As this page evolves, I’m going to be taking the time every now and then to sound off on certain things. This’ll be the first of however many sporadic blogs. I hope you enjoy.
As a Manchester United fan, last night was about as low as it gets.
The club is in turmoil, of that there can be no doubt. An easy and obvious culprit is the manager. Football is a results game and his team aren’t getting results. But for many United fans, the cause of the problem goes much higher. To Ed Woodward and ultimately the owners, the Glazer family.
Which is why, as I listened to the commentary last night on BBC Sport, I wasn’t surprised to hear the protests getting more and more vocal.
What I wasn’t expecting, was the reaction of the BBC Commentary team. “An absolute disgrace,” opined Ian Dennis as the United fans launched into a rendition of “build a bonfire,” which led me to wonder if he’d ever been to a game of football before. This isn’t a particularly uncommon song. It’s chanted the length and breadth of Britain each week, by a host of different fans, usually against their local rivals. Did he feel it was worse because it was directed at individuals? Only Ian Dennis knows, but of course, no one takes that chant literally. It’s a metaphor for beating your opponents, and for Manchester United, there is no greater opponent right now than the Glazers and Woodward. “You cannot ask for somebody to die,” Dennis went on. No one literally is. It’s part of the theatre of football.
This is the uncomfortable truth for many broadcasters. The realities of fandom. They love to sell the drama of football. The highs, the passion, the moments of glory. That’s what they want to package and put on your TV and your radio. The problem is, the highs of football can’t be assured and where there are highs, there have to be lows. Not just the lows of losing a game, but the lows of people mismanaging clubs, running them into the ground. I’m not just talking about the issues at Manchester United here either. There are far worse situations elsewhere. Look at Bury, at Bolton, at Macclesfield, at West Ham, at my home town club and first love, Nuneaton Borough. All of these clubs have been run incompetently by their owners. What right has any pundit to tell the fans who complain what they should and should not be chanting at a game?
And that’s what we’re talking about. Chanting at a game. It’s easy to take football as just a game, but it’s more than that. It’s a pantomime at times, with villains and heroes, all of whom are there to be chanted and booed. Of course there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed, we all know what those are. But to suggest that people invest their energies and passions into something and then don’t release those passions within the arena constructed for that sole purpose, is a madness. Football stadiums are a place of escapism. For 90 minutes a week, fans go and they shed the outside world. Win, lose or draw, they go to get their release. Every player who sets foot on that pitch knows their role in that. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous. It’s a product of the sanitisation of football by broadcasters, who are only interested in the good times, because they can sell those far easier than the pain. The thing is, that’s not real.
There are of course, many who will say that the game has moved on. It’s a family product now. That the game has changed and people go to enjoy it in a different way. That’s absolutely not true. The game hasn’t changed. The passion people have for their clubs hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that there are many more opportunities to be connected with your club, without being in the bear pit of a live game, or as involved as others. There is also this view that somehow, those who really do live and breathe their club, and feel every single moment are somehow lesser, when they get caught up in the heat and passion of a moment, than the armchair fans who can pick it up and put it down. That’s grossly unfair. Without the fans who will turn up week in, week out, regardless of the results; who will go that extra mile and sponsor players, fund-raise, volunteer, join working committees, put their lives and souls into a club for nothing in return, other than the knowledge that it will be there next week; without those people, football dies, and without their passion, they don’t exist and passion isn’t something that only comes in a positive form.
“Toxic,” the atmosphere was branded. “It’s not conducive to the players trying to get the three points.” With all due respect, Manchester United fans realise that the issues surrounding the club go far further than what’s happening on a match day. The football has almost become irrelevant to many fans. It’s the politics of the game that is the issue.
I don’t disagree that everyone involved in a football club deserves to be able to go about their lives in comfort. But taking on the running of a football club creates a contract between the owners and fans and part of that contract is that these people in return, need to work as custodians of football clubs. Far too often we’ve seen that’s not the case. Still the authorities let people into football clubs who have absolutely no business being there. United’s owners have leached off the club. Other football club owners have used them to launder money for criminal activities, or as land grab opportunities, or vanity projects so they can wander around declaring how big their manhood is, whilst shovelling as much cocaine up their nose as they can lay their hands on, only to walk away when they start coming down.
The fact that all of this continues to happen, amidst a culture where the fans are told that they’re wrong to voice their frustrations, their genuine anger, through nothing more than a chant, shows the contempt with which football fans often feel they’re being treated. I don’t know Ian Dennis, but I do know what it’s like to commentate on a game of football, and sometimes you have to orate on a subject without the time to truly consider all the angles. It’s a bloody hard job, and perhaps in the cold light of day, if he were to sit down and talk to people who have been involved in clubs that have been run this way, I hope he’d understand why sometimes it bubbles over.