Monday 22 April 2024

Football - Is it still "the beautiful game" or just one great big scam?

A 1967 Edgware Town programme
with MacMetals advert
Since 2019, I've been a season ticket holder at Hadley FC, in the Southern League Central Division 1, which is at the 8th tier of the football pyramid. It is totally different. You can have a beer when you watch the game. You don't have VAR. It's £50 for a seasons worth of games. At the end of the season, one lucky season ticket holder gets their name pulled out of the hat and wins £1,000. Crowds are around 150. Games are at 3pm. The clubhouse sells reasonably priced beers. The Gate is over the road, if you want lunch before or dinner after. The quality of football is surprisingly good. I also bought a small shareholding in the club, to help them fund ground improvements. The club were promoted from the Sparten league a couple of years ago. If they get another eight promotions, I'll be quids in when a rich investor buys them! But that is not why I did. In truth, it is an interest free loan from me to the club,which means I can have a better matchday experience. No one is in non league football for the cash. There are no Glazers ripping off fans for overpriced t-shirts. There are no prawn sandwiches. 

My affinity with non league football is equally deep routed, my Dad's company MacMetals used to sponsor Edgware Town. Several of his staff were players. I'd get taken to the Old White Lion ground as a kid, get a lemonade and a bag of crisps and watch the game, often in the company of the boys who worked for Dad. He didn't like football, so would sit in the clubhouse, chat, smoke cigarettes and drink beer. He always impressed on me the importance of supporting a proper local club like Edgware Town. He had no time at all for the big clubs, but liked the atmosphere around non league teams. Edgware Town would play at the Old White Lion ground, behind The White Lion Pub. It was a proper old school non league ground. Sadly like so many, it has long since been bulldozed and developed.

How different is supporting Hadley and Edgware Town, to the other club I follow. Since I could walk and talk, I've supported Manchester City.  As soon as I started ggoing to see City, in the 1970's, I was more drawn to glamour of what was the first division#. I liked going to watch Edgware, but when I started going with mates to watch matches at Highbury, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, I was seduced by the bright lights and glamour. In my later teens, twenties and thirties, I rarely went to football. I played for many seasons for Hendon School old boys, even though I never went to that school. I had mates there and it worked for me. They played in the AFA League, which meant they played on a Saturday at 3pm.  I'd catch the odd game if Hendon were not playing, but I got very much out of the habit of going to games. I stopped playing 11 a side in around 1995, when my daughter was born as I couldn't justify writing off every Saturday with the family.  I started going to watch the odd City game again and also would watch Barnet FC at Underhill. I'd also get to see the odd Wrexham game with my mates from North Wales.

At the time, City were in the doldrums. I loved going to the games, but watching the repeating pattern of relegations, false dawns, promotions, then another relegation, as Manchester United got ever more successful was grating. I prided myself on the fact that as a City fan, at least no one could ever suggest I didn't have a real love of the club or was a glory hunter. Games at Barnet were always fun. A beer at The Red Lion before,  ninety minutes of mayhem, then a beer at Ye Olde Mitre and a curry, before making my way home. What was not to like? 

Over the years, things started to change. Following the Taylor report, segregation and all seater stadiums, it became almost impossible for me to get a ticket to see Manchester City in London in the City end. Teams had allocations and a big team like City had more than enough regulars to fill this. I stopped playing to spend time with the family, going to Manchester every weekend was not really feasable. I started going to more Barnet games. When my son was born in 2000 and started to take an interest in football, I took him to watch Watford play City. He decided that this was better than Barnet, so we went to Watford for a couple of season for the odd match. We also started making trips up to the Etihad. By the time he was taking a proper interest, City had been taken over by the current owners. They were no longer a Yoyo club, but one where a bad season was a mere place in the Champions league and an average season was 'just a cup'. I'd still catch the odd game at Barnet with mates, but then they decided to move to The Hive. It was a soulless ground, with no proper pubs nearby. I hated it. The only time I've enjoyed watching Barnet was with the Wrexham boys in the away end. Like City, Wrexham have been snapped up by rich owners. They have had two promotions, which meant this season, we couldn't get tickets. As City have become ever more successful, even getting tickets, as a member, for home games has become difficult. Champions League group games and FA Cup matches are usually OK. Midweek games are also available, but it is almost impossible to see a big game on a Saturday, if such a thing ever happens. 

If I was still playing for Hendon, the 3pm kickoff would hardly affect my watching City now. They hardly ever play on Saturday at 3pm. They have six home league games left. Not one is at 3pm on a Saturday. Although a convenient time for all fans, the TV companies deem it not suitable for big games. When you go to a game, you can't buyt a beer and take it with you to your seat. At half time, there is a desperate scramble to get a pint, then you quaff it as quickly as you can. You pay a small fortune for a seat, but you have no idea what is going on when the VAR signs come up. Sometimes it is obvious, but you never get to "see the lines" for offsides etc. When I saw Spurs knock City out of the Champions League at The Etihad, following an obscure offside that would never have been given pre VAR, I didn't know what was going on, until we started listening to the radio on the way home. Don't get me wrong, I love going to football. 

On Saturday, I went to Wembley to watch Manchester City FC beat Chelsea FC with my son and godson and had a wonderful day. Too much beer was consumed and so yesterday was a bit of a slow day. As Citys member, with a few match points, we got decent tickets without too much difficulty and left Wembley, after a tense game, with smiles on our faces. But the talk amongst the City fans was as much about how Semi Finals should not be at Wembley, as about the game prospects. Semi's were always at a relatively convenient neutral ground. Typically City Vs Chelsea would be at Villa Park, which was about an hour on the train for both. 

@rogertichborne Celebrating Bernardo Silva’s winner at #wembleystadium #mcfc #weallloveaparty #falsedots #football #mciche #facup #bluemoon #mancityfans @Manchester City #bluemoonrising ♬ We All Love a Party - The False Dots

Which brings us to the big talking point this week, FA Cup replays. The FA have agreed to abolish them from round one of the FA Cup. Why? The big boys get tired if they play too many games. Do they really? There was a proposal that the big boys in the UK all initially signed up to, to play in a European Super League. That would mean more games. So why does that not make the players tired? Could it be because they earn a shedload of money playing European teams.  Big clubs don't play their best players in the early rounds of the FA cup. If they come unstuck and get a draw, they often still play the kids. For a team struggling in League 1 or 2, it is a huge financial benefit. Sadly looking after the less well off teams is not part of the deal. For a team like Hadley, getting to the first round of the FA Cup proper would be a massive deal. A kind round of draws is probably the only way, it would happen. If they did and somehow managed to draw the game, it would be a massive thing for the club. The FA chiefs simply don't care. Clubs have been saved from bankruptcy in the past following such events. 

A friend asked if I thought football had lost it's soul? It certainly hasn't at Hadley. In truth, when I saw Kevin DeBruyne's reaction at the end of the Chelsea game, no one could say he's lost his soul. But the big TV companies, the offshore club owners, the gambling companies, the rip off replica kits, the corporate lounges, where people go and often only watch 20 mins of the game as they guzzle and booze, and the people in the FA, who should be defending the clubs who are on the brink, none of these has anything resembling a foot ball soul. None of them care for ordinary fans. Nothing would make me happier than if fans fought back, turned off the tellys, boycotted games and we got our game back. The sad truth though, is we are addicts. Most of us simpy couldn't bring ourselves to miss the game. The B*****rds know this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great piece Roger 👍