HOW often have you heard football fans bemoan the fact that the season has ended and that “I don’t know what I’m going to do for the next few months…perhaps I will watch cricket” ?
Football is an addiction, but it is also about expectation, forlorn hopes and thwarted ambition. While there’s a close season, there’s this 10-12 week window where dreams can be formulated and reality doesn’t knock on the door. In other words, fans can hope for something and it won’t get tested until mid-August.
The close season is also a time for reflection, looking back on the past campaign to see what went right, what went wrong and whether things can be improved. Catching the breath, you might say, having a rest from emotions being stretched on a weekly basis.
Believe it or not, though, football fans need a rest as much as the players. Most die-hards are irrational people, they are short-sighted and they place too much importance on the fortunes of their local football team. With 92 clubs in the English structure and hundreds more in non-league, it is impossible that every fan in the country can be satisfied. There are more questions than answers, sang Johnny Nash in the 1970s, and that’s about right for football. There are more losers than winners. A simple game where one goal can decide or change a result. Therefore, the margin between success and failure can be extremely narrow. With that one goal changing someone’s life, albeit until the next fixture, surely football fans need some respite from that?
Players certainly need a holiday, but nobody seems to think a highly-paid individual in any profession has the right to basic human requirements, that money compensates for almost every discomfort in life. The summer interval also enables clubs to strengthen their squads, an important element in this age of transfer windows. In the old days, clubs would buy during the season, but drastic rebuilds are like fixing an aeroplane mid-flight. It happens in non-league football, but mostly with sub-optimal results.
The summer of 2019 has turned out to be the most crowded of close seasons – CONCACAF Gold Cup, Women’s World Cup, Copa America and African Cup of Nations. And that’s not including football played elsewhere. Amid all these competitions, the fixture lists have been released and journalists are still examining them and creating headlines out of a “busy October”, “tough January” and “challenging run-in.” The fact is, there’s not really much of a story in a fixture list – although Salford City might disagree this year – because everybody has to play everybody else twice. The order of fixtures doesn’t really matter to people like Manchester City and Liverpool and a host of other clubs, because their approach will probably be the same if they meet United in September or March, or both. Furthermore, we all know that the Premier is all about the top six and 14 others, so the really crucial games are, probably, the 30 fixtures in that mini-league.
But anticipation contributes a great deal to the proposition. Fixture lists breed excitement, they are the first signal that the routine will return in a matter of weeks, and that’s part of the peculiar world of football and being a football fan. That’s why there needs to be clear blue water between 2018-19 and 2019-20. The danger is that we will, eventually, fill up that gap – for TV reasons, for commercial reasons or because people today seem to have a very limited attention span. How many of us switch channels in the commercial break or move on that music track? If CDs had been around in the 1960s, dear old Ringo Starr would never have had a look-in. We all contribute to the modern disease of instant gratification. We cannot wait for the things we crave and we want the things we crave all the time.
And yet, football fans today invariably have more TV channels than they can handle showing football. But what is increasingly happening is the choice is so extensive some people cannot concentrate on any one game for fear of missing something better on another channel. Too many options means too many decisions, too many distractions.
There is an antidote to this affliction and that is to cancel your SKY/BT and rely on conventional channels for football. I know more than one person that has done this and the result is that Match of the Day gets watched religiously and completely in contrast to before when there was never any necessity to tune in.
And that’s another reason why we should sit back in May, take a deep breath and be a little mindful. Like the weather, football seasons come around, we shouldn’t wish away our summer drumming our fingers and wringing our hands because the opium of the masses is having a holiday.