The end of the affair

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

2 April 2004

Paul sent this piece to Cod Almighty and the Grimsby Telegraph simultaneously, and even though the Telegraph has already published it we're going to run it as well, because we like it and reckon Paul expresses the spirit of the times pretty bloody bang on.

After over twenty eventful years it is time to blow the whistle on the relationship. Time to call it a day, to pack it in. The highs, lows, tears and laughter have been amazing but it's gone stale, predictable and boring. That's right, I've fallen out of love with football.

Don't get me wrong; I don't want to feel this way. In fact I'm pretty cut up about it. But I don't have any choice. Football has changed, and I don't like it, I don't enjoy it. The money, the sensationalism, the commercialism, the sheer arrogance of the once beautiful game has kicked the love out of me.

Of course, this has been happening for a while and as the Premiership and Team England got richer and fatter, real football fans began to feel alienated. But through all of this was the love of my life. Grimsby Town Football Club. Because however horrible and unfamiliar football was getting, GTFC stayed constant, homely: something I could easily identify with. We didn't have brilliant players but they were our players and it was our team.

As a student in Cardiff and working in London it was my link to my home town, an easy reminder of family and friends, a footballing umbilical cord. It felt safe because you knew who the players were, where they would play, how the team would function. If there was a new signing then it was exciting; how would he fit in? If somebody left or was sold it was a Big Story. How things have changed.

This season has been horrible, the worst I have ever witnessed. And not just from a results point of view. We are never going to pull up trees and be super-cool - that was part of the attraction - but you were always pretty sure about who played for your beloved team. 2003-04 was the year football died because quite simply I don't identify with the team any more.

Players coming, going, coming then going again. Loan signings playing a couple of games and then sitting on the bench. Non-contracts, trialists, has-beens, never-will-bes... it's all utterly, utterly confusing and very, very upsetting.

There was a time when manager and players would live in the town, get a feel for the area and the people within it. Even try and understand what makes us tick. This helped to forge this identity, this affinity with those who pulled on the black and white stripes. You believed that they wanted success for this small, old-fashioned east coast football club. The butt of so many jokes and disdain from footballing towns and cities. We were all in it together: the players, the management and the fans. You believed in the players, in their fallacies and in their strengths.

These days you know that the players are just playing football. They don't care about playing for Grimsby Town, and nor should they. If they can get 10 games and a few more quid before they retire/move on then that is what they will do. But it hurts. I am watching a bunch of strangers, men who don't even know each other, and watching their disenchanted play, their non-communication doesn't bother me.

And therein lies the problem. I was fortunate to grow up on Alan Buckley's brand of football in the early nineties. As a teenager you would get so excited at the thought of the dream midfield of Childs, Gilbert, Cunnington and Cockerill tearing teams to shreds. You identified with that team because you knew they wanted to make unfashionable Grimsby that bit more exciting. They loved the club and the club loved them. And every game mattered, the performances mattered and the club mattered. I was well and truly bothered to the point of obsession. A true love story.

And now I am not. As players come and go, my interest wanes and I don't care any more. Sure, there is still a desire to win a game but just recently I have sat through games not caring in the slightest if Antoine Whatisname (and I really do not know what it is) has a good game. Because you feel that their hearts are not in it - certainly their hearts are not in the football club. My football club.

I know the game has changed. I understand the transfer system and contracts and everything. It must be difficult being a professional footballer and just going from club to club earning some money. I sympathise with them. But I don't empathise with them.

A similar situation is found in the education system, where supply teachers are moving from school to school, failing to create an identity for themselves or care about the children. And why should they? It's just a job, a school's a school. But it's tearing education apart and now it threatens to tear football apart.

Maybe I'm just getting old and need to embrace change. Maybe. But all I want is to love my club. I don't care if we get relegated as long as I can believe in the players and the management. But I don't, because they don't believe in the club like we do.

I live in hope that one day I will fall in love again. That football will stop flirting with celebrity and settle down into the truly awesome game that it is. I dream of ordinary players being extraordinary and caring deeply about the club they love.

At the minute my bubble is burst but I will still go manfully, hoping to catch the eye of the beautiful game and make it realise that it has to change. Before we all forget what made it beautiful in the first place.

Has Paul got it just about right, or is he just old before his time? Send us your views using the Cod Almighty feedback form.