As bizarre as it sounds, it's a choice that many of us have faced at some time.......or is it just me? Your site editor isn't going to reveal his decision on that one but David Hartrick is a lot more forthcoming about his preferences. Oo-errr.......
I’ve had an epiphany.
Watching two local amateur sides play on a muddy pitch with broken nets, I had a revelation.
‘I love football’
There you have it - my life’s one moment of genuine inspiration. I admit it might not be up there with Archimedes’s ‘Eureka!’ or Katie Price realising that silicon + a name change + Peter Andre = Success, but in it’s own way it’s provided a watershed moment in my life.
Now I know what some of you are thinking – ‘Me too, now get on with it’ - but allow me a moment to explain.
The thing I realised is that before HD, 3D, Sky Sports News, TalkSport, official club DVDs, and third kits, there was still something I loved. Before I had access to his home and away shirt complete with name on the number on the back, an autobiography telling me he ‘always loved football and that’, a fully endorsed action figure, and at least one picture of his girlfriend/wife in a state of undress, I still thought David Beckham was a wonderful player who could thread a cross through a mouse’s ear if required.
Basically at the core of an entire media industry built around it, my love still comes down to 1 football, 22 men, and 90 minutes.
Take for instance Sky’s Champions League coverage. We get three high value pundits in the studio - my favourite line-up being Ruud Gullit, Graeme Souness, and Jamie Redknapp agreeing about what the older boys just said to try and fit in. We get Richard Keys anchoring the coverage in his own self-satisfied way, and when Teenwolf can’t be bothered giving us the scores at the end of the games he passes the baton to one of a string of beautiful women. We get coverage starting a 105 minutes before kick-off filled with interviews and features to inform and entertain. We even get to press the red button and flash to games as and when goals are scored, allowing us to create our own semi-highlights programme even though the games are live.
I can stand here hand on my heart and tell you I love it. It’s flawed and annoying and you feel like punching Keys and laughing at Redknapp’s ignorance and the commentators on anything over than games featuring English sides are poor and etc etc, but I love the exposure to so many different games. I love being able to enjoy teams like Maccabi Haifa and Panathinaikos that even in these football saturated days you rarely see.
I still loved European football on TV when the commentary had to come through a telephone line for ninety minutes. It sounded like an eccentric Grandfather was ringing you and talking you through Pécsi Mecsek vs. Manchester United with a slight satellite delay.
I still loved European football on TV when I only got two replays – one from behind the goal, one from somewhere on the touchline depending on how close a portly cameraman had got to the game.
Above all, I still loved European football when the rare glimpses of other ties on Sportsnight or a round-up on Grandstand felt like a real treat, something to be savoured as you never knew when you might see names like Barcelona, Internazionale, Marseille, or Bayern Munich again.
The bottom line is at the heart of the circus is the football itself, the simple act of watching a match at any level, whatever the glitz and glamour surrounding it. If you took away my red button, I would still love football.
In my early courtship with the game, things were drip-fed and the love grew through absence. We are saturated with facts, analysis of manager’s comments, endorsement, ‘wags’, news before the game, phone-ins after the game, phone-ins in the week to discuss this signing or that referee, it’s dizzying the amount of time devoted to football away from the actual ninety minutes spent on the pitch.
There has always been football ‘product’ but once it was to be cherished. For example, I protected my Panini football stickers and album in the same fashion Des Lynam would have once protected his moustache comb. My pile of swaps were gold dust in a playground littered with gravel. The feeling of going through your opponents stickers …Alan Rough – Got…Mark Ward – Got…Roy Wegerle – Got… but then the simple joy of seeing Steve Gritt – Need! and then seamlessly slipping into your poker face as you casually negotiated the terms of the trade agreement was unbridled.
A trip to the newsagent now reveals not only are football stickers available, but there are two different types to choose from – domestic and world football. Not only are those two available, on the same shelf sits the official Premier League trading card game, side by side with the official Premier League Top Trumps set, and the official Premier League mini-bobbleheads – just 48 to collect. Just above them sit the England ‘Starz’ GoGoz (nope, no idea either), the remnants of the official FIFA 2010 World Cup sticker collection, and stickers dedicated to either Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, or most undeservingly - England.
To give the perfect example of my frustration at the growth of anything other than time spent on the pitch itself, I could introduce you to someone with a full replica England kit, a full replica kit of their chosen club, a sun-faded ‘mini-kit’ in their car window, several football based DVDs including ‘Germany 1 England 5’ and ‘The Damned United’, but who also confesses that they rarely watch the games as it’s ‘…easier to just watch the goals on Sky Sports News init…’
The point is this. If you profess to be a football fan, all that should matter is the game. It’s not wearing the official t-shirt of the Premier League, it’s not watching Andy Burton lie on transfer deadline day, and it’s not putting an England flag on your car. Yes enjoy the advantages modern coverage gives you but remember, it should still come down to what happens in the ninety minutes of any given match.
If you want to escape the onslaught of tenuously related crap but still need to get a dose of football that informs rather than concentrates on removing your wallet, there are still two places you can take refuge.
Firstly, the Internet is a minefield but believe me there is quality football coverage out there from intelligent people who care about the game. If my teenage self could see me looking at anything other than pornography it would be appalled, but there is a rich world of football beyond the pictures of tits.
If tactical analysis is your thing sites such as Zonal Marking cater for even your most geek-ridden leanings. There are sites such as this one dedicated to the sporting stories behind the game in different countries, without catering to the need for an official Premier League anything, or a bias due to particular columnist or early press release. There are even sites dedicated to the lighter side of football such as Who Ate All The Pies, without ever feeling the need to have celebrities on it plugging something that has nothing to with sport, let alone football.
Secondly there is the world of the Podcast. I consume Podcasts in the manner El Diego once consumed crack cocaine. There are the two big boys of course, The Guardian’s ‘Football Weekly’ and ‘The Game’ from the Times. Both deserve a listen if only to hear James Richardson and Sid Lowe talk football on one, and Gabriele Marcotti argue with Paddy Barclay on the other. Beyond them is oasis of opinion, fact, and discussion - the Football Ramble in particular stands as a beacon of something more than Tim Lovejoy telling us Chelsea should win the Premier League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Champions League, the Charity Shield, the Simod Cup, the Zenith-Data Systems trophy, the team of the year, the team of the decade…
The Ramble are the flag bearers but they stand at the head of a talented queue. Just behind them is Championship Manager’s excellent Podcast featuring Mark Chapman in a much looser vein than his 5Live work allows, Kevin Day and Graham Poll bickering, and Roy Meredith essentially just knowing everything. After those four options there’s still the Football Pubcast, Optajoke, 3 Up Front, Hold the Back Page – the list of quality content from people who actually want to talk about the game and not the 3D format it’s just been presented in goes on.
And so I come back to the epiphany.
I love football and will always love the game - not the merchandise, hyperbole, slick coverage, or official Premier League toilet brushes available. I love talking/reading/watching football and if like me you need a little more than Ian Wright’s ghost written Sun column to sate your thirst, look to your computer for both written and audio content.
And not just for porn.
If you'd like to read more from David, please visit his fantastic blog, I know who Cyrille Makanaky was.