Monday mornings at work are reserved for discussing the weekend’s football. It doesn’t matter or you’re Richard Branson or some poor fool in a call centre like me. It’s a time when the people of Britain can air their opinions on the weekends action whilst perfecting the art of ‘looking busy’ (my manager keeps pointing out that I haven’t perfected the latter).
This week, however, our attempts at bringing our own version of the Match of the Day panel to an insurance office in Leeds brought with it a terrible realisation – I really didn’t care.
This might sound a tad extreme. After all, I always find time to sit down and watch my beloved Manchester United. I racked my brains as to what could have led me to such a dire conclusion and came up with a few reasons, the first of which I will explain right now.
Saturday of course brought the Suarez-Evra road show to pubs and living rooms across the land courtesy of ITV. I sat down with a cup of tea and a healthy supply of Bourbon Creams to enjoy what should be a faced paced, full blooded affair. The ‘best derby in the world’ if we are to believe the right honourable Sir Alex of Ferguson.
What did I see? A tepid, slow paced match interspersed with a barrage of abuse towards a black player who reported alleged racist remarks from an opponent. This was mixed with ITV deciding to focus their cameras on the alleged guilty party, Luis Suarez – apparently someone forgot to tell the camera man that the Liverpool forward wasn’t on the team sheet that day and that filming him in the stand could be a tad annoying for those of us hoping to catch some football.
Now, for the purposes of this article, I don’t care who is and isn’t in the right. That’s a matter that I am nowhere near qualified, or daring, enough to pick apart. What I was left wandering was where one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season for United and Liverpool fans, and most neutrals across the country, turned into a side note in a persistent battle between two clubs/players/sets of fans?
This whole episode got me thinking about the United-Leeds Carling Cup tie earlier this season. I don’t think anybody was expecting to see anything near the kind of football these two teams produced against one another many years a go, but somehow Carrick Vs. Snodgrass fails to capture my imagination quite like Keane Vs. Batty. However, the banter between the two sets of fans should have been on a different level. I expected the Leeds fans to be full of their victory in the FA Cup in our last meeting. I expected the wit and rivalry between the teams to combine and create something special. It didn’t.
Leeds United’s fans spent the evening singing what they perceived to be hilarious and ‘witty’ songs about the Munich Air Disaster of 1958 which killed 21 people including Manchester United players and staff. Before this turns into some sort of subjective Manchester United fan’s views on every other clubs faults let me turn to the United fans reaction. In all their small mindedness, the United following proceeded to unfurl a banner celebrating the deaths of two Leeds United fans in Turkey, before singing about it in celebration. Two sets of fans bragging about the others tragic history. When did this become an acceptable way to support your team?
I like to think I’m not naïve enough to think that this sort of thing hasn’t always been present in the minority but now, more than ever, it seems to be the thing that makes the headlines. Not a wonderful goal, not a thrilling game but an alleged act of racism or the gloating of one set of fans to another about tragedies years before.
Football is supposed to be something we all enjoy and feel passionate about, something to get involved in to forget about real life, and it’s sad that it seems to have come to a stage where this is no longer the case. Instead of young kids wearing their club colours and cheering on their heroes we see young kids hurling racist abuse at another human being, whilst Dad stands next to his child doing the same. Ah, what a beautiful family portrait.
Maybe the atmosphere I’m looking for does still exist in certain places; in fact I try to convince myself that it does. Perhaps top flight football is just not the place to look for it. I yearn for a repeat of a moment like one I witnessed at Old Trafford some years ago. Five thousand Portsmouth fans stood in a corner of the ground on a cold and rainy Manchester night. Their team were 4-0 down and suffering. With eighty minutes on the clock they all began to count down from ten before launching in a chant of: “Ohhh, let’s all have a disco” and dancing the night away like some sort of mad flash mob. Everyone in the home stand chuckled and gave a round of applause to the opposing fa. For me, that’s what football is all about.
by Mark Wiggins