Saturday, 20 October 2012

What Has Happened To The Beautiful Game?

Over the past two or three weeks, I've been fighting to find the time to start my own blog. I've had several ideas for posts but, first, I wanted to put something down about what's going wrong with football in my eyes. My plan was to find a bit of time over the next week or so and write my initial post, however, this week's events have accelerated that somewhat.

Football has always been my biggest passion in life, the one thing that is almost guaranteed to have some affect on my mood. The majority of the time I love the sport, the fans, the atmosphere and everything else associated with the beautiful game whether my team win, lose or draw. Saying that, the past few months have made me question a lot about the sport, maybe things I was too naive to think about before, but they are most certainly tarnishing the game and fan's reputations as well as making it much less appealing.

In the last week alone we've seen racial abuse, fickle governing bodies, police enquiries, abusive chanting and hooliganism. In addition to this, it's taken John Terry the best part of a year, an FA inquiry and a court case before finally accepting that he used racial language, most likely because he had no more toys to throw out of the pram. Perhaps the most damaging part of this case was the measly fine and ban issued by the FA and the undisclosed punishment by Chelsea which, given it is monetary, will feel like nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Personally, I would have liked to see Terry stripped of the club captaincy after his ban, at the very least, as he has hardly proved himself to be a good figurehead of the club lately but unfortunately the club disagrees.

On a similar topic to the John Terry saga, as it is now known, was the horrendous racial abuse from the Serbian fans at the U21 game in midweek, which was almost as bad as the denial and scapegoating used by their football association. No-one should be made to suffer racial abuse in the workplace whether they are a footballer or not and yet it was Danny Rose who was punished for reacting to the monkey chants. In a few minutes that saw a mass brawl between several players and backroom staff from both teams and yet the only red card was for kicking a football into a crowd. Things like that have to make you just sit and think about why he has been singled out and the rest let off by the referee.

With my team unbeaten and 3rd in the league after a very good performance last year, you'd have thought I would be on top of the moon. That, however, isn't quite the case and I've been left most Saturdays feeling dejected and wondering what is going on in the world of football. I've always been able to get over poor performances, look on the bright side, but this season the reputation of the sport keeps on getting lower and lower because of a few mindless people and stories that dominate the news.

Last Saturday I finally managed to get to Bramall Lane to watch Sheffield United and Oldham. It was my first home game since I moved further North 4 weeks previous and I'd spent the majority of the week looking forward to it, as I did the games throughout the whole of last season. Ultimately, the game was frustrating and a 97th minute away goal made it 1-1. A draw was undoubtedly a fair result but the game itself was a poor one where the referee never had control of the game, leading to as many punches being thrown as there were in Curtis Woodhouse's English light-welterweight title fight last month, probably. The game was also marred by Oldham player Lee Croft getting upset with a ball boy for kicking the ball away from him, an incident that has since had the police looking into a racial abuse claim.

I can accept that there will always be scrappy games, particularly at League One level but there has to be a certain amount of control and respect shown by the players, especially to the staff and the younger members in the ground, including ball boys. The same control and respect must also be shown by the fans. Racism and physical violence never have, and never will have a rightful place in football and yet, sadly, I have never known a time where it has been so dominant with many comparing it to being back in the 1980's.

Personally, I have found it difficult to get excited by the Premier League for the last three years. Perhaps some of that is due to our experiences, but mainly I feel like it is losing some of it's appeal. For me, watching the Premier League was always about watching the best players scoring the best goals, making the best saves and putting in the strongest tackles but in the last few years some of that has been lost. Gone are the days where you can go shoulder to shoulder with a man and the ability to go for 50-50 challenges without fear of punishment. Ultimately, I think the game is turning soft, egged on by weak governing bodies and players who aim to manipulate refereeing decisions. Don't get me wrong, the Premier League still has the potential to stir up some remarkable games, none more so than the final game of last season, and yet days as tense and exciting as that seem to be becoming few and far between.

You may have guessed that I've written this on the back of the Yorkshire derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United. Both teams played out a great game of football with a superb equaliser from Leeds and yet the game will be remembered by the actions of some mindless 'fans'. It's alleged that both sets of supporters had been throwing coins, chairs and bottles as well as crude chants being sung about Dave Jones, the two Leeds fans killed in Istanbul and Jimmy Saville. In addition to that, a flare was set off by the Wednesday fans in the first half, which makes you ask the question of security checks, particularly before a derby. The biggest incident, however, was when a Leeds 'fan' ran onto the pitch after the second half goal and shoved Chris Kirkland to the floor before running off, back into the stands, not before giving the TV cameras a grin and a full view of his face though. Of course, many things have to be asked and we will most likely never know why everything happened but it's another example of off the field actions tarnishing a good game of football. Another thing that will never go away will be the stereotypes people associate with the clubs and last night's game will only damage the reputation of the fans. It's not good for football when we have to talk about this rather than goals, fouls and how the game could have been different.

Games like this make you wonder what it's like for parents watching with small children. One Sheffield Wednesday supporter on the radio spoke about how his 8 year old son told him that he didn't want to go to any more matches. I find that a real shame as I absolutely loved my time going the football when I was that age and it gave me great memories to share with my Dad. Sadly, though, it's far too easy to see why the young lad would say that, particularly after a game such as last night's but I hope he does return to a game soon and enjoys it.

One thing that I am completely torn over with regards to football is the use of Twitter. Most of the time, it is a great place to find information, share ideas and get the latest from clubs and players and yet too many people still continue to abuse it. I use Twitter to follow cricket too and I think footballers should be envious of how well the professional cricketers handle themselves and how little is heard about them receiving abuse. Admittedly, footballers may be more well known but it is unnerving how many leave the site due to abuse or because they abuse their rights. I have lost count of the number of incidents which have lead to clubs banning players, police being notified about users and players leaving due to the abuse they get. I don't think we are far away from seeing stricter rules from Premier League clubs following the new code of conduct for players on England duty.

The highs and the lows are what makes football brilliant for us fans and yet I know I'm not alone when I say that I'm falling out of love with what the game is becoming. I'm not saying that we will ever live in an ideal world and, of course, jokes can be passed between supporters and players but far too often 'banter' goes too far. I hate the word and, to me, it's almost a cover-up used by people who make personal jibes at others, as I'm sure people will say about some chants last night and over the coming weekend. I don't buy it and I believe that questions should be asked about why they do it. All that's happening at the moment is the demise of our beloved sport and, unfortunately, I can't see anything new happening in the short term.

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