On Friday 18th April 1930 nothing happened. Well OK, perhaps this is stretching the truth a bit… some things did happen. In Glossop a dog barked. In Poole Harbour a boat moved. In Newton Abbot a woman coughed. Folk in cloth caps caught trams and people ate family meals of which dripping was a key ingredient. But chiefly nothing of any great significance happened, and so for the first and only time in British broadcasting history there was no news. Instead the BBC apologised to the nation (they’re British after all) and instead played ten minutes of light piano music.
For the best part of June, as far as football is concerned, nothing has happened. Since England trudged from the Wembley turf three weeks ago football, on domestic fields at least, has not happened. Instead its place has been taken with the game’s unsatisfactory modern-day by-product of hype and speculation masquerading as news. It’s like going to the local cinema only to find that instead of screening films they’re just dishing out copies of Heat magazine. Here you go, flick through that. I know it’s the artistry of cinematography you really enjoy, but have you seen George Clooney’s new beard?
Heat magazine actually has a case to answer here, it being the gossip magazine that spawned a genre. The “OMG does she have cellulite?” reactionary critical over-analysis forged in this hair-salon waiting room fodder and its many tribute publications has emerged blinking into the mainstream. Coupled with the relentlessly rolling 24 hour news channels and the immediate accessibility of the internet it has led us to a point where ‘fact’ is actually quite low down in the priorities for a news story, sitting awkwardly in the background of the money-shot of the word ‘exclusive’. We can’t afford to wait around for trivialities like proof and balance when there’s hit counts and sales figures at stake.
And so the pursuit amongst many sports media outlets is not to be right, but to be first. Rumours are bumped up from steerage and given the full first-class news treatment; a ‘BREAKING NEWS’ ticker-tape across the screen, a reporter in a stadium car-park, the works. Spend a summer in front of Sky Sports News and you could storm next year’s Mastermind with the specialist subject ‘Football Stadium car-parks and training ground gates of the Premier League’. And who are these people who spend their free time hanging around outside their club’s ground in a replica shirt anyway? In any other facet of life if you spent your free time hanging around outside someone’s workplace wearing their clothes passers-by would question your mental stability and eventually call the police, when it comes to football Sky elect to treat such people as experts.
I am a football fan. I really like football. I have always had a place in my heart for football. However, brief footage of a player driving away from a training ground in a luxury car is not football. Alleged sightings of players looking in estate agents windows miles away from their current home is not football. Quotes from “a source close to the striker” or “an unnamed club employee” are not football. They’re idle speculation, they’re gossip and I don’t care for them. Nor do I care for clichéd jargon. In my world ‘come and get me pleas’ was the phrase used on the phone to mum by a friend backing out of a sleep-over, and that’s how I intend it to remain.
But no, even when there is no actual football – aside from French tennis players being feted for performing six kick-ups during a change of ends at Wimbledon – we must be bombarded by the pretence that football’s periphery, its gaggle of hangers on, is just as important. Everything is breaking. Everything is just in. Everything is live and it’s all in HD. It matters not that it has all the substance of Kerry Katona’s wedding vows, look how crisp and realistic we look as we shout it at you.
It is for all these reasons that I can no longer stomach a football free summer. During the season I can at least ignore all the pomposity and hyperbole which surrounds football by burying my head in the game itself. In the summer there is no game in which to absorb myself, it’s in the fondly remembered but irretrievable past and so instead we’re just left with by the ensuing unpleasantness; a two month hangover, and a Vodka Red Bull induced one at that; ill-tasting, somewhat embarrassing to be associated with and fuelled by a painful and seemingly continuous stream of luminous bile.
Why is it so important that we stay tuned? Why must we pretend things are happening? Why are 24-hour news channels allowed to give false gravitas by using the verb ‘understands’ when the actual weight to the story more specifically merits ‘reckons’ or ‘hazards a guess’? We know there is no football, you know there is no football, why not just admit it? Accept the existence of a close-season, abandon your permanent tone of urgency, look down the camera lens and tell us proudly and openly; there is nothing happening in football before handing over to Jim White for a ten minute harpsichord solo. We would love you more for it. Who knows, we may even start to trust you again.
Am I really the only one longing for an apology and a pleasant concerto?