Many derogatory points are made about modern football. Jon Punt takes a look at whether some of them are justified, and what we have to be thankful for.
Even the most optimistic football fan has a whinge from time to time. I’m usually a glass half full kinda guy yet in the aftermath of Norwich’s tremendous comeback victory at the City Ground I still found fault. “Why is Wes anywhere near penalties?” I grumpily asked. “The man struggles to kick the ball as hard as my four year old”
Sorry Wes, love you really. Don’t ever change man.
The obvious, age-old, monotonous gripe we hear as supporters is football has changed for the worse. It’s not as good as back in my day, Sky have sanitised the game, the ordinary football fan has been priced out, Football League clubs have thousands of empty seats, we could go on ad nauseum. Most of those are solid points. I get the sentiment.
Harking back to the good old days is human nature. For fans of my generation it might have been standing on a milk crate at the front of the River/Barclay End Terrace. Watching on with a sense of wonder as the likes of Fleck, Gordon, Phelan and later Robins, Fox and Sutton wreaked havoc on the top flight.
This pang of nostalgic reminiscence is understandable, during the late 1980s and early 1990s Norwich had a side with a genuine chance of a title tilt or a cup final. For those that went before me there would be the Ron Saunders heroes that took us to the old First Division for the first time in our history. Go back a couple of decades further and you have the famous 1959 cup run for fans of a certain vintage to salivate over.
Nowadays we can only dream of trips to the Olympic Stadium or San Siro, but does it make it better as a supporter? For all the arguments that football is now an inferior product, there’s a whole host of benefits for the average Joe.
The game and more importantly society has made great strides during the last 30 years. As an impressionable youngster attending my first match in 1986/87 I regularly heard both racist and homophobic taunts directed towards players. It was the norm, difference was a bad thing and widely derided.
Who would have thought then we’d have a range of supporters groups covering all sections of society? The Proud Canaries do a sterling job of representing the LGBT community at our fine club and I for one am immensely proud they are celebrated by Norwich fans far and wide. Regional and national “Canaries” collectives spring up all over the place, the most bizarre I’ve heard of being in Botswana. Our team, Little Old Norwich, have true international appeal.
As recently as 2015, over 25% of females in the UK identified themselves as actively following football. From a quick visual scan on a matchday at Carrow Road its obvious we have increased our female supporter numbers to a healthy proportion, as a father of two young girls that’s tremendously pleasing. We also have the most instantly recognisable lady football fan as joint owner of the club. Delia Out? No bloody thanks.
Sexism certainly hasn’t been eradicated from the game entirely, but there’s a groundswell of people ready to take the likes of an Alan Brazil or Andy Gray to task when they inevitably put their size 10s in the brown stuff. Again.
What we enjoy on a Saturday afternoon is, for the large part, a truly inclusive experience for all. Yeah, I know, that’s really easy for me to say that as a white guy approaching middle age and there’s certainly more work to do, but the modern day football supporter comes from any demographic.
During my first years watching the game hooliganism was darkening the national game. Arrests were made up and down the country at almost each and every match. Now the only “firms” we have to concern ourselves with are spotty teenagers dressed in Stone Island trying to find themselves an identity. They’ll spout off about what they’re going to do to rival fans after the game, but the truth of it is they’d probably struggle to batter a sausage. Don’t worry, they’ll all grow out of it.
The spectre of the Hillsborough disaster still affects me today. As a 10 year old it was unthinkable any supporter could go to football match and not come home. To happen to 96 people was unimaginable. As irrational as it sounds I’m not ashamed to admit I was petrified of attending our next home game for fear of the same thing happening.
There had been near misses before it too, Tottenham fans in the Leppings Lane end feared for their lives in a previous semi final. If the stories my uncles told me about Norwich’s quarter final at Upton Park in March 1989 were to be believed that was a close thing too. I pleaded with my parents to let me attend that day, with hindsight they probably knew the risks associated with taking a young lad to a game like that.
Nowadays fan safety is paramount in football authorities thinking. For what it's worth I have no recollection of fearing for my personal safety at Carrow Road since the protests against Robert Chase’s administration (those horses did get pretty close). For that we should be eternally thankful.
Presently we enjoy a safe, inclusive environment which is, 99% of the time, free of prejudice. That’s good innit? I think so, and we should celebrate it more often. Maybe modern football is alright after all.
I realise it’s not perfect. Footballers are rewarded with exorbitant sums of money yet the public continue to pay through the nose, fans feel increasingly disconnected and atmospheres have suffered. But we can do something about the atmosphere and often we choose not to. I was delighted to learn the relaunched Barclay End Norwich (formerly Barclay End Projekt) have decided to take this up as their primary focus, lets hope all supporter groups get behind them and we stand together as one Yellow Army. Never Mind the Danger.
You can follow Jon on Twitter @puntino
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