There is no escape from football in 2015. It is a 7-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year orgy of rumour-mongering, overreaction and outrage, interspersed with the odd 90-minute kickabout.
It’s bloody brilliant.
It’s not even that you don’t have to go a day without football, the Europa League plus the TV creep into Mondays and Fridays has long since seen to that. With Twitter, Reddit and the hundreds of blogs and football websites, you don’t have to go an instant without football if you don’t want to. Back in the day, you used to read the paper to find out what your team was up to, and if you wanted the latest information you’d check teletext. How did we ever cope?
With the sheer enormity of football, us fans have had to become sophisticated in how we seek information. We have to filter out the clickbait, dodge paywalls and understand the agendas put forward by certain pundits. Take the Telegraph — once a bastion of reliable reporting, good cricket writing and solid conservative views. Now, all on the same page, you have some of the most shameless clickbaiting you’ll see anywhere on the internet, the phoned-in bitterness of one ‘Arry Redknapp, plus the reporting of Matt Law and Jason Burt, the source of the most well-informed Spurs news all summer.
On Twitter, you’ve got to find the right people to follow, on Reddit you’ve got to learn not to get into arguments with 15-year-olds who can snark faster than you, and online you’ve got to learn that ITK generally means “don’t have a sodding clue but do love getting hits on my website”.
I love reading the Spurs-supporting stats guys (yup, they are generally guys…) like Michael Caley and James Yorke, and am frequently enlightened. But expected goals? I think it is the “massively f**king predictable” goals like the one on Saturday by Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez that we need to focus on. I respect the work that goes into those massive pieces full of tactical GIFs, but I never read them because if the Spurs defenders can’t be bother to learn from their errors, I’ll be damned if I can be. I admire the efforts to bring logic to the chaos that is football, but sometimes, and maybe it is just a reaction to watching too many Spurs games, it feels a bit like a dog chasing its tail.
I prefer cherry picking pieces of knowledge from here and there, and shamelessly using the fruits of other people’s labour to support my preexisting conclusions. Does that make me worse? Or is that how we all operate, deep down? Just because an argument is well argued, mathematically reasoned and regressed to a factor of a million, doesn’t mean it isn’t just as wrong as the luddite, Not ITK, scribbled-down-on-the-back-of-a-napkin, hopelessly random points of view put forward periodically by piss-poor bloggers such as myself.
My problem with football is that the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it becomes. Where more forensic minds are able to dissect and make sense of aspects of the game, my response is emotional. When Spurs have a good result, I get my blinkers on and see nothing but sunshine. When Spurs have a bad result, I go through the seven stages of grief in five minutes flat. The rest of the time, I find myself obsessing over minutiae, getting worked up over things I have no control over, or being utterly overwhelmed by the sheer ludicrousness of modern football and the existential questions that this triggers.
What is football?
And why football?
Football used to be a town-wide excuse for a day-long brawl, so is it really any wonder it is now run by a criminal organization operating out of a bunker in a tax haven that attempted to sell the sport’s soul to a petro state? Oh I’m sorry, it’s the beautiful game now.
In England, football was something that took place once a week, something for communities, something that became a national event only on FA Cup final day. Football on a Saturday, church on a Sunday. What happened? Looking at it in the cold light of day, I’m really surprised God lost that one.
Football has become mindblowingly vast. Deloitte reported that FC Barcelona generated 1.2% of the entire city of Barcelona’s GDP in the previous season. Barcelona! Sure Messi is a good player and the Qatar sponsorship deal is a lucrative one, but this is a city of 1.6 million people, 7.5 million tourists a year, the economic, cultural and political capital of Spain’s wealthy Catalonia region, the birthplace of Gaudi, an Olympic host city. Mes que un club? Well, erm, yes actually.
Chairman no longer have to simply hire and fire managers, count ticket sales and sign off on transfers. They must balance currency fluctuations, develop sophisticated tax reduction strategies and assess values of image rights in player deals. Managers don’t just handle tactics and morale, there is sports science, psychology and media to consider too. Football journalists no longer just write 300 word match reports for the Green ‘Un. They have to investigate finances, uncover corruption and assess corporate intrigue, all the while transforming themselves into social media brands immune to industry cutbacks with thousands of inquisitive followers who require more attention that editors ever did. Massive corporations outbid each other for the multi-billion pound right to broadcast a few hours of live action per week.
But when you stop and think about it, the foundation of this vast panoply is weird in the extreme. Supporting a team, and all the revenue generating opportunity for the industry it triggers, is supremely irrational.
Iain Macintosh reported delightfully last week on the Carlisle United fans travelling down to Plymouth for a 4-1 defeat and back again. You can admire these people, you can respect their dedication and stamina, but you have to acknowledge a stark truth: they are utterly bonkers.
The other week, I went to see my local team, relegated two seasons in a row, get beaten at home by local rivals. Ticket prices have stayed the same, the football has gotten infinitely worse, but there were over 5,000 people still thinking “we’ll turn it round this year” despite there being zero evidence in favour.
Last Saturday, I chose to spend a glorious weekend afternoon sat inside my living room, constantly refreshing a sh***y stream so I could watch the Spurs match even though it was lagging two minutes behind Soccer Saturday and I knew how the mess unfolded before I saw it. Did I get any pleasure from watching Spurs struggle against Leicester while I struggled to shut down the pop-up gambling ads? Not really. The Deli Alli moment was nice, but my happiness at that was more than outweighed by the anger at the goal that followed. Will I do the same again on the next match that is not televised? Oh yes. Football is a drug, just as addictive but with fewer highs.
Mind you, Spurs are a particularly abusive team to support. A deadly combination of high expectations, almost inevitable disappointment, plus a long-held tradition of general softness and inability to perform when needed. I always love reading little Reddit things by new Spurs fans explaining why they have chosen Spurs. Oh you guys don’t know what you’ve let yourself in for!
Is it rational to be waking up in the middle of the night to check news about Spurs? Is it rational for a grown man to be following academy prospects on Twitter and despairing when you fear they’ll be among the 99% who don’t actually make it? Is it rational to spend hours obsessing over transfer targets, tactics, dressing room cliques, styles of play and selection, things you have precisely zero control over?
Nope, rational it ain’t. Being a football fan is utterly irrational, if you boil it down to its constituent parts. I don’t care if my club considers me a Client Reference Number, and the industry considers me a cow to be milked. I happily submit to it, if that allows me to get on with being a Spurs fan.
If there is one thing that truly annoys me about football, it’s the idea that some fans are somehow “better” than others. Liverpool fans are the worst of course, the belief that they are “purer” than other fans. But at least you can rely on them to take the bait.
But there is discrimination even amongst Spurs fans — “you don’t go to the games, so your view isn’t worth anything.” Just because you don’t attend the games, or choose not to, doesn’t make your opinion invalid. This is a club with a 45,000-long waiting list for season tickets. Sure, if you watch every game you may be able to offer more first-hand insight, but there is no such thing as a better opinion. And let’s not kid ourselves, 99.9% of what is written and spoken about Spurs is opinion.
Personally, I love that fact that Spurs have fans all over the world, and everyday new people in places like the US and Australia are having that awful moment of realization: “Oh god, I’m a Spurs fan”. Not every fan lives in London, not every fan lives in the UK, not every fan can afford a ticket, not every fan is able to make the games. There are just Spurs fans, that is all the counts. There’s no better, there’s just different.
We are now at that silly time of the season when the media and footballing intelligentsia are desperately trying to avoid drawing too many conclusions from too few number of games. Websites run articles like “Top 10 Knee Jerk Reactions”, and then invite kneejerk reactions to the kneejerk reactions.
My kneejerk? So what! It’s an emotional game, we are meant to react — apathy isn’t a normal reaction to football, unless you were a Villa fan under Paul Lambert.
If you want to freak out over the fact the squad had only one striker to start the season, go ahead.
If you want to scream at Daniel Levy for once again failing to provide Mauricio Pochettino with the central midfielder he craves, go ahead.
If you want to defend Erik Lamela, praise Mousa Dembele and dismiss Nacer Chadli, go ahead.
If you want to write off the season, claim that “this will be our year”, hype our young prospects to unimaginable levels, go ahead.
If you think Emmanuel Adebayor still has a role to play, Hugo Lloris should be sold and Christian Eriksen is just a poor man’s Danny Murphy, go ahead.
If you think that 4-2-3-1 is too limiting and we should be back to four-four-f**king-two, go ahead.
If you are “Poch out”, “Levy out”, “Kyle Walker out”, or the whole bloody lot of them out, go ahead.
There’s no right opinion, there’s no wrong opinion, there’s just being a Spurs fan and the emotions this triggers.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not ITK, can’t create a spreadsheet and have never set foot at White Hart Lane. Ignore the snark, the cynicism, the insidious attempts at logic, and have an opinion.*
Us Spurs fans should never forget we still have the right to be foaming-at-the-mouth, hypocritical, kneejerk, over-reactionary, deluded, one-eyed idiots. It’s how we cope.
*(I’d add a caveat though, in light of the extraordinary recent revelations by Martin Cloake, if you could keep your opinions civil and not entirely directed at THST leadership, that would be appreciated…)