Year on year I like football as an industry a little less. Every year it just gets more ridiculous as a sport and seems to be further away from the things I actually like about the game.
To explain why, I´ll have to make a bit of a confession. My football supporting life started in a way that I now find reprehensible. From the safety of the Suffolk countryside I was a miniature Manchester United fan. Now in my defence this was 1992 and I´m sucker for a redemption story. The first football I watched was the last season of the old First Division. A Manchester United side with the likes of Mark Hughes, Bryan Robson and a teenage Ryan Giggs was busy choking its best chance of the title for a quarter of a decade. I have an idea the first football match I ever watched was a 0-0 draw on ITV with West Ham United. I was 8 years old.
By the time the Premier League came around I was throwing my pocket money at United scarves, shirts and mugs. They won the league that year, redemption for 26 years of being rubbish, or sometimes just good and gutless. I remained a red for a while. Even after I watched my first live football match, a 0-0 draw between my local team Ipswich and Coventry City. Weirdly enough it was from the Director´s Box and I remember being bored shitless. The next one was a 3-2 win for Ipswich over Manchester United. It was the year Town went down, so I guess it was 1995. I was 12.
I was changed a bit by that game. Obviously in a season in which they were terrible, beating the current league champions saw them go absolutely nuts. The next time I saw Town, a scrappy 2-1 win over Charlton in a then Division One match and they became us. I´ve subsequently had the misfortune to support them for the past 12-13 years, from season ticket holder to ex-pat. I still miss it.
Not to get too poor man´s Nick Hornby on you, but what really attracted me to watching football live, as opposed to on the telly, was the feeling of standing in the old Portman Road North Stand. Partially it was the feeling of adulthood (mostly derived from standing round a load of adults who were acting as childishly as I was), but probably most of all it was the most exciting thing that happened in a town like Ipswich. You went down, and you stood together with a load of people who cared about the same thing you did. They got outraged when you did, they felt off their heads with joy when you did, they swore when you did, they sang when you did. The genuine feeling of being in a crowd is unsurpassable.
And in truth I liked the glamour of my team being little underdogs, underachieving a little bit and living off a glorious past. I swear it meant more to us when we got promoted or when we did well, because there was just us in Ipswich, a little town that people put in shitty books about shitty towns.
And now that´s completely ruined. We´re owned by a multi-millionaire or billionaire or something, and we spend his money so we can hire Roy Keane and buy big Irish centre forwards off Sunderland or Manchester United reserve teamers. We make out like this really makes us happy, but when it works it has a hollow feeling - like Chelsea fans must be familiar with - that it actually has sod all to do with us. That buying the season tickets, making noise at the appropriate moments, throwing money in the coffers by buying the 2nd away kit or the tracksuit top, paled into comparison with a guy who runs promotion events having the cash to bring Celtic rejects back from the Irish League. If we fail we get bitter, and chase club legends out of the place, forgetting that the bloke gave us the most magical night of my footballing life(play-off semi-final 2nd legal 2000 - Ipswich Town 5 Bolton Wanderers 3).
This is the reality for a wild array of different clubs. Portsmouth fans wait with baited breath for a takeover to solve all their financial problems. Notts County got enough money to pay for Sven Goran Eriksson. Who the fuck even bought Notts County for fuck´s sake. QPR have Briatore, Sunderland are throwing money at bigger clubs' reserve team strikers like water. Manchester City ain´t half of it, most of the football league seems to be somebody's plan to get themselves on telly overlooking a Abramovichesque kingdom.
So, Now I sit, watching my mediocre team, with mediocre players bought from other clubs (with all our own kids shipped out), progressing (or not) toward the premier league nirvana. The shed I used to have a season ticket in made five times the noise, and was five times the fun as the massive 25m GBP monstrosity that they moved us up the other end to build one season. A ticket for one and a half hours ¨entertainment¨ costs me 27 GBP minimum, in an occasion where any natural atmosphere is drowned out in a dreary combination of goal music, pre-game music and a preponderance of supporters who never came to contribute anyway.
Live football is not as fun as it used to be. ¨Used to be¨ being the mid-90s, so we´re not even talking about nostalgia for terraces or hooliganism here. In fact, I´d go as far as to say that it´s not even as fun as watching it on the telly.
In a few years, the people that run football are going to understand that this circus cannot sustain itself. Let's be realistic, football is not intrinsically that interesting a game. If I actually want to watch a fascinating contest of epic proportions then it ain't a patch on Cricket or the Tour de France. People watch football to watch people. To see mental geordies outside St.James' Park when some loser/idiot comes to coach them, to watch people cry when they get relegated and to watch them be unhingedly happy when Burnley win a play-off final. The people watching on the telly are really there to watch us, not the game.
And when we've all gone, everyone will wonder what the fuss is all about.