Posts Tagged ‘Doncaster Rovers’

Is quality of football an issue in the age of airchair support?

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

He knew that saying it would wind me up and, to my own frustration, I let it. I was sat on his settee with another friend, watching the League Two round-up on The Championship when he happened to walk by from cooking our breakfast to see Rotherham’s Alex Rhodes mishit a cross which flew into the net, so let rip.

“God, the standard of football in the lower leagues is terrible!” He is a Manchester United fan, me Bradford City. He follows his team through the power of his Sky+ remote, I use my worn-out car to travel around the country in support of mine; he will moan to me that Darren Fletcher doesn’t always convince, I will just smile and nod, knowing talking about the merits our new right back would be of little interest to him.

His forceful assessment of lower league football was not said purely to provoke a response from me – it’s how he feels. The Premier League chose to distance itself from the rest of us 16 years ago and its followers, including the national media, would struggle to name all 72 clubs underneath them, never mind which division they occupy. A few weeks earlier I’d heard a Tottenham fan call BBC 5Live’s 606 to tell Alan Green he’d bought a season ticket at Barnet and was impressed at how little it cost. In response, Green questioned its value given the “the low standard of football” he must be watching. True, Barnet followers might struggle to argue against this ignorant assessment after a poor start to the season, but the BBC commentator would probably replied in the same manner had the caller taken out a season ticket for Crystal Palace.

So can a league’s quality be judged by the standard of its goals? It’s true that, since demotion to League Two, Bradford’s games have featured a higher number of poor ones in our matches – from us and the opposition – but the quick round-up of goals that The Championship grudgingly makes time for cannot tell the full story. As a comparison I watched the weekend’s Premier League goals and, while Man United’s opener against Chelsea featured build-up play of a standard you won’t find at Valley Parade, the defending for Chelsea’s equaliser was no less clueless than what I’d endured from my team 24 hours earlier. Sunderland beat Middlesbrough 2-0 with the second a result of an inept attempt to play offside resulted in Michael Chopra been left free to fire home. Had Hartlepool scored exactly the same goal, would people watching it later on TV be tutting at the poor standard of lower league football?

My friend’s uncomplimentary viewpoint of the Football League was not aided by the only game of it he’s attended, a Doncaster Rovers v Nottingham Forest League One fixture at Belle Vue two seasons ago that was apparently so boring away fans resorted to chanting at the ball boys; but it’s again questionable if a considered judgement can be formed from one experience. On the same day he was winding me up we could have flown in an alien from the Planet Zog and taken it to the Man City v Portsmouth game, where it would have undoubtedly been left with a great impression of the Premier League. Yet equally they could have attended the Spurs v Wigan game and concluded the whole thing’s a bore-fest.

With football on TV every day of the week there is less incentive to bother watching the Coca-Cola Leagues, but attendances remain healthy large due to loyalty but also the alternative it can offer to the soap opera of Ronaldo believing he’s a slave. If football was the same as the cinema, lower league clubs would be art house or independent offerings. Sure, the production values won’t be as glossy, there’s less chance you’ll have heard of the actors, but it can be a rewarding experience far removed from the Hollywood comforts where, increasingly, we can all predict how it’s going to end.

The argument over the qualities of lower leagues ends and the Sky+ remote is used to change the channel to Goals on Sunday. A sudden blast of profanities come hurtling out of my friend’s mouth in the direction of new West Ham manager, Gianfranco Zola, and I sit there, aghast, wondering why he has so much hatred towards one of football’s nice-guys. “Just because…” is his non-to-convincing reply, “But you’d love him if he’d have played for Man U” I argue, “Stop saying that, it’s a crap argument!”

He’s right, not about it been a crap argument, but that I kept saying it. I said it after listening to him rant in disgust about Adebayor for the way he “prances about on the pitch” and after slagging off John Terry for “dubbing himself ‘Mr Chelsea’”. And herein lies a major difference in attitudes, not necessarily between Premier League fans and the rest of us, but armchair supporters and the rest.

My friends sees football through his Sky box and finds a full of hostile theatre of hyped up rivalry, where every opposition player or supporter is a bad guy. It’s a lot harder to maintain such feelings of hatred if you’re at the games finding those rival players have similar qualities – and flaws – as your own, or that opposition supporters are capable of making intelligent and informed opinions. Sure, we go to games and chant not very complimentary things about each other, but we also chat to them in the pub before kick off. It’s not just a lower league thing either; I can recall, during our ill-fated Premier League days, experiencing the friendliness of Chelsea supporters outside Stamford Bridge, though I daren’t bring that up with my friend now in case he throws me out for conspiring with the enemy.

When I told him about the time I stood up and applauded Paul Scholes’ famous volley-from-a-corner goal in 2000 at Valley Parade he looked at me in disbelief, as though sportsmanship was as an outdated a concept as right-halfs; but there’s a difference to how he watches the opposition. He sees far more of Man United’s rivals than I do Bradford’s and he does so with only his wife and baby in the room to despair at his ridiculous tantrums when Frank belts one in from 20 yards.

Few would argue against TV as a great way to watch football; otherwise we wouldn’t bother tuning in to games where our own team isn’t playing, but the over-hyped Premier League world is creating some unhealthy distortions and neglecting some of the values of The Game.

Still at least I needn’t worry about winding up my friend in retaliation – Adebayor’s already doing it for me.