I hate football. That’s not a huge secret or anything, but it’s a good point to begin on.
I hate football for a number of reasons, but it really all boils down to two aspects: the gameplay itself, and the culture that surrounds it. The gameplay aspect is pretty straightforward; I don’t find kicking a leather ball up and down a field to be especially intellectually stimulating. And that’s just a personal preference (albeit one one that apparently 99% of the population disagree with me on).
But its the culture that really gets to me. And I’d like to take a bit of time to explain what I mean by this, as I’m using it in a rather broad sense. By the ‘culture’ of football, I’m meaning:
- The idea that everyone likes football, and that being the assumed default.
- From 1, the stigma attached to not liking football.
- The prevalence of football as a go-to conversational currency.
- The way the game is talked about by those who follow it.
- The way those who follow it talk to each other.
Since this is a big topic, I’ll do deep dives on each of these in turn to clarify just what the hell I’m talking about.
1: Everyone Loves Football
It’s just simply not true that everyone likes football. I don’t. I know people that don’t. We’re a small minority, but we do exist.
There’s no subject in the world that has absolute unanimity. Yet football is held up as some universal pursuit. This message comes especially strongly from the media, such as in advertising – which becomes totally saturated with football content during major footballing events.
Consider this. Do we see a similar surge of classical music advertising during the last night of the Proms? Nope! Sure, classical music fans are a smaller demographic than football fans, but the amount of time and cultural resources dedicated to football seem disproportionate, especially in comparison to similar sports, like rugby.
The problem with a football-centric cultural view is that it creates a vicious cycle with an ever-narrowing perspective. If football is all that ever gets talked about, it’s all that ever gets heard about, and we talk about what we hear about it, and so on and so on. Football’s on the news, so adults talk about it, kids copy their parents, they start playing it, schools offer the most popular sporting offerings, and so it goes again. Football holds a monopolistic position in the sporting world that is to the detriment of other sports but also to the national conversation more generally.
I mean, does that much space need to be taken up at the end of every newspaper for the sport? (Or even on televised news). Does “Man kicks ball in goal” deserve the same amount of column inches as a political scandal or international crisis. I’d argue not, and that an unchecked obsession with the sport (driven increasingly apparently by money, it seems to me as an outside observer) has led to a deadening of the plurality of sporting opportunities on offer more widely.
2: What do you mean, you don’t like football?
But a far worse consequence of the football cultural monopoly, at least in my personal experience, is that it naturally leads to the stigmatisation of those whose interests occupy other cultural spaces. I’m not wanting to play the victim card here too much or anything, but it is often difficult to be a non-football fan in society.
Since liking football is the default, it means the onus is on those who don’t or can’t engage with football to justify their position (rather than vice-versa). At primary school when I opted to play netball instead of football (netball seemed like the more tactical, strategic game), I was laughed at, accused of being gay by the other boys, and ordered to buy some football boots.
There’s also a gendered aspect to this as well, which I should briefly touch on. At school, netball was the girl’s game, and football was for the boys. It was literally segregated in this way. But why? There are women’s football teams and men’s netball teams, competing at international levels, but there’s an automatic assumption that boys and girls will fall into line with the ‘expected’ sport choice.
This prejudice carries through into adulthood, of course, as the ‘correct’ version of the sporting event will always get more coverage than the other. Remember the Women’s World Cup anyone? Just a little reminder that it’s EXACTLY THE SAME GAME as the men’s world cup – just with different organs.
So long as this stigma exists, there’ll be problems with sexism in the sport. We need to address the fact that not all boys want to play football and some girls do – and we can’t do that until we address the wider issue of football being everyone’s favourite ever thing to do ever by default. (Imagine if we assumed all doctors were men, and nurses women… oh wait).
3: What team do you support, then?
Another consequence of the prevalence of football is that it becomes an unwelcome and detrimental part of the national conversation. Everyone assumes that everyone they talk to is going to love football, and this means they have something in common.
When we talk to strangers we’ll often do whatever we can to find something in common to strike up a conversation about. For me, that can be very difficult anyway – few people are into Shrek, Wes Anderson, and British Sea Power exclusively – but it’s made far worse by everyone having an inventory of football names and scores to fall back on.
Don’t have a personality, but can memorise the FA Cup winners for the last twenty years and the lineup of every single team? Congratulations, you’re the life and soul of the pub.
I don’t support a football team. I don’t understand why anyone does. Following the sporting successes of some overpaid man-babies who have literally no connection to you or interest in your life whatsoever simply doesn’t appeal to me. Therefore when someone asks what team I support, why I should be obliged to have an answer at all?
Imagine if the question was formed as “the variables of which random number generator do you feel the strongest affinity with?” To me, that’s how the question sounds. But it seems everyone else has an answer and prepared defences for every attack on their chosen team.
What annoys me the most is that this is seen as perfectly normal to do, the memorisation of stats and statistics utterly divorced from anything to do with your life. In any other field of interest, this level of devotion would be regarded as the saddest thing in the world. Society laughs and trainspotters and bird watchers but happily takes pains to digest and discuss whether such-and-such manager is right to be playing the 4-4-2 formation against god-knows-who this saturday. Spoiler: it’s just as sad.
So, don’t try and ask me what team I support. If you do, I’ll be happy to instead tell you about the equipment loadout of my World of Warcraft character.
4: Everyone’s a pundit
It’s not bad enough that those who follow ‘the beautiful game’ insist on pushing themselves onto non-believers, like sporting jehovah’s witnesses, they also without fail are self-proclaimed experts on the subject. And this annoys me. Because they’re not.
Here are some things to please not ever do as a football fan:
- Mock a player for messing up a kick/goal. Running around for 90 minutes with thousands of people staring at your every move is entirely different to playing Fifa in your pants.
- Shout at a ref for making a bad call. He is literally in the best position to be making calls and these days can call upon assistant refs to help him out. Remember, that is LITERALLY what those guys are paid to do – make impartial calls. You are not paid to do this.
- Criticise a manager’s choice of team lineup or substitutions. The manager has full access to the coach reports and team medical staff, as well as the player themselves. They are in every possible way more qualified than you to make the call about who should play. Football Manager is not a qualification.
- Make any kind of prediction about how the season is going to play out. You’re just going to look wrong and stupid. I don’t care that you think Chelsea are going to top the table this season – maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Football results have at least enough of a standard deviation in performance for your prediction to be wrong. I don’t think I read anyone predicting Germany to win the World Cup at the start.
- Use “we” to refer to a team, unless you are on the team. Odds are, you are not on the team. To the team, you are just an income stream. Buying a season pass for a team and buying their new kit every season does not give you any kind of membership entitlement. You are still strangers in every conceivable way.
- Likewise, use “you” to refer to someone else’s football team. Too often I hear things like “we totally smashed you guys last night!” What does this even mean? Neither “we” nor “you” is referentially correct. The team you follow scored more goals than the team the other person followed, but that is the end of it.
There’s plenty of other ways in which the parlance of the game is broken, but those are the main ones. Everything about it is slightly off to me – assuming membership of something you’re not and thinking your opinion is at all valid. These are ignorant ways of talking and we really shouldn’t be encouraging them.
5: Banter Banter Banter
My last point of annoyance regarding football is all about the banter. Above, I talked about how football fans will incorrectly talk to each other as if they were the teams (again, why?). But there’s a whole other level to the culture surrounding the game that’s much, much worse: the banter. But what even is banter anyway?
Well, there’s not one single definition for it – which doesn’t help. The long and short of it is that it’s a kind of playful teasing between close friends, often of a crass nature. But even that’s missing the nuance of it.
Say I’m in a group of friends and one of them is fatter than the rest, would calling him Tubby be considered banter? By the above definition, yes, but that would probably be considered positively Dickensian by the banter standards (yes, I just used the phrase “banter standards”) I’m clumsily trying to refer to. A more appropriate example would be if I photoshopped ol’ Tubby’s face onto a photo of a blue whale – the world’s largest mammal – and printed it out, then distributed my offensive publication to all of Tubby’s direct family members along with sachets of Slim Fast, and then took a photo of all my handicraft, uploaded it to Facebook and tagged Tubby in. That’s closer to pro-level banter.
The upshot is simple enough, Tubby is upset and offended but has to pretend not to be and all the lads get a good laugh out of being so incredibly naughty. But what does any of this have to do with football?
Well sadly it seems that banter is simply a part of the game today. Remember back when I was laughed at for not wanting to play football at school? Protobanter, there; a situation in which a subject is victimised by their peer group but it’s not regarded as direct bullying by society because of arbitrary reasons.
Here is some prime banter, fresh off the Twitter:
Ah, good old @FootyBantLAD. Totally correct there in mocking a football team on the basis of the number of Twitter followers they have. Because as we all know, football skill stands in direct correlation to Twitter followers. LMFAO
Are You Smarter Than Andy Gray? Well, yes in all likelihood, but can you beat his Premier League tips? http://t.co/qWVZrG5ED3
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) October 24, 2014
Haha, Andy Gray is stupid! Ha ha ha. Laugh at stupid people!
Could be worse, could be a Birmingham fan right now.
— Coral (@Coral) October 25, 2014
Hahaha! Imagine being a Birmingham fan right now! You’d be all like “oh man, this totally sucks!” Just imagine that! LOL
And so on.
It’s not an intelligent critique. There’s no wit. There’s nothing even new or insightful. Just photoshopped picture after photoshopped picture on Twitter, Vine after Vine, that green backdrop becoming the familiar stage for an endless pantomime of pratfalls and outright prats.
Maybe it’s partially a defence thing? Like if your team isn’t doing so well at least you can bring down everyone else. That I could understand, though it’s a terribly childish way of going about things. But at least it’s all fun and games, right?
Well, no. Banter is now so ingrained in football culture that genuinely harmful behaviour gets written off as just part of the sport. I don’t want to go over well-trodden ground with this point, so I’ll just link to my storify page on the subject: The Beautiful Game. Here, I collect stories in the news of footballers behaving badly. And for some reason there’s just loads.
Remember when John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand? Banter, right? Nope, just plain old racism I’m afraid. It’s not cool or acceptable. And that’s why I stand against banter in football. Bullying is bullying, no matter how you dress it up. Sure, there’s a gulf between joking that so-and-so looks a bit like a potato and being racist – but drawing a line in the sand is really the only way to un-blur the lines in any effective way.
6: Lad Culture
There’s just one more thing I’d like to mention here. There’s a wider problem here, not just contained to football, that comes from the banter culture, and that’s “lad culture” more generally.
Why spend so much time ranting about football if it’s really lad culture I’m mad about? Well, it goes back to my point above that football is the dominant cultural topic and acts as a universal conversational topic. The banter culture endemic to the game of football thus permeates into wider culture and helps form a lot of what is known as “lad culture.” (I’m taking a big stab here with an assumption about the direction of the causal connection, but I think it’s firm enough to base what I’m saying on).
Let’s just cut right to the chase here. Lad Culture is the worst thing ever. It’s everything I hated about football culture but applied to everything. Everything, but especially how young men should act and behave. The main sources of it are the usual media sources but also in banter hubs (banter hubs, yes) on social media. Case in point, The LAD Bible.
The LAD Bible is not literally a bible. I don’t know why it’s called that. It has no testaments, gospels, or books of any kind. It is not a historical account of the life of any prophets or theological figures. It offers no mythological chronicle of how the earth came to be, or indeed spiritual revelations of any sort. What it does have is banter.
What have they been up to recently? Let’s take a look.
Oh look, a football one. The joke here is that Luis Suarez is dangerous because he’s been known to bite other players on the pitch. In fact he is so dangerous that he travels internationally in a dog kennel, even though this is stupid and impractical in every way. ha ha ha! great banter!
Presented without comment.
This is a Facebook story linking to a website linking to a tweet. This is 2014.
There’s also lots of lame PRANKS and GRATUITOUS PHOTOS OF FEMALE CELEBS FOR NO REASON. All in all it’s awful and everything that’s wrong with everything.
But I’m sure I’m just the minority, right? This is just a fringe group – not representative of any seriously large group of people or society at large.
Oh. Oh dear. But it’s just those damn students, right?
Fun fact: the HSEA places the number of students (that’s undergrads + postgrads) in full time in full and part-time education in 2012/3 at 2,340,275. In other words, even if every single student in the UK liked this page TWICE that would still leave a shortfall of one million people who like The LAD Bible on Facebook.
But at least they claim to not be bullies in their description:
The LAD Bible. NO names. NO seriously offensive behaviour to any individual or group/community of people. The LAD Bible should not be taken seriously.
Now that I CAN do.
Postscript: The Anti-LAD Movement
But what’s to be done about all this? Football isn’t going anywhere as the dominant sport of society. And LADs aren’t changing their ways anytime soon; Dapper Laughs already has his own TV series. Yes it’s sad that something so clearly destructive and unnecessary can’t be done away with – but what exactly am I proposing to do about it?
Well for a while I thought the right approach was to just be really surly and sarcastic about it. Like maybe we should all start acting like LADs ourselves, but in a really exaggerated way. Then the inherent ridiculousness of the very idea of a LAD would be naturally exposed. This can work in some cases, especially when the person doing it is so clearly not a LAD themselves. But I’ve learned that this simply doesn’t work. Mocking LAD culture can’t ever work because mockery is one of the tools of banter: you’re just fighting fire with fire. You can’t make jokes about something that already thinks it’s “just a joke.”
A better response to try and build a better LAD culture from the ground up. So please like the Ultimate Lads Facebook page. You’ll get gems such as these:
Hopefully it’s obviously what I’m trying to achieve here.
Thanks for reading. Please don’t be a terrible person.