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Opinion

How did it reach this point? It isn’t just Newcastle United, it is now all football at the top level

7 months ago
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I swore after my first (and only previous) attempt at prose, which scratched an itch relating to Ashley and Benitez, I would never again bother writing on the topic of Newcastle United and the inevitable football misery that this club largely foists upon its customer base.

To do so would be a criminal waste of time and effort whilst Ashley remains our unelected Head of State.

To that degree I will endeavour to keep my side of the bargain.

However, there is a broader issue at play which, at least for the benefit of my own sanity, I would like to document and share. Not simply to commit a rant to paper I hope you understand but also to gauge opinion as to whether I am the proprietor of a mind which perhaps lives in a bygone era, or perhaps, as I hope, there may be some merit in what I’m about to say.

So let’s get going then.

I’m bored of it all. Football. At the top level.

What in particular I hear you ask? Well, in a somewhat haphazard & random fashion, this……

The tedious volume of drivel passing as news on Sky, BT, TalkSport et al every day.

Abnormal levels of 24-hour analysis and debate of every pass, through ball, player and manager stats, and the rest of it, like it’s somehow important.

Let’s call it as it is – inane content intravenously drip fed through the medium of TV, radio and social media to an indoctrinated audience.

Telling us how the PL is the best league in the world, despite the evidence that passes before your very eyes, week after week. A literal army of pundits lining up to convince you, in spite of one team being 25 points clear of the rest, whilst the majority of the remainder scramble for the crumbs, parking the proverbial bus week in week out, playing the percentages, in the hope of surviving the annual three-team cull, just to be able to do exactly the same the following season. Living the dream I believe it is called.

The secret sauce is in the realisation that they’ve done a fantastic job in convincing everyone you are being royally entertained and that football really matters, thereby creating a gravy train for themselves, which seemingly grows bigger as the days go by.

And pray tell, what do the fans get in return for their devout following?

In a nutshell, more cost.

High subscriptions to multiple broadcasters, crazily priced replica kits and inflated ticket prices to name but a few.

The tacit acceptance by the game to accommodate and fail to address fakery, cheating (or simulation to employ the softer term they seem to prefer, rather than calling it out as what it is).

In itself, it has largely eroded trust in the sport.

So many examples exist but a microcosm of it was witnessed on Monday evening when Kovacic demonstrated an acting masterclass in supposed ankle agony before sprinting barely 30 seconds later. It’s tedious to the neutral, infuriating to the opposition, embarrassing to the fans of the offending side and utterly prevalent across all teams without exception. The game does nothing to eradicate it, seemingly afraid to do so without incurring the wrath of a disgruntled diver or manager.

The blame culture pervading football – that is, to find a party to blame for the poor results.

Easy and regular options include the referee, their assistants or perhaps more recently, VAR. Now whether you are an advocate of VAR or not, the fact remains that the introduction of this technology was as a consequence of managers and players moaning about controversial refereeing decisions. Was it offside, was it not, was it a foul, was it over the line?

VAR has largely cleaned up these excuses for defeats, to the colossal detriment of the spontaneity of the game. Would VAR be in existence were it not for the blame culture? Almost certainly not.

The continued hounding and disrespectful treatment of referees and officials by players and management.

The FA Respect campaign has been nothing but window dressing – hollow and meaningless rhetoric designed to halt the idea that footballers have not developed an increasing view of themselves as omnipotent and beyond reproach. Of course, this then cascades to the terraces where grown men and youngsters who should be learning the essence of basic dignity and behaviour, think it is ok to violently swear and abuse officials in the same way.

Not content with abusing officials, some fans see fit to extending this hospitality to opposition supporters. They don’t reserve this abuse for specific teams or rivals, only the level to which they deploy the abuse, whether it be at a game or through social media. Of course, most of the targets are no different to the abusers – working class, mortgage laden with families to provide for but they don a shirt, signifying some sort of recognisable tribal allegiance and suddenly become vermin, not worthy of this earth.

The sheer absurdity of not now placing the ball within the designated corner taking area, which results in pointless and petty arguments with assistant referees as to whether the ball is slightly overlapping the area, all for the sake of a few centimetres. Similarly, the ridiculous foot rule now in place for throw-ins.

Lecherous agents, desperate for a slice of the wealth that exists and flows within the game, adding nothing but an ability to unsettle players, disrupting any potential for some sort of loyalty and redirect money to themselves and their clients, funds that are desperately needed at grass roots and local level.

I could go on but this is the place football finds itself in 2020.

A game once with a soul and meaning, now stripped back to its bare bones as a profit-making vehicle, with no signs of addressing those issues which would threaten to return it to a more cerebral status.

For the record, Newcastle sit somewhere amongst this mess, a zombie of a club, not trying to win or compete or be the best Newcastle it can be.

Just existing within an infrastructure which financially rewards those who can effectively survive and achieve without achieving. Not giving anything in the way of hope for fans to connect to and emotionally invest.

However, whilst we gesticulate and rage at Ashley’s prolonged reign, the lack of investment, the unrelenting lack of care taken of St James Park and the appointment of a manager who has proven to be wholly inadequate at PL level and was clearly a desperate last ditch replacement for Rafa, try to remember what football should be about and what it used to represent. A day spent being entertained and supplied with memories to last a lifetime.

Entertainment in the world of 2020 elite football is pure myth.

Will any of this change going forward? Unlikely in the extreme is the dire prognosis.

So, where does all of this leave us?

Well, I ceased the emotional investment some time ago and the general interest in what was once a great game, has largely dissipated. I occasionally watch a live game, more in the hope that an epiphany will take place one afternoon. More fool me.

This is more than about the state of my club. This is about the state of the game and having the strength to hold your own views aloft, rather than be overwhelmed with hyperbole from a media with a huge conflict of interest, offering little balance.

There is no ritualistic obligation to accept these recently imposed terms and conditions and to continue to pray at the footballing altar. The ingredients of a once amazing recipe have been tampered with far too much. Difficult to digest would be being more than generous.

If none of this applies to you, then I apologise for wasting 10-15 minutes of your time and I wish you continued enjoyment of your football but I also hope you can see that for some, this is no longer the utopia it is painted to be.

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