Against Modern Football?

Against Modern Football. It’s a slogan that is becoming increasingly frequent from football fans. It’s on banners, it’s on t-shirts, it’s on stickers and the #againstmodernfootball hashtag updates at around the same rate as swear words on Piers Morgans interactions. Are the jibes at the modern game justified? In this piece I look at the good, the bad and the ugly of modern football, before coming to a decision once and for all about the modern-day version of the ‘beautiful game’.

The Good

Holmesdale Fanatics – Crystal Palace F.C

Glance at any social media website during a televised game featuring a European club and it’s likely you’ll see numerous envious comments on how good the atmosphere is. Manchester City recently took on Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, with the magnificent travelling support winning universal praise. I was lucky enough to be in attendance, and for long spells of the game my attention was drawn away from the action on the field to watch in admiration as BVB put on a masterclass in football support.

While people are rightly quick to praise the fantastic atmosphere on display from many Europeans clubs, and bemoan the fact British football cannot produce something similar, attempts to do something about it are widely mocked. Crystal Palace established the Holmesdale Fanatics in 2005, looking to improve the atmosphere off the field and inspire the team. Rather than taking Crystal Palace as an inspiration, many fans deride them. I will admit that the ‘Next stop – Wembley Park’ banner displayed at the Carling Cup Semi-Final had the desired response in winding me up, but the Palace ultras group have outdone themselves in recent weeks.

First of all a banner displayed against Cardiff City, saying what many fans of the team formerly known as Bluebirds felt but were not allowed to express:

This was followed by a true work of art for the visit of their South London rivals Millwall

For anyone who doesn’t understand the presence of the Turkish flag, it’s a reference to Millwall’s charming habit of displaying this particular item when they play Leeds United (more on them later) regarding the deaths of two of their supporters in Istanbul.

The Palace supporters are not just about clever banners and bed sheets with evocative slogans on them. They are an ever-expanding group of fans who support their team for 90 minutes in a passionate and non violent way. The support is highly organised, coordinated and you better believe they’re loud. The support Palace fans gave their side away at Charlton on a televised game this season looked more like something produced by an Italian ultras group. A lot of teams could learn from Crystal Palace, with similar fans groups offering Britain the chance to savour the atmosphere which was once the envy of Europe. The term ultras is seen by many as a negative thing with hooligan connotations, you only have to take a trip to Selhurst Park to see that this is not true.

Safe standing trials

Many modern-day football fans will never have experienced the thrill of a terrace, especially those in the higher divisions. Fortunately for me Cardiff played at Ninian Park up until 2009 and therefore I was able to stand on both the Bob Bank and the Grange End Terrace. Many fans of a similar age to me will not have been so lucky, with their experience of the terraces nothing more than nostalgic stories from their older counterparts. However, the days of standing up to watch football in Britain could be coming back. This Hull City statement on safe standing is non-committal, but is certainly promising for fans who dream of seeing a return to terraces in Britain. The Bundesliga and other leagues around Europe show it can be done, and with the recent Hillsborough report confirming what all decent people knew anyway, that Liverpool fans were totally free from blame for the disaster there. With this report now out in the open, there is no legal or sensible reason to oppose standing.

Aston Villa have also confirmed they are interested in trialling safe standing areas, with the Football Supporters Federation continuing their superb work campaigning for the rights of the average football fan.

The folding seat system used by German teams, allowing them to comply with UEFA competition regulations where standing is banned.

The revival of Portsmouth and Rangers

After deciding to boycott Cardiff City for their rebranding exploits, I received roughly 23,039,924 tweets asking if I would “rather be like Rangers or Portsmouth?”. The answer was yes then, and even more so now. Rangers sit proudly on top of the league, breaking records for attendances with their heritage and tradition well and truly in tact. Meanwhile on the south coast, Portsmouth look set to be taken over by the supporters trust. While they still face the possibility of a ten point deduction which would send them crashing down the table, they currently find themselves just outside the playoffs and defying their labels as relegation fodder for yet another season.

There’s no doubt it will be a long road back to the top for these two clubs who battled extinction, but it will be done in the right way. No ‘fusions of cultures’ or ‘expensive principles’ for these two. Rangers will surely be back in the SPL within a few years, having served their punishments for allowing themselves to get into such a financial mess. Celtic and the majority of Scottish football will have a good old laugh at them while they get back to where they belong, but the fact is Rangers and their supporters are facing up to the situation they find themselves in with pride and dignity.

The Bad

“Finishing in the top four is like a trophy”

A group of Arsenal fans are unhappy with the way money is being favoured over trophies

Arsene Wenger insisted at the Arsenal AGM that finishing in the top four was the same as a trophy and a higher priority than both the League Cup and the FA Cup. The League Cup (sorry sponsors, I refuse to call it the Capital One Cup) is treated as an annoying distraction, to the stage where teams are actually mocked for trying hard in the competition and trying to win it. With the exception of the untouchable Alex Ferguson, it is likely that a manager of one of the title contending sides would be sacked if it was the only silverware in the cabinet at the end of the season.

The League Cup being treated poorly is one thing, but the FA Cup is another. The day Cardiff City reached the FA Cup Final was the proudest day of my football life (not to mention the drunkest), with FA Cup final day another football tradition suffering in the modern game. Far from it being the most special day of the season, with build up from the crack of dawn culminating in a showpiece event, it is now not even the only game of the day. Premiership and Football League fixtures take place alongside the cup final, while sponsorship of the competition means managers, players and pundits are being forced to call it ‘The FA Cup with Budweiser’ with widespread ugly branding detracting from the tradition of the trophy.

Nobody dreamed of scoring the goal that secured fourth place for their team as a child, just as fans don’t line the streets to watch their team parade a giant number four from an open top bus. The solution of course is to award the winners of the domestic trophies a Champions League place, but it is a footballing tragedy in itself that players and clubs should need an additional motive to win a trophy.

Cardiff City playing in red

You probably knew this one was coming. It’s just wrong, and it always will be. Reluctantly accepting the rebrand is one thing, but those people old enough to know better who have actually bought a red shirt need to have a serious word with themselves. This may well be the season that Cardiff City go up to the Premier League, and sadly many people will say the change was worth it if they do so. I believe, along with a dwindling group of others that any victory which involved selling your pride is no victory at all. I also strongly disagree with the franchise in Milton Keynes continuing to use Dons in their name, despite having no connection to the Wimdledon FC side which owned that nickname. MK Dons should change their name to something which leaves the soul of Wimbledon at rest, or better still fold completely and remove their ugly stain from the world of football.

The Ugly

Racism in football

I have worked out that at a rough estimate I have attended around 450 football matches in my life so far. If chants about an inappropriate lust for sheep are discounted, I have only witnessed three instances of racism at these games, with one of these being Montenegro supporters against Ashley Williams for Wales. I won’t mention the names of the teams involved in the other incidents as I don’t wish to label all their fans as racists, these were isolated incidents from a few moronic individuals.

While the racism in British football crowds is nothing compared to that in Eastern Europe, when Liverpool and Chelsea fans are complaining about the bans given to their players for racial abuse there is clearly a problem. If a fan shouted similar disgusting language they would be banned from every football ground in the country for at least  three years, if not for life. While players can get away extremely lightly with saying such dreadful things on the football pitch, the problem is not going to go away. By not making an example of John Terry and Luis Suarez, young supporters are not getting the message that racism is unacceptable. Rightly or wrongly, young people idolise footballers. When star players at clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea can get away with such actions, how can the FA claim to be combatting racism?

The recent events in Serbia which saw Danny Rose racially abused while playing for England U21’s rightly shocked the nation. However every weekend, players found guilty of racism will run out to play in English football stadiums. The racism in Eastern Europe is often appalling  but our own house is far from in order.

Character assassination of Leeds United

Aaron Cawley shames himself, not Leeds United

The Friday night encounter between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United produced a number of incidents the likes of which are normally only seen in Britain during terrible Danny Dyer films. A smokebomb was thrown on the pitch after the opening goal for Wednesday (worst of all, it wasn’t even the right colour), chants related to the deaths of two Leeds supporters in Istanbul and rival supporters attempted to get at each other in the corner of the stadium. All of this was bad enough, but the headline moment was still to come.

Leeds United scored a fantastic equalising goal with the clock running down to the end of the game. It was the kind of strike that sends away fans a special kind of loopy, with people who really shouldn’t have their tops off in public and multiple bruises on the shins from colliding with seats. However, a section of the Leeds fans took it too far, in particular Mr Aaron Cawley. Having invaded the pitch, he shamefully hit Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland with both hands in the face. A dreadful incident and no mistake, but the widespread outpouring of abuse towards Leeds which resulted was totally uncalled for. Walk down any busy high street in Britain on a Friday night and you’ll see incidents ten times worse than this one.

Dave Jones has faced some awful chants after the false allegations against him and I can only imagine what it would be like to go through his terrible ordeal. Having said that, labeling every Leeds fan as a “vile animal” and calling for them to be banned from every away game was simply unacceptable. In 2006, Cardiff City supporters were banned from attending a fixture away at Wolves. The club statement at the time backed by every member of staff said this move “detracts from any system of natural justice.” The Cardiff City manager at the time? Dave Jones. Aaron Cawley is a thug and an idiot and anyone who went on the pitch will probably regret their actions for three years or so when they pick up their banning orders. Despite these blemishes, over 5,000 Leeds supporters backed their team immaculately during the game. Leeds United have an away support which put most sides to shame, supporting their local team loudly and proudly. Dave Jones and the media should not allow the Aaron Cawleys of the world to stop the decent law-abiding fan from being allowed to display their passionate support. Watching football is not a crime. Dave Jones, many media sources and the ‘we all hate Leeds scum’ Twitter masses would do well to remember that.

Ticket prices and kick off times

When six non-league clubs charge more for their cheapest season ticket than the Premier League winners, then you know something has gone seriously wrong with football. The lowest cost of a ticket to every Manchester City home game is £275, with Blue Square Bet Premier clubs Alfreton Town, Barrow AFC, Forest Green Rovers, Gateshead, Macclesfield Town and Newport County all charging figures in excess of this.

Move up a tier into League Two and there are even more clubs charging more than the Manchester club, including rock bottom of the Football League Barnet. It is these smaller clubs who need the revenue from their fans who attend matches more than ever, no money spinning tours to the Far East for these guys. Yet how can the likes of Barnet stop potential fans from spending their money on an Arsenal shirt instead of getting them through the turnstiles at Underhill if they charge such ridiculous prices? This is no dig at Barnet or any of the other teams listed here, they are forced to charge this kind of figure because of the obscene money in the sport. When clubs are threatened with going out of business for less money than Wayne Rooney makes in a day, it’s clear that football is in the process of eating itself.

For the fans who can still afford to go to matches, the next hurdle put in their way are the increasingly ridiculous kick off times for television. This includes putting the Swansea vs. Cardiff derby at 11:20am for SKY coverage, while fans of teams such as Newcastle and Sunderland often have to leave for away games at the time most people are going to bed due to early Sunday games. Support one of the more attractive sides for television coverage such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool and you may as well make alternative plans for pretty much every Saturday afternoon all season, as the game will be shifted to an inconvenient and often ungodly hour. The fans will go along with this due to the sheer loyalty to their teams, whereas they would have been driven from any other business long ago. This level of dedication shows why a football supporter should not be treated like a customer. After all, nobody ever got a tattoo to show their love of their favourite supermarket or named their child Subway.

One day in the distant future the common football fan will take back the game. Clubs such as AFC Wimbledon, Wrexham, Portsmouth and S.V Austria Salzburg will be seen as the inspiration. Supporters will be valued over merchandising contracts and TV deals, and the game will once again be beautiful. Sadly I can only see this outcome arriving once many clubs have collapsed under the financial pressures that come with modern-day football. The sport is not all bad, and the promise of a return to standing and the attempts of clubs like Crystal Palace show that I am not the only football supporter who believes they were born in the wrong generation. The standard of football itself is usually good, and you’d have to either be an emotionless robot or a Manchester United fan to have not screamed like a girl when Sergio Aguero won the title in the dying seconds of last season. Despite this, the value of money over success and the treatment of a match going supporter as an annoyance rather than as essential, means I have to agree with the many groups around the world who display banners in various languages against the modern game.

No Al Calcio Moderno

Gegen Den Modernen Fußball

Against Modern Football

Posted on October 26, 2012, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Steve the Tea TM (c)

    Steve the Tea TM (c)

    As ever, an excellently constructed and thought out article. I agree with you 100%. I’m just sad that the hacks at Thomson House are incapable of such perceptive writing.

    For the record, I still go to City games at the CCS, this is more to do with habit than anything else, but the rebranding has not only gutted me of passion for my Club but at the same time declares that superstition is more important than heritage in Mr Tan’s mind. He has alienated the Club’s loyal and local fans for a nebulous market in the Far East. Crazy!

  2. Brilliant write up! Keep up the good work and look forward to reading more.

  3. Correction, the Millwall banner was simply stupid and embarrassing for Palace fans as a whole, to be associated with. BBC sports commentators themselves have said: ‘Have you ever seen anything as sad as the Palace Ultras, I have not.’ There is it summed up, scarf twirlers and all. You have two sides – the family stand where people look at you if you so much as talk, and the Hol where people are quick to paint posters of a Manager who leaves days later.

  4. South Gwent Blue

    Well done pal. Totally agree although the glory hunting fan will no doubt bombard you with criticism.

  5. Fantastic article, utterly fantastic.

    Only thing I throw into question was the slightly pro-Man City sentiment toward the end.

    Genuinely felt sick seeing them win the title (not a United fan or anyone else in serious contention for the Prem league title).

    That club, for me, sum up almost everything that is wrong with modern football.

    • Thanks for the positive feedback, much appreciated!

      The only reason I chose City for comparison was they’re the current champions, and that Aguero moment was so incredible. If it had been Spurs, Arsenal or whoever it would have been the same. Glad you like it!

    • I’m in love … and speechless. I guess I have a new sport to watch until heokcy starts again, AND these guys don’t wear helmets or padding and take their shirts off – often! Why have I not been watching it?

  6. Great article. We have a few decent against modern football flags at every Tranmere Rovers game home and away. Went to a St Pauli game in the Bundesliga last year and the atmosphere was unreal including the Kaiserslautern fans

    • I’m using some of the money I’ve saved from watching Cardiff to go on a trip to Germany next month. Dortmund on the Saturday and then St. Pauli the day after, really looking forward to seeing both. I’m stood on the terrace which holds around 28,000 at Dortmund, something I’ve always wanted to do!

  7. What a load of bollocks. Palace are an embarrassment to football with their Ultra*, flag waving, face painted window licking fans. Good luck to all at Barry, though.

  8. Play Up Pompey – Our club is in safe hands forever… AMF

  9. Great article, though I should point out on you’r hyping up of palace, Aberdeen (Scotland) had the UK’s first Ultra group, the Red ultras (1999-2010) and arguably started the Ultra movement in the UK, for years the Red Ultras (RU) were stigmatized and hated by everyone in the city and country for that matter for the way we went about supporting our team, flags, displays, Tifo’s, Pyro, drums etc, every week the stewards would threaten us, the club would send out letters, we would constantly have to move section, we would have to sneak flags and banners in (Even though they weren’t offensive) and on top of that our own fans would file complaints some as ridiculous as (The drum was too noisy) to the club, the club made it a real struggle to set up card displays with given us a ridiculous curfew and set up time,

    However despite all of this the group was great and everyone loved being part of it, home or away we would make the atmosphere in an albeit dead-silent league at the time, but as time went on and our own fans disliked the fact they didn’t know our chants, or couldn’t see past a flag at half time we got ushered out and forced to split, though we still help with displays on sold out games (Like finals and Semi-finals) etc, the RU had the AMF movement behind them from their origins, taken from Italian groups like Sampdoria. we recognized it before most and nobody wanted to or was to scared to follow it, but now the movement is gaining steam and about time too!

    Safe standing areas, Alcohol in the stadia (As its banned in Scotland), Legalizing of Pyro to restricted areas (E.G the Curva), the end of criminalizing of football fans, the end of commercialization, the end of Sky sports monopoly, end of High prices, and the end of fans being treated like customers as oppose to the lifeblood of the club! are all things that I would hope see’s itself get back into the British game! #AMF #ForzaAberdeen

    • I feel like I should see this for myself. How would I go about going to a game with the Aberdeen group next season, anyone you know that you could introduce me to?

      Thanks for the response and the info, I always love hearing about exciting groups who are doing good things. I have to admit that I’ve had ‘Peter Pawlett baby’ stuck in my head more than once…

  10. Totally agree with you on all this, especially the standing at games and the kick-off times stuff. My non-league (Southern League Premier) club that I grew up with only gets around 400-500 at league fixtures (save local derbies) but just because we’re small doesn’t mean we’re not committed. I live in about two hours’ drive away now and work Saturdays so can only get to games occasionally, but I’ve been part of better singing/chants, inter-fan banter and expression of identity at a club which involves its fans in its decision making than you’ll see a lot higher up the leagues these days. Semi-final of the playoffs this year we got a gate of around 2000, and playoff final was 2940. Gutted that I couldn’t go, even though we lost. My brother tells me the singing was epic.

  11. Leeds fans backed their team immaculately??
    You were not at the game or a Leeds fan.
    I’m against modern football, but some of your comments are complete b@llox .

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