Tuesday, April 8, 2014

English Football Didn’t Start in 1992

History is a good thing, but it's just that, history

Manchester City haven't always been as fashionable as they are now.

Hi. My names's Ash.
"Hi Ash!"
And, um...
"It's okay, we're all friends here, take your time."

Thanks. I'm, um, a football supporter and I, uh... [clears throat] I don't... I don't support a team in the Premier League.

A hush descends on the room, there are a few quizzical looks, a couple of sad nods and shakes of the head and even one quiet but audible gasp.

Yes, friends, this is what it often feels like to support a "lower" league team. You are an aberration. You're fooling yourself, You must have a Prem team, you simply must! How do you even live?!

It's hard not to hate football almost as much as I love it because of precisely this kind of fandom.

Like Sloan once sang, "It's not the band I hate, it's their fans."

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to watch all kinds of football. I'd be lying if I didn't say I appreciate and often enjoy a hard fought game in the top tier or the You-don't-have-to-be-Champions League. But it's the superiority complex of many fans, the attitude that my opinion cannot count because I don't support a 'proper' team. Because I don't deck myself out in every possible combination of club clothing at any given moment. Because the team I support had the temerity to have their heyday before the Premier League juggernaut really got going. (Often conveniently ignoring the fact that that applies to their team too). Because I happen to think that, in comparison to truly world class players, objectively, your star player and man-crush isn't that good and it's not because the national team manager is "playing them out of position." Because it can't possibly be that without the absurdly talented (and equally absurdly expensive) foreign import there to make your hero look good, he frequently fails on the biggest stage. Because at some point, the World Cup - the biggest stage - became overshadowed by club football.

And because I've never stopped supporting the team I grew up following; from dizzying never-again-attainable-heights and mind-numbing, soul-scarring lows. Instead, presumably, of keeping half an eye on them and hitching my wagon to the latest crop of fancy-dan, stepover merchants. Convincing myself that the Man Citys and Uniteds of this world are and have always been 'our' rivals, instead of the Countys and Albions.

The thing is, rightly or wrongly, I think your opinions are just as suspect for precisely the same reasons.
As I've mentioned, football did not start in 1992. Many clubs had success before this time, some of that number have had some since.

But the lopsided way some fans harp on about history is often perplexing. It's no good glorying in the exploits of Wolves or Forest or Leeds. The majority of their success came pre-Premier League and they're not a part of it now. An important distinction from, say, Liverpool who've had some success since the League's foundation but who would have seen winning the Football League Cup as the least of their achievements 25-30 years ago.

I'm not usually one for anecdotal evidence, but bear with me just this once. I was lucky enough to live in Nottingham in 1979/80. Most of the kids I went to school with followed Liverpool. You'd think it impossible that a club with so much history and success, not to mention  unbridled enthusiasm from the media would have fans that genuinely feel they are somehow underdogs and that the football establishment is out to get them but, they're out there, I've met some of them. Like I said, it's very hard not to hate football sometimes. Having history is often a good thing but it's just that, history. For all the success and trophies, it can often be a millstone around supporters necks. They struggle to reconcile with the mediocrity (or worse) of the present and so the club can never realign itself to the new football reality and be as good as they remember it.
That reality for the vast majority of clubs is either find a very rich owner with no desire to make money from the club but still happy to throw vast sums at it or be content with mid-table obscurity and the occasional tilt at a domestic trophy.

Success or failure can often be relative but year-in, year-out, fans of "unfashionable" clubs get bombarded with hyperbole about how terrible it was that a 'big' club missed out on Europe. It's hardly comparable with relegation or administration but you'd think they were cakewalks compared to missing out on all that
m̶o̶n̶e̶y quality football.

And the 'big' club moniker is bandied around in ever more perplexing ways. There's no solid definition. Amount of fans? Trophies? Richest owners? Man City have three stars on their crest because it looks more 'continental', not because of European success. Forget Wolves or Leeds or even Forest being considered big clubs, the new football hierarchy would exclude old giants like Ajax and Celtic.

I think a lot of the blame, if that's the right word, can be partially attributed to the creation of the Premier League and most to the media. Now armchair fans across the globe are not only treated to seeing their team every time they play but are also bombarded with facts and figures and hyperbole that strains credulity and makes a run-of-the-mill wet Wednesday night mid-table clash seem like the World Cup Final. It's no wonder there's no sense of proportion. And then we all get to do it again next week.

I can genuinely remember a time when fans would get behind any English club that got into Europe. Not hardcore support or changing allegiances but just hoping for a good show from one of our own. The football landscape has changed so irrevocably that i find myself actively wishing for some 'home' clubs to be knocked out just to get their fans and the media to shut up for a bit.

It's because of this constant coverage, the belief that certain teams are untouchable or the evergreen 'to good to go down' (tell that to Rangers, Pompey, Leeds, Charlton, etc.) that nothing matters as much, that history is only relevant when it's your club, that records only count post-1992 or since the creation if the Champions League, that spending incredible amounts of money on fair-to-middling players is somehow acceptable, that getting into the top four is an achievement on par with winning... anything at all.

It's because of these things that I'll watch top flight football but I'm sometimes glad the team I follow isn't a part of it.

"But the skill, the showmanship, you don't see that in the lower leagues."
You mean showboating? [clears throat]

"Well I bet you don't see goals as good."
I'll take that bet.

"It can't be exciting with nothing to play for."
Wrong and wrong.

-Ash Hawthorne

(Ash is a guest writer for the Geezer; he is the author of the Miserable Batsteward blog and you can follow him @VieuxPoissons.)