From my perspective as a fan in the world of football, there are a number of serious issues concerning the game at this moment in time. Corruption scandals, sky-high wages conflicting reality and rising ticket prices are just a few of these. While I have already covered some of these, and will continue to on this website, I wanted to focus this week on some of the smaller, less covered topics that I feel need addressing. While some may seem tedious, petulant or minor, I completely believe that these are problems that are in need of fixing to make the game better for all involved.
To kick-off this rant, let’s pinpoint where the blame for anything can lie. Let’s be honest, no-one is immune from wrongdoing, whether they do it subconsciously or not. So all the fans, players, managers, owners, board members and sponsors out there, be wary of your actions in future after reading this, and make sure you try to stop others doing the same things.
Firstly, let’s talk about the players. For most of us, they are the most important people at the club, as they are, in the end, the ones that take the club in the direction required (or not, in some cases). Professional players are idols for all football fans young and old, as they live a lifestyle completely the opposite to anyone else in society. They have responsibilities to act in a manner reflecting their club, their community and the game, as they hold a vital role in our culture, not just in the U.K but worldwide. The World Cup is widely regarded as the most prestigious competition in world sport, with perhaps the exception of the Olympics, meaning any actions players take are seen across the earth. Footballers are regularly featured, not just on the back pages, but in the front of most tabloids, which at the ages of anything from 16 to 40 can be a big weight on their shoulders. But this is something they should accept with the job, as although a vast majority play because it is their true passion in life, all they do at the end of the day is kick a ball around for our entertainment, for our approval.
So what gets on my nerves about them? Well, aside from their wages and lifestyle off the pitch, there a number of things. The fact that some players dare to cheat, full in the knowledge of what they are doing, is the biggest part for me. I’m absolutely sure that a number of desperate, or just immoral, managers tell their players to target winning free kicks or penalties during matches, purely to win games. The amount of clearly visible dives over the last five years is crazy in the Premier League or La Liga, as talented players have lowered their morals to test the officials of their capabilities as qualified professionals. Most accounts of diving can source their heritage to the game in South America and the Southern Mediterranean, as these country’s players are renowned for their expertise in play acting to win games. The very fact that dives are even being disputed on Match of the Day on Saturday nights is a real sign of where the game has come, and proof that players need to be reprimanded equally, and soon.
Another aspect of the playing stage that annoys me is the fact that on the back of the shirt that player has been awarded by the club, they have the addition of their surname. I believe that this revolution, which we see as commonplace in football these days despite the fact it only started in 1993, is a totally financially-based one that disregards the history of the club. Where was the first World Cup that started the trend of names on shirts held? The USA, of course! The home of commercialism, capitalism, and the business idea of selling more products by attaching a famous name to it. Now that this has evolved into the absolutely farcical and self-obsessed concept of first names of players emblazoned above their self-chosen number, I’m in despair about how much power the players now hold. If somebody suggested even 30 years ago that in 2016, the names Memphis, Alexis and Virgil (Depay, Sanchez and van Dijk) would be seen on the back of shirts in the Premier League, most fans definitely wouldn’t have believed it. It’s something I completely disagree with.
The next thing I cannot stand about players is how, even in non-league level at Lewes FC, they will steal yards further up the pitch when taking free kicks or throw-ins. Why do they do this? To be able to put in less effort kicking or throwing the ball as far? To challenge the authority of the officials? It’s the same thing with holding the ball up in the corners with five or ten minutes left, holding a 2-1 lead. It never ceases to baffle me how determined football players are to win that they would employ such ugly and borderline (in football terms) illegal tactics.
My next target for ‘constructive criticism’ as business managers would call it, are the board. In our age of growing democracy, as most would like to see it, across the world, many football fans are wondering why they don’t get to have a say on who will represent them on the board of their club. This is an inexcusable lack of respect for the fans of nearly 96% of the clubs in the top 4 divisions in England, with only four clubs being fan-owned with an equal vote for all. Another board responsibility is making commercial decisions, or at least employ an overpaid Chief Executive, Chief Financial Officer or Commercial Director who will. These decisions would include how often to release new products, such as the biggest seller at the club; the shirts.
It makes me sick how clubs can dare to release such minutely differing kits every season, with a home, away, third and even ‘continental’ option. How the clubs, in partnership with sporting titan brands such as Nike, Adidas or Puma, can get away with convincing hundreds of thousands of fans to fork out £50 or so every season for a piece of factory-produced material is a criminal ploy of our trust in the club. It’s also the type of sponsors seen on the shirts that is totally wrong if the clubs want to set an example to children across the country, as betting companies and beer brands aren’t really the kinds of logos you want children to become sensitised to. 7 of the 20 Premier League clubs are sponsored by betting companies, one by a beer company and the most immoral club in the BPL, no prizes for guessing, are sponsored by Wonga, a payday loan company who make millions in profit out of desperate people every day. Somebody needs to take a stand; otherwise the clubs and the sponsors will keep making mammoth profits by leeching onto our loyalty.
Where better to turn after the board than to the fans, a number of the latter taking great joy in berating the former, and others working at their club, when things don’t go as planned on the pitch. That is if you believe what you see on fan forums and social media, especially Twitter. In fact, this has become so commonplace that Arsenal fans have been widely associated to post-match rants about Wenger and the board, only to forget these arguments a week later. You just might even see them restart their complaints after another loss to Stoke, Watford or West Ham. It is laughable how extensive sofa pundits have become in the modern day, although I do have to admit to becoming one on a number of occasions. Any Manchester United fan would have to with the season we’ve had.
But it is a particular brand of self-righteousness on Twitter than I absolutely hate; the fans who reply to the English FA’s tweet of the latest squad for friendlies or qualifiers with so much shock and anger it’s as if Roy Hodgson has personally gone and stabbed Aaron Cresswell or Ryan Shawcross in the back. They get so wound up over a selection of players who, most likely, have much more international and continental experience than whoever Andy or Steve down the pub have suggested. Face it mate, James Tomkins and Marc Albrighton aren’t going to get a call-up in the near future, if ever, for England. So what is the point in taking a good ten minutes of your time using your 140 characters to explain how Troy Deeney has been in great form and how his style of play would definitely beat the tactics of the German team? It’s not like Roy is going to get his phone out halfway through his press conference, scroll down to your comment and realise that every decision he has made has been wrong, running off shouting “I’m off to get Troy Deeney for the sake of our country!”
My second point for fans, and it is one I feel strongly about, is to not join in with these idiotic and nonsensical football firms, defending their clubs honour by having alcohol-induced street brawls with opposing fans. It’s not a good thing for any club for a small portion of their fan base to be influenced or involved in these shameful groups of fans who would rather run the risk of possibly committing murder instead of watching the actual football. I’m all for supporters clubs and collected fan projects, but violence is not the way to show support. They are clearly deluded people if they think their actions in bad mouthing and threatening another club’s firm with violence is going to, in any way, make their team the better one. That is not what football is about, that is committing a crime and serving a prison sentence, wasting your life for no good reason. The programme Football Fight Club on BBC Three gives a great example of this.
This type of over-passionate ‘support’ leads me on to the opposite of the spectrum in terms of supporter loyalty; it’s the fans who give up on their team after a disappointing season. ‘Glory hunting’ is a term I don’t like to use lightly as I believe it negatively judges a whole band of fans, who all have differing stories about how they starting supporting a certain side. I must myself admit to have started following Manchester United during their glory years, I believe the morning after my dad explained to me that Michael Owen had scored a hat-trick against Wolfsburg in the Champions League. I didn’t know what a hat-trick was at the time, but I did become interested in the club and was hooked after a family trip to Greater Manchester later that year.
I may be biased, but I feel that this kind of chance meeting of a fan and team is fine, but it is the constant chopping and changing of teams that irritates me. I saw it every year in Primary School, with some people swapping from Liverpool to Man United, Man City or Chelsea as soon as one beat the other. It was only once Manchester City won the Premier League in 2011/12 that any of their fans came out of their shells across the country. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The same happened in France after Paris Saint Germain began their era of dominance. You can’t throw away your side for another in the blink of an eye; that’s not loyalty. I wonder how many new Leicester City fans will have bragging rights for the next season…
As I said at the beginning, no-one is exempt from blame in such an opinionated and constantly changing sport, but that is where the joy of debate about football lies; we all know that at some point we have or will be in the wrong. Now that we know what our issues are, we need to sort them out; otherwise I can see football fans, players, managers and owners getting a worse name for themselves in the modern day media. I’m sure I’ve missed out loads of other minor problems or things you hate in the sport, so drop a comment with them if you want to get it off your chest. One last thing, English people calling it soccer, please don’t. If you are a company doing it, trying to expand into the American market, don’t do it. If you are a normal football fan doing it, what’s wrong with you? It’s called football. It always has been and always should be.
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!