North Stander: Football’s return has been dull, dull, dull... but proves the importance of fans
- Credit: PA
North Stander, Terry Hunt, looks at the return of football and the lessons officials should learn from it.
How much have you enjoyed the return of top-flight football? I think the answer for most of us has been “not a lot,” as the late Paul Daniels would have quipped.
Hasn’t it been dreadfully dull, dull, dull? I watched the much anticipated Merseyside derby on Sunday evening, and can honestly say that seeing the emulsion dry would have been more exciting.
Can you believe it? A dull Merseyside derby, almost completely lacking in excitement - has that ever happened before?
In desperation, I’ve subscribed to a Spanish football TV channel, so I can admire the thrilling skills of Lionel Messi, the greatest player on the planet. I have to say, even the little magician has been rather underwhelming.
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So, what’s missing? Don’t all shout at once - it’s ruddy obvious, isn’t it? Without us, the fans, football is a pale, insipid version of the sport we all know and love.
Without the passion generated by supporters, games resemble glorified training sessions. Players do what they’ve been taught by their coaches, but they play it oh-so-safe. Don’t make a mistake is clearly the watchword.
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Normally, the atmosphere and passion created by the fans push the players on to raise their performance to another level, leaving the training field way behind. They try things, they risk making mistakes in their search for that crucial, game-defining moment of skill. They are as one with the supporters. That’s what makes football the thrilling spectacle it can so often be.
One of the oldest debates in football is about whether the players drive the fans on, or vice versa. Well, I think we know the answer now. Without supporters in the stadium, the players retreat into their shells. Even the most sublimely talented, like Messi, and the soon-to-be-champions Liverpool players. Suddenly, they look rather humdrum, rather ordinary.
I really hope the people who run our national sport learn a big lesson from this very strange situation, which has been created in the most awful of circumstances.
As I’ve said before, football hasn’t always had the best track record of taking care of its most important asset - the fans.
At the top level, as TV cash and other sources of revenue have outgrown money taken on the gate, I have heard people talk about the supporters being increasingly irrelevant, certainly financially.
Well, I hope this dreadfully dull, behind closed doors situation has given the footballing hierarchy a kick up the proverbial. Without the supporters, without the atmosphere and the passion they generate, football as a “product” (dreadful word...) loses everything which attracts the big money. It is anaemic, insipid - and dreadfully, dreadfully dull!
Of course, the truth has always been that, with no fans, football is absolutely nothing. Supporters are the beating heart of every football club in the world, from Manchester United and Barcelona all the way to local Suffolk teams plying their trade in front of a few dozen loyalists.
Club owners come and go, as do managers, and players. But the supporters are there forever. Genuine fans stick with their beloved club for life. I’ve watched Ipswich Town since 1968, when the team included players like Ken Hancock, Tommy Carroll, Billy Houghton and Bill Baxter. They were my first footballing heroes.
Many decades have passed since then, bringing some unforgettable seasons, quite a few thrills, some heartbreak and, yes, quite a lot of dross! Hundreds of players have come and gone, as have a dozen or so managers. But I’m still there, as are thousands of other loyalists for whom supporting Ipswich Town is an important part of life which will never change, irrespective of how well, or badly, things are going on the pitch.
The truth is, the fans ARE the club they support. As I said before, they are the beating heart, the passion, the vital ingredient which transforms it from a colourless business to the thrilling spectacle it can so often be.
So, a plea to those who run our national sport. I hope what you’ve witnessed in the last week or has convinced you that supporters are the most important part of football. Without them, our national sport is absolutely nothing.
So, when you’re making your plans, please make sure you put the passionate, ever-loyal supporters where they deserve to be in football’s list of priorities. Right at the very top!