Football fans are fairly unanimous in their hatred of modern football. The general consensus amongst fans is that corporatisation corrupts the game. The list of ways that money has ruined our once-proud working class traditions is endless: ticket prices; shady owners; impractical kick off times for televised fixtures; agent’s fees; sponsors for every goal, corner, throw-in, player, ball, stadium etc; half and half scarves; VAR, tokenistic social justice campaigns like Respect and Kick It Out, forced onto fans by men in suits whose only interest is ticking the club’s equality duty box; and, of course, people filming every set piece to post on their fan accounts on social media. But what happens when fans start to regurgitate the commercial sentiment that has been fed to them?
Increasingly, fans of large corporate clubs sneer at small town outfits due to their poorer economic position. Premier League clubs like Burnley and Sheffield United are routinely referred to as ‘Brexit’ clubs or playing ‘Brexit football’, clearly implying that working class Leave-voting areas (and their populations) are to be regarding with contempt — as has become the dominant mainstream media narrative since the 2016 referendum. Similarly, traditional grounds like Turf Moor, Bramall Lane and Carrow Road are called ‘shitholes’ by fans of clubs who play in soulless arena-style stadiums — notably the Emirates, the Etihad, and Spurs’ flashy, new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Traditional English footballing values like strength, hard work and tenacity have been replaced by possession-focused football. Gone are the days where the likes of Stuart Pearce, Terry Butcher, and Tony Adams would be lauded as fearless and formidable workhorses. Nowadays, they would be vilified as ‘thugs’ and their old-school, physical style would be branded ‘anti-football’.
So why have these working class English footballing values become so undesirable? Why are hard work, strength and resilience derided as primitive or backwards? Britain was built upon these proud values by a resolute working class, yet now they are mocked and disparaged. In modern football, a moment’s brilliance from an arrogant record signing is valued over 90 minutes’ passion and hard work from a loyal, committed grafter. Made-for-TV football favours elegant passes, inspired assists and spectacular finishes to appease the masses of armchair fans and wannabe Twitter pundits. These graceful plays make for much better Match Of The Day highlight reels than the unglamorous goals of old scored through sheer grit and determination.
That’s not to say that the fans are baying for blood every Saturday. There certainly is a crowd- pleasing brand of football which retains all the integrity of English footballing values whilst also incorporating the intelligence and skill which is said to typify the modern game.
Paul Scholes, though unglamorous by today’s standards, was the original complete footballer. Whilst not the most physically imposing player, his work ethic and toughness more than matched his sublime technical ability and creativity. Scholes has attracted global praise from his peers who consistently rate him as one of the best midfielders to ever play the game — all without the blistering pace which is valued so highly by tiki-taka snobs.
Cristiano Ronaldo, another product of Manchester United, exemplifies how the strength and physicality of English leagues complements the free-flowing, fast-paced style of Spanish football, to staggering effect. Another truly complete player, the versatile and adaptable number 7 would not be the outstanding footballer he is today without his stint in the English Premier League.
English football has undergone significant change in the last few decades and it unlikely that this way of football will make a proper comeback anytime soon, but the hybrid of traditional English style and the European/South American approach has the potential to be world-beating. We, as fans, must fight against attempts to demonise traditional English footballing values and instead embrace and support those few ‘shithole’ teams who still demonstrate them.