Smile, it's only football
OVER the months that you’ve been putting up with this regular stain on your virtual life, now and again you’ll have noticed that I’ve had cause to look at the ways other sports do things and compare and contrast them, as they used to say in English exams, with how football operates.
I’m doing the same again today, following a fascinating interview given by McLaren F1’s CEO Jonathan Neale at the Canadian Grand Prix following what was a catastrophic race for his team last Sunday.
Subjected to a proper grilling, by Eddie Jordan in particular, Neale stood his ground, gave as good as he got, was feisty, funny and came out of what was potentially a hugely damaging interview, one where he might even have found himself on the brink of losing his job, not only with his credibility enhanced but with a wave of support from the punters who were watching on. If you didn’t see it, you can find it here.
Having watched that, imagine that was a Premier League press conference. It’s not that hard to do because it isn’t a world away from Jose Mourinho territory for starters. And yet in those cases, the fact that a football manager dares to take a combative approach, dares to swat things back at their questioners becomes a high profile sensation for days with all manner of pundits wringing their hands in mock outrage at such disrespect.
It put me further in mind of a conversation I had with our own James Morrison for the Chelsea edition of Albion News a few weeks back. Asking him if he had any thoughts on a post-football career, James said, “I don’t think it’ll be in the media– I say too much stuff don’t I? I do say what’s on my mind and that doesn’t always go down that well! It is a shame, but these days, you do have to say the right things don’t you?”
What a truly tedious footballing world we are creating if that’s the case. In the end, we are only talking about a game, the world’s game, the one we are all supposed to enjoy. But are we doing that any longer? I’m not so sure, and a quote from a book I was reading the other day – the quarterly book of cricket journalism, The Nightwatchman – made me even less certain.
In one piece in defence of Test cricket, Will Buckley, once of The Observer, noted that modern day sport represents “A farewell to contemplation and a hello to anxiety. And the sport best suited to this age of anxiety was, of course, football, which – with its unfettered capitalism and obsession with results – is fuelled by anxiety. All the hype and hyperbole has made it so important as to be almost impossible to enjoy.
“When did you last see or hear someone laughing at a football match? They are all too busy looking at the match and/or their phones and worrying. Worrying that their team is losing, or worrying that their team is drawing, or worrying that their team is not winning by enough. And they pay £60 a ticket for this.”
We’re a couple of months away from the big kick-off with precious little football to detain us in the intervening period. Let’s use those eight or nine weeks to pause, reflect and try and recapture a bit of perspective. Let’s encourage a new era of motormouths to rival the golden age of Clough, Allison, Shankly, Hill and Dougan from the 1970s, when managers, players or pundits say something interesting, lets revel in it rather than condemn then – I’m looking at you Twitter – and when they dish out some bland platitudes, let’s turn them off...you all know who I’m looking at now.
Let’s be grown up about the national game shall we? Let’s throw off the corporate shackles, let’s not be terrified to say something controversial as long as it’s interesting and moves a debate forward. Let’s not be so precious about everything, nor in such a rush to take offence at everything. Let’s not be in such a hurry to join the dash to mock outrage, lets create a culture where characters can thrive rather than be crucified.
It’ll be a lot more fun.