Football is more than a sport now, it is no longer simply a case of kicking a ball over the line and being pleased about it, it is about entertaining a global audience, building an atmosphere, creating characters and villains and arguably most importantly about making money.
We all sit down to watch the football every now and again, the same way we would a film or TV show and I think the similarities between a football broadcast, a live event, and a scripted show are warping our expectations of what the game is. I feel disappointed watching a game without goals, regardless of how well the defence plays or how the tactics of the underdog worked to perfection to grind out a 0-0 draw. Films are about building up to epic moments, football at its core is about getting the best out of a team, no matter how much entertainment value you have to sacrifice to do that.
I tell myself football is getting worse to watch, looking back to Istanbul 2005 I can still flirt with heart failure watching Alonso’s initial penalty miss and remember how Gerrard’s 2006 FA Cup Final equaliser kept me glued to the sofa in awe for a good 5 minutes; however in reality these moments still happen, I constantly overlook goals like this…
Great games happen every week and with every one our expectations rise, with every rise in expectations comes the delusion that the great games we are watching are average.
I recently watched Barcelona play Eibar at their tiny stadium, compared to the rest of Liga BBVA at least. Seeing the apartments in the background with Messi playing awe inspiring football in the foreground created a strange feeling of Barcelona being a ‘celebrity guest’ to Eibar.
I have been watching most of humble Cheltenham Town’s home games recently, a team scrapping for survival in League 2. Seeing players who are so much closer to you and I in lifestyle makes for a completely different viewing experience, the passion and desire to win seems so much higher at the lower levels and this comes with its own authentic entertainment value. These clubs and players are not decorated, football is more about football and less about marketing and personal promotion and this makes for fantastic viewing as a fan of the sport rather than just being a fan of the product modern football has become.
The excitement you get from watching people you know play that you do not get from watching the characters of the big teams is somewhat reflected the lower down the ladder you go, these are real people you could bump into down at the pub without the fanfare and media attention top players have following them around. It may not be edge of your seat football, but it is in its own right still great football.
I think one of the key differences between the top and bottom of the professional ladder is what is at stake for the players. Global superstars have so much money they could retire at any time, there is no real pressure on them to succeed for there own well being, only to uphold their reputation in the media and live out their personal footballing fantasies. Lower league players on the other hand have mortgages to pay and cannot just quit tomorrow, they have to think about the financial implications of a move abroad or even just across the country. Players in the lower leagues also have significantly more loyal fans to please, and are often local lads themselves. Moving from your home town team in League 2 on bad terms will be less well documented than the same situation in the Premier League, but will have a much bigger effect on the actual player.
Watching this lower level football for the first time in many years has made me appreciate the big leagues again, as well as seeing the pros and cons of watching football at both ends of the scale.