No Man’s Land
Some 50 years into the organised game – about a third of the way through the short history to now – a remarkable thing happened, involving football. It defined the ultimate fan experience.
Battle-lines, in the snow of a Belgium-France frontier were confused by a game of football. Figures dashing this way and a-that, slip-sliding in the snow and the sunshine, kicking a ball about. But the crowd in watching, creating a perimeter, outnumbered the players assembled into two teams of soldiers from warring Germany, France and the UK. For one day in no-mans land, football replaced war. And it was a sort of peace, albeit with crunching tackles and vociferous support. With some bag-pipe playing. This is probably the ultimate fan experience – the singing, the banter, the drinking in of a remarkable spectacle, in a rarified atmosphere, experienced by a relative few – something for the moment and something to write home about and be talked about forever more. For it happened in the midst of a World War. Of course could it have been anticipated, advertised even, the crowds would have been massive on that Belgium border. Perhaps ALL the soldiers would have turned up, some to play, most to watch. The war would have been prosecuted, stopped in snowy tracks. But, had it been known it was going to happen…it would not have happened – the generals would have stopped it.
The World Cup and particularly its Final is played knowingly or unknowingly in the spirit of and in respect of this, its peer. The ultimate of the football experience is the shared experience. That’s why we go, that’s why we play. That’s why we watch Match of The Day.
Not far below this ultimate is the private moment, the singular experience. Which might not even happen anywhere near a football match or camera. It is grandad’s scarf hanging on a peg at the foot of the stairs, within access of the front door. Perhaps Grandad is not even with us anymore. It is about all the details, of football, that mean something significant to each of us. Sometimes, those details join up.
In the UK – and maybe, hopefully, elsewhere – where your team comes from and where it plays is of an almost spiritual significance. The spirit is in the sod the earth, the touchstone that makes us human and nor heavenly beings. Hence we accept a game that is rumbustious, irreverent… crude, engaging, sexy. But being British we won’t say sexy, we would rather make a joke out of it. The team’s name, nick-name, colours, history, ground imply rootedness. To know where you come from should allow a respect for where this other, the opponent, comes from. Being a game it should not become so Serbian as to allow intolerance to the minstrel, the wanderer, the player or manager or even fan who “swops sides”.
Expect derision. But keep the fences to a minimum.
Followers. Across boundaries.
This term may once have infered which team you support but today it is more obviously linked to Twitter. I went through my entire 2,500 list of Followers and analyzed foremost where in the World the ‘Follower’ said they were from in their profile section. It seemed inmportant to me that in following my Twitter site called @HomesofFootball the followers would be looking for a site which helped define who they were. Over half of the followers had a clear place where they were from. Very few messed around putting Planet Earth or Zog and very few put nothing at all. In fact the order was 1.’Manchester’ 2.’London’ 3.’Nottingham’ 4.’Bradford’ 5.’UK’ 6.’Newcastle’ 7.’Sunderland’ 8.’Leeds’ 9.’Sheffield’ 10.’Glasgow’ …some put the town plus the county and even the UK or country. I then compared this chart with who these same Followers actually supported as a football team. 1.Nottingham Forest 2.Sunderland 3.Newcastle 4.Liverpool 5.Manchester United 6.Sheffield Wednesday 7.Bradford City 8.Manchester City 9.Leeds United 10.Huddersfield Town. Not so very different but it begs an understanding (and what we already knew before) that people have moved about – Huddersfield fans are living in London and less the other way around. Indeed, many are suppporting teams that have nothing to do on a UK scale with the place where they are from or even live. Now I say ‘UK scale’ because the UK is unique in this way. If you take Brazil, which is 40 times the size of the UK, it does not have 40 times as many football clubs of comparitive size. In fact it has a lot times less, and a lot less fans attending matches. They would however run the UK closer in the amount of fans who purport to support Brazilian team clubs. Not everyone goes to the match. Also, as we all know, Brazil, if not Barcelona, are the most supported or rather popular team in the World. Everyone likes them. They may be your 2nd or 3rd choice but you like them & would go out of your way to watch them, if only on tv.
Back in the UK, this debate of whether our Premier League is ever more a Global League and less an English League will hopefully run and run. For the debate to be over it would be that the PL lost its global appeal or had nothing now of the country that made it. My belief is that by the sheer weight of clubs in our country and the intensity of the clubs various support, the Premiership remains anchored to England’s sail. However, If one looks at the fledgling Englands Womens game, with its SuperLeague (a step higher than a ‘Premiership’) it has every chance of being entirely a global phenomenen because it doesn’t rely on crowds, nor grounds, nor the business that surrounds both to give it a dynamic. It could set sail at anytime, with a push from television and just a couple of big sponsors or even just one such as Continental.