I enjoyed Nick Miller's piece on the changing nature of football fandom in the 21st century from mere supporter of a club to blinkered, cultish tribal worshipper, and I think I may know how this has happened.
I'm a record collector, a mad sod who spends most weekends and any other spare time acquiring vast amounts of music from record fairs, table top sales and car boots. I'm never happier than when digging around boxes of old vinyl and CDs looking for the next fix, this despite already owning a collection of over 10,000 items.
You develop an ad hoc social circle of slightly deranged people whose pupils dilate when they see a record on the Harvest label that doesn't have a boxed EMI logo on it, thus indicating it is likely to be a first pressing. Great. It is, like a parmo, inexplicably magnificent despite appearances. You either dig it or you don't and no amount of argument will persuade a non-believer.
You may think this pastime isolates a chap from society but I've found it actually gives you an insight into people's lives, especially when you spend all weekend at car boots, sifting through the detritus of people's existence. You can learn so much from the music they are selling.
If you see someone with a box of 90s Brit pop CDs, they're almost always in their mid to late 30s now, bought these at school or college, have now got two kids and have lost interest in the sounds of their youth, leaving them behind along with sexual profligacy, financial independence and hope. Oasis follows Blur follows Shed Seven, follows Elastica, follows Pulp. You always find them together in the same boxes.
Likewise any Take That CDs inevitably means there is also a lot of Boyzone, Westlife and other such everyone-sings-one-line aggregations of noise barkers. Whitney, Mariah, J-Lo, Christina Aquilera etc etc also all come as a unit.
However, come across a box of vinyl records with Black Sabbath at the front or if the first one of out the CDs is by Porcupine Tree, you know you've hit pay dirt.
Weirdly though, time and again, week after week, I see boxes of CDs that are all by people who have won the X Factor or another TV talent show. There are great piles of CD singles and albums by the likes of Steve Brookstein, Michelle McManus, Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson, Alexandra Burke, Joe McElderry, Matt Cardle, Little Mix, James Arthur and many, many more. Once you've looked through them, you'll also find lots of charity singles and 'as advertised on TV' compilation albums such as 'Eddie Stobart's 50 greatest songs to listen to as you intimidate other drivers while eating a pie.'
These people have no other CDs. When you ask them, this is their entire collection of music of which they are now disposing. It seems that as soon as the X Factor hypnosis delivered by the TV and newspapers finishes after each series, they look at the clutter they've acquired, wonder what on earth all this junk is for and eventually bring it to a car boot. As soon as the media coverage dies, so does their interest and they move onto the next bright, shiny and loudly trumpeted thing on TV.
Put simply, TV controls these people's taste, controls their lives. It's like Frank Zappa said in a song called I Am The Slime, 40 years ago
"I may be vile and pernicious
But you can't look away
I make you think I'm delicious
With the stuff that I say
I am the best you can get
Have you guessed me yet?
I am the slime oozin' out
From your TV set."
This isn't just a few crazy people, this seems to be very commonplace and if it exists in the world of music, it will sure as hell exists in football.
It illustrates just what is said on TV and in the media in general can influence people's perceptions. A player who is on the TV a lot, who does adverts or is just interviewed regularly, becomes elevated in the eyes of a significant amount of people by the exposure per se. To some extent it doesn't matter how good you are really, only how much exposure you have. The more you have, the better many will believe you to be.
For these people Frank Lampard became Super Frank after his Super Frank, Super Goals Sun (I think) ad. They see Wayne Rooney alongside Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in Playstation (I think) adverts and thus assume he must be as good as them, pointing slack-jawed at their TVs as proof. He shares a screen with the greats so he's great.
This connects to what Nick was saying about how the nature of the football fan may be changing, mutating into creature with extreme but very misplaced tribal loyalty. It seems to me that this must be as a result, to some degree, of the hypnosis that football media imposes on these people.
You and I are happy to think for ourselves and actively reject the very idea of mind control but surely the people who bought Michelle McManus records have willingly surrendered to it. Indeed, so complete is their enslavement to what they are spoon-fed through their TV that they have no idea that it's even happened. I mean, of all the genius singers that have ever carried a tune, why would you buy Michelle's efforts if TV didn't control your mind?
As a further illustration, when Fabio Capello was England boss and getting criticized by some for not speaking fluent English with they took as emblematic of a more general managerial malaise that was preventing England's triumph, there was a caller to 606 who hated Capello and said, in all seriousness, 'why don't the FA let (Ian) Wrighty, Lawro or Gary (Lineker) have a go? They always seem to talk a lot so much sense.'
Aside from anything else - and god help us there are plenty of heinous notions to get our teeth into there - here was a fan who could only imagine people who he'd seen on his TV being good enough to manage England. They were the only names on his lips because they were who he saw a lot. By the end of the call he had, of course, called for 'Arry to be appointed, Redknapp being the archetypal beneficiary of the TV exposure = more quality concept.
These people are out there. Their TV and newspapers think for them. They are easy minds to control. They are sold an idea or notion about their club, manager or their players and anything which goes against it they will go into battle to fight one way or another. It's a cosy world of certainties and absolutism in a world of change and nuance. Maybe that is its attraction.
These are the people who will parrot a player's pledge of loyalty to the club as though it was handed down from God and these are the fans that support a player because the club supports the player, regardless of what he's done. They are sold simple dogmas and they stick to them as though they are universal truths and thus any contrarian view is heresy and worse still, malign idiocy and must be countered.
These are remote controlled shock troops of the ongoing Operation Mindcrime which seeks to replace reality with a PR illusion and they're everywhere, at your local car boot, at your local football club and on internet forums.