I don’t have the energy to keep up with The Beautiful Game anymore – I’ve had to call professionals in to help…
THIS AFTERNOON, I am planning to do something quite unusual – watch a football match on telly for 90 minutes.
Arsenal are in Sarf London for the Zaha-Pepe derby and I, for one, will be making time in my busy weekend schedule to take it all in – unless there’s another Gooner collapse.
Football and me go back a long, long way, you see. I played as a true amateur – that is, ardently and with very little distinction or reward – until my fiftieth year.
As a kid, I supported everyone – QPR, Chelsea, Liverpool, Watford.
But when I became a man I put away childish things, committing myself to Arsenal and the fabulous polymath Arsene Wenger.
Now I’m a 50-something, however, a gulf has opened up between me and the game.
I think I first knew when I watched an astonishing Jadon Sancho dragback/nutmeg* with the mild approval I might grant someone else’s six-year-old delivering a line at a school assembly. Hmn.
And I realised something was wrong… Something was terribly wrong.
I mean: why wouldn’t I like football anymore? The game is quicker than when I used to watch it as a kid. Skills are better. TV coverage is superior (if pricier). We have a women’s game at last and the pitches and stadia are great (though, again, pricier).
Clearly, one reason for my disenchantment is that Arsenal have been pony without Arsene, but it’s not just that.
I haven’t been able to watch an entire match for months and months – not England, not Arsenal, not Boca vs Flamengo, nor anyone else.
And, if I do have a game on, I have it on in the background as I cook or concentrate on something else. But I’m rarely bothered: I watched Wolves and Man City while I was lifting weights a while ago and it was noticeable how un-fussed I was if either scored.
Obviously, there’s too much football now… The Emperor who told Mozart there were only so many notes that the human ear can take in of an evening might have been onto something, after all.
A surfeit of leagues – from Premier to La, via Bundes, Women’s Super and Nations – is likewise leaving appetites overwhelmed and jaded every season, turning football fans into the TV equivalent of foie gras.
Also, as Jurgen Klopp said recently, watching too many games – like Amazon’s day-long takeovers of the Premier League, the BT Sports New Year All-Dayer, the FA Cup splurge last weekend – isn’t good for one’s interpersonal relationships.
So, the other night, I half-followed Arsenal-Leeds on my tablet while watching Wisting with the family on the big TV, and found it an unrewarding experience.
Because it’s not easy, judging if Arteta’s made the defensive shape more compact while keeping up with the exploits of a transatlantic serial killer in subtitled Norwegian
I know that not everyone feels bloated by football, though. A mate of mine who still believes says that, the bigger and shinier the game gets, the more there is of it, and the more money there is in it, the more it excites her.
Working my way through the Match Of The Day 2s cluttering up my TV box a while ago, I noticed two teenage girls behind the goal at Norwich clearly loving the cut of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial’s jibs. So they’ve not had enough of football, either.
Perhaps it’s an age thing. I read a piece recently about how the toxic atmosphere in stadiums like The Emirates was, basically, down to middle-aged men like me being jealous of young, rich and peng footballers. Not even that deep in my soul, I knew the author** was right…
Maybe that’s why, at the same time that as going off top-flight football, I developed a bit of a passion for rugby. For jobbing back rows in the Gallagher Premiership, or upcoming centres on £40k a year who drive second hand estate cars like the rest of us.
And, though football has been part of the entertainment industry since the rules were codified in Victoria’s reign, it has become a bit too showbiz for my tastes recently.
Now TV has recently tucked away Sport as a sub-menu of its overall entertainment site, so I have to actively click away from Box Sets and Sky Movies whenever I want to watch a game.
I’m sorry, but what has Angelina Jolie got to do with football as I understand it? With my Micky Droy, my Chopper, long ago?
And so, just like a man who needs his rendering done on the front of his house and finds it far too overwhelming, I have got someone in to do it for me. To watch football, that is…
These days, I like my beautiful game pre-watched and pre-digested, preferably by the excellent Arseblog and Guardian Football Weekly podcasts.
They can do the heavy watching for me and then brief me about that unbelievable Nainggolan half-volley or what Messi and Mustafi did next. It doesn’t seem to matter that I won’t see those must-see moments; already, I feel more up to speed.
Another great thing about contracting football out to experts is that they are funny – like Football Weekly’s Barry Glendenning, branding Everton-West Ham ‘The Meh derby’. Or Arseblog’s Andrew Mangan dismissing a Dani Ceballos performance as: “Busy… in the way a fly is trying to find his way out of a window.”
Entertaining people talking about the game for me and giving it a new gloss – like Max Rushden’s carefully anarchic thinking and phrasing on Football Weekly – have helped me fall back in love with the game again, albeit slantwise.
When Rushden asks, “How hard do you have to kick Divock Origi to get a penalty?”, I’ve no intention of actually watching Divock being kicked, but at least I’m thinking about football – and smiling again.
* Dragmeg? Nutback? Backmeg? Dragnut?
** I think it was Ken Early, of the Second Captains podcast and the Irish Times