If football is a feat of concentration and skill, a competition and a performance, does it need spectators? Does the superb goal still matter if there’s no-one there to see it? Of course, the game for the game’s sake is always important, from Sunday league to Premiership. But with Justin Madders MP launching a bill to bring fans closer to the pitch, the ways in which fans get involved with football is becoming more important than ever.
Madders’ concern is the grass-roots and its relationship to the experience of ordinary supporters. One of his main suggestions is that clubs offer 10% of its tickets at a discounted rate for those under 22. He’s concerned that the next generation of fans, as much as the next generation of players, are going to be lost.
Rupert Hawksley talks about the difference between being a supporter and a ‘customer’, when you are in contact with your team. Have fans lost something , as the great Premiership teams have risen to the world fame? Or is it that high-level football is, basically, a whole other ball game?
Though this is a point that could be argued back and forth forever, the Madders bill does at least acknowledge the importance of football as a cultural force, with its power to build communities. And let’s not forget, the super-teams of the Premiership, known internationally, mean that football can in be international and global, and still represent the best of the UK. How to link the two is the question, and seems to be the aim of this new proposed legislation.
Often the way dedicated fans bridge this gap is to become experts. It’s great for serious conversation down the pub after work, during the match, pretty much all the time. We feel we have a stake in the results of matches. It could be that your team doesn’t get up to much, but having an insight into the form of the players, their focus and training techniques means another level of excitement. Maybe this time.
This is the love of the fan for their team. Predicting the results of matches appeals to mathematicians as much as Match of the Day devotees. While these professors are convinced it’s all about probability, with even that being less than accurate, there are others who prefer a mix of experience and research, with a bit of voodoo thrown in for good measure.
Even before MPs get involved, or huge clubs take over the world, the expert, devoted fan is the man or woman who defines her or his relationship with the game, and the players. Though it’s seen as unforgivable to change teams, it does happen and for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s because of dissatisfaction or disappointment with the perceived values of a club, and this is where the whole thing gets interesting. What should the relationship between a club and its supporters be?
Maybe it all comes down to who’s watching.