There will be no grandiose proclamation of writing retirement this year. I’ve come to the happy realisation that I will forever feel the need to write about football in some form or another. There’s no point fighting it anymore.
I will however, use this final Dispatch of the season to make an admission of sorts. With the exception of Saturday’s Champions League Final, I have not watched a game of football during the 2013/14 season in its entirety. This state of affairs has come about for a number of reasons and in no particular order it’s because of various infant-related crises and tantrums, a mind that is prone to taking a walk in its never-ending quest to come up with something new to discuss on here from week to week and a moronic need to scroll through my Twitter feed in order to make some vaguely amusing quip about what’s happening on the pitch. I offer no apology for this. I merely make my confession.
In all honesty, it’s been a difficult season to document. I don’t think I really allowed myself to let Gareth Bale go as a Spurs player and as my club’s season imploded spectacularly whilst Liverpool’s refusal to buckle under financial pressure reaped rewards, I found the tone of my posts in the second half of the campaign becoming more embittered towards what I have come to perceive as the gradual hollowing of football’s soul by a fool’s parade of commercial, self-serving interests hellbent on squeezing any semblance of romance and morality from the game and all those that continue to love it so dearly.
If it wasn’t a tirade against Tim Sherwood’s ineptitude one week, it was the media feeding frenzy that resulted in Nicolas Anelka magically transforming an obscure national gesture into a full-on globally recognised symbol of race hate the next. On and on it went. My public spat with David Baddiel over his increasingly misguided campaign to have Spurs fans banned from singing the ‘Y-word’ came in September. In March, it was Sol Campbell and his vainglorious attempts to sell a few extra copies of his autobiography. With every passing week came something new to be exasperated at and then it was all forgotten until something newer came up for the next post the week after.
That’s how rolling news, in its ever ravenous quest to break out the ‘breaking news’ works doesn’t it? When was the last time you thought about the missing Malaysian plane or Nigella Lawson’s recreational drug habit? You haven’t? No, me neither. I’ve moved on and so have you. It was all UKIP and a bearded lady from Austria last week, this week it’ll be American literature being excluded from the GCSE syllabus or even more shocking than that, lesbian cats being transported to the moon in a spacecraft made of seashells and brine. Russell Brand has consistently pointed this out in his brilliant Trews videos on YouTube and he is not too far off the truth when he says:
“Things pop and expose for a while and we all complain and lament and there’s all sorts of columns about it and then it all disappears again…there’s no sense in any of these papers of “right, for fuck’s sake let’s sort this shit out, it’s mental!””
In many respects, it’s exactly the same in the football arm of the media beast. All these stories, however newsworthy they may be, nevertheless distract us all as supporters from the real problems that afflict our game. I tried, however idealistic it might have been, to tackle those issues in last week’s post and while the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and in agreement with my observations, there was a sense of resigned acceptance that the game is too far gone to be salvaged.
I refuse to accept that. To that end, a tweet from The Guardian’s Amy Lawrence last Tuesday in response to all the Richard Scudamore sexist hooplah resonated deeply within me. She tweeted:
“I know it’s absurdly naive but I just wish we could all just talk about football, and this great game so many of us adore.”
More or less hits the nail, doesn’t it? And while I stand by every word and observation I have made this season, I think it’s all too easy to lose sight of what it is that made us all fall in love with this game in the first place. Football’s beauty will always reside in its simplicity and its capacity to make us all dream. For a few moments at least.
That’s exactly why my heart swelled as I watched Gareth Bale score for Real Madrid in the Champions League final and subsequently go on to hold the trophy aloft. Not only because of the emotional attachment I feel towards him because of what he did for my club but because of its romantic symbolism. A young boy from Wales grows up to play for the biggest club in the world and crowns his first season with them by winning the biggest prize in European football. How can anybody fail to be enchanted by such a tale? There will be some of course, but I don’t particularly have the time nor the inclination to indulge their sourness.
Nina and I made the decision to emigrate to Crete two years ago. It was borne out of the darkest period of our lives and those of you who have routinely read these posts over the years will know what I am referring to. I have football to thank for getting me through such sadness but it has also provided me with the motivation to change the course of my life for the better and I’m here because of it.
And it is here, on this island, where I realise that football needn’t always revolve around the Premier League and snarky barbs on social media and a succession of screaming tabloid headlines. I’ve just discovered that my nearest club, FC Platanias, are a mere two minutes’ walk away from our apartment. They have a stadium capacity of just four thousand. And they also happen to play in the Greek Super League. That may not speak much for the quality of Greece’s top tier but there’s something strangely real about it all. I’ve already okayed it with the Boss to get myself a season ticket for next season.
Downstairs, there’s an old boys’ café, and as I smoked on the balcony during Saturday’s match, I could hear them divide themselves into Real and Atletico tables. I’ve acknowledged some of these denizens as I’ve passed them on occasion and I think it’ll only be a matter of time before I’m swinging worry beads and extolling the virtues of Phil Jones with them during the World Cup.
Ah, the World Cup. I’d been gearing up for repeating the feat of thirty posts in thirty days that got this whole maddening Dispatches endeavour started in the first place. Things however, have changed a little bit since 2010. I now have to occupy the attentions of two amazing but demanding children all day, every day. Plus, I’m making progress on the book. Add actually watching the matches in Brazil deep into the early hours and I admit I could end up burnt out. There will though, if you’re interested, be a series of six extended World Cup Dispatches posted throughout the month starting on the eve of the tournament.
One more thing. I’m on a self-imposed Twitter ban during the actual games. What with that and having no daily deadline to come up with something, I’m actually going to sit down and enjoy the football for the great spectacle that it is.
I’m on a mission to fall back in love with the game and that’s what next season’s Dispatches will hopefully chronicle. Not always, but for the most part. Funny how you have to turn your back on something to find its value once again.
Bonnie can already recognise the Spurs crest and sing ‘Come On You Spurs at the top of her voice on Skype to her Manchester United-supporting Uncle Winston. Meanwhile, Jesse’s steadily chewing through Chirpy, his Spurs mascot cuddly toy, on a daily basis. They may not know it yet, but they are Spurs’ future. Nina and I are smiling. Every day.
Everything’s fine. Everything will be fine. Football may just have saved my soul.
Thank you to everybody who has taken the time to read, comment on, tweet or share these posts throughout the season. You all contributed to Dispatches’ most successful season yet and as ever, I am humbled by your continued support. Have a brilliant World Cup, whoever you support. Cheers, Greg.
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