to argue that the stadiums, facilities and safety for the paying spectator are incomparable to the ramshackle and often hostile grounds of my youth; but with this progress has come the inevitable erosion of what made the game so special to us in the first place.
I have absolutely no doubt that I will continue to follow the Premier League and the other top leagues and competitions of Europe and attend as many matches at Arsenal and other top European stadia as is practically feasible; but what I also know is now that I have been (re)infected by the football bug thanks to my non-league experiences over the last couple of weeks, I will be trying to work in as many ‘real football experiences’ as is practically feasible; starting of course with Orient at home to Macclesfield this coming Saturday!