• The Frustration of Fun Free Football

    Now I want to start off by saying that this really isnít an article about the rights and wrongs of government policy or lockdown itself. We are where we are and I support the need to stay safe and look after others. Given that needs to happen then *some* football is better than no football. Imagine this with only constant re-runs of Eastenders and The X Factor on telly. There are despotic regimes who havenít gone that far with their torture policy.

    But still. If thereís one thing we should learn as a group from the pandemic itís that football without the fans is rubbish. Thereís liquid in the glass but it only fills twenty five percent and everyone recognises by now itís three quarters empty. And, unfortunately, itís getting emptier by the second as the game does nothing to help itself, at least at Premier League level.

    Itís Monday evening at six oíclock. And, this week, thatís the time that your teamís game kicks off in order to supply a TV schedule that would otherwise consist of endless repeats of Eastenders and The X Factor. Youíve just come off your final Teams call of the day, though dinner will only be a thing if someone else cooks it and you are allowed to eat it on your lap. For the next ninety minutes (plus half time) your team will be shown, warts and all, to a backdrop of absolutely no fans whatsoever in glorious 4K, Ultra HD or pixilated dodgy stream.

    You slide onto the sofa and open a beer. Sure, itís Monday tea time but itís FOOTBALL and itís LOCKDOWN so thatís ok. At least you didnít have to try to get to the ground for this sort of time, bunking off an hour of work and crossing your fingers. The game kicks off Ė and you are awful. Fortunately so are the opponents. You sit through eighty nine minutes of pure dirge. The EA Sports style AI crowd noise has started singing ďwhat a load of rubbishĒ in the background. No one knew it could do that. One bloke in the press seats is asleep. A substitute is wearing his mask on his ear and no one knows if this is because heís clinically stupid or as bored as everyone else. BT Sports C List commentary team are delighting in telling the ten thousand hard core viewers left how poor this match is, even compared to last weekís Burnley v West Brom game where the fourth official had to be treated for catatonia after the match. You are on your third beer and starting to wonder if the local kebab place is on Just Eat.

    And then it happens. The one moment of quality. A through ball to Maupay, the defence asleep. And (yes, I appreciate at this point I am totally in a fantasy world but Iím conjuring an example for comic effect here) he sticks it away. Do you arise from the sofa and jump round the house, high fiving walls and yelling ď****ING COME ONĒ to the disquiet of your neighbours? No, you donít. You sit on the sofa and think ďVAR will probably chalk it offĒ. And there it is. ďVAR checking goal, possible offsideĒ. For the next five minutes we are treated to the spectacle of someone in Stockley Park trying to decide, by the use of a protractor and Microsoft Paint, whether Neal Maupayís elbow was offside or, in fact, the first two inches of his t-shirt line, while players who have run round fruitlessly for eighty nine minutes instantly freeze in the February rain. And there it is. That red line, just a gnatís cock in front of the blue one. You know whatís coming. Offside. Up goes one arm, across goes the other arm. No goal. The fourth official adds on two minutes.

    Nil nil then. How frustrating. Plus youíre now half cut. I bet everyone else is just annoyed as I am, you think to yourself and fire up your social media. And they are. Bloody ref. Bloody VAR. Bloody useless team. And then this. And I want you to conjure up in your head an accountant called Nigel who lives in a new build semi and drives a ten year old hatchback, and then read the next bit in his voice. A new post:
    ďActually xG says we should have beaten them 2-0. Well, 1.76 Ė 0.21 really but Iíve done the rounding for you just in case you donít understand maths and statistics. And we had 54% possession and five shots on target, so itís not all bad.Ē

    Great. Thanks Nige. That helps a lot. Tomorrow morning when the Stella has worn off and Iím on a Teams call with that idiot in Finance who supports Man U even though heís never left Essex, crowing about how poor we were, at least I can put him in his place by quoting our xGf and possession stats. Thatíll learn him.

    The actual league table doesnít look so great though, does it?

    Still, at least the fact you went on social media to read Nigel the Accountantís depressing bullshit meant that you missed Karen Carney and Jake Humphrey endlessly replaying your one centimetre offside moment, along with those other two good missed chances, ad-infinitim, while the other channel plays the 8pm kick off between Arsenal and Liverpool and the AI crowd perks up a bit.

    I may exaggerate a tiny bit, but sadly not much. This is the reality of lockdown football. This is what being a Brighton fan currently is all about. This is what we have reduced a great game to. You start off as a youngster kicking a wind-blown plastic football that your dad got for £1.99 at the 24 hour off licence between two jumpers. You and your mates play for hours down the local rec. You practice your ball juggling and street skills in the back garden whenever you can. Itís FUN. And then, when and if you finally make it into the Ferrari buying big time, your life is controlled by a fifth official with a line and a TV screen in an office near Heathrow, and dissected by statisticians who make actuaries look interesting.

    Like many of us I canít wait for lockdown to end, and Iím even looking forward (actually, immensely looking forward) to the cheesy stuff that cynical, middle aged AMF types used to gently mock. I want to see a manager celebrating a winner by sliding on his knees, Jose style, safe in the knowledge that itíll count. I want to pay £5 for a badly poured beer in a plastic cup and hold my mateís pint while he goes for a piss. I want to see men in large, comedy, animal mascot suits racing each other and allowing four year old children to kick a ball past them into a giant goal. I want a player to dive into a packed crowd having blasted a penalty into the top bins, preferably without getting booked. I want to see some bellend invade the pitch and get chased by a group of fat stewards, hampered by their five kilo hi viz jackets before being rugby tackled by a goalkeeper. I want to be on a packed train after the game when someone lets rip with nuclear abandon and the whole carriage dissolves into either choking or fits of laughter while the culprit grins silently. I want to get off the same train as the away lot are being marched onto a London bound service by Sussexís finest and hear the whole platform taunt them with a ď2-0 to the AlbionĒ. THIS is fun. The endless striving for fault free officialdom and statistics that ostensibly explain everything, but actually just act as a cash cow for specialist websites? Kick offs on a Sunday night when you should be falling asleep after a roast or on a Monday tea-time when you should be working? Watching by yourself? Not so much.

    And, hereís a thought. Given that this is the current experience of many of us. Given that weíve been locked up in our own homes for months on end, deprived of company from friends and family, that alcoholism and mental health crises are at worrying levels, that of all clubs in the Premier League, Brighton are currently the most frustrating, is it really any wonder that some of us let rip on social media now and again? Frankly, Iím astonished itís not more.
  • Advertising