Digital detox and the football fan

CAN anyone remember when they had to actually wait for a football result? Did the life of a fan lack enrichment exist before the age of smart phones, apps and SKYTV?

Instant gratification and constant connectivity is what it’s all about, from up-to-date football scores and the obsession of being forever in touch with your “friends”. Yesterday, at Hammersmith tube station, I was knocked flying by an impatient young woman who was glued to her screen, unaware of what was going on around her. Doubtless she was texting a meaningless message about something she was LOL about – to a friend she was probably engaging with for the 40th time that day. She was a Hull City fan, so she was probably late for her train back north.

Go to a match and see how much time people spend on their smart phones, distracted from the match itself – see them scramble with their devices to take a photo of a penalty, so when someone is shaping-up to take a spot kick, the audience looks as though they are holding bibles or prayer books in the air. Last season at the Etihad, as the game kicked-off, a woman started watching Cold Feet on her phone, such was her interest in watching City versus Fulham!

The preoccupation with these slippery, palm-filling objects has spawned a mini industry – “living in the moment” – manifesting itself in the form of “mindfulness”, bullet journals (the reinvention of “to do” lists, “diaries” and “reminders”, and countless magazines devoted to calmness, breathing and “smelling the daisies”. It’s as if a whole new generation has discovered that for centuries we have had pens, pencils and paper and that we don’t need a soundtrack for every moment of the day.

Real-time news and information overload have contributed to the decline of newspapers and traditional modes of dissemination. It is not an imperative that we read a match report anymore, because we have statistics that will reveal how a game went – possession, shots and free kicks, as well as vital data on goals scored. But even before that, we get stats telling us how many goals a team should score in a game. If you cannot invest the time to read a 500-word report, just absorb the detail.

There’s no doubt that data accessibility is better today than it was for the fan than in the 1970s and 1980s, when there were very few ways to find out how your team fared on Saturday afternoon. Midweek was even harder to get information about games. News at Ten would give you the results, but no detail whatsoever. You had BBC Radio 2 (how many times did you stand near an oddball with a transistor radio clamped to his ear?) and the now long lost classified newspapers on Saturday evening, but if you missed the results, read by deep-voiced presenters, who might have to wait until Sunday morning. However, there was a sense of anticipation about opening the newspaper and searching for the results.

I recall in 1968-69 season waiting to see how Chelsea had got on against DWS Amsterdam in the Inter-Cities’ Fairs Cup. The Daily Mirror was delivered, as usual, around 7.30 am, the letter flap always making a “clunk” as the paper fell to the ground. I dashed down stairs and sat on the bottom step, flicking to the back pages. I was still bleary-eyed and saw the results. I mis-read the scoreline as 6-0 instead of 0-0. The reality was that Chelsea had lost on the toss of a coin. There was no match report as it was played in Amsterdam. If a paper ever featured pictures of a night game, the image was of players emerging out of a deep-black forest.

It’s a popular pastime for the middle-aged to say “it was better in my day”, but in truth there are so many things from the 1970s that were really not very good. Britain was a mess, very primitive in many ways. Connectivity was poor (six weeks wait for a telephone) and the political landscape was dire.

But I am tired of technology saturation and the fact that I, too, have succumbed to constantly checking my emails, texts, news and data. I made a decision to de-tox and see what the result of not being totally connected would amount to.  I exchanged my smart phone for a “dumb” phone, a Nokia 3310 which was described as “retro”, underlining that with technology changing so fast, so too has the definition of “retro”. I kept my smart phone just in case, but on the day I went to see Fulham versus Hull (my Nokia was as orange in appearance as Hull’s shirts), I deliberately left my phone in my rucksack, buried beneath a stack of magazines that I intended to read over the weekend: The Economist, The New Yorker, France Football and, as an experiment, Mundial. You see, the obsession with being glued to your phone means you can easily mislay one of those basic human skills – slow reading. The idea of slow news has been gathering momentum in recent months, try Air Mail or Tortoise, which combine that concept with email delivery.

On this occasion, I was not going to keep in touch with football going on elsewhere, I was not going to text and I would only use my dumb phone when I really needed to. Strangely, I didn’t think twice about it and I was deliberately avoiding the results, even Chelsea’s game at Watford that kicked-off at 5.30pm.

In fact, I took it even further by avoiding the results until Sunday when I went to buy a newspaper, although the expression of Arsenal fans at Finsbury Park told me that the Gunners had not won against Wolves. Here was that sense of anticipation, returning after years of manically keeping abreast of every kick, every goal, every reaction. Chelsea won 2-1 at Watford and not knowing that on Saturday evening didn’t affect my well-being or the state of the world as we know it. This reminded me of an episode of the legendary BBC sit-com, Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, in which the two main characters spend a day trying to avoid the result of an England game in Bulgaria.

I’m not sure this detox will last for long, but eschewing smart phones, even if it is only periodical, is not an altogether bad thing. I have a Mac and an iPad to access emails (my preferred mode of contact) so I don’t need a phone to provide these services.

Of course, much of this article can be interpreted as a rant by a middle-aged man, but the latest revival of pen and paper and print magazines suggests there is a movement towards a simpler, more rewarding life. Smart phones have many, many benefits,  although comedian David Mitchell compared them to atomic bombs in his latest book, but just sometimes, it works to play a little “dumb”.



Photos: PA