Those of you who have attended football over the last 10-15 years will all be familiar with the huge changes at our grounds, especially in the Premier League. The vast amount of money that has flowed into English football has been great in many many ways, not least the quality of what you actually see on the pitch. And anyone who’s had the pleasure of watching Cantona, Bergkamp, Henry, Ronaldo, and dare I say Drogba, will testify to this. English teams have again been dominant in Europe and have played some great stuff. But the passion has gone.
When did English football become a middle class sport? The greatness of football is that anyone can play, all you need is a ball, or failing that anything round (a stone, a ball of string, a coke can). It’s the great leveller and the reason why great players and great clubs have emerged in the poorest countries and cities across the world. Football’s roots in this country are firmly working class, it was gritty and it was raw, and it had passion. Sure it had problems, some of which had to be addressed, but this was all part of the package; it came as it was and the middle class hated it. “A gentleman’s sport played by thugs” was the snob line, and presumably the reason why there are no decent football clubs play in ‘nice’ places like Surrey and Hampshire.
But the Premier League’s money has brought with it a gentrification, and suddenly football has an acceptable face with lawyers, accountants and bankers all happily chatting by the water cooler about the game at the weekend. It’s all very charming, but really they should fuck off and stick to their own sports.
With £1,000 season tickets comes an older and richer crowd. Whilst even fifteen years ago the mere mention at a ground of merlot or a ski holiday would have led to abuse or worse, nowadays it’s the norm. 16-20 year olds simply can’t afford to watch football anymore, and whereas your old football crowd stood and supported their team to the end, the new crowd sits and moans about the game. Smoking is banned, standing is banned, and the people who would bleed for their team are pushed out by those simply want to enjoy the game and then go home to take the dog for a walk.
A few months back two guys (season ticket holders for twenty years) were kicked out of an Arsenal game because the guy behind them complained to a steward that they wouldn’t sit down, and the only thing they were doing was standing and singing. It’s symptomatic and the result is nationwide. It’s not just London clubs like Arsenal or Chelsea, it’s nationwide. The atmosphere at Old Trafford and even Anfield is dying on its seat.
Whereas you go to Germany and it’s a different story.
A recent trip to Union (pronounced “onion”) Berlin for €13 was like English football of old. A mixed crowd of old men, teenagers, and young men in denim (I allow this one diversion for our German cousins). Drinking was allowed, smoking was allowed, the stand behind the goal was actually a stand (rather than a padded seating area), and the atmosphere was great all game. Sure the match itself was terrible, but it had soul.
Dortmund vs Arsenal was the same, the atmosphere was pumped, and it put us all to shame. Maybe the money men rule for now, but at some point we need to take a step back and think what it’s all about. We’ve sold out but Germans can teach us how to love our own national sport again.
by Pete Sanderson