By Ewan Day-Collins
English football, we are told, is in crisis. It is a game of racists and cheats, of over-indulged Prima Donnas, of irresponsible fans. It is, we are told by The Independent’s respected Chief Sports Writer James Lawton, a game “happy to roll along in the gutter of no limits”. Even football’s “most ardent supporters”, we are told by Lawton, are wondering whether it is “something to which you would take a young son or a daughter to”. And perhaps he is right. Perhaps football has descended into this metaphorical gutter; a gutter of hatred, of vitriol, of profligacy.
We could all easily jump onto the bandwagon of football bashers. But let’s not. Let’s defend the game whose worth is totally rejected, whose positivity is forgotten. Let’s remember the sheer passion, the overwhelming joy of match day. Let’s celebrate the role the beautiful game plays in the community. Let’s stand up for football.
There is no doubt that racism is overshadowing the sport. John Terry, Louis Suarez, Mark Clattenburg: all have been or are embroiled in allegations of racism. We have witnessed the despicable Chelsea fan this week making monkey gestures. But moronic Neanderthals such as him must not distort the truth. Football has moved on, football does not have an embedded culture of racism. A personal view is that charities such as Kick It Out are largely ineffectual. For football has progressed with society – nothing more, nothing less. Most parts of society have eradicated racism as the country modernises and progresses. Unsurprisingly, most of football – as it is a crucial part of society – has also. The fact we highlight single cases all but demonstrates this. We must not be complacent, but equally we must not hyperbolise; the vast majority of fans and players are not racist – indeed, football has a far greater representation of black players than other sport in this country.
Football can transform a community, can make a community. AFC Wimbledon, a local club of mine that has welcomed me onto the terraces a number of times, is one such example. Wimbledon, the old club, was torn apart and relocated to Milton Keynes to create MK Dons. Thousands of fans were left without a team to follow. So what did they do? They established The Dons. Starting in the lower leagues of the lower leagues, Wimbledon progressed to be in League Two, currently suffering towards the bottom. But the supporters faithfully turn up. Not only do they committedly support like every other set of fans, but in local parks they run courses for youngsters, as many clubs do. The Wimbledon youth teams – male and female – are often paraded at half-time, where we clap and encourage, a taste of what could be. Wimbledon, like every other clubs, helps charities in the wider community of which they play a vital role. With few resources, here football makes a profound difference.
The Dons are a family club. I was once standing watching a game at The Fans’ stadium (aptly named), where the team were losing, one supporter getting irate and a little over passionate, swearing whilst venting his frustration. So the father of one of the many kids watching in the family stand – all allowed space at the front of the terrace to spectate clearly – reminded him of the youngsters present. The supporter apologised, and the family environment was sustained – the hosts went on to win the game. Wimbledon doesn’t sound like it is “happy to roll along in the gutter of no limits”. Is Wimbledon a club of bigots and irresponsible fans, where children should be discouraged from attending? Does Wimbledon have a negative impact on society?
Football is crucial to communities, but also to individuals. All supporters of all teams can remember an occasion, a night, when their team did something wonderful. Some lucky few will treasure Champions’ League victory. Or some, if supporting Wimbledon for example, will remember promotion from the non-league. Or perhaps Wigan fans will savour specific triumphs last season over Liverpool, and Arsenal, and Manchester United. Fans may also reflect on cup victories. Whatever your memories, football has created them. It does so consistently. It allows people to meet and share these together as a community, connected by the mutual covenant of adoration a fan has for his team. So occasionally supporters become excessively passionate, but do we not love the game for the emotional investment placed in it?
Football could improve. It could improve greatly, and needs to. We must continue eradicating completely the racism, and perhaps more pressingly the homophobia, remaining in the game. There is no panacea for this, but continue trying we must. Technology should be implemented beyond the goal lines to bring credibility to officiating. Governing bodies, most importantly FIFA, must become more transparent, coupling this by dragging itself out of the dark ages by expunging such archaic, corrupt yet powerful figures as Sepp Blatter. The Olympics combined sporting excitement with professional respect. Football, in its greatest on-field challenge, should replicate this decency.
Yet in evaluating the many problems the game must overcome, we must not, as Lawton and many others have, forget the immense value of football. The Olympics were spectacular, but who continues to enjoy archery, or judo, or badminton? Football and the Premier League especially, connects with hundreds of millions not every four years, but every week. It attracts fans on the most prestigious of occasions, but also to AFC Wimbledon on a bitter winter’s afternoon. And it does so because it is the greatest game on earth. Let’s be proud, and not forget that.
About the AuthorEwan Day-Collins is a 16-year-old aspiring journalist. He enjoys writing about sport – especially football, cycling and cricket – yet has many other interests besides. As well as writing for OldTrafford.com, Ewan has written for ESPN cricinfo, cricketweb and the i newspaper. He hopes to pursue a career in journalism in the future.