Sunday, 24 February 2008

Talkin' bout a revolution

First published in The Grecian, 23 February 2008, Exeter City -v- Farsley Celtic

Was I dreaming, or did the Grecians play some Brazil-style football during the second half of our home game against Woking? I’m pretty sure we did, but I ask because when I woke up we appeared to have lost a 2-0 lead while still dominating the match in every way.

When I got home, my wife asked me how it had gone. She doesn’t really care, but she’s good like that. I smiled enigmatically. “We thrashed them 2-2”, I declared, heading to the kettle for a consoling cuppa. Carla looked at me in a puzzled way, as if to say: “Is that football nonsense you’re talking, or just Simon nonsense?” The two are rather entwined in our household, I admit.

I do feel stuck in a strange kind of alternate football world at the moment. Barnsley have beaten Liverpool. Preston clutched last-minute defeat from the jaws of triumph against Portsmouth. And Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore now wants a season with 38 fixtures to have a 39th game played in Kuala Lumpur. Maybe it was the moon, and I read the press release wrong.

At this end of the football food chain, we might say it really doesn’t matter what bonkers idea they come up with in the Rich League. But actually, it does. What’s wrong with holding Arsenal versus Liverpool (not, I wager, Derby versus Wigan) in some exotic clime is not the unfairness factor, not the arrogance, not the naked greed, not the gazumping of other regions. Well, OK, it’s all of those things, but there’s something worse.

That “worse” is the total dislocation implied between football clubs as community enterprises weaved into people’s lives, and football clubs as anonymous brands run for the benefit of billionaires and fans the other side of the world who get all the gain with no pain.

I’m not knocking the idea of supporting a team far away. When I’m not at St James’ Park my heart is in Dumbarton, my primary allegiance, for instance - though you could hardly accuse me of glory-hunting for that. No, my point is that doing something with no regard whatsoever for the loyal supporters who have put heart soul, footwear and dosh at the disposal of their team is against the game’s spirit. Something that can’t be bought or sold.

According to Richard Williams, who writes intelligently on football matters for The Guardian, where I also ply a bit of wordsmithery, being against Scudamore on this one is like trying to repeal the law of gravity. Sorry, Richard, you’re wrong. Goodness, even FIFA’s Sepp Blatter thinks the idea stinks and has pledged to oppose it for all he’s worth - hitherto not much, according to his large roster of critics. But he’s a powerful figure and that could change.

Meanwhile, Mr Scudamore has told a House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee that the idea of Premier League games on five continents “isn’t a dead duck”, in spite of opposition from fans, the FA, FIFA, your gran, and all. His reasoning is simple. Money talks louder than principles and sentiment.

But there’s no reason why the game should take this lying down. Call me a stickler, but when Exeter get to the Blue Square play-offs I’d rather like it to be at Wembley not on Mars. As Reading’s chairman says, there’s nothing to stop exhibition matches being played all over the world. But keep the leagues with their feet on the ground, please. Otherwise, as Tracy Chapman put it in her famous anthem, we’re “talkin’ bout a revolution.”

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