Johnny reviews 2017: The times are a-changin’

Date published: Monday 1st January 2018 11:51

2017 didn’t take long to happen, did it? Remember when a year was a long time? Now they seem to pass by so fast as we hurtle towards our mortality. It was a good year in some respects, a bad one in others.


It Was A Good Year For…

Women in football media
In 2017 there were more women presenting, commentating, reporting, writing and punditing on football than ever. What’s more they have been almost uniformly excellent. Perhaps we’ll only know we’ve got true equality when the media employ women who are as poor as the worst of the men.

After years and years of pushing for such changes, progress is finally being made and yes there is still some way to go, but we are on the road to a more fair, varied and interesting future which paints from the full rainbow palette. There is no turning back now and it has improved the whole of the football media markedly.

Those who once said there was no place for women in the men’s game, except as eye candy, have been successfully marginalised and, despite their screaming on Twitter about such matters (‘stop ramming women down my throat’ was my favourite comment), now increasingly seem like extremists and ever so slightly odd.


The value of coaching
Jose Mourinho’s cry for even more money in order to be able to compete with City suddenly sounded really old-fashioned, out-moded and defeatist, as though he had forgotten his job was to coach his excellent players to be even better. This was a pivotal moment which will not be forgotten.

There are still those who think all you do as a manager is buy all the best players and then sit back and wait to win everything. But this year we’ve seen how progressive, proactive and appropriate coaching can make even already excellent players great and good players, excellent. We’ve seen this in action at Spurs, Manchester City, Liverpool, Burnley, Watford, and at Crystal Palace too.


That whole Marco Silva business
The subconscious, unthinking xenophobic ignorance as expressed by Phil Thompson and Paul Merson about the then new Hull City manager was so offensive on so many levels that all thinking and progressive football writers and fans rose up as one and put them down so powerfully that last week when Carlos Carvalhal was appointed Swansea City manager, none of them dared say (as they would have done, a year ago) that he wouldn’t know how to “dig in” or that he “wouldn’t have a clue” because he was foreign and had never worked in the Premier League.

And I’d wager we will never hear it again, in just the same way we never hear anyone described as a Proper Football Man anymore. This is all proof that collectively we can affect positive change.


Not being careful what you wish for
This year the argument of slack-jawed tripe merchants who season after season have told restless bored fans who wanted a change of manager (especially if British) to ‘be careful what you wish for’ was finally put to bed and the idea that paying for entertaining football was not in any way unreasonable won the day. Every fan has the right to feel they might get some fun for their overpriced ticket. Hanging on in quiet desperation is a terrible lifestyle choice.

Managers who got the sack for being boring need to wake up and realise this is, to some extent, showbusiness.
This is surely another cliche we’ve seen the back of, so vociferous was the kick-back against it this year because, in essence, it was a rich elite telling the working class to shell out, shut up and suck it up.


Identifying job blockers
Finally, after years of blaming foreigners for the progress of ‘young British managers’ the idea was established that actually it is old British coaches, forever on the management merry-go-round, that are in the way of young exciting managers of all nationalities. This was the first time it had been said and it quickly took hold as an obvious truth. Again, those saying it’s all the fault of the foreign are now heading to the margins to shout their nonsense.


Smart people doing great media work
Not long ago, much football media was dreadful downmarket guff running on default thinking, the hive mind and mind-in-neutral cliche. Not any more. The growth of a progressive, educated, thoughtful and informed media to counteract mainstream downmarket idiocy has really gathered pace this last year. Podcasts such as Set Piece Menu, Totally Football Show, Euro Leagues Show and the Trans Euro Express to name just four from many, entertain and educate as well as being thought-provoking. And they are made by people with intelligence, wit and passion.

National newspaper writers such as Marina Hyde, Daniel Taylor, Rory Smith, David Conn and many more, are all part of the resistance to the dumbocracy and the lowest common denominator culture found in tabloid newspapers and on their websites; a culture which has done so much to coarsen and cheapen our lives. Theyare all our heroes and we need more of them.


Huddersfield Town
Tiny budget + smiley, clever manager = proof it’s not all about money.


TV and radio presenters
For years much TV and radio punditry was vapid, thin gruel, but today, for all there are still some weaker performers, it has simply never been better. We now have articulate ex-pros and journalists having interesting perspectives and knowledge drawn out of them by excellent presenters. And that’s exactly where the praise should go. Great presenters make great programmes happen.

Put simply, every single one is excellent at the moment.

They are: Colin Murray, Jacqui Oatley, Mark Pougatch, Caroline Barker, Lynsey Hipgrave, Kelly Cates, Mark Chapman, Will Perry, James Richardson, Hayley McQueen, Dan Walker, Jason Mohammed, Simon Thomas, Jake Humphreys, David Jones, Eilidh Barbour. Darryl Currie, Gary Lineker, Gabby Logan, Matt Smith.

Largely taken for granted for viewers and listeners, but stars all.


Women’s football on TV
Where once it was rare, almost exotic, now it’s becoming normal. Same goes for reading the results out on TV and radio. Better still, those that gainsay this fact look increasingly out of touch, old-fashioned, narrow-minded and oppressive. And when that happens, you know the winds of change are blowing strong. The long-term progressive agenda for gender fairness and equality in football is at long last making much headway and we’re all better for it.


Lincoln City in the cup
Danny Cowley’s side provided old school FA Cup wonderfulness this year. The first non-league team to get the quarter-final for over 100 years. Sincil Bank was packed and viscerally noisy and it was a thrilling reminder of the brilliance of grass roots football and a reminder that this is still where the soul of the game resides, not in the billionaires’ gilded palaces of sin.


Sean Dyche
At some point in 2017 Sean appeared to realise that, contrary to what he used to say, no-one actually thought he was a dinosaur, so he stopped saying it and got on with being really good. Maybe he finally understood that chippy paranoia and trying to appeal to the Little Englanders inside and outside the game is a bad look, puts people (and potential future employers) off you and will hold you back like almost nothing else.

As soon as football’s unintentionally funniest court jester, Tim Sherwood, starts pumping you for a job, you need to divorce yourself from such an association, because no good will come from it. Sean seems to have done that and as a result he’s become a genuinely inspiring figure, hence his use in the UCFB TV adverts. His is a lesson that flirting with populism, ironically enough, doesn’t make you popular.


England international success
Seeing England’s youth footballers winning actual tournaments by playing thrilling progressive, unfettered, attacking football was nothing less than incredible and showed the cynics and haters who think English kids are too lazy, fat and obsessed with haircuts to be victorious. The future need not be forever bleak. And on a human level, just seeing those young lads’ faces, full of joy and happiness, was a big buzz of good vibes to all our psychic batteries.


It Was A Bad Year For…

English managers who think their name holds them back
The delusion that English coaches are ‘unfashionable’ is still commonly expressed by the less stellar pundits and worse, widely believed because it plays into latent xenophobia that is forever present in England and which drives so much cultural outlook and politics. It beggars belief that we still hear the ‘Allardici’ comment recycled, but we do.

Also the idea that taking a team up is somehow an inferior way to become a top-flight manager needs to be laughed at and resisted more strongly than it has been, because the complacent sense of entitlement that lies behind it is
both negative and destructive to British coaches’ chances by casting the shadow of xenophobia over them all.


The Ian Cathro experiment
Appointing a manager who had never played the game professionally but who was proven to be good at coaching, infuriated the traditionalist jockocracy of Scottish football and we all loved that. Then Ian went and messed it up for himself and everyone else by not being successful. His failure gave every Kris Boyd-shaped meat locker an excuse to say “the boys” would never respect someone who hadn’t played the game.

Cathro was treated as though he was some kind of brainiac weirdo merely because he had a laptop, the press prodded and poked at him like he was an exotic alien beast.

The whole thing was disgracefully reactionary. The lesson? Don’t be different. Don’t try something new. Stick with the failed old ways and be a repressed, conservative, alpha male who you can’t knock over with a baseball bat. Because that’s working so well for Scottish football, isn’t it?


Ticket prices
The FA proudly boasted this year that 50% of tickets for Premier League games were under £30 as though that meant they were reasonably priced, cheap or good value. Football used to be cheap. £30 isn’t cheap. £20 isn’t cheap. Forty years ago tickets used to cost the equivalent of £6 or £7.

Sadly, a whole generation has been so successfully brainwashed into thinking high prices are not that high and are worth paying. And it won’t change until we all stay away en masse and demand really cheap tickets. There is absolutely no sign of that happening.


Transfer fees
Nothing alienates some fans more than huge fees. Why?

Because we can’t help but relate it to the real world. You can argue as much as you like about the economics of the situation but the fact is when an organisation is paying upwards of £100 million for a player and paying him a million a month, a big section of the fans shakes their head in moral disgust and feels tainted by such financial gluttony.

There is no sign of it changing yet, but it’s hard to see it as anything other than a depressing negative which later than sooner will kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs. An existential crisis is brewing, as spending rises ever higher and reduces competition between a top six and the rest, more and more the question will be asked, ‘What’s the point in even trying to compete?’. And once the spirit of competition is undermined, the whole league is devalued and becomes redundant. Hurrah!


People who hate the tabloid press
Every day in Mediawatch we itemise some of the utter nonsense that is routinely pumped out by our best selling newspapers. It ranges from the banal to the untruthful via the sensationalist, so why do so many people still buy it when there are so many better alternatives? Why do so many visit their horribly cluttered websites? Little else impacts so negatively and so consistently on British life.

I firmly believe tabloid papers make Britain more unhappy and cynical. Their ceaseless need to fill website and pages has led to oceans of vacuity and columns of cheap vulgarity and creepy voyeurism smothered in covert racism and sexism, which at times strays into outright misogyny. But they’re massively popular. Why?


Anyone who dislikes ‘official’ merchandise
An ‘official’ club shirt now typically costs £60 for an adult. But it costs less than £5 to make a football shirt. By any stretch of the imagination this is price gouging. But then, people pay it in their many thousands, so why would they stop?

For this to end all people need to do is stop believing in the word ‘official.’ It has been created to confer a non-existent additional status to the item. Any red shirt can be Liverpool, any black and white stripe can be Newcastle. If you say it is, then it is. In this context ‘official’ is used as a kind of mental bullying, implying you’re not a true fan unless you buy that product and walk around as an advertising hoarding for the club’s sponsors. If you choose not to, you are lesser. It’s a pernicious evil which warps young minds from an early age and makes them buy into the worst sort of corporate hypnosis and teaches them to become a good capitalist where you acquire status by spending money, and prove loyalty through spending money. But gold over soul is a mantra that only leads to unhappiness.

There was a time when there were no official shirts and no-one was less happy. Indeed, people probably loved their clubs more. We could have that time back. ‘Official’ is over, if we want it.


The reputation of the FA executives
Unsackable and answerable to no-one and yet persistently dreadful. The whole Eni Aluko affair was a sacking offence in any other walk of life. It proved beyond reasonable doubt that these men are not fit for purpose. Their blundering, hapless approach to everything is to hide their own incompetence behind middle-management speak and obfuscate criticism with a queasy mix of jargon, arrogance and bluster.

Their testimony to the parliamentary committee was so dreadful it actually looked like a satirical sketch savaging over-promoted, clumsy pinheads who are paid a fortune to crash around like a bull in a china shop.

But are they still in the job? Yes they are. Why? Because no-one has the power to sack them other than themselves. How can change happen when this is the situation?


Having a bang on that
You are not a gambling cyborg surfing the sporting world via your phone for profit. No, you are Gary from Slough and you are alone on your sofa, in your margarine and coffee-stained tracky bottoms trying to assuage the loneliness of modern life through brief thrills of jeopardy.

Seeing Jeff Stelling shouting “Boost!” in an advert for some new betting feature must surely have been one of the most dispiriting things of the whole year.

But given the unhappy mental health of this antidepressant rich, contentment poor nation, as it struggles between the twin poles of poverty of opportunity and actual poverty, in 2018 we will see more gambling, as we all try to make ourselves feel okay for today, and because we are utterly disenfranchised from our own future, pay no heed to tomorrow.


And on that bombshell, Happy New Year!I hope 2018 is a year of love and light for you and yours.

John Nicholson

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