I CAME home from Bern in Switzerland after seeing a game that comprised non-stop action and nine goals. My wife asked me if I had enjoyed it and I had to admit that it had been one of the better 90 minutes I’d seen in a while. I then worked out that over the past year, I had seen something like 55 games and I could remember only a few. The fact is, watching football is something of a lottery and more often than not, what’s being served up is dull, lacking in excitement and short on goals.
If you believe what you hear on TV, every game in the Premier is “fantastic” “full of action” and packed with emotion. The Championship is “madcap” and “anything can happen” and the entire Champions League is full of drama and intrigue. Total nonsense. The product, as they say, is often very average.
There’s two ways of looking at this. First of all, in the eyes of the committed fan and secondly, from the viewpoint of the neutral.
Pyrotechnics and streamers cannot disguise that the product is often a let-down
From the die-hard fan’s perspective, the result is the most important thing. Victory is the only qualification required to make a game passable – unless you’re a West Ham fan still hankering for the days of Moore-Hurst-Peters and the so-called “academy”. A healthy win makes it even better, but a single goal, earning three points, even if it has been preceded by 89 minutes of negative and go-nowhere football, will get the tick in the box the fan yearns for.
But from the neutral observer’s seat, it is the quality of the game that matters. He wants to be entertained and served up an exhibition of the fine arts. That 1-0 win, ground out of a sterile midfield battle, which all too many games have become, will not satisfy the casual, discerning supporter. “At least it wasn’t goalless.”
For people who cut their teeth watching the likes of Cruyff, Best, Beckenbauer, Gullit and Van Basten, the methodical, power-play of today does little to excite – if you are not committed to one of the clubs on the pitch. Being committed allows so many sins to be pardoned, but it doesn’t stop the uncommitted bemoaning the fact the game was “crap”. Too many games can be classified as “just so”.
How much of modern football is so mediocre that we allow the occasion, the anticipation, the atmosphere and the joy of “being there” to cloud our judgement on what we are paying to see? With crowds almost at an all-time high, just getting into a game is an achievement at some grounds. Once you’re there and you see the packed stadium, it is not difficult to be captivated – although having seen a lot of games abroad, I have to admit I believe continental European crowds make more noise, wave more flags and create more of a buzz. Some of our stadiums in Britain have very little atmosphere – for example Arsenal’s Emirates.
So the game becomes an “event” but the end product is often a let-down. But we keep getting told the Premier is the best league in the world. And the Championship is right up there with it in terms of entertainment. We live in a world where superficiality rules and right now, English football’s top leagues are living by the code, “it’s great because we say so”. It’s expensive, in your face, backed by a pumped-up sound track, heavily marketed and over-inflated. The Euros were a let down, the UEFA club showpiece, the Champions League, was dull and sadly, every big game seems to disappoint. Moreover, the signs are not good – 2.56 goals per game so far in 2016-17 in the Premier is a significant drop on 2015-16. It’s early days, but I can’t help feeling that a trend is emerging and we may be tipping into an era that will provide poor spectator fare – at a high price. Spin that one, Mr TV broadcaster.