Football has been consumed by the ogre that is the Champions League. Being of a certain age I remember with great fondness the fact that we qualified for, and won the Cup Winners’ Cup against Real Madrid in 1971, as I’m sure other fans remember Fairs Cup wins and UEFA Cup wins. A competition was exactly that, you were there on the merit of having won or achieved something. In the case of the Cup Winners’ Cup it was as exclusive as the old European Cup in that each country had one representative, one there by virtue of being actual Champions, the other by winning the primary cup competition. It may just be a romantic notion through blue tinted glasses, but in general football was far more ‘fun’ back then. And competition wins meant more. They were badges of honour. Things your friends would envy. Or you would envy of them.
That in itself might be linked to far more realistic expectations, and to some degree a greater understanding of the game by fans back then. You knew what you knew because you played the game, watched the game, read about the game in the papers and that was it. Now in this 24/7 society we get stats rammed down our throats, opinions (like arseholes) wherever you go, wall-to-wall TV coverage, live games across different channels from different countries and different continents, emails from clubs using your first name (Dear Tony, Please spend some of your hard-earned cash with us on some tasteless tat, memorabilia or clothing etc) and endless reams of football culture shoved in our faces at every turn screaming at us about the virues of Super Sunday or Judgement Day or Football Fucking Armageddon! Don’t like football? Heretic! Heathen! Naysayer! Witch!
I even see fans on Twitter who hold the belief that the bad old days of hooliganism were what football was about, some even professing to hate the game, but just enjoying the craic. It’s about tribalism innit etc… A bunch of know-nothing fuckwits who seem to model themselves on self-styled geezer Danny Dyer… god help them. Others seem to have read a book called ‘How to Be a Fan… Chapter 1… Decry Everyone Who Says Anything Critical About the Team… Chapter 2… Despise the Manager’. All of which adds to the undercurrent of nastiness I sense pervading the game today. Football has bred out the hooligans and replaced them, bodysnatcher style, with replicant hooligans, programmed to yell and shout, but inside just sad fuckers with no wives, girlfriends or any other aspect of anything resembling a normal life. If we don’t win by six then every player is crap, and the manager a subject of vile abuse.
Football is a model of unfettered Thatcherism in that sense. A complete free market without any constraints applied by the powers that be, who hold the only noble purpose allowed in society today, that of making MONEY. I’m surprised she hated it so much. And through that pursuit of lucre we witness the consequent distancing of the powers that be from the fans, taking the club hierarchies with them and the soul of the game is bit by bit being removed. Like the original inhabitants of Mondas who replaced limb by limb, organ by organ, their human parts with technology to improve them, to remove pain and emotion. And when the last piece of human tissue was replaced so disappeared the last fraction of humanity. The Cybermen. Ladies and gentlemen football is well on the way to producing the Cyberfan. Along with the Cyberclub. Money-driven, emotionless, with one single purpose… to conquer all before them. Cyberfootball.
Look at the Champions League and the damage it has done to domestic leagues and cups. We live in a football culture, personified by the likes of Arsenal, where FOURTH FUCKING PLACE, is more revered than either of the other two domestic competitions. Unless you’re a Swansea or Portsmouth, and haven’t been poisoned by the marketing and money of the Champions League. Let’s not forget that the Champions League and the Premier League are even more the paradigm of Thatcherism, in that the rich clubs get richer so they get more FOURTH FUCKING PLACE success to buy more players. Players eager to whore themselves on TV in the Champions League in order to get an even better obscene deal with another club. Whilst the poor clubs either go under (whither Pompey, Leeds, Coventry, Sheffield Wednesday…) or occasionally get to eat at the big table before being eventually discarded and forgotten and sent packing from whence they came. Swansea beware.
And finally as the money from sponsors and TV pours into the vast UEFA coffers, lining the pockets of the already rich we look to the national team, an entity that once in the sixties sat astride the world, respected, admired, feared for footballing reasons. The entity which made global names of Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks, Alan Ball, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst et al. An entity which along with others has seen international football relegated to the status of a sideshow exhibition. Even once great teams like Brazil are peddled around the globe like latin showponies, living off past glories, having had their unique brand of football watered down by their players taking the Eurodollar and having their skills homogenised by production line coaches spewed out of UEFA coaching badge schemes. ‘Come see the Brazilians’ the marketeers shout… ‘They were good once!’. And England, dear old England, once alternately white and red-shirted representing the proud colour mix of the Saint George’s Cross, now relegated to the status of begging a half-pissed red-nosed despot at Old Trafford for players to represent the country, and mimicked by lesser media-trained monkeys at other clubs playing the same ‘club before anything’ game in order to hold to ransom the poor sap sitting at what was once the pinnacle of achievement in the English game. Players hypnotised by their collective coaches and club boards’ evil spells and that of UEFA and the media into seeing the national team as an irrelevance whereby they can cry off with a broken toe nail, or a poor haircut or any other feeble excuse rather than be forced to wear the faux Real Madrid all white or the mysteriously untraditional new blue kit of dear old Ingerlund, no doubt delivered by some smart arse vacuous ‘creative’ working for AdiNikeBok or whoever.
So, yes, like Nick, my current view is we’ve won the Champions League and frankly I couldn’t really give a damn if we did it again whilst I’m attached to this mortal coil. Because even if we win it again, even if we win in the style of the Harlem Globetrotters with dazzling tippy-tappy, ball juggling whilst break dancing street football skills, it will never beat the first time. It will never match Munich. It will never match the wonder of a 10-year-old boy fresh from the glory of a replayed FA Cup and an Ian Hutchinson windmill action that Pete Townshend would have coveted finding out we’d beaten the mighty Real Madrid. It will never match Zola scoring within 30 seconds of coming on to bring that silly, worthless in UEFA’s eyes, trophy back to SW6 in 1998. Those things are done, completed, etched into my memory and psyche. If we win the current Europa League after the preposterous amount of games with revenues akin to wanking for pennies then we’ll have the full set and I’ll add that to the list.
Anything else from that point will be very nice I’m sure… but it will just be garnish, my friends.
(Originally posted as a comment on Rubin Kazan 3-2 Chelsea (agg 4-5) – A European Cup is a European Cup.)