Football isn’t just a sporting contest. These days it is increasingly a moral and cultural battleground. These are my highlights and lowlights of football’s culture wars over the past 12 months.
Absurd moral outrages. Sometimes I think there are two parallel universes: one inhabited by the frothing, moralistic buffoons who phone BBC Five Live’s 606 or TalkSPORT to fulminate about outrageous on-pitch incidents, and a parallel reality in which the rest of us find these incidents side-splittingly hilarious. Call me morally reprehensible, but some of us would pay good money to see a Kuwaiti referee punch a player, Eden Hazard getting sent off for kicking a ballboy or, most sensationally of all, Luis Suárez getting a 10-match ban for chomping on Branislav Ivanovic’s arm. Suárez’s naughty nibble wasn’t an act of cannibalism – it was comedy gold. Keep on biting, Luis, keep on biting.
Contrived atmosphere. For years I have railed against the dead hand of sanitisation, which is suffocating the passionate, anarchic creativity of terrace culture and replacing it with an anodyne, family-friendly watered-down monoculture. My heart sinks when I see a grown man wearing a jester’s hat or a horrendous half-and-half scarf. A toe-curlingly risible example of this trend was Brighton’s decision to distribute cardboard clappers – complete with song lyrics – to their fans in the Championship play-off semi-final against Crystal Palace. ‘We clap with our hands’, taunted the Palace fans. Brighton boss Gus Poyet, however, was incandescent. ‘It was an extremely silly idea and the result was an annoying noise’, fumed the Albion manager in a leaked email.
Another particular bugbear of mine is piped music. As much as I enjoyed Palace’s glorious play-off final victory, the day was somewhat tarnished by the deafening dance music pounding out over the Wembley PA system. Palace fans were more than capable of making a lot of noise, but our attempts to celebrate with our own songs were drowned out by the ear-splitting cacophony of Florence and the Machine. Surely it’s time to pull the plug on piped music.
You can’t say that. Since spiked was launched back in 2001, I’ve chronicled the steady encroachment into football of the stifling ‘You can’t say that’ culture. Football used to be a carnival of glorious vulgarity where grown men went to trade insults with other consenting adults. But now everyone has to mind their language – fans, players and backroom staff. In July, Liverpool FC published a handbook for staff which included a list of ‘offensive’ and ‘unacceptable’ words and phrases. You can now find yourself in trouble at Anfield for using phrases like ‘man up’, ‘don’t be a woman’ and ‘lady boy’.