Cod Almighty | Diary
Give me a riot in the summertime
27 July 2016
There's not much to be proud of here in England. The national team has been a joke for decades. The national club competition leads the world only in its staggering, psychopathic self-interest and greed. But in one aspect, it seems to your original/regular Diary, English football and fan culture are the best you'll find anywhere.
Yes, lots of people watch the Premier League. It's the second best attended competition in Europe. But the second tier, too – or the 'Championship', if you insist – is right up there. The league contested next season by 24 teams that include Burton Albion and Rotherham United is watched by more fans than the top division in Portugal, Belgium, Russia, Poland and Turkey. Go as far down as the fourth flight – hello Grimsby! – and the average turnout of 4,880 still betters that of Romania's Liga 1, the Greek Super League, and Hungary's OTP Bank Liga. Carry on down into the pyramid and you'll still find more than a thousand people watching matches in English leagues for which, in many other footballing nations, no equivalent tier of competition even exists.
(No, I don't know why it's called OTP Bank Liga, but it's the top division in Hungary.)
I reckon, then, that English football has a depth and breadth and abundance that you won't find anywhere else. It's the one uniquely and unambiguously brilliant thing about our game. Something to take pride in and defend at all costs.
This isn't because of excellent branding and marketing. It's not because Shaun Harvey, and the random band of stuffed suits taking charge of the Football League at any one time, have done a marvellous job. It's not because they decided the fourth division should be called League Two. It's not because of landfill indie rock being played over PA systems after home teams score a goal. It isn't down to the prestigious sponsorship of Sky Bet, or Nationwide, or Coca-Cola, or Endsleigh Insurance.
It's because in English football culture there is an ingrained and enduring belief that football at all levels has value, and a kind of moral equality. We appreciate that, whether the match you're watching is at the Etihad, the Emirates, Gresty Road, or the A1 Gas Force Arena, there is always the chance of experiencing something that can engage the soul.
Allied to this is the belief that supporting means supporting a team whose DNA – via geography, family, culture, belonging, romance, or happenstance – pulses through your blood. The belief that supporting does not mean choosing the most attractive brand off the shelf. The belief that football is not a supermarket.
It's a big ask for young kids to understand this, which is why provincial playground kickabouts are a patchwork of replica shirts representing the most glamorous global brands. Some of those kids in the playground never catch on, and you witness the appalling spectacle of a fully grown adult from Grimsby, Gateshead or Shrewsbury failing completely to recognise their own towering absurdity in using the word "we" to refer to Manchester City.It's not just that the Premier League has monopolised the TV money. It won't leave the rest of football alone. And this makes perfect sense, from its own psychopathic perspective
But cultures survive because their values are transmitted from generation to generation. We take the kids to Blundell Park, and if we're lucky they get it. If we're lucky, enough of them get it for the club to survive another few decades.
The Premier League hates everything about this culture and wants it destroyed as efficiently as possible.
It's not just that the Premier League has monopolised the TV money. It has gone much further than that. It won't leave the rest of football alone. And from its own psychopathic perspective, this makes perfect sense. Why would it allow clubs like Grimsby Town to exist unmolested, when it can destroy them, get the next Ryan Bennett for free, and hook your kids like crack addicts to divert your Blundell Park season ticket money into a Sky Sports subscription?
The Premier League has rigged the transfer system to allow it to hoover up and stockpile all the best players for ten bob and a bag of spanners. Its clubs establish shops and summer 'coaching schools' in towns where they have no connection, handing out shirts and spreading their brands like a disease. Not content to leech out the lifeblood of other English clubs, and denied its preposterous 'Game 39' proposal, it drags its 'resting' players to play global exhibition games during the close season, siphoning up support in Singapore, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, stifling the development of domestic league football all over the world.
The Premier League, in short, does all that is viable and legally possible to normalise the notion of football as a supermarket.
This is a direct challenge to the cultural assumption that football at all levels has value.
As, indeed, is the admission of B teams to the Football League Trophy.
Until now the rules of competitions have always embodied the idea that football clubs at all levels are worthy of equal respect. That ends with the competition in which one club's official B team plays another club's first team. The new constitution of the Football League Trophy embodies the idea that some clubs are inherently better than others – and by implication that genuine supporters of clubs outside the elite are worth less than plastic supporters of the largest, wealthiest clubs.
If a plastic Chelsea fan laughed in your face for supporting Grimsby, you would be tempted to take some kind of retaliatory action. Well, this is exactly what B teams in the Trophy represent. They are laughing in your face for supporting Grimsby.
You and I have the power to challenge and ultimately defeat this. Are you going to laugh at yourself along with that plastic Chelsea fan? Or are you going to have some pride and stand up for yourself?
Resist B teams in the Trophy, and you help to preserve one of the few things left to be proud of about English football.
If, on the other hand, you tolerate Grimsby Town v Leicester City B, your children – and your football club – will be next.