The sport that we loved so much as children no longer exists. It has been replaced with a Narrative of Football; a new game deeply entrenched in analysis, code, writing, superfluous discourse, and orchestrated controversy. All of this is part of a Narrative cycle, with each event feeding into the Narrative and in turn, controlling the next event.
Previously, the 90-minute game was the pinnacle of a week and the anticipation would last four the preceding seven days. There would be talk amongst fans – cheerful and antagonising as friendships and rivalries permit – and celebration and defeat after the match.
But this anticipatory time has been replaced by propaganda, illusions and over-analysis of events that cannot be defined with such accurate measures. Hearsay fuels team line-ups and players’ futures. Criticism becomes banal and meaningless in any serious context but still impedes performance and damages fragile confidence. So many faux-events before a ball is kicked and for what? A maximum of three points?
With so much happening before and after matches, it could almost seem pointless to have matches at all. Pre and post-match takes precedence over the play. If the preparation subsequently ends in defeat, was it worth the effort anyway? Fans and staff would say yes wholeheartedly and they would be right to. Football dominates their lives and there is no alternative. But this is not a fair environment to subject the youth to, a demographic already marginalised by the inconsiderate top flight.
Rest assured, the Premier League does not care about youth or the national team, and it only cares about money and the Narrative. The future of football engrossed in discourse and numbers is bleak and significantly inactive. Technical has replaced physical. Simulations of matches are growing in importance.
Who is to say football matches in the future are not played on a computer with a match engine? Games like Football Manager already have a heavy influence on the sport today. Hyper-reality is at play and the football itself is not.
The 22 players on the pitch strongly believe they are the real orchestrators, but of course they are not. They fall victim to media sensationalism, constant analysis, bias and unfounded criticism and their own humanity. All players are fallible and susceptible to mistakes but the narrative does not care about this. It will find worth in excellence or mediocrity and the player will reap the benefits or feel the damages in return.
Perhaps their pay is a severance package for future defamation. Managers have this too but their careers are an example of recycling regardless of meaning. Underperforming managers are on tenure. They live behind a known name and past glories. Repeated promotions and relegations show experience in success and failure and therefore transferable skills to any job at a certain level.
Rarely do these managers live above their class. This would be too risky. The narrative enjoys these types of managers as they are famous and carry a lot of discourse and further material. Where would we be without a new adventure involving Neil Warnock, Nigel Pearson or Steve McClaren?
Is there a way to stop this? Should this be stopped at all? Is this an exaggeration? Possibly, probably, who knows? We are all slaves to this Narrative and to the uncertain sport we give our money and lives to; the millions of us out there wearing replica shirts.
The irony of protesting value for money whilst screaming in the stands is lost. The pain and misery is the closest many fans get to emotion outside of their everyday lives. Perhaps this replacement of ball with Narrative brings strong emotions. The effects of the old drug have worn off and a strong one must take its place.
Meaning is irrelevant as long as there is passion behind it. Pundits and commentators can utter nonsensical phrases and their clichés give the Narrative life for hours and days. An inane phrase could mean more than a goal on occasion. Is this wrong? Who is to say if it feeds the emotions of those who need it?
Referees are pushers of this dismal drug. Their decisions, inconsistent and carried out with cold arrogance, attempt to give order to random events. They disrupt the futile plans of both sides at battle. Their assistants carry out decisions of a lesser self-importance but with equal cool. The rules they apply are not absolute and continue to be watered down as the Narrative dictates. What is offside anymore? Who is “involved with play”? Do red card offences exist anymore? Only for some.
And then there are the members of the board. The old men with extravagant importance, large cash and little knowledge of the game. They believe they are the controllers of Narratives and the puppet masters of football but they are not. The Narrative controls them too and the game their clubs play.
Consistent misfortunes lead to dismissals, relegation, loss of investment and revolt from fans. There is no more money, they say, you must act within your means. But there are no means. The Narrative controls the transfers. Market value is a rollercoaster that never comes down. It has no meaning, no form, no strategy. It acts outside the realms of economics and conforms to no rules other than what the Narrative dictates. When these owners and chairmen leave, no matter who replaces them, with good intentions or not, the Narrative does not relinquish its power.
What are we to do about this all if we believe this to be wrong? Perhaps nothing. We can bury underground, transition to “grassroots” where the game is seemingly purer but a subsidiary of the Narrative acts there.
A lite version lives within lower leagues. Referee mismanagement has stronger effects for the smaller clubs. Anger and despair are stronger; the revolt and bleak servitude more aligned to real life. Wages are lower as the leagues are buried under the opulent gaze of the Top Flight.
Maybe we should quit altogether. Leave this simulated sport to disintegrate. But the hole would never fill. There is no more sense in full ingratiation than complete disassociation. The Narrative will always be there in some form. In fact, it would become a raging beast if there were total detachment, which is in itself impossible. So we must continue the dance of the Narrative, engorge on the rare moments of joy and good luck and pray ourselves out of the defeat and pain.
Let us raise our shirts to Football.
(originally published on Last Word on Sports but written by me)