A sentiment I’ve often expressed through this medium is the unstoppable force of media in the insatiable character-vilification campaigns and the overzealous tendency towards premature talent lauding. Even as I type, from my headphones are blaring the lyrics of Two Door Cinema Club’s song ‘Bad Decisions’ – “Lately, think I’ve had enough. Of generation information, every station, but I can’t turn it off.” Obviously, as is proven through print sales that, while diminishing in the wake of the technological revolution, have guarded the industry’s survival; such an alarmingly bipolar, obliviously contradictory and self-glorifying rhetoric has sustained a profitable degree of public interest. From a British perspective, at least, these rituals appear ingrained in journalistic culture; certainly from the microcosm of sport, with football as its fundamental feature, and flagship enterprise. On the occasion of Talking Points’ 100-week anniversary of conception, then, I perceived an introspective analysis of the industry’s internal factions, glaring flaws and potentially redeeming influences as acutely apt, engaging with a society increasingly averse to traditional media forms.
Deemed by Oscar Wilde as ‘the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness’, imitation pervades the industry. Originality, to offer a blasé derision of both the term and its qualities in our era, is drastically lacking in economics, politics, technological innovation and artistic expression. Perhaps an equal argument has been founded in many a distinct preceding age, yet to admire present encapsulations of global, or perhaps predominantly Western, proceedings in mass media through a historically-conscious grievance, repetitions of effectively unavoidable, almost apathetic, events provoke the audience as rife. Equally historically prominent forms of cultural rebellion, in the arts, are so infiltrated by mediocrity, and institutional corruption, that the broader message of effective revolutionaries is so distilled as to render it unfeasible in application. Enable me to wallow in the negativity of the situation, and indulge myself in an amateur’s political theory. As degrading, malaise-saturated sentiments established themselves in prior generations, so they will in the future. Presently, however, it can perhaps be observed that a culture of systemic individualism, and ideological liberalism, has pervaded Western populaces, particularly in the post-Soviet dissolution vacuum of effectively non-existent political opposition. No longer is geopolitics revolved around ideological warfare, as was last waged by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on a Soviet Union beyond Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts at salvaging reform.
Since, a Russia first helmed by Vladimir Putin in 1999, and overtly proposing a vehement anti-globalist stance – albeit while begrudging the economic rule of an oligarchy so resented in communist eras – has confounded to conspire in events in a liberalised European and North American society, and demean these regions’ shared vulnerabilities in the midst of Iraqi and Afghan intervention failures, and the 2007-08 economic crash. So advanced does this society consider itself, and so detached has civil class been from the imposed campaigns of economic austerity, that fear has been eliminated from the average working-class and middle-class, or newly-formed ‘technical middle-class’, ‘new affluent workers’, ‘traditional working-class’ and ‘emergent service workers’, and a fracturing from the lowest-ranked ‘precariat’ – ‘precarious proletariat’ – has emerged to practically disassociate politically with the abundance of frothing poverty. Adam Curtis, a high-profile theorist and documentarian regularly featured on the BBC, cites ‘oh dearism’ as the cultural trend to which an overwhelming majority of us apply ourselves, so sheltered are we by fallacies of political protectionism that the impact of Rwanda, or Bosnia’s 1990s genocides, is broadly inconsequential to us. Aligning with his fellow theories of an emergent constitutional Western policy of political simplification – depicting a ‘pantomime world’, with fables of good vs evil, regardless of the terrorist insurgency, disavowed foreign despot (best encapsulated by the dramatically altering exploitation of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s image) or migrant crisis – and the corroboration of highly-intelligent internet media into pitting those with shared ideologies alongside one another in a potentially civil-war-condemning cycle, Curtis’ original statement captures the exacting essence of a trend that has infiltrated each ember of a diversified journalistic network; even into sport.
Perhaps it is the latter of the theologian’s observations that appears the most relevant in our relation. Technological utopians, with foundations in Karl Marx’s idolised dissolution of monarchies for science and democracy, the diminishing optimism of 1970s capitalist culture and particularly Californian-based dot-com 1990s revolutions, featured bohemian and anti-establishment sentiments first heralded in 1960s counter-culture and prophesised a suspension of traditional politics, yet was undermined by stock market crashes in the internet industry and the reality of economic reckoning. Cyber-utopians have partly acceded this mantle, yet to far from an equal extent, and with greater fixation on influences in the civilian-rousing 2011 Arab Springs and Occupy Wall Street campaigns, and revolting against established world orders. The disdain with these failed attempts to divert control, and a frustration with an instilled, unrewarding situation led to ideological confrontation between one another, and a retreat to democratic influences. Global corporations, conveyed by Curtis through the Aladdin electronic system, exercise control over the entirety of our cyber lives, stabilise politics by predicting challenges and confine algorithms to associate like-minded individuals together. An ideologically polarised society, entirely ambivalent to media that opposed their resolved, confined view, elected a reality TV character, and political non-entity, Donald Trump, to the White House. Frustrations were rooted into the Brexit vote. Compromise exists on a minor fraction of the scale it once did; 1960s and ‘70s British politics alternating on the verge of every scandal either side of the pendulum, yet in the post-crash era, glued to its principles in all but one demographic currently; anti-austerity teenage, and 20-30-year-old, University students or graduates.
No platform encapsulates this better than Twitter, where currently right-wing extremists are facing recompense for insubordinate vitriol and conspiracy to discriminate; de-verified and suspended. Accounts run by state-corroborated technology infiltrate the market and respond vehemently en masse to each story relating to Trump’s presidency; one so tumultuous, polarising and disgraced that, regardless of its incapacity in 20th century politics, would’ve have long-since been impeached with any degree of sanity. Such, it will not merely be the result of rational political rhetoric – economic failings, social stagnation – if Trump, and Theresa May’s scandal-prone Conservatives, are swiftly deposed at the first democratic opportunity, currently scheduled in 2020 and 2022. Independence, and ideological superiority, reigns in present politicised media, and repeatedly rears its unfortunate head of division whenever opposition arises. The development of media only serves to resolve one’s ego, as individualism topples subservience to the past influence of media.
An air of conceit has always defined the profession of journalism. Not psychologically afflicted, nor as megalomania-inclined, as the career politician, they prefer to influence through reactionary means, though few serve their own ideals – it is rarely profitable in independent media. They are the outlets of propaganda, of spin, and of feeble attempts at persuasion, and are largely correctly derided with the contempt otherwise only demonstrated to estate agents, investment bankers and the aforementioned politicians. The other end of the journalistic spectrum features the failed writers; lacking the sufficient creativity or independence to sustain a viable career on their bland sentiments and largely inane private pursuits. This is where the modern trend intervenes; typically younger, self-righteous, egoistic facets of laughably simple influence who retweet baseless claims and compose statements of their own with the ferocity of a pit bull terrier in split-second, uninformed responses to any event that apparently favours their politics. In both right-and-left media streams, they are the inexpensive outlets of hysteria, and sensationalism; flouting journalistic ethics of years long since passed, and believing they bolster ideological influence. Seldom, unless in politically independent media, is maturity or morality valued. Such are the demonstrable epithets of their collective character.
A sentiment often targeted at this lambasted sector cites their distorted rationale; they think with the quill, not with the heart. The accepted practices of the profession are shrouded in a much-vaulted code, yet are often belied in extortionate modern claims. The distance, throughout this campaign of pomposity, between it, and factual subject matter, has grown to unprecedented extents. Generally, it is not the valued mode of employment many formerly valued it as. Political undertones define each individual facet and minutiae of its expanse, while masochistic tendencies must define those who embrace these expressive constraints. Fortunately, detachment from the often-turgid environment of mass media presents itself copiously in external materialistic imposition, ideological subservience and self-flagellation.
Yet the influence of disdainful, even cynical rhetoric only possesses a limited capacity. Ambition befalls the majority of minds. Nowhere is this as acutely, nor intrinsically, demonstrated as in journalism. Schemes to independently alter society’s collective rhetoric are unfeasible, and the exploitative vacuum is consumed by mass media – secure professions are assured when employed by national sources, for whom articles are mundane, inconsequential and apathetically consumed. Eradicated, quite curiously to me, is the perfectionism and conduct that may have defined prior exponents. Erudite study, consideration and composure, again, is seldom realised on the national stage. Yet this is not a theme enabled, or otherwise, by sheer lexicology, nor alternative linguistic structures. Rhetoric is implanted without introspection; no mystery or intrigue, no inquisition, emerges. A definitive, if ephemeral, answer has to be provided for any minor query. Generalisations, such as the astounding value attributed within my declarative statements here, have to be adopted in order to unveil the audience’s apparently desired summation within the time constraints of incessant publishing. Concise affirmation of a subject is now the status quo. Yet has the art been ‘ruined’ by the demands of print media, or skewed in its mainstream formats by the invasive capabilities of immediate social media coverage?
Personally, perfectionism is both a hindrance and advantage. Journalists have the ability to both alienate a vast degree of their prospective audience and unify a vast cross-section; the former is certainly my forte. And it certainly requires an extensive reserve of self-value and moral haughtiness to execute this division. I’d wager that many of the sentiments I’ve shared through this platform for nigh-on two years have ceased resonance at my fingers, while furiously typing away. Imposing as efforts such as mine are – both to myself, and you, the supposed audience – and as vast as the vacuum of endearing sincerity can appear when regarding personal lexical choice over audience engagement, an influence is exerted over the sport. For every voice seized upon a particular subject, the prospect of action rears closer.
Ideological paraphrasing, or worse plagiarism, is not my intention – more commonly, in fact, I emerge from a blogging process rueing spurned analytical opportunities, as opposed to wishing I could condense my sentiments. More often will you find me distracted on an uncontrollable tangent than struggling for rhetoric, or its evidence. Rarely do I feel this response is coveted, or prevalent, in professional journalism.
British writer Simon Kuper, often credited with the expansion and commercialisation of profitable footballing insight ‘from an anthropologic perspective’, modestly rejects his apparent notoriety in favour of other sources of creative innovation; “Nick Hornby and Pete Davies created the idea in publishers’ minds that football books could be good and sell, not me. Maybe I did influence some authors to carry out studies on football in other countries, but the process of excellent books being published was already under way.” This alternative form of documentation, to truly immersive extents, has partly remodelled the industry, and enabled particular journalistic entities to liberate themselves from the constraints of a six-inch column. Yet its popularity pales in extreme distance to that of the sensationalists. A minor status in the wider broadcast of the sport could well persist for the explorative, non-fiction study of particular subcultures and structures of the sport, especially when provided with the uninspiring morsels of untouched subject matter that remains from previous pioneers. So extensive are prior guides that the overlap of topics is relentless, and coverage intrinsically detailed, elapsing the fervour for exploration. Perhaps a victim of their own success, in respects of a numerically few, yet satiating, examples, these resorts and indulgences of independently-minded writers are threatened. Yet in an era of intensified tactical observations and fixations, and the total economic distortion of the industry, their role arguably wields far greater, liberalised influence on the exploration of the themes. Not purely courtesy of word count, but of the measured, targeted abilities of a year-long investigation and its various compasses.
The ultimate disgrace to the profession, perhaps, is its modern disparity with mainstream broadcast forms – television and social media. Usurped dramatically in public favour by the pundit, a damning indictment of the diminishing societal service of journalists has emerged in footballing circles. Seldom educated in the niceties of the occupation, ex-players speak candidly and with empathy to the situation of players replicating previous personal experiences, and are rewarded gratuitously for their naturally-garnered insight in internal service. Perhaps, an inherent lack of institutionalised nous that manifests itself within charismatic, if often divisive pundits, plays into the advantage of ex-professionals in our era of journalism. Subjectivity is the deity of the day. The consumer market no longer demands objectivity, clarity or impartiality. In an age of ‘good vs evil’ geopolitical, and ideological, rhetoric, descriptive polarisation has overruled what may be degraded as fence-sitting. Objectivity, however, values its audience. It presents the established facts, enables the reader to form an individual opinion, and hopefully to ponder and question both their views and the sentiment of the opposition. Personally, I would hope to profess objectivity, alongside honesty, as my most valued qualities, regardless of whether any journalistic register is employed. I fully accept that I can be wildly out-of-touch, extremely liberal with application of supportive evidence and socially divisive, but such are the risks of the profession. Some are unable to regard these fallibilities.
Black humour defines eras of dismay, disunity and dejection. Yet the profanity of its employment is stunted in modern media, while the socio-economic polarisation we cultivate extends to unprecedented scopes. The potential for introspective reporting should not be belittled by our age, rather fostered as we descend into lunacy. It would, at the very least, ease the strife. Volatility will not undermine our society, nor the mired profession. Conformism cannot extend to a subsect that in their very framework should adopt a stance far removed from the tumult – downward convergence, and buddying-up attempts, fall on deaf ears unfortunately, despite the congregation of intellects alike in their thirst for a particular sanctum serving simplification of events to cultivate a definite opinion. Any apparent duty towards engaging certain emotional responses acts as a structure threatening to any potential societal security. It’s how nuclear wars start.
Analytical, and informative, public service remains the tent those within the profession gather under. Words, easily alternated for any range of synonyms, that are unfortunately hollow. For what is the use of good intentions if they can so easily be strayed away from? The status quo of analytics alters day-by-day. Producers, alongside politicians, are at mercy to what corporations helming the common person’s online tendencies inform them. Journalists lay in the treacherous no man’s land, effectively the modus operandi for spin. A rightful derogative opinion withholds its resonance, and will continue to do so until they are torn down – never, then. They hold absolute power within society, because we all are members of the union. We all have, bred within our very psychology, these tendencies. We lie to ourselves to ease the burden of a troubling situation. We shapeshift in order to remove the threat of losing face. We paraphrase our leaders, our employees, our superiors in order to gain favour and security. We all compose needless utterances to uphold our personal values, regardless of whether anyone cares, or agrees. And because these trends are so widespread, our society has absolutely thrived upon it. Fortunes have been established, and reputations resolved. These form the structures of our very livelihoods. Cultural, and ideological individualism only further encapsulates these disdainful facts.
Does this status and influence alter when diversifying our perspective to nations other than the UK? Potentially, but if observing footballing journalism, what better geographical microcosm could encapsulate the sport’s extreme modern tribulations better than the settlement of the wealthiest league in the sport, and of twelve of the top 30 sides – including greater sum capital than the five Italian, four German and three Spanish sides in the same list – currently adjudged by Deloitte to possess the greatest revenue streams and structural profitabilities of the globe’s competitive institutions? Certainly, many other national media are prone to hyperbole, to secrecy and to downright deception, yet when assessing the state of the profession, and from the perspective of most clarity as a subject of the entity, it appears the most insightful line of inquiry.
The prognosis is bleak, and can easily transfer to the subtext of sport. Institutions guarded by corporations, and professing even weaker values than within politics, ravish from the secretion of romantics, and socialists, into the industry’s coverage. These are those whose capabilities restricted them only to combine work with their passions; how dour. Prophetic ability does not define these employees, and nor should it. But what frustrates me most with those within the industry is the secrecy, in an age where information should be so freely available. Perhaps this relates more to pundits, than even to career journalists; withholding inside intel from a public that demands constant quenching. Unless the concept of the profession has entirely changed, or I fail to allow for the potentially libellous claims that befall false or pre-emptive reporting, it often appears as if great detail from within the industry is being undisclosed, at all levels, to satisfy those within the frameworks of power. To a degree, certainly, this has forever been the case particularly within the football industry, but when scandals and misuses of power are applied to an unprecedented degree, politics cannot be allowed to prevent the output of the truth. And this fundamentally relies on moral values. Thus, what other conclusion or indictment could be offered but to condemn the industry as amoral, or at least immoral – ironically, the only common knowledge behind which the extent of the truth is shrouded. Unless the profession is able to address its liabilities, clarity is lost.
It is an ever-evolving, proactive question; is our media fit to query the events of our age? We, ourselves as consumers, are ever-changing templates and projections of societal trends, so why must prerogatives and ideals remain so tightly confined? The commonly regarded merger between degrees of separation and objectivity is faulty, and cannot be sustainably relied upon – especially as the issue has little to do with the industry’s proponents and visible antagonists, but their profession’s institutionalism instead. The self-fulfilling prophecy of journalism, perhaps, is to reveal more about the world through its shortcomings than solely through its production value, and perhaps that is an ironically endearing circumstance. To wallow in moral infidelity and blatant miscommunication – or, to paraphrase late American journalist Hunter S. Thompson, ‘be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity’ – the increasingly decentralised profession, in all facets of its influence, defies not any apparent principles, but those who it supposedly serves. A treacherous line to toe on a daily basis, certainly, but there are some who are foolish enough to try their conceited hand at it…
Sustaining the exact definition of a monopoly – 25% ownership of a particular economic sector – in the Premier League currently, it would be unabashedly simple to deride English football as the preserve of an elite, financially superpowered London-based contingent. Blasé derisions of the quality, particularly of a previously domineering North-Eastern class, befall many. And while we regard Manchester’s dastardly duo as the present heavyweights, and key continental hopes, of British competition, London’s crop never fail to trace in intimate financial, or ambitious, proximity; exploiting any vacuum of instability across the M6 whenever it seldom arises.
Yet meanwhile, an all-too amorally apt trend is unfolding within the capital’s sprawling urban confines – a replication of housing crises, reliance on food banks and infiltrating poverty for those footing the bill for economic disarray, while a ruling class gather increasing swathes of societal wealth, with which to exploit legal injustices in Caribbean, or crown dependency-based, tax avoidance schemes. An elite, here represented by Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and to an extent the recently flailing, relegation-flirting West Ham United and Crystal Palace, is profiting from the misfortune of Leyton Orient, Barnet, Millwall, Charlton, Dagenham & Redbridge and the void originally left by 1988 FA Cup victors Wimbledon FC, while suppressing the potential of non-leaguers Sutton United, Bromley, Boreham Wood, Enfield Town, Welling United, Dulwich Hamlet and Hampton and Richmond Borough, in an ultimate campaign to guard their fortunes, however ridiculous the prospect of any economic challenge arriving is in the present age of notoriously inevitable title direction. For all of the FA Cup-winning, Premier League accomplishing and continentally renowned prowess of London’s leading lights, the disparity with their historically competitive neighbours – fatally afflicted with financial mismanagement, inept coaching or the modern stadium phenomena – is gaping far wider than ever previously contemplated.
Of course, few external metropoles – capital or not, British or overseas – defer from this hierarchical rhetoric, yet none capture the example to quite the inglorious extent of England’s political, cultural and economic heart, unless referring to Russian or micro-state circumstances of polarity. Thus, through the lens of London’s extremities, a scope for introspective enquiry assembles; does the broader capitalist subtext of the sport act as an ideological vanguard to unfolding events, or a detriment when argued on a democratic scene? Encapsulating the lucrative industry that professional football has swiftly become for the nation, is the polarising trend perhaps the most vicious example of modern British capitalism, despite being fixated around ‘only football’? Whether this is a mere circumstance of aligning socio-economic factors, and not the conspiracy it may be construed through false interpretations of my rhetoric, remains a fundamental concern to a resolution and redressing of power balances in the urban mass of London. Nor should this be degraded as an ideological clash; morals form the basis of the struggle, and any compromise from the Premier League kingpins would hardly result in socialist uprising, rather a genuine demonstration of sincerity and humility for the husks from which they first emerged, with an acceptance of ethics paramount.
Ploughed forward in economic terms under its present guise by an influx of multinational conglomerates, opportunist investors and undoubtedly corrupt industries, the former domain of Britain’s systematically exclusive ageing white working male population has, projected upon itself, the direct influence of external finance. Half of Greater London’s twelve professional outfits remain British owned; Steve Parish’s majority at Crystal Palace, Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy’s reign at Tottenham, Messrs Gold and Sullivan’s prominent West Ham tenure, Matthew Benham’s Brentford buyout, the AFC Wimbledon’s Supporters’ Society and Anthony Kleanthous’ long-term Barnet control representing one end of the spectrum. Conversely, Russian, American, Belgian, Malaysian and Indian magnates dominate the divisions of Chelsea, Islington, Charlton and White City, defining a national precedent established by Roman Abramovich back in 2003. Each, regardless of their derivation of ownership, has profited from the capital’s 21st century construction boom – either in the process, having eased into new abodes, or planning modern stadia developments that have greatly benefited the lucrative London football scene, particularly alongside the ‘new’ Wembley of 2007. The Emirates, the Olympic Stadium and Barnet’s Hive Stadium have come to fruition; White Hart Lane’s revamp and Stamford Bridge’s modernisation are approaching fast; plans are afoot for the jettisoning of Griffin Park, Loftus Road, Kingsmeadow and Den sites – of Brentford, QPR, Wimbledon and Millwall respectively – for vaster expanses amidst varying respective concerns of sentiment, incapacity and external development pressure; where does the heritage of Selhurst Park or Craven Cottage, or Roland Duchâtelet’s stubborn reliance on Charlton’s Valley settle within this trend? Quite honestly, we cannot realistically anticipate their competition to sustainably withstand, if not for a capitalisation on the reconstruction and expense of local opponents at these stages.
Community presence remains such an enigmatic and influential impact on the local audience that it can be the ultimate test of acumen and resolve in the turbulent cityscape. Posed with stadia that had withstood world wars in Highbury, Upton Park, the original White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and Selhurst Park, the challenge to modernise and address the capacity concerns of a lucrative public has proven as constitutionally immobile and sacrificial as a space mission when manoeuvring the engulfing leviathan that is London. Reputation, resolved by these cultural implications, counts for much around these parts. Over eight million captive customers, potentially, from whom admittedly only 10% may be attainable footballing enthusiasts, are up for stakes in the challenge of North, East, South and West, with elite level football primed to usurp specific local performances and non-league outlets. Presentation of the idealised matchday image could certainly impact on your very future interpretation of the club, and no expenses are spared – and certainly should not be considering the exorbitance Arsenal fans, not alone by any means, have to foot for an Emirates season ticket. Luxurious football, service and all-round entertainment is prised, and little more can be achieved from the engaging public persona of these clubs – thus, slick modernisation is an obvious route to continued global, as opposed to merely local, relevance. Profitabilities from sponsorship deals, including those aforementioned, exceeds the moral cost for many chairmen of a betrayal of supporter trust, and can amalgamate achievements in a reciprocal, even synergetic, partnership. Progression, thus, is feasible if regulated in the correct processes.
Expanding capacities has enabled the direct monopoly of attractive Premier League football over London’s apparently pitiful alternative footballing platter. At one stage, during Wembley Stadium’s early-2000s reinvention and reconstruction, Stamford Bridge stood as the pinnacle of the city’s attendances; a mere 41,663 its relent, paling in comparison to Old Trafford’s burgeoning 75,000-seater aspirations, and even their 68,000 reality at the time. Evidently, the ambition that lay in the hub that played host to Arsène Wenger’s 2003-04 season ‘Invincibles’, a geographically diverse Chelsea side acquired by the mysterious Roman Abramovich in June 2003 and transformed into consecutive league victors from 2004 to 2006, and a Second Division Millwall outfit that upheld London’s pride in the 2004 FA Cup final, were harnessed to drive forward an ensuing seating revolution. Arsenal paved the way; forging a 60,432-capacity Emirates Stadium from the rubble of a much-beloved and regrettably-departed 38,419-seater Highbury, while shifting a mere 0.3 miles over the rails of the Northern City Line. As West Ham – from the Boleyn Ground’s 35,016 seats to an Olympic Stadium’s often-lamented 66,000 – Spurs – with works ongoing to increase the 36,284 infringed by infamous structural beams to a 61,000-behemoth reverted a few metres away – and Chelsea – with ambitions to implement a 60,000 feat of aesthetic engineering by the 2020-21 seasons – have pursued this trend, the population alone of the city’s sporting elite has, and will, alone nigh-on increase by 100,000 (151,382’s history leaping forward to 248,432). This is equal to the disparity between cities such as Huddersfield, and those comparable to Nottingham, which may not appear significant, but when ranking the Premier League’s total 35 occupant past and present conurbations, results in a distance of twelve positions, from 26th to 14th.
Meanwhile, further developments in the city’s outskirts promise to rival this expansion. West London’s Brentford, and the South West’s Wimbledon, each have upcoming constructions to increase respective capacities from 12,763 and a meagre 2.265 to 17,250 and 11,000 – with the latter potentially rising to 20,000. North London’s Barnet moved from their 106-year residence of Underhill Stadium the Hive Stadium in 2013, departing a 6,023-seater to a similarly constructed plot six miles across Edgeware, with ambitions to develop an 8,500-capacity courtesy of a renovated stand, while QPR – under the airline entrepreneur Tony Fernandes – retain as-yet deterred intentions to retire Loftus Road and effectively double attendances from 18,439 to 40,000. Ostracised to London’s leafy suburbs by the financially empowered elite, however, their objectives have been left unfulfilled, and, to protracted extents alongside callously managed entities Fulham and Charlton, have failed to capitalise on the fervour within the city’s volume. In a metropolis presently registered as the largest within the vast realms of the European Union, let alone the United Kingdom, and the third largest in Europe (after Moscow and Istanbul), 13.23% of the entire UK’s population resides – using precise figures, 8,778,500 of all 66,331,573 citizens – and a fairly equal 13.04% of all ’92 club’ constituents hail from its confines. Yet a minor alarm is sounded by the disparity between the 25% London representatives of the Premier League and the 9.72% of the remaining Football League.
It is no particular coincidence that those who survived the era of the Premier League prior to ‘parachute payments’ and fortune-spinning broadcast right deals have profited amidst the implementation of such cultural phenomena. Their sustained relevance has proved paramount to an expansion of business ambition, and not just in local or national vicinities. Broadcast to effectively each corner of the globe, their ability for recognition has developed exponentially, with regaling tales of the talents of cult heroes no longer relied upon for attention in the world’s most aloof regions; visible evidence is available at reasonably affordable prices for avid Thai, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian consumers, in particular. Alongside this public engagement arrives the interest of these regions’ most lucrative corporations, affirming the support of a particularly successful footballing enterprise, and creating a cultish social dynasty in previously unaccounted nations. And as London’s population cultivates steadily year upon year, which demographic is sustaining this growth? Who is so blessed with the capital as to be able to sustain a lifestyle in the notoriously inhospitable financial demands of London? Typically, overseas-derived investors, the socialite middle-classes and corporate executives; not exactly an indicative thesis of a football fan.
Manipulating this socio-economic inclination as for it to play directly into their investments’ hands, however, have been the directors of Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, West Ham, and to an extent relative Premier League novices Crystal Palace. How else would Ivan Gazidis and Stan Kroenke’s side be able to physically encourage ‘supporters’ to the Emirates for a season of inconsistent wallowing for upwards of a £1000 investment? Although they may be harnessing an influx of internal London migrants for match days from Barnet, Croydon, Bromley, Lambeth, Enfield or Ealing by expanding stadium capacities, their key economic focus remains on the commercial profitability of exclusive elites perched from the executive boxes, far away from the thriving concourses, over the tribulations of largely successful Premier League environs. As are the potential exploits of a city founded on heavy industry, but now almost exclusively reliant on online start-ups, globally-domineering finance sectors and sprawling tourism. The trepidations of heritages founded on suburban complexes candidly arise when compared to the economic successes of institutions derived from the manufacturing – West Ham – and armament – Arsenal – industries, and those who have shed previous interpretations to adapt to changing social times in the city. An inability to assert such perceptive and appealing exteriors has hindered the competitive fortunes even of those with an extensive top-flight pedigree, yet who err too far aside the city’s borders; Charlton’s eight Premier League seasons, QPR’s seven and the thieved history of Wimbledon’s fellow eight representing no recompense for exploits rendered apparently insignificant in comparison to the all-conquering financial rule of the top English tier.
This is without even mentioning further misfortune of the city’s extensive non-league entourage. Because accomplishment in the municipality is no longer reliant on local population, nor any distinguishable resonance of industry, their populations are meaningless aspects of summation. Traverse the National League ranks, and you find Sutton, Bromley, Wealdstone, Boreham Wood, Dagenham & Redbridge, Leyton Orient, Hampton & Richmond Borough, and Welling. Pursue this search further down the diverse rungs of the pyramid, and Dulwich Hamlet, Enfield, Harrow Borough, Metropolitan Police, Hendon, Kingstonian, Wingate & Finchley, Tooting & Mitcham and Greenwich Borough act as credence to the depths of sporting ability London possesses, and the application of inner-city tenacity in denying clubs perhaps representative of the scope of an entire county subdivision. While these outfits operate in the shadows of the nation’s footballing forefathers, and the doldrums of semi-professionalism, their plight is similar to the financial stagnation and commercial incapacity of Football League contemporaries, yet tinged with the greater disparities of incongruous wealth. The residue and dissolution of regional influence seldom feeds down to those at this level, and while representing a percentile of steps 1-11 constituent clubs (10.02%) that is statistically lower than the London’s English influence, questions over the reasonable extent of their constant compromise and deference to local kingpins arise as potentially pivotal to the entirety of the English non-league scene.
Sustaining power, and ensuring the facilities and attributes are in such place as to do so, is the key fixation of central London’s elite, and has encompassed aforementioned entities of engineering commission in trailblazing stadia, a definite intensification of commercial ties, and the rise and rise of the lucrative, ultra-professional youth academy. Harnessing the astounding ability honed on communal council estate facilities, concrete jungle street corners and local Primary school playgrounds, Chelsea and Spurs have been particularly noted for their achievements, both in the FA Youth Cup and Premier League 2, in recent years. An academy’s purpose and focus has entirely altered from the days of West Ham’s ‘academy of football’ – late ‘90s and early-‘00s Messrs Lampard Jr., Defoe, Ferdinand, Carrick, Cole, Johnson and Terry each now approaching, or having already resigned themselves to, retirement – and the capitalisation on this trend has been significant, even decisive, in the establishment of especially a three-team monopoly. England’s international youth squads, and resultantly Gareth Southgate’s recently ‘injury’-afflicted experimental selection, are predominated by these two, and possibly three clubs’ prodigies, for whom first-team prospects appear themselves polarised at clubs of altering opportunity under present ideological regimes. No longer can prospects fail to arise to their attention, and be convinced of the benefits and certification offered by courses in the intense environments of Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, Spurs’ Enfield Training Centre or Arsenal’s Colney base, before they become acquainted with the practices of semi-professional, or non-institutionalised, entities. So valued, regardless of eventual first-team appearance likelihood, are these youngsters that great fees will define even formative stages of their careers. Such are the costs that alienate non-league, suburban outfits from regional, let alone national, competition.
Posed with the potential benefit of a trailblazing academy in close proximity, however, certainly a logical repercussion would be realised in the direction of failed Premier League products into local entities. Unfortunately, little such transition has occurred, with a breakdown in communication and resonance particularly to blame. Even sides of the ilk of Bedfordshire’s Luton Town – 35 miles from London’s centre – are exploiting the repercussions of esteemed Premier League selectivity, with Pelly Ruddock, Dan Potts and brothers Olly and Elliot Lee – each former West Ham youth prodigies – and ex-Arsenal goalkeeper James Shea forming an impressive spine for the League Two Hatters currently, while West Sussex’s Crawley, Essex’s Colchester and some of Yorkshire’s leading establishments also supplementing local harvests. They are able to take an incisive advantage of London’s offcuts, while those within the region fail to replicate such trends, in spite of superior geographical proximity. Evidence of the empowerment of elite entities and alleviation of local ties amidst a commercialised, externally-aware age could rarely be so damning.
Market forces drove the aforementioned trend, encompassing profits for elite-level London chairmen, academy products themselves and respective agents. Financial consciousness lay at the centre of more geographically liberal negotiations, as predispositions of lifestyle have been compromised on amidst an era of heightened ambition, and expanded horizons. Historical rivalry between local clubs did not exist as the apparent begrudging relationship it is now defined as; dependability defined the close ties particularly between managers, chairmen and players alike in an industry far streamlined to what is presented today. Gone, however, are the days in which transfers were engineered on the basis of sincere comradeship, as media-fuelled rivalry – genuine or not – between the talented imports of Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsène Wenger asserts the financial antagonism of such leading clubs.
An ultimate social injustice – indicative of cultural revolution – in the city, however, is served by the absolute greed and financial manipulation of West Ham United in their callous, and calculated, manoeuvre towards idyllic Olympic Stadium occupation. Utilising pretences of cityscape enfranchisement, and exploiting the cavity presented by 2012 Olympic Games investment, legal collusion amongst the Hammers’ degrading bigwigs enabled a defiling of the taxpayer to the reported extent of hundreds of millions of pounds, when funds could have easily been devolved to less financially solvent, and dependable, entities who receive none of the economic certainty of practically assured Premier League football. In contributions to the E20 Stadium corporation-owned construction, West Ham’s essentially boundless fortunes amount to only £2.5 million annual lease fees, while the taxpayer is left to foot the bill of policing, stewarding, heating, pitch maintenance and the much-derided farce of corner flags and nets. No longer does financial, or social, accountability exist for the Premier League’s elite, with a scheme that fixated upon the public-funded support of Newham Council and London Legacy Development Corporation a damning example at the indicative forefront. Free reign, effectively, has been granted to their economic superiority in apparent public pursuit of symbiotic profit. Meanwhile, of little apparent consequence, the stagnating attendances, financial plight and burgeoning disparity of Football League and non-league institutions – in a largely geographically diverse cluster around the city’s parameters – is granted a mere cold shoulder in a systemic cultural alienation in spite of loyal service to the sport’s local profit.
Nor does this trend appear close to halting. Encompassing aforementioned stadium developments on the affluent border between Fulham and Chelsea, and in socially polarising North Tottenham, the expansion of totalitarian franchises is impending. The mere seven EFL-member entities that typify suburban London may soon diminish if construction projects are being deferred so often, and competitors can capitalise on the financial instability that belies extensive geographical potential. What the elite may do well to remember, however, is that a pyramid is not upheld by the summit; the dividing stages are those that maintain its structure, and thus profitability. It is by no means a socialist outcry, and no ideological opposition to upper-tier advantage; what London, akin to all metropoles and respective provinces, is equity in scope, and the structural capability to challenge constraints. The Premier League’s Londoners have not made a mere capitalist escape from equal circumstances as their close competitors; they have performed an excessive campaign of brutal reconstruction, geographical ignorance and, in extreme examples, legal infringement in order to totally expose a momentary lapse in the capabilities of rivals from Brent, Bromley, Barnet, Dagenham, Ealing, the White City and the Isle of Dogs. Parity can hardly be anticipated in succession, and whether the ensuing events of the professionalised, and particularly Premier League, era can be construed as positive entirely depends on perspective, and sympathy for those undermined by its turmoil. As was once famously remarked about the city by Oscar Wilde, and as if to inadvertently condone such callous expense; ‘The man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world.’ For all those who remain apathetic to the situation, there are those who will defend the concerns of those belittled by its structure. As such, I shall leave the final word to the late actor and playwright Sir Noël Coward; ‘I don’t know what London’s coming to – the higher the buildings the lower the morals.’
Hostile interpretations depict them as obtrusive and inherently privileged blemishes on the diverse landscape of senior domestic competition. Pragmatic, and broadly optimistic, reactions view their presence as a pivotal intervention in a regressive and detrimental league structure.
The former opt to form their argument on the conservative foundation of financial concern, atmospheric sacrifices and the apparent gross misuse of league, or in some cases cup, berths in order to fulfil the ultimate ambitions of well-established institutions, thus hindering the ability of local teams to progress through the ranks; the latter remonstrate with the ammunition of previous practical implications – in the most evident examples, the World Cup’s prior two victors, admittedly to diverging extents – and the increasingly inhibiting environment posed to local youth products, as high-cost imports dominate many highly developed league economies.
As per my article on the EFL Trophy and the presence of under-23 academies within its evidently uninspired realms over a year ago now, my opinion has remained resolute in the favour of their instilment within British footballing culture, however idealistic and improbable the resonance of such rhetoric presently appears in English environs; even averse, to date, to the implementation of in-match VAR systems. The arguments are well-rehearsed and economically exhausted, even in the regions of the policy’s broader embracement, and require little further surmising, either in the sensationalised mass media market or concentrated diatribe of independent opinion sources – objective or otherwise. Regardless of these comprehensions of what is often viewed as a direct decree of national association policy, the stagnating value of such subordinate, youth-focused, entities in Spain, Germany and the United States – both in respects of performance and development output – poses an alarming fixation to national governments; how can their fundamental ethical status be reenergised and harnessed for the benefit of all stages of the federal game, from club, to league, to national team?
As international representatives traverse the continent, and, in some cases, circumnavigate a considerable expanse of the globe, and domestic coaches fixate their attention on ensuring the retention of fitness amongst those left behind prior to financially lucrative upcoming matches, the circumstance for reserve sides, and outfits supplementary to globally-renowned professional senior sides, is unfortunate. Diminished even in the event of their superiors’ absence, the eventual ambition of encompassing the roles of notable alumni Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Gerard Piqué, Víctor Valdés, Carles Puyol, Cesc Fàbregas, Dani Carvajal and Nacho Fernández provides the requisite motivational sustenance to persist through this trial of mental, in addition to physiological, aptitude. Comprising a diaspora as diverse in geography as 15 of all 17 regional provinces in the Spanish state alone, in the form of 60 individual male ‘reserve’ entities, the ‘B’ side trend requires no further elaboration or exploration in the Western Mediterranean. Nor is Germany’s fervour for a structurally progressive youth outfit in question, as 19 complementary sides compete in the professional ranks of the 3. Liga (Werder Bremen II) or the various fourth-tier Regionalliga (featuring constituents as diverse as Hamburg, Berlin, Dortmund, Köln, Mainz, Nürnberg, Munich and Hoffenheim) to reasonable degrees of current achievement. Yet these trends defer to preceding statistics. Three ‘B’ clubs – Xerez Club Deportivo B, Unión Deportiva Salamanca B and Lorca Deportiva Club de Fútbol B – have each been liquidated in the previous eight years, either due to the dissolution, or relegation from professional national ranks, of senior entities, while the repercussion in Deutschland of a 2013-14 Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFB) relaxation of reserve team regulations, enabling Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga sides not to persevere with subordinates by constitution, led to the severing of under-23 ties by 12 sides; among them the Bundesliga’s Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, and familiar 2. Bundesliga faces including Dynamo Dresden, FC Union Berlin and VfL Bochum. Fundamentally, this should act a pressing constitutional concern for both associations – the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF), and DFB – as it perhaps signifies the forbearer to the ambition’s practical demise, especially in nations for whom the wealth available, for a select elite, from continental competition and lucrative sponsorships enables a mass mobilisation of funds into internal or external imports, while the disparity of wealth gapes ever wider with lower regions of competition.
Profitability is an obvious arising concern, both for clubs and leagues. Considering the status of such feeder clubs as subordinates, devoid of the individual or localised heritage, and thus the inherent fan base, of opposing senior establishments, the inevitable lack of financial profit margin available when both hosting league matches and travelling, alongside an insignificant few supporters, appears a constitutional flaw to their foundation. Impracticality, then, could be an evident, but blunt, derision of their engineering. The gradual disillusionment of officials within the fertile realms of the policy’s instillation, thus compiling fans’ existing frustrations, is surely a damning indictment of its accomplishment for club progress, regardless of the benefits for national team exploits, considering the vast majority of players’ heritage at a dominant few clubs.
Yet supressing the production of home-grown alumni is fast becoming an equal trepidation for governing bodies. If quantifying coaching production as a season’s tutelage, Real Madrid currently employ just eight academy graduates – well-established figures including Dani Carvajal, Nacho, Kiko Casilla and Lucas Vázquez, and the as-yet unheralded Borja Mayoral, Marcos Llorente, Luca Zidane and Achraf Hakimi – even in Zinedine Zidane’s youth-professing tenure, while the famed La Masia youth philosophy of FC Barcelona boasts one fewer exponent; Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Rafinha, Gerard Deulofeu and Sergi Roberto the present representatives of Johan Cruyff’s originally espoused values. Correspondingly, Bayern Munich retain a mere duo of senior representatives – Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels – from prior academies, although do resolve to fulfil squad requirements with five teenagers, including Mario Götze’s brother Felix, as-yet unacquainted with senior game time, while Borussia Dortmund reel off seven names, including Nuri Şahin, the aforementioned Götze, Marco Reus, Erik Durm, Jacob Bruun Larsen, Junior Flores and Marcel Schmelzer, from the line of production from what is often respected as Germany’s most loyally-supported reserve side. David Wagner and Daniel Farke, the two previous Dortmund II coaches, represent two of Germany’s most proficient recent managerial exports, and have played pivotal roles in the development of a number of future DFB players in international competition, truly defining the coherent vision and contingency of the German symbiotic domestic and international structure. Yet this is being threatened by the unfulfilling relationship a diverse diaspora of other club officials hold, and resent the policy for.
In contradiction to my opening statement, then, every inspection of senior-affiliated reserves may appear to offer tangible resonance over their induction in alternative landscapes, whether in the conceited English microcosm or those otherwise more detached. Inherent questions are posed as to why stagnation has occurred – courtesy of the policy’s redundancy, inclement environments for implementation, or an extent of both – and these forms of enquiry expose a potential fall from grace, certainly in the preceding context of Zinedine Zidane, Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique’s managerial influence. Easily comparable with the Butler model – that taught to GCSE Geography students in the measurement of tourism profitability – these subsidiary sides have direct influence on whether rejuvenation or ruin looms ahead.
What remains the fundamental issue for their existence, in objective terms, is whether they are so institutionalised that, when posed with challenges to their existence, their perennial resort is to the incestuous ties of their heritage, as opposed to a liberal view of future external influence. Can they break with tradition in the nigh-on unprecedented circumstance of failure, or, in keeping with recent trends elsewhere, adapt by replicating the practices, both financially and performance-wise, of their upwardly mobile contemporaries? Evidently, alternating accepted systemic norms at such a stage of development appears a quizzical move, but if ingrained and interwoven in the culture of their nation’s lower stages of professional football, is this an option they should be prepared to take as preferably devolved, if not entirely independent, entities? Aside from financial concerns, should greater influence be transferred from specialists espousing the value of these unique and youth-professing clubs? Such are the systemic concerns of the policy’s execution, that these drastic measures are highly relevant, with the potential response to be enacted as soon as practically possible to release the overriding malaise in these ranks.
What this would realistically entail, however, is another matter. Reframing the control of coaching vision, first-team progress and the dictation of transfer policy, as opposed to the diktat of senior officials; the potential for ‘B’, and even ‘C’ sides as Sevilla, Villarreal and Real Sociedad boast, far exceeds their present constraints. Rather than acting merely as platforms for hopeful elevation – both in managerial and playing respects – would a further degree of autonomy be garnered by the means of sterner professionalism, and consideration of short-term pragmatism, as opposed to utilising an idealised future image as their employees’ sole means of motivation? This wouldn’t require a complete severing of ties – after all, their entire intention is to provide the substance of senior squads in La Liga, the Bundesliga and potentially international echelons – yet forging a clear identity from the manacles, that while encouraging their prosperity, do little to enable their existential progress, is becoming a pressing concern for their relevant survival.
Such concern is not undue. Following Zidane’s premature promotion to senior responsibilities, Real Madrid Castilla presently find themselves mired in the Segunda División B –Spain’s third tier, where 17 of 80 sides across four groups are subsidiary outfits – whereas the Segunda División’s only reserve influence is maintained by Barcelona B and Sevilla Atlético. Complementing aforementioned German regression, this fact, the dire straits of American reserve ‘soccer’ – albeit in its infancy – with all four Western Conference USL (United Soccer League, the division below the MLS) ‘II’ sides occupying positions 12-15 (of a total of 15) and Toronto FC II 15th in the Eastern Conference, and the status of only seven Norwegian Premier Division’s reserve sides in the third tier, or Second Division, assert little other than a lack of aspiration, or attainment. Yet context is required. No reserve side in Norwegian football can, by constitution, play higher than the Second Division, and only six group victories – Brann, group 4 1991, Rosenborg, group 5 ’91 and ’96, and group 7 ’98, Lillestrøm, group 1 ’92 and Viking, group 3 ‘05 – have occurred in the history of the league, while in America no reserve side can play above the USL, with the ideal example demonstrated by New York Red Bulls II just last season, when returning as division victors, only to readjust this season to a position as the only ‘II’ side not to be at the foot of their conference – 7th in the East.
Tradition reverts in American confines, however. Bethlehem Steel FC, Swope Park Rangers and Real Monarchs exist as fellow MLS-owned satellite clubs, representing Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake’s respective interests, while the vast majority – 22 of the USL’s total 30 institutions – are physically affiliated, to some degree, with MLS elders. These links are largely the repercussion of relegation, or financial insolvencies, within original feeder clubs – including Wilmington Hammerheads, Arizona United, Harrisburg City Islanders and FC Montreal – and represent transfer links to the extent of a rough average of four potentially prodigious products every season, very few of whom amount to first-team MLS elevation. The status of overt, reasonably long-established ‘II’ sides – Seattle Sounders, Toronto, New York Red Bulls, LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps – and Orlando City B presents little of the idealistic vision of a platform for home-grown players beyond age-group football, as the disconnect between these institutions and the local vicinity’s hopefully bountiful talents, without mentioning the lack of evident potential progress, is tangible. A contextually paltry 59.85%, or 79 of 132, players presently registered at these clubs are merely from the nation of their employers’ distinction, and though a significant degree of the remaining proportion may be consumed by American and Canadian players criss-crossing the border, each side had a repatriated non-North American; of note, the Whitecaps three New Zealanders, the Sounders two Cameroonians, the Timbers a Somalian and Sierra Leonean, Galaxy another two Cameroonians, Orlando (coached by Tony Pulis’ son, Anthony) two Brazilians and three Englishmen, and the Red Bulls a Swiss and Frenchman. The ramifications of this flouting go beyond even the extensive capital resources available to Catalan, Madrilenian and Sevillian institutions, with Barcelona B, Madrid Castilla, Atlético Madrid B and Sevilla Atlético presently posting an overseas-derived technicality of 21 of 100 youngsters on their catalogues, while Luca Zidane only qualifies as French in this study courtesy of his father’s international exploits.
Thus, alternative interpretations of the policy have, quite evidently, emerged in the global reserve infiltration of senior ranks. Derivation from an undefined original vision is perhaps the inevitable consequence of alternating socio-economic and geopolitical circumstance; the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Portugal each enable reserve sides in their professional divisions, with outlets performing to accomplished standards in the 2000’s Czech third tiers - Česká and Moravskoslezská fotbalová liga’s – and modest, broadly mid-table achievement in both post-dissolution Slovak, and Portuguese, second stages; the 2. Liga and LigaPro. Despite prior title-winning accomplishments at that level, again regulation renders these outfits ineligible from elite-tier competition. For all of the potential benefits of senior competition to these young players, and the constant espousal of contingency – or forging of cohesive team units – as an advantageous aspect of coaching tutelage, can it ever be correct to bar these sides from elite level competition? Can it, in fact, be detrimental to their development to suffer such disenchantments, and blatant absences of dutiful reward for their seasons’ physical and mental sacrifices, after they have strived so hard as a unit to deliver silverware? The accusation certainly could be footed at internationally underperforming associations, though they may retort with a statement elaborating on the potential embarrassment the promotion of a reserve side may signal to external observers, and the subsequent monopoly of a particular side in domestic influence, as detrimental to standards of competition. If blessed with talented and progressive youth establishments, however, why suppress them; why dampen their spirits; why deny them their merited recompense? If they have proven themselves superior to the competition of alternative senior outfits around them, that has to be remarked as a sufficient indictment of the quality of your domestic establishment, in which case your ambitions of Champions League or international influence are significantly scarce.
Ensuring the deliverance of such cultural reform, however, would require immense resolve to subdue the will of aggrieved and opposing senior clubs – perhaps only an ability empowered by cultural transition. Convince subjects of the fundamental resonance of youth-fixated reserve teams on senior competition, and to an extent only capacitated by their ambition, and the vacuum may appear for a pivotal role in progressive international application. These are not merely the boarding schools and playgrounds of future pampered idols, but a broad-church in each circumstance of players that, if applying to recent trends, will broadly resort to irrelevant lower depths of professionalism, and could in rare examples progress to continentally, and globally-achieving accomplishment. Fail to do so, and what hope can remain for the rejuvenation of domestic, or national governing body, structures?
Feeder, or farm, teams have long been a feature of elite level competition, and are practically inherent of the brutal capitalism of the football industry; prising the apparent cream of talent away from financially modest institutions and thrusting them into a single attempt at surviving the perils of fame. As clinical scouting procedures have tightened, wages have developed exponentially and transfer fees have similarly bloated out of all rational extortion, so have the performance levels expected from recommended signatures. Autonomy is the divisive feature of all reserve satellite clubs, and its scopes are conclusive.
Arguably, however, the existing framework of examples is insufficient while analysing the potential in these arrangements. Experimentation within the premise is rare, and, when relating to ultimate intentions of player development, the candour of sides who operate in such a manner is commendable, but the trajectory must change. No longer should they be deemed the novelties of their nation’s league system; they require much greater respect if they are to realise their potential.
Perhaps bowing to broader trends is the inevitable repercussion of an institutionalised reputation, and perhaps B teams will never grasp the autonomy they could demand. Prodigies will be identified and elevated swiftly, and ‘late bloomers’ may be left to stagnate with disillusion. Patience is a virtue seldom heeded in modern footballing circles, and is directly applicable to these institutions, as opposed to their seniors, considering the differing circumstances that may apply to particular youths. In an age as equally revolved around the psychological aspects of any player’s career, as the physiological, you would suspect that this consideration would become a bastion of all reserve establishments’ philosophy. Germany’s system shares the most obvious similarities with this concept currently, and arguably presents the finest democratic balance of opponents’ concerns – clamping down on the use of over-23s, such as recuperating first-teamers, in 2014 – and empathy to withstand criticism and guard the very presence of the sides, certainly amidst serious controversy. As for playing success, meanwhile, there has been little since the decree.
An all-encompassing examination of an existence often mired in regulation, constitutional duty and external resentment, altogether, is challenging to apply to the vast spectrum of interpretations demonstrated of the modern ‘B’ side; Spain, Germany, Norway, the former Czechoslovakia, Portugal and the USA posing a comprehensive variance in geopolitical and cultural circumstance. Grappling with the concept, resultantly, remains an ideological conflict of interest, and only in lower tiers of lower historical quality does the policy evidently appear to deliver reward. As economic empowerment filters down to these subordinate stages of multinational professionalism, the strain on La Liga, Bundesliga, Eliteserien, Czech First League, Slovak Super Liga, Primeira Liga and MLS outfits – depending on the degree of devolution they profess – increases, largely, and ironically, as a result of their own monopoly on domestic capital. Thus, their value of local youth is being tested in an era equally as challenging for sustained success on national and continental senior stages. Perhaps while engineering the direction of talented provincial youngsters, it is only reasonable to expect fluctuations in season-by-season, and even decade-defining, quality; especially when prising the talismanic forerunners of such formative teams away from their environments of prior comfort. Oscillating region-specific socio-economic circumstances may hinder the realisation of particular generational ambitions, and that is something that has to be begrudged. Whether current malaise is merely a regrettable phase of indiscretion, however, remains open to potentially merciless judgement, and I sincerely doubt operations can continue in profitability if managed with the present resonance of apathy.
In a landscape where a Sevilla Atlético, and former Barcelona B, goalkeeper in Fabrice Ondoa can assume a defined role as Cameroon’s first-choice goalkeeper, and run out victorious in an African Cup of Nations campaign, while Jean Marie Dongou – Barcelona B’s long-touted former striker, and fellow Cameroonian – can face a demise to the extent of a current role at the Segunda División’s mid-table Gimnàstic de Tarragona, and with no national team caps at the age of 22, few pre-emptive assumptions are consistent. The coaching process at this level is applicable, truly, only to a certain psychological breed of player, and has witnessed many regrettable prior examples of career stagnation. Divisive, they will remain, yet if willing to compromise and adapt, when run by all-encompassing dictatorial entities, B sides may be able to alleviate the festering inconsistencies of their existence. Victims of their subordination, they shouldn’t have to be. Yet nor do they have to adopt the artificial exterior of American contemporaries, resorting to vague attempts of sincerity to convince susceptible publics of their independent provincial loyalties. The modern B team is not merely a farm, or production line, and does not serve one entity – its seniors. It is not a vessel for exploitation, and should not be isolated in the event of fortune changes, or regulation manipulations. Their relationship should be reciprocal, and not solely in respects of the financial support exchanged for a steady flow of prodigies senior sides currently expect; respect of autonomy should be regarded as systemic. Though this is a callous generalisation of the policy’s implementation, the extremity of its demise demands addressing, and the apathy for these reserves’ fortunes is systemic, largely both in the regions of their existence and externally, in territories potentially untouched by the policy. Ultimately, whether rational resolution is enacted, or not, will prove the true testament to the value of these establishments, bearing the face of acutely financially-conscious senior institutions and dictating the policy’s future tenability in alternative environs. Let the games begin.
The scene is set in 2004; on 15th May and within the confines of FIFA’s taciturn Zürich headquarters, to be exact. Nervously awaiting the voting delegates’ influence on a pioneering African-hosted World Cup roughly six years hence, you can imagine, were Egyptian, Moroccan and South African representatives and activists – having witnessed Nigerian and joint-Tunisian and Libyan bids collapse a respective eight months and week earlier. Four years prior, and before any regulations were imposed on the terms served between hosting applications, the South Africans had run footballing powerhouse Germany one vote – that of the abstaining Scottish-born New Zealand official Charlie Dempsey, who cited unrelenting pressure and “an attempt to bribe” from both delegations in the days preceding – close to 2006 hosting rights; they, alongside the CAF-reliant Sepp Blatter, would ensure such displeasure never permeated again. Thus, what later unfolded as the sole circumstance of individual continent application would be exploited in the Southern Hemisphere-state’s favour.
Only overtly revealed five years subsequent to the nation’s idiosyncratic, and occasionally calamitous, accommodation of the globe’s most widely-viewed sporting tournament, and a decade after voting campaigns, however, was quite the extent of bribery and depravity to Swiss-based events, and the preceding stages of hosting applications. Alleging a mere $10 million of persuasive payments to then-FIFA Vice President and CONCACAF President Jack Warner, through the transfer of General Secretary Jérôme Valcke from Danny Jordaan – South African Football Association (SAFA) President – with the apparent intention of aiding developments in Caribbean football, 2015 FBI and Swiss Prosecuting investigations revealed that $1.6 million had found its way into Warner’s personal loan and credit card accounts, $360,000 filtered through to the Trinidadian’s associates, and Warner’s national supermarket chain JTA Supermarkets profited to the extent of $4,860,000. Yet, the Daily Telegraph reported, still Morocco won a ballot that officially was recorded as South Africa’s 14-10-0 defeat of North African opponents boasting superior Africa Cup of Nations, World Cup, CAF Champions League and Club World Cup achievements; Egypt with seven Cup of Nations victories, three World Cup qualifications – including the first of any African nation – 14 Champions League titles and Al-Ahly’s 2006 Club World Cup third-place appearance, while Morocco rival with a respective single victory, four qualifications, five titles and Raja Casablanca’s Club World Cup runners-up 2013 appearance on home soil, while coincidentally the two nations reconvened their rivalry this Saturday in the second leg of this year’s CAF Champions League final between Al-Ahly and Wydad Casablanca, won by the latter.
For a vast state at the cultural and economic forefronts – on current statistics, the ninth most expansive territory, fifth most populous nation and third most productive economy – of a drastically polarised continent, and with the wholly illegitimate patronage of Blatter’s vilifying administration having granted them the responsibility presumably of economically elevating global attention, why have South Africa failed to harness the inherent resources available to them? Their World Cup – Africa’s unifying initial tournament – existed as the first in my transfixed viewing experience, and will forever be cherished in my memory as the four weeks of England’s regression, Frank Lampard’s erroneously disallowed amendment, Germany’s clinical creativity, France’s internal revolt, Italy’s title-defending implosion, Ghana’s criminal misfortune against the scandalous Uruguay, Brazil’s stagnation, Mexico’s promise, Diego Maradona’s eccentric Argentine management, the Netherlands’ endearing defiance of stature and, ultimately, Spain’s tactical primacy and unprecedented global realisation. An inability to establish a national, and even continental, precedent from this achievement – albeit ephemerally blighted by the drone of vuvuzelas – is not solely attributable to the endemic corruption of the state’s momentarily-lauded federation; although the purely coincidental alignment of the aforementioned Jordaan’s embroilment in rape accusations, while still SAFA chief, serves little opposition as a condemning testament.
Failing to maintain the momentum, and much-touted social ‘legacy’, envisioned in World Cup bequeathal is little short of a scandalous disservice to the predominantly ethnically indigenous societal demographic – existing in a state near poverty, and in symbolically supressed disadvantage – that promised sporting empowerment courtesy of the high-profile accomplishments of Siphiwe Tshabalala, Aaron Mokoena, Katlego Mphela, Bongani Khumalo, Itumeleng Khune and who became my innocence-inspired favoured figure, partly for his prowess in Nintendo DS incarnations of the FIFA franchise, striker Bernard Parker. Regardless of the present political vitriol that defines the nation, and the racial conflict that remains despite the influence of the visionary, yet successively betrayed, Nelson Mandela, youths descending from urban townships should not have been defrauded from potential future employment and empowerment by the state, nor footballing federation, and could well have found social salvation had the repercussions of World Cup hosting, regardless of corruption, been realised as financially lucrative, societally unifying and ideologically progressive, as opposed to worthwhile only to enhance political preference or irrelevant to a glaring discrepancy of black inner-city unemployment. Will President Jacob Zuma, subsequent Ministers for Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula and Thembelani Nxesi, and Danny Jordaan, alongside then-Minister Makhenkesi Stofile, have it apathetically, even callously, defined as the least productive ‘legacy’ in World Cup history, while a national team – an institution that could have experienced the cultural influence of maturing talents inspired by the tournament – presently threaten to fail in their second successive World Cup qualifying campaign? In more comprehensive respects; have they proven themselves, and the South African constitution, totally amoral in the circumstances of social emancipation? The ambition of Mandela – whose final public appearance, rather poignantly, was at the Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium for a prestigious final, two decades hence from his first post-prison release speech, at the same site, in 1990 – in both sporting and societal inspiration, is the victim of this circumstance, with the constitutional betrayal of ethics an explicit disgrace to his universal credibility.
Colonial history, including a left-hand traffic law, is evident in all pre-eminent facets of South African culture, yet to define an evident post-apartheid identity – unlike many nations on the continent, all of which have a proportionally smaller European population – is less obvious. Clarifying just how drastic the circumstance is, 4,602,000, or 8.7%, of all South Africans are defined as white, while the next closest states in sheer proportion are the formerly Portuguese outpost of Angola, with 220,000 European descendants representing 1.1% of the nation’s demography, and the previously German/Dutch-settled Namibia, where 154,000 (8%) of inhabitants are of the same broad identity. Implementing this subconscious factor into the realisation of achievement particularly in the organisation of global events in Africa, and you begin to discover the systemic favour of South Africa – presumed as a politically stable and less socially volatile base purely for its vast white, typically middle-class and influential, population – in the distribution of the three most lucrative events the continent has ever witnessed; the 1995 Rugby Union World Cup, the 2003 Cricket World Cup, albeit with three of 15 host cities in Zimbabwe and Kenya, and the aforementioned 2010 World Cup. Additionally, the 2022 Commonwealth Games would have arrived in Durban, the most prominent municipality on the Republiek van Suid-Afrika’s Indian Ocean shoreline, had revelations of financial mismanagement and a wider incapacity for hosting the competition not arisen, further condemning the decree of predominantly privileged European administrators as, at least subconsciously, demographically motivated.
This culture is shared in playing circumstances, or at least was to glaring extents prior to long-overdue institutional reforms. Francois Pienaar led a Springbok squad to famous victory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, yet that group featured only one black member – winger Chester Williams, who even later revealed a culture of casual racism and abuse in the changing room – and only two selectees in the 2003 Cricket World Cup squad were of native descent, in fast bowlers Makhaya Ntini and Monde Zondeki. To fully comprehend why a sustainable proportion of black supporters remained behind these nationally representative teams in a disgraced white fallout from the expulsion of apartheid requires careful consideration. Mandela, such an inspirational figurehead was he, that when his presence was recognised at the 1995 Rugby final, his initiative directed him towards Pienaar at the victorious final whistle, with iconic images taken from the day demonstrating the genuine belief of the then-President in societal reform, with sport as a unifying and prominent aspect of South African culture. His most loyal regions of ideological support would have adopted this opinion, regardless of what, behind the delirium of victory, was evidently an almost total racial discrepancy.
While concerns still remain today, exemplified by the gradual and fairly moderate change in the decade since the Springboks’ second Rugby World Cup victory – in which two non-white players in Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen featured – having employed their first non-white head coach in Peter de Villiers, yet still demonstrating an illusory typical dominance, around 25 of a squad of 40, of white players, progress has been enacted. It took until 2016 for the Proteas, or national cricket side, to alter its selection policy by enforcing requirements of an average minimum of six Black, and at least two Black African, players in each touring season, confounding reluctance that belied the status of Kagiso Rabada as arguably their outstanding prodigious talent of the past three years, Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander as their most consistent batsman and bowler, respectively, of the past half-decade and the upcoming contingent of Andile Phehlukwayo and Lungi Ngidi, under the guidance of newly-appointed head coach and former West Indies Test bowler Ottis Gibson, the first black coach the side has ever had.
Football is the accessible, working-class anomaly to this rule. Never the reserve of the middle-class, factory-managing white population, for whom the sport was an undignified alternative to the more exclusive, fraternised rugby and cricket, arguably the most prominent national icons of the sport are Benni McCarthy, Steven Pienaar, Lucas Radebe, Shaun Bartlett and Quinton Fortune – each ethnically black products of urban metropoles and their academies. As opposed to the Springbok – still a contentious image for its ties to the apartheid era – and unifying Protea as an image of peace, the nation’s footballers operate under the guise of Bafana Bafana, a Zulu phrase literally meaning “The boys, the boys”, while only three – former Oldham midfielder Dean Furman, goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands and striker Bradley Grobler – white players, or 12% of the 25-man squad, represent the side currently, thus defining the institution as perhaps a single accurately representative aspect of South African sport.
This squad, however, is struggling. Languishing last in CAF World Cup 2018 Qualifying Group D proceedings currently, while approaching a decisive final window, Bafana Bafana’s game in hand counts for nothing against geographically incomparable usurpers Cape Verde and Burkina Faso, as they face as-yet undefeated group leaders Senegal home and away in the space of five days, courtesy of the annulment of a 2-1 victory in November 2016 after Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey was banned for life for match manipulation in awarding a penalty for fictional handball against Kalidou Koulibaly of the Lions of Teranga. Only two members of what could have been reasonably construed as 2010’s ‘golden generation’ – Khune and Tshabalala – remain, and as the two most senior representatives their joint 174 caps equate to 30.42% of the entire current squad’s senior international experience – yet have failed to recapture the unifying inspiration of a 1-1 opening draw with Mexico and opportunistic 2-1 disposal of a severely-weakened and ten-man French outfit seven years ago. Of a squad that was coached, in two instances between 2007 and 2010, by the Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira – in the final managerial position of a 43-year career that encompassed 20 prior World Cup matches with Kuwait, the UAE, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, including a victorious 1994 campaign with the nation of his birth – and relied upon the definitive national forces of Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, however, much has since changed.
Despite the treble of consecutive South African Premier Division titles garnered by fellow Johannesburg outfit Supersport United in the era preceding the nation’s winter hosting of the globe’s elite talent, the production of thrice-group-stage-capped midfielders Tshabalala and Teko Modise, in addition to the supporting cast of Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Lucas Thwala, Khune and his goalkeeping injury replacement Moeneeb Josephs was, poignantly, creditable to the Chiefs and Pirates. Only one United player – future perpetually loaned-out Tottenham Hotspur defender Bongani Khumalo – earned Parreira’s selection in 2010, and only after Supersport manager Gavin Hunt’s departure in 2013 did the national team garner greater United representation; presently with five representatives in striker Grobler, midfielder Furman, defenders Morgan Gould and Clayton Daniels and goalkeeper ‘keeper Ronwen Williams, compared to the side Hunt – while equalling a Premier Division managerial record with his fourth title – led to 2016-17 glory in Bidvest Wits, who boast only a couple of national figures in defenders Thulani Hlatshwayo and Sifiso Hlanti.
Disfigured and fragmented from their 2010 vision, the nation, however, evidently harnesses none of the title-winning exploits of Hunt, nor Pitso Mosimane’s 2013-14 and 2015-16 champions, and 2016 CAF Champions League victors Mamelodi Sundowns – the seven-time, again Johannesburg-derived, domestic frontrunners. Rather, the SAFA establishment appears to exist more as a detriment to the domestic platform and a hindrance to managerial aptitudes including Mosimane – assistant manager in 2010, and charged with reenergising Bafana Bafana following Parreira’s departure, yet toppled two years later amidst a misinterpretation of qualifying rules for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and seven consecutive draws. The team’s first European-descended South African coach since the mid-1990s AFCON-winning success of Clive Barker, Gordon Igesund – for whom 2014 World Cup qualification, at least at the second of three rounds, appeared an undaunting prospect when posed with a group containing Ethiopia, Botswana and the Central African Republic – fared little better, succumbing to an embarrassing and mildly calamitous 2-1 defeat in their final group match; a visit to Addis Ababa that featured a Bernard Parker own goal and later accusations of ineligibility on the part of one of Ethiopia’s players, only to be rejected by FIFA, and for Nigeria to defeat the North Africans in a play-off third round.
Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba, previously Bafana Bafana’s controversy-embroiled coach from 2002 to 2004, was elevated from a national under-17 position on the expiration of Igesund’s contract in June 2014, yet persevered with the divisive autocracy that beckoned his earlier demise, to a tenure of only a year’s further prolongation. Having refused to select stalwarts, including Radebe, McCarthy, Fortune, Hans Vonk and Mark Fish, of a 2002 World Cup campaign in which a failure to escape the group stage was only accountable to a deficiency in goals scored to Paraguay, in his former occupation of the role, Mashaba only further aggrieved the SAFA hierarchy and in December 2016 befell “gross misconduct”, ‘insubordination’ and a ‘violation of communication policies’ in the fallout of the aforementioned 2-1 victory against Senegal while engaging in a verbal altercation with SAFA chief executive Dennis Mumble and insulting the media; compounding group stage exits and qualification failure in consecutive AFCON campaigns and callous treatment of overseas-based players.
Employing the physical embodiment of journeyman status in Stuart Baxter – the Wolverhampton-born, Scottish-derived and self-proclaimed “European” who represented an Australian XI, despite lacking citizenship during his playing career with South Melbourne FC – in his second tenure after brief 2004-05 occupation, the institution has since entered a perilous state, with 2-1 defeats both home and away to Cape Verde jeopardising their campaign. Bookending these frustrations, 2-0 and 3-1 victories over Nigeria and Burkina Faso respectively, in both AFCON 2019 and World Cup 2018 qualifying, elevated national fervour, yet the deliverance of either ambition or near-resigned failure rests on Senegalese summits. Regardless, the nine playing destinations, fourteen managerial occupations and eleven constituent FIFA nations – ranging from Japan to Australia, Portugal to the USA, Sweden to Turkey and Norway to Finland – comprised by Baxter’s 44-year professional footballing career offer little assurance over the longevity or contingency of a South African establishment that, quite evidently, is able to achieve on the continental domestic stage.
Yet the plight of South African associations is far from solely attributable to a perceived sacking culture, arguably inevitable courtesy of the political instability and vitriol of African society. Examining the aptitude of 26 managerial tenures – albeit including seven interim roles – and 17 different individuals from eight distinct nations in their 25-year post-apartheid establishment, and thus averaging a managerial overhaul every 351 days, the SAFA fares reasonably well in comparison, from an equal era, to the top-ten-ranked nations in the African continent currently; a record superior to Nigeria (326 days) and Ghana (304), and not far short of Morocco (435), the Ivory Coast (also 435) and Burkina Faso (481), though distant of the continuity espoused in Tunisia (537), Egypt (also 537), Democratic Republic of the Congo (652) and Senegal (a mighty 913, in some cases superior to European stability).
Accusations of physiological disadvantage, considering the institutionalised concentration of traditionally middle-class, white sporting prowess into cricket and rugby union, bear little credibility, either, when likened to Gordon Strachan’s identification of the lack of physical height available in Scottish representative structures when competing with set-piece-reliant Slovenian, Slovakian and Lithuanian outfits. The issue is much more expansive and deep-rooted in respects of a reprehensible SAFA constitution. Fulfilment of Parreira’s post-retirement vision, laid out in official SAFA contracts, for the socio-economically polarised state has been far from evident in the subsequent seven years. Arguing that preoccupation with the evidently continued pursuit of sackings and appointments of either establishment-favoured or domestically-inspiring managers has engulfed the time and financial resources available to deliver visions of investment in grassroots regions of the sport – enabling the system to develop from the lowest stages, upwards – is a blatant admission of mislaid and distorted vision in the establishment. If unable to access the evident domestic ability of Johannesburg – the seat of all but two Premier Division season victories in the league’s 20-year history, with 1996-97’s Manning Rangers, of Durban, and 2001-02’s Santos, of Cape Town, the exceptions – Danny Jordaan’s devolved administration requires extensive rehabilitation in its ambition of operation. Proven corruption, and now accused rape, have been lodged against the president, yet no action has been taken to alleviate an institution of their tyrannical kingpin, thus proving the ultimate testament to the extent of corruption, or even the lack of alternative hope or vision, within the SAFA’s realms.
Yet it would require considerable cultural reform – far beyond the capabilities of any societal subsect as corrupt as South Africa’s directorial class – to deliver parity for those captivated by 2010’s majesty. Artificially regulated as it may have appeared to satisfied SAFA, CAF and FIFA officials at the time, considering the visionary, and lucrative, appointment of a former World Cup-winning manager, Sepp Blatter’s evidently corrupt deliverance on continental promises and the Swiss’ presidential security respectively, for those at my transfixed age in South Africa – engaged in the hubbub of global welcome – the tournament would have entirely redrafted conceptions of the sport. Previously, the pinnacle of South African football, and largely African football as a broader entity, had been to secure personally lucrative transfer to Italy, Germany, Spain and England, at the forefront of global competition, yet after this competition, representing your nation – as Bafana Bafana had proven against Mexico and France, Ghana had in each match prior to unfair dismissal and both Algeria and the Ivory Coast had while engaging in close competition with England, Portugal and Brazil – was redefined as a platform of vast glory and unconquerable pride. Honouring the flag that raised you, and the salvation sport earned you potentially from the townships disadvantaged forefathers had no reasonable ambition of escaping, was redrawn in the image of an ultimate fulfilment of talent.
Mamoledi Sundowns pair Motjeka Madisha and Percy Tau, a mobile defender and baby-faced striker by trade who have recently broken into the squad, were aged 15 and 16, respectively, at the time. Centre-forward Phakamani Mahlambi, who lately earned himself a move to continentally imperious Al-Ahly, of Egypt, was a mere 12 years old, while of his fellow members of the 2016 under-23 Olympic Games squad, only two players – the over-aged Khune and highly-rated captain Keagan Dolly – were born prior to June 1993, and thus were over 16 at the time of the tournament. Centre-back Rivaldo Coetzee, having only recently turned 21, already has 24 senior caps to his name, and only withdrew from a move to Celtic this summer due to an underlying injury inflicted to his right foot. This is the legacy generation, who, arguably more so than those five years younger, required the national spirit of that tournament to convince them of the financial sustainability, and potential moral profitability, of their career choice. To capture talents at this age is fundamental to any success, and yet after achieving what could be construed, if in ethical practice, as the harder aspect of this legacy – actually convincing FIFA delegates of the South Africa 2010 vision – SAFA have contrived to befall the expense of that summer. The precedent set by Jordaan’s perceivably impervious rule, the chaos of senior management, the failure to even qualify for major tournaments and the lack of national contingency has caused systemic disillusionment with what ephemerally promised to be a coherent and upwardly mobile association. National psychology has since altered almost incomparably in only seven malaise-encased years, and will continue to do so in the wake of upcoming failures against Senegal. To have reached a stage where such little hope exists for two decisive World Cup qualifiers, is at the very least disheartening, considering the ambition Mandela and Parreira, amongst others, bought into. At the best of times, as American scholar Warren Bennis captured, ‘leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality’, yet when mired in corrupt, criminal and amoral hierarchical autocracy, the reality is sombre. Further condemning of the state of the scene, reformist alternative is bereft. Such is the desensitised circumstance, disappointingly. Here lays legacy, 2004-2010, unfulfilled, but not forgotten.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!