One of the new things we’ve seen this season amongst fans is an Against Modern Football movement. In the stands, Celtic fans at the weekend held up a banner saying ‘Feyenoord v Ajax €20 B. Munich v Bremen €15 Celtic v Kilmarnock £25 Rip-off prices = empty stadiums’.That banner was angry at tickets to see Celtic play being £25. That’s roughly £15 less than the cheapest ticket for White Hart Lane to see Tottenham lose at home to Wigan.
Whether it’s Jumpers for Goalposts by Rob Smyth and Georgina Turner, the ‘Spurs Ultras’ movement that sees a group of fans pick select games (most recently a NextGen game between Spurs and Barcelona) where they will make an effort to sing and chant like in days of yore, there appears to be from many quarters a visceral dislike of the modern game.
Of its expense, its X Factor style production, the increasing lack of ‘atmosphere’ in grounds, of the focus on penalties, red cards, individual players and supposed scandals rather than the actual football, on the increasing lack of distance between fans and players, how money has meant smaller clubs don’t have a hope in hell of challenging for honours.
But one of the things which really makes football currently so tiring and tedious to watch and talk about at times at times is the belief, perpetrating from bad managers, pathetic fans and s**t stirring press outlets that there is bias against clubs, players, coaches. That referees on purpose give decisions against certain clubs, that the FA, UEFA, FIFA rule in favour of certain clubs, that journalists are constantly peddling agendas in favour or against teams and their fans.
This is nonsense. There aren’t grand conspiracies to deny teams success. Football is not some epic swindle like a Lance Armstrong-era Tour de France where what masquerades as a competition is in fact a sham for the viewing public. Referees don’t give decisions in favour of teams on purpose or because they’re heavily influence by home crowds and angry, sweary, ugly managers.
Why would a referee be inclined to favour one side over another? He’s being paid handsomely to be a referee, which means he has to be as fair, impartial and good at his job as he can. Making mistakes will not only mean he’ll be officiating at a lower calibre of match but mean he will be pilloried on the internet, by ‘pundits’, in pubs, playgrounds and offices. His life will temporarily become a living hell. His family may even get affected adversely and he may get all this even if he’s done his job correctly.
Why would a referee, on a whim, give decisions deliberately against a team that will make his life a misery. The people on Twitter who wish cancer on a referee for correctly awarding a penalty against the team they support I imagine have no idea what it’s like to pick up a paper, go on a website, drive your kids to school and be abused, treated like a leper.
I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be subjected to that. But because I’m not a complete moron I’m vaguely aware of how being a referee of Premiership matches in today’s world can lead to their lives for days, weeks, even month and years being adversely affected due to an incredibly difficult split second decision they made with no help from anyone else. Also I have the basic decency not to go on Twitter or Facebook and wish death on a referee or player or manager because, well, I have no wish to frighten the bejesus out of people who do a very difficult job in front of millions of angry, bitter people who’d serenade the second coming of Jesus with a chant of ‘you’re just a shit Andy Carroll’. Or something worse to the tune of Sloop John Fucking B.
Imagine, as suggested in Ian King’s piece on Two Hundred Percent that roles are reversed. A fan, idling time in the office suddenly has 30,000 fans on his back, millions watching at home on television. Then while working on a spreadsheet he enters the wrong value into a cell. He gets told he should ‘fuck off and die’, has the fans chant the ‘office worker’s a wanker’, a parody Twitter account in his name makes unfunny, obvious jokes that gets hundreds of retweets while journalists say his error is ‘unacceptable at this level’. All that comes in about five minutes after he’s made a mistake anyone could have made. This scenario doesn’t even consider the sheer difficulty of refereeing.
I also am aware tweeting death threats is not a joke but nowadays gets you both arrested and mentioned in the Daily Mail in one of their occasional ‘football fans are sub-human scum’ articles (Next to a caption ogling a 14 year old girl while the front page condemns Jimmy Savile as a monster. Probably). Also, as I’m not a complete dunderhead, I know better than to believe the FA are the ‘Ferguson Association’, that Howard Webb always gives decisions to Man United, that Liverpool are persecuted by the authorities or even that Transport for London deliberately schedule maintenance works on the Victoria and Piccadilly lines for Spurs games but not Arsenal ones.
I can accept that bad managers, bad players, bad tactics and bad performances are the reasons for why my team loses. Not because of a biased referee or the bias of the FA in scheduling a fixture slightly more in favour of the other team (because of TV demands), not the wish to see a certain team beat another team. In other words, I’m not an idiot who believes in conspiracy theories that David Icke would struggle to make sense of.
Yes, refereeing decisions can turn games. Yes, they make errors that will favour one side in a match. But it’s not because they are biased. It’s because they made a mistake. Everyone in all walks of life makes mistakes that affect different people to differing degrees. You don’t purposefully make mistakes (unless you’re a chef cooking a potentially lethal variety of fish for Jeremy Hunt perhaps). That’s not because of bias. It’s because you screwed up.
Players, managers and owners would like fans to continue to blame referees and the authorities. They’re all making money off the back of fans and don’t particularly want supporters raising attention to the fact they’re not earning their money and perhaps deserve to be removed from their jobs. Better to blame the lackey making the decisions rather than accept blame themselves.
See how Mourinho, Ferguson and others use the referee as a convenient scapegoat when their own poor decisions cost their team the game or as a scapegoat for one of their players getting sent off or playing poorly. They can’t have their players inflated ego punctured, but are more than happy to blame fixture congestion, the kick off time, the referee, even the colour of their shirts on one memorable occasion.
Journalists like this state of affairs as well. Football is for the most part fairly predictable. You see the same players in the same formations for the same teams combining to create the same scorelines. Controversy and scandals are more unpredictable and of course the British public, for better or worse, do seem to love sordid material and to have a slightly scary enjoyment of reading up on people’s private and personal lives. And it suits them to focus on red cards, penalty decisions, personalities rather than the game.
Also there’s the fact that modern journalism, with exceptions like The Blizzard, is all about getting website hits and increasing advertising revenues. That means stories about the big names and the big stories. It also makes writing awful articles that guarantee hundreds of comments swearing at the author or worse, insisting that their silly, illogical views are correct. Writing articles for people who think that ‘hater’ and ‘ABU’ are sensible terms that don’t merit a severe thrashing with the hardest lead pipe you can find.
In this respect modern journalism is like The Producers, purposely writing terrible stories encouraging talk of ‘bias’, ‘agendas’ and conspiracies to bring in hits, readers and money. And when journalists do encounter sensible bloggers who disagree with them and write better copy despite not having qualifications, salary and all the perks that come with being a football hack for a tabloid, they’re dismissed as trolls.
So everyone’s involved in this. The encouraging and proliferation of conspiracies, claims of bias which allows idiots to have the loudest voices and makes talking football an increasingly arduous, unpleasant, logic stretching chore and not the pleasure it once was.
Jack Howes is a Spurs fan who happens to always carry a 1984 Tube map with him. Why? Ask him yourself.