Football has always been the thing that has defined me. From a young kid running around with an old plastic ball pretending to be Clive Walker to an adult standing in The Shed at Chelsea it has always been an all-consuming passion of mine. Through football i formed friendships, ended friendships, sculpted my outlook on music, fashion, politics and life in general and for that I'll always be grateful.
But something has changed over the past few years....
Sky Sports and it's incessant, overblown, lights flashing, headline grabbing trumpeting of our national game. I understand it's big business and i understand there's subscriptions to be sold but Jesus Wept do you have to make out that Wigan vs Wolves on a freezing cold Monday night in January will be a game to rival anything the Brazil 1970 squad threw up all those years ago? We know it's going to be a dour, soulless, achingly shit 0-0 draw, Sky know this too so who are they trying to convince? Certainly not anyone with the slightest slither of knowledge about the game. The money pumped into the game at first was seen as long overdue and the 'product' (a term that doesn't sit well with me) improved beyond all recognition with an influx of world class foreign talent. Without that money i would never have been treated to the balletic, gliding, imperious skills of Ruud Gullit or the 'blood twisting' dribbling of Gianfranco Zola. Yet to me that all seems like a hell of a long time ago and vastly different to the bloated, stale, ego and money driven 'product' served up today.
Football on telly used to be a mystical beast. Match Of The Day on a Saturday night with Jimmy Hill, David Icke and Bob Wilson and The Big Match on a Sunday lunchtime with Brian Moore were magical when i was a kid. Even when they started showing the odd live league or cup game in the mid 80's televised football never suffered from being so far up it's own arse and overblown.....unlike nowadays. Watching football back then was a treat to be savoured. Now we're force fed a daily diet of football and we've all become fat and sickly from it.
I often feel as though I'm being screamed at in my own front room by an unwelcome visitor. It irritates me to the point where i no longer watch any build-up or reaction before and after games and now prefer to switch the game on as soon as it kicks off and switch off at the final whistle to save me from having to face the simpering Richard Keys and his astonishing lack of insight, Jamie 'Literally' Redknapp and his uncanny ability to talk himself into a metaphorical cul-de-sac. And the less said about Andy 'Take A Booooo Son!" Gray and his sickening love-in with Liverpool and Man Utd or his undeniable hatred of Chelsea, the better. This is the man who after 6 years still calls Paulo Ferreira ...... wait for it......Paulo Farrrrarrrrerrrr. What price partiality?
Ticket prices have also become unsustainable for your average working man. No longer can a working bloke and his son decide on a Saturday lunchtime to go to a Premiership game. Now you have to plan a trip to a game 3 months in advance like you're Rommel organising his Afrika Corps and for that privilege you can expect to be charged the best part of £60 (after booking fees) at Chelsea. Take your kids, feed them, buy them programmes, fill your car with petrol to get there and you won't see much change out of £200 for a day out. Okay stadiums are safer than they ever were in my day and they have to be paid for somehow but it can't be only me who finds these new plastic pleasure-domes soulless, vacuous, atmosphere free theme parks? Call me a Luddite but give me an evening under the floodlights on freezing cold terraces any day.
Even international football is rotten these days. The national side is choc-full of supposedly world class players who just by looking at their body language, you can tell don't want to be within a thousand miles of the FA and Wembley. And why would they? When home internationals are played at a stadium full of parochial know-nothings from provincial towns who seem happy to pay £80 just for the chance to boo John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. It 's everything wrong with this country, not just football, wrapped up in a neat and tidy £700m white elephant. It's come to the point now where i refuse to watch England internationals and I'd rather Chelsea won the League Cup than England win a major trophy. To all those Scousers and Mancs i've belittled down the years for taking this view of the England team......i apologise unreservedly.
So, will i cancel my Sky Sports subscription? In a word no. For every goalless draw at Wigan played in front of a third filled stadium or every two footed lunge from a flash foreign import or every imaginary yellow card being waved you still get a majestic game thrown up every now and again. Unfortunately it usually involves Sky's La Liga coverage of Barca or Real or if you're that way inclined ESPN coverage of Serie A which is usually available live on less than reputable foreign websites. If Liverpool were playing Man City in my back garden I'd draw the curtains.
For me the party is over, I'll still go to the odd game at Chelsea, more out of a deep rooted habit and I'll still watch them when they are on the box but my sense of connection with the game that shaped me has long since vapourised. Football and all it's shiny plastic glitz and glamour can go poke itself as far as I'm concerned, I'll stick to watching grainy YouTube clips of Mike Fillery's free kick against Spurs in the FA Cup Quarter Final in 1982.
Shame really, because the love affair was good while it lasted.