The 49th edition of the long running Doncaster Rovers fanzine Popular Stand was on sale at Saturday’s game. For those who didn’t manage to pick up a copy, here’s our column from this current issue. Given that yesterday the issue of whether two overpaid footballers would shake hands before a game was being given vastly more news coverage than the demise of our old foes Chester City this article seems even more prevalent now than when I wrote it a week ago.
Last Saturday lunchtime I sat listening to BBC Radio 5 as Peter Ridsdale explained what he thought the Football Association should be doing to prevent more football teams facing financial problems. How the hell do you follow the ridiculousness of that? Get Max Clifford to deliver a lecture on ethics? Launch the Harold Shipman guide to care for the elderly? This was way beyond the blind leading the blind, this was the f***ed leading the f***ed.
People I work with know I am a Doncaster Rovers fan, but they wrongly equate that with me being a football fan. I once was, but I’m not anymore. If I were a fan of football then I would embrace the game at all levels and through all mediums, and that I can no longer do. As a child I did, I lapped it up, from any game that made it onto television to following my dad round the non-league fields of Yorkshire and the north Midlands, via occasional treats to see Doncaster Rovers, Cardiff City and Maidstone United in between.
I took it all in willingly. I played out endless Subbuteo tournaments in the back bedroom, would get up early to sneak in games of Matchday II on the Commodore 64 before school (and it had to be early to give the tapes long enough to load). I would get to school early for playground kick-a-bouts, I bought Shoot magazine every week, and would laboriously update my league ladders every Saturday tea time. I cared as much about Rossington FC’s upcoming game against Clipstone Welfare as I did Manchester United against Liverpool. That was me as a football fan.
I realised recently that whilst I like Doncaster Rovers, I follow the Welsh national teams, and I enjoy the occasional game myself, I no longer really like football. Why should I? It bears no relation whatsoever to what I understand in life or in sport. Football at the top level has become a hyperbolic caricature of itself . Its capitalism at its worse and is completely driven by finance and greed, yet despite this it somehow manages to make even less sense as a business than it does as a sport.
Manchester United are millions and millions of pounds in debt yet continue to function at the very top of the game. Chester City’s debt is a tiny fraction of that and yet they are about to go to the wall. If the players at Chelsea donated a week’s wages to Chester they would not only be saved, but would probably become the richest non-league club overnight. That to me makes no sense. How can Didier Drogba have cost Chelsea more than the entire stadium and surrounding athletics and football complex at Doncaster cost to construct?
The FA have introduced a ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test’ for football club owners, that ha somehow enabled Peter Ridsdale and Ken Bates to stay in the game. Players and managers care more about finishing fourth in their domestic league than they do about winning a continent wide competition. Nottingham Forest have been at the City Ground for over one hundred years and now want to leave for a bigger ground, despite the fact that they’ve not filled their current home in over a decade. Modern football is filled with these nonsensical oddities.
And now for some reason despite trundling along with a distinctly amoral heart for over a decade football has now gone all moralistic thanks to the ‘John Terry Affair’. There was only one thing that was surprising about John Terry’s recent misgivings, and that was that it had taken so many of the British public and media so long to realise that Terry is an absolute cock-end. If I were to be a football fan now, then I would be showing some sort of empathy and understanding to everything I’ve mentioned in these last three paragraphs and I can’t do that, as much as I can’t warm to Neil Warnock as ‘a character’. If I had to work with him I’d have chucked coffee over him before lunchtime on my first day, so why should I excuse his behaviour in a dugout?
So, now I no longer like football. I like my team because I can identify with them as they doggedly represent my town. And I like supporting Wales as it offers quintessentially the same against all odds experience. If I had not grown up with my sporting roots on the Welsh side of my family I cannot say I would have felt anywhere near the same empathy to a national team featuring someone like Ashley Cole who deems a weekly wage in excess of what I’ll earn in four years as an insult. I’ve not watched a live Premier League game in years and no longer make any effort to watch Match of the Day. If Alan Shearer can’t be arsed to pick out anything insightful from a day’s top flight football, why should I bother?
Football in its current guise has no real future in this country as a sport. Only one thing can save it, and that’s its own implosion. With a bit of luck, sooner or later, the mysterious foreign investors will stop mysteriously investing and one of the big clubs will have to face the sort of fact those of us in normal life understand; namely, there won’t always be someone waiting to bail you out. It’s a horrible thing to wish on any supporter, that their team has to bite the dust, but its the only way the game can really be saved. The FA ignored the plights of our club in the past, they’ve been similarly inactive in Chester City’s current descent, it will be much harder for them to stick their fingers in their ears and look the other way should Portsmouth collapse.