An eclectic Mailbox. Will we be able to squeeze one out on a Friday afternoon, so to speak? Sent thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org…
The changes in football fan culture
This is the first time I have ever contacted the mailbox despite being a reader of your site for approaching 2 decades. This is, in fact, the first time I have ever attempted to post any thoughts online, but you (and your readers) don’t want my life story, so here we go.
As an observation to the usual moans and gripes about international weekend, I wondered how many other mailboxers think that this is either the preserve of the English or a sign of a wider, cultural shift.
To elaborate on the English point, many people from around the world follow Premier League teams. Now, if I were say Portuguese, I would be on the edge of my seat waiting for our next international game as we have just won our first ever international tournament, that most rare and exotic footballing bird. If I were Icelandic, Welsh, or for that fact of any nation whose international side is on an upwards trajectory then I would be exactly the same like most people.
England’s poor performances in tournaments has led to this state amongst English people who generally support Premier League teams*. Until we put in a good performance in a tournament game there will be no change to this mentality. The last non-tournament performance (well, performance full stop) that I can remember people getting excited about was away in Croatia when Don Fabio was at the helm and Theo looked like a young man about to take on the world, but that was a long time ago now. Switzerland away at the start of Euro 2016 qualifying was a really good performance, but on the back of the 2014 World Cup we needed more than a 0-2 result in a classic ‘tough place to go’ to get pulses racing. Basically, on the first point, the current apathy will remain until whenever a positive tournament performance gets people invigorated. I am intentionally excluding friendlies despite our win in Germany being a great watch, they are effectively just an exhibition. That is all very obvious and nothing that has not been mused over before.
Now, the second point is this. In 2016, whilst a lot of people will have you believe that they are at the forefront of individuality, in general terms the world that we live in, certainly the British part, has never been more homogeneous. If you were to be blindfolded and dropped in to the middle of most town centres you would not notice the difference between one from another. Costa, Nando’s, McDonalds, some bizarrely named Wetherspoons pub…Costa, Nandos. What I am saying is that many people in the country like to know what they are getting all of the time. The Premier League is the football equivalent of that. You know the players, know the teams, know that Jeff and the boys are going to be talking for hours about the same stuff they always talk about and I think that is what is so appealing to a certain type of fan.
To highlight my point here and move further away from the England point this is not exclusive to internationals, we get the same whinges every year when the 3rd round of the cup rolls around. THE 3RD ROUND OF THE FA CUP!!! This, to people of a certain vintage is the best footballing weekend of the year, but I guarantee fans of Premier League – and to go further ‘big’ Premier League – teams will moan about what they perceive to be a weekend without real** football.
Whilst the FA Cup is somewhat hamstrung by having games played over 3 or 4 days and many sides prioritising money, sorry, a certain finish in the Premier League over a cup run it should still get people excited, if anything purely because it is something different. What I am essentially asking is this: is the Premier League a comfort blanket that we can’t let go of. Are we, culturally, too secure in our ‘constants’ that it is the thought of something a bit different that raises our anxiety? Or am I over thinking this and cannot see that anything other than famous teams with famous players in a soap opera type charade is just a bit sh1t?
Bizarrely, the older I get the more I realise that fans of the supposed bigger clubs do not actually seem to take any joy from football, but that is a different subject for a different day. Perhaps I will mail in about that in another 17 years…..
Anyway, keep up the good work; I have been hooked since getting thrown out of a library laughing at your Gary Neville / Hayley Cropper lookalike way back when…. England were poor then, too.
*they seem to be the most vocal or at least numerous
**real football can be whatever you want it to be (barring friendlies as previously covered); cliché alert but why not treat yourself to a lower or non-league game this weekend. Every range of emotion is on show, and people definitely laugh more at those levels.
John B – Manx based Wolves fan
Tabloid poppy treble bubble
I can finally see this morning the overarching game plan of our beloved tabloids regarding the great FIFA Poppy scandal.
Most people are aware of the concept of ‘double bubble’. This is whereby a newspaper can set up a story one day (Rooney to quit England!) only to refute it the next day (Defiant Roo Roars: I will never betray my country!). This way they get two days’ back pages out of something which was not true in the first place.
Well, on this occasion they have gone for the rarely seen treble bubble (I know that this should probably be triple bubble but I think treble bubble works better and trips off the tongue… all those ‘b’s). Today it has emerged that FIFA hasn’t ‘banned the Poppy’, or anything of the sort. FIFA have noted that they never ban political symbols in advance, rather they will investigate after the fact. Given that they govern 211 national teams and oversee around 1000 international matches a year this is probably a sensible approach.
This is where the treble bubble comes in;
1. FIFA bans the Poppy (except they didn’t, they reminded the FA of law four which states players are not allowed to wear “political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images”. England u21s wore the Poppy last night)
2. England to defy Poppy ban (brave plucky England standing up to the foreigns and pen-pushers)
3. Cowardly FIFA backs down in the face of English lions (this will come after the match when FIFA either does nothing or fines the FA £5,000)
As an aside the law four mentioned above comes from football’s rules as laid out by the International Football Association Board. There are eight members of this board, four seats on which are permanently reserved for the four British FAs. So, the body which decides on matters of this type is 50% formed from England, Scotland, Wales and NI. And Armistice Day happens every year. But this is all FIFA’s fault. They say that a country gets the press it deserves but I have don’t nothing to deserve this.
What is Glenn thinking?
WTF…. what is wrong with this Glenn idiot at the FA – aren’t England seen as the sticklers for rules usually, we all agreed to the international ban on political statements on international kits. They are denigrating the memories they say they are preserving by doing this, and making it a football issue when there is no place for politics on the pitch.
So England won’t mind then if we have to play another nation and they decide to flout the rules and dot their own symbols all over their kit – it might be a swastika which was a symbol of peace originally – but many see that symbol as representing Nazi Germany, any one got a problem with that? Or lines from the Koran which have been manipulated to be used as calls to arms against ‘non-believers’ – is that ok?
If we spit the dummy over this and go ahead then don’t be surprised as football turns into the political plaything of idiots like Glenn (dumb ass). Do these idiots not look past the end of their nose’s – as you rightly said in one of your articles – stop the righteous indignation – remember this is football people!
A fine email on CONCACAF qualifying
Just thought I’d mention that today marks the start of one of the great events of the FIFA calendar: the CONCACAF Hexagonal.
Don’t laugh too hard. I realize CONCACAF is known mainly for creative financing and apartments for cats. But it also happens to have the best final round World Cup qualifying system on the planet. It’s simple: the six surviving teams in the competition play home and away, with the top three qualifying and the fourth going to a playoff with a team from another confederation.
No other confederation has this kind of system. South America throws everyone into the mix, Europe has matchups like Germany-San Marino, Africa spreads its big teams out over five groups, even Asia splits them into two. Only CONCACAF makes sure all the best teams play each other in the final round, no minnows allowed.
From one point of view, the system just makes the best of a bad situation. Other confederations have significantly more depth, so for example you can get five reasonably competitive groups in Africa. But when the best teams always play each other, you get fantastic rivalries. The USA will have to go to Costa Rica, where they have never ever won. Mexico against Honduras, always a fierce match, will happen twice. And so on. Cycle after cycle, you really get to know the teams, their stadiums, and the fan atmospheres.
So I’m pumped. And to get you pumped too, here’s the greatest moment in Hexagonal history. It’s the last game of 2010 qualifying, when the USA, already qualified, score against Costa Rica in stoppage time to send Honduras to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. Ignore the patronizing American commentator, just listen to the Honduran broadcasters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhY-IbViJ20
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA
And our man in Japan
I enjoyed Timi, MUFC’s mail about games to watch this weekend, although I think by South Korea v Saudi Arabia he actually meant Japan v Saudi Arabia, which is on Tuesday. This is a very important game and will set up the second half of qualifying nicely: Japan are three points behind Saudi Arabia, who lead the group (Australia are second and play Thailand).
I wrote in after the last international break about Japan’s win over Iraq and draw with Australia helping to keep them in touch with the group leaders and save the manager’s job for the time being. I also mentioned the stat that Japan’s most important attacking players have hardly featured for their clubs in Europe so the team lacked cohesiveness. They have taken some steps to remedy this by having a much-needed friendly against Oman tonight, and by calling up a few players who have actually played regular club football this season, like Yuya Kubo of Young Boys in Switzerland and a few players from J1 League. It also helps that Shinji Okazaki has started to feature more regularly and score for Leicester.
It seems to me that a loss would lead to more calls in the Japanese press for the manager to lose his job, and Japan would probably be looking at the playoff place to get to the World Cup. A draw or a win, however, would make next year very intriguing.
Happy international break, everybody!
James T, Kanazawa, Japan
And an email on Atalanta
Martin, Brighton is right that at the top of Serie A it’s pretty much business as usual, but just below the top teams is where things are a little different. The current 5th-placed team is Atalanta, a club with one piece of major silverware in its 109-year existence (the 1963 Coppa Italia), whose best finish in recent memory is 7th in 2000-1 (maybe “recent” is a relative term), and who are perpetually overlooked because of their rich neighbours down the road in Milan. The club plays in the beautiful city of Bergamo, a city which is proud to be facing east so that it can show its metaphorical backside to Milan.
For much of this century, Atalanta has been stuck on a four-year cycle of top-half Serie A finish, bottom-half Serie A finish, relegation to Serie B, easy promotion from Serie B. They appear to have broken the cycle by narrowly avoiding relegation in the last two seasons, and despite their recent yo-yoing the club has maintained its academy and reputation for producing very talented footballers. A look at other Serie A squads will show a surprising number that came through the Atalanta youth system.
Paolo Bandini in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/nov/07/atalanta-rise-gasperini-serie-a-blog) devoted this week’s Serie A roundup to Atalanta and the summer appointment of Gian Piero Gasperini, which looks to be an astute one. The club relies on its academy to produce talent which will then earn the club money to survive, but Gasperini is unusual in that he has placed a large amount of faith in a large amount of young, Atalanta-produced players. Another unusual point, perhaps especially so for Serie A, the home of the stereotypically trigger-happy chairman, is that after a dodgy start Gasperini was given full backing and time to turn things around. The results are clear from their current position.
It’s still fairly early in the season, but if they avoid injuries and bigger clubs don’t come in during the transfer window with offers they can’t afford to refuse, there’s no reason why Atalanta can’t make it into Europe for the first time since the early ’90s.
James T, Kanazawa, Japan
On reserve football
Great article by Mr Storey today which got me thinking. During my travels I have witnessed what could conceivably be a sort of solution for this (rightly) much-maligned competition.
In South America (Brazil and Argentina that I have personally witnessed) these Academy/U23s/U21s/Reserve games are sometimes played as a prelude to the big match. So when you have, say, a 3:00 PM kick-off, the reserve game starts at 12:00 and, for anyone with a ticket to the big match, it’s an opportunity to get there early, watch your team’s reserves as an appetiser to the “proper” game and perhaps get a glimpse of what’s down the pipeline for your side in years to come. So, for your ticket you get 2 games and the club get extra beer and pie sales.
I must admit, I haven’t given the finer details for this a lot of thought but then, I am not getting paid an absurd salary by the Football League to do so. Maybe someone in the FL could pick it up from here. Just a thought.
Tony Pintos – CFC
Tiger Tim got a job (but not QPR)
I see with dismay that the lovable cockney chap Tim Sherwood is being lined up for the QPR job, and that Gareth Southgate is being linked for the fulltime England roll. I mean how in the hell can this happen?
Southgate had a win ratio of 30% with Middleborough, granted a higher one of 80% for the U-21 but they did not get out the group stages of the 2015 Euro’s. I am asking your listeners to really try and explain how this man, who by the way seems like he has the personality of a dead haddock, can be seen as the right man to lead the National sport of this country. I could understand Sam getting a crack and even Roy but Southgate has done nothing to warrant the game apart from not get caught in a scandal.
The same can be said for Tim, yeah, he speaks like your mate with an old white transit who knows a fella’ who can get you a 55’ HD TV for £200. But in his 56 games he has won 24 of them and lost more than he has won. So how can he be back on the managerial merry-go-round?
Surely there must be managers in smaller European countries that have excelled in recent years – I know as a Liverpool fan we got Rafa at the height of his career 2 La Liga’s and 1 Uefa and now Klopp after Dortmund. But there has to be better options than Southgate. Maybe that is was I have absolutely no interest in the game tonight and will only be watching as it is Friday night and the GF is at the gym (yes she try’s harder than me).
So when will the media come out and say that Sherwood is a travesty of a manager and that his cheeky grin and cockney lingo does make him a good manager, and that Southgate whilst he seems like a nice chap does not have the credentials to lead.
The answer is never, because they are lead by the (Top-Top) Jamie Redknapp media boys who still champion Rooney for captain despite him not being international class since 2004. And that that Moyes should have been given more time at Man U and Roy was given a raw deal at Liverpool.
I do hope that someone will grow a set of balls on Sky or BT and come out with some truth. Maybe that is why Brexit and Trump won. Possibly the people are feed up with the media trying to pull the wool over our eyes when it is so obvious that Tim’s and Gareth’s media mates are pushing there agenda and trying to convince us that they are worth a crack at post there are evidently not qualified for.
Ian “LFC” H
More Mailbox awards
Okay, then. If we’re going for this self-referential indulgence, here are my votes, along with the voices I read them in:
– Mailbox regular of the year: I’m not picking between EddieQuoth and Peter G, and you can’t make me so I’m voting for Brian, LFC (sped-up Jamie Carragher). I find his boundless enthusiasm and optimism charming.
– Most disciplined: Chris, ITFC (a chuckling Brendan Rodgers) always seems very affable.
– PMF award: Fat Man Scouse (Alexi Sayle), by a mile.
– International: Peter G (soothing American narrator of a discovery channel documentary on polar wildlife). He’s just better than us. All of us.
– Addict of the year: Graham Simmons must have tried to quit Arsenal more times than I’ve tried to quit takeout pizza (damn you, Papa John, damn your 6pm Friday text when there’s no food in the house and I can’t be chored to cook, damn you.)
– Sisyphean effort the year: Guy S (Brian Blessed) and his impressive efforts to convince us Wayne Rooney is any good.
– Best ‘alternative subject to the Premier League’ regular of the year – EddieQuoth’s brother.
This is a f*cking scandal (but not really)
I have a confession. I followed the link to vote for Storey and began merrily voting in categories I knew nothing about. When I got to the writer of the year, I go to vote for the man and then see Iain Macintosh in the list.
I didn’t know what to do, felt sweat on my brow as the panic set in. With utmost regret, I had to vote for Iain. I feel I owe Mr Storey an explanation – in the end, it was the Championship/Football manager series and his reviews of Steve Bruce ‘s literary works that swung it.
Hope to see you on the shortlist next year, and we’ll go through the whole process again.
Dave, MUFC, Manchester
(MC – It gives us an excuse to say it again. Go here and vote for our man)