You know, I consider myself a gentle sort of soul. This is a big, old world and there’s room for all of us and all of our funny little ways. If you like something and I don’t, well, I guess it’s the little differences that make us special. Unless, of course, you’re the sort of twisted bastard who brings an iPad to a football match and takes pictures with it all afternoon. You’re the sort of twat who really boils my piss.
It’s not just iPads. It’s all tablets, large and small and it’s smartphones too. The whole gamut of portable electronica. Have you ever looked at the crowd when a penalty is about to be taken? A moment of perfect tension, a mass of men, women and children holding their breath, crossing their fingers…and you and your brethren are staring down a lens, your flashes flickering with impatience. You idiots.
I’m not against the simple act of taking a picture. I’m not a monster. If you want to grab a shot of the rolling red-seated vista at the Emirates Stadium, then you go right ahead. If you want to capture the look upon your child’s face as the players clatter out of the tunnel, then that’s your right as a parent. Look, I’ll even allow a selfie before the match starts. I’m young. I’m hip. You go, dog.
But when that first whistle goes, when the match actually starts, put it away, eh? Life is happening out there and you can be a part of it. I want you to be a part of it. It annoys me that you are so keen not to be a part of it.
You see those guys in brightly coloured tabards down by the pitch? You know, the ones with cameras that cost more than your car? With telescopic lenses like elephant’s legs? They are photographers. Over the course of the afternoon, they will use all their years of experience and the best equipment on the market to capture the same moments you pursue. And do you know how much it will cost you to own copies of the very best that they can produce? A handful of silver change at the newsagent in the morning.
Why are you fighting on their battlefield? You wouldn’t stand behind JMW Turner with a box of crayons and a reporter’s notepad, would you? “It’s all right, mate. Don’t mind me. Just getting these fishing boats. ‘ere, you haven’t got an orange one, have you? I dropped mine and it snapped.”
But as well as being so utterly futile, it’s also really distracting. We go to the football to immerse ourselves in the chaos. Some do this by singing, some do it by swearing, some sit quietly and watch for patterns, others just descend into a zen-like state of moaning. But we’re all there, we’re all a part of the madness, as the smallest fleck of foam is part of the raging ocean. But not you. You’re not part of the ocean. You’re holding a tablet the size of a biscuit tin in front of your face and you’re trying to capture the side of Steven Gerrard’s head from 40 yards away.
It’s like being in a cinema and losing focus because someone just lit up in the darkness as they tapped out a surreptitious text messages. Ostensibly, their act is silent and unobtrusive, but it isn’t really, no, not at all. It troubles you. What are they doing? Are they going to make a phone call? Please, don’t make a phone call.
But the real issue here, the source of the torment, the fuel to the fire, is that you’re not really watching. And we know, we all know, people who want to watch. It could be your friend, who has finally had to hand in their season ticket, an unwilling victim of inexorably rising prices. It could be a family member, who no longer has the mobility to reach the stadium. It could be those kids you saw on the way in, kicking a ball against garage doors, the generation brought up to believe that football is a TV show. But they’re not in the stadium. You are. And you’re not even watching, are you?
Just remember where you are. Remember. You don’t need a grainy picture to remember. Your brain is the greatest hard drive in existence. You can keep pictures on Instagram, but you can’t keep sounds, smells and feelings there. Put the iPad down. Switch it off. Look at the game with your eyes and let it all flood in.
Do that please or so help me, I will put your device somewhere even the longest selfie-stick couldn’t reach.
ED’S NOTE: We had quite a response to this piece, so much so that we opened up the letters page. And someone wrote to tell us that we were wrong about the iPads… Read it here.