The Football Circus Begins Again. But I’m Sorry, I’m Out.

Emirates Stadium, Home of Arsenal Football Club (FA Cup Final Day 2014, Tony Coleby)
Emirates Stadium, Home of Arsenal Football Club (FA Cup Final Day 2014, Tony Coleby)

Of all the things in life I have given up, the giving up of the nonsense that is football has been one of the most rewarding.

The hysteria, the cost both monetary and emotional, the prices of players. The distancing of the businesses that used to be tight-knit communities from the fan or customer as they are nowadays. They have all sought to drive me away from one of former passions in my life.

When I was 18 if you’d suggested I’d ever make this decision I would have sworn at you; it was simply unthinkable. But you know, life comes along with its many twists and turns and suddenly: PERSPECTIVE dawns. Those epithanal moments when you realise that the things you think you love are actually killing you.

Yes I’m talking about football, soccer, the world’s game. What working men used to do on a Saturday afternoon to unwind from the rigours of a week down’t pit or driving buses or whatever it was that working men were expected to do to earn a living back in the ‘olden days’.

Look at scenes of any football crowd from the 1930s, there are a few good ones of Arsenal FC because they were arguably the most famous club in the country at the time and the nascent film industry found interest in this popular pursuit. Even going so far as to make The Arsenal Stadium Mystery. It’s not a great movie. It’s only of interest to purists. It has some nice scenes of that Art Deco architectural masterpiece that was Highbury Stadium. But no plot to speak of. Except there’s some sort of mystery. Which I think is solved in the end.

In that crowd will be thousands of blokes (yes blokes), all with their flat caps on and, very little in the way of colours to identify which team they were supporting (unless the team happened to play in black and white). A few women and really not many kids (this is one way that football HAS progressed mind). Admission would have costed less than a shilling (12 old pence) and though the quality of the football may be seen by the modern fan as perhaps a little rough around the edges, the value for money was unbeatable.

Yes it's Ralf Little, "Our Anthony" from Royle Family. A working man at the end of a working week. 20p my arse. (2010 Tony Coleby)
Yes it’s Ralf Little, “Our Anthony” from Royle Family. A working man at the end of a working week. 20p my arse. (2010 Tony Coleby)

Even in the 1970s when the football bug bit me hard things were closer to the scene described above than they are now. Players drank, smoked, gambled, tickets were much cheaper and those eleven men on the pitch were…touchable. They weren’t £200 million statues to be treated with care lest one of their glass ankles shatters with the sheer force of adulation. They were BLOKES. And so were we. Well, once my balls had dropped anyway.

My stepfather didn’t want me to go to football. He was troubled quite rightly by all the news reports of violence on the terraces especially just down the road in Millwall. I think really it was because he was a Tottenham fan and he’d held out hope that somehow I was going to see the error of my ways and shift my allegiance from one side of North London to the other. Needless to say these things do not pass in the world of football rivalry. At least, not for the fans.

But go I did and I bloody well enjoyed it all. The camaraderie, the enmity, the dodgy haircuts, the affordable ticket prices, the ecstasy, the agonising defeats, all of it. My ticket for the greatest game of the century (May 26th 1989, Anfield Stadium, Liverpool vs Arsenal) cost £4.50 and even that had been bumped from the usual price of £4 as it was classed as a ‘category A’ game. What happened that night is a tale for another time though.

Other not so pleasant memories of the experience though are the ‘jostle’, the danger of being pissed on, being treated like criminal cattle by the police wherever we went. The crush that would sometimes evolve from the ‘jostle’ and of course those who lost their lives in various disasters in those few years in the mid to late 1980s.

To sum up what I felt about football then, I’ll quote Bill Shankly.

” Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that. “

Call that a Jostle? There's Enough Room to Swing a Prawn Sandwich (Emirates Stadium 2007, Tony Coleby)
Call that a Jostle? There’s Enough Room to Swing a Prawn Sandwich (Emirates Stadium 2007, Tony Coleby)

And that was my mantra. Only my passion for music could rival that kind of dedication. Except at a gig, no-one really loses. Unless you’ve just seen the shittest band in Cambridge and you paid to get in (no names). Everyone gets to experience a coming together and ARE ALL ON THE SAME SIDE. Well unless you had some kind of imaginary concert where New Kids on the Block were supporting Metallica that is.

But get this. The lows outweighed the highs.

My none-too-stable mind went through something of a metamorphosis and all of this stuff, the scores, the players, who was above who in the table started to become even more religious. Even if we won stuff (and we did) it would just leave a gaping hole the next season. These days EVERYTHING is analysed. OPTA have a stat for how much CO2 a player has breathed out during the last 90 minutes (probably). Everyone needs to try harder, give 110%, prove they are worth their million pound a week wages. Every player, every club has a problem. Nay a crisis. Even if you win the damn league with a hundred points. It’s all become a caffeine-fuelled betting firm-sponsored circus which I feel very little part of.

Commentators don’t commentate any more, they opinionate, they inform what player X posted on Twitter about player Y (often most annoyingly while said player is in the middle of a really classy move on goal). They reel off lists of statistics and can pronounce that Mongolian winger’s surname PERFECTLY but they don’t chat. It used to be that you could ‘watch’ a match with the sound on TV, as if it were radio. I recall a 1987 League Cup semi-final match I listened to on the radio and I can tell you I have the IMAGES to go with it in my head. It’s a real shame.

The high point of old school football refection was in my opinion Saint and Greavsie. A light-hearted but often insightful look into the past week’s footy results from cockney legend Jimmy Greaves and his straight man, Ian St John. This was fun to watch. Even my Mum wouldn’t switch over the telly during S&G. Though she was probably out on a Saturday morning doing ‘Mum stuff’ to be fair so the box was mine, all mine.

So I have largely given up all of this nonsense. I’ve had some good times, some bad times. I won’t go into the latter too much but just mention the 1996 European Championship penalty shootout to my (yes) German wife and she could take up the tale from there.

All of this hype, hysteria, transfer rumours, what Pogba has for breakfast it’s all bollocks. If you enjoy it then fine but I don’t any more. And for that reason, I’m out.

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