Alan Pattullo: Olympics fails to loosen football’s vice-like grip
THE return of the game “we hate to love” is how one newspaper chose to greet the start of the league season in England this weekend. It sought to capture how we view football in the post-Olympics climate, and how, almost against our better judgment, it continues to hold us in its vice-like grip.
Even those who are only mildly interested in a game that has had better summers image-wise will, I contend, have caught themselves casting an eye down the results page in the Sunday papers yesterday, as the juggernaut comes shaking into town again.The cycling and athletics results have been relegated once more to brief passages down the side of pages dominated by football.
It’s back and it demands not to be ignored. And let’s face, many of us hadn’t even pretended we were going to try and resist being seduced by its charms again. Of course, the football season is already a few weeks’ old in Scotland and there has already been intrigue a-plenty. And don’t believe for a second that it isn’t commanding our attention, that supporters have turned their back on the game in order to attend athletics meets around the country.
There wasn’t a spare seat to be had in Dingwall, as champions Celtic scraped a draw with a last minute equaliser against Ross County in the first ever league meeting between the teams. In Dundee yesterday the supporters swarmed to Tannadice Park for a game which proved that the worst aspects of tribal rivalry are not guaranteed to reveal themselves when two old rivals clash.
It was notable how fans from both sides arrived at the ground in tandem, often members of the same family wearing the different scarves of the opposing teams. And then at the end, when Dundee had been comprehensively dismantled by their rivals, what happened? Spitting, snarling? Bitter cries of ‘that’s it, ah’m no coming back!’? No, the defeated team were applauded from the park by fans who appreciate that having a team on the park to support is the main thing. These are the same fans who have dug deep into their pockets to save the club from extinction twice in the last decade. If that isn’t an Olmpian effort, then what is?
And then at Ibrox almost 50,000 people, the third highest crowd in the land, came out to watch at Third Division match between Rangers and East Stirling. Again, supporters have answered the call after the woes visited upon their club by unscrupulous and cavalier owners. Football’s soul is regularly under attack because so much money swills about in the sport. But when it runs out the will is still there among fans who have been taken for a ride to salvage not just their club, but also, they know, their way-of-life. They can barely imagine a life without both the thrills and agonies that are guaranteed by following a club.
The mewling about behaviour in football will no doubt continue after Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew pushed an assistant referee over on Saturday during his side’s win over Tottenham Hotspur. It will have the anti-football brigade spluttering again. One commentator last week, while going over-the-top with the contrasts between Jessica Ennis and Joey Barton, asked what he thought was a rhetorical question: “has any Premier League player ever got up off the ground and told the referee that he hadn’t been fouled? Don’t be silly.” Well, yes actually, Robbie Fowler did, although the referee wasn’t interested in his attempt to signal that he had not been clipped by David Seaman, during a Liverpool versus Arsenal game.
“Football hero in honesty shock” was one newspaper’s headline in a comments piece a few days’ after the incident, which occurred back in 1997. Football’s been getting it in the neck for longer than just the last few days. And no-one is trying to claim that Fowler is the epitome of a gracious sportsman. Just ask Graeme Le Saux. It’s just that it is too easy to apply broad strokes.
There is good in football, just as there is bad. Dundee United full back Barry Douglas yesterday played in the Dundee derby with a shaven head as he bids to raise £3000 for Marie Curie after his uncle was diagnosed with the disease. It seems people are going out of their way to lambast football for the crime of being popular. Yes, football’s back, get over it. It shouldn’t need to apologise for its very existence.