English Football: Recapturing True Football
All of the reaction to the article about Wigan Athletic here the other day got me thinking. I personally have a soft spot for Wigan because they are a small town club that has achieved great things under a local owner. This is the type of storybook side that used to be more frequently found in English football. Wigan embodies everything that was true and honest about football in the different age: an age where the nation to whom we owe our love of this game to was able to control the game the way they wanted it played and presented.
Football is an English game but sadly the world game has gotten away from the English. Some Anglophobes like Sepp Blatter may believe this is a good thing, but others like myself believe the corruption of the game owes itself to the lessening influence of England on the international stage and the emergence of several other powerful nations and cliques of administration. Football’s newfound desire to conquer lands like the United States, Japan, China and Australia that previously resisted the game (although the United States did embrace the game over a 100 years ago only to abandon it as immigrants were forced to “Americanize” in what the xenophobic 1920s) has taken the English game, the true football and turned into something hardly recognizable.
The modern rules of the beautiful game were codified by the English: Not by the Spanish, the Italians or Argentines. Yet these other nations I mention and others have claimed football as their game and have made changes to the game which make it less true to its original and natural form than perhaps it should be.. Football has not grown organically as it did for many, many years, but has been manipulated for commercial purposes by people other than its originators. I include my nation the United States in the corruption of the game by inventing such unworthy items as the NASL shootout (which later was further refined into an even less desirable penalty kick shootout), and the now infamous “35 yard line.” Football is not like American sports where they change the rules every season to give certain players or teams more of an advantage. For example, the National (American) Football League is a complete sham of a sporting association. The league I watched in my childhood now has rules that I do not even recognize, so I choose not to feed the monster any longer. I finally gave up the game a few years back when in order to try and curtail the dominance of a single team, the New England Patriots, over another team the Indianapolis Colts, the league mandated a new rule for pass interference making it more difficult for defensive backs to do what they had been taught to do in the game since they were kids. Americans like complex rules that do not test their intellect not simple rules that force you to actually understand and observe what is happening on the pitch. This is part of the reason American sports, so unwatchable to the vast majority of inhabitants of planet earth have continued their niche in a peculiar sporting culture stateside.
Back to my initial point: When Lionel Messi committed his cheeky act a year ago of using his hand of god to direct the football into the goal the Argentine press applauded his ingenuity. England was the victim of this in 1986 at the hands of Diego Maradona. In 1998, FIFA’s officials made numerous errors in propelling Argentina to a victory over England in the second round of the World Cup. Glen Hoddle’s team was short on talent but long on desire and the workmanlike footballing culture that has made England more palatable and enjoyable for the outside observer than nations like Argentina, Germany and Italy. Somehow England lost this under the Swede Sven Goran Eriksson whose attempts to turn the English side into a cosmopolitan Italian looking team not only failed but turned many like myself against England. The same changes are happening in the Premier League as foreign owners and foreign players make the league less watchable if you enjoy English football and less reminiscent of what football was and should be. The Premier League has forced England to turn its game into the corrupted version of international football that was developed by non Englishman to sell the game to non Englishman.
Many English football players and owners now in order to compete with opponents who have surpassed them under the rules and playing circumstances now established by FIFA, have seemingly abandoned the roots of English football . The sort of unsporting play that previously was not found by players from the British Isles who were reared in workmanlike skillful setup are now contradicted by the diving of Steven Gerrard, the whining of John Terry and the general Americanization of David Beckham. This is in my mind a worrying trend. English football should be able to resist the temptation to imitate. It is after all the purest, most honest form of football. The football of the legendary Bobby Moore, and Geoff Hurst should always live, not the new England of Steve Gerrard, foreign ownership and big money teams.
Many on this website assume I don’t like English football with much of my commentary. Nothing could be further from the truth: I do not like what English football has become: A miniature version of the corrupted world game without much of the flair and appreciation for other styles of play and other cultures that other nations do demonstrate. Much of this blame must be laid on the doorsteps of the London based British media who put incredible pressure on English clubs to succeed by playing a game unnatural to them bemoaning the continued failures of England while they never acknowledge their own blame for these failures. English football is at a crossroads: either the beautiful English brand of Wigan Athletic will win out or the globalised, americanized brand of Manchester United will win. My money is on the later, sadly though my sentiment is with the former.