Football. Once the game of the working class. The game of the poor. The game of the common man, played between factories on muddy Sunday afternoons. A pitch of men kicking a piece of leather around trying to keep the hunger in their stomachs at bay.
What is football?
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” No truer words were spoken than that of Bill Shankly, a man with a ludicrous obsession for the game, about his passion. He represents the feelings of many towards our beautiful game. Sport has the ability to unite the world, and so is the case with football. With no other addiction than football have I seen it reduce grown men to tears, crowds to roar loud their battle cries and children to idolise the men they watch kick that piece of leather around that muddy pitch on that Sunday afternoon. Football has united countries, divided nations. Brought people together. Created champions. Broken our hearts. Given us indescribable joy. And yet, now in the present age of our game, the essence has faded. Football was once a game played with heart by the players, led with passion by the fans and relished with awe and appreciation by onlookers at home. All of this is very much alive today, but it has faded. More the profiting business and less the passionate game itself.
So when did it stop being about the football?
“Football is a simple game made complicated by people that should know better.” This ‘people that should know better’ is more applicable now more than ever. Wealthy businessmen. Rich oligopolists. Prosperous oil owners. Are these the men that should know better? It is clear however that they are ruining our game. They have grasped our game by its scruff and is shaking it down for every last penny it can squeeze out of it. They are like parasites ravaging the game from the inside leaving only a hollow exterior that will soon crumble. Roman Abramovic. Suleyman Kerimov. Nasser Ghanim Al-Khelaïfi. Such men are injecting money into clubs like Chelsea, Anzhi and PSG and are shattering the need for youth academies, tactics and even scouts. A day will come when we will turn on our TV’s to watch the rich versus the richer and it will be uninteresting. It is like putting a cheat code into a video game. This is why we look on at teams like FC Barcelona and Arsenal, Ajax and Manchester United with such admiration. Such teams have built players up from young ages, brought them up through their academies and made them into wonderful professionals. Organic. Natural. The proper way. El Clasico being the ideal example. Real Madrid, the ice-cold superpower, buying their way to the top with unlimited spending power versus FC Barcelona, the team filled with academy players, playing passing football with a Catalan identity. Which of the two is the more romantic?
The World Cup is the prestige sample of what football represents. A worldwide tournament between all nations across the globe coming together to celebrate the history of the competition, clashing against one another to be crowned the best footballing nation in the world. A tournament filled with memories, with history, with culture and identity. Every four years the world comes together in the summer to bask in this marvellous contest.
But, not in 2022. No. Things have changed. Forget history. Forget identity. Throw culture and tradition out the window. The World Cup in 2022 is to be played during the winter. The winter. Can you see it now. Us, wrapped in our jackets and scarves, sitting down to watch the greatest sporting event in the world, being played in sunny Qatar. Domestic football leagues will have to be rescheduled. Plans change.
FC Barcelona, the romantic Catalan club. Mes que un club… more than a club. The team that was bigger than commercialisation and sponsors. The team that stood up to the destruction of football and would not display a sponsor on their shirt for so many years. But that has changed. If one was to look on at any FC Barcelona jersey of the past three years they would find a variation of “Qatar foundation” or “Qatar Airways” emblazed across the chest. So much for standing up to the cause when there is money to be made.
The soul of football is being torn out. Along with its heart and its spirit. The illustrious beautiful game has lost its beauty. It is now a business. A company. A means of profits and earnings. Call what you will but it is not the game we all fell in love with as children pulling on our first kit that our dad’s bought us wanting us to follow in his club’s traditions. Or the game we played in the schoolyard. We need to rekindle the moments that made us fall in love. Recall the images of football that come to mind: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last minute phenomenon, Jerzy Dudek’s penalty save, Maradona’s goal of the century, Mourinho’s celebrations, Iniesta’s miracle. Innocent love of the game. No profits, no business. Just a pitch of men kicking a piece of leather around a muddy pitch on a Sunday afternoon.