Offside toenails, Tyldesley’s exit and million-pound-per-month footballers – why do we just accept it all?

John Nicholson
Michael Oliver gives a penalty for handball during the game between Germany and Denmark
Another fine day for VAR

The offside toenails and involuntary handballs in the Germany v Denmark game were yet more proof that we do not matter to football’s wealthy overlords.

 

Considering we’re the audience for this gnarly metastasized sport, we’re constantly shown we don’t matter in the slightest and are constantly told what is good for us by a minority who, it turns out, know absolutely nothing. How very 2024.

If there’s anyone left who thinks VAR is a splendid development, Germany v Denmark should have disavowed them of the notion. The unfairness of a system whose existence is to make things more fair is but one of its bitter ironies and no amount of cogent explanations by Christina Unkel made the basic unfairness feel any better.

But hey, we’re just the punter, it’s only our, the people’s collective sport, played on 100,000 pitches in every city, town or village from the north to the south coast. Bow down to our wealthy overlords.

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You’d think we were not real flesh and blood, snot and tears people when you consider how effortlessly we’re ignored. IFAB make up new rules so as to better use their failing system, and in doing so ruin the game. You’d have to be pretty short-termist and unthinking to do that.

The pursuit of impossible perfection has, as we 100% knew it would, and many of us warned vociferously about, led to even more cruel imperfection. This has led to everyone in the game to decry VAR. Players, ex-players, managers, former managers and, oh yes, fans. Nearly forgot them, but the clubs – apart from Wolves – ignored all that and voted for it anyway, in the full knowledge of this opposition, as if addicted to its stupidities and in doing so, making the sport they’ve been entrusted with worse. Clearly their priorities are not ours.

The very fundamentals of the game have been altered for internationals, Premier League grounds and some finals. Were we consulted? Are we set to be consulted? Nah. Shut up and keep consuming. Covid showed these people that they don’t need us. Those hoping it would do the opposite underestimated the greedy people with the power. It all went on anyway and selling rights to ever more markets just filled the small hole left by the lack of ticket money.

It explains everything. The lack of interest in what we’ve got to say is endemic. That’s why the decision not to renew Clive Tyldesley’s contract was made. Clearly unpopular and without sense, it isn’t what the public wanted, especially considering the replacement. But it’s what we got and effectively we’re told to suck it up. We don’t matter in the slightest. We can be messed around, used and abused, it doesn’t matter.

I spoke to Niall Sloane for my book. He was intelligent, nice even, as Director of Sport at ITV; there’s still time to row back on this appalling decision, its logic arrogantly not explained to us, but I fear an unwillingness to lose face even though it could be spun as being responsive to people’s wishes, combined with a culture of ignoring the public as a default, means it won’t be.

Moving kick-off times to suit TV schedules, exploiting loyalty and tradition and selling tickets at sky-high prices, endlessly changing strips to further exploit the supporters. Suck it all up you punks, you worthless scum. And we all grumble, bitch and moan but we never ever boycott grounds, games or broadcasters. Is it any wonder they think they can abuse us and the game? They can do so knowing they won’t be the next head on a spike when the revolution comes. But surely our tolerance is not infinitely elastic?

I suppose most football in our lives is played without VAR, so there’s always that relief. And football doesn’t really matter in one sense, so you could argue it’s not worth getting your panties in a wad. You don’t have to buy a ticket or a strip if you can’t afford it. That’s not an unfamiliar concept in life. And therefore all these things excuse our inaction in the face of their callousness.

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But the feeling that everything could be so much better, so easily, pervades and makes everyone feel discontented. Being ignored does that. Having someone’s toe be offside does that. Making involuntary handball an offence does that. Being endlessly invited to be exploited does that. Being ignored does that. We’ve been present at a large-scale takeover of top-flight football by a series of bad actors, and a significant number rolled over and said with that kind of money you can use and abuse me and we’ve also been present at the basic social iniquity of the million-pound-per-month footballer and some reserves who earn more every week than most do in a year. It’s not churlish to say that’s wrong. Not wrong to say that it creates destructive social divides by the emblematic nature of it all.

They make so many terrible decisions and have turned everything they touch into a Marie Celeste of the soul, floating free, adrift on the lonely seas of C*** Capitalism. A ship of abandoned souls. Absent without leave, only money now where once stood nobility.