‘Thugs return to drag soccer back into the gutter’ screamed a headline on the back page of The Sun following the West Ham versus Millwall match at Upton Park this week.
Hold on a minute, let’s go back on that headline. ‘…drag soccer BACK into the gutter’. It’s never left the gutter!
I speak from the perspective of somebody who has never really enjoyed football. Ever since I can remember, ‘footy’ has been the sport of the numpty, the racist and the hooligan. Football is all about tattoos and cheap lager and it has the audacity to call itself, rather self-consciously, ‘the beautiful game’. What’s beautiful about football?
Football is such an unattractive sport that it’s almost hard to work out where to begin in this tirade against it. Well, how about the stereotype? That awful thing about all men liking football and all women rolling their eyes affectionately as ‘their men’ – yes, we’re talking about women with lower back tattoos, or ‘slag tags’ – go down the pub to watch the match on the plasma. Needless to say, they return later, having missed their dinner (it’s in the f**kin’ dog! – and he’s a pitbull called Tyson) and their ‘slag tag’ women are still rolling their eyes.
Men who like footy are often called Gary or Kevin – alright, we’re sticking with the stereotype, but bear with me – and they wear football shirts and knee-length shorts, exposing a calf muscle tattoo which only sees the light of day in the summer or down at the local authority leisure centre on a Sunday afternoon along with all their other tattoos. Look at any photograph of football violence and you can be guaranteed to see a tattoo somewhere. It goes with the territory.
And what about the ‘professional supporters’ who reinforce the stereotype? There are high profile people who want other people to know that they are staunch supporters of some team or other just so that they can be seen as ‘down with the plebs’ when it comes to getting a vote at the next general election.
There’s nothing worse than politicians who ram their support of a football club down our necks. I’m thinking David Mellor, the late Tony Banks and, of course, the original ‘spin doctor’, Alastair Campbell. Oops, I almost forgot Adrian Chiles, [former] co-presenter of The One Show, and his very public obsession with West Bromwich Albion, cue eye-rolling from Christine Bleakley and any other women in his vicinity.
The worst thing about all of this is that men are sort of expected to like football from an early age. There is that great stereotypical ‘man and boy’ nonsense that involves father taking his son to the ‘footy’ and then his son becoming a diehard supporter until the day he dies. Yuk! We hear people talk about their ‘beloved Burnley’. Give it a rest!
Football is a bad-tempered game for strops, which, ironically is ‘sports’ spelt backwards. Is it just me or is the word ‘football’ the only sport one can add the word ‘violence’ to without flinching? Somehow they go together quite nicely and there are countless examples of football violence, including the recent West Ham/Millwall incident, which prove that football is a yob’s game. You never hear of tennis hooligans or cricket hooligans.
Personally, I dislike the assumption that all men like football and the fact that men feel obliged to engage other men in conversation about the ‘beautiful game’. I would go as far as to say that it used to make me feel inadequate, the fact that I knew very little about the game, but now I am quite proud of my ignorance towards it. I’ve noticed that, armed with just a few miniscule facts, one can keep a football conversation going all afternoon if need be – it’s that shallow.
“You watch the game last night?”
“Er….” “Chelsea Man U?” “
Oh, no, I missed it, but Chelsea won didn’t they?”
“Yeah, 4-1, a good match. Felt sorry for Giggsy, though”
But if you swear a bit, bring in a little of history and then swear again, you can go on throughout the night if need be and even convince the person you’re talking to that you know a bit about about ‘the beautiful game’.
“You watch the game last night?”
“Yeah, f**king shit. Ooh you support?”
“Ah right, the f**king blues, yeah? Well, yeah, like, I’m with Man U. Never been to f**kin’ Manchester, though, but nor have half of their f**king supporters, have they?”
“Nah, right. Felt sorry for Giggsy, though.”
“The f**king Giggsmeister? Star f**king player, Giggsy. Could do with a f**king shave, though.”
“4-1, though, you were thrashed.”
“Yeah, well, if we’d had star players like Sir Bobby or Bryan Kidd on the field, we’d have won hands down.”
“Nah, your team’s f**king useless, mate; you should support a decent team like Chelsea, you c**t.”
“Yeah, yer c**t, we’ll beat you in the next round, you wait an’ see.”
And on and on and on it goes, the play-acting, but now, thanks to a few choice expletives, you can carry on the chat, even if your level of football knowledge is virtually nil. Throw in a pint of gassy, cheap lager, go and get a tattoo on your calf and you’re one of the lads.
And don’t you hate all that ‘Giggsy’ rubbish? Everybody’s name gets an ‘eee’ at the end: ‘Giggsy’, ‘Crouchie’, ‘Wrighty’, ‘Colesey’.
While I use to be concerned about my lack of knowledge of the beautiful game, I no longer care. In fact, I make a point of intensifying my ignorance of the game by bringing in players long retired if ever the conversation arises. If, for example, Chelsea is about to play a big match, I might ask if Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris or Peter Osgood is still playing. Such a remark is normally met with a sigh of impatience as football people hate it when they converse with somebody who doesn’t understand the sport or who might be taking the Michael. I wallow in the fact that I am completely in the dark as to who is playing who, which teams have made it to the FA Cup Final or who is where in the Premiership or the Champions League.
I was on a foreign business trip once when the people I was with – both Arsenal supporters – spent the entire dinner time watching their mobile phones as friends back in the UK kept them updated on the score of a crucial match. To watch these two grown men glued to their handsets was both disappointing and irritating in the extreme and I almost found myself wondering, is this just put on? Have they reached a point in their lives where even they believe they like the game so much that they have to exclude themselves from any form of human interaction just to keep up with the score of some match back in the UK? It was pathetic to watch.
Within my own family there are idiots who quite happily plunge themselves and the rest of their immediate family into a state of depression if their team loses a match. They don’t stop to think that it’s only a game.
But for me the worse thing about football is the uncalled for hatred it generates among the supporters – especially in the case of so-called ‘arch rivals’, which are normally those involved in what is called, for some reason, a local ‘Derby’. What the Derbyshire town or the Epsom horse race has in common with football I don’t know – apart from Brian Clough once being manager of Derby County. So if Arsenal is playing Spurs, or West Ham is playing Millwall or Brighton is playing Crystal Palace, Everton playing Liverpool and so on, there’s always a heightened sense of trouble on the horizon.
Brighton and Crystal Palace fans refer to one another as ‘scum’ – which sums up the level of ignorance among their football supporters; and we all know what happened at Upton Park the other night.
The level of ignorance is turned up a notch or two when you consider that supporters at a football match are not allowed to watch a game of football and drink alcohol at the same time. It doesn’t happen in any other sport: people drink solidly all day at cricket and rugby matches but you rarely hear of there being any trouble. At a football match, however, as soon as the players run on to the pitch, the shutters go down on anybody in corporate hospitality drinking a can of lager. Why? Because that’s the law and your average football supporter is such an idiot that he cannot be trusted to watch the game and drink at the same time for fear that he might go on the rampage.
Racism – or being racist – is a sign of ignorance anyway, but in football, it often goes with the territory. Many white football supporters think it is acceptable to call a black player certain names if he scores a goal for the rival team and again there are countless examples of this in press reports dating back years. Hell, even the players and managers have been accused of making racist remarks.
When there is ‘violence on the terraces’ it tends to reinforce my argument that the game is its own worst enemy. Try as they might to stop the trouble, the football authorities are fighting a losing battle because that is the way it is with football and its supporters and nothing will change it. If football supporters are so volatile that they cannot be trusted to watch a match and drink a pint of lager at the same time, then what hope is there?