The soccer season has begun once more with most European leagues kicking off over the past couple of weeks. The fans long summer of waiting for soccer to return is over and they can once again enjoy endless hours of watching, talking, playing and thinking about their beloved game. I used to count myself in the same category as these fans. Soccer was the center of my life, but not any more. The game has changed for the worse.
We await nine months of listening to endless TV and radio hyping up matches. For example the usual over exaggeration to describe a match being played by two teams that are just geographically closely located or two teams that have a history of playing each other as ‘enemies doing battle’. The fans believe that the players share their passion for a local derby or a match against a rival but I’m not sure. When Arsenal play Tottenham Hotspur, a clash between two big rivals, maybe the few British players on the pitch will understand and feel the significance of the match but does a new signing from a different country really care. For example Tottenham have signed Nacer Chadli from FC Twente and he is a Belgian national. If he plays in the game against Arsenal we do not know what his feelings will be but I can’t imagine it will mirror the intensity of those fans who turn up ready to chant derogatory songs towards the opponents players and supporters.
There are a minority of soccer fans who are a real problem for the game. Some ‘fans’ use soccer as an excuse to fight with other people or chant horrible things at them. Whether political, racial or other means, some people turn to soccer as the platform for their stupid antics. This was highlighted during the European Championships in 2012 hosted by Poland and Ukraine. A documentary made by the BBC showed that at some Ukrainian grounds fans were beating up other fans who weren’t white. One short video showed a young group of Asian fans being physically assaulted by white men, the unbelievable thing is that they were all supporting the same team. This is the minority of fans I’m talking about who do not care about soccer they just use it as a platform for, in this case, racially abusing people. We hear so many cases like that of Kevin Prince Boateng, who plays for AC Milan. He was being racially abused by fans during a pre-season friendly against Pro Patria and decided enough was enough. So he and his team mates walked off the pitch in protest. A move that I hope can become a deterrent to racism whenever it tries to have its day.
Another thing that strikes me about soccer fans is that they think they have this close bond with the players. There couldn’t be a bigger divide. Some footballers live in mansions, have multiple sports cars, holiday in luxurious destinations whereas the fans most likely do not. Because soccer is such a simple game and is played by anyone from any social background the fans from a poorer background think that the fact they play soccer just like their idols somehow bonds them. It does not.
In addition, the simplicity of it all is that Soccer is losing its way because of money. The players are paid too much and as a result we hear stories of unrest between players in teams. A lot of the time it’s because one player thinks he should be earning more than the other because he’s better which inevitably causes a lot of drama. Players have no loyalty to a club any more. They drop them in an instant if they can get an extra £1,000 a week somewhere else. Managers are sacked if they lose three games in a row because the Chairman knows that a relegation could cost the club tens of millions of pounds and they panic when they fear it is about to happen so they think the best thing is to sack the Manager and try somebody else. Money has so much power in the sport like the financial rewards for promotion into the English Premier League which is said to be somewhere in the region of £80 million. And because there is so much money at stake players have begun a mentality of win at all costs. This has resulted in players diving to win a penalty or purposely fouling a player who is about to score for example. Young people are watching their idols cheat and are thinking that this is an accepted thing to do in soccer.
When I played soccer for my local Sunday League team people weren’t diving and rolling around on the floor pretending to be in agony to try to get a player booked or sent off. If you got tackled and were unhurt then you got straight back up. No diving in the penalty area to try to earn your team the win. This is because there was no financial gain for us if we won, only a sense of pride and we wouldn’t feel that pride if we cheated. For our footballing heroes the financial reward was nowhere near as high as it is now so at that point the game hadn’t developed to a point where cheating so being done so widely. We weren’t watching our idols cheat so regularly so we didn’t have it in our head to cheat ourselves. Simple logic.
So Soccer will continue to be dominated by money and cheating will continue to grow and grow until we forget what actual fair play is any more. Hopefully the minds of the younger generation aren’t too manipulated by watching their idols poor choices on and off the field and they can decide themselves whether cheating is right or wrong. But personally I feel Soccer has no way of escaping the stranglehold that money has over it and the once beautiful game that I used to watch is actually a thing of the past.