Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time For A Holiday

When I were a lad summer was a very different beast.

Inspired by Seve we'd take to the fairways, dedicated to mastering the Royal and Ancient game well enough to give Nick Faldo the beating he so richly deserved.

We'd take to the tennis court to out boom-boom Boris Becker.

Football would take a back seat, save for the odd snippet of transfer gossip and the release of the official squad photograph, never fully complete without a sprinkling of mullets and a selection of ill advised moustaches.

In odd years there would be a new strip launch. Every four years the season would be extended with a World Cup. Invariably Scotland would be there for a run out in the opening phase, a run out that could be valiant and hopeless in the same breath, a run out that was forever futile.

Times change.

Progress is good. Sometimes.

But this year's summer break has brought with it a gnawing despair, a blanket of depression that is only partly explained by the Scottish summer's decision to schedule itself over five days in April.

Looking at a summer without a major men's international tournament always leads to a feeling of emptiness.

But that's an old school reaction. There is always football being played somewhere. It doesn't require much technical wizardry to hunt it down and consume it.

So there is football. But there is no league football in Scotland or England.

And that brings us to the real problem this summer. The lack of league football amplifies a modern curse: there's too much football.

Even when the game isn't being played we're constantly subjected to it.

The papers projectile vomit a thousand transfer rumours a week.

The actual signing of a player is greeted with orgasmic delight, the manager in us all giving our definitive verdict on where Player A will slot in to Team Y and how Player B will transform the title hopes of Team Z.

In Scotland the SFA's AGM was given more coverage than most cabinet meetings, Stewart Regan suddenly achieving a strange kind of campaigner for change celebrity, as if he had proposed a cure for child poverty.

The Machiavellian machinations at Fifa came under more intense scrutiny in the British media than many a genocidal dictator would expect.

Priorities? Nah, not so much.

Over the last few days we've seen the footballing world convulsed by the saga of Aston Villa's vacant manager's office.

Alex McLeish is a villain to Birmingham fans. He's not good enough for Aston Villa supporters.

He's a top bloke, a great manager and he deserves his chance according to many of the journalists that he has so assiduously courted throughout his career.

He's a reasonable manager who may or may not take Villa to the level they hope to reach. The local rivalry angle is interesting. But mainly it's interesting to readers of the Birmingham Post.

Call off the Newsnight special.

One does wonder if any of Winston Churchill's cross the floor episodes were subjected to such forensic discussion and comment.

Some examples from a blizzard. In a way it's admirable, the skill with which such thin stories are picked up, stretched and relayed with such solemn sincerity.

Never in the history of sport has so little been reported at such length by so many.

"This really does matter," the Sky Sports presenter's body language tells us.

"This is HUGE," we read between the lines of a hundred newspaper articles, a thousand blog posts.

As a football aficionado this should delight me.

If football is your fetish you're never more than an hour or so away from your next orgy of drama, rumour, fact, fiction, speculation, resignation, signing, sacking and takeover.

Yet very little actually changes with all this coverage. We might listen to it, devour it. But those that matter don't. Sepp Blatter still runs Fifa, Randy Lerner is still free to plot an idiosyncratic managerial course at Villa Park.

The seriousness with which the latest news is delivered and the po-faced reaction from supporters and pundits is astounding. Where’s the fun gone? There’s something wrong with football if it becomes a matter of life and death, so let a little light in. Smile. What’s the worst that can happen?

Of course I’m guilty as well; the ego trip that is running a blog is my own contribution to the transient nonsense pumped out about football every day.

I could completely shut down over the summer. But I'm too addicted to page views and bounce rates.

That too brings uneasiness. Every blog that thinks it's a somebody is producing a manifesto for next season, the humble blog morphing into a copy of the mainstream media it pretends to disdain.

(For the record this blog proposes to stay the same next season, I predict that by March 2012 a blog that is simply a blog will be at the forefront of a retro blogging craze.)

What started out as a way of offering an alternative becomes increasingly desperate to become what it once railed against, the ordinary punter again loses out.

We all need a break, we need to grab our holiday with the same passion as a newly hirsute Wayne Rooney has grabbed his.

I know that Rooney is on holiday because I read about it. Just like I read about it his hair transplant, his marital troubles and his piece of brinkmanship over wages with Manchester United.

Not one of those stories added anything to my enjoyment of his well-taken goal in the final of the Champions League. But he's a footballer and football sells so a waddling Wayne on the beach is fair game.

Too much isn't always a good thing. Football is too bloated, too over-exposed and too hyped.

How can we expect people to get excited by the start of a new season if we've spent the summer telling them to get excited by an emailed resignation or a vote by the blazerati?

We can't. And the effect is that the consumption of football will continue to change. No longer will we join the throng, bond with friends and strangers in the communal experience of watching games at football grounds.

Our senses deadened, we'll demand our football in the bombastically branded bite sized chunks offered by TV companies.

We'll sit on the sofa mistaking bad punditry for insight, mistaking a commentator's high-pitched wail for real excitement, mistaking a succession of bland managerial quotes for a proper match report.

Brain dead and subservient we'll think we're on the inside, that managers, players and journalists, all of them choreographed by press officers and PR men that we never see, are letting us into their confidence.

And our clubs will move ever further away from us, the media having collaborated in giving us the impression that wall to wall coverage every day of the year is increasing our access, moving us closer to the action.

We'll believe that even as we're being shuffled ever further from centre stage, the normal fan now the least desirable consumer that our football clubs want.

And something will be lost. Something that might not matter as long as the money keeps rolling in but that will be sorely missed if ever these footballing houses built on sand begin to teeter.

Getting our summer back would be a step towards getting our game back, of redefining football as something other than the hypersized monopoly it has become. I won't hold my breath.

In the meantime I'm off to get ready for Wimbledon.

Unless I hear any rumours about Hibs signing a striker. Then I might nip out for a paper and flick over to Sky Sports News.

Just in case...