Book review: The A-Z of Football Hates

06/10/2014

foster

I was tempted to begin this review of The A-Z of Football Hates by Richard Foster (Amberley, 2014) by stating that books of alphabetical lists would come near to the top of my own inventory of “hates,” but I was quickly won over by the author’s introduction, particularly his description of the Chester fan, Steve, who hates watching home matches, an interesting – if slightly problematic – kind of cross for a football supporter to bear.

The abominations that have been chosen by Richard Foster, from an original long list of 87, are probably shared by the majority of fans: agents, corporate hospitality, diving, naming rights, (Mexican) waves, and xenophobia would all be on my personal list should I ever compile one. I would have included “banter,” though, which in my opinion is one of the worst aspects of the modern game of all. Of course, the whole point of a book like this is that there will be as much to disagree with as there is to confirm one’s own prejudices. That’s all part of the fun – and the book is fun. It’s written with a light touch that shrugs off some of its strengths, such as the quality of the writing and research. I learned quite a few things from reading it – from snippets about the early history of agents to the rather pleasing fact that the first footballer in the English game to wear tights was a Leicester City player in 1979.

It’s a book that seems intended, above all, to provoke debate and discussion and I’m pleased to say that I found much to disagree with in it, as I’m sure everyone else who reads it will. Although I can quite believe that players’ PR advisers might encourage them to flourish their children in front of the cameras for all kinds of dubious reasons, I don’t feel as cynical about children and football as the author does. I love to see footballers celebrating with their families when they’ve won trophies and I particularly like to see my own team parade their little ones around Portman Road at the end of the season. Foster finds it schmaltzy but I think that some footballers might actually like their own kids enough to want to share the pleasure of their best moments in football with them. On the other hand, I agree with him that FIFA’s insistence on players each holding hands with a mascot when walking on to the pitch for an international is execrable.

I’m not sure, either, about his description of his ideal club owner: “rich, anonymous and kind-hearted. Just imagine a wealthy philanthropist who was publicity shy… ” I have a particular figure in mind, of course, and I’m in no doubt that a club owner should not be able to hide from the people whose club he or she is supposed to be looking after. I suppose a book that is essentially against things doesn’t have to put the world to rights, but it would have been good if the piece about Ownership had made at least a passing reference to what fans are doing for themselves at clubs like Exeter, FCUM, AFC Wimbledon and Portsmouth.

He devotes an entire “hate” to John Westwood of Pompey and his bell, a decision with which I can wholeheartedly concur. If there’s ever a follow-up edition, I can also recommend that the person who used to play a musical air horn at Portman Road repetitively in the 1970s should receive similar recognition. That horn still blights Ipswich Town DVDs to this day.

There are some contradictions. The author admits “I cried again twenty years on from those first tears” when England were knocked out of the world cup in 1990, despite claiming “Crying” and open displays of masculine emotion to be one of his pet hates. Perhaps – like the Player Queen in Hamlet – Richard Foster protests too much. In fact, I suspect him of really enjoying many of the things he claims to hate. He is clearly enjoying himself far too much in the section on Haircuts – and indeed, which football fan has not taken pleasure in the maniacally coiffeured player? Although I was sad not to find either of my personal favourites, Sue Smith and Taribo West, in the book there are plenty of other examples.

I was afraid that this book might be a football version of Grumpy Old Men but it would be better described by the popular Twitter hashtag: “Against Modern Football.” Most of the things that Richard Foster hates have come into the game in the post-Sky TV era. Television coverage, enormous advertising revenue and vast wealth have altered the game, and in turn have created huge distinctions between clubs with the Premier League having the lion’s share of the spoils in this country. These are the things that are at the root of almost all of the “hates,” whether they are TV directors homing in on the faces of crying fans or goal celebrations designed especially for the cameras.

A pleasing aspect of the book is the contributions of both supporters and former footballers. I particularly enjoyed Pat Nevin, who with typical originality and intelligence decided that what he hates the most is hatred. I think most people would agree. For all the controversy about things like the music played over stadia PA systems or “French football shorts,” this is the worst thing about football and changing things for the better is – unlike most of the other execrations listed in the book – in the hands of the fans themselves. The section on Qatar 2022 is excellent and it conveys some important issues about FIFA’s hypocrisy in the face of human rights abuses. Human rights and global corporatism may not fit all that well into a book that is essentially about mocking the wearing of yellow boots or “plastic fans” but without the serious issues, it would merely be enjoyably trivial. It’s more than that and all the better for it.

The author concludes by saying that it hopes it will enable its readers to release some “pent-up emotions.” I’m not sure about that. For me, watching a football match itself is the most cathartic thing of all. However, if The A-Z of Football Hates was intended to be entertaining and thought-provoking, it has certainly succeeded very well.

Susan Gardiner

 

 


Wrong place, right time: Blofield United Reserves vs Freethorpe, Non-league Day 2014

08/09/2014

Blofield 2

Emma Corlett ventured into unknown territory on Saturday as it was Non-league Day. This is her report.

Non league day. We hardly ever get the chance to watch football together as a family.  I have a season ticket at Portman Road and my partner has a season ticket at Carrow Road.  Non league day provided the ideal opportunity to take our eight-year-old daughter to a game, without any underhand or subtle attempts to sway her one way or the other.

She’s an eight-year-old who hates mushrooms, so the lure of a free punnet of the things for everyone attending Bungay Town was never going to do it for her.  Lowestoft was tempting, but at the last minute we realised Norwich United were playing Ipswich Wanderers at 3pm.  Perfect.  Or it would have been if I hadn’t left it until the last minute, and relied upon  “the internet,” according to which Norwich United play at Plantation Park in Blofield.  So off we headed to Blofield – it’s a small village so how hard could it be to find?

Very, it turns out.  We still have no idea where Plantation Park is. But we saw a pitch with a match taking place, so went for that.  It was free to get in.  One team in yellow, one team in green *sighs*.  Blofield United Reserves (green) versus Freethorpe (yellow).  The match had kicked off at 2.30pm, and a quick count of both teams revealed that we’d missed a bit of action as Freethorpe had already had a player sent off.

The kiosk selling tea and sausage rolls was better staffed than match day at PR.  Tea, made in a pot was served with fresh milk in a proper mug for 50p.  Sausage rolls that looked like they had proper meat in them rather than the scrapings off an abattoir floor on offer at most football league grounds were £1. Oh, and you can drink within sight of the pitch from a patio outside the bar (selling cheap local real ale). Blofield 1

The half-time whistle blew just as we made it to the touchline, and we were informed that Blofield were winning 1-0.  Who needs half time entertainment when there are two children’s play areas to chose between?

So on to the second half.  The Freethorpe goal keeper was a bit gobby, and his inspiring words of encouragement included “pick ‘em up early,” “get some chat going, we’re too quiet,” and  “these lads are dog shit, let’s lift it”.  His motivational yelping paid off, and Freethorpe equalised on (about) 75 minutes with a brilliantly curled free kick from about 25 yards that dipped under the bar.

Apparently a rule change has this season allowed for rolling subs, so there was a fair bit of coming and going that was tricky to keep track of.  This also applied to who was running the line for Blofield.  A replacement lino approached the task in the slacker style.  When asked why he didn’t raise his flag to signify a throw in, he shouted back: “It was such an obvious decision I didn’t think I needed to bother”.  This prompted the ref to come over and check that he actually knew what he was doing.

A bold double substitution by the Blofield manager, resplendent in his proper manager’s coat, complete with initials, on around 80 minutes, paid off quickly, and Blofield scored what turned out to be the winner with a 12-yard skilful turn and low shot from their number 9 striker.

It all looked like a bit of a slog for most, and players heading the ball out of defence made grunting sounds more usually heard from the tennis stars at Wimbledon.  The pass completion rate was low, I suspect no more than 12%. Some clearly took it more seriously than others, and I wouldn’t have wanted to get in the way of the Freethorpe captain as he stormed off at the end, shirt in hand.

Blofield 3The attendance (as counted by me) was 72, plus 17 children and 1 dog. There was the customary ball stuck in tree incident, which was solved by kicking another football at the stuck ball, resulting of course in two balls stuck up tree. [Ed. The highlights of this incident can be watched here.]

I hear that the ‘respect’ agenda is heavily promoted at grass roots level football.  It wasn’t much in evidence today.  It would be quicker to list the players who didn’t call the referee a c*nt than those who did.  No one was booked for dissent, despite the steady flow of criticism directed at the referee throughout “ref watch the f*cking ball, you twat,” “ref, you’ve ruined this game, you better f*cking apologise to our players”.  Maybe he’d made a heinous decision for the first half sending off we’d missed, but he had a fairly uncontroversial game from my perspective.

It was fun though, the sun was shining and for me there is just something great about watching people running around playing football whatever the level.  For each wayward, out for a throw in pass, there was a little snippet of skill from someone. And the eight-year-old got to watch the game from the top of a climbing frame.

 

Blofield 5


Non-league Day on 6th September 2014

03/09/2014

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Gavin Barber would like you to think about going to watch some non-league football on Saturday – and we at Turnstile Blues agree.

This Saturday, 6th September, is Non-League Day. The idea is simple: the teams in the top two divisions aren’t playing, so if you’d normally be watching your team play in the Premier League or Championship, go to a local Non-League ground instead.

Or, just go to a game at a local Non-League ground because, well, because it’s fun.

The point of Non-League Day is not to be “worthy” or touristy, or even particularly serious. It’s about enjoyment: the simple pleasure of watching a football match because you want to watch a football match, not because it has a multi-million pound outcome riding on it. The pleasure of discovering a ground that you’ve never been to before – chances are it’ll have more trees than corporate hospitality tents. The pleasure of being able to have a beer while watching the game, and of hearing some new songs being sung.

There’s a serious side to it – grassroots football has massive social benefits: it enables people to participate and play and socialise, and provides community cohesion in these difficult times. So, it needs your support.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to wear your Guardian Columnist face on Non-League Day. Just turn up and enjoy it. Chances are, you’ll want to come back.

*     *     *     *     *

You can find a non-league fixture near to you by using the “Find A Match” function on the Non-League Day website. Whitton United and Woodbridge Town, for example, are both at home. Or if you fancy a Ryman League game you could head for Leiston United. And there’s some Conference North (yes, Conference North – I don’t make the rules up) action on the coast at Lowestoft Town.

Alternatively, download the Non-League Fixture Finder for your smartphone and let it work its location-based magic.

logoPhil Porter explains more about his Nonleague Fixture Finder app:
I’ve been attending nonleague football matches pretty regularly for a few years now. Last December during a period of wet weather a number of matches for my club – Cambridge City – were postponed and I started the hunt for other matches to attend.This was a more laborious process than it should have been. I couldn’t easily find a suitable website with all the nonleague fixtures displayed – and the official websites of the various nonleagues are hard to navigate and entirely separate. Further, none of them take any notice of my location to inform me what matches are close to me. It struck me that an iPhone app (I have an iPhone) could have taken the list of fixtures and displayed them in distance order from me. Surely someone had written one? No. They hadn’t. I’m not blessed with ideas that could be turned into interesting apps, but this one seemed promising. I’m technical enough to figure out how to write one. I’d also be an active user of the app, so I’d be able to tune it to show me exactly what I wanted and so I’d have a better idea of what should be in it than most other people. Finally the nonleague fixtures aren’t copyright, so I’d be able to create this app without the need to license them from the various leagues (an unofficial Football League app couldn’t be created for this reason). I’d be able to write an app (for a nerd like myself this seemed quite cool) and people may actually like having it! So I did.

It is in the Apple store now (http://www.tinyurl.com/NLFF-app).

It contains the fixtures for the top 4 steps (that’s 12 different leagues) of the nonleague pyramid, and sorts them by distance from where the user is. The fixtures can be displayed in a list or on a map and you can filter them by nonleague level and how far you want to travel.

A club directory is also provided showing complete fixture lists, ticket prices, address and a website link for each of the clubs in those 12 divisions.

 


Family entertainment

21/08/2014

 

Half Time

 After a short cessation of hostilities, the derby match is back at Portman Road this Saturday and we’re all excited about it – except for one thing…  by Susan Gardiner

Embarrassing relatives. We’ve all got them.

Whether it’s an uncle who makes off-colour jokes and is a little too free with his hands or the aunt who only drinks on Christmas Day and, after two sherries, insists everyone watches a war film instead of the great comedy show on the other channel, then promptly falls asleep and starts snoring at seismic levels… OK, this analogy might be getting a bit too personal.

I feel like that about some of my fellow Town fans sometimes. We all have the same interests at heart, but – naturally enough – have different views about how to go about achieving our aims. We argue, we fight, we agree to differ, it doesn’t last long, we argue again… . It was ever thus. In many ways, it’s that kind of thing that makes football supporters comparable to a real family, rather than the trite, happy-clappy, “football family” of the clichés that are trotted out by the media, Barclays ads and football club PR departments.

Perhaps the rivalry between the two major East Anglian clubs is a bit like a confrontation between the Montagues and the Capulets in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, except that fortunately, for the most part, the sword fighting has been replaced by verbal abuse and bragging in musical form.

This is clearly an improvement, and anyway the police will no doubt deal with anyone on either side who allows the rivalry to spill over into anything worse. However, there are aspects of some of the chanting that Ipswich fans aim at their rivals that aren’t acceptable. If they ever were acceptable – and I doubt it – they aren’t any longer. Stuart Hellingsworth wrote about that, with particular reference to the appalling Justin Fashanu song. I don’t know any Ipswich Town supporter who isn’t embarrassed and ashamed about that being sung and I hope that I never hear it at Portman Road again. It does, of course, contravene the law and our own club rules and anyone caught singing it will, quite rightly, be thrown out of the ground and banned.

There’s another song that crosses the line of acceptability though, and one of the Turnstile Blues group unfortunately heard about twenty fans singing it in the North Stand in the match against Fulham recently. It’s the one about Delia. I’m not going to quote the words as they’re well known. The objection here isn’t to “bad language” though. The issue is that people are singing a song that is intended to be offensive about the Norwich City “joint majority shareholder” (that’s what she’s officially called and that is silly. Perhaps someone could come up with a song?) They’re singing it for one reason alone, because she’s a woman. Whatever our views on Delia, her gender isn’t really relevant and shouldn’t be an issue. The only conclusion that anyone can reluctantly come to is that the song is sung because there’s a – hopefully small – element in the Ipswich Town fan base that is sexist and/or misogynistic and this is a manifestation of it.

Football has grown up a lot over the last few decades, but it’s quite clear from the revelations about TV presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray, Richard Scudamore, the Chief Executive of the Premier League, no less and – as recently as yesterday – allegations about former Cardiff City manager (and Norwich player), Malky Mackay, that there’s still a long way to go. Recent advertising campaigns by The Football Paper, and Conference sponsors, Vanarama, are depressing in their out-dated attitude to women. It all seems to be based on an outmoded view that “lad culture” is the norm and that this kind of thing appeals to most football supporters. That’s as insulting to men as it is to women when you think about it.

Look around most football grounds now and you’ll see lots of women, you’ll see families, you’ll see men with daughters (and sons) who don’t want to hear things like the Delia song.

It’s disappointing that sexism and misogynistic behaviour don’t seem to be taken as seriously as racism and homophobia, but it’s just as bad. Denigrating someone because of what they are rather than who they are, or because of a stereotype, is exactly the kind of thing that leads to worse: hatred, abuse, violence. Denigrating someone just because they’re female, apart from being quite weird and ridiculous, is pernicious.

We’re all hoping to see our status as the Pride of Anglia restored on Saturday. Whatever the result, let’s hope that the most embarrassing members of the ITFC family stay at home or keep their malignant songs to themselves.

You can report any offensive chanting or language using the Kick It Out app or the club’s STAMP IT OUT text number 07834 439429.

 

 


Postcript on Cat. 1

27/07/2014
by Gavin Barber
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After our article was published on Friday, Bryan Klug and Simon Milton gave interviews to the local press, which related to some of the topics that we’d raised. Simon Milton, in particular, was keen to emphasise, when quoted on Those Were The Days that the club’s owner would be making up the shortfall in funding as a result of the failure to gain category 1 status, in order to fund the Academy at a full rate. We hope this happens and in particular we hope that the Academy will be resourced as a priority for the football club – including facilities and staffing. We trust that existing staffing levels will be maintained.

Bryan Klug gave the EADT some feedback on why the club had been unsuccessful in its bid for category 1 status. His frustration was clear and we hope that the club learn lessons from what happened, in order to ensure the outcome that everyone wants – a Category One Academy for Ipswich Town.

I can’t believe it’s not a Big Buttery Audit Vat

25/07/2014

ITFC Academy

 

by Gavin Barber

Lots of people ask for money. Most of us – me included – conduct a kind of instantaneous, subconscious cost/benefit analysis of each request before giving a response. Context is important. Earlier today I was asked for a charitable donation and gave the full amount, without hesitation. The charity was a random teenager who was 10p short of his bus fare. I paid in full because a) I could afford it, and b) it would mean that he could end his long-running argument with the driver, meaning that I could finally get off the sweltering pavement, onto the bus, and on with the rest of my life. Philanthropy and self-interest, perfectly married in a moment.

Rightly or wrongly, if you’re prepared to ask people for money then you need to be ready to make them feel that they’re Doing Something Good or Getting Something Back, or, preferably, both. Which is why the decision to ask supporters for cash to fund ITFC’s bid for Category One Academy status was such a bold one. And, on the basis of today’s announcement that the bid has failed, a potentially ill-advised one too.

We are told that the bid for Category One status has failed to reach the required 75% standard by just 0.3%. Who knows what complex algorithms lie behind this outcome? “IF facilities.PITCH >64% AND coaching.YOUTHDEV >72% THEN value academy.LEVEL must = 01”. That sort of thing. Maybe. Myriad factors, we are told, are considered. Investment. Coaching. Facilities. It all gets churned into a big buttery Audit Vat, and for ITFC it apparently comes out at 74.7% proof.

One could speculate on the maturity of a process which allows for such fine margins of error in an area of such inexact science; one could speculate further on how the application of the audit process might vary between clubs of different levels and status – particularly given that this whole thing was begat by the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), itself yet another downwards kick from the jackboot of the super-rich clubs into the faces of the rest.

And yet. You can only play the hand you’re dealt, and ITFC’s response to these challenges was, firstly, to opt rather defiantly for Category Two – like a spurned suitor petulantly de-friending the object of their affections on Facebook – only to decide that, actually, we did want to play with the big boys after all. But we needed someone else to pay for it.

That initial decision was important. ITFC weighed up the options available under EPPP and decided that Category Two was the least-worst of them. Or perhaps that Category One was not worth the risk. Not only was there a 5,000-strong petition raised in protest, but statistics provided by the Ipswich Town Supporters’ Trust proved that investment in Academies was more than likely to repay itself several times over in revenue from player sales, and transfer fee costs saved. Category Two, however, remained the preferred option at that time. It was a decision that now appears to have been costly, both in footballing and financial terms. Perhaps one that Marcus Evans now regrets.

And yet. When Town did decide to pursue Category One status – and let’s go right out on a limb here and suggest that the potentially beneficial effects of Category One on the overall balance sheet may have helped to prompt Marcus’s change of heart – it was the supporters who were asked to foot the bill. Not just a few quid for some fluorescent cones and training tops, but a sizeable chunk of the overall funding required for Category One.

Ipswich Town FC is part of the Marcus Evans Group, a multinational conglomeration of Stuff which employs squillions of people to make gazillions of dollars. It is not, perhaps, the most obvious cause when it comes to charitable giving, yet several supporters decided that it was worthy of donations. In issuing that appeal, ITFC sent out two distinct messages: firstly, that a Category One academy was a nice-to-have rather than a must-have, and supporters should therefore be expected to contribute to it. And secondly, if it was an enterprise inextricably attached to a cause, rather than a business decision about allocation of resources – as would presumably be the case in every other division of MEG – then supporters could arguably be seen to carry an implicit level of blame in any subsequent failure to achieve the desired outcome.

Like I said earlier, you can ask people for money any old time you want, but there’s an implied contract in any request for funding, particularly for a private organisation with an already-significant cashflow. And here we come back, rather cynically perhaps, to our two tests for charitable giving: am I Doing Something Good and will I Get Something Back?

The answer to those questions would both have been ‘yes’ if ITFC had found an extra 0.3% from somewhere. But we didn’t. We failed on the margins. And yet – as frustrating as it is to apparently miss out by such a tiny amount – it is always the case that, like a first serve in tennis, if you aim for the margins, you risk hitting the wrong side of them.

It’s easy, of course, to point the focus of attention towards those who carried out the audit. EPPP is a disastrously ill-thought-out initiative, so there’s no reason not to assume that the processes which underpin its implementation might also benefit from some improvement. But however flawed the process might be, the story to take from today’s announcement is surely not the fact that ITFC missed out on Category One by 0.3%, but that we put ourselves in a position whereby that might ever have become an issue. Why aim for the margins? Why look at the criteria and the processes, and decide that scraping around for 75% is the best approach to take – rather than determining to invest whatever is necessary to reach Category One, from the start? Why opt for Category Two, then spend time and effort recruiting a team capable of delivering Cat One, two years later?

These are business decisions and it’s not for me to say which is the right one and which is the wrong one. But as a supporter, it is for me to say something about asking fans to subsidise the shortfall left by some of those business decisions. And that is this: if you are going to ask fans for money to provide a Category One Academy, over and above the investment that fans already make via season tickets etc., and in the full understanding that Category One brings financial benefits to the club and its owner as well as sporting benefits to the team and its supporters, then you had better make damn sure you get it right. We are told that financial investment is only one of the criteria used to determine Academy status. In that case, if fans have contributed to the financial side of things, then it is down to the club to make sure that everything else is in order, to the extent where a margin of 0.3% in an audit score shouldn’t ever have become an issue.

Having put supporters in an arguably invidious position by asking for contributions in the first place, only to let them down by failing to deliver the aim that they were being asked to contribute to achieving, the Club and its owner once again have questions to answer. What will happen to those contributions? Why, with supporters’ contributions behind them, does it appear to be the case that ITFC aimed for being ‘just good enough’ to achieve Category One – and turned out to be not quite up to it – rather than reducing the risk by aiming higher than that? What happens next? Will there be a new approach or will supporters be asked for yet more money? As ever, we eagerly anticipate answers.


Portman Road, July 2014

06/07/2014

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