Good Game! Good Game!

FA Cup, 2nd Round Proper (replay) – Yeovil Town FC v Fleetwood Town FC
Tuesday, 13th December 2011, 7.30pm
Huish Park Stadium
Distance 0 miles, Attendance 3276
Fate can be a real bugger sometimes. We spend all our waking hours (and some sleeping) carefully laying out plans for the future; plans that will almost certainly bring us happiness, fortune, wealth, three points against our local rivals, or of course a clear road to Wembley. So with a risk assessment completed, logistics checked, and lucky pants donned, what can go wrong? As I’ve found out, everything. Going into this round I had my eye on five teams to give me a replay; Bristol Rovers, Swindon, Redbridge, Wimbledon, and Aldershot. A draw for any of these five would’ve seen me safely watching a replay without much fuss or effort on my part… yet not one came through. Three lost, and two even had the cheek to win. Was it too much to ask that they, make that sporting gesture, and let the other team equalise? Don’t they know I’m trying to get to Wembley… the long way?
So I sit in my kitchen, way before dawn, unable to sleep, wondering how it could all have gone wrong. You’ve heard the tale how Vinnie Jones was unable to sleep on the eve of the 1988 Cup Final so went for an early morning walk round Wimbledon, well my night, is nothing like that, and it’s pouring down outside. How could I have ended up with Yeovil, Grimsby, Walsall, Oldham and Macclesfield as the only options for a game? What the hell were the South East teams playing at? How dare they?
The more religiously inclined (my mother) might cite sola gratia, by grace alone, can we succeed (and by we she means, me), but don’t we football fans really believe there’s more to it. Don’t we believe we can influence the outcome? Lucky pants, squashed sugared mice, unwashed shirts, even the wonderful 1979 Home Kit socks that I wore on my wedding day… It was me, I hold my hands up; that nine games without conceding a goal for Watford in 1995, that WAS down to drinking from my lucky mug. This time however it would appear I have no grace. But wait. What this? A saviour to the rescue…
TE-LE-VIS-I-ON (Hurrah! I’m saved)
Football was first televised in 16th Sept 1937 with Arsenal v Arsenal Reserves (and I thought their reserves only got to play in the League Cup). Within a year two further games had been shown; England v Scotland and The 1938 Cup Final. When the nation wasn’t going to games, they could now see their favourite sport, in their home, and television was just the medium to get it there. Even in my youth with a game being shown each week the televised live football thing was still a novelty, and when it came to Cup Final day… WOW! It was the highlight of my year.
Fast forward twenty years and it all seems a bit arse-about-face. No longer is football the centre of attention, now it’s just a by-product; a subject for pious presenters and pundits to preach about at us. In fact if the TV companies are to be believed, thanks to them alone, football has never been so good, and nor have our lives. Now, every day, on a myriad of channels, we have the dumbing down shows, THE MUSIC-PUMPING-GOSSIP-FILLED-ACCESS-ALL-AREAS-FLASHLIT-GRAPHIC-SWOOSHING-MULTI-ANGLE-SUPER-SHOUTY-SOCCER-SHOW!!! (they’d probably insist on a few more exclamation marks). No marching bands, no away fans (well its on the telly so no need to get in the car), no dog displays, no atmosphere, no mystique, no imagination, no soul, just MOD€RN £OOTBALL™ with a fanfare. The problem is I don’t need to be told what to like, especially when it comes to the game I love.
Gary Player once said, emphasising the control he had of his own destiny, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” For us fans we used to feel that too, but sadly in the upper echelons of football this is no longer the case. “Consumers” are now told what to wear, when to stand & sit, when to cheer, what to drink (no you can’t bring your own drink in), and when to make some noise. And before you think of it, don’t try speaking to players. Did The air they breathe is probably protected along with their “image rights”, and the space they’re looking into. The only saving grace is that the lower down the leagues you go, the more amenable football is. When it comes to being fan-friendly (in general) non-league really is king.
Back to tonight, grounded by a combination of distance, exhaustion, trains, weather & work, I’m forced into this SHOUTY-SOCCER-WORLD. The one benefit is that thankfully ESPN are not in the same league as Sky. My “real (TV) football experience” begins in promising fashion, well for eight minutes at least, and then we have the first ad break. Its a cold night but Burley & Keown are tonight’s double act to keep us warm. Soon I’m taking forty winks but come to just in time to see McGuire put the non league team 1-0 up with a shot inside a crowded box. It’s not against the run of play as Fleetwood have been marginally better throughout. Other than a few spurned chances the only action of note is FTFC sub Richard Brodie foolishly getting booked for showing off, then at halftime ESPN give most of the fifteen over to adverts and promoting bigger teams they’ll be showing soon.

Not as entertaining as the pundits insist.

The second half is a more even affair in action and sending offs (both Ngala and McNulty go for two yellows), but in truth, I suspect the incentive of a local derby against Blackpool is all the motivation The Cod Army needed, so when Vardy adds a second in stoppage time it’s hardly a surprise. Fleetwood wanted this game more. The underdog won… and good luck to them. Did I celebrate? No. I’m gutted not to have been at the game but Television just doesn’t give me the same buzz. If I’d been there, there is no doubt I’d have had a great time. The sad thing about TV football is that it’s as a common as muck. There is nothing special about it any more. Yes clubs make a little money, but far less fans turn up than, and the atmosphere is diminished, and the television viewer is detached from the action.
This might have been a good game, a good cup game, but really entertainment cannot be stapled on to sport by TV companies. Sport IS the entertainment. If you want to enjoy sport, live a little, go to a game, LIVE.
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