The Spirit of Football

in Opinion

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I went along to a talk a couple of Saturdays ago about the “spirit of football”, that’s how I enjoy my Saturday nights. I’m a very lonely man. The reason for the talk was because the city I live in, Hull, has a football team called (surprisingly) Hull City. Unfortunately the club also has an owner who wishes to call Hull City, Hull Tigers which isn’t as daft a name as you think as we do have a team in the English league with the word “Arse” in their title.

Obviously this has stirred up a bit of a wasps nest here in Hull and although I don’t follow Hull City as a fan I can understand why their fans are getting upset. However if owners who plough millions into a club to save it from financial ruin then decide to “rebrand” the club then isn’t that their choice? I wouldn’t be able to tell you that calling your car “Betty” is a stupid as fuck name, it is but that isn’t the point. It’s your car, you paid for it, you pay for the petrol, you pay for the insurance, you pay for its upkeep, you can call it by any dam name you like. So if Mike Ashley stops Newcastle heading the same way as Leeds United did and then wants to call the stadium “The Sports Direct Arena” why shouldn’t he? Again it’s a stupid as fuck name but he owns the club, he can call it what he wants. Yes the fans pay to go and watch their team and have done for forty years or whatever but if I used the same taxi for forty years would I have any say in what colour the driver wanted to paint it? Fuck no I wouldn’t.

However if I really didn’t like the shade of metallic blue I could just use another taxi. I understand that football fans couldn’t do this, but that part is irrelevant it’s still not “your” club. Yes you invest time, money and effort in it and as a paying customer you have every right to complain about the product you are paying for. Then it is up to the “owners” of the product to decide whether or not to listen to your complaints. You then have the choice to stop paying their prices until they change the product so it’s more to your liking. Be that by sacking a manager, selling a player, buying a player, cleaning up the toilets whatever it is that’s upsetting you at this time.

So what is the spirit of football?

I hear constantly that “money has ruined the game” has it? Players have always moved on for financial reasons, clubs have always overspent to keep up and transfer fees have always been viewed as crazy. When Willie Groves moved from WBA to the Villa in 1893 for a fee of £100 fans were up in outrage. How could anybody be worth so much money? But price is relevant to the time an example being the £15million Newcastle paid for Alan Shearer at the time was a world record but now would be seen as a bargain signing. Yes we pay astronomical fees to watch games and yes we pay stupid prices for drinks, food and shirts sold at the stadiums. But despite the fact that you love the club and you want to do this it doesn’t mean that you have to. Even if you love another person sometimes you have to tear yourself away from them because of the damage the relationship is doing. The club doesn’t see you as a shareholder or somebody with equal say in how it’s run they see you as a consumer. Anyone who doesn’t think they have always seen you like this is terribly wrong. Granted you might get friendlier and more approachable boards down at lower league clubs or “friendly” clubs but isn’t this just the same as a car salesmen saying you’ve lost weight in a attempt to make you more comfortable so that you buy his product?

So what is the spirit of football?

The Champions League seems to be the “go to” bad guy for football fans to blame for the death of the spirit of football. Because teams play weakened sides in other competitions if they’ve got a midweek game away at CSKA Moscow they devalue the competitions. Clubs and managers are killing the cup competitions because they don’t care! So? Businesses have to prioritise markets and football has always been a business, if it wasn’t people wouldn’t have sat down and sorted out rules for it. Invested money to build stadiums for it or organised board rooms so that the people who actually played the game got paid the wages they deserved?

All the talk of “weakened sides” annoys me, didn’t we used to call it squad rotation? Maybe the reason why there wasn’t so much of it back in the “golden days” was because clubs squads past the first team were, for want of a better word, crap? So maybe the squads are better and that’s why they play in the cup competitions with wholesale changes? Let’s look at the past ten winners of the FA cup: Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Chelsea, Man City, Chelsea, Wigan, Arsenal. Hmmm looks like eight of those wins were by teams who are often accused of playing weakened sides in the cup. Well they can’t be that weakened if they keep winning it can they?

So what is the spirit of football?

Another argument I hear (which I fear is sometimes used to hide racist and xenophobic arguments behind.) is that the influx of foreign players has ruined the game! Bring back a time when all the players were English and England won all the world cups because our league had nothing but Brits in it! Let’s look at the great Liverpool team from our “golden days” in 1984, a quick glance at the squad list gives you nine Englishmen and twelve players who were not eligible to play for England not exactly a overwhelming majority in favour of the English. But let’s look at the bigger picture since 2000 the number of players eligible to play for England in the Premier League has decreased. Let’s look at the English national teams record in that time

Euro 2000: Group stage exit

World Cup 2002: Quarter finals

Euro 2004:   Quarter Finals

World Cup 2006:   Quarter Finals

Euro 2008:   Did not qualify

World Cup 2010:   Last 16

Euro 2012:   Quarter Finals

World Cup 2014:   Group stage exit.

Ok let’s admit that’s not the best record in the world, it’s not that hard to win a world cup surely? I mean even South Korea got to a semi final! But as we know (if you watched the tournaments) we weren’t that far away from beating a few of the sides we came up against and progressing a bit further. With luck we probably would have. We lost to sides by putting out teams that were full of regular Champions League players and were used to top flight football. If we didn’t have the players then surely we should do what some of the Arab states do and pay Brazilians to play for their country. Anyway let’s look at the golden era for English foot ball shall we, when everyone was English in our league!

World Cup 1966:   Winners!

Euro 1968:   3rd place (although I’m sure there were only four teams involved)

World Cup 1970:   Quarter Final

Euro 1972:   Did not qualify

World Cup 1974:   Did not qualify

Euro 1976:   Did not qualify

World Cup 1978:   Did not qualify

Euro 1980:   Group stage exit

World cup 1982:   Group round two

Euro 1984:   Did not qualify

World Cup 1986:   Quarter Final

Actually looking at it apart from the win back in 1966 England’s golden days were….well a bit shit as well. But how can this be? I mean all of our players were English! There were no foreigners around to destroy our national team and erode the spirit of football. Maybe the English players who were taking up the places (now possibly occupied by world cup winning foreigners) were not as good as we all like to think?

So what is the spirit of football?

I think the spirit of football is a ambiguous term cooked up by somebody to get me to pay to go and listen to them have a talk about it.

But the feeling that football gives a fan, elation, desperation, joy and sometimes (and as long as it’s channelled accordingly and not used in abhorrent way) hatred. That for me is the true spirit of football. The fan. Not the ground, not the players, not the ticket prices not the competitions, not the money but the people who stand behind the crest of their team through good time and bad. Whether you discovered football via your dad taking you to St James Park or like I did watching a non-league game in the pissing down rain whilst been told “this is fun” you are infused with the spirit. Even as you get older and you score a proper belter at a local five a side game, you still want to run around like a loony celebrating like you’ve won the FA cup. That’s the spirit of football. Watching the FA cup draw, arguing over video replay technology, defending your player for cheating to win a local derby, slating your manager because the Medias perceived vision of success isn’t exactly what’s happening at your club right now. That’s the spirit of football

Life changes, football changes and business changes but the fans spirit remains the same.

by Alex Hall