Forget Shankly’s ‘life and death’ and forget Fergie’s ‘bloody hell,’ if you want a quote that really encapsulates modern football, look to Twitter swearpot @barcajim.
“If I didn’t love football so much,” he once said, “I’d fucking hate it.”
It is a curious contradiction that most of us can find so much to despise in a sport to which we willingly devote so much of our time. We’re angry about the lack of atmosphere, about the high ticket prices, about the gulf between the players and ourselves, and yet here I am writing about football and here you are reading it when you should probably be working. We can’t get away. We’ll never get away. We don’t want to get away. We love/hate it.
Richard Foster loves/hates football and has done for over five decades, hence this sleuth of bugbears. All the usual targets take a pasting, including diving, agents and Sepp Blatter. Some justified right-handers are landed on things like the loan system; widely abused by clubs both large and small these days. That’s a conversation we should be having.
A few less justified jabs are aimed at things like old cup final songs, which were never really meant to be taken seriously anyway. Foster’s hatred of Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus very nearly earned him this website’s first ever minus score. Who hates Gunnersaurus? Look at his face. Just look at his face.
Throughout the book, celebrities and writers are granted guest spots to add their own fury to the party, the best of which is Matt Dickinson’s call for a ban on rowdy parents at children’s games.
“Parents would be permitted to ask just one question – ‘was that fun?’ – and only after the final whistle.”
In tone, ‘The A-Z of Football Hates’ is very similar to Rob Smyth and Georgina Turner’s ‘Jumpers for Goalposts,’ but while that book was long form and luxuriated in every diatribe, Foster is far more staccato; it’s a Clash song compared to Smyth and Turner’s requiem for the past. One is for a long train journey, the other is to be kept in the bathroom and read in instalments.
But while both books are so contrasting in style, they run the same risk of alienating the reader. When faced with a barrage of complaints about anything; a restaurant, a radio station, a person, there is only ever a finite period of time before you feel compelled to say, “Well, why don’t you stop eating there/listening to it/having sex with them?”
This is a shame because Foster, like Smyth and Turner, makes points worthy of consideration. This is not, to use a term that Paul McCarthy popularised here, ‘off the top of the head bollocks.’ It’s well researched, well written and well meaning. Football can be a force for good, but more often than not these days, it seems driven by greed and self-interest.
But there are a number of ways in which football has improved over the last 20 years. It’s safer to watch, there’s a growing diversity on lines of race, gender and sexual orientation in the stadium and you don’t have to stand your child in a flowing torrent of piss that cascades down from the back of the terraces. Sadly, one of the reasons that so many children’s feet are dry is that hardly anyone can afford to get them in the stadium in the first place. And so the debate continues.
How well this book is received will depend on you. If you feed on anger and fury, add two points to the score and buy it now. If you find the ‘Against Modern Football’ movement tiresome, take two points away and move along.
Richard Foster is on Twitter (@rcfoster)