IT has been a bad week or two for football in many ways. The tragic air crash in Colombia, the child abuse scandals and assorted football officials accused of corruption in other parts of Latin America. Along with some of the financial and corporate misdemeanours that seem to characterise our times, it sometimes makes you feel that there is little you can trust.
These are troubled and uncertain days, economically, politically and socially, not just in the UK, but around the world. Football was once the great distraction, the working man’s pressure valve. Whether it was Lowry’s evocative painting or J.B. Priestley’s description of a sea of humanity coming away from t’match, football was how working class folk got their entertainment – that and the music hall.
Times change and football now transcends class, genders and races. It is a global language and in non-league circles, if you bump into a group of fans in the pub before a game, ice can be quickly broken by just talking about football. Over the past few years, I’ve experienced ad-hoc encounters with fans from all over the country and each time, the thing that we’ve had in common is a love of football.
It’s the same if you venture abroad. You don’t need a phrase book to get by with assorted South Americans, Asians or central Europeans if you turn the subject to football. My son found as much when he was travelling around Germany a year or two ago. As he and his friends booked into a hostel, they were confronted by a gang of Brazilians. While one of the group, an eager economics student from Cambridge, was keen to discuss the Brazilian economy with these tourists from Sao Paulo, receiving shrugs and blank looks in response, when my son started to talk about the Copa Libertadores, he had made a friend or two for life.
Similarly, when I was in Budapest a few years back, I decided to take a boat trip down the Danube and on a deserted cruiser, our guide was proud to tell us his name was “Ferenc”, to which I replied, “Ah, like Puskas”. We then talked, inevitably, about 1953 and 6-3 at Wembley. We were not exactly bosom buddies, but football tore down a few barriers and I still have the Honved pennant hanging in my office to testify.
Sometimes, we have to be reminded that football is, after all the bad things we may have heard, a game, recreational, an opportunity for healthy rivalry and combat and just simply a way to have a bit of fun. Occasionally, we seem to forget that and perhaps take each defeat far too seriously and demand too much of a bunch of 22 year-olds who are entitled to their off days – especially at non-league level.
When you hear of some of the dark sides to the game, it does help put things into perspective. A defeat might be painful, perhaps a little setback for this latest season’s aspirations, but hey, we’ll get over it – there’s another game next week, another season in a few months and the club at the end of the road will, hopefully, always be there to lift you up, raise your hopes and then push you over a cliff of despair when you least expect it. It is the football condition and most of it is temporary. Some of the things we’ve heard about this past few days are far more damaging and infinitely more lasting than a 1-0 defeat at Bradford Park Avenue or Altrincham.
I watch football all over the place, in Continental Europe, in Japan, even in Hull last week. But my default position is non-league and after the last week of negative news and quite dire stories in the media, I was itching to be among people who share my passion for the game. It might not always be quality entertainment and I’m as critical as anyone about some of the ways football is run, but taken in the right spirit, and with the right level of expectation, it can certainly provide you with a tonic. Right now, football needs a bit of that. This article first appeared in the Non-League Paper, Sunday December 4, 2016